God's ironic hatred in Romans 9?
This past Sunday in my Sunday school class, we reached Romans 9.
I was struck recently for the first time by the possibility that Paul’s
use of texts in this section might be profoundly and perhaps
The idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,
and that God hated Esau, have something in common – and not just the
fact that they represent problematic and objectionable details in
They are also traditional affirmations of divine
election of the Jewish people and God’s favoritism towards them against
It is perhaps better to view
Paul as doing something similar to what he did in Romans 2 and in Romans
4: he is using Jewish proof-texts for the view he opposes, and turning
them back on his opponents.
point in Romans 9 is not merely that God is free to choose whomever he
will. He starts with the classic election texts – God’s choice of Isaac
rather than Ishmael, his choice of Jacob rather than Esau.
Paul then uses those very central texts related to Jewish election to
argue that God has always restricted and drawn in the boundaries of the
chosen people to a select group within a larger number of descendants.
And so why should anyone complain that God is not now choosing all of
Israel, or all Jews? Surely this is precisely in keeping with the logic
of election, the election in which Paul’s Jewish contemporaries boasted
of their elect status.
Paul is turning the tables on them.
By Romans 10-11,
Paul will of course indicate that those who have fallen and missed the
boat are not in fact excluded, not fallen beyond recovery. Even if they
are branches broken off the tree, they can be grafted back in.
so ultimately Paul doesn’t seem to want to say that anyone is genuinely
“elected out” or “deselected” from participation in the covenant
Why then use such difficult and objectionable texts?
it was precisely because those texts were being used against him and
his Gentile mission. Perhaps they were being quoted by his opponents
that God loves some and hates others.
It seems to me that Paul
uses these texts of divine hatred ironically and subversively, turning
them back on those who utilized them as weapons of exclusion. But his
doing so is not ultimately to affirm divine hatred and exclusion, but to
undermine the very notion by turning those texts on their users and
then emphasizing the opportunity for them to be included even so, even
though he has made them out to be excluded in precisely the way that
they claimed Gentiles are excluded.
I don’t think there can be any
doubt, having reflected on this, that there is something ironic about
Paul’s use of these texts about election and divine hatred. The only
question, in my mind, is whether Paul was being intentionally ironic.
What do others think?
Originally posted at Exploring Our Matrix