by Jared Compton

We looked at Romans 9 last week in a course I’m teaching on Paul. I’ll admit, we spent most of our time in chs. 9–11, working a bit too closely—considering our time constraints—through Paul’s OT citations. One of the more puzzling of these citations is found in Romans 9:25-26, where Paul cites Hosea 2:23 and then Hosea 1:10. In Hosea the “my people” who receive God’s renewed mercy are Jews; in Romans they’re Gentiles. Has Paul misread his Bible? Perhaps you’ve wondered the same thing.

I don’t plan to offer a full resolution to this one here—I’m not sure I even could; however, I did want to offer three reflections on the problem.

(1) The problem is real. We can’t take the easy way out and suggest that Paul uses these texts to talk about Jewish inclusion. Paul’s introductory formula in Romans 9:27 (“Isaiah cries out concerning Israel”) suggests that the citations that follow in Romans 9:27-29 refer to Jewish inclusion and, therefore, that the two citations that precede in Romans 9:25-26 refer to Gentile inclusion. Together, these are the bits of evidence Paul puts forward to support his point that God has chosen both Jews and Gentiles to receive his mercy (Romans 9:24; cf. “objects of mercy” in Romans 9:23).

(2) Paul uses the citations to prove Gentile inclusion, not Gentile replacement of Israel (i.e., supercessionism). First, considering the question Paul sets out to answer in chs. 9–11—Has God’s word to Israel failed?—it is unlikely that he would prove that God’s word hadn’t failed by appealing to texts originally speaking about Israel’s promised restoration to vindicate his Gentile mission. To be sure, Paul begins the section noting that election depends on grace, not race (Romans 9:6-13); however, he never says it has nothing to do with race. If he meant that then why does he go to the trouble of proving the existence of a present Jewish remnant (Romans 11:1-6; cf. Romans 9:27-29), or, why does he give assurances that this remnant is not God’s final word to Israel (Romans 11:25-26)? It could not be, he insists, since God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Second, Paul did think that Jews and now Gentiles together comprise God’s people (Romans 11:16-24) and, thus, Hosea’s “my people” could appropriately describe either group. Acknowledging this point, however, is not the same thing as acknowledging that Paul would use a text describing one to prove the legitimacy of using the description for the other.

(3) While Hosea refers directly to Jews, he implies Gentiles. Both texts clearly point toward Israel’s eschatological renewal, one that would follow divine judgment (cf. Hosea 1:6-11; also Hosea 2:2-23). In Hosea 1:10 this renewal is cast as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (“the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted”; cf., e.g., Genesis 22:17) and, thus, implicitly as a time of Gentile inclusion (cf. Genesis 22:18; see also, e.g., Psalms 72:17). Paul had already noted this connection between Abraham and Gentiles in an earlier argument (Romans 4:17, citing Genesis 17:5; cf. Galatians 3:8). One may wonder, then, why Paul didn’t pick a less ambiguous text here. Why not use Genesis 17:5 once more or, say, one of the texts cited in Romans 15:9-12? What was it that drew his attention to Hosea 1:10 and Hosea 2:23? I suspect it was this emphasis on divine reversal—salvation following judgment (cf. Romans 11:11-32)—and, thus, covenant faithfulness—both to Israel and, in some sense, to the world. Paul is arguing here, in other words, that God’s word hadn’t failed; rather, the present Gentile influx, along with the Jewish remnant, proved rather than disproved God’s covenant faithfulness.

If you’re interested in pursuing this all further, one good place to begin would be with Douglas Moo, “Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic in Romans,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology  11 (Fall 2007): 62–90.