The Dark Side of Jesus: His call to hate one’s family to be his disciple

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by Neil Godfrey

Image by Srta. Lobo via Flickr

Does Luke 14:25-26 really mean what it says?

Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “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.”

The Good News Bible has a different “translation” (whitewash) of this:

Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than he loves his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers, and his sisters and himself as well.

I’ve heard the Luke passage explained away so often by redefining of “hate” to mean “love less by comparison”. Appeal is made to Matthew 10:37 that really does say:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

But Hector Avalos in The End of Biblical Studies shows that this sugarcoated meaning is false. Appealing to Matthew is useless. Luke can hardly have written on the understanding that all his readers had already read Matthew and would accordingly understand that he (Luke) did not really mean “hate”.

The Greek word for ‘hate’, μισεο (miseo), never means “to love Y more than X”.

In every place the word is used in Greek biblical texts the word means the opposite of love.

So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, ‘You hate me; you do not really love me.” (Judg. 14:16 in the Greek Septuagint)

Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:15 in the Greek Septuagint)

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Luke 16:13)

As Avalos remarks on the other Lucan passage above, it is clear here that the author means that it is impossible to both have love and hate for the same person. They are not matters of degree, but of exclusive either/or.

Those who insist that “hate” really means “love less by comparison” run into a problem when they apply that definition to the Amos passage. It would mean that God commands his people to love evil less than good. It’s okay to love evil a little bit.

Avalos comments on the arbitrary nature of Christian apologetics:

The arbitrary nature of Christian apologetics in Luke 14:26 can also be gauged by an unwillingness to treat occurrences of “love” in the same manner. That is to say, few, if any, of the same interpreters that want to treat “hate” comparatively in Luke 14:26 will do so for “love”. But we could just as well posit that “love X = hate Y more than X.” Indeed, there is a great circularity at work in saying that Jesus cannot mean hate in Luke 14:26 because he preaches “love” elsewhere. But we can reverse this rationale and argue that Jesus probably did not mean “love” literally elsewhere because he clearly meant “hate” in Luke 14:26. (p.51)