A Small Exegesis of Romans 9:13

I don’t often do exegesis, especially in debates. But I got into a discussion about the infamous ‘Esau’ passage in Romans – the conversation began as someone pointed to that passage as an example of someone for whom God had hatred. This was my reply -not the best editing, since it was written fairly quickly.

The Esau passage has roughly nothing to do with God’s like or dislike of a certain person, and everything to do God’s pattern of action in history to bring about redemption as opposed to who has a final share in said redemption. Plus, obviously, Jacob and Esau in Romans is a reference to a passage in Malachi which refers to Edom’s and Israel’s history, which included Edom cooperating with the Assyrians – the J/E reference is an allusion to the Israelite/Edom relationship within the larger context of redemptive history and judgement. Edom exhibited a pattern of evil behavior and so brought themselves under God’s judgement. Remember the context. God’s ‘hate’ of Esau has nothing to do with God’s personal dislike of Esau. The word ‘hate’ used in Scripture carries notes of favouring one of the other, or a lack of special privilege, and not an emotional stance of intense dislike.

This is hardly an amazing work of scholarship, but I think it’s pretty much broadly correct.

9 thoughts on “A Small Exegesis of Romans 9:13

  1. john zande January 13, 2014 / 9:50 am

    If you just remove the word “god” from this passage then you’re almost spot on. The Masoretic Text and Deuteronomic history is nothing but a 7th Century geopolitical myth fashioned by Judah to serve their territorial longings. Not even Jewish Rabbis today believe any of it. You are aware of this, aren’t you?


    • whitefrozen January 13, 2014 / 12:38 pm

      I am indeed aware that that is one interpretation of the historical data, though one that requires a good deal more justification than the mere act of assertion given the weakness with which the minimalist picture is put forth. I am indeed also aware that not every rabbi takes the OT to be a literal historical record, which has little bearing on anything I said but is an interesting side note nonetheless.


      • john zande January 13, 2014 / 1:04 pm

        Agreed, but the point was about Esau, who was never a person, rather the Edomites, which you rightly identified. Judah hated the Edomites so they wrote it into the geopolitical myth they were fashioning; demonising them.


        • whitefrozen January 13, 2014 / 1:22 pm

          Well, one can hardly derive the non-existence of a historical figure from the fact that said figure was used to refer to political (among other) relations (and i do personally take Esau to be historical). But, again, I’m simply not impressed with the minimalist picture of Israelite history as a whole, though no doubt geopolitical relations did in fact figure into the writing of Israel’s history.


          • john zande January 13, 2014 / 3:15 pm

            Granted, there may indeed be some kernels of truth lurking inside the tale, but none are of supernatural in origin. The Patriarchs are poetry: Jacob and Isaac are monikers for the northern and southern peoples, with the father, Abraham, right in the middle in Hebron, uniting the family… at least according to 7th Century BCE Judean scribes. It seems even Orthodox Jewish rabbis are now beginning to admit this. See Orthodox Rabbi Norman Solomon’s 2012 book, Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith. I spent a couple of months late last year delving into the Jewish world, asking rabbis and Jewish scholars how they actually feel about the Tanakh, and where Judaism is today. It was an eyeopener. Part of that research is detailed here in this post if you’re interested.



            • whitefrozen January 13, 2014 / 3:23 pm

              So far as I’m aware there is no disagreement with the idea if metaphorical meanings to the stories of the OT – actually, as far as I know, that isn’t a new or radical idea at all. The reductionism, however, is a different story entirely, and one with which I am in firm disagreement regarding the supernatural.


              • john zande January 13, 2014 / 3:30 pm

                It’s an explanation that has taken some time to sink into Jewish thinking.


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