Sunday, July 20, 2008

Did Jesus Really Say to Hate Your Loved Ones To Be His Disciple?

This was written by Michael J. Bumbulis as a counter-argument to one particular issue that non-Christians have a problem with. I thought I'd post it here.


Hatred to kindred is enjoined in Luke 14:26:
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple."

Hatred to kindred is condemned in Ephesians 6:2:
"'Honor your father and mother' -- which is the first commandment with a promise."

& in Ephesians 5:25 & 29:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church."

This verse is used numerous times from atheists in an attempt to show that Jesus was not a nice guy. But let's see if this verse really supports that position. Many atheists interpret this verse literally. To them, it is clear that Jesus was instructing us to hate our families. But is it?

It is a fairly basic rule in hermeneutics that a particular teaching should be interpreted in the light of general teaching, that is, in light of its context. So, does this hate-message fit into the overall context of Jesus' teaching? Not really.

Elsewhere, Jesus responds to an inquiry about attaining eternal life. He replied, "honor your mother and father" (Matthew 19:19). In fact, on another occasion Jesus censured those theologians who argued that people who had vowed to give God a sum of money which they later discovered could have been used to help their parents in need were not free to divert the money from religious purposes to which it had been vowed. In His characteristic condemnation of human traditions, Jesus observed: "Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!" (Matthew 15:6-7)

Now, how can you hate your parents, yet also honor them? These seem to be exclusive sentiments.

On the cross, Jesus tells John to take His mother as his own. Was he telling John to hate her? Then why did John take Mary into his home?

An interesting thing happens if you put together some of these teachings. If we are to hate our family, why must we love our enemies? And by hating our families, they become our enemies, but then we are supposed to love them!

No, I find this literalistic interpretation of Luke 14:26 to be plagued with problems and taken out of context.

So what sense are we to make of this teaching? Perhaps Jesus is simply employing hyperbole to emphasize an important point. Let's return to the immediate context of this verse. In Luke 14:27, He notes that a disciple must be willing to carry his cross. In verses 28-29, he teaches from the example of building a tower and that one should count the costs before beginning. In verses 31-32, he uses an example of a king going to war to illustrate the same point. Then in verse 33, he explains that we must be willing to give up everything to be His disciple. In verses he alludes to salt that loses its saltiness, which is thrown out. And finally, he sums it all up by saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (in verse 35).

Now throughout this whole preaching, Jesus uses symbolic parables and hyperbole to drive His points home. And what is the point? I think it is rather clear, that commitment to Jesus is primary and always comes first. Thus, if you are willing to put others before Christ and unwilling to follow through with your commitment, you may as well never commit in the first place.
It is well known that in Jewish idiom, hate could also mean "love less." In fact, I think the same message taught in Luke 14:26 is taught 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; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

In this case Jesus is speaking to his disciples, while in Luke He was addressing the crowds. But the same theme is present in both and His teaching to the disciples clearly explains the hyperbole in Luke.

I should also go back to that idiom. In the OT, the love-hate antithesis was used to distinguish between the intensity of one's love, and not meant as a polarization of concepts. Perhaps the clearest example is in Genesis 29:30-31:

"So Jacob went to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb."

Thus, Leah's being hated or not loved really meant that she was loved less. In fact, in the poetry of the ancient Near East numerous terms were paired together. In such instances the meaning of these terms is far more dependent upon their idiomatic usage rather than their literal meaning in isolation.

Given that Jesus often teaches using symbolic parables and hyperbole, given the context of Luke's passage, along with the context of other teachings of Jesus which certainly contradict a literal reading of Luke's verse, and the use of the love-hate comparison in Hebrew idiom, all added to Matthews account of the same theme, a consistent picture comes out that Jesus was teaching that we should love our families less than He. His use of hyperbole is an effective way of getting attention and emphasizing his point at the same time. Commitment to Jesus comes first. By the way, this is another subtle implicit expression of Jesus as God, as elsewhere, he reminds us that we are to love "the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

Anyway, if Bob was to tell Sue that he loved her so much that "he'd walk a thousand miles without food and water just to be with her," must Bob fulfill the literal sense of his statement for Sue to understand the depth of his love? If we insisted that hyperbole be taken literally, a very effective and deep method of communicating would be lost!

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