Romans 9: Individual vs. Corporate Election

~ Adapted from email correspondence ~

Arminians tend to interpret the election of Jacob and Esau to mean the choice of the people Israel and Edom. According to them it means the election of a collective and not of individuals. So they would say Romans 9 does not deal with the salvation of individuals but the election of Israel as a nation.

The Arminian interpretation is impossible, and the answer stares at us plainly from the text:

[6] It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. [7] Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.

On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” [8] In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. [9] For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

[10] Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. [11] Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: [12] not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The point of the passage is to show that God’s word to Israel has not failed (v. 6). The reason this question comes up is because it seems that God promised salvation to Israel, but salvation is only available through faith in Jesus Christ, but Israel on the whole (most individuals!) has rejected Christ, and therefore it appears that Israel on the whole is not saved.

Paul answers this right away. God’s word has not failed, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children” (v. 6b-7). Now stand in amazement at how STUPID the Arminians are. Paul takes Israel as a whole when he brings up the question, and then explicitly calls attention to the individuals within Israel in order to answer the question. In fact, his answer depends on individual faith and individual election. That is, God’s word to Israel has not failed, because not every individual within Israel belongs to the true Israel, and not every descendant in Israel is a child of Abraham.

Then he adds two illustrations to emphasize individual election:

From v. 7b-9, Paul says Abraham’s true children would come through Isaac. By this, he means that they would come through God’s supernatural power to fulfill his promise rather than by natural generation. “It is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (v. 8b). God made the promise to Abraham, but he distinguished the individual of Isaac against the individual of Ishmael. So his grace does not apply to “children of Abraham” in an all-inclusive and corporate sense, but in a selective and individual sense.

But lest one thinks that from Isaac forward divine grace is given in a corporate sense without consideration of individuals, Paul makes the same point again, this time with Isaac’s children (v. 10). Two children, even twins, came from the same father, but God chose to love one and hate the other. As if to stress individual election even more, he chose the younger instead of the older.

Returning to Paul’s reason for writing all this in the first place, his argument is intelligible and compelling only because he asserts individual election, and in a sense, even against corporate election. God’s promise to Israel (corporate) has not failed because the promise applies only to chosen individuals within this Israel, which we might call a true Israel.

With this in mind, read the rest of Romans 9 and you will see that it consistently insists on God’s control over individuals. Again, Paul’s argument would not make sense and would fail unless this is what he intends.

The Arminian argument is almost a sign of surrender. If it tries to make this a teaching of corporate election, then it admits that this is talking about God’s sovereignty in choosing nations, so that the nations do not choose themselves. The Arminian perceives the teaching of God’s sovereignty in this, but redirects it to a corporate application. Therefore, if this redirection is prevented and it is shown that the text obviously refers to individuals, we retain the Arminian admission that it teaches election, and since it refers to individuals, it teaches the election of individuals.