Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Romans 9:13

Did God really love Jacob and hate Esau? According to many Christians, that’s exactly what Romans 9:13 teaches. But is that really what this verse is about?

I have contemplated writing this post for a while now. It can be very frustrating to hear people misuse the Bible. Some of the time it is done by non-Christians who have never bothered to consider what the passage actually teaches, but they are looking for a proof text to support some behavior or cause. However, in many cases, it is done by well-meaning Christians who have either misread the text or misunderstood the context of a given passage. The goal of this series on misused Bible verses is to examine what the text of Scripture is really teaching.

There are some topics that I tend to avoid on my blog for various reasons, which is why I put this one off for so long. But after hearing or reading several Christians misuse this verse in just the last few weeks, I decided it was time to enter the fray.

Commonly Misused Bible Verse #8: Romans 9:13

One of the most common debates among Christians centers on the topics known as Calvinism and Arminianism. Whenever believers debate this topic, Romans 9:13 is almost certain to be mentioned in support of the Calvinist side. This post is not designed to directly address that debate, but it will show why this popular verse is often misused in the midst of that debate. Please understand, I am not denying the doctrine of election, but I want to challenge the reader to take a closer look at the context of this verse before citing it in support of one’s position.

What is so controversial about Romans 9:13? Let’s take a look.

Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:13, NET)

That seems pretty straightforward, so what’s the big deal? Well, for Christians who believe that God loves everyone, this would be a pretty strong argument against their position. Does the Bible teach that God loves everyone? It seems to do just that in one of the most popular verses. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The way in which John uses the word “world” (Greek kosmon) would imply that God loves everyone in this world. Also, since we are supposed to imitate God, and we are commanded to love our enemies, it would seem that God also loves His enemies, at least to some degree. If that is true, how could He hate Esau? Is this a contradiction? Or are we just missing something?

Hate Doesn’t Always Mean Hate

Some would solve this dilemma by noting that love and hate are not necessarily mutually exclusive, even though we typically think of these words in this way. While I would agree with them on that point, it still doesn’t quite answer the question since there is a strong contrast drawn between God’s positive emotion for one party and His negative emotion toward the other.

There are at least two big problems for those who use Romans 9:13 to say that God hated Esau. First, the word translated as “hate” is the Greek root miseo. It is translated as “hate” in many other places, including Luke 14:26, where Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”

I agree with the traditional understanding of this verse that Jesus was drawing a contrast between the love we have for Him and the love we have for our family members, so He employed hyperbolic language to emphasize the point. Essentially, He was teaching that we need to love family members less than we love Him. This makes perfect sense since elsewhere the Bible commands us to love family members.

One of the problems for those who like to cite Romans 9:13 to say that God hated Esau is that the other side could easily respond by saying that God simply loved him less than Jacob. After all, there are other places where this love/hate language is used, but the “hate” doesn’t really mean “hate,” (i.e., despising the person). For example, the same love/hate comparisons are made in Deuteronomy 21:15–17, and there the word “hate” (or “unloved”) refers to one who is loved less (see also Genesis 29:30–31).

The biggest problem for those who use Romans 9:13 to talk about God hating Esau is that this verse is not even about Esau. Yep, you read that right. This verse is not about Esau, and it isn’t even about Jacob. Wait a minute! Have I lost my mind? How can this not be about Jacob and Esau? It’s so clear. Actually, if we look at the context, it’s so clear that it is not about Jacob and Esau. For those who have followed this series, you know we need to examine the context, so let’s back up and see what Paul was talking about.

Paul’s Unceasing Anguish

In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul laid out a powerful explanation of the gospel message. Chapters 1–3 explain that we are all sinful and that we need a Savior. Romans 4 shows that salvation has always been by grace through faith. Chapters 5–7 address some of the implications of salvation, such as the facts that we have peace with God, we should no longer continue in sin, and that while we are freed from the Law, we still struggle with sin. Chapter 8 is a thorough explanation of the security of our salvation, ending with the idea that nothing in all of creation could ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. Having laid out the case for salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, Paul turns his attention to something weighing heavily on his mind.

Here are the opening verses of Romans 9:

I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 9:1–5, NET)

What could cause Paul such unceasing anguish of heart? It was the response (or better, the lack of response) of the Jews to the gospel message. In Romans 1:16, Paul explained that the gospel went first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. That was his traditional approach. Upon entering a city, Paul first went to the synagogue to preach to the Jews before ever going to the Gentiles (see Acts 17:1–15 and 18:1–4).

Now that the gospel had gone out to the Gentiles, did that mean that God was finished with the Jews? Would God’s promises to the Jews fail? That is what Paul spends three entire chapters addressing. He begins chapter 10 by writing, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth” (Romans 10:1–2, NET). He opens chapter 11 by writing, “So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew!” (Romans 11:1–2, NET). Without space to go into all the details of Paul’s answer, look at how he wraps up the discussion near the end of Romans 11.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion;
he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.”
In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of the God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! (Romans 11:25–33, NET)

In other words, at some point in the future, the Jews (who are currently enemies of the gospel) will turn to God and be saved, just as promised in Zechariah 12–14 and elsewhere. Many have claimed that the Israel being saved in verse 26 is the church, but that cannot be. First, Paul was writing about what would happen to the Jewish people, so it makes sense that he would conclude the discussion with the great news about the Jews. Second, he wrote this letter to the church—those who believe the gospel—so why would he say that the church is an enemy of the gospel? It just doesn’t make any sense in the context to try to make “Israel” mean the church.

Two Nations, Two Peoples

So let’s get back to Romans 9:13. If it isn’t about Jacob and Esau, what is it about? In verses 6–9, Paul explains that not everyone who is a descendant of Israel (remember Jacob’s name was changed to Israel) are truly considered to be part of Israel, just as not all of Abraham’s descendants are considered to be part of the promises, since it was only Isaac who was the son of promise (and not Ishmael or any of Abraham’s sons with Keturah). Beginning in verse 10, we come to our specific context.

Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac—even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)—it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10–13, NET)

Paul cites part of Genesis 25:23, where God said to Rebekah: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (NET). Read it again. This verse is about “two nations” (“two peoples”).

In keeping with his discussion about Israel throughout Romans 9–11, Paul cites a verse that is clearly about the two nations (not individuals) that would come from Rebekah. This was not about Jacob and Esau, but about the nations that would come from them: the Israelites and Edomites. Does this interpretation fit the rest of the context? It’s the only one that does because that is exactly what the next citation is about. The quotation about loving Jacob (Israel) and hating Esau is from Malachi 1:2–4.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?”
Says the Lord.
“Yet Jacob I have loved;
But Esau I have hated,
And laid waste his mountains and his heritage
For the jackals of the wilderness.”
Even though Edom has said…(Malachi 1:2–4, NKJV)

Malachi was written more than 12 centuries after Jacob and Esau had died. But for the millennium leading up to Malachi’s time, God had shown love to Jacob’s descendants (the Israelites) who were occasionally faithful to Him, but he “hated” (loved less) Esau’s descendants (the Edomites, a very wicked nation throughout the years). While Genesis 23:25 pointed forward to the relationship between the Edomites and Israelites, Malachi 1:2–4 looked back on God’s treatment of them during the intervening centuries.

In this classic painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1624), Jacob is showing bowing before Esau when they were reunited after 20 years. The Bible never tells us that Esau served Jacob.

In this classic painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1624), Jacob bows before Esau when they were reunited after 20 years. The Bible never tells us that Esau served Jacob.

I’ve explained this to people before, and several have responded with something like, “Okay, so the Old Testament passages were about the nations, but in the New Testament, Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was “repurposing” these verses to talk about Jacob and Esau.” That’s a nice try, but it doesn’t work. If that’s what Paul was doing, then he was wrong. Look again at Romans 9:12. Paul said that Rebekah was told that the older nation (Esau/Edom) would serve the younger (Jacob/Israel).

Guess what—if this verse is supposed to be about the individuals named Esau and Jacob then it is false, because Esau (the older brother) is never shown to have served Jacob (the younger brother). Never. If anything, it was the other way around. Jacob fled from his older brother because he had stolen Esau’s blessing. When they came back together after 20 years apart (Genesis 33), Jacob repeatedly bowed down before Esau, called himself Esau’s “servant,” and even called Esau “my lord” four times! However, the nation that came from Esau (the Edomites) did serve the nation that came from Jacob (Israel) on several occasions, especially from the days of David until the days of King Jehoram, son of Ahab.

Conclusion

I am not opposing the doctrine of election, since the Bible clearly talks about it (although I would disagree with the way some people define it), and I am not saying that this passage is not about election—it is. What I am saying is that Romans 9:13 is not about the election of the individual named Jacob and the non-election of the individual named Esau. It is not about God loving Jacob and hating Esau. It is citation of Malachi 1:2–3 as part of Paul’s discussion on God’s plan for the Jewish people and the context shows that God elected Israel (the nation) and not Edom before their respective progenitors were ever born.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.

Comments

Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Romans 9:13 — 30 Comments

  1. Brother Tim,

    I truly appreciate your post and how you explain yourself, but I think you did miss the point that Apostle Paul made. Yes, miseo was the word used in Romans 9:13 as well as Luke 14:26. However, miseo is also used in Matthew 6:24 where Jesus said you can not serve two masters and that you will have to love one and hate the other. So, if what you said is true in regards to Romans 9:13, then we are to love Satan less than we do God.

    God hates all workers of iniquity, as that is what is said Psalm 5:5. People say that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, and that is good bumper sticker theology, but not found in the bible. Yes, God hated Esau and not just loved him less than Jacob.

    • Hi Willis,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond and for the kind words.
      There are a couple of problems with your argument. First, you did not accurately explain Matthew 6:24. While I would agree with you that we are not to “love Satan less” than we love God, Jesus did not contrast God and Satan in that passage. Here’s what He said:

      “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).

      The word “mammon” is the Aramaic word for riches, as seen by the way other Bibles translate the word: “wealth” (NASB), “money” (NET, ESV, NIV, HCSB). The point Jesus was making is that you cannot have a divided loyalty when it comes to serving Him. He must be first. Furthermore, we are not called to hate money or wealth. God blesses some people in that way. But we are certainly not supposed to focus on it and make it a top priority in life. So this passage actually supports my point about Romans 9:13 since we are to love money less than we love the Lord. So no, God did not hate Esau because the verse isn’t even about Esau. He “loved less” Edom, the nation that came from Esau.
      Concerning Psalm 5:5, I agree that God hates “all workers of iniquity.” Of course, this is contrasted in the psalm with the way He blesses the righteous (v. 12). But notice that His hatred of them has to do with what they have done (“workers of iniquity,” “those who speak falsehood,” “the bloodthirsty and deceitful man”). So this verse certainly does not prove or give strong support to the idea that God hated Esau before Esau had even been born.
      Also, as I pointed out in the post, love and hate are not mutually exclusive. We know that God also cares for the wicked and desires for them to turn from their wicked ways. Here is what He commanded Ezekiel to proclaim to the rebellious house of Israel:

      “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

      The New Testament tells us that God so loved the world (John 3:16), and there is absolutely no justifiable way to make “world” there refer to only the elect. In the very next verse, Jesus used the same word three times: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
      Paul told Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3).
      Based on these and many, many other passages of Scripture, if I could use a modern colloquialism, God has a love/hate relationship with sinners. He does love them and He wants them to be saved, but He also hates them for what they do and His wrath abides on them. They need to turn to Him in faith to be saved.

  2. Brother Tim I read the explanation you gave at the beginning and I read almost all the interactions or rather answering the question you have been asked. It just happened to be at the right moment for I had been asked by someone recently. Though I understood it enough to give answers to myself I was unable to explain it to the person who asked me this question, well you gave me a better understanding so that next time I want stammer. Offcourse I would like you to elaborate on one thing related to the above question. How do you explain the difference of to be chosen and to be elected do they have something in common?

  3. Was Isaac aware of God’s declaration to Rebekka regarding Jacob inheriting the promise of first blessing? Did he scheme to bless Esau or was he simply following the traditional plan?
    A study I’m doing refers to Isaac as scheming to bless Esau and I don’t see it that way? Can you give me your insight here? Thank you.

    • Hi Patricia,

      That’s an interesting question because the Bible doesn’t come right out and use that terminology about Isaac scheming to bless Esau, but there are some hints that he may have been doing that. We can’t be sure that he was aware of God’s words to Rebekah, although it seems unlikely that she would keep this to herself. Esau married two Hittite women when he was 40 years old (Gen. 26:34–35), but Jacob doesn’t get married for at least another 30 years. So it doesn’t seem like Isaac is trying very hard at all to make sure that his younger son would get married and have children. Also, the blessing that Isaac mistakenly gave Jacob included the words, “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you” (Gen. 27:29). It seems like he intended to go directly against the words spoken to Rebekah in Gen. 25:23. We know that Esau was his favorite (Gen. 25:28). Then when he discovered that Jacob had deceived him, he trembled exceedingly (Gen. 27:33).
      I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it, but I think a pretty good case can be made that Isaac was aware of the words to Rebekah, but because of his favoritism of Esau, he tried to go against them. I hope this helps.

  4. It still leaves me with a big question. Romans 9 v16 scares me. I have walked always on the belief that I am the daughter of the most high, therefore I’m loved by him. But this scriptures says “maybe not “?

    I choose to believe the first.

    • Hi Olga,
      While we should heed Paul’s teaching to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), Romans 9:16 should not leave you fearing that you may not belong to Him. Unfortunately, so many modern interpreters have botched Romans 9–11 by turning it into a passage about God’s election for individual Christians, and yet it has nothing to do with that. The context is all about Israel and God’s plan for them now that the church has been established and the message sent out to the Gentiles.
      In John 5:24, Jesus made it extremely clear that we can have confidence in our salvation. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” And 1 John 5:13 says that we can know that we have eternal life. Have you placed your faith in Christ alone to save you from your sins? If so, you are saved and do not need to fear being rejected by Him.

  5. Thank you Tim for your insight. I was reading Romans 9 this morning and when I got to 13-19, I was quite disturbed. I’ve read this before and still in my heart, I couldn’t find peace with it. I knew there had to be an explaination. I know when it comes to understanding scripture, it is not of a personal understanding
    (2 peter 1:20) but of the leading of the Holy spirit. I also know while reading the scripture, there can be many different meanings as you have described. Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom, two nations. When I read the Bible, I ask God to reveal to me what He wants me to know and understand and He will do so and I know the word is alive for a moment of answers we need at a specific time, however, I do believe there are those times when He wants us to dive more deeply into study and do our own research to finding answers as I did this morning in finding my answer for these verses. The Holy Spirit in me agrees with you, Pharoah refused to let the people go, he was given several opportunities to do right, only then did God hardened it the more to prove His power, God can’t say He loved the world and then just send His son for some of us, He would be showing favortism and scripture says He is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11)so thank you, I’m glad everyone has free will and choice because we all have families and friends out there we are concerned for, if I felt God predestined any of us to be lost, how then should we pray for them? Its common scence. Blessings

  6. So does this mean every seed of Esau will go to hell? I thought Christ died on the cross to nix all sin etc? If one was from Esau down generations…are they predisposed to hell even if the have faith in Christ??

    • No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t mean that everyone descended from Jacob is saved and it doesn’t mean that all non-Israelites are unsaved. That isn’t the point of the passage. Paul was laying out the case that God elected Israel as His special people, but he specifically states at the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10 that not all of them believed.

  7. Okay, to be honest, I’m only here because of the WBC. I was watching some video of then being interviewed while protesting and their shirt said “GOD HATES FAGS” and then Romans 9:13 under it. (I know, something to get real concerned about) and after reading multiple different interpretations of the passage and it’s meaning, yours was the only one that I could understand. But i’m just sitting here dumb founded, because no matter who I ask or has answered this question, it has nothing to do with Homosexuality. Just wondering what you thought.

    • Hi Sam,
      I certainly cannot speak for that despicable group, but I have an idea why they would use this verse. The Westboro Baptist clan holds to a form of hyper-Calvinism, so they use this verse to say that God loves believers, but He hates those who do not believe. In this case, they use it to say that He hates homosexuals. Of course, a major flaw in their “logic” is that the reason they are homosexual is because they were predestined before the world began to be this way and could not be anything different. In other words, God made them this way and then hates them for it. I don’t agree with this view of God because I don’t believe the Bible teaches this, as my post indicates, and I believe this idea attacks God’s justice.
      I have to add that it wouldn’t be fair to lump the vast majority of Calvinists in with this group. I know many Calvinists who would never act like this group or endorse their actions.
      Hope this helps.

  8. Hey Tim!

    While we disagree about other parts of Romans 9, you handled this very well! It was great to see you last week and thanks again for the tour. It was the favorite part of our day!!

  9. Romans 9:13 is clearly about salvation and the electing grace of God. What happened to verses 15-24 of Romans 9? Did you bother to read them? We know clearly from other books of the Bible that God is the One who predestines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. See Ephesians 1:4-11, Proverbs 16:4, etc.

    • Carmen,
      Obviously, I read verses 15–24, and they don’t mean what you think they mean. If you think this passage simply has to do with individuals and not the nation of Israel, then I would ask you, “What happened to verses 1–12 of Romans 9, and all of chapters 10 and 11 where Paul is clearly talking about the Jews? Did you bother to read them?”
      The potter and clay analogy goes right back to Jeremiah 18, where God tells the prophet that Israel is like a clay pot in His hands and He can do what He wants with it. However, if Israel turns from its wickedness then God will relent from bringing disaster on it. The only example Paul gives that might be about individuals is when he mentions Pharaoh, but even Pharaoh had numerous opportunities to repent. After hardening his own heart multiple times, God finally hardened it.
      If you are going to adopt the position you set forth, then you have just forced contradictions into the text because Esau never served Jacob. Paul does not use the term “election” in the same way as folks who hold to a Reformed soteriology. A close look at how this word is used in the New Testament shows that it has to do with the Jewish people in relation to the Gentile believers. The best work on this topic that I know of was a dissertation written by a friend of mine. It can be found here: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/doctoral/740/. You can listen to him discuss it over a two-part podcast. Part one is found here: http://moralapologetics.com/podcast-dr-chad-thornhill-on-election-moral-performance-culpability-and-the-character-of-god/.
      I don’t have a problem with predestination, but God does not predestine someone to hell or heaven apart from that person’s own volition. Predestination and free will are not contradictory concepts—they are complementary.

      • Tim,
        My husband and I have believed what you are saying but now we have an explanation. We appreciate your courage to post this topic. Thank you.

  10. It a wonderful privilege to be part of this.
    I will only comment that; according to Gen 25:23, it was said that two nation are in her womb, those two nation was born and named Jacob and Esau…
    GNT stated in 23b; give birth to two rival peoples.
    Therefore, the name itself stands for peoples ( nation)

  11. Tim, thanks for the gracious tone in all of your posts, whether responding to me or anyone else on your blog.

    I continue to believe that Paul is discussing individuals in Romans 9, just as much or more so than nations. As I cited earlier, Paul writes, “10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad . . .” Jacob and Esau were ‘children’ who were ‘conceived’ and were ‘not yet born.’ It’s difficult for me to see how these references are not to individuals.

    Regarding ‘the elder shall serve the younger’: You say that Esau never served Jacob. You seem to be arguing from silence. Scripture never tells us definitively that “Esau never served Jacob.” We don’t know every detail of their lives, and it’s possible that there was a time when that happened. Not only that, but when an older brother sells his birthright to his younger brother, in a way he does become his servant.

    Further evidence of Paul’s discussion of individuals: After mentioning the hardening of Pharaoh, he writes, “18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” The hardening certainly referred to an individual (Pharaoh). So why should the earlier part of this same sentence refer to nations and not individuals?

    Paul wrote in v. 6, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” So some individuals who are ethnically Jewish are not truly God’s children, while others are. The distinction here is between individuals who have faith in God and those who don’t. The fact that they all belong to the physical nation of Israel does not matter, in terms of their relationship to God.

    Regarding John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” If Jesus’ mission was to save the world, and ‘world’ here must mean ‘every person ever born,’ then He did not accomplish his mission, since some people are forever lost. Matthew 1:21 tells us, “He will save His people from their sins,” and He did exactly that. He did not come simply to make people potentially savable. He came to actually save His people from their sins.

    Regarding my theological bent, I did not come to embrace Reformed theology easily. I was raised as a faithful Lutheran, and did not encounter the Reformed faith until I was in my twenties (I am 52 now). At first I recoiled at some aspects of the Reformed confessions, but the more I examined the Scriptures, the more convinced I became that the Reformed confessions do, by and large, accurately summarize what Scripture teaches. All Christians have a theological bent of one kind or another, you and I included, and one of our tasks as students of God’s Word is to constantly examine our presuppositions in light of Scripture. Your blog is a great help for your readers in achieving that goal.

    You mentioned 1 John 2:2–”And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” If “whole world” here means every person ever born, then everyone would be saved. Why would God condemn someone when Christ is the propitiation for his sins? You may reply, “Because he did not believe in Christ.” But does not Christ’s propitiation for sin include the sin of unbelief?

    It is more likely that John refers to ‘ours only’ vs. ‘the whole world’ that he has Jews vs. Gentiles in mind. As John said elsewhere, “ . . . for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) John is telling us here that God’s grace extends beyond the Jewish nation into the realm of the Gentiles. He is also letting us know that God has ‘purchased’ men from every tribe. Notice he does not say that God has purchased every person ever born. And the ‘purchasing’ means that God has completed the transaction, not that those people are still in a state of potential salvation.

    As well, when John said, “not for ours only but also for the whole world,” why does he not simply say “And He Himself is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world”? Why this division of ‘ours only’ vs. ‘the whole world?’ The idea of Jews vs. Gentiles seems to fit John’s language better here.

    That’s all for now. Tim, if you want to call an end to our discussion so you can devote time to other projects, I completely understand. But if you would like to continue that would be fine.

    Your brother,

    John

    • Hi John,

      I’d like to thank you for the gracious tone as well. You probably know that these types of discussions often get very heated, and I think that’s unfortunate. Christians should be able to have lively, meaningful discussions about deep theological issues without feeling like they are being attacked.
      I think we are getting a bit away from the subject at hand, although I suppose it was inevitable that it would go there. I don’t think you and I will solve the millennia-old debate on predestination/free will, Calvinism/Arminianism, or related names for it on this blog. When we get to heaven, you’ll see I was right. 😉 I’m kidding. We’ll see that God was/is right, even if we don’t really get it.
      I think we’ll probably have to agree to disagree on this one. I just have a few brief comments related to your last post.
      You mentioned that I seemed to be using an argument from silence about Esau never serving Jacob. I was more careful in my wording of the original post than in my follow-up comments. In the post, I mentioned that Esau is never shown to have served Jacob. I anticipated the claim that it was an argument from silence so I worded it that way for a reason, although I guess I wasn’t very careful in the response.
      However, I don’t believe it is an argument from silence. We have a fairly detailed account of these two guys. Jacob fled for 20 years, and when they came back together, Jacob was the one bowing down before Esau and fearing for his own life. Esau had clearly forgiven Jacob (or at least he had let it go), and the two went their separate ways. Genesis 36:6–8 describes that the two split up because their possessions were far too great for them to dwell together. Esau dwelt in Mount Seir, “away from the presence of his brother Jacob.” He was not subject to him, nor was he his servant. The Bible never teaches this. So I have a very strong biblical basis to say that Esau did not serve Jacob.
      I would say that to claim that Esau did serve Jacob would be the argument from silence. Actually, I think it is weaker than that, since it goes against what we see in Scripture. I would say that it is special pleading.
      Finally, I would say that Christ’s death was sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect. I could turn this around on you and ask a hypothetical, “If God had decided to elect 100 more people throughout history, would Christ have suffered more?” The limited atonement position seems to place a quantitative focus on Christ’s sacrifice rather than a qualitative focus. How could the sacrifice of the infinite Christ be anything less than sufficient for all? He is the propitiation for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. But if salvation is contingent upon faith (which I know you would not agree with me, at least not in the same sense of how I’m using the terminology), then those who refuse Christ’s payment on their behalf will pay for their own sins for eternity. I would tend to agree with Geisler’s position in Chosen But Free, although I don’t like the labels of extreme Calvinism and moderate Calvinism he uses, because I don’t think it’s fair to call someone who agrees with Calvin an extreme Calvinist.
      The Bible clearly teaches God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and I don’t think it is an either/or situation—I think it is a both/and. How those two concepts fit together has puzzled many believers over the years, and I sincerely doubt we’ll see an end to the debate before our Lord returns. Until then, may we strive to edify the body of Christ and proclaim the gospel to the lost.
      Thanks again for reading and for the thoughtful and friendly discussion.
      God bless!

  12. You said:
    Art, The context determines what this is about…I would say that all prayers to God are answered, even if it is with a “no” or “not now.”

    I say:
    I was not saying that Mary did not need a Savior, or that Jesus isn’t loving enough. Only that Jesus has in fact amended His plan to accomodate Mary (and would for anyone I believe) when what we ask can be amended within His Plan. To deny that Mary has influence with Jesus – is that not denying scripture (John 2:1-11)? … and in Luke 12:26 Jesus does converse with deceased believers – so where, if I want someone to pray for me, does scripture say I must ask living peron? And, if there is no need to ever go through someone else, why ask anyone for that matter, living or deceased to pray for us to begin with?

    • Art, I’m glad to hear that you aren’t saying that Mary didn’t need a Savior. But to say that Jesus amended His plan is reading something into the text. Despite what some people have claimed, this passage is not about Jesus giving into Mary’s wishes. Here’s what the New American Commentary states:
      “R. Brown, a Roman Catholic, is quite correct in his critique of writers on Mariology who have argued that Mary’s so-called persistence resulted in Jesus’ subsequent action. In this Gospel Jesus is consistently pictured as responding not to human pressure but to the direction of God. Such a statement is not a matter of a Roman Catholic-Protestant debate; it is a matter of what the text means. The focus of this pericope is not on Mary but on Jesus.”
      (Gerald L. Borchert, vol. 25A, John 1–11, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 156.)
      Also, to compare the Son of God conversing with Elijah and Moses who miraculously appeared to Him at the Mount of Transfiguration to people attempting to communicate with believers who have already passed on and are in the presence of the Lord is quite a stretch.

  13. Tim, you have many good insights, but I don’t think you have interacted with the main points of my last post.

    1) Nations vs. individuals – I asked why it can’t be both.

    2) If Paul had nations only in mind, and not individuals, why would Paul anticipate the objection of verse 19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’”

    3) All the verses you cited regarding ‘world’ or ‘all’ show that you and I agree that ‘world’ can be used in more than one way. I was not arguing that in John 3:16, ‘world’ must mean the world of unbelievers. I was pointing out that to assume that ‘world’ in John 3:16 must mean ‘every person ever born’ is not necessarily as ‘obvious’ as you say. John uses ‘world’ in ten different ways:

    a. The Entire Universe – John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5
    b. The Physical Earth – John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25
    c. The World System – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11
    d. All humanity minus believers – John 7:7; 15:18
    e. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere – John 12:19
    f. The Elect Only – John 3:17
    g. The Non-Elect Only – John 17:9
    h. The Realm of Mankind – John 1:10
    i. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) – John 4:42
    j. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) not those in small private groups – John 7:4

    So which of these ten ways does John mean ‘world’ in John 3:16? John uses the word in so many different ways, we must allow the rest of Scripture to inform us as to its best meaning.

    I’ll stop here for now. We can continue if you like.

    • Thanks John,
      As for the reason that it couldn’t be both regarding Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:13, I would say that verse 12 shows why that isn’t the case. The older (Esau) never served the younger (Jacob). So if it was supposed to be about the individuals, then Paul was mistaken. I think the greater context also shows why this isn’t the case, since that was what Paul set out to show. I’m not even saying that it’s wrong to say that God elected Jacob, but not Esau. I’m just saying that Romans 9:12–13 doesn’t teach this.
      I dealt with your second comment in the previous post. I do believe that the example of Pharaoh is about an individual and that is when Paul asks the questions in v. 19.
      Finally, I think you missed my point in citing the way that John uses the term “world.” My point was to show that “world” in John 3:16 means more than just the elect, which is what every example you cited shows (I disagree with you on John 3:17). This is clear from the immediate context. The next verse, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Verse 19 also uses “world” in a way that means more than just the elect. In verse 17, it does not refer to just the elect. God sent Jesus into the world, so that the world might be saved. The only way to make this mean the elect is if you have a theological bent that forces you to interpret it that way. But John makes several statements about Christ’s death being for all–elect and non-elect, such as 1 John 2:2–“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
      Thanks for reading and for the discussion.
      God bless!
      Tim

  14. Rey, I appreciate your thoughts. It is interesting to note that in my post, I did not mention Calvinism or predestination at all. I only quoted Scripture.

  15. Tim, this is a very stimulating article you have written, and hopefully will cause its readers to delve more deeply into Scripture to understand what God is saying to us.

    Having said that, let me do some more friendly cross-examination (Prov 18:17):

    You say that the point of Paul’s discussion of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9 is not about the individuals, but about the nations which came from them. Why must it be one or the other? Is it possible that both ideas are in view? Paul writes, “10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad . . .” At this point in the chapter, the reference is certainly to the individuals, because Rebekah had ‘conceived children’ and ‘they were not yet born.’

    If Paul had nations only in mind, and not individuals, why would Paul anticipate the objection of verse 19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” Within nations that either follow the Lord or not, you will find individuals who are the exception. In times when Israel was unfaithful, there were still a few people (usually the prophets) who were true to God. And conversely, when the nation of Israel was following the Lord, you could find a person here and there who was not. So if Paul has only nations in view, what sense does his objection make? Even if a whole nation goes into apostasy, still a few faithful individuals can be found. It seems that the objection that Paul anticipates makes sense with individuals in mind (such as Pharaoh, who must be seen as an individual and not a nation), but does not fit the ‘nations only’ idea.

    His objection follows his mention of Pharaoh, who certainly was an individual. 17 “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” In these verses, God is certainly choosing one individual for a specific purpose, that is, to be hardened in order to display God’s power and proclaim His name. If it’s only nations that are in view in Romans 9, why is Paul discussing an individual?

    Returning to John 3:16, must we assume that God’s saving and electing love here for the ‘world’ is meant to apply to every person ever born? Is that what ‘world’ (kosmos) must mean in every case? Many other Scriptures use universal terms to describe a subset of all humanity, such as Jesus saying “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21:17) Does ‘all’ mean every person ever born? Similarly, consider John 15:18: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first.” Does ‘world’ mean ‘every person ever born?’

    Tim, thanks for the interaction, and the encouragement to your readers to study the Word of God.

    • Thanks for the kind words John. That is my hope too–that readers will delve into Scripture.
      Regarding, the individual or nation point: My point was that the section about Jacob and Esau was about nations. As I pointed out, that is clearly the overall context of Romans 9–11, and it is clearly what the two Old Testament passages Paul cited are about. The part about Abraham/Isaac is leading up to the point about God picking one nation over the other, showing that not all of Abraham’s descendants are part of Israel (only those through Isaac and then Jacob).
      After making the point about Israel and Edom, Paul goes on to give an example of Pharaoh, and I agree that this is an individual. I think Paul does this to give another OT example of God displaying His sovereign right to choose one and not another, but this does not change the meaning of Romans 9:13. I would also add that Pharaoh hardened his own heart prior to God hardening it. The example of the clay and the potter may very well be a reference to Jeremiah 18, where Israel is the clay and God is the Potter.
      Also, regarding John 3:16, when we look at how John uses the word “world” (kosmon or kosmos), it is obvious that this refers to all the people in the world, or at the very least, more than just the elect. Look at John 1:9–10; 3:16–19; 7:7; 9:39; 14:17 and many more. See also 1 John 2:2, 15–17; 3:1, 13; 4:3–5, 9. It isn’t that “world” can’t mean something other than all people or the evil worldly system, but that is how John repeatedly uses it, including numerous passages where it is undeniable that it means that God loves all in the world, such as John 3:16–19 and 1 John 4:3–9. Even in the example you gave, John 15:18, it clearly refers to more than just the elect (since the elect don’t hate Jesus).
      I know you weren’t necessarily arguing that it refers only to the elect, but all I need to show to make my point about Romans 9:13 is that John mentions that God loves more than just the elect.
      Thanks for a good discussion. God bless!

  16. Tim, good article.

    Does John 3:16 mean that God loves every person ever born? If so, then how do we understand these passages:

    Psalm 5:5, “The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,”

    Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

    Lev. 20:23, “Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.”

    Prov. 6:16-19, “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”

    Hosea 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.”

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for the kind words. I had considered some of these verses while writing this post, so thanks for bringing them up. I think the two points I made in the article would answer them. First, love and hate are not necessarily opposites. Love and neglect or love and indifference would be closer to being opposites than love and hate. So a person could hate what one does (which is what some of these verses say) and he could actually hate the person (in some way) while still loving them. I guess that’s what we call a love/hate relationship, right? 🙂 The fact that God is disgusted by their actions or hates their actions demonstrates some degree of love toward them. If He had the opposite feeling of love toward them, then He should be pleased when they do wrong so that He’ll have opportunity to judge them more severely. Yet, Ezekiel 33:11 says that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, He wants them to repent and live.
      Second, one could argue that when “hate” is used in these passages, that it means He loves them less, although I think it would be important to examine each of these on a case by case basis before making that claim.
      Finally, here’s a note from the NET Bible on the word “hate” in Psalm 5:5 and 11:5. “The Lord ‘hates” the wicked in the sense that he despises their wicked character and deeds, and actively opposes and judges them for their wickedness.” In the few passages which speak of the Lord hating someone, it is in reference to what they do. Even in Romans 9, the part about not even being born yet was in reference to the comment about the older nation serving the younger nation, then Paul shows how that was fulfilled by quoting Malachi.

    • Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

      That certainly doesn’t support any sort of Calvinistic predestination scheme, if that’s what you are trying to say John Stebbe. Quite the opposite, since this would teach judgment by works.

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