Q – I am having a tough time harmonizing Particular atonement with the following verse:
Romans 11:32 – For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Here does he mean God has bound “all kinds” of men over to disobedience? Aren’t all men bound to disobedience; not just all kinds? And if so the next part of the verse says “so that he may have mercy on them all” then that would blow a hole in particular atonement. So how does one reconcile this?
Jim – This question is solved by looking at the overall context and construction of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The primary theme of the epistle has to do with justification. How are men justified before a righteous, holy God? The first thing Paul does is eliminate any hope of approaching God on the basis of merit or earned reward. He is also keenly aware that his Jewish brethren would consider themselves “ahead of the curve,” so to speak, because of their affiliation with Abraham and their obedience to the law of Moses. Those are advantages the Gentiles did not have. So, Paul starts right out by leveling the playing field.
In chapter one he declares that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness. In chapter two he states that all who sin, whether under the law (the Jews) or “apart from the law” (the Gentiles) will be judged. He continues that chapter by stating that even circumcised Jews are guilty. In chapter three he makes it clear that everyone is guilty before God. Quoting Isaiah, he writes –
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12)
So, as we read the book of Romans we have to follow Paul’s logic as he addresses his comments back-and-forth between the Jews and the Gentiles. That is especially true as we approach chapters 9-11.
Chapter 11 starts with a most pressing question: Has God rejected Israel? The answer, according to Paul, is “God forbid!” But, given their scattered state, it was easy for the Gentile converts to Christianity to assume that God had abandoned His historic nation in order to pave the way for Gentile inclusion. That’s what Paul is discussing in the balance of the chapter.
In verse 13 Paul states that this portion of his letter is directed toward the Gentiles. In verse 25 he tells them that he does not want them to be ignorant of the “mystery” at work in God’s redemptive plan so that they do not become conceited. Israel has been partially hardened until “the fullness of the Gentiles” is come in. Then, “all Israel will be saved.” This is the foundational point in answering your question. God hardened both Jews and Gentiles, giving preference to neither group, so that the salvation of any person or group would redound to the glory of His grace.
In verse 28 Paul declares that, as touching the gospel, Israel is an enemy “for your sakes.” God hardened Israel so that the gospel would flow out into the Gentile world. But, does that mean that God is finished with Israel? No, not at all. Verse 29 continues, “for God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable.” Now with that background, let’s read verse 32 in context:
“Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Rom. 11:30-32)
Paul’s meaning becomes quite clear. “All men” refers to both Israelites and Gentiles — “they” and “you.” God has committed both groups to disobedience, holding them both guilty, for the purpose of showing His grace on both groups; saving the full number of Gentiles and “all Israel.”
So, contextually, the most obvious understanding of Romans 11:32 is, “For God has bound all men (Israelites and Gentiles) over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on the all (both Jews and Gentiles).” And, to that degree, “all” does indeed specify “types” or “kinds” of people.
And this does no damage to Particular Redemption at all, especially when we see the phrase “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” That phrase bespeaks a particular group. Not all Gentiles will be redeemed; only the number that God has intended will come to Christ. Once that number is accomplished, God returns His attention to Israel. So, particularity runs all through this passage.
Q – Also, the word “might” and “may” are used quite a bit throughout scripture. When I use the word “might” I do so in the since that I “might or might not” do something. In scriptures it appears to mean “be made able to”. Does it mean that someone or something “will do”? Or does it mean that someone or something is made “able to do”? Could you translate the meaning of the Greek word for “might” in the following scriptures and elaborate:
Romans 15:4 – For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 7:4 – So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
Galatians 3:14 – He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
2 Thessalonians 2:14 – He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ
1 Timothy 1:16 – But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
1 John 4:9 – This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
Thank you for helping me work through this,
Jim: What you have bumped into here is what’s called a “hina” clause in Greek grammar. Essentially, that is a “purpose” clause that follows a subjunctive participle. The “purpose” clause changes the subjunctive mood (which we think of as possibility or probability) to a statement of definite result. It’s the difference between saying “I might come over later if the feeling strikes me” and “I brought food to the hungry that they might eat.” The first statement is a possibility. But, the second statement contains a purpose, so in Greek grammar that changes the mood, letting the reader know that the participle (in this case “might” or “may”) has a more definite force.
Each of the verses you’ve cited above contains a “purpose” clause. Consequently, the weight of the participle shifts from probable to definite. For instance, in Romans 15:4 the purpose for “everything written in the past” was “to teach us, so that … we might have hope.” The purpose of the writing was to produce hope in the reader. So, in Greek grammar, that “hina” clause gives the impression of definite result.
Our best English translations chose the terms “might” and “may” in order to accurately convey the subjunctive mood of the particular, very common Greek participle the New Testament authors employed. What we cannot convey accurately in the English language is the “mood” change directed by the “hina” (or “purpose”) clause. Expanded translations usually attempt to convey this change of mood, but word-for-word or “Formal Equivalence” translations struggle to accurately represent what the original readers of the Greek text would have clearly understood.
Unfortunately, contemporary critics of Reformed theology often cite verses such as you’ve listed above in order to argue that God’s purposes and decrees are not as solid as we portray them to be. Whenever I hear someone argue from the “might’s and may’s” of Scripture I realize that they have not done sufficient homework in the original languages and are over-emphasizing the English limitations in order to support their suppositions.
Let me close by offering this explanation of the “hina clause” rule written by Colin Smith and posted on the Alpha and Omega website. I hope this helps clear things up.
The Subjunctive and hina Clauses
The subjunctive in Greek is a mood that is often used to communicate possibility or probability. It can be used alone or in conjunction with other particles to add particular nuance of meaning. One particle that is often used with the subjunctive is the particle hina. When hina is used with the subjunctive, the mood changes from one of possibility or probability, to one of purpose or result. It appears from the evidence of the New Testament that hina clauses (as such constructions are called) are not intended to imply uncertainty, even though they use the subjunctive mood, which, when used alone or with other particles, can indeed convey uncertainty.
The best way to understand this is to look at some examples of passages that use hina clauses. The parts of the following passages in bold type are the parts that are translating hina clauses:
“And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”– so that they might accuse Him.” (Matt 12:10 NASB)
There was no doubt that the Jewish leaders wanted to accuse Jesus, so their question was asked with this intent. “Might” here is not meant to represent uncertainty with regard to their intentions. Rather, “might” is an idiomatic way of conveying such intent in English.
“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8 NASB)
This passage itself declares that the subordinate clause is indicating purpose. The infinitive (“to destroy”) is used to translate hina and the subjunctive. Again, this is a perfectly legitimate way to indicate intent in English, and it translates the meaning of the verb adequately. Jesus’ purpose was not to attempt to destroy the devil’s works if He was able to do so. There is no question about Jesus’ ability to destroy the devil’s works. Rather, Jesus appeared for the purpose of destroying the devil’s works.
“Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” (Luke 9:12 NASB)
Again, the hina clause indicates the purpose behind the suggestion to send the crowd away: to enable them to find lodging and food.
The New Testament is replete with such examples. Therefore, when we come to Galatians 2:16, we see the same use:
“nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (NASB)
Again, “may” here is an idiomatic way of translating purpose in English. The purpose of belief is justification. Indeed, one can also see here the hina clause being used to indicate result. Paul, by using the subjunctive, is not intending to communicate any kind of uncertainty with regard to justification. Rather, by using the subjunctive in a hina clause, he is proclaiming that our faith in Christ has its purpose in our justification, and also has its end result in our justification.