Does God Hate the Unborn?

January 27, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
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To listen to a PODCAST on Romans 9: CLICK HERE
For a full Exegetical Commentary on Romans 9: CLICK HERE

Jacob I loved and Esau I hated:

The term “hate” is sometimes an expression of choosing one over another, and does not literally mean “hatred.” For instance, Jesus told Peter, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

No commentator worth his salt would suggest the term “hate” in Luke 14 is literal, otherwise he would be hard pressed to explain scripture’s other teachings about loving and honor our parents. Instead, this passage is understood to mean that man must choose following God’s will over the will of even the most beloved in one’s life. Could the same hermeneutical principle be applied toward understanding God choice of Jacob over Esau? Certainly, it could. God clearly chose one over the other for a noble purpose (Jacob became the lineage through whom the Christ would come).jandE

Secondly, even if we were to accept that God literally hated Esau wouldn’t it be nice to know why? God has a purpose for everything He does and though He certainly is not obligated to explain Himself to any of us, He does typically reveal His motives through Scripture. He wants His friends to be aware of His work and the purposes behind His decisions (John 15:15). So, what do we know about God’s motive for “hating” Esau? Is there a cause or a purpose behind this decision that is revealed in Scripture? Does God arbitrarily decide to hate some people and love others? Is that Paul’s meaning in this text?

The answer to these questions can be found by unpacking the scriptures Paul refers to in Romans 9. Let’s take a look at each one:

Before Birth

A hasty reading of Romans 9 could lead some to think God always hated Esau leaving the impression God’s hatred has no evident cause. This is simply untrue.  In verses 10-12 Paul quotes from the first book of the bible in reflecting on Jacob’s choice to carry the lineage of the Messiah and then in verse 13, Paul quotes from the last book of the Old Testament to reflect on the Edomite’s (Esau’s lineage) opposition to Israel.  Verse 11 clearly states that God had a purpose for Israel before the twins were born, but not hatred for an unborn child.

“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth” – Rom 9:11

Nowhere does it state that God hated Esau before he was born. God chose to keep his promise to Abraham through Jacob, not Esau, before they were born, but hatred is never spoken of as being present before their birth. That is presumed, or read into the text, by some, but the Scripture simply never states this.

Also, God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not kept as a part of “God’s secret counsel,” as many Calvinists teach regarding individual election. Calvinists argue that one of the reasons we must evangelize all men is because we do not know who God has individually selected, yet are we to believe God told the twin’s mother that He hated her son before he was even born? God told Rebecca of His elective purpose in an audible voice (Gen. 25:22-23), but nothing is mentioned regarding God’s hating her son.

How horrible would that be? Imagine God telling you that he hated your son before he was even born! It is unthinkable. Upon reading the text carefully it is easily discerned that God only told her that the older will serve the younger:

“When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” – Rom 9:10-12

Clearly, the prophecy was not about hatred or a curse, it was about God’s elective purpose for Israel. Like anyone else, if Esau had chosen to bless Jacob then he too would have been blessed. God promises to bless those who bless the nation selected to bring the promised One (Gen. 12:3). [For example, we know that Lot was declared righteous, though not chosen to carry the lineage. Lot, like Esau after him, produced a linage that ended up attacking Israel and invoking God’s wrath (hatred), yet Lot (the individual) was saved through faith. The choice (election) being addressed is God’s choice of the nation and individuals from that nation through which the promise would be fulfilled. It is not about God effectually choosing to save some and damn others. ]

When and Why Did God Express Hatred for Esau?

Not only did God not express his hatred for Esau prior to his birth, He did not reveal this until after Esau was dead. Both of the twins were long gone before the house of Esau invoked God’s declaration of hate. The prophecy against Edom, known to be the house of Esau (Gen 36:1, 43), is found in the book of Obadiah. Here we find the true cause of God’s hatred toward these people:

“For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.” – Obadiah 1:10

Malachi 1:2-3 is the passage Paul references in the hotly contested ninth chapter of Romans. The original passage states:

“I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” – Mal 1:2-3

Malachi wrote his prophecy hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau lived on earth. Both prophets, Malachi and Obadiah, reflect on Edom’s attacks against Israel throughout their writings giving a very clear cause for God’s declared hatred for Esau, which was really reflective of his posterity the Edomites.

So, it is clear that in Romans 9 Paul was simply summarizing this historical account by first speaking of God’s prophecy for the twins and the nations they represent and then revealing the final outcome of Edom’s rebellion and God’s subsequent declaration of hatred. Never once is God’s hatred expressed toward an unborn individual or even against someone who was still living.

Please think about this objectively. Is the concept of God hating people before they are born even reflective of the God revealed in scripture? Does it sound like something Jesus would do or teach? Are we to believe that the God who calls us to love our enemies hates the unborn?

I John 4:8 teaches, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Westboro-Baptist-Church_500_333_70Does not your heart stir with righteous anger toward people like those from the Westboro Baptist Church who declare God’s hatred for everyone? Yet, how is that much different from making the claim that God hates an unborn baby–and then deriving a theological system from such teachings which suggests He also hates most of humanity prior to their even being born? Does the spirit inside you resonate at all with such abhorrent claims?

What is Paul attempting to demonstrate by quoting from these ancient texts?  He is proving that God’s purpose in electing Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6) by showing that even twin brothers are not both selected to fulfill the promise of bringing the blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3).  Paul is illustrating how there have always been people within the natural lineage (such as the Edomites) who have opposed God’s purposes.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that there would be natural born Israelites who oppose Paul, just as the Edomites opposed Israel throughout history.

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Rick Patrick

Leighton,
Thank you for this crystal clear explanation of God’s “hatred” for Esau. It has always baffled me how many people attempt to tease New Testament salvation doctrine out of an Old Testament narrative that does not really address the issues of repentance and faith at all, but rather God’s unfolding plan for Israel. That Jacob was chosen while Esau was not is unmistakable. The question is, “Chosen for what?” Salvation itself? Or to be God’s instrument through whose lineage the Messiah would come to bring salvation to all those who repent and believe?

Your essay also points clearly to the major weakness in High Calvinism, namely God’s hatred for the reprobate baby, poured out in wrath before the foundation of the world, such that the baby possesses absolutely no chance of coming to Christ at all, for God has predetermined that it should be so, and no atonement has been made for such an infant. Westboro, indeed. What a horrific perspective denying the true nature of God’s love for everyone.

doug sayers

Thanks Leighton. We appreciate your willingness to keep pressing these issues. It is not a glorious job but needs to be done as long as the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible reprobation lingers.

It’s pretty hard to believe that the biblical God would hate and condemn someone before they had done no evil. It’s even harder to believe that He would hate and condemn someone for “nothing.” But these are your options if you want to be really Reformed.

David R. Brumbelow

It makes a world of difference that God chose Jacob over Esau for service, not salvation.

Westboro Baptist Church has been strongly Calvinistic.
I’m certainly not saying that all Calvinists are like Westboro; just find this fact interesting.
David R. Brumbelow

Michael Battenfield

I appreciate the effort to dig into this specific issue, but find the actual work to be less than intellectually or texturally honest. I am not an “adjunct professor of Theology”, just a small church pastor with a Masters Degree from a small conservative Texas-based, fully-credited, seminary.

I simply prefer to begin with the text and end with the text. What does it say on the page, in-context? I agree that “hate” can be interpreted in more than one way. The problem is rooted in the choice of the word “hate” in the first place. With a wide range of terms that could have been used in Scripture (and indeed, were used), why is “hate” the term used in pretty much every significant English translation? The Greek word translated here, ?????, is a very special term – one that quite literally means to despise, detest, or “hate”. It isn’t some general, generic term that could be thought of in much more mild terms such as “liked less”, or to be the subject of not being the “preferred choice” as the author, Brother Flowers, seems to be saying.

And to utilize images related to the Westboro “Baptist” cult of unregenerate, hate-filled, hate-mongers is the climax of intellectual dishonesty. But this article is just another that reminds readers of Leighton Flowers’ war on Calvinism and all things “Reformed”.

And David Brumbelow, It most certainly is “interesting” that you too would associate this with the Westboro cult. I would wonder how many “Calvinists” you personally know. Some of the most outward-focused, neighbor-loving, Christ-centered ministry going on in this nation is led by those who hold to Reformed theology and/or would not be offended by being labeled “Calvinist”.

    David (NAS) Rogers

    The Greek word used here is the verb ????? and the well-known Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon classifies its usage here:

    “to be disinclined to, disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment”

      David (NAS) Rogers

      Unfortunately, the site replaced the Greek verb with ?????. Transliterated it is miseo.

      Michael Battenfield

      Interesting, as nearly every other lexicon mirrors the definition I posted.

        David (NAS) Rogers

        May I ask which lexicons?

        Andrew Barker

        This is Strong’s Greek for the mix.

        The general interpretation has always been comparative as far as I’m aware.

        Lk 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate (3404 /misé?, ‘love less’ than the Lord) his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (NASU).

        [Note the comparative meaning of 3404 (misé?) which centers in moral choice, elevating one value over another.]

        David (NAS) Rogers

        Thayer’s lexicon (1889) makes this note for the verb “miseo”:

        Not a few interpreters have attributed to misei/n in Gen. 29:31 (cf. Gen. 29:30); Deut. 21:15f; Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:26; 16:13; (John 12:25); Rom. 9:13, the signification to love less, to postpone in love or esteem, to slight, through oversight of the circumstance that `the Orientals, in accordance with their greater excitability, are accustomed both to feel and to profess love and hate where we Occidentals, with our cooler temperament, feel and express nothing more than interest in, or disregard and indifference to a thing’; Fritzsche, Commentary on Romans, ii., p. 304; cf. Rückert, Magazin f. Exegese u. Theologie des N. T., p. 27ff*

    Les

    Just wondering what you all think about verses like these? “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.” There are many others. Thoughts?

Leighton Flowers

Michael,

Thank you for expressing your views and allowing me to clarify my intentions.

(1) Just as in Luke 14:26 the term ‘hate’ is used in most English translations shouldn’t imply a literal hatred (despising) of one’s parents, so too it doesn’t need carry that meaning in Romans 9. That point was made in the article. The idea of choosing one over an other for the more honorable use seems clear to me and many biblical exegetes of this text.

(2) I did not specifically compare Westboro Baptists to High Calvinists in my article, but instead used Westboro’s proclamation of divine hatred as an example of the natural repulsion the church feels when someone dogmatically claims God’s hatred people. I would agree with you that the church should in no way be associated with that, which is why I’m making the argument against an interpretation which suggests God does hate the unborn for no apparent reason except His own self praise. I’m glad we agree that view of God is repulsive. So, let’s work together to get as far away from it as we can, ok?

(3) Do you write threads on Sproul’s, Piper’s, MacArthur’s et al web sites and accuse them of a war on Traditionalism? Do you make this accusation against sites like monergism.com or the host of other sites dedicated to promoting Calvinism? I doubt it. Think about why that might be and maybe you can view things with more objectivity in the future.

Blessings.

David R. Brumbelow

Michael Battenfield,
You might be surprised at the Calvinists I know.
Some of them I consider close friends.
Some I greatly respect.
We just disagree on some points; sometimes strongly.

Perhaps you should read my last sentence again, and not take it so personally.
David R. Brumbelow

Mary

I just had this thought this morning in my Bible reading….. In one of the Psalms – I am away from my Bible and study notes right now but just stick with me here it’s not actually relevant which Psalm…..there was a reference to “Jacob” but the Psalm wasn’t actually speaking about Jacob the individual but about Israel the nation and my thoughts wandered to the fact that the Bible over and over uses the names of individuals when referring to nations and then I wondered if any of those texts were ever used to try to speak about the individual whose name was used instead of focusing on the context of the individual name being used as a replacement for naming the nation or people group. It seems to me only in Romans 9 where Paul is using the Micah reference which is clearly speaking of Israel and Edom does anyone try to go back and claim oh no everywhere else in the Bible where this happened the reference was to nations but here we need to read it as these two individuals.

    Mary

    I referred to Micah when I should said Malachi.

    Andrew Barker

    Mary: Just a little aside. You comments are spot on, of course, regarding the use of Jacob and Esau in Rom 9 with reference to the nations as opposed to individuals. There is only one other passage in the NT where these two are mentioned which is Heb 11:20. Interestingly, Isaac is seen blessing both of them in regard to future events. It would appear that if God did hate Esau before birth, he failed to communicate this message to Isaac!

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