A Brief Look at Romans 11:29

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Daniel Wee
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A Brief Look at Romans 11:29

Post by Daniel Wee » Fri 04 May 04 2012 8:02 pm

This is a verse that is often cited as proof-text that God never revokes a gift (charismatic or spiritual gift) but the question is if this is a valid and correct application. Let's start with a very literal translation of the verse from the Greek:-

<For without regret> (are) <the karismata> <and> <the calling> <of God>.

Just looking at this translation alone, there are at least two questions that of special interest to us:-

1. What does "without regret" mean? And why is this sometimes translated as "irrevocable"?
2. What does "karismata" refer to within the context of this passage?

First - "without regret" or "without repentance" simply means that God doesn't change his mind concerning the matter. When applied to the giving of something, it means that what is given stays given, hence "irrevocable." Strictly speaking, though, "without regret" does not automatically associate with the giving. It just happens that both gifts and calling can be spoken of as something that is "given" and so "irrevocable" works here. The thing is that once you use the word "irrevocable", you are introducing a sense whereby "God cannot take it back" which really isn't implicit in the original word for "without regret". What this means is that while "irrevocable" works and many translations use this word, its' use introduces something additional into the original language that was not necessarily there. Having said all that - this isn't a real deal breaker and is more of a technical observation (also known as nit-picking for the less theologically inclined.)

More interesting for us is the word "karismata", a word that is usually translated as "gifts". This is the same word from which we get the term "charismatic". "Karis" itself, though, means "grace." Now, because "gifts" or "karismata" is so often spoken of in the sense of "charismatic gifts" (such as tongues and so on), many people immediately assume that Paul is saying here that once spiritual gifts are given or conferred, God cannot and will not take it back. This is how most people read Rom 11:29. There are several problems with this reading, however, beginning with the fact that it simply does not fit into the context of what Paul was writing about in Rom 11:25-28,30-32. Then there is also the matter that "karismata" is also used in other senses than just the "charismatic gifts."

Aside from the usual understanding of "gifts", "karismata" also carries other meanings such as "endowments" or "bestowments" (cf. BDAG and Luow Nida - Greek lexicons.) For example, in Rom 5:15,16 we see the same word used in a sense other than "charismatic gifts." With that in mind, let us look at the context of Rom 11:25-32. Paul was actually writing concerning Jews and Israel, and their role in God's redemptive plan for the Gentiles. In Rom 11:28 Paul says that the Jews have become "enemies of the gospel" for our sake. However, in case the reader might think that God has rejected the Jews, he adds that "concerning election, they are beloved." Why are they still beloved and elected while they reject the gospel? Well, Paul gives the answer to this in Rom 11:29 - because what God has bestowed or endowed upon them is without repentance or regret. In other words, God has not changed his mind concerning the election of the Jews as His chosen people.

So where does this leave us? It tells us that the thing that is "irrevocable", this "karismata" and "calling" is in fact the election of the Jews, and their status as God's chosen ones. For this reason, I think people who use this verse as referring to charismatic gifts are actually misinterpreting Rom 11:29. There is nothing here relating to the charismatic gifts and that reading is simply the result of a logical leap based on the use of a word.
Daniel Wee
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Re: A Brief Look at Romans 11:29

Post by Daniel Wee » Fri 04 May 04 2012 8:04 pm

The main thing about Rom 11:29 is that it has nothing to do with us non-Israelites or with our calling or our gifts. That is a very specific verse which applies to the Jews with respect to their election in God. THAT is what God does not regret and will not change His mind concerning. In fact the entire Romans 11 deals with this issue. This means that Rom 11:29 is also silent about whether God does or does not revoke gifts, mainly because it is not talking about our spiritual gifts as such. So, strictly speaking, Kenneth's question really should not be asked in connection to Rom 11.

I also think that the onus is on those who want to say that God cannot revoke gifts to demonstrate where the bible teaches that at all. There is no conceivable reason why God could not or would not revoke a gift. Clearly there are many instances where God revokes gifts, both physical benefits (such as the plant that gave Elijah shelter), as well as spiritual benefits (Job 12:20 - ... takes away the discernment ....)
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