Romans 9: Exegetical Notes & Explanation Concerning the Doctrine of Election

John 6

No other passage of scripture has had a bigger impact on my theological understanding of election than John 6. I have another article which covers the entire chapter, but let’s focus in a couple of verses that will be important as we discuss Romans 9.

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” 

  • QUES: What Jesus says in verse 36 is key to understanding much of the rest of what he is saying. So, what’s he saying?
  • The works of Jesus make it clearly evident who he is, yet they do not accept him for who he is.
  • Notice Jesus’ train of thought in verses 37-40.
  1. The Father gives (37)
  2. Jesus does not reject what the father gives (37)
  3. Jesus has come from heaven to do God’s will (38)
  4. God’s will? Jesus securely keeps for eternity all that God the Father gives to him. (39)
  5. God’s will? Everyone who has authentic faith in Christ as God’s Son will be given eternal life (3.16) and experience future resurrection

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

  • “the text indicates that even though they “heard” (akouein) Jesus, they failed to “accept” (akouein) the word (logos) of Jesus. The wordplay here is important because it reminds the reader that the mere hearing of words is not enough. It is “obedience,” the implied meaning of akouein, that is important. Some people may be troubled by these verses because of presuppositions of what the Bible has to say, but our task as interpreters is to listen to the biblical message and apply its warnings as well as its assurance statements to our lives.” Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 274.
  • Verse 63 – “The issue in biblical Christianity is regeneration—heart change produced by the Holy Spirit—not labels, not affiliations, not personal claims, not religious acts or pilgrimages, and certainly not the keeping of religious laws. And let us not miss in verse 60 that the teaching is hard to accept.” Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 131.
  • A “flesh dominated” look at Jesus’ words will not result in the correct conclusion. The Spirit of God must correct our vision.
  • And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Co 4:3–6.
  • verse 64 – Jesus knows who believes and who doesn’t.
  • Verse 65 – a restatement of verse 44. In the first instance, Jesus says “drawn” and in the second, “granted”. “granted” – an object given, usually of considerable value.
  • Authentic belief comes through understanding spiritual truth through the enabling of God.
  • “We are almost astonished to find Jesus turning again to the subject we have called “election” as an explanation for the unbelief and departure of false disciples. How does one participate in this heavenly bread? How does one come to the Bread of Life in order to receive eternal life? Only because the Father makes it possible.” Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 131.

1 Corinthians 1

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

“the world did not know God through wisdom” – Man cannot know God solely through the pursuit of intellect (what they perceive to be best, or religious). It will always lead one astray.

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

“signs” – as in miracles. We see this to be true of Jewish thought when reading John 6. Ironically, Jesus’ ministry, and especially his resurrection demonstrate Him to be the authentic Messiah. Yet, the Jews were blind to these proofs.

“wisdom” -In a Greek culture fascinated by philosophy, how unwise would it be for God to die?

23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

“preach” – as in to proclaim, speak of, etc.

“crucified” – a one-time event with ongoing effects.

“a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” – The death of Jesus was either viewed as foolish or weak by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles.

24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“but to those who are called” – Do not rush over the importance or beauty of these words. Without the calling of God, both Jews and Greeks (the entire world) would view the gospel as weak and foolish, but God has called individuals from both Jew and Greek heritage to embrace the gospel. For those called by God, the passion of Jesus becomes something powerful and wise. (Rom. 1:16-17).

“called” – What does it mean to be called?

See: Rom. 8:30

When Paul says, “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified”, he indicates that calling is an act of God. In fact, it is specifically an act of God the Father, for he is the one who predestines people “to be conformed to the image of his Son”…he calls them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9); he calls them into the fellowship of his son (1 Cor. 1:9)…People who have been called by God “belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6)…These verses indicate that no powerless, merely human calling is in view. This calling is rather a kind of “summons” from the King of the universe and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. It is an act of God that guarantees a response, because Paul specifies in Romans 8:30 that all who were “called” were also “justified”. This calling has the capacity to draw us out of the kingdom of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom so we can join in full fellowship with him…” Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing, p. 692-3.

When we first encounter the doctrine of election, we generally run through a series of questions within ourselves. They tend to begin with an objective view,  but when we internalize them, they take on a different meaning. They usually occur something like this…

  1. What do you mean, people don’t have anything to do with salvation? That seems unfair. Why not this person?
  2. What do you mean, I didn’t have anything to do with my salvation? That, too, seems unfair. Why me?

In all honesty, the doctrine can be complicated, comforting, and a bit troublesome at times! But I do see it throughout scripture. And embracing it makes me feel like I have fewer unsolved questions. Even though it may cause some unsettledness at times, I do like a world where God is in charge (sovereign) over all the big and small details of my life.


Let’s highlight a couple of important movements within the book as we approach Romans 9.

  • CH 1 – Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. It is how God saves people. This is the point of the entire book. As you read the book you will see, why we need the gospel, why and how God saves us, the blessings of the gospel, and how we should live after we’ve embraced the gospel.
  • CH 1 – Big, fat sinners are guilty of sin.
  • CH 2 – You religious folks are sinners too! And you’re just as guilty.
  • CH 3. – Summary thus far. “that all, both Jews and Greeks are under sin.” 3.10. Paul lays out the human condition very well in 3.10-20. I think it’s important to know that Paul is not describing ‘them’, but you and me in these verses. It is because of this human condition, that we need Romans 9
  • CH 3.21 – a turning point! How are we made right before God? We are justified by the substitutionary death of Jesus.
  • CH 4 – What does faith look like?
  • CH 5 – What are the results of my salvation? Peace with God. How does Jesus’ sacrifice apply to me?
  • CH 6 – Salvation gives me new spiritual desires.
  • CH 7 – Salvation doesn’t mean I won’t have spiritual growing pains.
  • CH 8 – Salvation comes with a ton of spiritual blessings – no condemnation, adoption, God’s continued work in my life, unconditional love…


  • Paul, in chapters 9-11, is largely wrestling with the question of why so many Jews have, and are, and will reject Christ as Messiah.
  • We cannot separate chapter 9 from what Paul has just wrote in chapter 8. Chapter 9 makes all the blessings and truths found in chapter 8 possible.

9 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 

3 – What a sincere gospel love Paul has for his fellow Israelites!

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 

6 – If Israel had all the spiritual benefits of verses 4-5, why aren’t they getting saved? Has the gospel failed? Did God fail? Paul answers his own question in verses 7-13.

7-9 – Paul uses the story of Abraham and God’s promise to bring him a son (Genesis 18; 21) to illustrate 1) Not all Jews will be saved, but 2) people will be saved. And thus Paul upholds two divisions among mankind, children of flesh and children of promise. For more on what it means to be a child of promise, look back at Romans 4.13-25.

10-13 – Paul uses another OT story to further explain, within the next generation, we see God continuing to move through the birth story of Jacob and Esau.

Note the theological principles:

  • This was not based on foreseen behavior or works. It was uncondiitonal – “not yet born and had done nothing good or bad” 11
  • God’s election was based on God’s purpose. 11
  • God’s election was accomplished through His power. – “but because of him who calls” 11

13 – This is a quote from Malachi 1.2-3. The full verse reads, “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob  but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” This is most likely a contrasting idiom, not a literal hating. However, we shouldn’t understand Esau to represent innocence. Esau’s decendants rebellion to God was well known to Israel and ultimately ended in the judgment of that nation.

Consider the following explanation of the Malachi text, “love,” often is found in texts dealing with choosing and with faithfulness…it involves “the passionate desire to be intimately united with a person,” but it also has “a strikingly pragmatic character” and “includes a conscious act in behalf of the person who is loved or the thing that is preferred.” Here in Malachi it refers to the Lord’s election of Israel for a special and exclusive relationship, redeeming them from bondage in Egypt and from exile in Babylon, and continually acting in faithfulness to that relationship (cf. Deut 7:6; Amos 3:2). Although God certainly had affection for Israel, the focus here is on his repeated actions in accordance with a continuing relationship. – Richard A. Taylor and E. Ray Clendenen, Haggai, Malachi, vol. 21A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 247.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 

14-16 – Here, Paul wrestles with the same question we wrestle with, “That doesn’t seem fair?!” I’m glad he does, but in his answer I find the comfort of great biblical grounding, but the truth Paul presents is, as those in John 6 said, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”

Paul quotes from Exodus 33.19, the context for this verse is Moses asking God to reveal himself? Where God responds with the quoted verse in 15.

17-18 – “God shows mercy as he chooses, and he hardens people’s hearts as he chooses. He is sovereign in all that he does. Although the text says repeatedly, however, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it also stresses that Pharaoh hardened himself (cf. Exod 7:13–14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34–35). Morris notes that “neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.” – Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 200.

“God’s freedom to do that which is in accordance with his will does not sit well with many moderns whose philosophy of life stems from a combination of relativism and belief in personal autonomy. For the Christian, however, it is important to build one’s theology not on personal perceptions of what ought to be but upon the biblical revelation of the character and purpose of God. The unalterable nature of God and the absolute justice of his actions are undoubtedly more difficult for the twentieth-century reader to understand than for those who lived in the biblical period, but a proper hermeneutic calls for us to interpret Scripture in its historical context. While its meaning will never change, how it is to be applied will depend upon the context of the reader. To fault God for showing mercy to some while hardening others is to require that he conform to our fallible and arbitrary concept of justice.” –  Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 201.

Note the theological principles:

  • This is based upon God’s compassion and mercy. 16
  • God desires to be known. 17
  • For people to change, the heart must change. 18

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ” 26  “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will 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, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” 

19 – Paul then answers the next logical question, If God elects some people based off of his own purpose, then how can the non-elect be held responsible for their sin? This is a great question. And, if I’m being honest, I wish Paul would’ve answered this in a lengthier way. But his answer is essentially “Who do you think you are? You better know your place.”

This is where, in my mind, even though I don’t know why God does somethings that he does, 1) I cannot let it negate scripture, 2) I must trust him through my questions. “I believe, help my unbelief.”

Note the theological principles:

  • God is in charge. 20
  • God is both  a God of wrath against sin and a God of mercy toward sinners. 22,23
  • Salvation is worldwide. 24,25
  • Without God’s Holy Spirit intervention in our lives, “we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” 29

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

  • Salvation is by faith alone. Not works.