Moo On Wright’s “Abstract” Objection in Romans 9

Paul’s distinction between a broader, ethnic, Israel and a narrower, “spiritual,” Israel (v. 6b) is his basic defense of the proposition that “the word of God has not failed.” He justifies the distinction in two parallel arguments (vv. 7–9 and 10–13).[112] In each, Paul quotes the OT twice to contrast two brothers. God’s choice of Isaac rather than Ishmael and Jacob rather than Esau reveals a pattern in God’s creation of his spiritual people that Paul applies to the problem of widespread Jewish unbelief in his own day. Scholars who argue that Paul is telling the story of Israel here and not producing “an abstract essay on the way in which God always works with individuals” are therefore correct in focusing on the story and denying an “abstract” quality to the passage.[113] But they fail to recognize that Paul uses the story precisely to draw from it central principles that he does apply widely. For these stories about the founders of the Jewish people demonstrate that the reason why some were included in the people of God and others were not was that God freely chose some and did not choose others. Physical descent, these stories show, was not the crucial qualification. In the same way, Paul implies, belonging to the New Covenant people of God is based on God’s free choice and is not a birthright. Thus it should be no surprise, and certainly no threat to the integrity of God’s word, if many Jews have failed to trust Christ and to be saved. — The Letter to the Romans. 2nd ed. p. 591

Footnote 113 indicates that the quote is from N. T. Wright. From my own reading of Wright, I think he too often relies upon adjectives (lonely individualism) or rhetorically framing a position (labelling something as “abstract” seems to be a favorite) to do work in his argument.

For a list of all of my posts on Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans, see here.

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John Bowling

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.