There is a passage in Romans 11 which I think refutes Dispensationalism and Once Saved, Always Saved that it requires almost no commentary, Romans 11:13-21:
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
The Root, of course, is Christ. But look at what it says: the unbelief of some Jewish people caused them to be broken off from the saving Root, Christ. The Old Testament Jews, whether they realized it or not, worshipped a Triune God, which is to say, that they worshipped Christ. When He appeared to them in the flesh, some rejected the very God who they’d worshipped up until that point – out of ignorance or something worse is a call only God can make. But there were certainly those who cast themselves out of Israel/the Church by their unbelief – Paul tells us so. And with that, the notion that “Covenantal Israel = all ethnic Jews” is flatly refuted.
But that also refutes the notion of Once Saved, Always Saved. They went from being in a right relationship with God (being connected to the Root) to being “broken off because of unbelief.” The very action involved describes a breaking of a previously-existant connection. The classic argument “they just thought they were saved, they weren’t really” doesn’t make any sense if they were broken off from the Root. They were just fake-branches which weren’t really attached. They were natural branches, Paul tells us. And what’s more, he warns his readers (and us, by extention) that it can happen to us! He’s writing this to believers warning them that they can be broken off from the Root, Christ.
I decided to see how Calvin convinced himself that this didn’t refute his views. He says of this last part:
And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.
Certainly, it’s true that Paul is writing to the group of Gentiles (this is, after all, one of the things we think Calvinists miss in Romans 8-9, so it’s interesting that Calvin acknowledges it here), but he’s writing to the group about each of their individual salvation, and using the salvation of the individual Jews as a reference point. Calvin’s logic here seems to be: since I’m right about Perseverance of the Saints, this must not refer to individuals, but to “the body of the Gentiles.” Of course, that interpretation makes little sense. Here’s why:
- Textual Integrity: Not all Jews were broken off – only individuals, individuals who were unbelieving. They went from saved (connected branch) to unsaved (unconnected branch) by being “broken off” for their unbelief. Whether you read this as being addressed to a group of individual Gentiles, or “the body of Gentiles,” it’s still dealing with the “breaking off” of some individual Jews, since we know that they weren’t, as a body, broken off.
- Logical Inegrity of Individual/Group Distinction: But besides that, let’s assume that Calvin is right that this passage deals with the body of Gentiles. If it’s possible that the body of Gentiles, in full or in part, is cut off due to their arrogance (or faithlessness), that cutting off can only entail the cutting off of individuals. The body of Gentiles is nothing more than the sum of Gentile individuals. Which means that if Calvin’s right that “the excision, of which [Paul] speaks, could not apply to individuals,” then it can equally not apply to groups. It’s like saying, “This disease will kill the Americans.” And then saying, “But don’t worry – it’s not fatal to individuals. It’ll just wipe out the group of Americans.” If there’s a way that’s a logical construction, I’m not seeing it.
- Relation to Galatians 3:28 – Explaining this by reference to the entire groups, Calvin’s painted himself into a corner, so he writes as if all Jews are unsaved (claiming that God has divorced Himself from them as group?), and what’s more, that God will choose one group or the other, as if they’re competing with one another (“if [the Gentiles] exulted over the Jews […] God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced”). It all runs quite counter to Galatians 3:28, to say nothing of the plain meaning of the passage. It makes no sense for Paul, in Romans, which is all about being a Jew or a Gentile isn’t what’s important – that it’s Faith – to then turn around and say, “Jews v. Gentiles – only one of you can win.”