apologetics israel romans salvation study

Potter Works The Clay (part 2) Romans 9

It would not be inconceivable to think that Paul is using the illustration of the potter and clay in a completely new way, or at the very least, a way unimagined by the readers of the Prophets. After all, many have argued that that is exactly what Matthew did (cf. {{Isa 7:14}}; {{Matt 1:23}}—young maiden vs. virgin). But I don’t think that fits in with what Paul is doing.

While establishing the righteousness of God in the Gospel he makes a repeated effort in showing how the revelation of this righteousness is completely consistent with God’s previous revelation of righteousness.

For instance, justification by faith coincides with God justifying Abraham by faith. Sins being blotted out by God for those who rely on Him to save coincides with David’s situation and ultimate survival. God’s reveal wrath applies to all men, even if Jews have an advantage by having the Law, they are still condemned as summed up throughout the Psalms ({{Rom 3}})

Now God’s righteousness is being put to the question in his dealing with his people so Paul must establish continuity from the previous revelation. It would therefore be odd for Paul to be arguing that the Elect People of God (Israel) do not believe because God can do whatever he wants and they have been elected to be unbelievers.

Rather Paul is making a direct allusion to those previous potter passages to show that God is working to bring about a desired end. The clay, in many of those Prophetic passages, does not have an understanding of the full project—how can it? The potter works on the clay for a desired (ultimately good) end and the clay is in no position to question how the potter can bring about that desired end must rely on the Potter.

Some might insert an argument here of a hidden will of God—that God has decided to show mercy to X individuals over Y individuals but I think that’s being presumptuous. Paul, in starting the argument with assigned roles is continuing to speak about assigned roles. For Paul speaks of four vessels here: those for special use (honor), those for ordinary use (dishonor), those for wrath prepared for destruction and those for mercy prepared beforehand for glory.

Now the common utensils versus those for special use can be an allusion to temple utensils which were set apart for that service. If Paul is making a direct one to one connection between utensils of mercy and utensils of wrath it would imply that it is special to be shown ultimate mercy and it is the common everyday for God to show ultimate wrath.

Paul would point out that God hasn’t revealed ultimate wrath yet and those who continue to stand in their self-righteousness without submitting to God are storing up wrath for a future wrath ({{Rom 2}}). Paul would also point out that God is currently in the process of pouring wrath but also argues that it is possible for one under wrath to be one under grace (according to {{Romans 3-5}}). So if God was indeed showing mercy only to the predetermined few and everyone else was commonly meant for an end goal of destruction it is impossible to say that they were not prepared beforehand for that end. That conclusion is inconsistent with Paul’s argument.

Rather, the vessels preparing wrath for themselves are current vessels of wrath but there is no implication that all of those utensils have an ultimate end in ultimate damnation. Paul might rather be saying that God is completely free to show mercy—even on vessels of current wrath.

Case in point: Paul was a blasphemer, a violent persecutor of Christ’s body and later called himself the worst of sinners; yet He wasn’t stamped out. God showed mercy and Christ revealed Himself to Paul. Why? Because he acted in unbelief (who doesn’t) and because God wanted to illustrate if Paul could be shown mercy then anyone could be shown mercy ({{1 Tim 1:12-17}}). The fact that Paul turned and relied on the Lord in no way negated the fact that he was a vessel of wrath and the fact that Paul was now a believer in no way demanded that the Lord use him to speak to the gentiles—but He did anyway.

So God’s mercy is completely free even to say those stupid, blind and pagan Gentiles vessels of wrath that weren’t even looking for mercy—but what about Israel, these vessels of special use that were prepared beforehand for glory?

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