I have found the various attempts to respond to the exegetically-based defense of Calvinism I offered in The Potter’s Freedom both educational and at times troubling. Most responses are tradition driven, but then there are the philosophical ones. These are the ones that only touch on exegesis long enough to find some way of introducing some novelty or some question as to whether a word really means that or if there is some other way of seeing it. The philosophically-driven replies disdain the hard work of actually working through a text from start to finish and applying their often unique claims about a particular verse to all such verses.
It wasn’t long after The Potter’s Freedom came out that I ran into an early response from James Patrick Holding of tektonics.org. Ever since then I have seen references to various files at tektonics, most especially one titled “Un Conditioning.” Recently some folks posted some segments of it in channel, and so I took a look at it. I was taken aback by much of it, to be honest, and especially the odd, sweeping claims made about “Hebrew thought” and the like. There is probably nothing more common on the Internet these days than people making claims about “the Hebrew would indicate this,” and yet most of those making those claims could not translate their way out of a paper bag, and if you were to collect all of their conclusions based upon these alleged “Hebraisms,” the resultant mish-mash would implode from utter inconsistency and self-contradiction. The original question asked in channel was about the “negation idiom” being applied to Romans 9:16, and then about “Hebrew block thought,” and finally I ran into the quote that convinced me to at least invest a tiny portion of my non-existant time to this response:
The proper social definition of “mercy” brings an interesting twist to, for example, the great Calvinist keystone in Romans 9: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Understood as the NT writers wrote it, this means: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pays His debt of personal obligation to us as our patron.”
When I saw this claim, I decided to squeeze just one more item onto the plate, because that is simply ridiculous. But first things first. The text (Rom. 9:15-16) reads:
For he says to Moses [Exo. 33:19], “I will mercy [this is a verb] whoever I mercy, and I will compassion [this is a verb] whoever I compassion.” So then, it is not of the one willing, nor of the one exerting himself, but of the mercying [present active participle] God.
The passage cited in v. 15 is from Exodus 33:19. John Piper wrote an article found in the September, 1979 issue of JETS (22/3), “Prolegomena To Understanding Romans 9:14-15: An Interpretation Of Exodus 33:19” wherein he provides the following translation of the verse:
19a And he [Yahweh] said, “I will cause to pass before your face all my goodness (MT ybiWj; LXX do,xh| mou ).
19b And I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you.
19c And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious (MT !xoêa’ rv ; LXX kai. evleh,sw o]n a’n evlew/),
19d and I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful” (MT ~xe(r:a] rv ; LXX kai. oivktirh,sw o]n a’n oivkti,rw).
One will notice that Paul quotes the LXX of Exodus 33:19 directly and without alteration in Romans 9:15. We are then offered what might be called an “apostolic interpretation” of this text in v. 16, which continues the thought that began all the way back in the “theme verse” of the section, Romans 9:6, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are from Israel.” [continued]