From the pens of Moses and Paul, we read clear instructions that describe how children ought to treat their parents. Both the books of Exodus and Ephesians state that children should honor their fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2). From the mouth of Jesus, and a host of New Testament writers, we have been given the injunction to love others, which certainly would include our parents. Paul wrote: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Jesus, to illustrate how a person should love his neighbor, told the unforgettable story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). In light of these verses and the thoughts they contain, one easily can deduce that a person should love his or her parents. Not only is love for parents natural, but it also is commanded by God throughout the Scriptures…or is it? Luke, in his account of the life of Jesus, has the Messiah on record saying, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26, emp. added). So which is it, should we love and honor our parents and family—or hate them?
Needless to say, this statement by Jesus has been seized by many skeptics and offered as “proof ” that the Bible contradicts itself. Steve Wells, in his work The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, cites Luke 14:26 as a verse in contradiction to Exodus 20:12. He further attacks Luke 14:26 as a verse that goes against family values, and one that presents an unjust command (Wells, 2001).
Admittedly, if the word “hate” in Luke 14:26 means what most twenty-first century Americans use the word to mean, then Jesus’ statement is a contradiction, unjust, and goes against decent family values. What anyone who studies the verse should quickly discover, however, is that the word translated “hate” does not always mean “to despise, detest, loathe, and abhor,” which are synonymous with the general use of the word “hate” in our modern culture. Instead, the word also can include the meaning “to love less.”
Atheist Dan Barker has disavowed such an explanation, saying, “Most Christians feel obligated to soften the face meaning of the word ‘hate’ to something like ‘love less than me,’ even though the Greek word miseo means ‘hate’ ” (1999, p. 158). Barker failed to explore, however, the legitimate times in the Bible (and in secular documents) where the word or its Hebrew equivalent is given the meaning “to love less,” and is not forced into a strict, uncompromising, literal usage of detest, loathe, or abhor.
The story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah perfectly illustrates the biblical use of this term “hate” in its meaning of “to love less.” To briefly summarize the story, Jacob loved Rachel, and agreed to work for her father Laban for seven years in order to marry her. At the end of the seven years, Laban tricked Jacob, and gave Leah to him as a wife. When Jacob discovered the deception, he was given Rachel as a wife, but was forced to work another seven years for her. In Genesis 29:30, the Bible says that “Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah.” Yet, in the next verse the Bible says, “And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb” (29:31, KJV). Jacob did not despise, detest, and treat Leah like an enemy, as in the modern use of the word “hate.” Instead, he simply loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.
Numerous Greek scholars have added their combined years of study to the discussion to testify that the word “hate” (miseo) in Luke 14:26 does not mean “an active abhorrence,” but means “to love less.” E.W. Bullinger, in his monumental work, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, described the word “hate” in Luke 14:26 as hyperbole. He rendered the word as meaning “does not esteem them less than me” (1968, p. 426). W.E. Vine, the eminent Greek scholar, said the word miseo could carry the meaning of “a relative preference for one thing over another.” He listed Luke 14:26 under this particular definition (1940, p. 198). Lastly, A.B. Bruce, in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, stated that “the practical meaning” of the word “hate” in this verse is “love less” (n.d., p. 575).
Add to all this the fact that, with His last few words, Jesus Christ showed honor to His mother, and made sure she had a provider (John 19:25-27). The simple meaning, then, of Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26 is that a person must be willing to sever ties with his or her family if those ties hinder the person from following and obeying Christ. And blessed is the man who puts service to Jesus above all else.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
Bruce, A.B. (no date), The Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Bullinger, E.W. (1968 reprint), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Vine, W.E. (1940), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible [On-line], URL: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/1cor/index.html.
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