Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calvinists, and Romans 9:18

Robert Letham writes:

“Firstly, we are deluded if we think we can read the Bible alone by ourselves. All interpretation of Scripture is built upon what has gone before us. In the nineteenth century a small group in the United States decided to have done with the historic teaching of the church and study Scripture for themselves from scratch. They published a journal recording the results of their Bible study called Studies in the Scriptures. And so the sect known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses was born. Bible study torn asunder from the teaching of the historic Christian church is a recipe for deviation. As it transpired, the Jehovah’s Witnesses did nothing really new; they merely reproduced the fourth-century heresy of Arianism” (Robert Letham, The Work of Christ, p. 18).

One good and necessary place to deviate sharply from would be the Westminster Confession of Faith’s (WCF) wicked invention, “as if the offending party were dead” (WCF 24.5). For it is a good thing to NOT build upon the WCF’s endorsing and strengthening of the hands of adulterers (see and

And speaking of Jehovah’s Witnesses (and certain Calvinists who deviated with them):

“There is a translation of Romans 9:18 that says this: ‘So, then, upon whom he wishes he has mercy, but whom he wishes he lets become obstinate.’ That is the translation that the Spurgeons and Dabneys and Shedds and Hodges and Gills and Haldanes of the world would love, would they not? That is actually how they interpret God’s hardening – that God lets people become obstinate. The translation is called the New World Translation, and it is the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The translation ‘lets become obstinate’ has no basis in the original Greek, but why should that stop them?” (SOURCE).
And my brief chat back in January, 2016 with a Jehovah’s Witness:

Scott (Jehovah’s Witness): Thanks for the well thought out expressions you offered during our scriptural chat Saturday. I look forward to putting some thoughts together for you to consider. I have a question for you first though… How would you differentiate your belief based on Romans 9:18 from the teaching of fate or predestination. Or, do you accept those terms as describing your belief. Just looking for some clarification that I didn’t think to ask for in the freezing cold Saturday…

Chris (me): Hi Scott-

Unlike many English dictionaries and thesauruses (e.g., Webster’s) I would first differentiate between fate (or fatalism) and predestination. My understanding (whether correct or incorrect) of fatalism is this:

Fatalism is the teaching that all events are predetermined by impersonal forces or a personal deity, and are effected regardless or independent of means, so that no matter what a person does the same outcome will result. In short, the end result is fixed apart from the means.

Fatalism would have Pharaoh being destroyed no matter what he did (even if he had let the people go the first time he was commanded to).

In contrast to fatalism, my understanding of biblical predestination is that while all events are predetermined (just like in fatalism), they are not effected apart from or independent of the means, but by means of the means. So, it does matter what a person does since what they do is a predetermined/predestined/foreordained means to a specific predetermined/predestined/foreordained end.

Biblical predestination has Pharaoh being destroyed, and while it did matter what Pharaoh did, what Pharaoh did was actively caused and controlled by God.

There are more verses (e.g., Isaiah 10:5-15) than those in Romans 9 that teach God’s (Jehovah’s) absolute sovereign and active control over all things, but this definition of predestination would describe my belief regarding God’s sovereignty over His creatures.

 In short, I reject fatalism as I’ve defined it and I affirm predestination as I’ve defined it. In light of verses like Romans 9:18 and Isaiah 10:5-15 fatalism is much too weak a view of God’s sovereign control over all things. The axe is a means to chopping down trees. The axe does NOT lift itself; the axe is actively swung and controlled by the wielder of the axe.