For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
Since this is talking about Jews and Gentiles, let’s paraphrase accordingly:
For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their [Jewish] disobedience, so these [Jews] also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they [the Jews] also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all [both Jews and Gentiles] in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all [Jews and Gentiles].
Galatians 3:22: “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
Romans 11:10-15: “‘Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.’ I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen 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?”
Question: When Romans 11:32 says that God has shut up “all” in “disobedience,” does that mean all Jews and Gentiles, or just some Jews and Gentiles?
Answer: The two all’s correspond. So if you say that God has shut up everyone in disobedience, then the same exact group God desires to show mercy toward.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “The reason 11:32 is a real problem for Calvinists because it has two ALL’S (the second refers to God desiring to have mercy on all; the first refers to God putting all in disobedience), in which the Calvinist cannot and does not want to admit that the second ALL refers to all people, so they bring up Universalism in order to deflect it. But the problem is that the first ALL clearly must refer to all, because it is talking about how God allowed all to sin. If you argue that the second ALL does not refer to all people, then you have to do the same with the first ALL as well (but that is a ridiculous position to hold, because all have sinned, not just some). The easy way to take the passage is that it is saying that while God allowed all to sin, He has mercy on all, meaning that He provides salvation through Christ to all, and those who respond with faith are saved, and those who do not respond with faith are not saved. In this way, both ALL’S really mean ALL and the text makes sense.”
Adrian Rogers: “Again, don’t get the idea that God only wants some people saved. God says all are unbelievers, and God says, ‘I want mercy upon all.’” (Is God Through with the Jews?: Romans 11:1, emphasis mine)
God’s Grace is an offer, and God reaches His hand of mercy out to “all” of His offspring (Acts 17:28-29), whom He loves. (John 3:16) Moreover, mercy rejected is mercy squandered. God wants to show mercy to everyone, and He will motivate people to salvation, but He will not beg. When the Gospel invitation is made, you can either take up your pallet and walk, or you can remain there in doubt and disbelief.
John Calvin: “The word mercy is emphatic. It means that God is bound to none, and that therefore He saves all freely, because all are equally lost. Those who conclude from this that all men will be saved are speaking utter nonsense. Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles obtain salvation from no other sources than the mercy of God, that he may not leave anyone grounds for complaint. It is true that this mercy is offered to all without exception, but they must have sought it by faith.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.258, emphasis mine)
Although Arminians may take comfort in Calvin’s admission that mercy is extended to all individuals, in terms of God’s universal saving desire, what he really means is that while God’s mercy may be offered to all, it is only extended [irresistibly] to only those of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father, namely, Calvinism’s elect. In other words, according to John Calvin, God has shut up all in disobedience, so that He may offer mercy to all, though only a few are regenerated to receive it. The downside is that it mutes the desire behind the offer. Calvinist, James White, takes another approach in his debate with Arminian, Michael Brown:
Arminian, Michael Brown: “Doesn’t it follow that the same ones that He has bound over to disobedience, which is every human being on the planet, those are the ones on whom He wants to have mercy?” (James White vs. Michael Brown, emphasis mine) Calvinist, James White: “No, because that would make me a Universalist. The mercy of God in Romans chapter 9 actually results in salvation, and so, no, I would clearly differentiate, just as Romans 5 does, in recognizing that while all have sinned in Adam, the justification of life is only for those who are in Jesus Christ, so the distinction has already been made long before we get to Romans 11. I think it’s reading the text backwards to come up with a conclusion out of Romans 11 and then read it back into Romans 9, Romans 8 and Romans 5. The distinction is already made before we get to Romans 11. I don’t think the audience is going to be confused, as to what he’s referring to; he’s talked about Jews and Gentiles as those who are the recipients of those who have received God’s grace already.” (James White vs. Michael Brown, emphasis mine)
In other words, the Arminian interpretation inevitably results in Universalism. But why is that inevitable? Why can’t it mean that God desires to show mercy toward all, so that anyone in the world that believes in Him will receive said mercy? The mention of Universalism seems to be a smoke screen. Yes, life is in Christ, but what’s to stop us from inferring that God desires all to come to Him in order to have life? Note John Calvin’s interpretation and the fact that he wasn’t a Universalist either.
Brown asks: “But the consigned to disobedience and then the mercy on them only means some Jews and some Gentiles?” (James White vs. Michael Brown, emphasis mine) White answers: “Yes, God obviously has the right to show mercy and love to those who He chooses to do so, and unless we are Universalists, and believe that that mercy is simply being shown, but how does ‘mercy’ (and this is why I try to translate it this way in Romans 9), mercy is a verb; it’s an active verb, and now we say ‘have mercy’, because we do not have a verbal form to ‘mercy someone’, but as you know, the verb in Romans 9 is He mercies freely; He chooses those who He mercies, and so it’s not show mercy, in show oneself to be merciful toward someone if they will do something. It is actually mercy someone. And so if we are going to take Romans 11, and say, well, we’re just going to create an equation here, and we’re going to ignore the distinctions that were already made up to this point, and say He’s going to mercy everyone, then that’s the only foundation that I’ve ever seen for Universalism, and I’m not a Universalist and neither are you.” (James White vs. Michael Brown, emphasis mine)
Calvinist paraphrase: “For God has shut up all [of the Calvinistically elect] in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all [of the Calvinistically elect].”
In other words, when Romans 11:32 says that God has shut up “all” in “disobedience,” it must mean all of Calvinism’s elect, because the corresponding phrase states that God will mercy all (which to White means saved), and since only Calvinism’s elect are saved, then Romans 11:32 must mean that God has shut up all of Calvinism’s elect in disobedience so that He may save all of Calvinism’s elect. Thus you have the two distinct Calvinist interpretations of Romans 11:32 by John Calvin and James White.
Question: Why can’t it mean “mercy” in the sense of the provision of Calvary?
Answer: But to a Calvinist, the Atonement is not a provision, but salvation itself, apart from the human choice to receive or reject, which flows from the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement.