Romans 9 Teaches Free-Will

Fathers of the 7 Ecumenical Councils

For many centuries, the worldwide Church consistently recognized man’s free will throughout Scripture. In the year 680, the doctrine of free-will was authoritatively defended by the Church in the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

Then, over 800 years later, the Protestant Reformation erupted. Men like Martin Luther and John Calvin convinced many followers that man’s free will was an illusion. They cited a number of Scriptures out of context, attempting to support their views. One of the passages frequently used was the 9th chapter of Romans.

Ironically, when Romans 9 is interpreted in its full biblical context, it actually proves to be a positive argument in favor of man’s free-will.

There are many impressive connections between
the Biblical books of Jeremiah and Romans:

  1. Jeremiah and Paul were both prophets born to the tribe of Benjamin.
  2. Both were prophets who wept over the unfaithfulness of the Jews, and over the judgment which came to them as a result.
  3. Both used very similar concepts and similar terminology in their books. For example, consider Paul’s “Olive Tree” terminology in Romans 11, which closely parallels Jeremiah’s “Olive Tree” terminology in Jeremiah 11.

Similarly, Romans 9 closely parallels Jeremiah 18.

Paul was an Old Testament scholar. He knew the OT backwards and forwards, including the book of Jeremiah. Plus, Paul was a Benjamite prophet, just like Jeremiah. So it is not surprising that Paul’s writings echo the writings of Jeremiah so often.

In Jeremiah 18, the prophet Jeremiah likens God’s grace & judgment to the way a Potter works with clay. The Potter makes some vessels for honorable uses, and other vessels for destruction.

In Romans 9, the prophet Paul likens God’s grace & judgment to the way a Potter works with clay. The Potter makes some vessels for honorable uses, and other vessels for destruction.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is explicitly clear . . . The clay determines whether or not the Potter will make it into this sort of pot or that.  If the Potter makes the clay into a vessel of mercy, but then the clay rebels, then the Potter changes course and remakes the clay into a vessel of wrath. If the Potter makes the clay into a vessel of wrath, but then the clay repents, then the Potter changes course and remakes the clay into a vessel of mercy.

In Jeremiah 18, the Potter molds the clay of the nations.  Faithful nations are molded into vessels of mercy, and rebellious nations are molded into vessels of wrath.  And through repentance, any nation can influence the hand of the Potter.

In Romans 9, the Potter molds the clay of the Jews and Gentiles.  Those who are faithful are molded into vessels of mercy, and those who are rebellious are molded into vessels of wrath.  And today, as always, the Potter’s hand is influenced by man’s genuine repentance.

Jeremiah 18 is in agreement with the theology of man’s free-will.
And Romans 9 was written in light of Jeremiah 18, even using similar terminology.

When these passages are viewed side-by-side, the close parallels are easy to see.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 680 A.D. - Constantinople III, Calvinism, Church History, Heresies. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Romans 9 Teaches Free-Will

  1. Steven Clark says:

    guess it’s hard to be the first to like this post when the entry was posted AD 680.

  2. Richard Shaward says:


  3. Jared Myers says:

    Did Paul ever specifically link his writings in Romans 9 to the book of Jeremiah? If not, this argument doesn’t hold water and is based on assumption. Romans 9 is to be interpreted through the lens of Romans 8, not Jeremiah.

    • You have quite an interesting theory regarding Biblical exegesis. Let’s test your theory on other Biblical passages to see if it holds water . . .

      “Then [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Gen. 28:10)

      “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

      “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.'” (John 1:51)

      Jared . . . based on your theory of hermeneutics, what are we to make of John 1:51? The apostle John never specifically tells us that Jesus is referring to Jacob’s Ladder. And he never tells us that the “Son of Man” here is the same as the “Son of Man” in the 7th chapter of Daniel. Therefore, according to your theory, we have no way to figure out what is being discussed in John 1:51. Thus, I am confident that your approach to interpreting Scripture would be upsetting to many Biblical commentators, even Calvinist ones.

      Thousands of times in Scripture, the writers make references to earlier Scriptures, without making explicit mention of those Scriptures. Throughout Scripture, that is normally how things are done. Specifically saying that “Isaiah said this” or “Jeremiah said that” is the exception, rather than the rule.

      And if your Scriptural hermeneutic does not work in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, then neither does it work in the 9th chapter of Romans.

      • Jared Myers says:

        What did Christians say about this topic in 529AD?
        “If anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, or that we can be saved by assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, who makes all whom He calls gladly and willingly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray from the plain teaching of Scripture by exalting the natural ability of man, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
        Adapted from The Council of Orange (529 AD)

        Something I learned about Jeremiah in my recent studying of it, unlike Isaiah which was before the actual judgment of captivity, Jeremiah’s life and work led right into the time of captivity. Jeremiah’s message differs in that very rarely is the offer for repentance even made, because this is God convicting the people to their judgment. You will see in earlier chapters the offer made if even ONE righteous man be found judgment will be averted, but we know that in Jeremiah himself such a one was found yet they were still judged, so even this wasn’t an offer for repentance.

        In any case, the potter and the clay in Jeremiah 18 is God continuing his judgment of them. We can see from verse 12 their response, “this is hopeless, let us continue each in his own way,” – did God not know they would respond this way when he made the offer to relent His judgment? Of course He knew, so it wasn’t an offer of repentance so much as a continuation of the judgment He was preparing.
        I got this largely from Calvin’s commentary on Jeremiah btw, I think on the first chapter. I can look it up to be sure.

        I didn’t say we couldn’t use that method of exegesis, just that Paul never made that connection himself with Romans 9 and Jeremiah. But beyond that, what’s semi-disturbing to me is that this article seems to isolate Romans 9:21-24 from the rest of Romans 9 in his parallel to Jeremiah 18.

        What makes it semi- disturbing is that the moment you put those verses back in context, you realize that Paul’s argument would immediately refute the article’s attempted argument. Why would Paul need to say “Why then does He [God] still find fault? For who resists His will?” if God is only responding to man’s actions?

        Not to mention the question begging of “where do these good actions of man come from?” If it’s from man, does this not give ground to man to boast? After all, he repented whereas his neighbor, who had the same grace offered to him, did not. And if these good things come from God, then it’s no argument against Calvinism, and it comes off as dishonest to present it as such.

  4. navyguns says:

    Reblogged this on The Truth About the Gospel and commented:
    You are the potter, I am the clay. 2Ti 2:20 NKJV – But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.
    2Ti 2:21 NKJV – Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

  5. Pingback: Omelettes, Eggs, and Predestination | The Orthodox Life

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