Answer: Because God’s plan of salvation included all people, not just Jews.
The Calvinist concept of predestination is a controversial topic in our day. Its controversy lies in the fact that God has limited the possibility of salvation to a limited number of individuals. This of course means that those who were not predestined to eternal life have no chance of being saved. This limiting of the offer of God’s grace to a relatively few number of elect individuals, while at the same time unconditionally condemning billions of souls to damnation, causes people to reflect poorly on the character of God. For this reason, Calvinistic predestination is at the center of many heated debates in the Church, both now and in history.
One of the most famous passages used to defend Calvinistic predestination is Romans chapter 9. In that chapter the Apostle Paul is obviously in a heated debate about God’s right to choose who will be saved and how. Calvinists imagine that the Paul is arguing with people who just can’t accept the idea that God would limit his salvation to certain individuals. For them, he is defending the sovereign right of God to unconditionally choose some souls for eternal life, and leave the rest to perish in their sins. They would have him say, “God has the right to make salvation exclusive and limit it to those he chooses by his divine and unconditinal choice.”
But the question at hand is not, “Why is Calvinistic predestination controversial?” but, “Why was biblical predestination controversial?” The answers to these two questions are at odds with one another. Calvinistic predestination is often debated because it limits the possibility of salvation to a small percentage of people, that is, it is very exclusive. But the biblical doctrine of predestination was such a hot topic in its day because it made salvation possible for all people, that is, it was inclusive.
In Romans 9 Paul was in a heated debate about God’s right to choose who could be saved and how. But he was not arguing with people who believed God should offer salvation to the whole world. He was arguing with the Jewish people of his day that believed salvation was the exclusive right of Israel. They believed that only those who were part of the Jewish nation, or who became part of it through circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, could be saved. Paul said they were greatly mistaken. He explains that salvation is open to all people, and it is not based on human ancestry or obedience to the Law, but on faith in Jesus Christ. After making his arguments Paul summarizes, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Rom. 9:30-32).
Paul argues that God is not required to limited salvation to Israel. He has the right to offer his salvation all nations. By making faith the means of receiving his salvation instead of the Old Testament Law, he made eternal life accessible to all. The large majority of Jews in Paul’s day could not accept this. They refused to believe that God would accept Gentiles as his holy people through faith in Jesus Christ. This denial led them refuse the Gospel, and the eternal life that was offered through it.
To them Paul says, “But who are you, O Man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” With this he defends God’s right to make salvation open to all those who believe. With this rebuke, he also defends God’s right to judge the Jewish nation for their refusal of the Gospel.
Paul is defending the right of God to decide who and how someone will be saved. But he is not arguing for those who say God limits salvation to a certain number of individuals. And he is not defending the doctrine that states that God chooses people unconditionally. Instead, Paul is arguing against those who thought salvation was the exclusive right of a limited number of people. He is defending God’s right to offer salvation to all people on the basis of faith, instead of ancestry or obedience to the Law of Moses.
But Paul was not the first one to present this controversial view of salvation to the Jewish nation. Jesus started the controversy when he declared, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We can’t imagine anyone finding this statement objectionable. But to the Jews of Jesus’ day it was unthinkable that God loved the whole world, including the Gentiles. And even in our day there are still those who try to limit the love of God and this universal offer of salvation. They argue that God does not love the whole world, nor does he sincerely offer salvation to all; but his saving love and his offer, accompanied with the enabling grace needed to accept it, are limited only to a certain number of chosen individuals. In Paul’s day biblical predestination was controversial among the Jews who thought salvation was the exclusive right of small group of individuals. And in our day biblical predestination is still controversial among Calvinists who think that God has limited his love and his offer of salvation to a small percentage of mankind.