In Romans 9:1-5, Paul says,
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:Who are Israelites; to whom [pertaineth] the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service [of God], and the promises;
Whose [are] the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ [came], who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul sets the stage in Romans 9:1-5, as a Jew himself, expressing his abject sorrow for his fellow Jews, those of the nation of Israel who have been rejected for the sake of the Gentiles. Romans 10:1-13 goes into this further, with verse one stating:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
And verses 12-13 in chapter ten:
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.
The tragedy here, for the nation of Israel, is their continual resistance to the Lord. In Romans 10:19-21, Paul quotes both Moses and Isaiah to this end:
But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
But Esaias is very bold and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
And if you keep reading, the very first verses in Romans 11 declare that God has not cast away his people Israel, but has preserved a remnant according to grace.
So we’re back to Romans 9:1-5. I want to zero in on verse 3, where Paul’s strong declaration of love for the Israelites seems a startling contradiction to the Calvinist doctrines of Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement:
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…
Unconditional Election refers to a Calvinist doctrine maintaining that God chose certain humans for hell and certain for heaven, and Limited Atonement, likewise, is the belief that Jesus died only for the elect, not for the entire world*. If so, isn’t Paul’s statement in verse 3 in direct opposition to such a claim? Paul would wish himself accursed from Christ for the sake of the Israelites? Why would Paul dare to state such a thing, if he believed that his own salvation was “luck of the draw” so to speak, and that the Israelites themselves had nothing they could do differently to effect the outcome of their eternity. Who is Paul to oppose God’s sovereign will here, if indeed, the Israelites had been chosen by God before the foundation of the world for eternal damnation?
Furthermore, if the doctrine of Limited Atonement is true, that Jesus Christ died only for certain people*, then Paul is definitely out of bounds here to even express sympathy for those whom Christ himself did not die. Only if God were unwilling for these Israelites to perish and if Christ had died for them does Romans 9:1-5 make sense.
Romans 9 deals with the national election of Israel, and as we study it further, we’ll see how Paul distinguishes between national election and individual election. Namely, that Israel’s national election, did not guarantee them individual salvation. God’s “chosen people”, the Israelites, had rejected their Messiah. Thus, they could not fathom God’s acceptance of the Gentile race. Their objection is that it seemed completely contrary to God’s word, and His promises to their nation. We see in Romans 9, Paul’s earnest explanation of this tough concept to the Jewish people. Proof of this, is found in Paul’s summing up of Romans 9, in verses 30-33.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
Wherefore? Because [they sought it] not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
*1 John 2:2,
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.