We complete our review and refutation of Art Sippo’s comments on Romans 9 with the final portion of the chapter he addressed on the Catholic Legate website. It is in this section that Dr. Sippo attempted to present information on the original language of the text, and in the process, demonstrated that it is best not to do that if you cannot, in fact, read what you are commenting on. The final comments involved Romans 9:22-24:
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath were fit for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (v.22-24)
John Calvin commented,
22. And what, etc. A second answer, by which he briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblamable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect. He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not meet that the tidings contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.
But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, – There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth ; – what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he 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 behooves us rather to adore than to scrutinize….It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.
Art Sippo provides a single paragraph of commentary on this tremendous passage:
Note once again that only the “vessels of mercy” have been “prepared beforehand” (protoimesen) for glory but the “vessels of wrath” have not been prepared beforehand for perdition. They “were fit” (karatestismena) for destruction. The words “Prepared beforehand were in the aorist active indicative implying continued action by God from the past to the present. The words “were fit” are in the perfect passive participle indicating a condition perduring from the past. Two different words in different tenses and voices. This is more evidence that there is no active predestination to wickedness but rather that those born into sin remain in sin unless elected by God’s grace.
For a fuller discussion of a significantly better attempt to get around the fact that in this passage it is God, and God alone, who is active in distinguishing vessels of wrath from vessels of mercy, see my response to Lenski on this topic here. In response to Sippo, one hardly knows where to begin. Greek participles cannot be so easily handled, and as we shall note, Sippo’s knowledge of what the aorist indicates is sorely lacking. It is hard to be certain exactly what Sippo’s point is, since he does not bother us with too many details. Evidently, if Paul uses two different words in different tenses and voices this has some meaning, though Sippo does not tell us how he comes to this conclusion. Now, surely, we would like a definition of what Sippo thinks “active predestination to wickedness” means. Without providing that level of discussion the commentary is less than helpful. But in any case, it seems Sippo feels there is an important distinction between how the vessels of wrath “prepared for destruction” (kathrtisme,na) and vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory (prohtoi,masen).
Now, the normal argument presented here is that the vessels of wrath “prepare themselves” for destruction, while the vessels of mercy are prepared by God. Now, there is no question that vessels of wrath like being vessels of wrath, love their disobedience, and refuse to obey and love the one true God. There is no question that they are judged upon the basis of acting in accordance with their natures and wills. But that is not the point here in this text. The previous analogy has already set the stage for our understanding here: the Potter is making pots, some to honor, some to dishonor, from the same lump. This is the Potter’s freedom, His right over the clay. So, with this as the immediately preceding context, the idea that we are here introducing a completely new active participant separate from the potter is simply wishful thinking on the part of the libertarian. There is simply no textual reason for thinking that God is not the one doing the preparation of v. 22.
But this does not seem to be Sippo’s point anyway. Again, we are left to attempt to do some mind-reading because of Sippo’s very brief presentation, but it seems fair to read his words to indicate that both the underlying meaning of the two verbs (katarti,zw and proetoima,zw) and the forms in which Paul uses them indicates an important distinction being drawn by the author. Evidently, the lack of the element of “before” (pro) in the action of God in reference to the vessels prepared for destruction is central to his thesis. Further, he makes a very interesting assertion regarding the aorist of prohtoi,masen, indicating that “the aorist active indicative implying continued action by God from the past to the present.” This is a very strange description of the aorist, which is the simplest of the Greek verb tenses. It normally presents the action as “undefined,” and when in the indicative, in the past. Dan Wallace has commented,
The aorist normally views the action as a whole, taking no interest in the internal workings of the action. It describes the action in summary fashion, without focusing on the beginning or the end of the action specifically. This is by far the most common use of the aorist, especially with the indicative mood. (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, p. 557).
Now, there are special syntactical uses of the aorist, of course, but most of these are lexically driven. That is, certain actions contain within their very meaning an indication of what kind of action they are describing and how it would come about. Teaching, for example, is often ingressive (“he began to teach”) in historical narratives. “Dying” is rarely ingressive, however (“he began to die”?). But the fact of the matter is, the aorist use of prohtoi,masen is not doing double duty here as a perfect (which would be the tense describing a past action enduring to the present).
Instead, we must realize these two verses form a single sentence. The description of the preparation of the vessels of wrath is in the first portion of a “what if this, so that this” sentence; what if God endured the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, so that He might demonstrate the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory. Vessels prepared for destruction is a descriptive phrase of that which God has “endured,” which is in the aorist; this is the aorist that actually parallels that which appears in the i[na clause thereafter, “prepared beforehand for glory.” If anything, the use of the perfect tense for the preparation of the vessels of wrath is significantly more telling, for since the only active agent in the context is God, this usage echoes the words of Peter:
and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed (1 Peter 2:8)
So, from any angle of approach, Sippo’s brief commentary does nothing at all to substantiate his initial harsh words describing Reformed theology as “demonic.” Indeed, we are left once again with nothing more than Roman tradition versus biblical exegesis and the clarity of God’s Word.
Finally, Dan Wallace addressed another important aspect of this passage in a note in his exegetical grammar that may be relevant to those seeking to defend and validate God’s truth in this passage:
vessels of wrath, prepared/having prepared themselves for destruction
The view that the perfect participle is middle, and therefore a direct middle, finds its roots in Chrysostom, and is later echoed by Pelagius. The idea would be that these vessels of wrath “had prepared themselves for destruction.” Along these lines, it is also sometimes argued that such vessels can change their course: Although they were preparing themselves for destruction, they have the ability to avert disaster. To take the verb as a passive would mean that they “had been prepared for destruction,” without a specific mention of the agent.
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 middle. Third, the lexical nuance of katarti,zw, coupled with the perfect tense, suggests something of a “done deal.” Although some commentators suggest that the verb means that the vessels are ready for destruction, both the lexical nuance of complete preparation and the grammatical nuance of the perfect tense are against this. Fourth, the context argues strongly for a passive and completed notion. In v 20 the vessel is shaped by God?’s 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.30 (Footnote 30: Cranfield argues against this view by pointing out that in v 23 Paul used an active verb with a pro- prefix for the divine preparations of the vessels of mercy. Although true, 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 i[na-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 God’s dealing with the vessels of wrath in v 22). Further, this view ignores the context in which God’s predetermining will for both kinds of vessels is asserted (vv 20-23). (Wallace, D. B. (1999, c1996). Greek grammar beyond the basics : An exegetical syntax of the Greek New Testament (electronic ed.). Garland, TX: Galaxie Software.)