In thinking through the doctrine of election this spring in one of my systematic theology classes, I found John Piper’s book The Justification of God very helpful in discerning how corporate/historical election and individual/eternal election relate to one another in Romans 9:1-24, a relation that had always been a bit fuzzy in my mind.
Regarding the view that Paul has in mind in Romans 9 only corporate/historical election, Piper writes that this view’s “decisive flaw is its failure to ask how the flow of Paul’s argument from 9:1-5 on through the chapter affects the application of the principle Paul has established in Rom 9:6b-13″ (64, italics his).
And again, on 66: “in Paul’s mind the election of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau established an ongoing principle whereby God elects unconditionally the beneficiaries of his blessing not only in the establishment of the nation Israel by Jacob and his sons, but also within that very nation so that ‘all those from Israel, these are not Israel.'”
Clearly some of the Old Testament examples of election to which Paul appeals in Romans 9:1-24 are examples of historical/corporate election. Although I question the extent to which historical election and eternal election can be separated, I do grant that there are some who are historically elect who are not eternally elect (e.g., Judas Iscariot [cf. John 6:70]). However, in Romans 9:1-24, as Piper has helped me to see, the principle that Paul gleans from the Old Testament examples he cites – “not because of works but because of him who calls” (9:11) – is applied to Paul’s current pastoral concern, namely, the failure of so many individual first century Jews to recieve their Messiah, Jesus, and thus be saved from eternal damnation (9:1-5). Paul’s burden following verse 6 is to provide support for his assertion that “all those from Israel, these are not Israel” (and hence to demonstrate that God’s promises to Israel had not failed). How would an appeal to corporate election advance Paul’s argument? In context, he is concerned with the eternal destiny of individuals within the already historically chosen corporate people.
I was also touched by Piper’s personal response to this difficult doctrine at the end of his book:
“For those who, like myself, confess Rom 9 as holy Scripture and accord it an authority over our lives, the implications of this exegesis are profound. We will surely not fall prey to the naive and usually polemical suggestions that we cease to pray or that we abandon evangelism. If we did that, we would only betray our failure to be grasped by this theology as Paul was who ‘prayed without ceasing’ (I Thessalonians 5:17) and who labored in evangelism ‘harder than any of the other apostles’ (I Corinthians 15:10). On the contrary, will be deeply sobered by the awful severity of God, humbled to the dust by the absoluteness of our dependence on his unconditional mercy, and irresistably allured by the infinite treasury of his glory ready to be revealed to the vessels of glory. Thus we will be moved to forsake all confidence in human distictives or acheivements and we will entrust ourselves to mercy alone. In the hope of glory we will extend this hope to others that they may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven” (220).