Romans 9:16 and the negation idiom

I just want to make a quick (not necessarily in depth) attempt to explain why I don’t agree that Romans 9:16 is a negation idiom.

Reading Romans 9:16 as a negation idiom does not make sense given the context. If I understand correctly, a negation idiom does not exclude what is denied. In other words, “not only….but also”. An example may be: “the child did not cross the road, it was the mother who crossed” we could understand this to mean “the child did not only cross the road, but also the mother crossed”. In whatever given context it may be that the child did not cross the road alone, but with the mothers aide or the child was not able on it’s own to cross, etc.

Let’s apply this to Romans 9:16. “So then it does not only depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but also on God who has mercy.” In our example, the running and willing of man is not denied, but is in conjunction with (synergism?) God’s mercy.

Let’s put this verse together with it’s context.


Verse 17 lends nothing to Pharaoh nor Pharaoh’s part in God raising himself up. Nor in helping God raise himself up.

18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Now we see where the context starts to show us why there cannot be a negation idiom. Verse 16 cannot be man and God working together unto God’s mercy proceeding then to v. 17 stating it is all God’s actions. Only to clarify further in v. 18 “so then” it is God and solely God’s actions in mercy and hardening. Paul does not explain God’s actions in terms of God having mercy on the person who wants mercy nor as God hardening the person who wants to be hardened. If v. 16 were a negation idiom we would expect this as an explanation. Let’s take a look at what Paul writes next.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

Verse 19 makes it even clearer that mercy and hardening are of the free will of God with man’s willing and running excluded. If men understood that they were responsible for God’s mercy and hardening in conjunction with God, Paul would not have had to ask the rhetorical question of finding fault.

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

These last two verses show God’s complete sovereignty and responsibility of man. These passages show that even though we have no control over God’s mercy nor hardening we, at the same time, have no right to question God’s perfect actions and we cannot demand God’s mercy. God’s mercy is His alone to give not ours to neither take nor contribute to.

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tagged as , in Christianity

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lycaphim March 26, 2005 at 4:10 am

I agree…it is interesting to note that the “not” in Romans 9:16 is an “absolute negative”, according to Strong’s. J.P Holding’s conclusion can be described in one word: Eisegesis

2 johnMark April 3, 2005 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for your comment. I agree. =)


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