Paul's Elect in Romans
It is thought that during the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), the Roman Emperor issued an edict either forbidding the Jews to congregate or expelled them altogether from Rome. Luke seems to confirm this in Acts 1:1-2. “Paul left Athens after this, and went to Corinth. Here he met a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who, with his wife Priscilla, had lately come from Italy, when Claudius decreed that all Jews should leave Rome.” After Claudius’ reign, Nero became Roman Emperor from 54 to 68 A.D. We know that Nero considered the Christians a Jewish cult and that the Jews incited Nero to persecute the Christians. Paul arrived in Rome as a captive from Jerusalem during the reign of Nero and is believed to have been executed by order of Nero during his second captivity.
From Paul’s greetings in Rom 16, we can discern the existence of several gatherings of Christians in the city. Rom 16:3-4 speaks of the church in the house of Prisca and Aquila, who must have returned to Rome from Corinth after their encounter with Paul in Corinth. Also note the long list of fellow Jews mentioned in chapter 16 as fellow workers for Christ. With all this said, no one really knows who was the first to preach Christ in Rome, but we can be fairly certain that it was a converted Jew who had exposure to the teachings of Christ in Jerusalem and/or Antioch, the birthplace of Christianity.
This article will take the position that Paul’s letter to the Romans was addressed specifically to Jews who were converted to Christianity, the elect, the large majority of whom formed the first Christian church in Rome. And according to Paul, the Israelites were the predestined race from the beginning of time. Calvinists and many other varied protestant denominations believe that the final, eternal destination of each person on this earth was determined by God before the world was made. Each Gentile was either predestined for eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Those foreordained for salvation are called the elect. A Gentile can do nothing to change the plan God established for his or her life. These ideas were formulated from the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo who lived from 354 A.D. to 430 A.D. Be it resolved that no Gentile was sufficiently versed in ancient scripture and the new gospel to receive such a letter as Romans, therefore the intended audience were the Jews of Rome. It is further resolved if the letter to the Romans was addressed to Jews, then those whom Paul addressed as predestinated and elect throughout Romans was in fact the Jews, their ancestors and prophets.
We know that Paul always began his preaching in a synagogue when he entered a new town. It makes perfect sense, because who else accepted the idea of a one, true God and knew about the concept of a coming Messiah accept the Jews. Paul would convert a few Jews and a Christian church was established, who in turn converted the Gentiles. So who was the first person to preach Christ in Rome? It had to be a Jew, possibly even the Apostle Peter. A Gentile Christian would never have an audience or the authority within a synagogue to form a church among the Jews in Rome. So let’s look at Romans in greater detail to flesh out these ideas of predestination and election.
As was customary in most of Paul’s letters, he most never addressed a particular person, but his letter was addressed to the church. The letter to the Romans was typical, he addressed no one by name. But throughout the letter his emphasis was toward his fellow Jews. This is revealed to us by the pronouns he used. Paul placed the Jew in a prominent position in the opening chapter. In Romans 1:16 he says the “gospel…. is an instrument of God’s power, that brings salvation to all who believe in it, Jew first and then Greek.” Paul confirms my resolve that the Jews were his primary audience. Paul was a Jew, Christ was a Jew, and the 12 apostles were Jews. The Christian church was originated by Jews among Jews in Jerusalem and in Rome.
God picked the Jews as a chosen people from the beginning of time, or at least from the appearance of Abraham. (Adam and Eve were probably Jews.) Paul directly addressed these chosen Israelites in Romans 1:20-21. “[F]rom the foundations of the world men have caught sight of his invisible nature, his eternal power and his divineness,…Thus there is no excuse for them (Jews); although they had the knowledge of God, they did not honour him or give thanks to him as God; they (Jews) became fantastic in their notions, and their senseless hearts grew benighted.” God’s mercy was first bestowed on the Jews. But their hearts grew cold and God administered justice. See what Paul says of the Jews in the following two verses. “And as they scorned to keep God in their view, so God has abandoned them to a frame of mind worthy of all scorn.” Romans 1:28. “There will be affliction then and distress for every human soul that has practised wickedness, the Jew in the first instance, but the Gentile too; there will be glory and honour and peace for everyone who has done good, the Jew in the first instance, but the Gentile too.” Romans 2:9-10. The scorn dished out to the Jews caused God to extend mercy to the Gentiles, as the Prophets consistently preached would materialize in the future in the Old Testament and as Paul explained the current situation of the churches of his day. The Jews continually disobeyed God in the Old Testament and consistently received justice under the Law as told in Romans 2:17-19. “Thou claimest Jewish blood; thou reliest on the law; God is all thy boast; thou canst tell what is his will, discern what things are of moment, because the law has taught thee. Thou hast confidence in thyself as one who leads the blind.” Notice the use of the pronouns and how Paul is criticizing the Jews again for their boastfulness and pride in this passage and in Romans 2:24. “The name of God, says the scripture, has become a reproach among the Gentiles, because of you (Jews).” In Romans 2:28-29 Paul consoles his fellow Jews. “To be a Jew is not to be a Jew outwardly; to be circumcised is not to be circumcised outwardly, in the flesh. He is a Jew indeed who is one inwardly; true circumcision is achieved in the heart, according to the spirit, not the letter of the law.” Paul displays the depths to which the Jews had sunk in their reliance on rituals. Then in Romans 3:1-2, Paul begins his message about the elevated position of the Jews in the eyes of God. “Of what use is it, then, to be a Jew? What value was there in circumcision? Much, I answer, in every respect; chiefly because the Jews had the words of God entrusted to them.” Here Paul states that the Jews were the depository of the word of God from the beginning of time because God predestined them as a chosen people. But as chosen people they stumbled according to Romans 3:5. “Thus our (Jews) fault only serves to bring God’s integrity to light. (Does that mean that God does wrong in punishing us (Jews) for it?” Paul acknowledges that because of the failure of the Jews, God turned His gaze toward the Gentiles, but God did not abandon the Jew completely. “Well then, has either side the advantage? In no way. Jews and Gentiles, as we have before alleged, are alike convicted of sin.” Romans 3:9. Both groups were frowned upon by God, the Jews because they disregarded the Law and the Gentiles because they were never predestined but were always heathens to begin with. “So the law says, and we know that the words of the law are meant for the law’s own subjects.” Romans 3:19. Who are the subjects of the law but the Jews? The Jews were given the law so the Jews could obey. But in Romans 3:21 Paul convincingly states to his Jewish audience that God has extended his mercy to the Gentiles through Christ apart from the law. “But, in these days, God’s way of justification has at last been brought to light; one which was attested by the law and the prophets, but stands apart from the law.” And in Romans 3:29-30 Paul questions his Jewish friends. “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Of the Gentiles too, assuredly; there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised man (Jew) if he learns to believe, and the Gentile because he believes.” God planned all along to bring salvation through faith in Christ and not the law but the law had to be promulgated to establish a basis in faith. The Jews had to learn to believe in Christ because they had heretofore always believed in the law. The Gentile who never had the law must simply believe Christ exists when told by Paul and others. Paul again asks his Jewish audience a question in Romans 3:31 “Does that mean that we (Jewish apostles) are using faith to rob the law of its force? No, we are setting the law on its right footing.” Here he is justifying the law to his Jewish audience while establishing a new law, faith. “All those who from the first were known to him (God knowing the chosen Israelites- predestination), he has destined from the first to be moulded into the image of his Son, who is thus to become the eldest-born among many brethren.” Romans 8:29. According to God’s plan, the converted Jew would be the pattern for unbelieving Jews and the Gentiles. “Who will come forward to accuse God’s elect (the converted Jew), when God acquits us (the Jews)?” Romans 8:33. The elect are the Jews who believe in Christ, not the Gentiles in Paul’s day or the Gentiles of our day. And Paul would give his life to save all of his Jewish brethren according to Romans 9:3-5. “[I]t has ever been my wish that I myself might be doomed to separation from Christ, if that would benefit my brethren, my own kinsmen by race. They are Israelites, adopted as God’s sons; the visible presence, and the covenant, and the giving of the law, and the Temple worship, and the promises, are their inheritance; the patriarchs belong to them, and theirs is the human stock from which Christ came.” But Paul knows and states to his Jewish audience that all Jews will not be converted, but only a remnant, the elect. “Not all those who are sprung from Israel are truly Israelites; not all the posterity of Abraham are Abraham’s children; It is through Isaac, he was told, that thy posterity shall be traced.” Romans 9:6-7. “The number of the sons of Israel may be like the sand of the sea, but it is a remnant that will be left.” Romans 9:27. All Israelites were of the predestined race but only the Jewish believers in Christ are the elect. “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13. “Tell me, then, has God disowned his people (the Jews)? That is not to be thought of. Why, I am an Israelite myself, descended from Abraham; Benjamin is my tribe. No, God has not disowned the people which, from the first, he recognized as his (predestined).” Romans 11:1-2. God chose or predestined the Israelites as His people, even though many have rebelled against God. God didn’t chose the Akkadians, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, or the Romans. He chose the descendants of Abraham because Abraham was righteous. In Romans 11:4-5 Paul states that in the Old Testament period some Jews had remained righteous. “There are seven thousand men I have kept true to myself, with knees that never bowed to Baal. So it is in our time; a remnant has remained true; grace has chosen it.” Who is this remnant in Paul’s time? The converted Jew- the elect. And Paul describes the elected Jew. “What does it mean, then? Why, that Israel has missed its mark; only this chosen remnant has attained it, while the rest were blinded.” Romans 11:7. No, just as in the old, in the new some are righteous still, of course they must believe. Can you see that Paul commands the Jew to be righteous and believe in Christ? “Tell me, then, have they stumbled so as to fall altogether? God forbid; the result of their false step has been to bring the Gentiles salvation, and the result of that must be to rouse the Jews to emulate them.” Romans 11:11. The Jews have not lost their rights to predestination but their non-belief in Christ has resulted in God’s gift of salvation to the whole world. In Romans 11:13-14, Paul turns his attention to a different audience. Paul’s whole discourse in Romans up to this point has been addressed to Jews but then his attention shifts. “(I am speaking now to you Gentiles.) As long as my apostolate is to the Gentiles, I mean to make much of my office, in the hope of stirring up my own flesh and blood (fellow Jews) to emulation, and saving some of them.” Paul is saying to the Gentiles that by converting the Gentiles, he will use his assignment to persuade his fellow Jews also. Again he addresses the Gentiles. “The branches (unrighteous Jews) have been thinned out, and thou (Gentiles), a wild olive, hast been grafted in among them (Jewish elect); sharest, with them, the root and the richness of the true olive.” Romans 11:17 “God was unforgiving with the branches (Israelites who rebelled) that were native to the tree, what if he should find occasion to be unforgiving with thee (Gentiles) too?” Romans 11:17. Paul is saying that God forsook the unrighteous Jews and God can forsake unrepentant Gentiles too. He again addresses the Gentiles. “In the preaching of the gospel, God rejects them (Israelites), to make room for you (Gentiles); but in his elective purpose (chosen people from the beginning of time) he still welcomes them (Israelites), for the sake of their fathers.” Romans 11:28. And he again addresses the Gentiles. “You (Gentiles) were once rebels, until through their (Israelites) rebellion you obtained pardon; they (Israelites) are rebels now, obtaining pardon for you (Gentiles), only to be pardoned in their turn.” Romans 11:30-31. In Romans 15:4 Paul’s attention reverts back to his Jewish audience since the reference to his audience changes by the use of different pronouns. “(See how all the words written long ago were written for our (Jewish) instruction; we were to derive hope from that message of endurance and courage which the scriptures bring us.)” Romans 15:4. From this point to the end of Romans, Paul is addressing his Jewish audience again. “I would remind those who are circumcised (Israelites), that Christ came to relieve their (Gentiles) needs.” Romans 15:8. “[A]nd again it (Deut. 32.43} says, ‘You too, Gentiles, rejoice with his own people’ (Israelites).” Romans 15:10. “It is not for me to give you (Jews) any account of what Christ has done through agents other than myself to secure the submission of the Gentiles (third person).” Romans 15:18. “The Gentiles, if they have been allowed to share their (Jews) spiritual gifts, are bound to contribute to their (saints in Jerusalem) temporal needs in return.” Romans 15:27. Paul is again addressing his Jewish audience and validating the wish of the Gentiles to make offerings of their first fruits for the apostles in Jerusalem.
Paul’s message in Romans was first and foremost to his Jewish Christian brethren in Rome but secondarily to a few of their Gentile companions. Paul confirms clearly to me that he had great praise for his converted Jewish brothers and considered the Israelites the predestined race of humans from the beginning of time. Paul also confirms to his Jewish bothers that God elected a remnant of converted Jews to bring light to the world. The Gentiles, then and now, were not predestined or elected. We Gentiles are brought into the fold, through Christ, a Jew, all within the foreknowledge of God.
Pride and the boastful side of life seem to have corrupted some “believers” today. You doubters, don’t be discouraged. God calls all to be saved. And His grace will be given to you as soon as you fully commit your life to God and begin the work necessary to change your life from unbelief to belief with the help of God’s grace. We gentiles are not the predestined, chosen race or the elect, but God has extended his grace to us in order that all peoples in His creation may be saved from the damnation of Hell.