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Does Romans 9 teach individual election?

Many people deny that God would predestine/elect some individuals to salvation and not others.  They may not agree with the idea, but it is definately biblical.  The Greek word for "elect" is ”eclectos.” It occurs more than 20 times in the New Testament and is translated as ”elect”, ”chosen,” etc.

  1. According to the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, it means “picked out, chosen, chosen by God, to obtain salvation through Christ.” Vines Expository Diction of the Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1981.), says it means “picked out, chosen,” and is used of Christ (Luke 23:35), angels (1 Timothy 5:21), Christians (Matthew 24:22), the elect whom God chose (Mark 13:20); the elect who are gathered (Mark 13:27), etc.
  2. "The subject of election is God, who chooses on the basis of his sovereign will for his creation," (Achtemeier, Paul J., Publishers Harper & Row, and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper's Bible Dictionary. electronic ed., Page 254. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1996, c1985.)
  3. The act of picking out, choosing. The act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons. (Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order. electronic ed. Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996.)

Clearly then, we have established that election is something God does out of His sovereignty and is not based upon something that man does or is.  But, lest we conclude that God does not elect individuals, let's take a look at a couple verses that prove that God does just that.

  1. Romans 16:13 says, “Greet Rufus, a choice [eklectos] man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”
    • The word “choice” is “eklektos” which means according to the definitions above, “picked out, chosen by God,” etc. Here we see proof of God electing an individual "in the Lord."  Rufus is obviously an individual and we clearly see that election is related to an individual.
  2. 2 John 2:1,13 says, “The elder to the chosen [eklectos] lady [kyria] and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth… 13The children of your chosen [eklectos] sister greet you.”
    • Is the lady an individual?  “Bengel takes the Greek as a proper name Kyria answering to the Hebrew “Martha.” Being a person of influence,” (Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998.)  Therefore, we see another example of election related to an individual. 
  3. Also, consider Acts 4:27-28, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur."  Notice here that Herod and Pontius Pilate were gathered together to do whatever God had predestined to occur.  Obviously, God is definitely involved with individuals and they accomplish His will.

The Text of Romans 9:1-33

Do we see any instances here in Romans 9 where God elects, chooses, picks out, blesses, etc., individuals?  If so, then Romans 9 supports individual election.  Note, I am not stating that Romans 9 only supports individual election and not corporate election.  Also, notice the underlined portions which refer to singular individuals.


Romans 9:1-33, "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice (eckloge - elect, KJV "election") might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom (singular in Greek) I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom (singular in Greek) I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you (singular in Greek) up, to demonstrate My power in you (singular in Greek), and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom (singular in Greek) He desires, and He hardens whom (singular in Greek) He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who (singular in Greek) resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Notice how many references to the singular of persons there are.  Twenty Five!  But this alone doesn't mean that individuals are elected.  Let's look into the text a little more.  I have kept this in outline note style.  Originally this was my outline for a debate on this subject and it is not intended to be exhaustive.  Nevertheless, I have reproduced it here.

  1. "It is definitely true that Romans 9 includes the election of nations and that those nations are represented by Isaac, Jacob, Esau, etc.  But it is also true that it is the individuals themselves, the fathers of those nations, who were elected to be blessed by being the father's of those nations.  This alone proves election of individuals occurs in Romans 9.  Remember, according to definition #3 above election is "The act of picking out, choosing. The act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons."  Was not Jacob blessed?  For that matter, were not Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, and Rebekah also blessed as we see them mentioned in the Romans 9 text above?  Absolutely!
  2. Paul gave three Old Testament illustrations of God’s sovereignty (Isaac and Ishmael, 9:7 b-9; Jacob and Esau,  vv 10-13 ; and Pharaoh, vv. 14-18 ) 
    1. Sarah was elected to have a son, v. 9, "For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.
      1. Once again, according to the definition #3 above election is "The act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons."  Sarah was elected by God to be blessed with a child.  Definition #2 above "The subject of election is God, who chooses on the basis of his sovereign will for his creation," also demonstrates that it is God who made the choice to have Sarah bear a son.
      2. Was Sarah not chosen by God to be blessed with offspring even though she was well passed child-bearing years?  Absolutely.  Therefore, we have individual election here.
    2. Isaac - v. 7, '...but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”
      1. Isaac was the one elected to provide the descendents of promise because God elected Isaac as the son of promise.  God sovereignly chose Isaac over Ishmael, his older brother, and the descendents were named through Isaac, the single person, not Ishmael?  Why?  Because that was God's choice.  This is absolute proof that God elected one over the other to receive a blessing; that is, Isaac over Ishmael. 
      2. We know that the individual known as Jacob was blessed over his older brother Esau.  This was done according to God's election.
        1. In fact, the KJV says, "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."
        2. So, we see from here that Isaac was chosen/elected over Ishmael and Jacob was chosen/elected over Esau.  Notice that it it says, "the elder (singular) will serve the younger" (singular). 
    3. Let's look more closely at Jacob and Esau (vv. 11-13)
      1. Jacob, though second born, was chosen by God to receive the firstborn-blessing.  The fact that he was chosen for this as an individual to receive the blessing, is proof that God elected him for this purpose.
        He was chosen over Esau, by God.  He was elected by God as an individual.
        1. Remember, it was not due to anything either had done, but it was according to God's purpose and God's choice as verse 11 states:  "..though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice (eckloge - elect, KJV "election") might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls..."
        2. Furthermore, we can see that individuals are spoken of since Paul speaks of them before they were born and tells us who their mother and father are - which is not said of their descendents.  In other words, we are dealing with individuals who then represented nations.
      2. Verse 13 quotes Malachi 1, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
        1. Malachi
          1. (SINGULAR AND PRESENT) 1:1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.  2"I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How hast Thou loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob; 3but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation, and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness."
                 (PLURAL AND FUTURE) 4Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the Lord of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever." 5And your eyes will see this and you will say, "The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!"
            1. Note that in verses 1-3 the singular and the present tense are used.  But in verses four and following we have the plural and future tense.  This signifies the change from the individual (verses 1-3) to the nation addressed by God (verses 4ff). 
            2. Also, it is from the section of scripture that is of singular that Paul quotes, not the plural, not the area representing the nations specifically.
            3. Furthermore, in verse two note that Esau is called Jacob's brother - Therefore, this is definitely speaking of two individuals:  Jacob and Esau.  God simply states He loved Jacob and hated Esau and Romans 9:11 states  and it additional proclaims the distinguishing of the descendents, by God's election and purpose.  This was NOT because of anything they had done or would do since God elected them before the foundation of the world, before they had done anything good or bad.
            4. Furthermore, God did not elect them based upon a foreseen set of works they would do, otherwise this would make God's election prejudicial and biased since God would be electing someone based on the character and quality of the individual.  This would contradict the biblical teaching of the corruptness of human nature (We are by nature children of wrath - Eph. 2:3).  No, instead, God is not partial and His election is according to His purpose (Eph. 1:5), not upon any alleged goodness in man whether accomplished or foreseen.
            5. God appointed Esau's descendents a desolation because He has the sovereign right to do so.  But, he started with Esau individually, removed the blessing from him, and gave it to Jacob.  This is another proof of God's elective work with individuals.
            6. Federal Headship.  The reason that the writer focuses on the descendents is because the Father of the descendents represents the descendents.  We see this in Heb. 7:8-10, "And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him."
              1. In other words, before a nation is mentioned, the Fathers of the nations are mentioned and their dealings in relation to God's sovereign election is mentioned. 
    Mention of Individuals - Following is a simple analysis of various references in Romans 9 that mention individuals.  Let's look at them.
    1. V. 15, "For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
      1. God declares to Moses that He has mercy and compassion on whom (SINGULAR) He wants.  The word "whom" here is in the singular, not the plural, designating individuals.  Therefore, God is declaring that He displays His mercy and compassion upon the individuals of His choice.  This meets the definition of election mentioned above in # 2 and 3.
        1. "The subject of election is God, who chooses on the basis of his sovereign will for his creation,"  and  "The act of picking out, choosing. The act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons.
    2. V. 16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."
      1. The singular "whom" of verse 15 is further clarified in verse 16 when God says it does not depend on the man (SINGULAR) and the comments about the preceding verse also applies here.
    3.  V. 17, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I raised you (SINGULAR) up, to demonstrate My power in you (SINGULAR), and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.'"
      1. Again we have the singular use of terms demonstrating God's sovereignty over individuals to either bless or not as He so desires.
    4.  V. 18, "So then He has mercy on whom (SINGULAR) He desires, and He hardens whom (SINGULAR) He desires.
      1. Since election is "The act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons," we see that Paul here says that God is merciful to whom (SINGULAR) He wants.  This definately teaches us that God elects for blessings those whom He desires.
    5. VV. 19-20 "You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?
      1. "O man", "the thing", these are absolutely references to individuals not groups.  The Potter has a right to do what he wants with individual pieces of the pot.  It is a simply and direct illustration that designates the teaching of sovereignty.  Extended, this applies to God's sovereign right to do what He wants with His creation, individuals included.
      2. Some say that Paul is quoting or referencing Jeremiah 18:5 where God says, "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel."  I am not saying it is or isn't since there are other references of potter's in the Old Testament, i.e., Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand."  But, two things are important here. 
        1. It is the New Testament that interprets the Old Testament, not the other way around.  Some people like to impose the OT meaning into NT contexts.  Instead, the NT is what sheds light upon and fulfills the OT.  Therefore, the primary application of the text is as it is used in the NT.
        2. Romans 9 is referencing individuals as "the thing molded" etc., not as a nation.  This is why Paul is not quoting Jer. 18:5.  Instead, Paul simply uses the potter as an illustration of God's sovereingty over individuals.
    6. VV. 21-23, "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" 23And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,"
      1. Again the use of singular forms, "one vessel", and "another for common use," etc., for honorable use, definitely demonstrates the act of election of individuals.
      2. Verse 21 demonstrates the application of definition #1 above which says that election means, “picked out, chosen, chosen by God, to obtain salvation through Christ.”  The "one vessel" for honorable use can very easily be interpreted as a saving use especially since we see the contrast of vessels prepared for destruction.
      3. In verse 23, Paul then switches to the plural use.  First Paul demonstrates God's sovereignty over individuals and then he moves onto the sovereignty of people groups as is shown in verse 23, by the switch to the plural. 
      4. Then, Paul continues in the motiff of the plural and speaks of the larger groups of Jews and Gentiles.
    7. vv 24-33, "24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

This is not an exhaustive attempt to demonstrate that Romans 9 teaches election of individuals as well as of groups.  It is an outline used for debate with quick easy references.  I hope that it helps expound the word of God in truth.


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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2012
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