Calvinists use Romans chapters 9–11 as the undeniable evidence of Calvinistic soteriology, defending both unconditional election and reprobation. A.W. Pink says, “Romans 9 contains the fullest setting forth of the doctrine of Reprobation.” John Piper says that Jacob and Esau “were appointed for their respected destinies before they were born.” In response, to give the context of the verses, Romans chapters 9–11 are about Israel, where Jews are considered nationally, both alone (Romans 9:1–5, 10:1–3, 11:1–10) and contrasted with the Gentiles (Romans 11:11–12). Everett F. Harrison notes that “election which is treated on an individual basis in 8:28–30, 33 is now viewed from the national perspective of Israel.”
Calvinists often refer to two particular events as evidence of God’s sovereign unconditional election and reprobation. These two are Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:10–13), and Pharaoh (Romans 9:17–18). They also quote Romans 9:22–23 to demonstrate unconditional election and reprobation as well. I agree that these passages illustrate God’s sovereignty over creation, a truth with which I wholeheartedly agree; however, they do not demonstrate that God unconditionally elects some to eternal bliss and others to eternal fire, reprobation, nor do they demonstrate the particular way that Calvinists define sovereignty. In this article, I look at Jacob and Esau (Rom (9:10–13). I will look at the other two passages in a following article on Pharaoh.
Verses 9–13 speak of Jacob and Esau saying, “For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’”.
Let me first give a word of clarification regarding the statement. The word “hated” is miséō, which often means hate, detest, in the manner we often think (Matt 5:43; 10:22; 24:9). However, it is equally clear it does not always mean that; for example, Jesus said, “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). Clearly Jesus did not mean hate one’s father and mother as in loathe or detest since that would have violated the law. Rather it is in priority and by comparison. One must love Christ more than anything; he has no rivals, and so by comparison, a follower of Christ loves him to the degree that, by comparison, he hates everything else. This is the way he says it in another place, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). John Witmer says, “God’s ‘love’ for Jacob was revealed in His choice of Jacob and God’s ‘hatred’ for Esau was seen in His rejecting Esau for the line of promise. Hatred in this sense is not absolute but relative to a higher choice (cf. Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). Furthermore, as I will demonstrate, even if one takes it to mean hate, detest, it is not referring to Esau’s eternal damnation.
Note that verses 10–13 are a continuation of verses 6–9 wherein the subject of eternal destiny (individual salvation) is not being considered nor even mentioned. Rather, they are about God sovereignly deciding the genealogical line of the Messiah. That is to say; God chose from which of Abraham’s descendants the Messiah would come. Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and God sovereignly chose the Messiah would come through Isaac. He would bless and covenant with Isaac and his offspring and not Ishmael (Gen 17:19). Abraham had other children as well (Gen 25:1–4), but God chose to covenant with Isaac (vs. 7) rather than any of them. This demonstrates that God’s work of salvation in and through Israel, and, ultimately, the Messiah bringing salvation to humankind was not according to the flesh, being born of Abraham, but of promise (vs. 8). To wit, the blessings would come through Isaac because he is the son of promise (vs. 9). God decided through whom the people would come that he would covenant with, as well as the line through whom the Messiah would come. God demonstrates that he made Isaac the child of promise not based on merit but upon God’s choice of what line the Messiah would come through.
The same is true of the offspring of Rebekah. He chose to bless and covenant with Jacob, not Esau and his progeny. Thus, this section is not about individual salvation and reprobation, but rather it concerns the Messianic line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Jesus Christ. Verse 12 is a quote from Genesis 25:23 that reads, “And the lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger’” (italics added).
Therefore, two nations that would come from Jacob and Esau are in view. Neither the eternal destiny of the two individuals nor their progeny is being considered. This is a corporate election for covenant blessing, service, and establishment of the messianic line; it is not about corporate or individual eternal salvation. This is further demonstrated when we consider the phrase “the elder shall serve the younger.” As individuals, Esau did not serve Jacob. Jacob actually bowed down to Esau (Genesis 33:3), called him lord (Genesis 33:8), claimed to be his servant (Genesis 33:5) and urged him to accept gifts (Genesis 33:11). God unconditionally elected Israel as a nation to be his covenant people. But to be individually saved, they had to come by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).
When you read this passage, it is quite natural to place verses 12 and 13 in the same historical context since 13 immediately follows 12, thereby, at first glance, seeming to support the claims of some Calvinists. It appears they both come from the same book of the Bible and the same time frame. However, verse 12 is a quote from Genesis, 2000 BC, whereas verse 13 is from Malachi 1:2, 400 BC. “Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated” is said hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau were dead. Therefore, Verse 13 is not speaking of these men before they were born, but long after they were dead. It was spoken to Israel—the offspring of Jacob, and Edom—the offspring of Esau. Verses 12 and 13 are referring to things separated by hundreds of years, the persons were dead, but their offspring were known as Jacob and Esau. Edom’s paganism is well known as is their evil toward Israel (e.g., Numbers 20), and God judges them for it.
Consequently, even if “hate” means detest, it refers to the sinful offspring of Esau, and that is because of their sinful rebellion toward God. The context in Malachi is God’s pathos love for Jacob (Israel), which Israel had questioned. Therefore, God demonstrates that he loves Israel in two ways. First, he chose them to be his covenant people; second, he chose them as the people through whom the Messiah would come.
God chose Israel to be his covenant people, the line of the Messiah, even when the traditional way would have been to choose the elder son who was Esau. God did this before Israel, Jacob, had done anything to merit this preference of being selected. To wit, God did not select Israel because Israel was better or deserving in any way. God judged both Israel and Edom for sin, but he always promised to restore Israel, not in salvation but in covenant relationship, but this promise did not extend to Edom. These demonstrated God’s love for Israel.
Accordingly, the passage has nothing to do with the eternal destiny of Jacob or Esau, and it has nothing to do with the eternal destiny of any of their offspring. Some individuals of Israel were saved, and some were not (Rom 2:28–29; 9:6b). Also, some of Edom were saved (Amos 9:12) as well as some of Moab (Ruth 1:1–18), and some were not. Just as there will be people saved from every tribe, kindred, nation, and tongue (Revelation 7:9) and some people from every tribe, kindred, nation and tongue who will not.
As is described in this passage, God chooses to work in certain ways through certain people to accomplish his will and plan of salvation. But Scriptures that describe God choosing certain individuals to be used by him in a certain way are not describing an unconditional election to salvation or predestining some to reprobation. Even John Calvin admits that it is the posterity of Jacob and Esau in view. “The words, ‘Jacob have I loved’, refer to the whole progeny of the patriarch, which the prophet there opposes to the posterity of Esau.” Calvin says in his commentary on this verse, “I therefore chose you for my people, that I might show the same kindness to the seed of Jacob; but I rejected the Edomites, the progeny of Esau.” Again, it cannot mean the rejection, hatred, equals reprobation since some of the progeny of Esau were saved, and some of the progeny of Israel were not.
Calvinist G.C. Berkouwer “maintains that Romans 9 does not present the election and reprobation of Jacob and Esau as individuals, but sets forth the principle that God’s election is not of works and that the destiny of Israel as a whole is in view.” Oliver Buswell, a five-point Calvinist and former president of Wheaton College (1926–1940), says, “The reference in Romans 9 to Jacob and Esau is similar . . . . In this case the comment with which Paul concludes the reference to Jacob and Esau coincides with the view that the ‘election’ here referred to is an election to the Messianic line, and not an election of an individual to eternal life. . . In the Malachi passage from which Paul quotes these words, the prophet is clearly referring not to the individual Esau, but to the people of Edom who had been a sinful and rebellious people, though they were, according to the promises of God, eligible to be considered within God’s covenant with Israel. There is nothing in the Genesis record to indicate that Esau, when Jacob returned to his homeland, was other than a sincere worshiper.”
John Piper, who maintains that this passage deals with individual election, says concerning scholars who disagree with him that “the list of those who see no individual predestination to eternal life or death is impressive.” But, as I demonstrated, the passage actually, even admitted by many Calvinists, has nothing to do with unconditional election and reprobation. Therefore, without the lenses of Calvinism, the passage can be seen to clearly be about God choosing Isaac to be the line of blessing and the line by which the Messiah would come, not a passage teaching unconditional election and reprobation.
Then Paul answers the question of God being unjust, saying, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Romans 9:14–17).
First notice these verses relate not to salvation and damnation, but to God having chosen to covenant with and work through Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. The truth is, mercy by definition is not merited; thus, when God shows mercy, both in service and salvation, it is never merited. But this is specifically referring to God’s choice to covenant with Israel and establish them as the line the Messiah would come through.
 A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1955), 98, quoted in Vance, The Other Side, 319.
 John Piper, The Justification of God, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 203–04 quoted in Vance, The Other Side, 321.
 Frank E. Gabelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, Romans–Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 101.
 For this and my understanding regarding Pharaoh (Rom 9:17–18) see Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist chapter 19, Does Romans 9 Teach Unconditional Election and Reprobation?
 John A. Witmer, “Romans,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 477.
 Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, book 3, 210.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 19, Commentary Upon The Acts of The Apostles, Acts 14–28 Romans 1–16 (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House Company, reprinted 1979), 352.
 Alvin L. Baker, Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance? (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1981), 153 and G.C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, trans. by Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1960), 71, quoted in Vance, The Other Side, 323.
 J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of Christian Religion, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 149, quoted in Vance, The Other Side, 325.
 Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 83, and Piper, Justification of God, 57.