Dr Ben Witherington has been interviewing Dr Chad Thornhill about his new book, The Chosen People: Election, Paul & Second Temple Judaism in an 8-part series. In Part 7, they discuss Romans 8-11, foreknowledge and election; here is an excerpt:
BEN: One of the confusions of Tom Schreiner and other committed Calvinists is the assumption that when Paul talks about individuals like Jacob and Esau in Rom. 9, he is referring to them NOT as representative heads of a people, but as isolated individuals, and so Paul must be talking about the double predestination of particular individuals. As you point out even when Paul uses the singular pronoun it can refer to the representative head of a group of people. I find this whole Calvinistic line of argument: 1) far too modern considering the dyadic personality of ancient peoples and how they viewed themselves as primarily parts of collectives; and 2) more to the point it completely ignores for example Gal. 4 where Hagar and Sarah very clearly represent two groups of people—namely they are the prefigurements of the Judaizers and of Paul and those who agree with him. Paul lines up those who represent Arabia, Sinai, and the ‘now’ Jerusalem and slavery in one camp, and those who represent the Jerusalem which is from above and those who are free in another. In some ways I find this just as individualistic and wrong as Mr. Warren’s whole discussion of God having a ‘will’ for your individual ‘purpose driven life’ which is somehow custom tailored to the individual and much more particular than what the NT says about the will of God for believers in general— namely their sanctification, their exercising of God’s gifts in their lives etc. We seem to insist on reading the Bible through highly individualistic late Western eyes, and the reading of Paul especially suffers from this malady. Would you agree?
CHAD: As I developed in earlier chapters, the concept of corporate representation was alive and well in Jewish literature, and at times was specifically connected with the concept of election and the language surrounding it. Jacob and Esau themselves in Jubilees serve as representatives of two groups. Jacob serves such a function throughout the Old Testament as well. Paul is working with this existing framework of Jacob and Esau as representatives, but he reorients what this entails. There is a sense here too that God’s choosings are counter-intuitive. It is not the older, but the younger. I think this is significant because Paul completes his argument by stating explicitly that God’s people are not just made up of Jews, but also Gentiles. This would have been counter-intuitive to many Jews, so Jacob and Esau both serve as corporate representatives and as illustrations of the fact that God is the one who gets to make the rules. I think the bigger problem with the individualistic interpretation is that Paul is not answer the question here of how God decides who to save. He is rather answering the question of why we should think Gentiles can be included as full members in God’s people without submitting fully to Torah and that many Jews are being left out. This is not, then, about God’s “fairness,” as some translate adikia in 9:14, but about his rightness, or faithfulness, if you will. Paul gives the explicit download of the argument from 9:1-23 in 9:24: Jews and Gentiles are both in God’s people, and this is not based on ethnicity or Torah-observance, but their identification with and commitment to God’s Messiah.
The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism is based on the author’s 2013 doctoral dissertation, “To the Jew First: A Socio-Historical and Biblical-Theological Analysis of the Pauline Teaching of ‘Election’ in Light of Second Temple Jewish Patterns of Thought” which is available from SEA here.
This book is not to be confused with similarly titled The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election, by William Klein, which is an excellent introduction to Corporate Election, now available in a revised and expanded edition.