December 7, 2022

Clarifying Luke 14:26, "Hate your own father and mother"

Clarifying Luke 14:26, “hate your own father and mother”

Luke 14:26-27 (ESV)   

26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

This saying, like others embedded in the Gospels, contains an important Hebrew idiom.

To understand Luke 14:26, idiomatic expression is central to our very understanding of the verse. If we recognize the Hebrew meaning behind the Greek of Luke, it will become apparent that Luke is not saying what some people think it says.

The hidden Hebrew meaning can be unmasked without good knowledge of Hebrew. Lets look at some instances of the unique Hebraic use of the verbs “love” and “hate” elsewhere in the Bible.

Gen 29:31 reads, “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.” In this context, “hated” simply means that Jacob preferred his beloved Rachel. 

Rom 9:13 reads, 'As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”' Paul's quotation of Malachi 1;1-2 upholds divine sovereignty in God's election. No one who heard this statement in the days of the biblical prophet or read it at the time of Paul would have suggested that the Lord literally hated Esau. Rather it is an inverse way of indicating that God favored Jacob and, although Esau was the first son who would normally receive the inheritance, the inheritance was passed through the younger brother, Jacob. To express preferential treatment, the writer used “to love and hate.” in a Hebrew sense. That is, it is in reference to bestowing relative favor or regard to one versus the other. The one who is not given preferential treatment is hated, and the one who is loved. 

Luke 16:13, provides further context for interpreting Luke 14:26:

Luke 16:13 (ESV) 

  13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

This corresponds with the idea of preference contained in the Hebraic expression to love and hate. Jesus' use of the verbs to express the need for total preference for God over all other relationships and loyalties. Although Luke 16:26 is somewhat ambiguous when interpreted in English, it is most likely it is speaking of simple allegiance and not literal hate and love. The interpretation needs to harmonize with Jesus teaching throughout Luke and the Hebraic use of the words for love and hate in the Bible. 

We cannot serve two masters, we must choose our allegiance to one over the other. We must choose the things of God over worldly wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself, but we must hate it in contrast to the things of God. We should not serve mammon and become its slave. We disregard it in comparison to our loyalty to God. We regard money as our servant rather than our master. 

The later revision of Matthew serves as an interpretive commentary of Luke. The author of Matthew attempts to clarify the more ambiguous wording in Luke.

Matthew 10:37-39 (ESV) 

  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. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew, in interpreting Luke, makes the notion of preference much clearer.

If we have our priorities set straight, the Lord is the master of our lives. We hate all else in contrast to our alliance to God, whether it be wealth or relationships.  This is along the lines of what Paul says in Philippians 3:7-11:

Philippians 3:7-11 (ESV) 

  7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

In the direct context of Luke 14:26, Luke 14:27 equates discipleship with death: “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” It is the continuation of Jesus' saying of “hating” one's father and mother. The Lord requires preeminence in our lives and no divided allegiance. We must sever relationships or pursuits that interfere with God's will. We are called to die to ourselves and our worldly ambitions and loyalties, and not even fear death. Our allegiance to the Son of Man, in acknowledging his lordship before men, will gain us his acknowledgment before the angels of God: 

Luke 12:4-8 (ESV) 

  4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. 8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.

Thus, the difficult verse of Luke 14:26 can be understood in the proper context that harmonizes with the rest of Luke. As we have seen, this interpretation of hate not being literal hate in this context is consistent with the Hebraic concept of love and hate. 

Reference Article: Steven Notley, Jesus' Command to “Hate”, Jerusalem Perspective (2004)

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