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Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

Rob Wilkerson
Chapter Four

The First Texts

It was a day after the second sermon I had preached at the new Southern Baptist church
where Id been called as pastor. I wanted to start out with the basics, namely the
gospel. I decided to begin my ministry with an exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11,
rediscovering Pauls understanding of the simple-yet-deep good news of Jesus. That
mornings message was difficult, no doubt. Exposition often requires the preacher to
talk about the historical and cultural backgrounds of a text in order to help the people
understand the original context. That is always crucial in order to be able to correctly
determine whats applicable today.

Evidently something in the message aggravated one particular church member. (Ill call
him Alex because he reminds me of Alexander the Coppersmith, whom Paul said did him
much harm.) When he came to talk to me the next day he made it clear to me. Part of
the historical and cultural background to the death of Jesus is the mysterious
sovereignty of God. That sovereignty was manifested in the fact that the Messiahs
death was prophesied, but so was the rejection of the Messiah by the people of Israel.
In other words, God not only predetermined His Sons death, but He also predetermined
the spiritual deafness and blindness of His own people, so that they would crucify Him,
and thereby work our salvation, and thereby call in the Gentiles. (If you skipped the
previous chapter thinking you would just get right to the meat of the book, Id strongly
encourage you to go back and read it. If you dont, then you may not have the
theological category to process what I just said.)

The church member wanted to have a discussion about Gods sovereignty, since his
emotional state made it clear that he had no category for this truth. Instead of allowing
me to help build that category, it was evident he had already made up his mind. He
wanted to skip right to the meat of the argument and go to Romans 9. All he wanted
from me was answer to his question, which clearly had a hidden, built-in ultimatum as I
would learn later on. His question was simple: Do you believe in double-

Romans 9 seems to be where almost every talk about predestination leads. And this is
so for a reason. It is probably the most definitive chapter in the Bible on the subject and
therefore needs much attention in order to understand and embrace the concept as
Paul taught it under inspiration of the Spirit of God. This is the substance of what
follows in this chapter.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson

The Preceding Context of Romans 9

The context of Romans 9-11 is Pauls attempt to answer where Israel fits in with the
divine plan of justification by faith. In chapter 1, he explained the gospel as being the
power of God to save everyone who believes, whether they are Jew or Gentile (1:16).
Regardless of their race, if they are justified, they will live by faith in God (v. 17). The
same gospel that reveals Gods saving power, also reveals Gods condemning power.
Paul begins by showing how Gods wrath is being revealed against the Gentiles (1:18-
32). He then moves to show how Gods wrath is being revealed against the Jews in
chapter 2. Chapter 3 sums up the matter by proclaiming that all men are in sin (cf. 3:10-
13, 23).

The way out is not to attempt or expect to gain a right standing with God based on the
fact that a person is a Jew. Justification, a right standing before God, is by faith alone,
not by works as Jews had become accustomed to thinking. Paul spends chapter four
explaining that the kind of faith Abraham had is the kind of faith that God recognizes as
saving faith. He simply believed in Gods promises and he was justified. This is certainly
an oversimplification of Pauls teaching in chapter 4, but an accurate summary.

Therefore, if one is justified with God, they have peace with God. Paul begins chapter
five with that explanation and then moves to an explanation of the difference between
grace and sin. That forms a transition leading to chapter six in which he explains that
living in sin just because Gods grace is so abundant is preposterous. Justification by
faith must lead and will in fact lead to sanctification. Both of these acts have severed
the power of sin in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Chapter seven then becomes an explanation about how the law of God cannot produce
salvation for a person who is trapped under its condemning power. The Law points out
sin and only ends up exacerbating an already sinful condition. But inherently, though it
is a righteous law, it has no power to save from it. Thats where the Spirit of God comes
in, as Paul taught in Romans 8. He is there to empower a persons war against sin, a
persons prayer life, and a persons application of the gospel of Gods love. In the end,
Gods love as demonstrated in Christ and applied by the Spirit is the only thing that can
keep the Christian reenergized for the lifelong pursuit of sanctification.

By this time Paul knew well that the average Jew would be thinking of his explanation as
confusing to say the least. A Jew would be wondering where he fit in with this grand
scheme of justification, especially since he and his people were the ones to whom God
promised all of this to begin with. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, was the King of the Jews,
first and foremost. He had been sent to save His people, the Jews, from their sins (Matt.
1:21). But the obvious problem is that they rejected the Messiah. And since the gospel
had gone to the Gentiles, what did that mean for the Jews?

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
Pauls explanation is simple. It was the plan of God all along to incorporate other races
into His plan. In chapter four he already defined a Jew as one who has faith in God. And
he had already connected anyone who has the same kind of faith that Abraham had,
including Gentiles, as actually being a Jew. With these thoughts in mind, Paul picks back
up on that theme in Romans 9:6 and following. Being a Jew or Israelite is not based on
flesh and blood, on your lineage or nationality. But it is based on those who believe in
the promise of God. And the promise of God is where we pick up our discussion
regarding predestination.

Romans 9:11-13

Verses 9-13 contain several emphatic statements regarding the sovereign election of
God. It is this concept that Alex seemed to struggle so much with. To be sure, most
Christians struggle with it also, as has been my experience. The concept of being
sovereignly and completely and freely ruled by someone else is something not only
rebelled against by our sinful nature, but also foreign to the individualistic, American,
Westernized version of Christianity that we know today. For goodness sake, our country
was founded on the principles of individualism. The right of every American is the
freedom to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Consequently, this means
that every person has a right to not be ruled by anyone they dont like. But like it or not,
thats just not the sort of reality the Bible presents to us.

I began my explanation with Alex with this key truth of Gods sovereignty. It is explained
the simplest in Psalm 115:3 where the Psalmist writes, Our God is in the heavens; He
does whatever He pleases. That sums it up for me. But not for Alex. For me
personally, this has been the hallmark verse I use to get an immediate reflection of the
condition of their heart. And I got a fleshly response from Alex. It seemed he was held
captive by his sinful nature and culture such that he simply could not concede to Gods
sovereign rulership over his own heart no matter what. So I further explained this
concept from the truths in Romans 9.

First, according to verse 11, a choice was made regarding Isaac and Rebekahs twins,
Jacob and Esau. The choice would determine the future of Gods people, Israel. Would
the promise to Abraham be fulfilled through Jacob or Esau? It was a choice NOT made
on anything either of the twins had done, because as the verse states it, for though the
twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad For some reason
Alex and so many others struggle over this verse. Yet it is so simple that it is astounding
anyone could miss it. Gods sovereignty is clearly exercised before anyone is born,
before anyone does anything good or bad, and in spite of what they do that may be
good or bad.

Essentially, what you have here is God exercising choice over a human being before the
human being is even born and able to exercise his own choices. And choice is exactly
what Paul argues for as the heart of the doctrine of election. Election is about Gods
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
choice. It is about Gods decision to choose what He desires for His own reasons before
anything actually happens.

The text here argues that this doctrine stands not on the common understanding of
foreknowledge, as if God looked down into the annals of the future and saw what each
would do and elected on the basis of that. This is the all too common understanding of
election, predestination and foreknowledge today. But the text adamantly stands
against such thinking. And do you know why? Because it steals Gods glory from Him!
He is glorified by and in His sovereign choices. So if we take those choices away from
Him, we also take away His glory.

A choice was made before they ever did anything good or bad, indeed before they were
ever born. Therefore, we may conclude from this that Gods sovereign election doesnt
stand on anything we do or do not do, whether good or bad. Again, God makes a
sovereign choice before we are ever born. Whatever the annals of the future may bear
out in time, a predetermined choice was made before they were born. So as I stated in
the previous chapter, it isnt that this is hard to understand so much as it is hard to
accept. And if people were more honest theyd say the latter and not the former.

But if the choice is not made based on our goodness or badness, what then is it based
upon? The last half of verse 11 teaches us that it is based on Gods purpose according
to His choicenot because of works, but because of Him who calls. Gods purpose is
the reason for His sovereign election. I know, I know! I hear what you are saying.
Thats begging the question, isnt it! I feel the same way. Gods purpose really
doesnt leave me with much of an explanation as to why He sovereignly elects apart
from ones good or bad works. But thats it nonetheless, and Im in a position as a
human, created by God, where I need to be satisfied with His purpose and not revolt
just because I dont understand it. Remember what I said earlier about developing a
category in your heart and mind that is comfortable with mystery, no matter how
uncomfortable it makes us. Besides, He is a good God and everything He does is right
and just. Those two important truths should reorient your thinking on this matter
before you read any further. And if youre not there yet, stop and spend a few
moments praying, asking the Father to enlighten the eyes of your heart by the power of
the Spirit.

* * * * * * * *

Based on these two truths - that God sovereignly elects before a person is born, and
that He does so based on His purpose the text teaches that God sovereignly elected
that Esau (the older and rightful heir to Isaacs inheritance) would serve Jacob (the
younger cheat who manipulated his brother out of his birthright and outright stole His
brothers family inheritance and blessing!). If you dont get it either, join the club of
finite, human ignoramuses. What I especially dont get is that God evidently ordained
the very means by which Jacob would get the blessing and thus fulfill the prophecy
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spoken about them. God sovereignly declared before they were born that Esau would
end up serving Jacob, and the events that unfolded pointed to a sovereign God who had
already ordained it all. Are you identifying more with Alex right now? Then hang in
there! Dont sue me yet!

Moving on to verse 13, we find a most troublesome passage: Just as it is written,
Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated. Be careful! Watch those steam levels! Get a
hold of those emotions and that anger that is flaring up inside right now! This is in the
Bible. I didnt add it there. It wasnt emended by some 11
century scribe either. It
comes from the mouth of the Lord through the mouth and pen of the prophet Malachi,
over four hundred years earlier.

I have loved you, says the LORD. But you say, How have You loved us?
Was not Esau Jacobs brother? declares the LORD. Yet I have loved
Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation
and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness (1:2-3).

This is a powerfully injurious blow to the prideful heart that innately struggles with
being ruled. Paul is quoting Malachi to make his previous point concerning the promise
God made in Genesis 25:23. Gods promise to make Esau serve Jacob is made equal to
Gods loving Jacob and hating Esau. This is a frightening thought, but a truthful one

Now, what this means is that God had set His love on Jacob before Jacob was ever born
or before he had done anything good or bad. And God set His hatred on Esau before
Esau was ever born or before he had done anything good or bad. God made a choice of
love and hatred before the two of them came to draw their first breaths. At this point,
the spirit of Alex seems to be invading my keyboard. It is almost as if I can hear him
saying: Hey pal! The word hate here doesnt really mean hate. Id simply ask that
we take a chill pill and do some exegesis with me.

The Greek word for hate is emisesa (tiotoo from ioto) which in fact means, hate,
despise, disregard, be indifferent to.
And it is the very same word used by Jesus in
Matthew 6:24 where He discusses the hating of ones enemy as opposed to loving them
and caring for them. To be fair, there is the Hebraistic understanding of the term which

The commentary on an apocryphal text is noteworthy also. In 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 3:16, it was said of God,
you set apart Jacob for yourself, but Esau you have rejected (NRSV).

Newman, Barclay A. A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. New York, NY: United
Bible Societies, 1971. ioto. In BibleWorks 4.0, Hermeneutika Bible Research Software (Big Fork, MT:

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
could mean to love less or to prefer.
We are all familiar with the text of Luke 14:26
where Jesus teaches that unless we hate our relatives we cannot be His disciple. The
word hate is often interpreted there as being to love less, expressing a single-minded
focus and loyalty to Christ. This is certainly allowable in that context, though Im leary of
its logical implications. But I feel certain it not is allowable here in Pauls text.

Regardless of which view you may take, a comparison of the two views of the word
hatred leaves us with greater certainty. The concept of hate and love in Luke reflects
a humans attitude towards others, while the concepts in Romans reflect Gods attitude
towards humans. No matter how Luke is to be interpreted it cannot be applied in
wholesale to Romans. Even if the word hate did mean to love less here in Romans 9,
it doesnt really lessen our trouble for us because the point of the text is that God set
His affection on Jacob and withheld it from Esau. Or, if we so choose to say it this way,
God loved Jacob but loved Esau less. I hope you see that either way it still doesnt
alleviate the truth that God in some way shows enough love to one person so as to bless
them, but doesnt show that same love to another so as to curse them.

The love for Jacob stands in contradistinction to the hatred of Esau. And the hatred of
Esau is expressed in terms of a curse. This is made evident from the original text from
which Paul quoted in Romans 9. That text is Malachi 1:2-3 where God lays to waste the
nation of Edom (the people of Esau), tears down their buildings and pouring out His
anger on them forever. Can such a description be defined as loving less? (Now you
know where I stand on that interpretation!) Thats pretty strong stuff, and in diabolical
opposition to love! Listen to the voice of one sixteenth century theologian who explains
the hatred of God succinctly.

When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies (1) a negation of
benevolence, or a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men,
nor to endue them with any of those graces which stand connected with
eternal life. So, Esau have I hated (Rom. ix), i.e., I did, from all eternity
determine within Myself not to have mercy on him. The sole cause of
which awful negation is not merely the unworthiness of the persons
hated, but the sovereignty and freedom of the Divine will. (2) It denotes
displeasure and dislike, for sinners who are not interested in Christ
cannot but be infinitely displeasing to and loathsome in the sight of
eternal purity. (3) It signifies a positive will to punish and destroy the
reprobate for their sins, of which will, the infliction of misery upon them
hereafter, is but the necessary effect and actual execution.

Friberg, Timothy and Barbara. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (ANLEX), ioto. In
BibleWorks 4.0.

Zanchius, p. 44.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
According to this theologian, the first implication is the kind of hate God showed to Esau
and is therefore the kind of hate Paul is referring to in Romans 9:13. Unfortunately I
never got the opportunity to go even this deep with Alex so I feel honored and
privileged to do so with you so far. If I would have had that opportunity, I would then
have moved to verse 22.

Romans 9:22

It is hard to determine a key verse in the chapter because there are so many. But Id bet
my bottom dollar, if preachers were betting men, that verses 22-23 would be the most
pivotal. In response to the question as to whether or not the potter can use his lump of
clay to make vessels of honor and vessels for common use, Paul asks,

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His
power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared
for destruction?

The problem however, is that if this the key verse in the chapter we immediately run
into trouble when we read the words of commentator John Knox (not the Scottish
Reformer) regarding this verse: Only a few passages in Paul are more obscure than this
oneand no certainty is possible as to how it ought to be translated.
Leon Morris has
also stated that We must bear this warning in mind as we deal with a very difficult
So at the risk of seeming presumptuous, I would like to walk you through
this verse and see if we cannot come to some sort of conclusion.

First consider the context of the passage again. It remains within the immediate context
of the passage we considered previously. So Pauls purpose and thought remains the
same. He is attempting to explain how the promise of God to the nation of Israel can
remain in effect if so many have abandoned the continuity of the gospel plan. It is a
nation who has abused its covenant confidence, producing a damning self-assurance
which Paul has already addressed in chapter two and for which he is preparing the
reader in chapter eleven.
Therefore, per one commentator,

Paul has no intention of engaging in a debate about election and
judgment (far less about predestination and free will). The appeal of his
questions is to those who already recognize that the determining force is
God the creator, God in his creative and forbearing purpose. In particular
he has in view still his own peoples theological determinism, in terms of

John Knox. The Interpreters Bible Vol. IX (Nasville, TN: Broadman Press, 1978)

Leon Morris. The Epistle to the Romans (PNTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 366-67.

James Dunn. Romans 9-16 (WBC) (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988), p. 568.
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the covenant election of Israel and its corollary rejection of Esau and
hardening of Pharaoh.

This commentator rightly observes that Esau and Pharaoh are examples of objects of
wrath. They are among those who suffer the negative corollary of Israels election.

But what Paul does here in verse 22 is make an old switcheroo on the readers.
Perhaps we could even say he is performing a bait and switch in the text. He baited
them by inciting their anger toward Esau and Pharaoh. And then he switches the
subject quickly to

make it clear that the objects of wrath are the covenant people
themselves, or more precisely, the bulk of the covenant people who have
rejected the continuity/fulfillment of the covenant in the gospel.

This very point is what Paul opens up further in chapter ten, and then exposes it full
blown in chapter eleven.

It does seem strange to me, however, that if this commentator is willing to admit the
fact that the average Jew would have already recognized Gods determining force as
Creator, why wouldnt Paul, a Jew, have intended to communicate this truth through
this verse?
What was interesting to me was that this commentator seemed to miss
the connection, though his view of this verse in relation into the context is incredibly
insightful. So contrary to his understanding of the text, as quoted above, Pauls
intention is in fact to point out the truth of Gods sovereignty with regard to election,
judgment, predestination and free-will. Another commentator, I believe, sets the
record straight on this passage.

The concept of predestination is the most theocentric idea there is.
When it becomes clear that mans salvation does not rest on his own
works or exertions, but alone on the fact that it has pleased God, in His
divine purpose, to take man out of this age of death and place him with
Christ in the new age of the resurrection life, then it becomes genuinely
clear that all really depends on Gods free grace. All human claims are

Ibid, p. 567.



It is probably on this basis that Schreiner can say that Dunns notion that Jewish particularism is the
object of Pauls critique has no basis in the text. Romans (BECNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,
1998), p. 522, fn. 23. In humility I disagree with Schreiner slightly. Jewish particularism must in some way
be implied in the context since that has been a major thrust since chapter two and will continue on into
chapter eleven. But how much it is implied is something I am not willing to weigh in on at this time.
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thereby dismissed. The issue is not what man is or does, but what God
does with him.

A Troublesome Little Word

In my estimation, one of the key words used here is prepared (NASB). It is the Greek
word katertismena (|oopiotvo from |oopio). The word normally has the
positive use of preparing, making ready, arranging, equipping. And in one reference it
means to create, with the implication of putting into proper condition (Heb. 11:3).

The original word is in the middle/passive form. Since it occurs in this verse in the
perfect participle, the middle and passive forms are identical.

For those who dont know Greek, bear with me. Ill do the best I can to make it simple.
Take advantage of the footnotes also so you can track with me and challenge me if you
see something I missed. For those who know Greek, you know this presents an
immediate problem. The difference between the two will determine the meaning of the
passage. This is certainly one of those rare cases in New Testament exegesis where the
meaning of a verse rises or falls on one small factor such as the voice of a verb.

Is it the Middle Voice?

The middle voice of a Greek verb suggests that in someway the subject is performing
the action of the verb in a way that affects or involves himself.
One Greek Grammar

Anders Nygren. Commentary on Romans, trans. By Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg
Press, 1949), p. 369. Representing Nygren accurately, though, he does believe that any discussion on
predestination which directs our attention from Gods action to mans fate, ultimately becomes a
speculative theory about how one group is saved and another rejected. What he means is that a
discussion of double-predestination is to change [predestination] into its diametrical opposite. Instead
of allowing it to dismiss all such speculations, because the matter entirely lies in Gods hand, it becomes
an attempt on mans part to intrude into the secrets of the divine majesty. This is an unfortunate
comment, especially in the light of the context which so clearly portrays God as having just as much to do
with punishment upon man as He does with His mercy on man.

Louw, J.P. and E. A. Nida. Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic
Domains. 2
Edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988), |oopio.

This very passage receives special attention by Dan Wallace in his work Greek Grammar Beyond the
Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp. 417-18. He lists this passage as a Debatable and
Exegetically Significant Passage.

Per A. T. Robertson, The only difference between the active and the middle voices is that the middle
calls especial attention to the subjectin the middle the subject is acting in relation to himself somehow.
What this precise relation is the middle voice does not say. That must come out of the context or from
the significance of the verb itself. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman
Press, 1934), p. 804. See also A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by H. E. Dana and Julius R.
Mantey (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1955), p. 157.
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teaches that the basic notion is that the subject intimately participates in the results of
the action. It is the voice of personal involvement.

The context of Romans 9 would seem to argue for this view. We know that Pharaoh
hardened his own heart against God. And Esau evidently did the same thing. These two
persons, as well as anyone else who rejects God is outfitting or preparing themselves for
their own destruction.

Therefore, If the verb is in the middle voice, then Paul is saying that these vessels of
wrath in some way participated in their own destruction. Perhaps it could even be said
that they prepared themselves for destruction. Theres no doubt about that. I agree
completely and wholeheartedly with this truth. What I cannot agree with is that this
text argues for that truth.

Let me say, however, at this juncture, that if this is what Paul is saying, a huge blow has
been dealt to those who call themselves Calvinists. This is the view Alex took, although
we never got to this verse. Alex was locked onto the thought that the only correct
understanding of the whole matter is that man sends himself to hell, and that God
doesnt really need to. I happen to agree with him on this point. But I do not agree on
the point that this is the only correct understanding. It is only one side of a correct

Or is it the Passive Voice?

Now consider the option of the passive voice. In Greek grammar, when we come upon
a verb that is in the passive voice,

it can be said thatthe subject is acted upon or receives the action
expressed by the verb. No volition nor even necessarily awareness of
the action is implied on the part of the subject.

When the passive is used, the first thing to look for is the agent who is performing the
action. Look at Hebrews 11:3 and youll see it clearly. the universe was created by
the word of God (ESV). The verb is created. It is in the passive voice in the Greek.
And the agent is clearly given the word of God or God Himself.

But when we come to Romans 9:22 there is no specific mention of an agent in the verse
itself. This is not much of a problem for us. The passive voice occurs sometimes with
an agent (or means) expressed, sometimes without an agent (or means) expressed.

Richard A. Young. Intermediate New Testament Greek (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman
Publishers, 1994), p. 134.

Wallace, p. 431.

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The difference is seen in a sentence like Rob preached a sermon, in which the verb is
active and the agent specifically stated. But in the sentence, A sermon was preached,
the agent is omitted.
In light of those examples, allow me then to ask two questions. First, who
preached the sermon in the sentence without an agent? You probably said I, Rob, was
the preacher of the sermon. So let me then ask secondly, how did you come to that
conclusion? In response you would say that the context of my paragraph led you to that
conclusion. In the first sentence, Rob was the preacher of the sermon. If in the
second sentence then, a sermon is mentioned with no preacher named, then in
comparing the two sentences, figure out who the preacher was isnt that difficult, is it?

In the Greek, when an agent is often omitted in a passive voice verb, it may be what is
called a theological passive. Check the beatitudes again for an example of this. Who is
the understood agent who is comforting, satisfying, showing mercy, etc.? It would have
to be God, wouldnt it? Also look at Mark 2:5 in which Jesus says to the paralytic, My
son, your sins are forgiven. The verb forgiven is in the passive. But who is doing the
forgiving? Jesus Christ, of course.
And how did we come to these conclusions? In one
word, it is context. As one Greek grammarian sums it up, one of the many reasons
using a passive and omitting the agent is, when the agent is irrelevant or obvious from
the context
or even the audiences preunderstanding.

So when we plug the passive into Romans 9:22, what we come up with is an unnamed
agent who is preparing the vessels of wrath for destruction. One scholar concurs that,
To take the verb as a passive would mean that they had been prepared for
destruction, without a specific mention of the agent.
And, using the rule of context,


See Maximillian Zerwick. Biblical Greek (Rome, Italy: Editrice Pontifico Istituto Biblico, 1994), p. 76.

See Wallace, pp. 435-438 where he lists eight reasons for the omission of agent. In number eight he
discusses Zerwicks conception of the theological passive or divine passive. In response to Zerwicks
observations that the theological or divine passive primarily occurs in the gospels, Wallace remarks, the
divine passive seems to occur frequently enough throughout the whole NT, and he cites six examples, all
but one of which are from Paul. The conclusion then would be that it is not strange to see Paul using the
theological or divine passive in his writings, so reading it in Rom. 9:22 is certainly allowable if not

Young, p. 136. Young lists one usage of the passive which he calls Passive with middle sense. One
example would be 1 Peter 5:6, Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God So the question
arises as to whether or not this is how Paul intends to use the supposed passive in Rom. 9:22. It seems
doubtful since in the case of 1 Peter 5:6, the implied agents are clearly the ones to whom Peter is

Wallace, p. 435.

Ibid, p. 418.
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the only agent possible would be God. But where in the context could we conclude
this? From verses 20 and following where God is shown to the be the potter and
mankind is seen to be the jars of clay. In verse 21, God, the potter, is described as
making some vessels for honor and some for dishonor. That train of thought simply
continues into verses 22-23, with God as the implied agent.

Now the implications for adopting the passive view are clear. This would mean that God
prepares people for the wrath which He will pour out upon them, presumably in hell. If
this is true then a big blow is dealt to the anti-Calvinists because they lean completely
on the side of human responsibility when it comes to hell.

Examining Both Sides

My usual response at this point would be to use a simple analogy. Most persons have
two legs and they use both of them to remain balanced. So also in this arena, both
theological truths are equally true and are equally presented in Scripture. This is
necessary to remain balanced in theology.

However, since each text can only have one correct interpretation,
in which voice is
the verb to be taken here? If it is middle, then double-predestination is ousted from the
text, because the vessel of wrath himself would be responsible for his own destruction.
But if it is in the passive, then we are forced to grapple with this double-predestination
stuff once more.

Let me lay this thing out for you straight and fair, no holds barred. Ive got quite a
stretch of commentaries on Romans sitting in front of me, so Ill make a list here for you
of who holds what view. To be sure, making a list of who believes what and then
concluding that the side with the most commentators wins is by no means a proper rule
of interpretation! But it is certainly helpful when considering the level of difficulty a text
presents, as compared with who believes what.

Following a survey of commentators and their views, well consider some arguments for
both sides. I realize Ive asked a lot of you so far. And here we are only in the first text
and we seem already bogged down. But do not despair. Picture it this way. If we are
bogged down in the mud of exegesis, figuring out the answer is like locking the hubs on
our four wheel drive vehicle which will get us out of the mud!

Choosing Sides

In the middle corner, wearing the garment of the church fathers, the great John
Chrysostom, the golden-mouth preacher and early church father, believed that it was

See Chapter 1 on My Basic Bible Study Methodology.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
to be understood in the middle form.
He was echoed later by the famous heretic
Moving on into the 18
century, it is no surprise to us that John Wesley also
held this view.
Surprising to me personally, however, was that this was also Matthew
Henrys position.

Wearing polyester suits are the great leaders of our day including John Stott
, and the
most famous commentator on the book of Romans, C. E. B. Cranfield, also takes this
In more recent history, Bob Mounce has taken this position
, along with James
Even my friend John MacArthur takes this view.
And as much as I hate to be
the one to disagree with these giants of our faith (Pelagius excluded, of course), I feel I
must, but on solid exegetical grounds. Ill explain in a moment.

But first we have to consider those standing in the passive corner. Weighing in with
hefty multivolume commentary sets on the Old and New Testaments are John Calvin (no
surprise here!),
Also weighing in with 19
century attire is Charles Hodge
In early 20
century wide ties we find Anders Nygren
, and German

Chrysostom on Romans 9:22-23. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. VI Romans, edited
by Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 264.


John Wesley. Wesleys Notes on the New Testament (E-Sword). Rom. 9:22.

Matthew Henry. Matthew Henrys Commentary on the Whole Bible Vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson
Publishers, 1991), p. 350.

John Stott. Romans: Gods Good News for the World ( Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994),

C. E. B. Cranfield. Romans (ICC) Vol. 2 (London, England: T & T Clark, 1979), pp. 495-6.

Robert Mounce. Romans (NAC) Vol. 27 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1995), p. 202.

Dunn, p. 567.

John MacArthur. Romans 9-16 (NTC) (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), p. 40. His comment is
interesting. The Greek verb rendered prepared is passive. God is not the subject doing the preparing.
There is very clear sense in this use of the passive voice to relieve God of the responsibility and to put it
fully on the shoulders of those who refuse to heed His Word and believe in His Son. They are prepared by
their own rejection for a place (hell) prepared by God. What is interesting is that MacArthur admits the
word is passive but treats as a middle, in spite of the clear contextual evidence that the only implied agent
for a passive view is God.

John Calvin. Calvins Commentaries Volume XIX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), p. 268.

Charles Hodge. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), p.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
theologian Adolf Schlatter.
In the Baptist tradition of suits and ties we find Tom
and John Piper weighing in on this view.

If there were any referees in this match they would seem to be Sanday and Headlam
who, in their commentary on Romans, deflect both positions with the conclusion that
Paul, says just what is necessary for his immediate purpose they were fitted for
eternal destructionThat is the point to which he wishes to attract our attention.

William Hendrickson would also hold a view favorable to the middle position,
considering the objects of wrath to be working in co-operation with Satan!
This is a
very interesting position, one held also by Lenski
and even Leon Morris.

The Problems with the Middle View

1. The Contextual Problem

As I see it, there are three problems with the middle view: contextual, theological, and
exegetical. First, while I can grant to Dunn that the context seems intended to give the
believing Jews a little shock out of their self-assurance, the way in which God intends to
do this is to point to His sovereign wrath. The groundwork for this was already laid in
1:18-32 and on into chapter two. God reveals His righteousness from heaven by
displaying His wrath to those who are unrighteous.

Robert Haldane. An Exposition of th e Epistle to the Romans (MacDill, FL: MacDonald Publishing
Company, nd).

Anders Nygren. Commentary on Romans, edited by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg
Press, 1949), p. 367.

Adolf Schlatter. Romans: The Righteousness of God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995).

Thomas Schreiner. Romans (BECNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), pp. 520 ff.

John Piper. The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, 2
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), pp. 211-13.

William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the
Romans (ICC) (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1911), pp. 261-2

William Hendrickson. Romans (NTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), p. 328. In complete
context, Hendrickson wrote: But it is not at all impossible that the apostle wishes to present a contrast
between the present passage and verse 23, where the active agent is mentioned, in order to show that
here, in verse 22, the people themselves in co-operation with Satan! were the active agents; as for
example, also in 1 Thess. 2:14b, 15, 16; whereas in rom. 9:23 God is said to be the One who prepares, and
there in a favorable sense

R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. Pauls Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis, MN: nd).

Leon Morris. The Epistle to the Romans (PNTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 368.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
Given this pattern which Paul has already set down, this judging righteousness is seen
again in 9:17. God raised up Pharaoh for the express purpose of revealing His infinitely
powerful judging righteousness. When God displayed His mighty power in Pharaohs
demise and destruction, Gods fame was spread throughout the earth. Nygren makes a
similar observation.

Very properly Paul makes verses 22-23 to parallel verse 17. According to
the latter, God had a double purpose and a double result, when He
hardened Pharaohs heart: (1) It gave God opportunity to show His
power, and (2) Gods name was thereby proclaimed in all the earth

This double purpose and double result is revealed throughout Romans, but especially in
chapters 9-11. When Israelites presume themselves to be safe just because they are
Israelites, they choose to find safety in a national relationship with God rather than the
spiritual relationship, called justification.

Yet the mysterious side of the equation is that God purposefully hardens them to do this
very thing. The result is that they reject Gods plan of justification, which consequently
invites His wrath upon them and rejection of them. This in turn leads to the gospel,
given originally to the Jews, now going forth into all the world to be given to the rest of

Behind the scenes, however, within the nation of Israel is the work of God whereby He
has made himself new vessels of mercy of those Jews who have come to faith

That is, in essence, what chapter 11 is all about. Though He has rejected Israel, He has
sovereignly chosen some from their numbers to be His remnant.

Chapter 10, then, explains how the preaching of the gospel by Paul and other preachers
is necessary to bring anyone Jewish remnant or Gentile pagans into a right
relationship with God. And chapter 9 explains how God chose in His sovereignty to put
this plan into action.

2. The Theological Problem

This leads to the second problem with the middle view, namely a theological problem.
There are two theological problems with this view, as I see it.

First, the middle view cannot complete the parallel between the vessels of mercy and
the vessels of wrath in verse 23. Look at the immediate context of these verses. It
argues clearly for the truth that a sovereign God has the right to do what He wants with

Nygren, p. 371.

Ibid, p. 373.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
who He wants in order to make His glory known. I love the New Living Translation on
verse 18. So you see, God shows mercy to some just because he wants to, and he
chooses to make some people refuse to listen. One of the things God wants to do is

to show that he is angry and to disclose what he is able to do.
Otherwise the human being would deny that he is angryand he would
assess what God can do in accordance with his desires.

Per one theologian,

The worddenotes a preparation by God (divine passive) for destruction
rather than a self-preparationThis accords with the context, for the
emphasis is on Gods sovereignty and freedom, not human agency.

That gets to the theological point of verse 22. God has every right to exercise his
judgment and his power He is sovereign and if He so chooses, He can and does in
fact raise up certain individuals for the express purpose of showing His mighty power
against unrighteousness.

And why does He do that? Does He do it because He gets His jollies by creating people
to send them to hell? Of course not! He does it, as verse 23 teaches, in order to show
the objects of mercy just how merciful God has really been to them. As Schlatter has
written, There are those whom God hands over to perdition because there are those in
whom he makes evident his greatness and grace.

Second, the middle view does not seem to completely account for the way in which God
has doubly acted in mens hearts preparing some for destruction and some for mercy
in order to to perform His ultimate purpose. And what is that purpose? Consider the
larger context of chapters 9-11. It is clear that Paul is explaining how the preparation of
one group for wrath namely Israel as a nation means the preparation of the rest of
the world for the reception of the gospel. He sovereignly determined to harden some
(primarily Jews) so that He could reject them. This would inevitably manifest His
sovereign determination to show mercy on others in order to save them.

The middle view, therefore, seems to remove the active hand of God in preparing some
for destruction so that He can get the gospel to the world and show mercy to others. If
we take the middle ground, we have no choice but to relegate the destruction of man
to his own activity. But that would inevitably lead to self-contradiction. Contextually
and theologically we could not escape the fact that even if man does prepare himself for

Schlatter, p. 208.

Schreiner, pp. 521-2 (emphasis added).

Ibid, p. 209.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
his own destruction, God is One working behind the scenes to make sure man will do
this to himself. Again, the ultimate goal is to get the gospel to the nations and show
mercy to others all over the world. And the means of doing so, according to the text, is
decidedly, actively, and powerfully showing His wrath.

So what is the difference then between saying God indirectly hardened mans heart,
preparing him for destruction, and saying God has directly hardened mans heart and
prepared him for destruction? Thats an excellent question, yet it is one that I fear is
driven to believe the former if only because the latter creates some sense of emotional
and mental discomfort.

Now all of this does not neglect the truth of patience and forbearance and endurance,
features which are mentioned and implied throughout the context. Yes, God is patiently
enduring and forbearing with these unrighteous persons. But it cannot be denied that
the purpose of God, in enduring the wicked in this world, is expressly stated to arise
from His willingness to show His wrath against sin.
Schreiner adds, Verses 22-23
inform us why God made human beings whom he planned to punish: to exhibit the full
extent of his wrath and power.
Haldane makes the very insightful remark that,

We see, then, that the entrance of sin into the world was necessary to
manifest the Divine character in His justice and hatred of sin. Had sin
never entered into the creation of God, His character would never have
been fully developedGod here declares by the Apostle, that He has
endured sin in the world, for the very purpose of glorifying Himself in its

Ive spent enough time on the theological problem with the middle view. In short, it
does not recognize, at least in its interpretation of this verse, that God has decreed that
evil enter His creation and then punish it. Again, this was for the express two-fold
purpose of creating a sort of background or contrast with His mercy (9:23), and of
moving the gospel out of Israel into the rest of the world.

How would we know what mercy was if we didnt know punishment was? And more
importantly, as Paul intends to teach in verse 23, how could those who have
experienced Gods mercy enjoy it as much as they ought unless God contrasted it with
wrath in the lives of so many others living around them. Gods determination to punish
some brings the appropriate exhilaration of Gods mercy to the rest. If justification is

Haldane, p. 484.

Schreiner, p. 521. He does a wonderful job of refuting objections based on the claim that if God is the
potter, no potter makes vessels simply for the purpose of destruction. He explains, This objection
demands that the illustration of the potter and the clay corresponds to Gods relation to creation in every
respect, but we must let the text guide us as to how to understand the analogy. For God, unlike the
potter, may choose to make vessels that he will subsequently destroy (emphasis mine).
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
the heart of the gospel message, then the double truths of double-predestination make
up the two arteries that pump the blood of the gospel into and out of the heart.

3. The Exegetical Problem

Third, there is an exegetical problem with the middle view. The middle voice of this
Greek verb is so rare that this argument is very unconvincing for me personally. There
are several reasons for this. First, the word itself has to have some kind of special
significance in the Greek language to point toward a middle understanding.
Katertismena is just not one of those words.

Daniel Wallace (Professor of NT Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary) has stated the
case much better than I can. He gives four exegetical reasons why the word in this text
cannot be in the middle voice. Ill use three here and the fourth one in a moment.

The middle view has little to commend it. First, grammatically, the
direct middle is quite rare and is used almost exclusively in certain
idiomatic expressions, especially where the verb is used consistently with
such a notion (as in the verbs for putting on clothes). This is decidedly
not the case with katarti,zw: nowhere else in the NT does it occur as a
direct middle.

Second, in the perfect tense, the middle-passive form is always to be
taken as a passive in the NT (Luke 6:40; 1 Cor 1:10; Heb 11:3) a fact
that, in the least, argues against an idiomatic use of this verb as a direct

Third, the lexical nuance of katarti,zw, coupled with the perfect tense,
suggest something of a done deal...

Therefore, the passive, which seems to be exegetically favored, is in very common use
throughout the NT. Good exegesis would seem to rule in favor of the passive.

Now what about the context of the word? Yes, we already observed the contextual
problem with the middle, but exegesis is always inseparably tied to context. As I stated
in my introduction, context is the key ring on which the keys of word meaning and
grammar hang. For that reason we must observe that connection in relation to the
problem with the middle view.

Wallace, p. 418. In footnote 28, Wallace explains that the verb occurs 13 times in the NT, seen as a
middle or passive form. Of those seven, two are definitely middle, being aorist (Matt 21:16; Heb 10:5),
and both are obviously indirect middles. The other four (Rom 9:22 being excluded from the count) are all
almost surely passive (Luke 6:40; 1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 13:11; Heb 11:3).
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
Consider the verse we just analyzed at the beginning of this chapter, verse 13. There
God is the one loving Jacob and hating Esau. Then in verse 15 which teaches that God
has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills, Pharaoh is used as an example
of one whom God hardened.

Along comes verse 21 in which we see God, the potter, making some vessels for
honorable use and some for dishonorable use. So throughout the context then, God is
at work, loving and hating, showing mercy and hardening, molding for honor and
molding for dishonor, preparing for mercy and preparing for destruction.

Surely you can see that double-predestination is at least a definite and viable
interpretation of this text, and not just some crazy, cooked-up, half-cocked theology.
There is a clear parallel in the context that Paul is attempting to put forth. God does
both things, not just one thing. This is where we may pick up Wallaces fourth
exegetical problem with the middle view.

Fourth, the context argues strongly for a passive and completed
notion. In v 20 the vessel is shaped by Gods will, not its own (Will that
which is molded say to its maker, Why have you made me this way?).
In v 21, Paul asks a question with ouk (thus expecting a positive
answer): Is not the destiny of the vessels (one for honor, one for
dishonor) entirely predetermined by their Creator? Verse 22 is the
answer to that question. To argue, then, that kathrtisme,na is a direct
middle seems to fly in the face of grammar (the normal use of the voice
and tense), lexeme, and context.

Some Conclusions

I want you to note how this text forces us in our nice, neat, safe, westernized, American
Christian theology to see the real God of Scripture. It demolishes and pulverizes the
God we have created after our own image. He is not presented here as the kind of God
who only does good things to His people, leaving the rest behind or passing them by, as
some of my good Reformed friends would say. He is seen as hating them, hardening
them, and preparing them for destruction. These are definitely active roles which God
seems to be taking in mens condemnation, arent they?

Remember! I didnt say this stuff! Dont get mad at me! This is the God of Scripture
open for all to see, presented in these texts in their ordinary and plain meaning. In fact,
to make an interpretation other than what their plain meaning suggests would be
twisting them, I believe. But lo! Behind me I hear the voice of Alex crying out in the

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
Wait a minute! Wait just a doggone minute! That was some sly move
on the exegetical dance floor, Rob! You eased right by the fact that the
word prepared in the very next verse, which is dealing with vessels of
mercy, is in the active voice. God is clearly the subject there, but there is
no agent named when the passive in verse 22 is used. Doesnt this show
that Pauls only intention here is to point to Gods direct dealing when it
comes to vessels of mercy? And doesnt that then mean that Pauls
intention is not to emphasize Gods role in the vessels of wrath?

Good questions. Very good questions, especially if they would have come from Alex!
And the answers are yes and no respectively. Paul does intend to point to Gods
direct dealing with the vessels of mercy. I can agree with that statement only if the only
is taken out. For Paul is not only intending to point out this one thing.

That is why the answer to the next question is no. The passive very clearly indicates
that an outside agent is involved. Given the context just observed in verses 13, 15 and
21, that agent is undoubtedly God. Therefore, God is involved directly in both,
destruction and mercy, and not just mercy.

But why the change in the voice of the verb from middle/passive to active? you might
ask. Again, I think another scholars words here would answer that question better than
mine ever would. Consider one more thought by Professor Tom Schreiner (Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary).

Perhaps the use of the passive voice in contrast to the active for
poqoiootv signals that the plan to destroy the wicked is
asymmetrical with the plan to save the vessels of mercy.

In any case, one cannot by exegetical means rescue God from willing
the fate of the vessels of wrath. This too was part of His plan, and thus
double predestination cannot be averted.

Schreiner, Thomas. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Book House, 1998), p. 522. Consider also Wallaces footnote: the reason for the switch in verbs
seems to be that the focus of the passage is on the benefit that accrues to the elect (note the ina-clause at
the beginning of v 23 [in order to make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy], indicating
the purpose of Gods dealing with the vessels of wrath in v 22). Further, [the middle view] ignores the
context in which Gods predetermining will for both kinds of vessels is asserted (vv 20-23) (Wallace, p.
418). Schreiners following remarks after this statement are particularly harmful to the emotions. Since I
have already overloaded them with this difficult passage and truth, I reserved his noteworthy comments
for this footnote. He continued by saying, Nor is there any basis for the idea that the same vessels of
wrath will later become vessels of mercy (Cranfield 1979: 497). The text rules this out explicitly by
describing the vessels of wrath as prepared for destruction. Indeed, the me,nde, (mende, on the one
handon the other hand) construction in verse 21 confirms that the two kinds of vessels must be kept

Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
In closing this first lengthy chapter on our first two texts, I dont want to leave you with
a sense of imbalance. So I want to add at this point that I do believe that the lost man
undoubtedly prepares his own self for destruction by rejecting Jesus Christ. I concur
with Douglas Moo that, we must remember again that people are judged, finally,
because, in Adam, they have chosen to reject God.
Earlier in his commentary on this
chapter, Moo explains the tension and realizes that it is not one that can be relieved.

God determines what happens; I am responsible for what happens.
Scripture teaches both, and therefore I am compelled to believe both,
even if ultimately I cant explain their relationship.

My intention in a discussion of this text has simply been to show that Romans 9:22
cannot be used to argue the truth that man is responsible for his own destruction.
While there are other texts that argue for that truth, this is a text which argues that
Gods predetermining activity is responsible for mans destruction.

So here I am again, making bold, sweeping statements, producing frustration and
tension in your mental faculties, and just leaving you on your own. But please hear me!
I cannot possibly begin to explain why or how God predetermines whom He will choose
from His creation as objects of wrath. That is something Paul does not answer in these
verses. So Calvins words ring in my ears as I attempt to close this chapter.

But that [Paul] is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed
to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted,
according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the
secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us
rather to adore than to scrutinize.

Douglas Moo. Encountering Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2002), p. 153.

Ibid, p. 152.

Calvin, pp. 368-9.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
Double Predestination Was Nothing New for a Jew

The ending of the last chapter on Romans 9 is as good a place as any to bring up
something many Christians are ignorant of. To be sure, their ignorance stems not from
their desire to be so, but simply from their lack of access, many times, to research
materials. So let me begin this short excurses by asking you, if you are one who holds to
predestination, have you ever asked yourself why it is that those who read the same
Bible you do dont read it the same way you do? This becomes even more evident when
you both are reading a text like Romans 9:11-13. It says what it says. How can it be
saying something different?

The problem is that we are all prone to read our own culture back into the culture of the
Bible. That was undoubtedly Alexs problem. He was such a product of his culture that
he confessed he just couldnt see how Paul could believe something like double-
predestination, or even predestination for that matter. Instead of letting Paul speak for
himself, Alex had inserted himself as the mouthpiece of Paul.

This was another truth I wanted to show to Alex. I began by attempting to show him
how he was allowing his own culture to be read back into the text. I showed how he did
not do this with other texts, but that he was doing so with texts that speak to this issue.
He still didnt see it. Again, the culture of individualism that is so prevalent in American
Christianity, formed a cloud over his mind, as it does so many other minds. But Im
honestly afraid that it is a selected cloud that allows them to see and agree with only
those portions that dont put their individualism at risk.

But there is no individualism with Paul, nor can I find it among the Jews. They had a
corporate view of themselves. Individualism is simply destroyed in a cursory reading
through the OT. Therefore, when we view things from their culture rather than from
our own, it becomes easier to digest this following truth: the concept of double-
predestination was nothing new for a Jew. This was another truth I didnt get to explain
to Alex. He had already tuned me out, so I just decided to quit while I was behind!

For those of you who are finding it hard to see Paul as a theologian who believed in this
kind of stuff, you need to know that his theology is merely reflective of the standard
Jewish understanding of his day. An ordinary Jew had no problem at all with this
thinking process. They considered God to be a sovereign God who determined not only
who He would save and who He would condemn, but also a God who determines every
single event that has ever happened and will ever happen.

What I want to do in this brief excurses is attempt to show you from other
contemporary sources outside the Scriptures that this concept of double-predestination
would not have been foreign to a Jew. In other words, by looking at other books and
documents from their era, we can gain some insight into their theological perspectives.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
These documents are found in the Qumrani or Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and
Midrashic writings.

Now, if you are wondering what in the world these documents are, or if you are
tempted to put this book down because you think Im now quoting from anti-biblical or
heretical stuff, hang in there. Ill explain everything as we go along! To be sure,
sometimes these books and documents are in fact blatantly contradictory to the themes
and concepts in Scripture. But that doesnt mean they are completely useless to us. In
the very least they give is an accurate picture of what people were thinking and studying
and talking about in those days. I think you will find that in the portions I am going to
quote, they simply confirm for us what we have already seen in passages like Romans 9,
and in other texts like the one from Proverbs we will look at next.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Lets start first with the Qumrani library, also called the Dead Sea Scrolls. These texts
were initially discovered about sixty years ago by a shepherd boy who, after throwing a
few rocks around, happened to land one of those rocks into a small cave. When the
rock pelted the opening of the cave it shattered something pretty big, as was evident by
the sound. So when the boy was lowered into the cave, the most incredible
archaeological find of the twentieth century was begun.

Between 1947 and 1956 thousands upon thousands of complete scrolls (like the Hebrew
scroll of Isaiah among others) and scroll fragments (representing portions of every book
of the OT except for Esther) were recovered in many other Qumran caves. These
various documents represent a massive body of Jewish documents, a library by all
rights, dating from the third century B.C. to 68 A.D.

What this means is that this library reflects the rich literary activity of a period of Jewish
history called Second Temple Judaism, that era of Jewish history beginning after Ezra,
Nehemiah and their group rebuilt the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar to the time
just before it was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. Because of the historical time period in
which these documents were written, scholars can now have some serious insight into
the centuries which were pivotal to both Judaism and Christianity. They provide a
wonderful background, then, against which we can compare our interpretations of
various Biblical texts.

Allow me, if you will, to scroll through some of the scroll fragments which provide
some incredibly helpful insight into how an average Jew would have thought about this
subject of double-predestination, and of Gods sovereign involvement and direction of
all things. The first quotation comes from 1 QH 15:12-22:

My edition of the Dupont-Sommer translation The Essene Writings from Qumran (Oxford, England:
Oxford Press, 1961), p. ??
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson

And I, because of Your understanding, I know that [the righteousness of
man] is not in the hand of flesh [and] that man [is not] master of (13) his
way and that mankind cannot strengthen his step. And I know that the
inclination of every spirit is in Your hand (14) [and that] You have
ordained [the way of every man] before creating him. And how can any
man change Your words? You alone have created (15) the just and
established him from his mothers womb unto the time of good will that
he may be preserved in Your covenant and walk in all Your wayAnd You
have raised up (17) his glory from among flesh whereas You have created
the wicked [for the time of] of Your [wr]ath and have set them apart from
their mothers womb for the Day of Massacre(19) You have created all
[them that despise] Your [will] to execute judgment against them (20) in
the eyes of all Your works that they may serve as a sign, and wo[nder
unto] everlasting [generations] that [all] may know Your glory and awful

If my bet is right, thats probably the first time youve ever read anything from the
Qumran texts. (Sounds a little like Bible, doesnt it?) And did you notice that in the
portions I italicized the emphasis on Gods freedom to create and do with His creation
whatever He desires? The other side of predestination that of predestining some for
His wrath is so evident in this text that it would represent a common understanding of
Gods predestinating activity during that day and time. There are several other Qumrani
texts that also reveal the same truth.

The Apocrypha
The second extra-biblical source to be considered is the Apocrypha. The word
apocrypha, was originally used by the fifth-century church father and scholar Jerome.
He used the word to refer to those books which were included in the Greek translation
of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, abbreviated as LXX) but not in the Hebrew Bible.
On the whole, though, the term is generally used to refer to any writings that are
outside the biblical canon (sometimes referred to as pseudepigrapha or false
The writings that make up the Apocrypha contain several works ranging from the fourth
century B.C to New Testament times. These include the books of Judith, the Wisdom of
Solomon, Tobit, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, the two
Books of Esdras, various additions to the Book of Esther (10:4-10), the Book of Daniel
(3:24-90;13;14), and the Prayer of Manasseh.

If you want to read more, see 1QS 3:15-16; 4:24-26; 11:10,11; 1 QH 7(15):16-26. See also Apocryphal
writings: Sirach 33:7-13; Apoc. Abr. 22:1-5.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
If youve ever picked up copy of a Catholic Bible youll notice that there are several extra
books inserted between the Old and New Testaments. The Roman Catholic Church
would consider these books as part of the inspired Scriptures (calling them
deuterocanonical or second canon).
I do not share this view, and for good reasons. The primary two reasons are because (1)
much material in these writings contradicts the rest of the Old Testament, and (2) those
who canonized the OT before it was translated into Greek did not recognize these books
as divinely inspired. Oddly enough, however, and probably to the chagrin of King James
only advocates, these writings were included in the original 1611 edition of the KJV.
The text I want you to consider comes from the Revised Standard Versions translation
of the Apocrypha. It is found in Sirach 33:7-13.

Why is any day better than another, when all the daylight in the year is
from the sun?
By the Lord's decision they were distinguished, and he
appointed the different seasons and feasts;
some of them he exalted
and hallowed, and some of them he made ordinary days.
All men are
from the ground, and Adam was created of the dust.
In the fulness of
his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different
some of them he blessed and exalted, and some of them he
made holy and brought near to himself; but some of them he cursed and
brought low, and he turned them out of their place.
As clay in the hand
of the potter -- for all his ways are as he pleases -- so men are in the hand
of him who made them, to give them as he decides.

Im sure youll notice that the italicized phrase uses a concept already introduced in our
first texts. This is a reference back to Isaiah 29:16, 45:9, and 64:8 written a few hundred
years earlier. This Apocryphal text then lands in between the original usage in Isaiah
and Romans, filling in the time gap, and proving a continuity of thought regarding Gods
sovereign freedom over all men as His creatures.

The Pseudipigrapha

There is yet another group of writings known as the pseudepigrapha. They are generally
categorized into two sections: Old Testament pseudepigrapha and New Testament.
They are categorized this way mainly because the material contained in a particular
pseudepigrapha will generally correspond to either books of the Old or New
Testaments. By my count there are some sixty-six books in the Old Testament
collection. Kind of strange, huh?

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (Division of Christian Education of the National Council of
Churches of Christ, 1946, 1952, 1973). Quoted in BibleWorks.
Double Double, Toil & Trouble? Rob Wilkerson
One particular book in this collection is called The Apocalypse of Abraham. In short, the
apocalypse itself, which is found in chapters 9-32, is supposedly a narration by God in
which He gives to Abraham the history between the fall of man and the idolatry of
Abrahams descendents. In other words, it is supposed to fill in the historical narrative
gap between Genesis 10 and 12.

The apocalypse itself is a sort of foreshadow of Gods coming judgment on Abrahams
idolatrous descendents. According to the work itself, the end of the world is near, Gods
judgment is close at hand, the pagan nations are about to be destroyed, and the
trumpet of God is about to sound summoning the Messiah to come and gather His own
people and burn the pagans with fire. To be sure, it is very much reflective of a biblical
understanding of the end times. But it is far too anachronistic to put such an
understanding of the end times all the way back into Abrahams day. Thats why the
Apocalypse of Abraham is not inspired.

But like the other extra-biblical writings, it does provide a certain sense of perspective
regarding the theological thoughts of Jews when it was written, sometime around the
last few decades of the first century A.D. Per one source,

The emphasis laid on the freedom of will, notwithstanding the fall of
man, presupposes a knowledge of the Christian doctrine of sin, against
which this passage seems to be directed. But this very opposition to the
Christian dogma shows that at the time the Apocalypse was written
Christianity was not far removed from Judaism, at least not in Palestine,
where, since he used a Semitic language, the author must have lived.

The text of 22:1-5 from the Apocalypse of Abraham is the text I wanted to bring
to your attention in this excurses.

No doubt some readers will have a problem with me relying on a source outside of the
Bible to help interpret the Bible. Im sure some have a problem with me quoting
Qumrani texts and footnoting verse from the Apocrypha. But I would only beg you to
realize that while I do not treat such sources as if they were inspired, they are extremely
valuable for trying to gain an understanding of the perspective of the day. If you can
hang with me on this point, and if youre daring enough, read on brother and sister.

See JewishEncyclopedia.com for more information at