Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner
Abasciano, Brian J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
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It has been a little over a dozen years since Thomas Schreiner argued in this journal that Romans 9 teaches individual election unto salvation.1 He correctly points out that Romans 9 is a standard proof text for Calviniste, who hold that God unconditionally elects individuals to be saved. He also correctly observes that scholars increasingly reject the Calvinist exegesis of the chapter as a misreading of the text.2 His article seeks to refute two common objections to the Calvinist interpretation, namely, that Romans 9 (1) addresses historical, national destiny rather than salvation; and/or (2) relates to the salvation of groups rather than individuals. I have no disagreement with the main thrust of Schreiner's first major point. Paul's argument in Romans 9 surely concerns the salvation of Israel.3 But I find his attempt to counter the primacy of corporate election in Romans 9 unpersuasive. This article will examine his case and seek to articulate the nature of election as it is represented in Romans 9.
II. CLARIFYING THE DEBATE AND UNDERCUTTING THE ARGUMENT: DETERMINING THE PRIMARY ORIENTATION OF ELECTION
Schreiner argues that the election described in Romans 9 "is both corporate and individual and that a reference to the former does not rule out the latter."4 Indeed, he maintains that corporate and individual election are inseparable, and that the former entails the latter.6 In one sense this must be true, but not in the individualistic way Schreiner means it. He appears to argue against a conception of corporate election that denies any place to the individual. This may be due to the position of the scholars he interacts with and/or some misunderstanding on his part of what corporate election entails.6 But in any case, I want to make it clear that when I speak of Romans 9 as containing corporate rather than individual election, I am speaking of the primary orientation of election, which of necessity must include individuals in its purview to some extent.7 But this in no way implies a traditional concept of individual election and actually undercuts much of Schreiner's argumentation. A proper view of corporate election, which takes full account of the place of individuals, avoids much of Schreiner's criticism.
Schreiner appears to contend for an election that is equally corporate and individual in orientation. But this is an untenable position, ironically due to the inextricable connection between the individual and the group to which Schreiner repeatedly calls attention. For there is a definite logical connection between the group and the individual, but this connection must be viewed primarily from either the corporate or the individual perspective. Interestingly, it can be viewed legitimately from either perspective, but not both equally at the same time. Either corporate or individual election must be primary (see below). The important question that Schreiner fails to address is: How do the corporate and individual aspects of election relate to each other? Which is primary?
If corporate election is primary, then it is the group that is the focus of election, and individuals are elect only in connection with the group. If individual election is primary, then individuals are separately the focus of election, and the group is elect only as a collection of elect individuals. Thus, either the corporate focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the individual based on participation in the group, or the individual focus of election determines the identity and benefits of the group based on the individuals who have been grouped together according to their similar individual characteristics/status. The fact that Schreiner repeatedly argues that corporate election entails Calvinistic individual election, amounting to an election of individuals as autonomous entities before God, only shows that he is assuming individual election to be primary. …