A Theological Response to G. K. Beale’s Article: “An Exegetical and Theological Consideration of the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart in Exodus 4-14 and Romans 9”


By Stephen Marcy, March 2008 / Revised March 2010, Oct. 2022


Beale’s Method and Purpose

We need to state up front that Beale is a Calvinist,[1] and we also need to be clear that Calvinists believe in universal divine causal determinism.[2] I have demonstrated this as a fact in many places on this website and here I hope to show its relevance to Beale’s article. Suffice it to say here that this is the belief that God has predetermined everything to occur the way it does down to every minute detail – even everyone’s eternal destinies.  Understanding this is key to understanding my critique of Beale’s article.

In this article,[3] Beale seeks to investigate whether a fuller, consecutive exegesis of Ex. 4-14 lends insight into Paul’s use of Ex. 9:16 in Rom. 9:17 and Paul’s reference to mercy and hardening in Rom. 9:18.  As far as I can discern Beale’s handling of Ex. 4-14 seems sound.  Beale’s idea of investigating the relationship between the Exodus texts and their use by Paul in Rom. 9 is good hermeneutical practice.  From a hermeneutical and exegetical point of view this broader consideration of these texts is a sound method and to be affirmed and encouraged.  It supports the importance of canonical context, although I will critique Beale on the matter of the incoherence of his investigative conclusions when compared with his Calvinist theological determinism.  When you think about it, discerning whether one has been faithful to the hermeneutical principle of context is inseparable from the coherence or incoherence, as the case may be, of one’s interpretative conclusions.  Presupposing that the biblical authors wanted us to understand what they wrote, and therefore what they wrote is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory, then to interpret in context is to interpret coherently.  To interpret incoherently is a sure sign you have violated the principle of context. You have missed the author’s meaning in one place or another.

Regarding Beale’s purpose, he wants to find out if Paul’s use of the Ex. 9:16 from within the context of the Exodus narrative supports a Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 which defines “election” as God having unconditionally and unalterably chosen or predestined certain people to salvation and eternal life and all others to damnation and eternal death.  In pursuit of his purpose, Beale raises the following legitimate questions:

“(1) Who is the ultimate cause of Pharaoh’s hardening?”

“(2) If the hardening is at all associated with God, is it an unconditional or conditional judgment with respect to Pharaoh’s sin?”

“(3) When Paul refutes the idea that God is unjust (v 14) in rejecting Esau rather than Jacob before they were born (vv 10-13), does he give an understandable explanation for this refutation (v 17), or does he merely refute the idea without offering any rationale in defense of God’s rejection?”

“(4) Does the hardening involve God’s dealing with certain individuals or nations only on the plane of history or does it have reference to a general principle concerning God’s eternal rejection of man from salvation?”

Beale then states, “The purpose of this study is to attempt to answer these questions through a contextual exegesis of each hardening passage in Exod 4-14.” (Trinity Journal, 130.)

            Hermeneutical Concerns

Now, the degree to which an exegesis of Exodus answers these questions in a manner supportive of Calvinist soteriology will depend upon whether the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is sustainable given the application of the principle of context or coherence to that text.  If the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is incoherent with other parts of Romans, especially the immediate context of chapters 10 and 11, then we would know that the Calvinist has misinterpreted Rom. 9. If that were the case, then to the degree the Calvinist argues the Exodus texts support their interpretation of Rom. 9, we would be within our interpretive rights to conclude that they have wrongly understood the Exodus texts or at least misapplied them to Rom. 9. We would be correct in thinking they did not support an incorrect interpretation of Rom. 9. Beale’s question is, “Does Paul’s use of Ex. 9:16 in Rom. 9:17 confirm a Calvinist view of Rom. 9?”  Perhaps.  But maybe not.  The answer will depend upon how Paul desired to use Ex. 9:16, and to know that we would have to exegete Rom. 9 in context, that is, coherently, with chapters 10 and 11, let alone the whole of Romans and now Exodus too. But Beale does not do this here as it is not the purpose of this article. (See 130)

So, the application of sound hermeneutical principles may indicate the Calvinist’s interpretation of Rom. 9 to be deeply flawed as incoherent with its context and therefore an exegesis of God’s hardening of Pharaoh in Exodus would lend no support to the Calvinist view.  The Calvinist would have to understand Paul to be making a very different point in Rom. 9.  The bottom line is that we will have to exegete Rom. 9 as well to arrive at a conclusion either way on this matter.  For even if the Exodus passage confirms that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we still need to apply the principles of coherence and consistency to the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 regarding salvation.  If it can be demonstrated by applying the principles of consistency and coherence (i.e., the principle of context) that Paul means something other than what Calvinist’s conclude from Rom. 9 (i.e., unconditional election or predestination to salvation), then Paul’s use of Ex. 9:16 must lend quite a different point to the argument in Rom. 9 than Calvinist’s maintain.  Paul would be using Ex. 9:16 for a very different purpose.  Can the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 would withstand the application of the principles of coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction in the immediate context and in the context of the Bible as a whole?  If it cannot, then the Exodus passage as used by Paul must have a very different purpose and meaning in the flow of thought of Rom. 9 than Calvinists contend.  Beale’s third and fourth questions require a fuller exegesis of at least Rom. 9-11.  But again, that exegesis should encompass the whole scope of the book of Romans, and even beyond, to determine whether Paul does provide a rationale for God’s choice of Jacob over Esau and what Paul is demonstrating with these Old Testament examples.  We would want to discover Paul’s intent given his own theological and historical context.

Ultimately, we’re grappling with whether Paul taught what we know today as Calvinist soteriology.  This is the import of Beale’s fourth question. Be that as it may, we can follow Beale in his exposition of Exodus 4-14 to answer questions one and two. In doing so I contend that Beale defeats his own Calvinist theology of universal divine causal determinism. If that is the case, then we would know that the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is incorrect and the Exodus passages were not used by Paul in support of such and interpretation.

Beale’s Calvinist Determinism and Treatment of the Exodus Passages

So, let’s examine Beale’s treatment of the Exodus passages given his Calvinist deterministic theological framework to see if he convincingly argues that Paul had such a theology in mind in Rom. 9.

Here is my main concern with Beale’s theological position and exposition of the Exodus passages.  It is that Beale’s description of the dynamic between God and Pharaoh is ultimately inconsistent with his Calvinist theological and soteriological teachings as deterministic.  I can agree with his conclusions that God unconditionally caused the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart at particular times and circumstances in these chapters, although some questions could be raised about Beale’s linking of passages and lack of treatment of other dynamics between God and man in Ex. 3-14.  The main point to note is that it seems obvious that Beale’s exegetical discussion of the dynamic between God and Pharaoh contradicts his own Calvinist theological position which is one of theistic determinism.  I contend that this problem of contradiction or incoherence should have input into Beale’s hermeneutic and therefore be a check upon his interpretations and theological conclusions.  What does it say about Beale’s hermeneutic and interpretive mindset when his exegesis of the Exodus passages is inconsistent with his own theology and that this inconsistency is ultimately of no concern to Beale?  It tells us that Beale’s hermeneutic does not consider interpretive incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction as significant in determining the validity of those interpretations. As such, his suggestion that the Exodus passages that speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart support a Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9-11 is already defeated precisely because of his interpretation’s inconsistency with the divine/human dynamics he himself points out in the Exodus account.  Here are the reasons why I believe Beale’s exposition of Exodus is inconsistent with his Calvinist theology.

            As I said at the start, Beale, being a Calvinist, believes in universal divine causal determinism.  Via a single eternal decree, God ordained “whatsoever comes to pass.”  The Westminster Confession, which is a Calvinist doctrinal standard, makes this perfectly clear.  It states, “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…”[4] God’s sovereignty is thus defined as him having predetermined, before the creation of the universe, everything that would come about throughout all of history. This includes every minute detail of all things, including every person’s thoughts, desires, beliefs, actions and eternal destiny.  In other words, on Calvinism everything has the nature of unconditionality about it.  Hence, ultimately there really is nothing meaningfully conditional given the tenets of Calvinist theology.  If God, from out of his will alone, predetermined all things, and therefore causes all things to happen according to what he willed, then there is no real or meaningful human volition or free will, at least in the common-sense and logical understanding of “volition” and “free-will.” I submit that the common-sense and logical understanding of “volition” and “free-will” entails the ability for persons to decide within and for themselves, that is, according to their own wills, what they will think, believe and do, and that they really have the ability of contrary choice.  In normal, everyday life, “volition” or “free-will” mean that we are the sole authority over our wills, and we have the ability to decide to do one thing or another when faced with circumstances that require decisions – whether important or trivial. Our judicial and social conventions of personal responsibility and culpability are based upon and testify to the reality of this type of human freedom. If, according to the Calvinist, all of the minutest details of history are the predetermined causal workings of God which are rooted in a single eternal divine decree, I would therefore submit that all meaningful conditionality and therefore genuine human freedom and responsibility are removed from reality. The puppets on a string or robot analogies would hold true.

So, what we need to observe, therefore, is that Beale exegetes and expounds the interaction between God and Pharaoh in the Exodus passages as though there exists a real, genuine conditionality along with the phenomenon of genuine human volition. Beale expounds the Exodus account as if reality is non-deterministic. Now, to speak this way may be reflective of the meaning of the text – Beale obviously believes it is, and I agree – but if that is the case then the text is incoherent with Beale’s Calvinism as a universal divine causal determinism.  Hence, if the text as Beale exegetes it, is found to be inconsistent and incoherent with his Calvinist theistic determinism, we can only conclude that Beale’s Calvinism is unbiblical. This also means that Paul wrote in Rom. 9 is not “Calvinistic,” that is, that God’s sovereignty and salvation are of the nature of a theistic determinism. Hence, the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is also unbiblical.

Instances of Inconsistency

           For instance, Beale writes, “…at no time was Pharaoh’s volition independent of Yahweh’s influence when he [Pharaoh] hardened his heart.”  First, what could Beale be referring to by “Pharaoh’s volition?”  This is a tacit admission that Pharaoh has a will of his own, that even if at that time and in those circumstances Pharaoh’s will was completely controlled by God, we may presume that before that time and those circumstances, Pharaoh was not causally determined by God to think and do whatever he did down to the minutest details of his existence.  If that was the case, then what sense is there in talking about the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart? There would be nothing for God to do but watch play out what he had predetermined to occur. Therefore, this “hardening” only makes sense if to some degree and at other times Pharaoh acted out of what was his own will.  Normally Pharaoh’s heart was left undetermined by God.  Pharaoh was not always, and in every circumstance, absolutely determined and controlled by God.  Only given the reality of genuine human freedom, which is in direct contradiction to Beale’s deterministic Calvinism, can Beale meaningfully speak about “Pharaoh’s volition.”  But according to Calvinism nothing is ever independent of Yahweh’s “influence,” that is, preordination or predetermination, for all things have been determined beforehand by him.

Beale also speaks about God’s “influence” with respect to hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  But what could a theistic determinist mean by “influence?” “Influence” also implies that we have wills of our own that can and need to be influenced, perhaps from doing evil to doing good. Surely this is not all of God and therefore to talk about influencing persons makes sense. Yet God’s “influence” is premundane via his eternal decree. His “influence” is comprehensive and irresistible.  As such, how God “relates” to the world and people is beyond the definition of “influence.”  God does not “influence” anything precisely because he has predetermined everything.  According to Beale’s theology, God predetermined all things – even Pharaoh’s disposition and will, not just in a few instances but in his whole life, thereby controlling him so absolutely that to speak of Pharaoh’s “will” becomes nonsense. Influence implies a degree of volition and a free will that needs to be moved towards a specific thought and action, which God, of course, is able to accomplish without fail when he chooses to do so.  But language like “Pharaoh’s volition” and “God’s influence” imply that all thought and action is not predetermined and there is a substantial degree of human freedom.  This shows that universal divine causal determinism is false, and therefore Calvinism, in this respect, is false.  This vocabulary of “volition” and “influence” implies real mutual relationship requiring action and response.  To talk about Pharaoh’s “volition,” in any meaningful sense, must presuppose some degree of non-determination of Pharaoh’s will by God.[5] But genuine individual volition and influence are concepts impossible to incorporate into a theology that states that “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”  Again, Beale’s exegesis is incoherent with his theology.

              Also, the details of the dynamic between God and Pharaoh, and Beale’s description of the human “heart,” create incoherence with his larger Calvinist theological system.  Beale writes, “…at no time was Pharaoh’s volition independent of Yahweh’s influence when he [Pharaoh] hardened his heart.”  Note that Beale recognizes that “Pharaoh hardened his own heart,” yet Beale states that “at no time was Pharaoh’s volition independent of Yahweh’s influence.”  So, is Beale describing the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God as Pharaoh hardening his own heart? That makes no sense. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? God or Pharoah? These are contradictory statements. Beale, as a Calvinist, must maintain that God determined Pharaoh’s whole existence and therefore causes within Pharaoh every attitude and action.  If he doesn’t mean that, then he is not being true to his Calvinist beliefs.  But then what could it possibly mean for Beale speaks about Pharaoh hardening his own heart? Given universal divine causal determinism, how could “Pharaoh harden his own heart?”  Pharaoh’s heart could be hardened by God, but for Pharaoh himself to harden his own heart” has no logical place within Beale’s theistic determinism.  In his commentary on Exodus, Walter C. Kaiser Jr. writes the following on Ex. 4:21,

            “The expression “I will harden [Pharaoh’s] heart so that he will not let the people go” it’s used here for the first time. In all there are ten places where “hardening” of Pharaoh is ascribed to God (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). But it must be stated just as firmly that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in another ten passages (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15). Thus the hardening was as much Pharaoh’s own act as it was the work of God. Even more significant is the fact that Pharaoh alone was the agent of the hardening in the first sign and in all the first five plagues. Not until the sixth plague, as KD (1: 453-55) carefully point out, was it stated that God actually moved in and hardened Pharaoh’s heart (9:12), as he had warned Moses in Midian that he would have to do (v. 21).”[4]

If Beale means that Pharaoh has an individuated will that he exercised apart from the influence of God, as it seems he must if his statement is to make sense, he would be compromising his Calvinist theological conviction that God unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.

In another place Beale writes,

“Interestingly, the fact that Pharaoh is viewed as performing the hardening in 8:11a [15a] is a comment by the writer on the historical integrity of the narration and about the dispositional reality of Pharaoh’s genuine choice, i.e., his hardened refusals are not mechanistic mock actions.  Nevertheless, in view of the ka’aser formula Pharaoh must be viewed as YHWH’s agent, who truly hardens himself – however, never independently, but only under the ultimate influence of Yahweh.” (143)

First, we must ask why the “comment by the writer…about the dispositional reality of Pharaoh’s genuine choice, i.e., his hardened refusals are not mechanistic mock actions.”  On Calvinism, why aren’t they mechanistic?”  Why shouldn’t they be taken to mean just that?  That these concerns even arise tells us that the problems theistic determinism generates are always percolating below the surface for any Calvinist who attempts to deal forthrightly with this historical narrative.  The Calvinist has insurmountable problems here.  Any deterministic view of what is occurring cannot provide a coherent explanation of the events.  So here we see Beale’s struggle to acknowledge that the interaction between God and Pharaoh is something other than can be explained by his Calvinist absolute determinism.  But in doing so, he betrays the unsustainability of his Calvinist theology in light of the text itself.  He knows the text is not supporting his theistic determinism, but he must ignore that fact for now.  He has to make a flat-out assertion that Pharaoh’s “hardened refusals are not mechanistic mock actions.”  But how is this coherent with saying that “Pharaoh…truly hardens himself – however, never independently, but only under the ultimate influence of Yahweh?”  Obviously, Beale is struggling to preserve the theological, historical determinism produced by his Calvinist concept of a single, eternal decree in light of the biblical evidence that the reality depicted here does not affirm such a theology.  The result is logical nonsense.  Certainly, given the larger background involving the Israelite slavery, the interactions between the Israelites and the Egyptians, God’s interactions with Moses and the Israelite elders, Moses’ interactions with Pharaoh, etc. cannot be explained by Beale’s Calvinist divine determinism.

Secondly, we can see that Beale is aware of his problem, especially as it relates to God being responsible for sin.  But Beale offers up the typical Calvinist responses to their problem.  Here he identifies the problem as between a deterministic sovereignty and human accountability. Who is responsible for Pharaoh’s sin? On theistic determinism we would think it is God. But Beale cannot have that, so he dismisses the incoherence and contradiction as a “mystery” and “antinomy.”  He writes,

“A classic and important objection to this idea is that it associates God too closely with the cause of sin. No doubt the theologian must be very careful in discussing God’s relation to sin. Nevertheless, the above exegesis shows that Exod 4 -14 says that God was the ultimate, unconditional cause of Pharaoh’s volition while holding him accountable for his disobedient volitional acts. While many theologians an antinomy between divine sovereignty and human freedom in Exod 4 -14 and Romans 9, the present evidence places the mystery between the divine sovereignty and human accountability. Paul’s apparent expression of this antinomy is found in the hypothetical Jewish objection which he anticipates in his allusion to Pharaoh’s hardening, i.e., how can God blame man for sin, since man cannot resist God’s decree (Boule) which includes sin (cf. Rom. 9:19).” (150-151)

Here we see how Beale and most Calvinists deal with their interpretive incoherence. They declare it a “mystery” or “antinomy.” Rather, it seems the biblical account presupposes and reveals a meaningful, substantial human freedom and affirms its corollaries of human accountability and God’s freedom from sin and sinning. In contrast, Beale’s theology of universal divine causal determinism must impute to God both Pharaoh’s sin and accountability for sinning. Beale talks about Pharaoh’s “volition.”  Does the account lead us to believe that Pharaoh was all the time in all ways under the irresistible and absolute “influence” of God?  There is no reason to conclude this.  Does a particular instance of hardening of Pharaoh by God mean that all the Egyptians and Israelites and everyone else in the world at that time, and now, and forever into the future, was and is presently under the control of God with respect to their wills as Pharaoh was at certain times in Exodus?  I don’t think so.  Again, if that were the case, we would have God responsible for all the evil acts Pharaoh committed, including oppressing and enslaving the Israelites, which was the very thing that God is working to remedy.  Indeed, Kaiser’s interpretation of Ex. 2:23-25 captures God’s heart and mind about the situation into which God would intervene. Kaiser’s translation of Ex. 2:23-25 reads,

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”[5]

The narrative makes no sense for God to be responsible for the sin against his people and then also express his concern for them and be their deliverer. On Calvinism, God would be working to deliver Israel from the very slavery he himself brought upon them

So we see that Calvinists find it difficult to face up to what their theistic determinism entails. They declare their inconsistencies, incoherencies, and contradictions to be a “mystery” or “antinomy” or “incomprehensible to the sinful human mind.” To me this betrays a disregard for the authority the text should exercise over the strong influence of the theological proclivities in the Reformed Calvinist tradition.  It also indicates that the a priori theistic determinism underlying the Calvinist’s theological worldview is simply wrong.  For numerous complex reasons the Calvinist will not make the adjustment necessary to construct a theology that better reflects a fully comprehensive, integrated interpretation of Scripture.  They impose “mystery” or “antinomy” or “incomprehensibility” onto what the Scripture testifies to as contradictory to their deterministic interpretative conclusions.

What I am saying is that to speak of Pharaoh’s “volition” as real requires that God’s “influence” upon Pharaoh’s “heart” be a unique, intervening event presupposing Pharaoh’s individuated volitional existence as the norm.  In other words, Pharaoh has a substantial self with a will of his own, the exercise of which for the most part is not exhaustively determined by God.  Pharaoh is the sole author of his actions and has the ability of contrary choice.  That means Calvinism is incorrect as to its theistic determinism. And yet, in this context we recognize God’s prerogative to “influence” Pharaoh’s will in a deterministic sense. It is God’s prerogative to do what he wills with Pharaoh because we are not working in a moral vacuum or within a theistic determinism as if Pharaoh has no responsibility for his own character and imposing upon the Israelites even harsher treatment than his predecessor. (See 2:23and Ch. 5) A major theme of the narrative is “Don’t oppress God’s people!” What God does to “influence” Pharaoh is not incoherent with either God’s sovereignty or Pharaoh having substantial human freedom.  And this coherent non-deterministic understanding of divine sovereignty is what we see going on in the narrative for the accomplishment of God’s larger purposes.  God’s sovereign dealings with Pharaoh are not portrayed as an absolute determinism.  Does God act determinatively in history.  Certainly, especially in salvation history.  That is what the exodus, and ultimately God’s provision for our salvation “in Christ,” requires.  But to speak of “a will” which God acts upon in determinative ways at certain times and circumstances (i.e., “Yahweh’s influence upon Pharaoh’s mind and volition,” 137) that he has not acted upon in such a way previously implies that Pharaoh’s thoughts and actions, at previous times and to some substantial degree, were not predetermined by God.  God is acting uniquely and determinatively upon Pharaoh for particular and special purposes in the present circumstance.  But if this is true, as Beale seems required by the text to acknowledge, then that is to say something inconsistent with his Calvinist theology.  It is to say something that is in contradiction with his Calvinist determinism.

            It is hard for Calvinists to coherently exegete Scripture because they continually run up against the reality of human freedom which is in contradiction to their universal divine causal determinism.  This tells us that theistic determinism, as a theology or a philosophy, is not an accurate portrayal of the biblical witness to God’s interactions with men and the world as we experience it. It cannot account for the full scope of the nature of historical events and God’s personal and interactive relationship with his human creatures and created world.  Ultimately it cannot explain the phenomenon of personal moral responsibility, moral command, and duty.  It locks all things up into a static, predetermined set of events that when thought about carefully can only produce either the suppression of one’s reason by encouraging us to ignore the incoherence of Calvinism or make forced attempts to rationalize the incoherence away. But all this is to no avail. The rationalizations only produce more incoherence. What one is left with is the fear and despair in having to acknowledge that one cannot know whether God is kindly disposed towards them and has chosen them for salvation.  We may agree that in this account God, at certain junctures, definitively and irresistibly hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  This is always God’s prerogative.  But this account cannot support the Calvinist’s theological tenet that God has ordained, with him being the cause, of “whatsoever comes to pass.”  God’s salvific intervention is a far cry from the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism.

Further on Beale concludes, in direct contradiction to the text, that it cannot be said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. (See esp. 8:15, 32; 9:34. See also 7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35; 13:15) Be that as it may for now. The point is that Beale is quick to add, “This is not to say that the reality of Pharaoh’s volitional decisions and accountability should be overlooked or ignored; the concern of this study is the ultimate cause of the hardening.” (149) Indeed, what Beale certainly cannot overlook or ignore as a Calvinist, is his admission of the reality of “Pharaoh’s volitional decisions and accountability.”  Such “volitional decisions and accountability” are nonsense given Beale’s Calvinism which, again, is a universal divine causal determinism.

Beale also talks about God overwhelming Pharaoh so that “he could not escape or exercise any totally independent self-determining actions” (149).  The implication is that apart from God’s hardening instances of Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh could and did exercise “independent self-determining actions.”  We agree that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  The text clearly says as much.  Yet on the way to those conclusions, Beale’s descriptions of the broader dynamic of Pharoah’s reasoning and willing, and God’s interaction with him in this battle of the wills and of the gods, contradict Beale’s Calvinist fundamental doctrines of God’s eternal decree and deterministic sovereignty.  Any remote possibility of volition, along with independent, self-determining actions for which one may be held accountable are realities that obviously conflict with Beale’s more fundamental Calvinist doctrines of a single divine decree that predetermines all things, the sovereignty of God defined deterministically, and salvation understood as unconditional election.

I conclude that Beale’s exegesis of Exodus 4-14 has simply supported the idea that God directly intervenes in human affairs and has the prerogative to directly cause certain human actions and responses for his special purposes.  Non-Calvinists also affirm this.  Beale writes,

“In Exodus 1-15 Yahweh is seen as beginning to fulfill the patriarchal promise by means of redeeming Abraham’s seed out of Egypt. It is in this “actualization of promise” context that God’s revelation of his name as YHWH takes on most significance; this divine name emphasizes God as the one who is to effect his patriarchical promise, since intrinsic to the meaning of the name itself is that of God as a “controlling and effecting reality.”” (130)

Beale is correct here. And we can affirm Beale’s quote from W. Eichrodt’s The Theology of the Old Testament that God is a “controlling and effecting reality.”  The issue is whether God is a “controlling and effecting reality” such that he controls and effects everything and everyone in every way at all times.  Such a universal divine causal determinism cannot find support in Exodus, Romans or anywhere else in Scripture.

In another example of incoherence, Beale quotes Moshe Greenberg describing how God is fulfilling his patriarchal promise. He states, “[it is] the decision of God to break into history on behalf of Israel.”  But what sense would “break into history” have in a world exhaustively predetermined by God himself?  Also, the phrase “on behalf of Israel” may provide us with an interpretive control in evaluating not only the nature of God’s activities with Pharaoh, but also in other human affairs and especially in Romans 9-11.  In Exodus, God is making it clear that Pharaoh and the Egyptians should not oppresses his people. In Romans Paul is informing Israel that they should not have rejected their Messiah. God will stand for neither and will employ “hardening” to accomplish his purposes. Perhaps that is precisely what Paul wanted both Jew and Gentile in his own time to know.  That is, having given promises to the patriarchs, God has intervened in human affairs on behalf of the salvation of both Jew and Gentile.  And just as God ultimately hardened Pharaoh as Pharaoh hardened himself in rebellious disobedience to God’s instruction to let his people go, to the revelation of himself as the only true God, and the accomplishment of salvation for his people Israel in the Old Testament, so Paul argues that God can also harden others, even his own people Israel, as they hardened their hearts in rebellious disobedience to God’s Word to them in Jesus, to his instructions to them that they believe in him, and to the revelation of himself as God in the flesh and the way of salvation (i.e., the Passover Lamb, See Ex. 12). Paul understood that as God hardened Pharaoh, he could also harden the Jews of Jesus’ day to accomplish his saving purposes “in Christ” for the Gentiles.  But more of this in our study of the doctrine of election.

Therefore, for the Calvinist, the answer to Beale’s first two introductory questions are self-evident.  “Who is the ultimate cause of Pharaoh’s hardening?”  The answer must be God, and God alone.  God is not only “the ultimate cause” as in being the Creator of all things, but he is “the ultimate cause” in the sense that “whatsoever comes to pass” is caused by God alone – which includes everyone’s thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions, whether good or evil.  For the Calvinist, the answer could never be “Pharaoh,” even to any degree as a cause of his hardening, for that would amount to the admission of some sort of substantial “free-will” or “autonomy” within Pharaoh himself, something Calvinist theology ardently rejects.  “Pharaoh” may be the answer the text gives (which speaks against Beale’s exegesis and theology), but, as a Calvinist, the answer that is required is “God.”  The cause of hardening cannot and could never be “Pharaoh.”  The answer to the second question, “If the hardening is at all associated with God, is it an unconditional or conditional judgment with respect to Pharaoh’s sin?”  Wait! What is this about judgment for Pharaoh’s sin?  What is meant by Pharaoh’s sin? Doesn’t Beale mean the sin God predetermined and caused Pharaoh to commit?!  How could it be “Pharaoh’s sin” if God predetermined and caused Pharaoh to sin? So, looking beyond the incoherence of judgment for sin within Calvinist determinism, for the Calvinist this judgment must be “unconditional judgment” for the reasons stated above.  How would conditionality find a logical place in a predetermined world? It cannot.

On Calvinism, we would know the answers to these questions before we even examined the text.  So, Beale is asking questions that as a Calvinist must be answered in a certain way, otherwise he would contradict his foundational theological doctrines and his Calvinist system would falter. Of course Beale believes his Calvinism is textually based, and he sees this text is an example of a contribution to that theology.  But my main point centers in the fact that as much as Calvinists attempt to defend their theology with certain biblical texts, in doing so they themselves explicitly acknowledge the presence of historical and relational dynamics that are inconsistent with and unaccounted for in their theology.  Due to its inevitable determinism Calvinist theology proves to be incoherent with the overwhelming testimony in Scripture to human freedom and responsibility.  Judgment for sin only makes sense within this biblical witness to human freedom and responsibility.

There is an unwillingness on the part of Calvinists to incorporate into their theology what they are inescapably confronted with in Scripture regarding human freedom and responsibility which are compatible with a definition of God’s sovereignty that is not deterministic.  They do not take their theological incoherence as an indicator of invalid interpretation, nor do they allow it to check and inform their hermeneutic.  Although Beale talks about “Pharaoh’s volition,” “Pharaoh’s genuine choice,” God’s “intervention,” “influence,” “Pharaoh’s “disobedient volitional acts,” etc., as a Calvinist Beale really should ultimately confess that God did not simply influence the situation at some point but that he actually decreed, planned and caused it to happen in all its details from before the foundation of the world.  In other words, any “influencing” done by God is rooted in the fact that he has already determined a certain course for all things.  But then no “influence” would be necessary or make sense within such a deterministic framework.  If Beale is a traditional Calvinist, determinism is what he believes, therefore “God determined” is what he really means.  He should therefore say so and not confuse the reader with language inconsistent with his theology. But the interactive dynamics of human and divine freedom, responsiveness, responsibility and accountability do not allow for it to be read that way. For instance, Beale also claims that textual and grammatical patterns reveal that,

“…even when Pharaoh is subject of the hardening, or when the subject is unmentioned, these statements describe a resulting condition traceable to a previous hardening action caused by God (cf 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15[19]; 9:7, 35) Therefore these statements cannot refer to Pharaoh independently hardening his heart, as many commentators argue.” (148, 149)

In full disclosure, Beale’s claims that the Hebrew grammar supports his conclusions are beyond my paygrade. But he also claims that there is a textual pattern that supports his conclusions. (148) To me this pattern is not convincing. We can all read the text and apply good interpretive principles to see if Beale’s claims hold up. I have already applied the principle of context or coherence to Beale’s explanation of the narrative and have shown why the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism cannot be what the text means. So what can we say about the textual pattern Beale maintains governs all the hardening texts?

I do believe that when God does harden Pharaoh’s heart he does so effectively. I don’t think to say “unconditionally” is correct because there seems to be conditionality in the narrative with respect to Pharaoh. At times Pharaoh hardens his own heart. Such texts just cannot be subsumed under a grammatical phenomenon that reinterprets their plain meaning to say that God is the cause of every hardening incident. The text states in 8:15,

“But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”

And in 8:32,

“But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also and did not let the people go.”

In 9:34, 35 we read,

“When Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail, and thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his officials. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he did not let the Israelites go, as the Lord had said through Moses.”

Beale argues the text does not support this conclusion. He says that “…in the sixth [plague] narrative (9:8-12) Yahweh is explicitly identified as the subject of the previous hardening acts, mainly by showing that he is to be identified with all the previous ka’aser prophetic fulfillment clauses.” (148) Beale sees a “definite pattern of a hardening motif” which can be traced back to a “first action” which “occurred in 5:2 (or somewhere soon after) as a beginning fulfillment of 4:21, which views Yahweh as the cause of the hardening.” (148) The decision of God to deliver his people at that specific time may have been somewhat conditioned upon this Pharaoh’s character flaw of a being obstinate and stubborn. Compare the way the Pharaoh in Genesis dealt with Joseph. But obviously God does not do this in every instance. I think we would all agree that “the exegesis of the plague narrative complex has shown a definite pattern of a hardening motif.” (148) No problem there. But Beale points to a “previous action” that caused the hardened condition and that “this first action occurred in 5:2 (or somewhere soon after) as a beginning fulfillment to 4:21, which views Yahweh as the cause of the hardening.” (148) But does 4:21 view God as the “ultimate cause” of each and every case of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? I don’t think so. There we read,

“The Lord instructed Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, make sure you do before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put within your power. But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go. And you will say to Pharaoh: This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I told you: Let my son go so that he may worship me, but you refused to let him go. Look, I am about to kill your firstborn son!”” (4:21-23 CSB)

I see 4:21 in its context to be part of Moses’ mission pre-briefing, so to speak. At the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 God is ironing out the details for Moses as to what he is about to do. This divine pre-briefing included the persuasion of the elders, giving of the signs (the staff snake and leprous hand) and establishing Aaron as spokesperson. But equally important was God informing Moses about what Pharaoh’s reactions would be to Moses. God tells Moses “But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go.” That is, there will be instances in which I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so as to prolong the display of my power and that Pharaoh, the Egyptians and Israel will know that I am the Lord (7:5, 17; 8:10; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 14:4), and that Pharaoh cannot stop me from delivering my people from their bondage.

But notice that God informs Moses of Pharaoh’s response even before the “I will harden his heart” statement in 4:21. After instructing Moses as to the message he was to give to Pharaoh about letting the people go into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord, God states in 3:19,

“However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, even under force from a strong hand. But when I stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my miracles that I will perform in it, after that, he will let you go.” (3:19 CSB)

What is going on here? God is informing Moses that he knows Pharaoh intimately and completely. God is telling Moses that he knows what Pharaoh’s character is like and that “he will not allow you to go.” This first indication of Pharaoh’s resistance is informative of what Moses can expect from Pharaoh, not determinative of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in each instance of resistance. In 4:21 we read that God will participate in this hardening so as to accomplish his greater purposes, but I submit that the omniscient God knows all about Pharaoh and is informing Moses that Pharaoh, in and of himself, will not respond positively to Moses’ message. He is informing Moses that Pharaoh’s heart is already so hardened that “he will not allow you to go.” Will Pharaoh never respond? No so. He will not respond “unless compelled by a mighty hand.” Indeed, God says that Pharaoh will respond after Egypt is struck with “all my miracles that I will perform.” (3:20) And that will require that God, at times, harden Pharaoh’s heart to “rachet up” the display of power to the point that Pharaoh is “compelled by a mighty hand.” In this text God reveals his knowledge of Pharaoh’s character and also his foreknowledge of what must come of that character. Pharaoh “will not allow you to go.” So, God knows Pharaoh’s character; that he is hard-hearted. Pharaoh’s many other vices will be revealed as the narrative progresses, but the point to note here is that Pharaoh does not have a soft-hearted, humble and teachable character that God is willfully and capriciously going to ignore and transform into a hard, stubborn king by hardening Pharaoh’s heart so as to resist God and Moses. It is not as though Pharaoh is being made by divine hardening into an evil and wicked King. Rather, Pharaoh is already a wicked and evil king. Pharaoh’s heart was already hardened when God instructed and sent Moses to Egypt and before God began the plagues upon Egypt. He continued the ruthless and oppressive slavery of his predecessor (See 1:8 and 2:23) recorded in the early chapters of Exodus. His proud statements and cruel ways are recorded in chapter 5. At this point in Egyptian history God was ready to deliver his people and God knew full well who he is dealing with from the start. This Pharaoh, who would not be reasoned with, had to be dealt with through the devastating plagues and ultimately the loss of his firstborn. Therefore, God informs Moses of what is in store for him even as early as 3:19.

Now Beale interprets 4:21, along with the other “hardening patterns” as revealing that God is the cause of each and every hardening of Pharaoh. which includes that they are unconditional with respect to Pharaoh. According to Beale,

“Thus, the exegesis has shown these hardening patterns, together with 4:21, 7:3 and 10:1ff, involve Pharaoh in a hardening nexus from which he could not escape nor exercise any totally independent self-determining actions, since Yahweh was the ultimate cause of the hardening.” (149)

Note that in Ex. 4:21-23 we continue to learn what the Lord was instructing Moses about. We read,

“The Lord instructed Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, make sure you do before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put within your power. But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go. And you will say to Pharaoh: This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I told you: Let my son go so that he may worship me, but you refused to let him go. Look, I am about to kill your firstborn son!”” (4:21-23 CSB)

I submit that rather than conclude from these verses that God unconditionally hardens Pharaoh in each and every instance of hardening, we have here a continuation of the initial information or summary overview of 3:19. Again, God informs Moses about the nature of what is about to take place in Egypt. Note that “The Lord instructed Moses…” God is here giving Moses more insight into what is going to happen in the future, especially with respect to Pharaoh’s responses to God’s commands. God’s further instruction includes the fact that, despite the wonders shown to Pharaoh, or perhaps to heighten their effect, “I will harden his heart.” This does not mean in each and every instance of hardening it is God who is making Pharaoh refuse God’s instructions through Moses. It is to say that God, at times, will harden Pharoah’s heart. It cannot mean that God is responsible for the complete attitudes and actions of Pharaoh with respect to his stubborn refusal to let the Israelites go because we also read that Pharaoh hardens his own heart. For instance, in chapter 8 we read about how that during the plague of frogs Pharaoh was going to let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord. But in 8:15, after the plague of frogs is lifted, we read,

“But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

What we have here is a reversal of Pharaoh’s own decision by Pharaoh himself. This is evidence of the hard-hearted, lying and wicked character of Pharaoh himself. He seems to be even more cruel than his predecessor (See Ex. 1:8-22; 2:23; 3:7, 9, 10, 16-20), for he forces the Israelites to make bricks without straw and continued to enforce the production quota! (See ch. 5) Here he hardens his own heart, which is a character trait that God knew about from the beginning and informed Moses of in 3:19. That original insight given to Moses is reiterated here in the phrase “as the Lord had said.” “As the Lord had said” refers back to 3:19 and reiterates God’s foreknowledge regarding the will and character of Pharaoh.  We run across this phrase in several other places (7:13, 22; 8:15, 19: 9:12) What the narrative is reiterating is God’s omniscience about the character of Pharaoh. During the plague of gnats in 8:19, Pharaoh’s own magicians recognize Israel’s God at work.

“This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”

It’s almost like the text has God saying, “I told you so.” And not only does Pharaoh at times harden his own heart, so God also hardens Pharaoh’s heart. In 7:3-5 we read,

“But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you, but I will put my hand into Egypt and bring the military divisions of my people the Israelites out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them.”

Here we have an informative passage. When God does the hardening, it is for the purpose of multiplying his signs and wonders so as to judge Pharaoh and the Egyptians. to show them that he is the Lord, and to bring out the Israelites from among them. Indeed, Walter Brueggemann suggests that God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart occurs by way of the signs and wonders.  Commenting on 7:3ff. he states,

“…Yahweh now escalates the power struggle with Pharaoh. On the one hand, Yahweh will “harden” Pharaoh. On the other hand, Yahweh will do “signs and wonders,” gestures of dazzling, inscrutable power. The fact that Yahweh both hardens and does signs appears to be simply a literary device for intensification, but there is a quality of political realism in the escalation. That is, action for liberation leads to greater repression, and greater repression produces more intense resolve for liberation. In that process, it is never known who will be first to lose nerve. Moreover, the very sign itself becomes the means whereby the hardening is accomplished, as the very gesture toward liberation is what evokes more repression – i.e., hardening.”[6]

According to Brueggemann God’s acts of power were the means by which God hardened Pharaoh. It seems that Brueggemann is saying that there need be no actual action by God directly upon Pharaoh’s mind or “heart.” As God revealed his will to Pharaoh and escalated the nature of the plagues, it was always Pharaoh’s own decision to set his will against God. It could therefore be said that “I will harden Pharoah’s heart” (7:3), “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened” (7:13, 14), “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened,” (9:7) “Pharaoh hardened his heart” (8:15, 32) or “he sinned again and hardened his heart.” (9:34. 35) God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in terms of the effect God’s mighty displays of power had on the Pharaoh’s pride. As the different plagues upped the ante, Pharaoh, because of his own pride and presumption, his own stubbornness and sin, would not let the people go.  There is something to this.  Even God’s words through Moses would further harden and already hard heart.  We most likely have had experiences with people who just cannot take instruction or advice, let alone a rebuke. They are defensive, hard and stubborn.  They cannot be told what they are like or how they might change but only become harder and more resistant to instruction.  This was what Pharaoh was like.

What I think speaks against this interpretation is a passage like 10:1 where we read,

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of mine among them…” (CSB)

The signs do not seem to be the means of hardening here.  Rather the hardening occurs so that the signs might be demonstrated.  Or perhaps at this point late in the power struggle, God’s words “for I have hardened his heart” are referring to the effect upon Pharaoh of God’s actions in the previous seven plagues.

Either way, however the hardening occurs, we come to see that the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism is not to be found in the narrative.  At times God hardens Pharaoh.  At other times Pharaoh hardens himself.  Pharaoh is responsible for his own willful, stubborn pride and disobedient refusal to acknowledge God and let the people go.  The two are not inconsistent or contradictory precisely because we do not have a universal divine causal determinism here.  We have God exercising his prerogative as God over a person who is resolute in his rebellion against God despite the demonstration of his power over the gods of Egypt and Pharaoh himself.  And this is something of the kernel of Paul’s argument in Rom. 9.  It is God’s prerogative to do the same with recalcitrant Israel who has willfully and stubbornly rejected God’s servant and their Messiah – Jesus, the sacrificial lamb (Jn. 1:29) who is the very way of salvation for both Jew and Gentile (i.e., each and every person).

Pharoah repeatedly sinned by hardening his heart and through his false repentances, which Moses and God could see right through. (See 9:27, 34; 10:16) According to Calvinist determinism it would be God who sinned in having predetermined Pharaoh’s whole existence including all the instances of not letting the people go, which is different than hardening Pharaoh’s heart at times so as to have him refuse to let the people go. Was God sinning in unconditionally hardening an already hard-hearted and wicked Pharaoh so as to accomplish his own purposes? Not at all. It is the Calvinist theistic determinism that indicts God as the cause of all sin. In contrast to this determinism, the biblical account, which suggests a back story of the wickedness of Pharaoh and testifies to complex interactions between God, Moses and Pharaoh which are not always readily visible on the surface of the narrative, shows God to be sovereign over sinners, of whom Pharaoh was chief in this context, and who found himself in the special circumstances of God’s historical working out of salvation. God’s additional hardening of Pharaoh was God working out his saving purposes through an already hard-hearted Pharaoh. (See 3:19, 7:22, 23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:30, 34) This was no sin on God’s part.

Also, God was proving that Pharaoh was not exempt from judgment.  To view these actions of God in relation to Pharaoh as Pharaoh, with God’s unique historical salvific purposes in mind, speaks to the purpose of the account.  God’s defeating the Egyptian gods will be accomplished by God hardening Pharaoh’s heart at strategic points in this showdown. All of what God wanted to accomplish necessarily included Pharaoh’s hardening – whether hardening his own heart or God hardening him. God was bringing about the mighty deliverance of his people ultimately through the blood of the sacrificial lamb. This way of salvation constitutes one of the most profound theological points gleaned from this historical narrative.  God altered the Egyptian worldview while providing further revelation of himself and salvation to Israel.  These are the central meanings of the account.  How then would we know what use Paul makes of the account?  Paul’s use of it must be treated from within Paul’s own historical context and concerns, keeping in mind the meanings in the context of Exodus.

Exodus and Romans 9

            Beale argues that the divine hardening of Pharaoh was unconditional, and unconditional in every instance of hardening against the clear evidence in the text that at times Pharaoh hardens his own heart. He also has to avoid indicting God as the cause of sin which is the inevitable conclusion of his theistic determinism. He does so in the typical Calvinist manner. I demonstrated that Calvinists impose “mystery” or “antinomy” or “incomprehensibility” onto the Scriptures when the Scriptures testify to what is contradictory to their interpretative conclusions. For instance, if the text were to indicate that Pharaoh, even once was the subject in that he hardened his own heart, which according to Beale it does affirm, this would defeat Calvinist universal divine causal determinism. To me this betrays a disregard for the authority the text should exercise over the strong influence of theological proclivities in the Reformed Calvinist tradition.  It also indicates that the a priori theistic determinism underlying the Calvinist’s theological worldview is simply wrong.  For numerous complex reasons the Calvinist will not make the hermeneutical adjustment necessary to construct a theology that better reflects a fully comprehensive, integrated interpretation of Scripture.  This tells us that interpretive inconsistency, incoherence, or contradiction holds no weight in the Calvinist’s hermeneutic.

Beale seeks to find support for his understanding of God’s sovereignty as a theistic determinism and his doctrine of unconditional election in the Exodus account.  As he states, he is looking to discover to what use Paul puts this account of the hardening of Pharaoh in Romans 9.  He believes a study of the original context in Exodus may shed light on Paul’s use of the Exodus passage in Romans 9 and therefore Paul’s meaning there.  His question and method is legitimate, but the question lingers as to whether or not Beale would accept a different answer if the text yielded such.  For instance, in making the point that Rom. 9 is dealing with eternal destinies Beale asks, “Could Paul have expressed such grief about his hardened brethren and wished himself “accursed” on their behalf if issues of eternal destinies were not at stake?” (153)  And yet Paul’s very sentiment makes no sense from within a universal divine causal determinism where eternal destinies could not possibly be described as “at stake.”  Nothing is “at stake” from within Beale’s theistic determinism, let alone one’s eternal destiny.  The eternal destiny of every person has already been unalterably predestined by God.  Calvin was clear on this matter in his definition of predestination. He writes,

“We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[7]

It appears that Beale believes that the Exodus text teaches a total unconditional hardening of Pharaoh by God and that Paul’s meaning in Rom. 9 supports the extrapolation of this “influence” of God to the eternal destinies of all people throughout all time. This is Beale’s Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  Beale states, “Therefore the hardening is not limited to unique historical situations but is an expression of a gnomic principle of God’s eternal dealings.” (153) But such an extrapolation of this text depends upon Paul’s meaning in Rom. 9 and the immediate context.  And the immediate context, let alone the rest of Romans, does not support Beale’s doctrine of unconditional election. It is obvious that in Romans chapters 10 and 11, where Paul does incorporate matters of individual salvation and eternal destinies, he speaks in terms of human freedom and personal accountability. In other words, it is clear that if we take it that Paul was not contradicting himself in Romans 9-11 that he could not be expounding upon a doctrine of unconditional election in Rom. 9. I suggest that Paul was saying something very different in Rom. 9 than Beale and Calvinists claim. I refer you to the bibliography on this site to do further reading on the non-Calvinist interpretations of Romans 9, 10 and 11.

I can agree with Beale’s conclusion that this Exodus text teaches that God most certainly did, at certain times, harden Pharaoh’s heart and at those times God was the cause of Pharaoh not letting Israel go.  And yet I do not see how the Pharaoh account supports Beale’s Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, because on the basis of Beale’s own descriptions of the account, we can see that the text does not support the Calvinist teaching that God has predetermined the actions of all things and all people in the smallest detail, let alone their eternal destinies.  I have shown that Beale himself could not avoid using language that is incompatible with his deterministic theology.  It is important to note that Beale’s own exposition and explanation of Exodus does not cohere with his Calvinist doctrines of God’s eternal decree, sovereignty and unconditional election.  Beale, or any other Calvinist theologian, cannot discuss the personal dynamics of God’s hardening of Pharaoh, or the majority of Scripture for that matter, without conceding realities that Calvinist theology cannot coherently incorporate (i.e., “volition,” “accountability,” “genuine choice,” “influence,” etc.). Therefore, the text does not support Beale’s view of an exhaustive, deterministic sovereignty and therefore his doctrine of unconditional election, but only a sovereignty by which God acted determinatively in these specific circumstances. To do so is certainly God’s prerogative, even in Paul’s day and circumstance as he elaborates on in Roman 9-11.

So, my critique of Beale’s conclusions is not so much whether God was the ultimate cause of Pharaoh’s hard heart, and that unconditionally, but whether that phenomenon, occurring there in the circumstances of the Exodus, either supports or is even in accord with Beale’s Calvinist determinism or doctrine of unconditional election.  In that Beale’s exposition of the Exodus passage was inconsistent with his theistic determinism, I must conclude that the text did not support such a theology.  Inconsistency, incoherence, and contradiction are indications that something is wrong in one’s interpretations of Scripture.  Therefore, it would follow that Rom. 9-11 cannot abide a deterministic interpretation.  If Beale was compelled by the Exodus account to articulate a position inconsistent with his Calvinism, I would argue that Beale’s deterministic interpretation of Romans 9-11 is wrong. Such and interpretation would not be supported by the Exodus narrative, nor could it be Paul’s meaning in Rom. 9.  Hence, Paul would not be using the Exodus passage in accord with Beale’s deterministic view of soteriology, that is, in confirmation of Beale’s doctrines of unconditional election and predestination.  Beale, like all Calvinists, will hold to their deterministic theological presuppositions despite their own observations that the Exodus and Romans texts clearly demonstrate and teach that God’s relationship to human persons, especially regarding their eternal destinies, is one of freedom and accountability.  The Bible testifies to a non-deterministic reality and soteriology.

I found Beale’s explication of the word for “heart” very interesting.  Beale tells us that the “heart” was viewed as the “seat of destiny determining one’s life” and “the divine instrument through which a god directed a man and the organ by which man could receive and comprehend divine commandments” (133).  This conception of the nature of the human being lends cultural and historical context to the events in the Exodus account.  If, as Scripture says, “A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses. (Prov. 21:1 CSB, See also Ezra 6:22), this leads us to believe the purpose of God’s actions and the recording of this account is to make the point that the Israelite God is truly God and can cause, even those who are the most powerful in all the world, to do his will, especially when he chooses to intervene to free his chosen people from oppression in fulfillment of his covenant promises. What these verses obviously do not entail is the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism. They obviously speak about God intervening in the particular circumstance through the heart of the king, not having exhaustively predetermined everything the king, and everyone else in the world, thinks and does.

Indeed, Yahweh was showing up all the gods of Egypt as false gods with the successive plaques.  It teaches us that God is more powerful than all false gods, including self-proclaimed gods like Pharaoh himself!  Indeed, God made Moses “like a God to Pharaoh.” (7:1) God will not forfeit his rightful place as the only true God because he wants all people to live in the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-6). That was God’s intention for Pharoah and for the Egyptians (7:5; 8:10,19). Yet each person either responds positively to God and his purposes or rebels against them as this Pharaoh did. And when God is ready, he can bring about his purposes when and how he chooses.[8]  The account shows us that reveal himself to Pharaoh and the Egyptians and glorify himself among them, he causes Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and resultant actions.

Also, Beale points out that the heart is the faculty which combines the “volitional, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of a person.”  It is “the inner, spiritual center of one’s relationship to God.” (132)  I take it then that the Israelite God preempted the Egyptian god – Pharaoh – in his inner person for certain particular historical purposes that God must fulfill according to his covenant to Abraham and Israel and according to the salvation he ultimately wanted to accomplish for all persons in Jesus.  But the fact that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart does not support Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism.  That would be a non-sequitur.  It means, rather, that in doing this God was bringing about purposes of gracious salvation for all people, including Pharaoh.[9]  Perhaps these are the sufficient meanings of the Exodus events – especially the initiation of the Passover sacrifice.  To extrapolate what God did with Pharaoh to support the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election in Rom. 9 requires an interpretation within the fuller context of Scripture and a careful examination of Rom. 9-11 with respect to the coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction of the interpretation.

Beale also makes the point that the Egyptians “viewed Pharaoh as divine and sinless while he was living and believed that at death he was exempt from judgment and became the god (Osiris) presiding over judgment after his death.” (153)  Given this cultural/historical context we can perceive the rationale behind God’s actions in the Exodus account.  Again, God was showing himself to be the one true God and Pharaoh to be no god.  God was showing Pharaoh to be sinful not sinless.

The Larger Picture of the Exodus Account

Even if Beale is right and Pharaoh does not harden his own heart first which results in God causing subsequent hardenings to achieve his purposes, we still only come into the purpose of God and the life of Pharaoh at a certain point in time regarding the Israelites and Egyptian history.  We are not told about the whole life and history of this Pharaoh in the text. Pharaoh’s past, the choices he has made, and the wicked character he had become was not the result of God hardening Pharaoh. Pharaoh himself was responsible for what he has become when we meet him in the Exodus narrative.  And, in contrast to this present stubborn, evil Pharoah, we cannot help reflecting back to the good nature and character of the Pharaoh of Genesis who knew Joseph (cf., Ex. 1:8).  Should we presuppose that the whole life of this Pharaoh of the exodus was predetermined to develop as it did prior to God’s influence upon him for God’s immediate and long-term purposes?  Consistent Calvinism must answer “yes.”  (Which Calvinist’s suggest is the meaning of Paul’s phrase in Romans 9, “I have raised you up…”?)  What God does in hardening Pharaoh is God’s prerogative, but never apart from his ultimate “purpose in election” and the nature of his character as merciful, compassionate, and just (cf. Ex. 20:5-6; 22:20, 22-24, 26-27: 23:6-7, 20-22; 32:9-14; 33:18-19: 34:5-9).  God does not harden or judge capriciously (Ex. 23:2-3).  Many factors may go into what we are reading about at a special point in time as God deals with Pharaoh.  But God sees a bigger picture.  He considers all he has revealed to Pharoah, as well as each one of us (see Rom. 1:18-32) who are responsible for what we have done with that revelation. God also acts according to his nature – “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV)

If you take coherence, consistency and non-contradiction on board in your hermeneutic, then any interpretations that generate these problems are flawed, and any texts claiming to support such interpretations would also be flawed.  Scripture testifies to a dynamic in the relationship between God and man that cannot be accounted for coherently given the Calvinist’s deterministic interpretations of certain texts and the deterministic doctrines gleaned from them (e.g., the single, determinative eternal decree, irresistible grace and unconditional election).  Even if Beale is right and Pharaoh does not harden his own heart first which results in God causing subsequent hardenings to achieve his purposes, we still only come into the purpose of God and the life of Pharaoh at a certain point in time regarding the Israelites and Egyptian history.  The whole life and history of this Pharaoh has a past of which we are not told about in the text.[9] And, in contrast to this present stubborn, evil Pharaoh, we cannot help reflecting back to the good nature and character of the Pharaoh of Genesis who knew Joseph (cf., Ex. 1:8).  Should we presuppose that the whole life of Pharaoh was predetermined to develop as it did prior to God’s influence upon him for God’s immediate and long-term purposes?  Consistent Calvinism must answer “yes.”  (Which Calvinist’s suggest is the meaning of Paul’s phrase in Romans 9, “I have raised you up…”?)  What God does in hardening Pharaoh is God’s prerogative, but never apart from his ultimate “purpose in election” and the nature of his character as merciful, compassionate, and just (cf. Ex. 20:5-6; 22:20, 22-24, 26-27: 23:6-7, 20-22; 32:9-14; 33:18-19: 34:5-9).  It appears that God does not harden or judge capriciously (Ex. 23:2-3).  Many factors may go into what we read at a point in time as God deals with Pharaoh.  But God sees a bigger picture.  He considers all he has revealed to Pharaoh (and each one of us) and the ways he may have dealt with Pharaoh in the past.  God also acts according to his nature – “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV) God knows all about Pharaoh’s life history and responses to God, as he knows all persons and their past, present, and future.  The point is that we have no biblical warrant here to claim that God is acting out of an exhaustive predetermined plan with regard to Pharaoh’s actions without consideration of possible unknowns about God and Pharaoh that the text has no concern or purpose to communicate to us.  What is known about God and man from the majority of Scripture lends support to the possibility of Pharaoh becoming proud, resisting the knowledge of God given in creation, taking divinity to himself, hardening his heart towards God’s direct revelation and judgments, etc.  Here in this Exodus text, at this point in time, with the purposes of God already determined, we are only made privy to the end results – a definitive “showdown,” which includes the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God.  I take it that this account was a unique event in God’s dealings with man, especially in light of God’s promise to his covenant people and to accomplish salvation for all mankind.  It is the exception rather than the rule.  Whatever Paul’s understanding of the interaction between God and Pharaoh and use of it in Rom. 9, we take it that the interpretation of Rom. 9 will be coherent with Rom. 10 and 11and the rest of Romans.  If the interpretation is not coherent, then the understanding of Paul’s use of the interaction between God and Pharaoh is incorrect.  Neither Exodus or Romans would support the Calvinist deterministic view of reality and salvation.

The Hermeneutical Issue

Despite Beale’s legitimate inquiry into whether the Exodus passage supports his Calvinist interpretation of Paul’s reference to Pharaoh in Rom. 9, in Beale’s dealing with that inquiry we also saw that he had to speak inconsistent with his Calvinist determinism.  He could not consistently hold to his theistic determinism and be true to the non-deterministic dynamics in the text.  The interesting thing about theistic determinism is that it is mutually exclusive of a non-deterministic account of the interactions between God, man and the world as we know and experience it.  The two are contradictory.  And it is this problem that Beale simply does not reckon with exegetically or incorporate into his hermeneutic.  He does not consider the inconsistencies and contradictions between his interpretative descriptions and his Calvinist theological conclusions to be hermeneutically significant.  That is, he does not view incoherence as a valid indication of an invalid exegesis of the text.  “Influence” is not a coherent description of what God does with Pharaoh or anyone else in a world where every minute detail is completely predetermined by God before he created the universe.  God’s determining of all things strains the description of God’s activity as “influence.”  This also goes for “volition,” “accountability,” “genuine choice,” etc.  In other words, for Beale to describe what God does as “influence” is to say too little as a Calvinist.  But he must stop at “influence” lest his inconsistencies and contradictions become too evident.  Non-Calvinists can coherently speak of both God’s “influence” and God’s “determination” because they do not hold to a universal divine causal determinism.  God can still be sovereign in a non-determined world.  For the Calvinist this is not so, because of the single, eternal decree that ordains “whatsoever comes to pass.”  But such a view cannot make sense out of history and doesn’t allow God the freedom to act within and relate personally to persons within historical events and his world.  As a Calvinist, Beale ultimately means God determined not only Pharaoh’s hardness of heart but his total existence – including his evil oppression of God’s own people.  God predetermined the oppression of his own people so he could rescue his own people. My major contention here is that Beale should say what his theology requires.  If he leaves it at “influences” and does not clarify “determines” (and that from the beginning of time), he projects a view of reality that is contrary to his Calvinist deterministic doctrines.

The essential interpretive issue at hand is whether God’s hardening of Pharaoh in the context of the Exodus (Ex. 33:19 and 9:16) should be taken as paradigmatic of the unconditional election of individuals to salvation and others to damnation according to the meaning Calvinists give to Paul’s argument in Rom. 9.  One’s interpretation of Rom. 9, and verse 17 as relevant here, is also critical because the way one understands Rom. 9 will either allow the Exodus account to support that interpretation or require that the Exodus account be seen in a different light.  One’s understanding of Rom. 9 will influence the use of the Exodus account even if exegetically we should conclude God definitely and determinatively hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Even if this is the correct conclusion of the nature of God’s dealings with Pharaoh in the Exodus account it may not follow that Paul uses this to teach how God unconditionally predestined the eternal salvation of every individual according to the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9.  He may be using the definite, determinative hardening of Pharaoh by God as support for another argument or point altogether.

Paul, Exodus, and Romans 9

Now, Paul obviously sees that this one verse in Ex. 9:17 serves to support his flow of thought and intended message in Rom. 9, but precisely what his intentions and thoughts are in Rom. 9 requires further inquiry within that context.  I submit that the essential hermeneutical issue at hand is that the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 is in contradiction with Paul’s clear meaning and message in Rom. 10 and 11 and therefore does not reflect Paul’s intended meaning in Rom. 9. Here I can only touch upon a few reasons as to why Paul is not using the account of Pharaoh to support unconditional election and individual predestination to salvation and damnation. They are as follows.

First, the Calvinist doctrine of election as unconditional is inconsistent with the nature of “election” in the Old Testament and Paul’s assessment of the predicament of elect Israel in his day.  Israel, the very “elect people of God” and “the children of God,” are the ones who, for the most part, have rejected their Messiah!  Israel failed to receive the salvation brought about by their God (Jn. 1:11) and have presently been hardened (Rom. 11:25) and will receive eternal judgment as a nation and individually if they do not repent and believe.  Yet Israel is “the elect” chosen by God himself.  Paul refers to an “elect” that have obtained righteousness or salvation (11:7). These are those Jews that believe in Christ, “but the rest were hardened.” (11:7) This problem needs explaining, and Paul seeks to do so in Rom. 9-11.

The point is that the meaning of “election” and “the elect” in Calvinist theology does not properly reflect the implications and meaning of the term in the Old Testament as applied to Israel and therefore in the New Testament as applied to believers who are “elect” only by faith in the “Elect One” Jesus Christ.  To put it too briefly, election in the Old Testament is God’s activity whereby he established a people for service in his gracious purposes in bringing salvation to every individual. God’s saving purposes always had as their modus operandi a response of personal faith, not Jewish privilege. Faith is the operative word in the divine/human relationship.  Election is God’s selection of a people from whom the Messiah would come and therefore they were to be witnesses to the grace of God and to proclaim the universal salvation of God for all mankind.  When God chooses Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob, not Esau, it is an exclusion for the purpose of demonstrating that God works through “promise” not the privilege of being of the physical lineage of Abraham.  That “promise” refers to Jesus Christ, and God’s choice of Israel as his people was for the purpose of bringing about God’s salvation plan which included both Jew and Gentile – that is, everyone!  The whole of the salvation plan and that God desired to show his love and provide for the salvation mankind constitutes what Paul means by salvation by grace. Romans 9-11 is not about God’s predetermination of the eternal destiny of every individual, rather, it is an explanation of how Paul understood Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and how that God, despite Israel’s stubbornness, had the prerogative to hardened them further so that salvation would spread to the Gentiles.  God, through a temporary hardening of his own people that he “raised up” but then rejected Jesus, was working salvation for all “in Christ.”  It is incumbent upon us to interpret the New Testament use of the term “elect” in the light of the Old Testament paradigm and what God was accomplishing in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, Paul is wrestling with the question, “Has the word of God failed?”  Paul must explain a theologically troubling historical situation that has profound implications for the past determinations, revelation, and promises of God to Israel.  Again, Israel has rejected their Messiah.  Hence Paul was faced with the important question as to how this reflects upon God and his relationship to his own chosen people.  How is it that his own people have rejected his salvation and their Messiah?  Has God’s word of promise failed? (Rom. 9:1-6) Paul says it has not and goes on to explain. It needs to be acknowledged that his explanation is not the theological and soteriological determinism of the Calvinist’s interpretations of Rom. 9.  There is no theological determinism here, that is made clear in chapters 10 and 11. Which leads to my third point.

Thirdly, the immediate context in Romans chapters 10 and 11, and indeed the whole book of Romans, especially chapters 3 through 5, renders the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 implausible.  Simply put, the Calvinist interpretation of Rom. 9 has Paul contradicting himself in chapters 10 and 11.  There Paul affirms human freedom, responsibility, and culpability, and God’s sovereign activity to further his purposes.  These divine and human events are not presented as mutually exclusive, let alone capricious, but as consistent and coherent interactions.  Paul presents a coherent argument throughout Rom. 9-11.  A coherent interpretation all these chapters, which the Calvinist cannot give, is possible.  Hence, we have a hermeneutical principle to which we must adhere.  The interpretation that coherently incorporates all the practical questions to which the theological explications of the book of Romans are a response, and the one that is consistent with the immediate context and with the whole tone and tenor of Scripture, is most likely the correct interpretation.

Paul views God’s dealings with Pharaoh as parallel or analogous with God’s dealings in his own day with his chosen people Israel.  At the point of their rejection of his purposes he can harden them for his ultimate salvific purposes for the Gentiles.  Suffice it to say here that given the hermeneutical principle just stated above, Rom. 9 cannot be taken to mean that Paul views this action of God with Pharaoh as an explication of the ultimate ground of one’s individual salvation; a salvation in the pattern of a predestined choice of God by which he unconditionally elects some to salvation and hardens the hearts of everyone else so that they cannot be saved.  If we are to value rational coherence in our hermeneutic, Rom. 3-5, 10 and 11 and the broader testimony of Scripture will not allow for this Calvinist view of Rom. 9.  Romans 9-11 can be soundly interpreted with very different conclusions in harmony with the theological and practical experience of “the elect” in the Old Testament, which was not of the nature of a guaranteed salvation of those individuals.  God established faith as the grounds of relationship with him and was looking for the response of faith from the beginning of human history. (See Heb. 11, esp. v. 6) Romans 9-11 must be viewed in accord with the progressive revelation and fulfillment of those Old Testament events, their theological meaning and purpose, and the Israelites practical experience, as pointing to the New Testament description of those who have put their faith and trust “in Christ” for salvation who are now among the “elect of God” and the “people of God.”  These are the “children of the promise.”  They are “the children of God.” (See Rom. 9:6-8; Jn.1:9-13; 1 Pet. 2:4-10)

I submit that, although Calvinist soteriology seems plausible when its proof-texts are kept in isolation, it is in direct conflict with other clear texts and produces a quagmire of logical, linguistic, moral, and epistemological contradictions and inconsistencies which prevent incorporating the full biblical testimony into a plausible, wholistic, biblical theology of God and salvation.  I submit that the “textual conflict” produced by the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, just within the book of Romans itself, speaks against the validity of such an interpretation and is most plausibly resolved through the non-Calvinist interpretations and position.

The Character of God, Salvation, and the Gospel

Finally, much of the difference of opinion between Calvinists and non-Calvinist involves the character and nature of God.  When we talk about God, the meaning of his name and his character as it relates to our salvation, we are not left with empty mystery. Neither is God capricious, arbitrary, or ambiguous.  That is, we can and should speak of him according to his own words to us and ultimately in his revelation to us in Jesus Christ.  We saw that in Exodus God himself describes his own nature as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV) God is gracious, loving and forgiving to all of us undeserving sinners, and yet he will not clear the guilty, that is, those who remain in and increase their guilt by their unbelief.  In John’s gospel we read,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gavehis one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” (Jn. 3:14-18 CSB)

God cannot clear the guilt and condemnation of those who refuse to believe “in the name of the one and only Son.” And he cannot do so for all those who refuse to believe in subsequent generations because he is consistent in his character.  Although “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” he cannot do this arbitrarily either.  His justice demands a sacrifice. He does all this on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. (See Rom. 3:21-30) God is emphatic about not forgiving the iniquity, transgression, and sin of those who refuse to believe in Jesus.  This is because they have forfeited the one way of salvation (Jn. 14:6, 7) and God does not change – he cannot simply by a fiat declaration clear the guilty or save whomever he wills. He needs to have the grounds upon which to judge and save. And that ground he has provided in and through Jesus’s death on the cross. God is always true to his own nature. (See Mal. 3:1-6) So God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness are able to be extended and applied to us all because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. In John’s gospel we also read about God’s grace brought to us in Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’”)  Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.” (Jn. 1:14-18 CSB)

And again in Jn. 20:30, 31 we read,

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (CSB)

Therefore, biblically speaking, salvation is defined from start to finish within the context of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.  Hence, we cannot conceive of the gospel message, salvation, who obtains it, and who does not obtain it, apart from Jesus Christ and the response of faith. This Jesus is the Messiah sent by the Father, and yet Israel has rejected and crucified him (Mt. 27:24-25), the seriousness of which cannot be overstated. Therefore, Paul now grasps that a sinner takes on all that is meant by “the elect” as they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation.  God is establishing a new “people of God” based on faith. (See again 1 Pet. 2:4-10) The revelation of God in Christ is a fuller revelation of who God is and what he is like and forever establishes an assured knowledge of his saving disposition towards us and his will for us regarding our salvation.  The salvific will of God for all sinners is fully revealed “in Christ.” (See Eph.1) Since God’s salvation is revealed “in him,” any sinner may look to Christ, believe, and be saved.  That is God’s will for us Gentiles.  That is God’s will for Israel. That is the heart of the gospel as “good news.” The salvation already accomplished can be appropriated by one’s response of faith in Christ. Paul tells Timothy that,

“[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  (2 Tim. 1: 9, 10 CSB)

Paul also states that God our Savior,

“…wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6 CSB)

Therefore, we cannot interpret Paul in Rom. 9 to be contradicting his own statements in Romans 10 and 11and in the above verses.  Hence, the doctrines of election, predestination, grace, faith, etc. have nothing to do with the unknown will of God to save some and not others.  Karl Barth’s exposition of the doctrine of election in his Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2.2 emphasizes a definition of election that is “in Christ” and rightly so.  He spoke about predestination or election as “the sum of the gospel.” And that is where its meaning is found. The Old Testament designation for Israel as “the elect” is now assigned to those who believe in Jesus.  Those who have heard the gospel message, or “good news,” can now rightly be called “the elect” in the way God considered Israel to be his own people in the Old Testament.

The emphasis and implications of Christ having “appeared” and the salvation that “has now been made evident” through that “appearing,” along with the “life and immortality” that has been brought “to light through the gospel,” does not carry through into Calvinist soteriology.  It is this historic, public evidence of God’s work in Christ that assures each of us that we can be saved.  The point is that God has not been secretive about his salvation, and therefore salvation can actually be found in Christ.  It does not depend upon an unknowable decision God has made in from all eternity with respect to each person’s eternal destiny. Christ’s appearing has made salvation actual, accessible and therefore available to all. Salvation is found in Christ. And if it can be found in Christ for one sinner, it can be found in Christ for all sinners.  All can look to Christ and be saved because Christ has made God’s salvific will evident to all.  And the proclamation of the gospel which is consistent with “good news” states what God has done and calls all people to believe and be saved. The reason people are not saved is not because God has not provided salvation for them or hasn’t predestined them to salvation, rather, they are not saved because they reject the salvation provided for them in Christ by their stubborn rebellion and unbelief.

Therefore, the Calvinist’s definition of election becomes untethered from the salvific implications of this historical, public Christ and the proclamation of “good news” to all.  Of course, it is not that Calvinist theology does not “incorporate” Christ, but it leaves off at Jesus merely implementing salvation for a limited number of individuals predestined by God for salvation (i.e., limited atonement). The Calvinist fails to see that Jesus, who by virtue of his appearing, being full of grace and truth, performing signs, giving himself as a ransom for all, etc., makes salvation available to every person.  Having come and dwelt among us, Jesus broadcasts salvation to the whole world. The full implications of God’s salvific will for you and me has been revealed “in Christ.” God wants us to believe and be saved. But this aspect of Christology has not been allowed to shape the Calvinist’s formulation of its soteriological doctrines – sovereignty, election, predestination, grace, faith, etc. The Calvinist’s interpretations of these doctrines make salvation a closed, hidden, secretive and exclusive affair. As such they are Christologically deficient and therefore cannot express accurately the biblical truth of a salvation, that because it has been revealed “in Christ,” is universally applicable and may be appropriated by faith. For the reasons stated above I cannot conclude that the Calvinist’s interpretations of Rom. 9 are correct.  They are implausible from a careful reading of Romans in context, that is, with an eye for coherence among Paul’s statements and teachings. If Paul is teaching us the doctrines of unconditional election or predestination, that is, that God works irresistibly in the hearts and minds of those chosen for salvation while hardening the hearts of those God predestined to eternal damnation, then he is contradicting himself, not only in Romans 10 and 11 and previously in Romans, but in his other letters also.  In Rom. 9 Paul means to communicate an argument that runs along very different lines than the Calvinist proposes.  Therefore, too, the Exodus passage quoted by Paul does not support the Calvinist’s interpretation.


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[1] See About | gkbeale.com

[2] This is William Lane Craig’s description of Calvinist determinism.  Craig’s phrase correctly emphasizes the universality and divine causality inherent in Calvinist’s definition of divine sovereignty.  See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  Last accessed Aug. 24, 2018.

              Here Craig offers a five-fold philosophical critique of Calvinism.  I defend the idea that although this critique does not involve an alternative biblical exegesis to counter the Calvinist’s exegesis of the relevant texts such as Rom. 9, it nevertheless provides, due to the nature of reason as reliable for discerning truth from error, a sufficient defeater of Calvinism.  One’s exegesis must exhibit rational coherence.  Calvinist exegesis does not.  Exegesis cannot occur in a rational vacuum.  We cannot ignore the cannons of reason and our moral intuitions in doing exegesis, while claiming to have arrived at the correct interpretation of a text.  The process of exegesis and one’s exegetical findings need to be justified as valid interpretations of the text.  The establishment of the validity of an interpretation must include the ability to withstand a rational, philosophical assessment of those claims.  In other words, the interpretation needs to make sense in light of the full scope of the biblical data that needs to be considered.

[3] G. K. Beale, “An Exegetical and Theological Consideration of the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart in Exodus 4-14 and Romans 9”.  Last accessed 4/23/2022.  “Trinity Journal 5 NS (1984) 129-154 Copyright © 1984 by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Cited with permission.”

[4] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Exodus,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 331.

[5] Ibid., 313.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, “Exodus,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 328.

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[8] For insight into the character of God at this point in the progressive historical revelation of himself and his purposes see Exodus 32-34.

[9] With respect to the condition of one’s heart, the Parable of the Sower comes to mind.  See Matthew 13 and Luke 8.  Of course, a word study on “heart” would provide much needed context.


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2 thoughts on “A Theological Response to G. K. Beale’s Article: “An Exegetical and Theological Consideration of the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart in Exodus 4-14 and Romans 9”

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