“But who are you, O man?” – Romans 9



(The FreeThinking Theist)


October 16, 2017


How do you respond to a Calvinist who uses the whole “Who are you, O man…” argument based on Romans 9? I’m trying to understand better how the Molinist view holds against Calvinist arguments against libertarian free will.


Tim’s Response

Thank you for the question, Aiden. This is probably one of the most popular objections to Molinism and it is one that I have wrestled with in the past. I encourage you to read my article Free Will, Calvinism, & Romans 9 as I have previously argued against a deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 by keeping the entire book of Romans — let alone the entirety of Scripture — in mind. With that said, your question addresses a point that I did not discuss in my past article.

So, before engaging your question regarding Romans 9:20, examine the text:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The first thing I ask the Calvinist objector is whether or not they affirm exhaustive divine causal determinism. Many Calvinists do affirm that God causally determines all things. Thus, this would even include God causally determining the human being to “talk back” to Him. This is absurd!

This is akin to me putting my hand in a sock puppet and making the puppet talk back to me and making it say disrespectful things that question my authority. Now how silly would it be for me to then become enraged at the sock puppet and scold it for talking back to me (as if it could have done otherwise)? Moreover, does it make any sense to throw the sock puppet into the fire place (for all eternity) because I caused it to reply in a disrespectful tone?

This interpretation of Romans 9 is absurd. With this is mind, contrary to the popular opinion of many Calvinists, this passage of Scripture actually supports the Molinist’s view that humanity does possess libertarian free will (at least in regards to mental states and thinking)!

Even if one is not free to act otherwise, Romans 9 seems to imply that human beings are free to think otherwise! Moreover, it implies that one “ought not” talk back to God and that this person is genuinely responsible for this behavior (at least if they do not want to affirm that God causally determined the person to “talk back” like a puppet).

If God causally determines ALL things, then that would include every single thought, action, belief, and behavior of every single human being all the time (See my Response to John Piper). It logically follows that if God causally determines all things, then this would include the “back talk” of humanity referenced in Romans 9. Thus, God would be responsible for this back talk, not the human puppet.

However, if man is genuinely responsible for talking back to God in this passage, then God does not causally determine all things. I have demonstrated this fact already via the Freethinking Argument and the Omni Argument. As the latter shows, since the Bible is clear that God does predestine all things, we can see that determinism and predestination should not be conflated. The Calvinist and the Molinist both affirm that God predestines all things; the disagreement regards HOW God predestines all things.

The Calvinist asserts divine causal determinism (glorified puppeteering); the Molinist appeals to God’s omniscient middle knowledge.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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