Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why "God Hated Esau" is of No Use to Randal Rauser - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a discussion of Randal Rauser's recent essay, "Why 'God Hated Esau' is of No Use to the Calvinist." Click here for Part 1.

Where Rauser Goes Wrong

In part 1, we discussed the first of two points:

1. Rauser's confusion begins when he proposes two different kinds of Calvinism

Now we will move on to the second point:

2. Rauser clouds the Biblical texts with vague hermeneutical speculation rather than accepting the plain teachings of the passages.

He suggests the teaching of Romans 9 is very complex, and proposes we use John 3:16 as an interpretive control against the Calvinistic understanding. In my view, a better approach is to hold the clear truth of Romans 9 in balance with the clear truth of John 3:16. Otherwise, we are in danger of skewing our perspective by discounting valuable Scriptural data.

Back to the text . . .
I will be the first to admit there are passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. However, Romans 9 is not one of them. It is hard to accept, but not so hard to understand at the basic level. Without any doubt it is "strong medicine." But the strong medicine of God's Word is the cure for our sin-sick souls' deepest diseases, and we need to be willing to receive it full strength. Let our Systematic Theology feel the pain if it must, but Scripture is non-negotiable.

Rauser dilutes this medicine by proposing the following "complexities": 

(his words are in orange, with my responses following)

Rauser: The specific individuals Jacob and Esau serve as symbols representing people groups
Me: Sure, these individuals are heads of nations. But that doesn't change the fact that they are themselves individuals, as Rauser's statement candidly admits. They are individuals who represent nations, and nations are of course made up of individuals. One of Paul's points is that being ethnically a part of an elect nation does not make the individual elect (Romans 9:6-8). Isaac and Ishmael were both descendents of Abraham, but only Isaac was elect. Jacob and Esau were both descendents of Isaac, but only Jacob was elect. In other words, election extends beyond the national/ethnic level to the individual level.
Rauser: There is the potential for the hyperbolic use of language.
Me: It is true that Scripture sometimes uses hyperbolic language, but Rauser needs to show how the language is hyperbolic, and what is meant by the hyperbole. Otherwise, this claim does nothing to clarify the meaning of the text. It would have to be some kind of extreme hyperbole for the text to mean, "Jacob I loved, and Esau I loved equally." That interpretation is, in fact, antithetical to the context as well as to the terms employed.
Rauser: Insofar as “election” is in view there is the distinction between election for a particular task and election for an eternal destiny.
Me: Is this idea drawn from the text, or brought to it by the interpreter? Let's see . . . the entire previous chapter and the letter itself are about salvation. Paul begins the passage by speaking of the eternal destiny of Israel (Romans 9:3). Does he change course somewhere along the way? Would election to different tasks cause us to question God's justice (Romans 9:14)? Paul is certainly referring to eternal destinies in Romans 9:23-28, as is the case in Romans 9:30, where he says the Gentiles have attained righteousness by faith. That's not "task" talk, it's "salvation" speak. Where, exactly, does Paul switch from discussing eternal destinies to discussing tasks? Rauser would need to present some strong exegesis to make this claim believable.
Rauser: Insofar as one accepts the appropriateness of the “scripture interprets scripture” principle there is the question of whether texts which seem to teach divine omnibenevolence (e.g. John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4) should function as interpretive controls of those texts that seem not to.
Me: As shown in Part 1, the Biblical Calvinist does not have this problem. Omnibenevolence is taught in Scripture, and God's hatred of the unregenerate is also taught, along with God's election of some to salvation. For Calvinists it's both/and (or "all three"), not either/or. This is the reality of Biblical paradox, under which our thoughts must be forged like steel on the anvil. Among the soteriological options, it is our judgment that Calvinism alone has the epistemological integrity to withstand the full weight of the tensions found in divine revelation. Rauser's theological commitments seem to require him to affirm the omnibenevolence of John 3:16 without any tempering from other Scripture passages. It's much easier - and more common among theologians - to declare a passage "complex" and then just ignore the tension it creates.
Rauser vs. The Text

Romans 9 is not as mysterious as Rauser's suggestions imply. Let's see if we can understand the place of "Esau I hated" in the flow of its teaching. This will be both edifying and educational.

Graphic by Eddie Eddings of, 
 a site everyone should visit often.
In Romans 9:13, Paul's reason for quoting "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" is to reinforce what he has just said about God's sovereign election of Israel as opposed to other nations - including those nations descended from Abraham (which is also Malachi's point) - by the election of the individual named Jacob as opposed to the individual named Esau. Since the type of election Paul references occurred prior to birth (Romans 9:11-12), it was unconditional. Since it was related to specific persons (Romans 9:7; 9:13; 9:17), it was not merely national in scope but was particular to the individual. Since Paul's discussion of this election includes descriptions of the "children of God" (Romans 9:8), the display of God's saving mercy (Romans 9:15-16), the call to faith (Romans 9:24), the people of God (Romans 9:25-26) and those who will "be saved" (Romans 9:27), it is clearly more than election to a task. It is election to salvation and righteousness by faith (9:30-33). Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 to support this unconditional, individual/national, salvation-focused election. Anticipating that some people will think this exercise of divine prerogatives is inherently unjust, Paul asks, "Is there injustice on God's part?" Then he answers, "By no means!" (Romans 9:14). And what is Paul's justification for this claim? He says God's sovereign election of persons and nations is not a question of justice, but of mercy (Romans 9:15), and he says that man is in no position to question God's right to make such choices (Romans 9:20-21). All of this accords perfectly with the teachings of mainstream Calvinism, especially the teaching that election is God's saving mercy toward hated sinners, His pre-determined plan to specially love them by satisfying the demands of justice on His own Son in their behalf. In terms of election, God pre-determined to give justice to Esau and saving mercy to Jacob.

To recap: in terms of Common Grace, God clearly loved both Esau and Jacob. In terms of election, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Both are true according to Scripture, and both are affirmed by Calvinism.

Thus Rauser's claim that Romans 9:13 and Malachi 1:2-3 contradict Calvinism is unfounded. These verses only contradict Rauser's mistaken understanding of Calvinism. Unfortunately, Rauser seems unwilling to correctly interpret the texts that would lead him inevitably to that beautiful system of Biblical paradox called "Calvinism."


This looks scary, but it's not the real thing.
It seems clear that Dr. Rauser is wrestling with a misunderstanding of Calvinism and not the genuine article. He is trying to address Calvinistic conceptions without fully grasping them. This leaves room for the hope that he may someday gain a better understanding of Calvinism, and embrace it with the same enthusiasm with which he now opposes it.


  1. Love your posting
    Love the plugging
    Randal Rauser
    Needs debugging.

  2. Love the helmet
    Love the poem
    Nice grenade
    Just never throw him


Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.