Romans 9:14-23 is foundational to Calvinist theology.
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 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?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
The question in verse 21 reads in the following versions,
- Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (NIV)
- Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (ESV)
- Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (NKJV)
- Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (NASB)
- Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? (CSB)
- Or does the potter not have authority over the clay, to make from the same lump a vessel that is for honorable use and one that is for ordinary use? (LEB)
- Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use? (NET)
- Does the potter not have authority over the clay, out of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and one to dishonor? (LSV)
My thoughts on the translations:
- The verse contrasts the previous verse, as emphasised in the LEB, CSB and NASB (and Greek).
- "power", "right", "authority", even "liberty" and "freedom" are reasonable translations of exousia, but "authority" may be best.
- "the clay" is genitive; "his clay" is a possibility. The same with "lump".
- The emphasis on the last part of the sentence is between honour (timē) and absence-honour (atimia). Does "atimia" mean "common" or "ordinary"? Or does it mean "dishonour"?
- The Greek uses the conjunctions "men...de" to contrast the "honour" with the "dishonour". In all the above versions the word "and" is used for this contrast. Would "or" contrast more accurately?
Point 5 is important as the reader pictures the potter making 2 objects or vessels: one that has honour and one that has dishonour. But what if one is to picture the potter deciding on whether to make one object which is either to have honour or to have dishonour. If point 5 is correct then the reader is not seeing a potter take the same lump of clay and make half into one object and the other part into another object. Rather there is one lump of clay. The potter can take a lump of clay and make it into an object of honour, or the potter can take that same lump of clay and make it into an object of dishonour.
As a possible translation,
Rather, does not the potter have authority over his clay to make from the same lump, either a vessel that is for honour or that is for dishonour?