Many readers of Romans have understood Paul to be speaking of predestination in his discussion of God as a “potter” forming clay (Rom 9:19-23). The apostle states, “Who are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molded it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (9:20-21). This molding metaphor sounds like God predestines some people for a negative outcome and others for a positive one, and human beings have no say in how God creates them. However, Paul’s words reiterate those of Jeremiah, and the prophet’s original Hebrew context points in a different direction from predestination.

Based on Paul’s reference to God as a molder of clay, the apostle concludes, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand (προητοίμασεν; proetoímasen) for glory” (Rom 9:22-23). Paul’s allusion to the Lord prepping pots ahead of time seems to suggest predestination: God chooses some people for good outcomes and some for destruction. Yet the apostle’s rhetoric comes from Jeremiah’s similar speech about God as a potter—and a closer look at the prophet’s original context makes Pauline predestination improbable.

When God tells Jeremiah to watch a potter at work, the prophet sees a spoiled batch of clay being reworked into a useful vessel. Then the Lord declares to Israel, “Can I not do with you as this potter has done? […] Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand…. At the moment I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, if that nation… turns from its evil (שׁבמרעתו; shav… mera’ato), I will relent (נחמתי; nahamti) of the disaster that I intended to do to it. But if at the moment I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, [that nation] does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it” (Jer 18:5-10).

In the original prophetic context, God describes a causative relationship between the divine directive and collective conduct; the Lord predetermines a particular posture towards a badly behaved nation, but if the citizens repent, then God changes course. Likewise, if the people switch from saintliness to sin, then God reevaluates the relationship. This is the exact opposite of predestination. God makes an assessment ahead of time, but human beings have the ability to alter their fate. It is this biblical scenario that Paul draws upon in Romans, so the apostle is not suggesting that everything is predetermined. On the contrary, Paul recycles Jeremiah to say that God extends much “patience” (μακροθυμίᾳ; makrothumía) as Heaven appraises human actions—of course, such patience would be unnecessary and illogical if the Lord had already predetermined the outcome! Thus, Paul’s rhetoric does not point to predestination; rather, God waits mercifully for people to make their own choices, and then the Lord adjusts the divine decree in response to humanity’s decisions.

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158 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with you Dr Nickolas that God waits mercifully for people to make their own choices. God would wish all would be saved, but it is the choices in this life and in our body/sarx that will be judged.
  2. Although I come from a theological perspective where free will is emphasized and predestination is downplayed, I have wrestled with passages in scripture where predestination is hard to ignore. You have given me a tool to construct a better understanding of a complicated subject! Thank you!
  3. Great article from you Dr Schaser. This settles the issue of predestination, I have struggled to understand this for years,but I couldn't. Seriously, it will really make no sense that a loving God would predestine some for destruction, and then turn and wait patiently for their repentance. Thank you, the article has given me a different way to look at Paul's words.
  4. I agree with your last statement, “God waits mercifully for people to make their choices.” Just like what happened to the pagan nations who occupied the Promised Land while the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt. In spite of what they have learned about God, and the miracles God had done in Red Sea and the Jordan River, still they have chosen to reject God. Imagine, for 400 years God had been patience with these pagan nations, but in the end they still say ‘no’ to God. That is why God had let them suffer the consequences.
    • So you are indirectly saying that the activities of boko-haram are somehow are righteous because people refuse to listen and believe that their God is true? Sir this line of argument can be used to justify any atrocities committed by any religous terrorist group

      + More answers (2)
    • I often wonder about the time intervals in the old testament. I see periods of 450 years or more without any significant events only to have a significant event happen. I can see why the Jews MIGHT forget God, and I can see the hand of darkness slowly corrupting Hebrews!
    • " Imagine, for 400 years God had been patience with these pagan nations,"

      I'd say that he is a lot more patient than that, even. Those nations were already sentenced, long before that, to (apparently) be ejected from the land. When God promised to Abraham's seed the huge swath of land from modern-day Iraq to Egypt (from the Euphrates to the Nile, or the Wadi el-Arish, take your pick, it's still Egypt), it is reasonable to assume that meant the displacement ("vomiting out of the land") of those people.

      The Bible explicitly tells us that the reason they were vomited out of the land was because they failed to obey God's instructions. That means that God was holding them accountable for doing wrong vs. right, long before we have the first evidence of written instructions (teachings given through Moses) and also before Abram was called out of Ur.

      God was also apparently holding the people of Noah's day to some standard of right vs. wrong, if we are to understand their destructive punishment as being a just act by God. So, one has to wonder about the progress of God's patience with people between Adam and Noah such that it (God's patience) finally ran out.

      I guess a nose can only grow so long, and then it breaks.
  5. Pottery: 60 years have taught me that yes, all have a place and position according to what is provided to us; noble, ignoble. Predestination: Future is laid out before God, we make our choices blind. No one is to blame but ourselves. Take away: Who are you to argue? J.
  6. God Bless you from Eastern Europe, CROATIA, 🇭🇷. Forgive me if my message dont have nothing with yours. I just want to say that I DONT understand God sometimes 😔. I cant understand that how mine own family, parents, my own blood can work against me and my son
  7. And that HE bless them, my ENEMIES and me, Im Black sheep and nothing nothing works for me in my life. Blockadges in every area in my LIFE, and only me from whole family MEMBERS. Dont understand.
    • This has been a common problem for generatons. Pray and command in name and under blood of Yahshua that all generational curses be broken. Pray blessings over you, son, family. Where your pain comes from is where your ministry comes from. You are to become a fountain of blessings.
    • I believe God have plans for each of His creation. Like the crow”s mission to feed Prophet, the donkey carrying Jesus to Jerusalem the dove guiding Moses on the flood and the man blind by birth getting healed by Jesus are all examples. Our tendency to deviate cause the problem
  8. We are not in a position to choose we are deprived of the will to choose the good. We live our fate. We can not do anything about it unless GOD through HIS Grace chooses us for the eternal kingdom. Your argument is not well substituted with the overall context
    • Ex-Calvinist here. Please cite a Scripture reference where you said we have no freewill. How about the freewill offerings in the Old Testament? And how about Hosea 8:4, “They set up kings, but not by Me…” Sounds like freewill to me.
    • Fraol, thank you!!! I agree with you. Holy scripture makes sens only as a whole!!! There are key verses on predestination that are not quoted in your article. Ephesians 1, 3-6 is very clear… and you should read it along the verse from Romans
    • I agree, Fraol. Romans 9:6-29 is about God’s sovereign choice. As it says in verse 11, “so that the purpose of God according to election might stand” and in verse 26, “Not of the willing (desire) or of the running (works), but of God showing mercy.”
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