We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded solely by your direct support. Please consider supporting this project.

potter clay

The God of Wisdom: Romans 9, Part 5

This week we have been looking at Romans 9. In this post, we will look at the sixth and final argument against the deterministic interpretation of this famous chapter.

Argument #6: It’s About Wisdom, Not Power

When Paul responds to the charge of injustice by asking, “who… are you, a human being, to argue with God?” (vs. 20), he is not thereby appealing to the sheer power of the potter over the clay. He is rather appealing to the sovereign wisdom of the potter in refashioning clay in a manner that fits the kind of clay he has to work with. When “clay” yields to his influence and has faith, he fashions a vessel of honor. When “clay” becomes “spoiled” (Jer 18:4) and resists his will, he fashions a “vessel of ordinary use” that is being prepared for destruction.

Again, this fashioning looks arbitrary to Jews who believed that they were the “vessel of honor” by virtue of their national identity or good works – Jews who did not “strive for [God’s righteousness] on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (Rom 9:32). It is to these people, expressing this sentiment, that Paul sarcastically asks, “Who are you…?” In truth, God’s fashioning is not arbitrary at all. It is based on whether or not one is willing “to seek” after the righteousness of God that comes by faith, not works (9:30–32; 10:3–5, 12–13; 11:22–23).


On the basis of these six considerations I conclude that the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 is as misguided as it is unfortunate. It is misguided not only because it misinterprets Paul, but because it fundamentally clashes with the supremacy of God’s self-revelation in Christ. And it is unfortunate because it tragically replaces the unsurpassably glorious picture of God as Jesus Christ dying on the cross for undeserving sinners with a picture of a deity who defies all moral sensibilities by arbitrarily fashioning certain people to be vessels fit for eternal destruction — and then punishing them for being that way. It exchanges the picture of a beautiful God who reigns supreme with self-sacrificial love and flexible wisdom for a picture of a God who reigns by the arbitrary exercise of sheer power.

I unequivocally affirm that the sovereign God “has mercy on whomever he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whomever he wants to harden.” I would simply add that the “whomever” he has mercy on refers to “all who choose to believe” while the “whomever” he hardens refers to “all who refuse to believe.” The passage demonstrates the wisdom of God’s loving flexibility, not the sheer determinism of God’s power.

Image by nanda_uforians via Flickr.

Related Reading