Response to Shaul Magid and Stanley Hauerwas

Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland

First, let me thank Shaul Magid and Stanley Hauerwas for their papers. I learned much from them and they should provide us with a rich basis for our discussions. I am afraid that my paper was largely written by the time I got Vincent Cornell’s paper. Hence, my lack of comment on this work is simply due to may own lack of time. For my own contribution, I would like to follow and elaborate some of Hauerwas’s observations about Christian readings of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

I largely agree with Stanley about the importance of Christian recovery of the habits and practices required to read the Bible within the overall plot of God’s economy of salvation and the Rule of Faith. This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from pre-modern interpreters such as Augustine and Origen.

In regard to Exodus, Stanley has reminded us that both Origen and Augustine are initially guided by Paul’s invocation of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9:17. Origen correctly picks up Paul’s allusions to the story of the potter in Jeremiah 18:3-6 in 9:20-21 in order to show that the crucial issue is not human free will, but God’s freedom. Thus, as Paul robustly asserts, no unrighteousness can be attributed to God (9:14). This is fine as far as it goes. I think, however, that if we attend more closely to Paul’s discussion here, we will find that Paul invokes the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as part of a breathtaking account of God’s redemptive purposes. Hence, if Christians are to read scripture in the light of the drama of God’s economy of salvation, it might be useful to attend to Paul’s understanding of this as laid out here in Rom.9-11.

After expressing his grief over the fact that Jews have largely not believed in the gospel, Paul nevertheless asserts that the word of God has not failed; God has not abandoned the covenant with Israel (9:6). To show this, Paul begins by noting that God has been distinguishing between members of Abraham’s family from the very beginning, noting that the promises of God were fulfilled through Isaac rather that Ishmael and Jacob rather than Esau (9:6-13). If some Jews believe in the gospel and some do not it does not mean the word of God has failed. Rather it is simply a further manifestation of the distinction between Abraham’s “fleshly” children and his “children of promise” (9:8). In this light, no one would argue that such distinctions indicate that God had abandoned Abraham or the promises made to Abraham. One might, however, raise questions about the justice of God in making such distinctions.

In answer to this type of charge Paul brings in Pharaoh. The quotation from Exodus 9:16 and the allusion to Ex. 4:21 in Rom. 9:17-18 make two points. First, God is free to do this without compromising God’s justice. This point is further elaborated in the allusions to Jer. 18 which appear in 9:19-20. Secondly, and this is the point I want to emphasize, God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart demonstrates God’s power and glory in the course of bringing God’s elective purposes to fruition (cf. 9:17, 11).

As Paul sees it, these elective purposes include the bringing together of Jews and Gentiles into the single body of Christ. If this means that only a remnant of Israel comes within these saving purposes, Paul recognizes that God has worked this way before (9:22-29). As Paul sees it, such a result would neither compromise God’s freedom or righteousness.

Paul, however, is not content to leave things there. By the end of Rom.11 he has made the breathtaking assertion that the bringing together of Gentiles and Jews into the one body of Christ will lead “mysteriously” to the salvation of all Israel (11:25-36). Interestingly, the language here is very similar to the language used in chapter 9 in which the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned. Moreover, just as with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, there seems to be a two-fold purpose to the salvation of all Israel, i.e. manifesting God’s righteous freedom and working out the economy of salvation in a way that brings glory to God (cf. 11:28-36).

What is clear here is that Paul does not take the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to indicate any ontological difference between Gentiles and Jews. One might even say that hardened Pharaoh and unbelieving Israel play similar roles in Paul’s argument, perhaps in ways that might blur many of the distinctions between Jew and Gentile in Christ. Obviously, this raises a number of interesting questions on a variety of levels. For example, given Paul’s reading, might the Talmudic assertion of an ontological distinction between Jew and Gentile be a direct response to Pauline arguments which blur that difference? Further, on a theological level, if Paul does blur the distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ (as he explicitly seems to do in Gal. 3:27-29), what are some of the ramifications of that from the perspective of the everlasting nature of the covenant or from the perspective of Jewish identity? I am not sure there are easy answers to these questions, but I look forward to hearing others’ views.

Title Page | Archive
© 2002, Society for Scriptural Reasoning