“Esau I Hated”–Does God Hate Sinners?

The following is an excerpt (modified slightly to a “blog post” format) from my paper, “God, the Non-Elect, and Romans 9: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis of Reprobation and Hardening in Romans 9.1-23” (see post; see paper). It comes from an  excursus in the paper titled, “Esau I Hated” based on the language in Romans 9:13.

“Esau I Hated”

For many Christians, the three simple words “Esau I hated” (Rom 9:13) form one of the most puzzling statements in their Bible. Is this actually saying that God literally hated Esau? Many respond negatively by pointing out that Paul’s argument in Rom 9:6-13 concerns election. Consequently, “Jacob I loved” means “Jacob I elected” while “Esau I hated” means “Esau I rejected.”[1] Given that Paul’s argument in Rom 9:6-13 concerns election, this interpretation is without a doubt what Paul is teaching as he quotes Malachi 1:2-3. This fact also helps distinguish between God’s action in election and His attitude towards the non-elect. In other words, if “hate” simply refers to God’s attitude towards individuals due to their sin, Rom 9:13 would say, “I hated both Jacob and Esau,” for both are equally depraved. But the text shocks the reader with “Jacob I loved” indicating that behind “love” is the act of election and therefore behind “hate” is the reality of rejection.

But even so “hate” cannot be simply hyperbolic, and as such be reduced to “loved less” or “loved differently,”[2] or anthropomorphic,[3] for the context of Malachi 1:1-5 shows that God had genuine indignation and disfavor towards Edom.[4] But at the same time, the anthropomorphism suggestion hints at a very significant fact about the nature of God’s hate. Due to drastic differences between God’s nature and character and man’s, one must realize that God’s hatred is a holy and righteous hate infinitely different from the hate that sinful humans experience and possess. Therefore, although humans may struggle to grasp and define the nature of this “holy hate,”[5] they can yet affirm its reality.

But the reality of this hatred and the implication of Romans 9:13 (“Jacob I loved and Esau I didn’t”[6]) begs the question, does God solely love the elect? Rom 9:13 does imply that God has a unique love for the elect—His bride, sheep, children, those whom He foreknew and foreloved—not known by the non-elect. However, limiting this unique salvific love to the elect does not negate God’s general love for all mankind as manifested by His gracious acts towards them (i.e., Mat 5:44-45; Lk 6:33) such as calling them to repentance (Eze 33:11). As Bunyan well summarizes, Reprobation does not

alienate the heart of God from the reprobate, nor tie him up from loving, favoring, or blessing of him; no, not from blessing of him with the gift of Christ, of faith, of hope, and many other benefits. It only denieth them that benefit, that will infallibly bring them to eternal life, and that in despite of all opposition; it only denieth so to bless them as the elect themselves are blessed.[7]

Further Verses on God’s Hatred to Study

Lev 20:23; Lev 26:30; Ps 5:5; Ps 11:5-6; Ps 26:5; Ps 53:5; Ps 73:20; Ps 78:59; Ps 106:40; Prov 6:16, 19; Prov 22:14; Isa 61:8; Lam 2:6; Jer 12:8; Hos 9:15.

Notes

[1] For example, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), III, xxii, 6; Douglas J. Moo, “The Epistles to the Romans,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 587 C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 480.

[2] This author admits that “hate” may be somewhat hyperbolic and that this explanation is not necessarily fraudulent due to what might be a similar idiomatic use of “hate” in Gen 29:33 cf. Gen 29:30; Lk 14:26; Mat 6:24; Jn 12:25. See Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)312; Robert H. Mounce, “Romans,” The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, Vol. 27 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 198-199; William G. T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1978), 286.

[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans (Columbus: Wartburg Press, 1945), 605.

[4] “Esau was not merely excluded from what Jacob enjoyed but was the object of a displeasure. . . .” (Murray, “Romans,” 22-23). Also Schreiner, “Romans,” 501. And even if one explains away “hated” in Rom 9:13 as “rejected,” he must still deal with the original statement in Mal 1:2-3 as well as several other texts that speak of God’s hatred towards people (see the above list verses at the bottom of this post).

[5] A term used by John Murray, which he says describes a hate that “belongs to the transcendent realm of God’s sovereignty for which there is no human analogy” (John Murray, “The Epistles to the Romans,” Vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 23). “We must not predicate of this divine hate those unworthy features which belong to hate as it is exercised by us sinful men” (22).

[6] As Murray says, “Esau could not be the object of the love borne to Jacob for, if so, all distinction would be obliterated, and what the text clearly indicates is the radical distinction” (Murray, “Romans, 22). Also Schreiner, “Romans,” 500-501.

[7] John Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offer, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 338.

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2 thoughts on ““Esau I Hated”–Does God Hate Sinners?

  1. Thanks Aaron. Please feel free to check out the paper and share it and this post with others. The link for the paper can be found at the top of this post or by clicking on the picture with the text, “Reprobation and Hardening.”

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