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The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23

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John Piper presents a careful, reasoned study of the doctrine of election. He dissects Paul's argument to highlight the picture of God and his righteousness painted in Romans 9. Undergirded by his belief that the sovereignty of God is too precious a part of our faith to dismiss or approach weak-kneed, Piper explores the Greek text and Paul's argument with singular deftness.

245 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1993

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About the author

John Piper

558 books3,972 followers
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years, he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem.

John is the author of more than 50 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and twelve grandchildren.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews
Profile Image for Matt Crawford.
393 reviews9 followers
February 23, 2021
The justification of God. It is an objective grammatical historical study.This is a book on theodicy but not on the theodicy that we often think of. Rather this theodicy, defense of God is about how God works out his purposes as seen in Romans 9. Piper puts in it myself proper context and relies heavily on OT passages including Exodus 33:19. It is set within the greater context of Romans 9, then to Romans and the entire Bible. Piper does not hide or distort the opinions of those who do not agree with him. It is an excellent survey of the debate. That being said, I come out agreeing with Piper.
70 reviews2 followers
March 4, 2023
The most thorough work of exegesis I’ve ever read. I only wish he would’ve connected the flow of thought from the end of chapter 8 to the beginning of chapter 9.
Profile Image for Justin Feland.
19 reviews
June 11, 2019
The Justification of God, in my opinion, is one of Piper's best volumes. In it, he has produced a stellar example of Reformed exegesis which knocks you down, keeps you down, and forces you to the same conclusion by sheer force of the text being explained. In it, Romans 9:1-23 speaks, and it speaks loudly.

Piper's biggest contribution through this book is his demonstration of what he sees as Paul's (and the whole Bible's) definition of the righteousness of God. To use his language, the righteousness of God consists in his "unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory" (p. 219). With this definition, Piper has not only plugged into the throbbing center of Reformed Theology, but also provided a powerful explanation of Paul's argumentation in Romans 9:14 and following.

God is in fact perfectly righteous to choose some and not others apart from any distinctives in their persons or works precisely because it is God's nature to bestow mercy on whomever he wills. To base the dispensation of God's mercy on any other ground would be to constrain the will of God to the will of man, pervert grace into dessert, and impugn the righteousness of God. If the dispensation of God's mercy is conditioned on anything fulfilled by man, then God does not act freely, and God does not accomplish the purpose of creation—a demonstration of his glory, a large part of which is the freeness of his bestowal of mercy and grace.

This implies that the doctrine of predestination, in Paul's thought, did not constitute a threat to divine justice, but actually served to establish divine justice. Paul's argument is essentially, "If God does not predestine individuals to their respective destinies, then God is in fact unjust. Predestination establishes God's justice." This only makes sense if we understand God's justice/righteousness to refer to his unswerving dedication to uphold and display the glory of his name.

An exceptional book, and a necessary read for all those interested in Reformed theology (either for or against it). I highly recommend. However, a caution to this tale: the book is highly technical and you would be well served to be relatively familiar with both Greek and Hebrew before reading it.
Profile Image for Mike Reynolds.
17 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2016
Straightforward, thorough, clear, and water-tight. This goes straight for the heart of the issue by arguing for the righteousness of God that is found in his allegiance to his own name and glory. Piper successfully argues for the freedom of God to elect according to his own will and his desire to exalt his name. I will revisit this regularly as I sharpen my greek over time in hopes to get even more out of it.

It answers the objections of national election, historical election (instead of eternal destinies), Pharaoh's "self-hardening", etc. Worth your time.
Profile Image for Jeff Short.
541 reviews12 followers
October 18, 2020
I think this is the second or third time reading this book. It is academic and not like Piper's other books. It is a good example of careful reasoning and the work of scriptural exegesis. It is worth reading on this part of Romans 9.
1 review
December 1, 2022
Here is what I didn't agree with:

1. Almost anywhere Piper says "God must" I disagree with him. The only place I think we can confidently say that "God must" is where God himself says "I must" since Jesus says “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” and even when referring to his own crucifixion he says "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" so saying what *must* be done is something I think we should be very careful about saying when it comes to God.

2. I do not think this is the whole story around Romans 9:1-23, I think there is something in the fact that these are *vessels* unto honour or dishonour. Yes, God foreknew those that would be saved. Yes, they are *the elect*, but I do not think that this is the whole story. There are plenty of places where God judges the wicked and praises the righteous like Job or David. I think God will share with us the full reason he justified those He justified and I don't think it will be completely arbitrary. I think *all* will see it as just, even if we can't fully grasp it right now. Essentially, I think we need to take it on faith for now, and once it is revealed it will make perfect sense to us.

Ok so with that said, when it comes with the core argument of the book, I think Piper is right and I think his argument is bulletproof. Reaching into Exodus and highlighting the glorification of The Name of God and sticking with the details in and around Romans 9:1-23, diving into Greek and Hebrew where necessary, but not hinging the entire argument on trivialities, I can't see how his core argument is incorrect.

God has sovereignty to justify who he wills, and it is in service to his glory to do so. This justification is across all tribes, nations, and tongues; but it isn't to all people. It is preordained and predestined, but it is nevertheless just.

These points I think he proves as well as he can to me. That I don't think it is the entire story is okay. The central thesis passes and a greater understanding can only make this more beautiful.

The only point I would add that I don't recall Piper dwelling on is that, ultimately, we will observe and share in the glory of the Lord. So even here, the aims of God are ultimately for the benefit of us, his elect.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Simon Wartanian.
Author 2 books10 followers
May 13, 2021
What an excellent treatment of Romans 9 and the justification of God in the fact of God's absolute sovereignty as the Potter to do as He pleases in ordaining salvation and damnation. I very much enjoyed reading the book and even the technicalities of Greek as Piper humbly was dealing with each phrase and with each verse and respectfully interacting with those with whom he disagreed.

This is a must-read not only for Calvinists, but for anyone who wants a biblically faithful exposition of Romans 9.
Profile Image for Timothy Wittman.
47 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2023
I really appreciate that he takes his time to analyze what feels like ALL the different interpretations of this passage throughout the whole book, pointing out what is inconsistent without misrepresenting. And ultimately just commits to the slow study of Exegesis to create a staple example of how to interpret in one of the most challenging sections of Scripture.
Profile Image for Darren Sapp.
Author 8 books19 followers
July 20, 2018
This is John Piper's dissertation but still reads as a smooth narrative. However, since it's converted to a work for the general public, it would have been helpful for the Greek and Hebrew to have translations. The lack, thereof, limits the audience. The research and writing is stellar.
Profile Image for Parker.
339 reviews6 followers
July 9, 2018
Those who can navigate the technical language and discussion of the finer points of Greek and Hebrew grammar will find a deeply satisfying exegesis of the text here.
Profile Image for David Westerfield.
15 reviews2 followers
July 28, 2011
In a day when men in the pulpit and in the study would take the verses of Romans nine totally out of context, infer unwarranted and unscriptural presuppositions (foreknown faith as the basis for election), thus pressing ideologies onto the text that are just not there, John Piper's scholarly work on what Romans nine is all about is a great defense of Biblical election (unconditional election) that shines a light in the darkness of so much poor analysis and exegesis of this chapter. Romans nine is about the very definition of who God is: the sovereign Lord over ALL things whose name will be proclaimed in all the Earth, being that His glory is the highest good and that His promises never fail.

Two of the main ways this text is gutted of its intended meaning is first, by the majority of interpretors proposing that Romans nine is not about individual, eternal election to salvation, but rather, corporate temporal election to historical roles, such as Israel being elected as God's chosen people (as opposed to say David being individually elected to salvation). Secondly, there are those who do believe in individual election, but who will say God chose them because they first chose Him (conditional election, if they choose me I'll choose them). Piper goes to pain-staking lengths to show how great of an error these propositions are by starting in Romans 9:1 and working his way forward in both the Greek and Hebrews texts. He goes into extensive arguments about how these will not stand in the face of the Berean test of Scripture. In addition, he shows the larger context of the previous chapter, Romans eight, displaying how sure the promises of God are to His people, that He will never fail in carrying them out, because, namely, they are rooted in His unconditional electing love.

However, if that's true, that God's promise will not fail, what do we make of these promises if the large majority of the Jews, at the official levels, rejected Christ? I mean, having rejected the Gospel, they remain under the wrath of God! Has God's promises to Israel failed? And if His promises failed to His chosen people, what are we to make of His promises to us, the grafted in branches? Paul's answer? "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." (Romans 9:6) And thus Paul begins his argument as to why the promises of God did not fail Israel, just as they will never fail us who trust in Christ. Why haven't God's promises failed? It comes down to election. God's promises are rooted precisely in His plan that was set into effect before the foundation of the world. And Piper shows that to be the case very forcefully.

I highly commend this book to all of you who want to delve into a really good study of these controversial passages in Romans. Piper is an excellent scholar and it is very hard to get around these arguments when confronted with them. Many esteem predestination as an unloving doctrine, that it paints God as a mean, old grandfather who randomly chooses some and not others for salvation. That is called Greek determinism, not Biblical election. However, as we see from the Scriptures, God is the most loving precisely in predestination to salvation through the work of Christ on our behalf (and in every instance where election is mentioned in Scripture, that is exactly how it is presented, the love of God electing us to eternal life through Christ). To see that truth opens up the doors of experiencing God's grace in deeper ways, because you see just how rebellious from the heart you really are, and just how deep into your soul God had to go to first regenerate you and bring you to life from spiritual death, granting you the eyes to see and ears to hear the call of Christ to salvation, and thus moving in you to respond positively to the Gospel message, just as the Lord did to the Gentiles at Antioch in Acts 13:48 and in Lydia in Acts 16:14.

To hear some excellent messages on much of the same material in this book by John Piper himself on Romans 9 (without being too heady), go here:

Profile Image for Jacob O'connor.
1,448 reviews19 followers
May 31, 2016
I've made quite a journey.  I started my life in the faith as an Arminianist.  At times I've been


by Calvinism.  These days I attend a Calvinist church.  I respect my pastor and fellow congregants, but I have some lingering reservations with reformed theology.  Enter John Piper.  He's among the most popular, plain, and appealing proponents of this perspective.  In Justification of God, Piper tackles the crucial Calvinist passage, Romans chapter 9.  This can be troublesome reading.  The most pointed part of the passage is verse 11.  God elects according to his good pleasure.  He does it before we're born.  Before we’ve done anything good or bad.  There's nothing we can do to sway it one way or another.  On first pass, it's hard to see how this answers the interlocutor's question, "Why does God find fault?" ...

Piper vindicates his view ably.  It boils down to the answer God gave Job, "Who are you o man?"  We need to make peace with this answer, because God is God.  Yet I'd like to gently challenge Piper.  The passage goes farther, and so should we. 

Brass tacks:

Bad news: If we're honest with the passage, we must affirm Paul's points. Election is of God.  There is nothing I bring.  I can't will or run against God.  I'm at His mercy.  God chooses according to his own good pleasure.  It's not my good behavior or righteous works.   

Good news: God's pleasure takes into account my faith.  Verse 30 is a key to interpreting Romans 9.  Many Jews missed what God was doing.  Gentiles didn't.  The difference?  The Jews pursued it by works (willing and running).  The Gentiles pursued it by faith.  

God has so set up his Elect to include those who "believe".  Faith is our response.  Paul unlocks this difficult chapter for us in Romans 10:3, "Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.".  In other words, Paul is consistent.  Through the book of Romans, he lays out the gospel.  It is by faith to all who believe.  


Parallels the construction of "I will have mercy" with "I am that I am"

Sovereign freedom

First third of the book deals with the equation between God's name and election.  Point being, God's right to pick his people is tied to his identity. 

Thus human actions may be described as righteous not because they conform to an “ideal ethical norm” (like impartial distributive justice, though this may often be righteous), but rather because they are fitting expressions of man’s complete allegiance to maintain the honor of God’s name and display his glory. P. 114

If our unrighteousness shows up God’s saving righteousness (in that it gives him an occasion to be more gracious), then God is unrighteous to inflict us with wrath (for that would mean that he fails to take advantage of an opportunity to magnify his grace).” Similarly the opponents’ argument in verse 7 would be: “If the truth of God (which is manifest in his saving me in spite of my falsehood) thus abounds to his glory by my falsehood, then God should not judge me as a sinner but save me and thus magnify his gracious truth.” page 126

Derives unconditional election from Rom 9:14-23. (p. 191).  Too hasty in light of 10:4?  Election conditioned upon faith. 

"From the same lump" (p. 214)  I'd missed the import.  Does this prove (contrary to Piper's position) that vessels represent federal heads? 
9 reviews
June 30, 2013
What does it mean for God to be righteous? In his profound study of Paul’s justification of God’s election in Romans 9, John Piper examines what exactly Paul is trying to argue in Romans 9 and looks at the resulting conception of God’s righteousness that Paul appears to have held. This book is a profound and penetrating example of exegetical study and a must read for studies on election, God’s righteousness, or chapter 9 of Romans. Piper works through the different exegetical issues provided in the text and follows the thought of Paul coming to the conclusion that Paul’s defense of God’s righteousness in unconditional election stems from the fact that God’s righteousness is “his unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory” (219). An essential part of which is His utter freedom from all influences outside of Himself in dispensing mercy to whomever He wills do dispense mercy (219). Piper, in the process of coming to his conclusion, wrestles with the challenge that Romans 9 does not in fact deal with individual election and reprobation but with God’s election on a national scale. Overall it is a tremendous work of scholarship and biblical study, challenging but needed.
6 reviews
April 3, 2010
I'm refraining from giving this book a rating simply because I miss a lot of the nuanced arguments that Piper makes from the original Hebrew and Greek. I will say that I thought it was a great book, but a difficult read. Very academic in nature, but theologically rich. Piper's main thesis, and one that I find compelling, is that in Romans 9, Paul is saying thatGod seeks above all things to uphold the honor and glory of his name. From passages in Exodus (especially Ex 33:19), he argues that the glory of God and his name (which Piper uses interchangeably) are shown most apparently in God's freedom to show mercy to whom he will show mercy and to harden whom he will harden.

Would recommend to anyone looking to really dive into the heart of what has driven Piper for the last 30 years or anyone just looking for a solid exegesis of Romans 9.
46 reviews
August 1, 2011
I have changed so much, and learned so much since reading this book that it would be unfair to rate this book now. I am able to say that Piper does some funny work with the glory of God and extracts Romans 9-11 out from the rest of Romans (so typical in much work written on Romans in recent history). He reads election as merely individualistic, ripped out of the covenental context that God established with Israel, and is so important for understanding Romans (see Rom. 1:17; 3:21-23). But I would really need to reread this to be fair.
Profile Image for William Dicks.
196 reviews33 followers
November 27, 2021
This is probably John Piper's most important book he has written. "The Justification of God" is certainly not light-hearted reading, and is not meant for someone who does not want to think about the issue of the predestination of the elect. However, for those who are willing to think deeply while they read, this will be a very rewarding book.

Through solid exegetical skills, Piper shows that predestination and election, as written about by Paul in Romans 9, is of the individual Christian and not corporate election of all those that have decided to follow Christ.

A must read!
Profile Image for Jonathan.
182 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2013
The best treatment of Romans 9 I've ever read or heard. Absolutely definitive. Throughout the study, Piper thoroughly dismantles the common objections about national destinies rather than personal, whether "fitted" is passive voice, whether the potter analogy comes from Jeremiah, etc.

This is a difficult read due to its technicality, but absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the Calvinism debate.
Profile Image for L. R. Bouligny Bouligny.
64 reviews6 followers
December 23, 2010
A very helpful treatment of this "controversial" chapter. Piper does a thorough job of taking this chapter apart. I do think he spends too much time building arguments from some of the OT passages, and those chapters of his book become tedious, as he overstates his case. However, he does make a conclusive case (not an easy read, and unless you have some experience with the original languages, you will get lost very quickly). .
Profile Image for Jonathan Roberts.
1,925 reviews36 followers
January 6, 2019
This book is heavy sledding. In my study of Romans I wanted to dig deep into Romans 9 to make sure I “got it” and Dr Piper was the one to take me there. This book is tough in that Dr Piper digs into all the arguments found in this important passage, weighing them and analyzing them. Some of them were not pertinent to my study but the depth shows me that Dr Piper did his work. I was blessed by this but I know I could have gotten more out of this if I had been doing a deeper study. Recommended
Profile Image for Glyn Williams.
102 reviews4 followers
June 13, 2014
This is certainly not bedtime reading, nor is it for the average Joe. This is a deep exegesis of Romans 9 with references to the original Greek, giving thorough explanation of the words and text.

In typical Piper manner the books is sometimes a little confusing and not so easy to follow, but when you read it slower and more analytically, that tends to disappear and you will gain far more from it.
47 reviews1 follower
May 1, 2011
Very interesting to read the study that convinced Piper of Christian hedonism and to become a pastor. An excellent argument for double predestination in Romans 9. However, it's very academic and scholarly, with lots of iteration with other scholars and original languages. I don't recommend it unless you're really into Piper, the question of double predestination, or Bible scholarship.
Profile Image for Autumn.
31 reviews11 followers
March 29, 2014
this book would have been so much easier if I could read Greek, but other than that, a through study on why God does what He does in salvation and displaying His mercy and judgement using Romans 9. this is not a book on the doctrine of election, but rather a discussion on the righteousness of God in dealing with His people.
61 reviews3 followers
November 5, 2016
This was probably the most analytical book I have read since graduating from seminary. This is not a book for the faint of heart. You must have a working knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and Greek in order to get the most out of this book and interact with Piper's basic thesis. If you pick this book up, you will be richly rewarded for your effort.
Profile Image for Cray Allred.
43 reviews
June 25, 2010
Very thankful to have read this. Probably my favorite Piper book. Get this if you want an understanding of all sides of the predestinarian debate, and a convincing affirmation hinged on thorough, OT-NT, exegesis.
Profile Image for Josh Shelton.
304 reviews3 followers
October 2, 2014
This book was a huge paradigm shift for the way in which I see and understand God's Righteousness. This was totally taken up into the theology of Edwards in "The End For Which God Created The World."
362 reviews3 followers
May 16, 2007
The book that launched Piper into pastoral ministry, and an exquisite exposition of one of the premier biblical chapter's that clearly affirm the absolute sovereign freedom of God.
19 reviews
July 20, 2008
A hard book if you have not had Greek yet but well worth the effort.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews

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