This entry is part 69 of 119 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Richard Dawkins, after expressing approval for some of Jesus’ moral teaching, then objects, ‘Jesus’ family values were not such as one might wish to focus on. He was short, to the point of brusqueness, with his own mother, and he encouraged his disciples to abandon their families to follow him. The American comedian Julia Sweeney expressed her bewilderment in her one-woman stage show, Letting Go of God: “Isn’t that what cults do? Get you to reject your family in order to inculcate you?”‘ (The God Delusion, 250)
For sceptic Steve Wells, this saying is the first in a long list of reasons to be ashamed of Jesus Christ.
But such objections are based on crass literalism, ignorance of counter evidence, and lack of cultural awareness.
The meaning (simple enough to understand, difficult to carry out in practice) is that our love for Christ must be supreme. Insofar as it comes into conflict with even the closest of human ties, it must be allowed to trump them.
It is inconceivable that the Jesus of the Gospels would have deliberately undermined the 5th Commandment. Providing for one’s family and relatives was regarded as the norm, 1 Tim 5:8. Our parents, children, brothers and sisters are precisely those people we ought to love the most. It is a feature of many cults that they turn their adherents against their nearest and dearest.
1 Tim 5:8 ‘But if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’
In biblical idiom to hate can mean to love less, as is clear from Deut 21:15; Mt 10:37. ‘It is evident from Mt 10:37-38 that Luke’s command to “hate one’s parents” (Lk 14:26) means that his disciples must love Jesus more.’ (DJG)
Deut 21:15 – ‘If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated…’ (AV)
Mt 10:37 – “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
‘One likely explanation is that Luke translated (from Aramaic into Greek) what Jesus said and that Matthew translated what Jesus meant. Assuming that the first Gospel was written by the disciple Matthew, he was a native speaker of Aramaic. Matthew was already accustomed to moving between languages. Luke, a native Greek speaker, didn’t know what went without being said in the usage of Aramaic.’ (Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, Richards & O’Brien, p79f)
‘In the NT, hatred (Gk. miseō) suggests a broader semantic range than its English equivalent. For example, Jesus warns his followers, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not looking for disciples with a strong emotional disgust toward their family and life; that would be monstrous. In the context, Jesus is concerned with allegiance and the cost of discipleship (Fitzmyer 1059–67).’ (R. J. Hernández-Díaz, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, art. ‘Hatred’)
‘Clearly he does not literally mean that Christian husbands are to hate their wives (Lk 14:26), not when love, even of enemies, is so primary in his thinking and when the rest of the New Testament consistently tells husbands to love their wives (e.g. Eph. 5:25). But it would be a great mistake to assume therefore that Christ means nothing very definite. Rather, as the Matthean parallel makes clear, to ‘hate’ means ‘to love less than’ (Matt. 10:37). Jesus demands that his disciples love their wives and children less than they love him.’ (Andrew Cornes, Divorce and Remarriage, p95f)
‘The use of hyperbolic language indicates that no one can take precedence over Jesus. One must renounce “even his own life” and be willing to follow Jesus in the way of death (vv. 26–27).’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)
‘Rather than setting up hatred of family as a literal ethic here, Jesus used rhetorical language to address which allegiances should have priority. One should love God and pursue him as top priority. So the call to “hate” did not have a literal hate in view. Otherwise, he would be contradicting his own teaching that we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:25-37). The call to hate simply means to “love less,” as seen elsewhere in Scripture (Gen 29:30-31; Deut 21:15-17; Judg 14:16). The image is purposefully strong, highlighting the priority of setting God as your highest pursuit. All other concerns must take second place to following Jesus (Luke 8:19-21; 9:59-62; 12:4, 49-53; 16:13). Matthew 10:37-39, Luke 9:24, and John 12:25 make a similar point, though Matthew softened the emotive force of Jesus’ statement by having him warn against the dangers of allowing love for family to be greater than love for him. This is the meaning of Luke as well, though he presented it in much starker terms.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)
Additionally: ‘To set Jesus’ statement in context, we must recall that, at the time, many would view a Jew who chose to follow Jesus as a traitor, resulting in potential alienation from his family. Given this fact, anyone who desired acceptance by family more than a relationship with God might have weighed the outcomes and decided against following Jesus. This is the irresolution Jesus was warning against. Disciples must be willing to follow him even if it means losing all else.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)
‘The hatred (Gk. misein) of family, friends, and relatives in v. 26 cannot be understood apart from Jesus’ teaching in Lk 21:16–17, where he warns disciples that parents, brothers, relatives, and friends will hate (Gk. misein) them and betray them to death. The bonds of family and friendship are the strongest of all human social bonds, but even those bonds can be broken and twisted into hatred and death. The bond of fellowship with Christ is stronger than all earthly bonds, and it can never be broken, nor does Christ ever betray a follower. When a choice must be made between even the strongest of earthly bonds and Jesus, the disciple must choose the unbreakable bond with Jesus.’ (Edwards)
‘“Hate” in v. 26 should not be understood in terms of emotion or malice, but rather in its Hebraic sense, signifying the thing rejected in a choice between two important claims (Gen 29:30–33; Deut 21:15–17; Judg 15:2; Sir 7:26), e.g., “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Mal 1:2–3; Rom 9:13). The ancient world frequently spoke of the same matters addressed by Jesus in vv. 25–33 not in terms of differences in degree or of competing goods, as we might today, but in terms of categorical contrasts. This does not diminish the force of the teaching of vv. 25–33, but it does mean that the form in which it is presented was understood to convey the inestimable worth of a choice, not a malicious motive of a choice.’ (Edwards)
‘The point of v. 26 is that good things, even things created and commended by God such as father and mother and the honor due them (Exod 20:12; Mark 7:10), cannot be given precedence over Jesus.’ (Edwards)
‘This message is so radically against our natural tendencies that Jesus must shock us with the language of “hating” one’s loved ones and even one’s own life (Luke 14:26). As we read these startling words, however, we must also bear in mind Jesus’ consistent teaching that actual hatred of anyone made in God’s image is antithetical to the gospel (see 6:27, 35).’ (Gospel Transformation Bible)
‘That “hating” in this saying of Jesus means loving less is shown by the parallel saying in Matthew 10:37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)
‘We are not at liberty literally to hate our parents. This would be expressly contrary to the fifth commandment. See also Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20. But we are to love them less than we love Christ; we are to obey Christ rather than them; we are to be willing to forsake them if he calls us to go and preach his gospel; and we are to submit, without a murmur, to him when he takes them away from us. This is not an uncommon meaning of the word hate in the Scriptures. Comp. Mal 1:2,3; Gen 29:30-31; Deut 21:15-17.’ (Barnes)
‘When our duty to our parents comes in competition with our evident duty to Christ, we must give Christ the preference. If we must either deny Christ or be banished from our families and relations (as many of the primitive Christians were), we must rather lose their society than his favour.’ (MHC)
A literalistic interpretation would bring Jesus’ words here into hopeless conflict with his words in Mk 7:9-13. Moreover, it would conflict with his attitude towards his own mother, whom he lovingly made provision for while dying on the cross (Jn 19:26f). His words here are hyperbolic. He is saying that our loyalty to him should take precedence over even the closest of earthly ties.
What Jesus is teaching here is analogous to the marriage bond. In marriage, there is a ‘leaving’ as well as a ‘cleaving’. It is not that the new husband or wife loves his or her parents less than before, but that the pre-eminent place has now been taken by another.
The disciples of Jesus must be willing to forsake that which is very dear. Following Christ may bring us into conflict with those we love best in this life. If so, a painful choice may have to be made.
Among Jesus’ followers were those who had forsaken family ties, Mk 10:29f. Yet Peter’s marriage apparently survived his call to discipleship, for 25 years later his wife was still accompanying him on his missionary journeys, 1 Cor 9:5.
‘The experience of the pleasures of the spiritual life, and the believing hopes and prospects of eternal life, will make this hard saying easy. When tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, then chiefly the trial is, whether we love better, Christ or our relations and lives; yet even in the days of peace this matter is sometimes brought to the trial. Those that decline the service of Christ, and opportunities of converse with him, and are ashamed to confess him, for fear of disobliging a relation or friend, or losing a customer, give cause to suspect that they love him better than Christ.’ (MHC)
‘In the times when he spoke these words, becoming his disciples often involved discord within the family and ostracism in society. In Western lands there is usually little family or social cost involved, but in the East, conversion often meant loss of employment. In the world-wide programme on which he was embarking, he wanted associated with him men and women of quality whose devotion to him and his cause would not waver before opposition and even persecution.’ (J.O. Sanders)
‘Why does he talk about hating? In a number of other places Jesus says that you’re not even allowed to hate your enemies. So what is he saying regarding one’s father and mother? Jesus is not calling us to hate actively; he’s calling us to hate comparatively. He says, “I want you to follow me so fully, so intensely, so enduringly that all other attachments in your life look like hate by comparison.” If you say, “I’ll obey you, Jesus, if my career thrives, if my health is good, if my family is together,” then the thing that’s on the other side of that if is your real master, your real goal. But Jesus will not be a means to an end; he will not be used. If he calls you to follow him, he must be the goal.’ (Timothy Keller, Jesus The King, p21)
Stott (in the course of discussing whether St. Francis’ resolve to imitate Christ was too literal) comments: ‘in Luke 14:25–33 Jesus laid down three conditions without which a would-be follower, he said, ‘cannot be my disciple’. First, he must ‘hate’ his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Secondly, he must ‘carry his cross’ and follow Christ. Thirdly, he must ‘give up everything he has’. Now we certainly have no freedom to water down this strong gospel medicine. Nevertheless, to ‘carry the cross’ is definitely not literal; Jesus did not require all his disciples to be crucified. Nor can the injunction to hate our close relatives be taken literally; the Jesus who told us to love even our enemies is not likely to tell us to hate our own family. So the third command (to renounce our property) is surely not to be taken literally either. This is not a cowardly evasion of the teaching of Jesus, but an honest desire to discover what he meant. The cost of discipleship involves putting Christ first in everything, before even our relatives, our ambitions and our possessions.’ (The Incomparable Christ, p128)