(Rom. 9:13) Does God “hate” unborn babies?

CLAIM: Citing Malachi 1:2-3, Paul writes, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13). Does God hate unborn babies?

RESPONSE: The phrase “loving one and hating the other” was a Jewish idiom. It does not mean that God literally hates some people; it means that God loves one more than another. In Genesis 29:30 (KJV), we read that Jacob “loved also Rachel more than Leah.” In the next verse, we read that “Leah was hated.” Jesus said that we should not love our father or mother “more than [Him]” (Mt. 10:37). However, in the parallel account in Luke, we read that we need to “hate” our father and mother (Lk. 14:26). Clearly, Jesus is not teaching that we should “hate” our parents, because the Bible teaches that we should honor our parents (Ex. 20:12). Paul writes that it is shameful not to love our families (1 Tim. 5:8). It’s odd that Calvinists are willing to harmonize Luke 14:26 with other Scriptures, so that Jesus isn’t saying that we should literally hate our family (“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother… he cannot be My disciple”). But they won’t harmonize Romans 9:13 with other Scriptures that explicitly teach God’s salvific love for all people.

To demonstrate this further, note that Jacob himself loved his brother Edom. Jacob told Esau, “Please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably” (Gen. 33:10). Esau was the father of the Edomites (Gen. 36:43). Later, God commanded the Jewish people, “You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deut. 23:7).

Why did God judge the Edomites? Was it because they were hated before the foundation of the world? Not at all. God judged the Edomites because of their violence toward Israel (Obad. 1:8-10). The descendants of Edom were under the curse of Genesis 12:1-3. Flowers writes, “Remember the false belief of the Israelites in Paul’s day who assumed they were going to be saved simply on the basis that they were descendants of Abraham? Paul is proving that God’s promise includes cursing those who opposed the fulfillment of that promise, even if they are of Isaac’s seed. In short, being the seed of Isaac does not ensure your salvation, especially if you stand in opposition to the Word of God, as did the Edomites… In other words, Paul explains that being a descendant of Abraham will not ensure your salvation. In fact, any seed of Abraham who stands against the fulfillment of God’s promise will stand cursed, or hated, by God. If you do not believe that truth, then just look at the Edomites, direct descendants of Isaac himself.”[1]

Furthermore, in our commentary on Romans 9, we note that this passage refers to nations—not unborn babies (see Romans 9: An Arminian Interpretation).

[1] Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 120-121.