Douglas Moo on Romans 9:18

Douglas Moo writes the following in his commentary on Romans:

“Anyone who knows the Exodus story would understand that God ‘raised up’ Pharaoh with a negative rather than a positive purpose….I have argued that Paul intends his assertion of the freedom of God in showing mercy to apply to the salvation of individuals (see v. 16). This must certainly be true here also. But does the other part of the principle, God’s hardening, also have such an application?…First, structural and linguistic considerations show that v. 18 is closely related to vv. 22-23, where the ‘vessels of mercy, destined to glory’ are contrasted with ‘vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction.’ As God’s mercy leads to the enjoyment of glory, God’s hardening brings wrath and destruction….We have seen that Paul has insisted that God bestows his mercy on his own initiative, apart from anything that a person is or does (v. 16). The strict parallelism in this verse suggests that the same is true of God’s hardening: as he has mercy on ‘whomever he wishes,’ so he hardens ‘whomever he wishes.’ However, many scholars deny that this is the case. They point particularly to Exod. 4-14, where the first reference to God’s hardening of Pharaoh (9:12) comes only after references to Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart (8:11, 28). This background implies, these scholars argue, that Paul would think of God’s hardening as a response to a person’s prior decision to harden himself or herself. God’s hardening may then be likened to his ‘handing over’ of sinners to the sin that they had already chosen for themselves (see Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). Yet the assumption that Paul expects his readers to see behind God’s hardening a prior self-hardening on the part of the individual is questionable.

First, Exod. 4-14 does not clearly indicate that Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart was the basis for God’s hardening; in fact, it may well imply that Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart was the result of God’s prior act of hardening. Second, Paul’s ‘whomever he wishes’ shows that God’s decision to harden is his alone to make and is not constrained by any consideration having to do with a person’s status or actions. Third, if Paul had in fact wanted his readers to assume that God’s hardening was based on a person’s self-hardening, we would have expected him to make this clear in response to the objection in v. 19. What more natural response to the objection that God is unfair in ‘finding fault’ with a person than to make clear that God’s hardening is based on a person’s own prior action? [54]

The ‘hardening’ Paul portrays here, then, is a sovereign act of God that is not caused by anything in those individuals who are hardened. And 9:22-23 and 11:7 suggest that the outcome of hardening is damnation. It seems, then, that this text, in its context, provides important exegetical support for the controversial doctrine of ‘double predestination’: just as God decides, on the basis of nothing but his own sovereign pleasure, to bestow his grace and so save some individuals, so he also decides, on the basis of nothing but his own sovereign pleasure, to pass over others and so to damn them….

No doctrine stimulates more negative reaction and consternation than this one. Some degree of such reaction is probably inevitable, for it flies in the face of our own common perceptions of both human freedom and God’s justice. And vv. 19-23 show that Paul was himself very familiar with this reaction. Yet, without pretending that it solves all our problems, we must recognize that God’s hardening is an act directed against human beings who are already in rebellion against God’s righteous rule. God’s hardening does not, then, cause spiritual insensitivity to the things of God; it maintains people in the state of sin that already characterizes them. This does not mean, as I have argued above, that God’s decision about whom to harden is based on a particular degree of sinfulness within certain human beings; he hardens ‘whomever he chooses.’ But it is imperative that we maintain side-by-side the complementary truths that (1) God hardens whomever he chooses; (2) human beings, because of sin, are responsible for their ultimate condemnation. Thus, God’s bestowing of mercy and his hardening are not equivalent acts. God’s mercy is given to those who do not deserve it; his hardening affects those who have already by their sin deserved condemnation” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 595-600).

[54] See, e.g., Augustine, Letters 194.8.35 PL 33.886); Calvin, Institutes 22.3.8. for the general argument see esp. Piper, 152-59. As Dunn puts it, “to look for reasons for God’s hardening in Pharaoh’s ‘evil disposition’ or previous self-hardening…is a rationalizing expediency” (2.555). It is interesting that the rabbis later criticized the “minim” (e.g., Jewish Christians) for using Exod. 10:1–“I [the LORD] have hardened his [Pharaoh’s] heart”–in stressing too strongly God’s sovereignty with respect to evil (Exod. Rab. 13; cf. Str-B, 3.269).

{PL= J. Migne, Patrologia Latina}
{Str-B= H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament}

And then Marc correctly points to a particularly perverse assertion by Moo:

I thought it was going to be orthodox until this:

==Yet, without pretending that it solves all our problems, we must recognize that God’s hardening is an act directed against human beings who are already in rebellion against God’s righteous rule. God’s hardening does not, then, cause spiritual insensitivity to the things of God; it maintains people in the state of sin that already characterizes them.==

And what would being “in rebellion against God’s righteous rule” be caused by? God’s hardening, of course. God’s hardening most certainly doescause spiritual insensitivity to the things of God.”

God does CAUSE “spiritual insensitivity to the things of God.” Moo will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?

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