In Romans 9 God says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Romans 9 is one of the Calvinists’ favorite chapters. They refer to it often and believe it refers to personal salvation. They use it against Traditionalists or non-Calvinists. Some say Traditionalists have no answer to this obviously Calvinistic Scripture, or that they don‘t believe it. One joked a couple of years ago about how a Traditionalist tore Romans 9 out of his Bible. We have even been accused of not believing in inerrancy because we do not agree with their interpretation of this passage.
The answer to Romans 9, however, is very simple. When referring to Jacob and Esau, God is not speaking of two individuals, but of two nations (see also Genesis 25:23). God is not saying, I’m sending one of you to Heaven and one of you to Hell.
Romans is quoting an Old Testament passage, not from Genesis, but from Malachi (1:2-3), long after Jacob and Esau were dead. Both passages (Romans & Malachi) refer to the nations of Israel and Edom.
Furthermore, love and hate are used differently than they are often used today. Hate is used in the sense of “loved less.” This use of the word hate is seen in Genesis 29:30-31 and Luke 14:26.
This Scripture is not speaking of personal salvation, but of how God elected Israel to be His chosen people and passed over Edom. For example, my song leader can’t preach and I as pastor can’t sing. God gave us different gifts and talents. Does that mean He hates (in our modern day view of hate) one of us and loves the other? No, God loves us both, but chose us for different roles. It has nothing to do with our personal salvation.
Calvinists have made the mistake of saying this chapter is only about personal election, about whether one is sent to Heaven or Hell.
Both sides will have all types of variations and nuances in their interpretation of Romans 9. But my views presented above are certainly not out of the ordinary. A few quotes should prove this true:
“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh first hardened his own heart.”
“All God did was to crystallize the sin that was already in him [Pharaoh]. God did not take a little tender child and say, “I’m going to harden your heart and then I’m going to cast you into Hell.”
On Romans 9 and Jacob and Esau; “God is not talking about two little babies, one born for Heaven and one born for Hell. That’s not what He is saying at all. This is national, not personal.” Later, “God was not talking about salvation. He was simply saying that Israel is going to be His choice, and the descendants of Jacob are going to be His spiritual leaders in the world…Nothing is said here about one twin going to Heaven and the other twin going to Hell.”
On the Scripture, “The vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” “Well, how did they get ripe for destruction? In his word study, Vincent reminds us that this is the middle voice, which means simply that they fitted themselves for destruction. It is not the potter than fits them for destruction. It is the potter who is long-suffering. It is the vessels of wrath who fit themselves for destruction. God never made anybody to go to Hell. God wants people saved. He wants you saved. First Timothy 2:4 speaks of ‘God who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth.’”
-Adrian Rogers, Predestined for Hell? Absolutely Not!, lwf.org.
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated must be interpreted in the sense of nations, not individuals, which is the original reference in the two OT quotations (Genesis 25:23; Malachi 1:2,3). The nations of Israel and Edom are in view, not Jacob and Esau as individual men, whose names occur as eponymous ancestors of the later tribes.” “Moreover, ‘love’ and ‘hate’ are not the grounds of election as we understand these subjective feelings…The emotional terms indicate rather a special function and destiny. Judah, not Edom, was elected for progressive revelation in history. This meaning may be supported by the rendering ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I loved less.’”
-The New Bible Commentary: Revised, Edited by D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans; 1970.
“God is not speaking here about the individual Jacob but about the nation of Jacob (Israel)…The reference here is not to individual election but to the corporate election of a chosen nation – Israel.”
“Regardless of the corporate election of Israel as a nation, each individual had to accept the Messiah in order to be saved.”
“God’s ‘love’ for Jacob and ‘hate’ for Esau is not speaking of those men before they were born, but long after they lived.”
“The Hebrew word for ‘hated’ really means ‘loved less.’”
-Dr. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, Bethany House; 1999, 2010.
“The key to unlocking the mystery of this passage – if ‘mystery’ it may be called – is found in our Lord’s declaration of verse 12: ‘It was said to her, the elder shall serve the younger.’ It ought to be pointed out, and pointed out every strongly, that ‘S-E-R-V-E’ does not spell ‘S-A-L-V-A-T-I-O-N.’”
“As a matter of fact, the whole issue is a national matter which pertains to governments, not a personal matter dealing with the salvation of individuals. This ‘purpose of God according to election’ deals strictly with the descendants of Esau serving the descendants of Jacob! The entire chapter relates to God’s dealing with a nation, Israel, not with
individuals as such.”
-Dr. R. L. Sumner, An Examination of TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism, biblicalevangelist.org; 1972.
“Israel’s election to serve as a chosen people and individual election to salvation for Christians is interwoven in Romans 9-11. Calvinists often do not give adequate attention to the former.”
-Dr. Steve W. Lemke, Whosoever Will, Edited by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke, B&H; 2010.
“Romans 9:13 is a reference to Malachi 1:2-3 and refers to nations (Israel and Edom) and not individual sinners. God does not hate sinners. John 3:16 makes it clear that He loves sinners. The statement here has to do with national election, not individual.”
-Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume I, Victor Books; 1989.
“There is no question here of predestination to Heaven or reprobation to Hell; in fact, eternal issues do not really come in throughout this chapter, although, of course, they naturally follow as the result of the use or abuse of God-given privileges. But we are not told here, or anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to Heaven and another Hell…The passage has entirely to do with privilege here on earth.”
-H. A. Ironside, Romans. Quoted in Whosoever Will, Allen & Lemke.
If you disagree with this interpretation, that is your right. If you disagree I do not believe you are a heretic or leaning toward heresy; we will just disagree.
But the point here is that Traditionalists do have, and have had, an explanation of Romans 9. We don’t ignore it, we believe it and teach it. And it is ridiculous to say because we disagree with a standard Calvinist interpretation that we don’t believe in inerrancy.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, July 8, AD 2012.
This article, as published at Gulf Coast Pastor is found at: