Individuals are components of the corporate set

In my previous post I listed a number of passages in Romans 9 that I thought had a corporate focus and argued that Moses and Pharaoh may possibly be seen as representatives of the group because they are the leaders. In the ensuing discussion and my rereading of the passage I am slightly more inclined to this view because of how Paul connects the passages:

  1. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
  2. What shall we say then?
  3. Is there injustice on God’s part?
  4. By no means!
  5. For he says to Moses,…

1. Scriptural proof of recent claims; note the context is corporate. 2. Connecting phrase. What follows relates specifically to what precedes. 3. Question relating to what was just said: Given that what I have said may appear to be unjust, is God indeed unjust? 4. Answer. 5. Explanation of the answer.

It seems to me that the grammar means that if the discussion about Jacob and Esau is treating them corporately, then the discussion about Moses and Pharaoh is also because it is the explanation of why God’s treatment of Jacob and Esau as nations is not unjust.

Jugulum raises a question about my excluding verses such as 25,

I was puzzled when you said, “I have left out generic plurals as they can be read either as a plural of individuals or as individuals comprising a group (i.e. corporate)”. Why do you think that’s any less true when Paul talks about “Gentiles” and “Israel”?

When you reach Romans 9:30-32, Paul is again talking about Jews and Gentiles as groups–and it clearly has to do with the behavior of individuals.

I left out the passage not because it didn’t suit my thesis, the interpretation may well be corporate, but to stay away from the debate that it is not corporate; I wanted to stick to the passages that are clearly corporate. However, as Jugulum said, perhaps my other examples were not clearly corporate, or perhaps I did not pay close enough attention to what Israel and Gentile may mean in each context.

Before responding to this question I would like to point to a post of his last year on this passage, though this was more to establish who Paul meant by the term Israel in various verses of Romans. There is as much interesting material in the discussion and related posts (Jugulum is Tim).

So could Paul be talking about individuals that happen to compromise a group? Possibly in some cases, but not all. I will need to look more closely at some of the verses. It is clear that Isaac, Jacob and Esau are corporate as per my earlier post.

By corporate, I mean the group perceived as a group. The use of singular and plural is not always reliable. When asking for a response from a group (say a call to vote in an election) one is addressing all the individuals, but each individual can respond or not respond as his chooses. When talking about a collective singular (say a nation or church) singular terms are used, but the context is corporate. As I previously distinguished a group is either a collection of individuals, or individuals who make up the group. This I think is an important distinction (though there still can be blurring of these lines). Jugulum is less convinced,

This passage raised another issue for the Calvinist interpretation, but it does seem to invalidate the “individual salvation is irrelevant, it’s just about groups” argument.

I’ve never actually understood what people mean when by that kind of argument. (I’ve also seen it from people arguing that the 2nd Amendment protects a right of ‘the people’, but ‘collectively’–not individually. However that works.)

I don’t think the phrase,

individual salvation is irrelevant, it’s just about groups

fairly categorises the argument, but the 2 questions remain relevant. Individual salvation is important, and non-Calvinists subscribe to individual salvation. Each person individually has to become a follower of Jesus. Paul’s argument is that you cannot be rely on your belonging to a favoured group, you individuals must have faith. So I would rephrase Jugulum’s hypothetical opponent thus,

Individual election is not what is being discussed here (in this context), it is about group election.

So to the second question: How is a group conceived as a whole distinct from the individuals it is comprised of?

Philosophically this is well recognised, and there are known fallacious arguments when one ascribes qualities of the part to the whole, or qualities of the whole to the part: fallacies of composition and division. A dog can bark, but a dog’s tail cannot bark.

So the distinction is important because group may have a quality that the individual does not possess. If there is an argument that applies to the set, one is not justified in applying it to the component. In fact components and sets can have opposite qualities! A rope is strong, strands of cotton that comprise the rope are weak.

How may this apply to Israel as a group? I have previously written

Now this does not apply to corporate groups because a group does not have freewill, other than the freedom of the individuals within it. And God can act in ways that affect corporate outcome without overriding the freedom of individuals that comprise it. God can raise up a nation by providing optimal environmental conditions, and he can destroy a nation by sending disaster.

In doing so we note that God’s plans for groups can be brought about according to God’s purpose and for his glory. God tells Israel they are not a nation of note but that he will make them great. Individuals within various groups still retain the choice to side with or against God. If God punishes a nation, individuals of such nations can still appeal to God’s mercy. We see this in Rahab and the Egyptians who left in the Exodus. If God blesses a nation, individuals can still reject God’s purposes; consider Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

I think that God stating that he will do things to certain groups does not mean that he must do that thru deterministically controlling individuals, nor that an individual within that group necessarily obtain (good or bad) what God has stated will be.

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