How do you interpret Romans 11:32?


Question: How do you interpret Romans 11:32?

Response: I think I’ve probably quoted that verse more than any other over the last fifteen years. Usually when I quote it, I use the ESV or RSV: “He consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all.” I think this clearly means that the fall of humanity was all part of God’s plan. He willed that we would be put in a situation in which we would will that which he does not will (evil), in order that we would come to know the depths of his heart of Mercy. He knows that where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. His Will is Grace, and the absence (or perceived absence) of his Will is evil.

That’s simply the reformed supralapsarian (predestination before the fall) position. Where Calvin, Luther and Zwingli got it wrong, in my opinion, is that they then thought they had to figure out how God could still torture people endlessly in hell. Of course, they had inherited this bad theology along with a lot of other bad theology. To explain how God’s will could be sovereign and people could still end up in eternal conscious torment, they postulated that God elected some to endless damnation. Sadly the reformation stopped at this point – along about Romans chapter 9. Sadly, the reformers died before they really wrestled with Romans 11:32 and 13:11. Later reformed theologians like Karl Barth did. He would argue that all are predestined to disobedience, just as Romans 11:32 says, and all are predestined to know Mercy in the Chosen One, Jesus the Christ, just as Paul argues in all his letters… and already has argued in Romans 3:23 and 5:15-21. In Romans 3:23 Paul writes that “all” have sinned and “all” will be justified by God’s Grace in Christ Jesus. But in Romans 11, he reveals that even sin is part of God’s plan. God can’t will it – for it is the thing that God does not will – and yet God can will that we would will it, for in doing so we come to know evil (The tree works) and we also come to know the Good, for the Good (God) in flesh (Jesus) saves us from our sin (our bad judgment). In this way we come to agree with God’s judgment in freedom—that’s faith.

For me Romans 11:32 unlocks all of Scripture, so I’m so glad that you’ve focused on this verse.

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