Taken out of context, this chapter has confused many students; it has supported the false doctrine of predestination. It is crucial to understand that Paul is speaking to the Jews who claimed salvation through Abraham and the Law of Moses rather than through Christ. He is explaining a potential contradiction-that the seed of Israel as a group are the covenant people according to the foreknowledge of God, but that children of Abraham as individuals cannot expect salvation if they reject the Savior.
Bruce R. McConkie
"Paul here begins to comment about foreordination or predestination...Paul simply comments about matters already known to and understood by his readers. He does not define or explain the doctrines in any detail. Unfortunately his comments have given rise to major misconceptions in the minds of sectarians who do not have the doctrinal and spiritual background to know what the Apostle means in the brief allusions he makes to the great gospel truths involved. Since the true doctrines of the gospel have been revealed anew in this day, the Latter-day Saints find themselves in a position comparable to that of the Roman Saints; they can understand Paul's teachings because they already know the doctrinal concepts to which he is alluding." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 267)
"The whole of the chapter (Rom. 9) had reference to the Priesthood and the house of Israel; and unconditional election of individuals to eternal life was not taught by the Apostles. God did elect or predestinate, that all those who would be saved, should be saved in Christ Jesus, and through obedience to the Gospel; but He passes over no man's sins, but visits them with correction, and if His children will not repent of their sins He will discard them." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 189)
Romans 9:2 I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart
No one had tried harder than Paul to convert the Jews to Christianity. As a well-schooled Pharisee and an associate of the Sanhedrin, there was no one better qualified to explain to the Jews how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the ancient prophecies. If Paul couldn't convince the Jews, who could? Hence, during the early part of his ministry, Paul labored unceasingly in the synagogues. Time and time again, his message was rejected. Time and time again, he was persecuted for his preaching. Paul specifically notes that is was 'of the Jews,' not of the Gentiles, that he 'five times received...forty stripes save one' (2 Cor. 11:24).
What then was the 'great heaviness and continual sorrow in [his] heart'? It was that his beloved brethren, the Jews, would not turn to the truth. 'Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved' (Rom. 10:1).
Romans 9:3 Paul Paraphrased
"I almost wish that I could be accursed from Christ and cast out if that would somehow save my Jewish brethren and kinsmen."
Romans 9:4 Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants
Bruce R. McConkie
"Israel the chosen seed; Israel the Lord's people; Israel the only nation since Abraham that had worshipped Jehovah; Israel the children of the prophets; Israel who had been cursed and scattered for her sins; Israel in whose veins believing blood flows-the Israel of God shall be gathered, and fed, and nurtured, and saved, in the last days! Let there be no misunderstanding about this; salvation is of the Jews, and if there are believing Gentiles, they will be adopted into the believing family and inherit with the chosen seed. 'And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.' (Rom. 11:26-27.) But sadly: 'They are not all Israel, which are of Israel' (Rom. 9:6), and only those who turn to their God and accept him as the Promised Messiah shall inherit with the chosen seed either in time or in eternity." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 4: 332.)
Romans 9:6 they are not all Israel, which are of Israel
"By this Paul meant that some who are of Israel by lineage are not living up to their spiritual privileges and therefore will not receive the blessings that could have been theirs as sons and daughters of Abraham and of the family of Jacob, even though they are of that blood lineage." (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 600 - 601.)
"There is a latter-day corollary because not all members of the Church are members of Christ's church. The Lord defines church membership not by those whose names are found on the church records. He defines church membership in spiritual terms, 'whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church' (DC 10:67). Therefore, those members who don't repent and come unto Christ can expect the same reward as the unbelieving Jews. Hence, we are not all members of the church, which are members of the church. Or as one commentator put it, "Not all Mormons are Latter-day Saints." (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 1: 354.)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"The terms seed, heirs, sons, and daughters, have a much deeper and greater meaning as used in the scriptures in reference to the becoming sons and daughters of Abraham, than to be literal descendants in the flesh. In the scriptural meaning there will be thousands of the literal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, who will never be called by Abraham's name or be of the house of Israel. This will be because they have rebelled against the truth and have not placed themselves in harmony with the covenants which are required in order that they may inherit as sons and daughters. In other words, to become a son or a daughter of Abraham, the individual must 'do the works of Abraham.' The Lord recognized the fact that the Jews were descendants of Abraham, but they could not be classed as the children of Abraham.
"We must remember that there are some blessings which come to us through faithful membership in the Church. Those who are obedient, and who keep the covenants which the Lord requires of those who obtain exaltation, are to be throughout all eternity, the children of Abraham, while those who rebel against the truth will be cut off, just as were the Jews in the days of our Savior." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 3: 249-250.)
Romans 9:8-10 the children of the promise are counted for the seed
The common notion of the Jews of the time was that they would all be saved by virtue of being Abraham's children. Edersheim wrote: "Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna (hell), to deliver any Israelite who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors. In fact, by their descent from Abraham, all the children of Israel were nobles, infinitely higher than any proselytes." (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 187-188)
How could Paul combat this self-righteous notion? What scriptural evidence could he use to prove that being a descendant of Abraham was not enough to ensure God's favor? Brilliantly, Paul uses the examples of Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Ishmael were Abraham's sons yet only Isaac was given the blessings of Abraham. Jacob and Esau were both Isaac's sons, yet only Jacob received the promises through Isaac. What about Ishmael and Esau? They did not receive the blessings of their brothers. This is figurative for all the children of Abraham. Not all of Abraham's children are 'children of promise;' only the righteous are 'counted for the seed.'
Romans 9:11 not of works, but of him that calleth
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we really don't know much about the pre-mortal world. In Paul's day, even less may have been revealed. Hence, we see Paul explaining that Jacob and Esau were called before they were born, receiving different promises 'not of works, but of him that calleth.' Certainly, Jacob was chosen not because of his works in mortality-being chosen before he was born. But what Paul doesn't tell us is that Jacob had earned that privilege by his own worthiness in the pre-mortal world of spirits. God's selection of Jacob over Esau was not an arbitrary decision. It was not a case of God playing favorites. It was a case of God blessing Jacob because of his faithfulness, for he was one of the many 'noble and great ones' which were 'chosen before [they] were born' (Abr. 3:22-23). God's pre-mortal selection of Jacob was confirmed in mortality by his righteous works. This principle has universal application to the doctrine of election.
Bruce R. McConkie
"This election to a chosen lineage is based on pre-existent worthiness and is thus made 'according to the foreknowledge of God.' (1 Pet. 1:2.) Those so grouped together during their mortal probation have more abundant opportunities to make and keep the covenants of salvation, a right which they earned by pre-existent devotion to the cause of righteousness. As part of this election, Abraham and others of the noble and great spirits were chosen before they were born for the particular missions assigned them in this life. (Abra. 3:22-24; Rom. 9.)" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 274.)
Romans 9:13 Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated
"Peter warned that Paul had made some statements on this subject which are very difficult to understand for those who do not have the spirit of prophecy and those who have not studied deeply.
"...From a casual reading of this scripture (Romans 9:9-14), one would be inclined to assume that it was before Jacob and Esau were born that the Lord said, 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.' Let us see what the Lord did say before they were born:
'And the Lord said unto her [Rebekah], Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.' (Genesis 25:23.)
"Thus, before these twin boys were born, the Lord knew what spirits he was sending to become Rebekah's sons and the manner of spirits he would send through them as their posterity, and he knew which one would be born first:
'And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.' (Acts 17:26.)
"Even so the Lord had determined this to be the time and place for Esau and Jacob to be born. He knew them and the nature of their lives and what they would do under the circumstances and conditions surrounding them. Therefore, he was able to say, even before they were born, 'And the elder shall serve the younger.'
"Now when did the Lord say, 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated'?
"Following are the words of the Lord to his prophet Malachi, spoken approximately thirteen hundred years after Jacob and Esau were born:
And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.' (Malachi 1:1-3.)
"Thirteen hundred years after the birth of Jacob and Esau, the Lord could well make such a statement. We will not take time to review the life of Jacob other than to remind the reader that the Lord changed his name to Israel because of his faithfulness, and he now stands at the head of the house of Israel. Paul gives us this account of Esau's unfaithfulness: 'Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.' (Hebrews 12:16.)" (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 341.)
Romans 9:19 who hath resisted his will?
Verse 19 is very important in dispelling the false doctrine of predestination. In it, Paul anticipates that his opponents will misunderstand his doctrine. He predicts that they will conclude that all of their actions were predetermined by God. He expects the following rebuttal from his audience, "By your teachings, whatever a man does is not his fault but the predestined will of God." These are the very same false conclusions that Calvinism made of Paul's teachings. Does Paul agree with them? Does he agree with Calvin's predestination? 'Nay...O man, who art thou that repliest against God?'
Foreknowledge and foreordination do not equal predestination. The difference is crucial, and Paul knew it.
Romans 9:21 hath not the potter power...to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
"Now let us consider another of Paul's statements that is often misunderstood. Contenders for the principle of predestination often refer to Romans, chapter 9, as 'A Bible within a Bible': (quotes Romans 9:20-23)
"From this scripture, it is reasoned that the Lord (the potter) has the power from the same lump of clay to make one a vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor, and that the thing formed cannot say to him that formed it: 'Why hast thou made me thus?' Let us consider, in connection with this statement, another of Paul's statements bearing on this same subject:
"From this statement of Paul's to Timothy, it is clear that no matter what may be one's handicaps or limitations in life, by purging himself he may become 'a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.'" (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 343.)
Romans 9:23-24 the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory
There are certain individuals who have been foreordained to receive eternal life. They are 'the vessels of mercy...prepared unto glory.' They are the elect of God, but they don't know who they are. It is important to understand that not all of the elect are exalted. In order to receive exaltation, these souls must meet the requirements of faith, repentance, and all the appropriate gospel ordinances. None of them are exalted by force or by the predetermination of God.
How then can we know if we are the elect of God? There is only one way to know for sure-that is to make one's calling and election sure, 'brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall' (2 Pet. 1:10).
Romans 9:24 he hath called...also of the Gentiles
Bruce R. McConkie
"He says also of members of the Church that God 'hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love,' and that we were foreordained to become the children of Jesus Christ by adoption, thus gaining a 'forgiveness of sins' in this life and an inheritance of eternal glory in the life to come. (Eph. 1:7.)" ("God Foreordains His Prophets and His People," Ensign, May 1974, 73)
Romans 9:24-29 he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles
Paul is teaching the Jews that being a Jew is not enough to receive exaltation (i.e. the promises of Abraham). He has to prove to them two things: 1) that the Gentiles can be saved, and 2) that not all the Jews will be saved. He does this using three scriptural passages:
1) Hosea taught that the Gentiles (those 'which were not my people') will 'be called the children of the living God' (v. 25-26).
2) Isaiah taught that only a 'remnant [of Israel] shall be saved'-not all of them (v. 27).
3) Again, Isaiah taught that most of Israel was as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, but the Lord had preserved a small portion of Israel who were worthy of the blessings as the seed of Abraham (v. 29).
Romans 9:30-31 the Gentiles...have attained to righteousness...which is of faith
"Chapters 9 through 11 of Romans provide a penetrating treatment of the subject, Who is Israel? Paul emphatically declared that despite the Jews' claims to preferred status because of lineal descent from Abraham, the true Israelite is the one who receives, by faith, Israel's promised Messiah. Circumcision or uncircumcision is an irrelevant matter; Jew or Gentile status is immaterial. What matters is whether the people of the first century A.D. (and all persons thereafter) turned their attention and affections toward Jesus of Nazareth, the God of ancient Israel and the Mediator of God's new covenant with mankind." (Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 53.)
'As many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel' (2 Nephi 30:2)
James E. Faust
"There are many coming into the Church in this day and time who are not of the blood lineage of a specific tribe of Jacob. No one need assume that he or she will be denied any blessing by reason of not being of the blood lineage of Israel.
"Paul makes repeated references to adoption into the house of Israel through faith: 'But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.' (Rom. 8:9.) And again: 'Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises' (Rom. 9:4).
"King Benjamin refers to the faithful as 'the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters,' thus being able to be 'spiritually begotten ... through faith,' and thus coming into the family of Christ through a spiritual birth (Mosiah 5:7).
"It really makes no difference if the blessings of the house of Israel come through lineage or through the spirit of adoption. Elder John A. Widtsoe stated, 'Whether this lineage is of blood or of adoption does not matter' (Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 72-77)." ("Patriarchal Blessings," New Era, Nov. 1982, 7)
Romans 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith
Neal A. Maxwell
"Meekness permits us to seek spiritual things by faith. Ancient Israel failed, said the Apostle Paul, for 'they sought it not by faith.' (Romans 9:32.) They preferred something else: 'They despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it.' (Jacob 4:14.)" (Meek and Lowly [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 28.)
Romans 9:32 they stumbled at that stumblingstone
Neal A. Maxwell
"Paul observed the difficulties he had in preaching Christ crucified: 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness' (1 Corinthians 1:23)...Perhaps, as Paul said, 'because they sought it not by faith,' Jesus was an obstacle over which many then could not climb. It is little different in our secular age." (But for a Small Moment [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986], 59.)
"Christendom now acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God; they look upon him as God manifested in the flesh according to the New Testament; yet the generation in which He lived did not see these tokens of divinity which this generation recognize. To them he was 'a root out of dry ground'-'a stumbling block,' 'a rock of offence.' So with the Latter-day Saints. They are a stumbling block to this generation. The world see all their weaknesses and faults, and see no divinity in the work in which they are engaged. Yet this is not to be wondered at, inasmuch as the world could not see it in Jesus when he dwelt in mortality. We are looked upon as a low, degraded, ignorant set of fanatics. This is the opinion of the great majority of the learned and refined world." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 12: 207 - 208.)