The Theological Difficulties of Romans 9

After reading another great post by Prodigal Paul (, I decided to look at Romans 9 again, a passage that’s caused me some theological distress in the past.  Verse 18, in particular causes my over developed sense of justice and equality squirm.  On the surface, this verse appears to say that God can and will, on occasion, choose to harden a person’s heart and bar them from ever accepting His gift of salvation and I believe this is how it has traditionally been interpreted.  I don’t necessarily intend to refute this interpretation, but merely to offer another possible meaning.

One of the primary reasons I have a hard time with this traditional interpretation of Romans 9:18 is that it appears to conflict with Jesus exhortation in Matthew 18 to forgive others’ offenses against us 70 times 7 (typically believed to mean an infinite number of times).  Presumably, the reason God would choose to harden a person’s heart is because of their repeated offenses against Him, but if He asks us to forgive infinitely, it seems strange that there could be some limit to His forgiveness of us.

In an attempt to find new meaning in this troublesome passage, I looked at the verse in the original Greek*, particularly the word that every version I checked translated as harden.  The Greek word here is σκληρύνει (sklērynei) the root of which is σκληρός (skléros) which BibleHub translates as “hard, violent, harsh, stern.”  This seems to mesh well with the original translations and interpretations of the verse so, for my purpose of finding new meaning in the passage, it was a dead end.  However, I thought for fun, I might try entering skléros into Google translate.  It also came back with a definition of hard, but it also included another word: tough.  If we were to translate sklērynei as toughen instead of harden, in conjunction with the rest of the verse, it could convey a vastly different message, one that fits so much better into the picture I see painted by the rest of scripture.  Read this way, it could be saying that for some of His children, God chooses to grant a grace and a relatively peaceful life, but others, he chooses to toughen by gifting them with trials of many kinds.  It still doesn’t sit well with my sense of justice and equality and it may be completely unbiblical, but it’s just a thought.

*Disclaimer: I am by no means fluent in Greek (in fact, I don’t know any) nor can I be considered a Biblical scholar by any stretch of the imagination.

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