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Read Introduction to Romans


20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”


No person can challenge the decisions of the Creator.

20 But indeed [on the contrary], O man,

Paul set “man” in contrast to God the Creator. There is a strong antithesis here between finite man and the infinite God. The contrast is ridiculous by comparison.

This is a rebuke of people who do not have an eternal God in perspective. There is no way that God can give an exhaustive answer to the creature because His counsels take place from an eternal perspective. Man has to function within his creatureliness. God has the right to decide whether He wants to save by the cross.

who are you [emphatic] to reply against [answer back to] God?

Finite man with his limited perspective on reality does not have the capacity to confront an infinite God.

Paul alluded to Isaiah 29:16 (Septuagint) in this verse, and maybe also to Isaiah 49:5 (Septuagint), where Isaiah spoke to the nation Israel as being the clay, with God the potter. Thus, Paul carried on the continuing thought of God’s scheme of salvation for a national entity. The antecedence of the metaphor “the potter” is national.

Is 29:16, Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Is 45:9, “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?”

Paul denied that God can be at fault in hardening. Humans are responsible for their own actions. His answer emphasizes the finiteness of the human being. It is presumptuous for finite man to think that he can run the universe. Man does not have the capacity to call God to account. God has the right to operate the universe as He deems best.

The question here is legitimate, but man is no position to ask it because of his finiteness.

Will the thing formed say to him who formed it,

The finite creature cannot challenge the Creator because of a capacity problem. The creature is fashioned with limited powers of ability.

“Formed” here has to do with God’s work in creation. If God created the universe, He has certain prerogatives. He has the right or freedom to operate as the governor of the universe. The potter has freedom to do with the clay as he pleases.

“Why have you made me like this?”

The creature cannot complain about God’s creative work and by implication he cannot complain about how God has set up the system of salvation.


The creature has a capacity problem in trying to determine the justice of God.


Little man has the temerity to set himself up against God. What arrogance! On the other hand, God’s purpose began before creation of the universe and runs through His entire providence of creation. Is pint-sized man going to put himself as an arbiter of what God does? Man does not have the capacity to evaluate God’s justice. Man needs to affirm with Job that he is finite and depraved:

Job 42:6, “Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”