Romans 9:21 contrasts the potter making vessels for "honorable purposes" and ones for "dishonorable purposes." I have heard some preachers explain this by comparing vessels for aesthetic beauty (honorable) and everyday use (dishonorable).

While I would never purport to be smart about Greek, I can look up Strong's number for "dishonorable" (g0819 -- sorry don't know how to type in Greek on this keyboard) and look for other uses. Somehow it doesn't strike me that common uses of vessels (cooking, drinking, etc.) would fit under "dishonorable purposes." It seems to me that something like a chamberpot (used to hold excrement before the invention of the toilet) would be a better example of a vessel with a "dishonorable purpose." Thoughts?

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    I can't imagine reading anything else into "vessel" except what is clear from prior verses. The vessels are symbols for the Israelites (9:4-33). Paul is comparing (9:8) the Israelites that are "the children of the flesh" (those who won't be saved) to "the children of the promise" (those who will be saved). In the same vein, he compares the fallen Israelites to the Gentiles that have faith in Christ (9:30). He's highlighting the irony. The point of the narrative is that nobody should complain, that God's "power" (9:17) in one group over the other is God's right. Compare: Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 64. Feb 22 '17 at 15:32
  • The correct answer is in the last sentence of your question: a pot for "dishonorable purpose" is a euphemism for "chamber pot". See this: books.google.co.uk/…
    – fdb
    Feb 23 '17 at 18:47

If this parable was about pottery and its uses, and this forum not about Hermeneutics, we could have a most interesting conversations about uses of pottery and what was honorable or dishonorable. However, since this forums is Biblical Hermeneutics and not Pottery, I'm going to assume you're asking about the meaning of the parable. Letting the bible interpret the bible:

Q. Generally, who is the potter and who is the clay?
A. The potter is YHWH and the clay are people of specific nations.

Isaiah 64:8 - shows that that Israel is the clay in this parable and YHWH is the potter: But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Q. Why?
A. God formed mankind from the earth (Gen 2:7) so we are as clay to Him.

Job 10:9 - Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? asks Job who was basically asking the potter what type of vessel he was and what the potter intended to do with him.


Job 33:6 - Behold, I am toward God as you are; I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.

Israel in rebellion confronted God on his judgements. See what Isaiah says in reply:

Isa 29:16 - Shall the potter (YHWH) be regarded as the clay (Israel), that the thing made should say of its maker,“He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

And again:

Isa 45:9 - Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

So there is little doubt how YHWH see his people. The question then becomes can the potter re-work his creation if he isn't happy with its use? Again, the bible answers this in YHWH's instructions to Jeremiah, specifically how he should prophecy:

Jer 18:1-10 - The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.

And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

The point is that if YHWH, says these faithless people (the work of his hands) are 'dishonorable' whereas those faithful people are 'honorable', that is YHWH's prerogative as potter.

Q. Why should we discuss 'people' (the thing signified) in this question, rather than 'pottery' (the sign)?

A. Because prophecy uses the same metaphors to convey information about YHWH's intentions with respect to faithful and faithless nations. Read Dan 2:41-43 now and understand that the empire that would consume Israel was being spoken about (since the Iron was Rome and Israel the clay).

  • Thank you for your reply. I agree that where the clay metaphor is used in Is 64 and Jer 18, we see the clay represents nations.
    – Tim
    Feb 22 '17 at 19:28
  • The reason I ask about the symbol (pottery) is that I see some authors/speakers want to restrict "dishonorable" to exclude damnable purposes. Then, they argue, the potter is not responsible for damnation/destruction of those vessels. The concept is related to [this discussion] (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/8826/…), but it views it from the perspective of verse 21.
    – Tim
    Feb 22 '17 at 19:34
  • From your quote of Jer 18, it is clear that God claims authority to destroy nations. If we restrict the "vessels" of Romans 9 to consider only nations, then the argument follows. If, however, the "vessels" in Romans 9 are individuals, then it get's a lot messier.
    – Tim
    Feb 22 '17 at 19:38
  • Agreed, but interpreting biblical things to be about individuals (a Greek idea) rather than about families, or nations (a Hebrew idea) is rarely a correct exegetical approach. Also this parable is about covenant fidelity so it's pretty clearly about Israel. Also anyone who tries to restrict 'dishonorable' to exclude damnable purposes is missing the point. What does YHWH ask in Jer 18:5? Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? Even a dishonorable vessel can be reworked.
    – user34445
    Feb 22 '17 at 19:52
  • I fail to see how any of this is relevant for understanding Romans 9:21.
    – fdb
    Feb 22 '17 at 23:15

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