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An Analysis of Romans 11:1-8

As stated previously, the scope of Gospel Deficiency is limited by design to an analysis of Calvinism as it pertains to the gospel of Christ. Inasmuch as many Calvinists claim to have embraced Calvinism after a reading Romans 9 and 11, we must expand our scope to include references to Election. As we pointed out in our analysis of Romans 9:1-24, we must consider the companion text of Romans 11:1-8 in light of the whole counsel of God, avoiding the 'private interpretation' trap and the imposition of Calvinistic tenets upon the text. It should be noted that an unbiblical view of election is largely responsible for the philosophical speculations of Calvinism. If God arbitrarily elected some sinners to be saved and passed over the rest, then a Particular Atonement on behalf of the so-called 'elect' makes perfect sense. For why should or would Jesus die for those whom he had no intention to save in the first place?

Paul opens Chapter 11 by asking: “Hath God cast away his people?” (11:1). This inquiry comes on the heels of these two conclusions: (1) Gentiles had found God, whom they had previously neither sought nor asked after, and (2) Israel, God's chosen people, continued to languish in disobedience and denial despite God's standing invitation (“all day long”) for them to come unto him. Perish the thought, Paul says! He cites his own pedigree and salvation as evidence that God has NOT cast away his people. He then makes this assertion: “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew” (11:2). The fact that God set his affection on Israel and elected them to be the conduit through which the Lord Jesus would come into the world did not guarantee the salvation of a single Israelite. God foreknew Israel. Yet many of the foreknown on the national level would perish on the personal level. Paul was an exception. 

Paul proceeds to draw a parallel between himself and Elijah. He was not alone in his Christian faith any more than Elijah was alone. “Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, 'Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life'” (11:2-3). Paul continues: “But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal” (11:4). The questions that arise are: Was it God's reserving of these seven thousand individuals that accounted for their refusal to bow the knee to Baal? What does it mean for God to “reserve” folks? Is the verb “reserved” here synonymous with “elected”? If so, to what were those seven thousand men elected? Does it mean that God intended to save ONLY seven thousand from the entire nation?

The verb “reserved” is kataleipo (kata=”down” + leipo=”to leave”). It means to leave, leave behind or abandon. In its twenty-five NT usages, it is translated “leave” (22x), “forsake” (2x) and “reserve” (1x). The aorist (past) tense with the reflexive “to myself” indicates personal action that goes beyond a mere leaving behind. The use of “remnant” in 11:5 demands the stronger “reserved” translation. It is NEVER translated “elected” or as any equivalent. Its contextual usage in Romans 11, however, does create a strong association with election. 

There are two phrases in our text that lend themselves to a proper interpretation. The first is “who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” The second is “the election hath obtained it.” Bowing the knee to Baal is an act of worship and service. The seven thousand men God reserved to himself, by implication, bowed the knee to the One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even as Elijah properly worshiped and served the One true God, so also did the seven thousand men. Elijah was not alone. Election in the scripture ALWAYS has reference to service, not personal salvation, In the one place where Paul said the Thessalonian believers were “chosen to salvation”, the context clearly teaches that the salvation in view is deliverance from the Day of the Lord, the Great Tribulation. The conditions that made this privilege of deliverance possible were “sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). No man is ever elected (chosen) until he hears the Spirit's voice and believes the gospel. Election is one of the many “spiritual blessings” that one must be “in Christ” to enjoy (Ephesians 1:3). For these seven thousand men, who remained faithful in their worship and service, they were first elected to perform that service and reserved as a result of their faithfulness. 

Paul affirms there is a remnant today as there was in Elijah's day (11:5-6). God is still in the reservation business. The “election of grace” accounts for the remnant. In 11:6, Paul painstakingly juxtaposes the concepts of “grace” and “works” as he did 3:26-28, 4:4-5 and 4:16. The election of grace has faith as its operative principle or entry point. Paul stated: “It is OF FAITH that it might be BY GRACE“ (4:16). In contrast to the false assertions of Calvinism, grace and faith are NOT mutually exclusive. Faith on the part of the sinner is absolutely essential for grace to work. Scripture teaches the mutual exclusivity of GRACE and WORKS, not grace and faith. A fatal flaw of Calvinism is reckoning faith as a work when scripture clearly distinguishes between the two. Faith depicts the sinner approaching a Holy God with empty hands, acknowledging his total dependence upon the WORK Christ accomplished on his behalf. Faith is full acknowledgment of the futility of works. Calvinists are bound by their rationalistic system of thought to misconstrue faith as work. Grace and faith are biblical friends. Grace works through faith. 

Calvinists often accuse those that reject the Five Points of Calvinism as being opponents of grace. Such is not the case. Opponents of the Five Points readily acknowledge that: (1) no lost man ever seeks after God unless drawn by grace through the Spirit, and (2) it is grace that enables a lost man to believe on Christ. Salvation begins with grace and ends with grace. It's ALL of grace! But scripture teaches God's saving grace needs faith to make it operative. Grace looks for faith! One main difference between the  Calvinist and the Biblicist is the insistence by the Calvinist that grace is irresistible, that regeneration of the elect by grace prior to faith makes faith in Christ inevitable. The Biblicist follows the teachings of Jesus, John and Paul, insisting that God regenerates lost men in response to faith in Christ, a faith that's impossible apart from God's drawing grace. In this regard, Calvinism treats its 'elect' no differently than a vending machine of bottled sodas where God inserts a dollar bill of regeneration, pushes a button and waits for faith to come forth. The election of grace is inclusive of faith and exclusive of works. Failure to acknowledge this biblical distinction results in the theological trainwreck called Calvinism.

The phrase “the election hath obtained it” is critical to understanding the passage. Notice that Paul does NOT say: “The election WILL obtain it.” That's what he might have said IF the Unconditional Election doctrine of Calvinism is the correct theological view. The verb “obtained” is epilygchano (epi=”upon” + lygchano=”to chance, attain, obtain”). In every NT usage (5x), it's translated “obtain.” Paul uses the aorist (past) tense for both “Israel” and “Election.” The former had not [yet] obtained what they were seeking for; the latter had obtained it. We add 'yet' because Paul uses the present tense to describe the seeking of Israel, signifying that, at the time Paul wrote Romans, Israel as a nation was STILL seeking God's righteousness, but had yet to obtain it. The righteousness of God is obtainable ONLY by faith (Romans 10:31-32). As part of the present-day remnant, Paul had obtained it. Therefore a member of the “Israel” class could STILL become a member of the “Election” class by believing on Jesus Christ, as did Paul. The groups “Israel” and “Election” are not static or fixed. They are dynamic (in flux) at any given moment in time. 

This truth is apparent from the singular form of “election.” The election is a snapshot in time. But at any given moment, whether it consists of one million or ten million chosen vessels, it remains ONE elected body. If Calvinism is correct, there are many members of the election that have not yet obtained to the righteousness that comes by faith. But scripture teaches ALL the elect have found and obtained to the righteousness of God. That's why no one can lay a charge against God's elect, ALL of whom are justified (Romans 8:33). The number (size) of the election can and does grow daily. But regardless of its number, it's ONE elected body, a snapshot, at any given moment in time. 

The phrase “the rest were blinded” requires analysis. The verb “blinded” is poroo (“to make stony, to make dull or hard, to callus”). It is passive in voice, which means their hearts were made callused by an outside influence. It is the word Mark used in 6:52 when describing how the disciples were “hardened” (or callused) because they failed to consider the miracle of the loaves earlier that day. Question: Is God the source of Israel's blindness, or were they blinded (callused) by their own failure to consider the claims of Christ? It is abundantly clear that God has given Israel the spirit of slumber (11:8). Based on the usage of poroo, however, the callusing that unbelief produces is not necessarily permanent. Even as those callused disciples became ardent followers of Jesus Christ, even so can blinded Israelites find the righteousness of God they seek for through proper consideration of the gospel. A blinded Israelite, if the Spirit of God breaks through the calluses, can believe the gospel, obtain to God's righteousness by faith, and become a member of the election. This blindness “in part” is not necessarily a permanent condition. The apostle Paul is the prime example!

The scripture knows nothing of a lost elect man. A strict Calvinist interpretation of Romans 11:1-8, and imposition of a Calvinist template, convolutes the text. The doctrines of Calvinism simply CANNOT be supported from Romans 9-11 based on exegetical, contextual and expository treatment of the text. Bottom line: If you're IN CHRIST by virtue of grace operating through faith, you are elected IN HIM to serve God and equipped BY HIM with the spiritual gift(s) necessary to perform the service to which God called and elected you. 


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