Does Jesus Teach Christians to hate their Families?

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Luke 14:26 says, “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.”

Many Christians, and even non-Christians, wonder why Jesus would teach Christians to hate their families and themselves. Jesus tells us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44 and Paul teaches us to love our families in Ephesians 6:1-4, and he even says that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So how does Luke 14:26 fit in with what Jesus and Paul tell us to do in other passages? Or is Luke 14:26 a hopeless contradiction?

A Solution

Interestingly, it is when we read the parallel passage in Matthew that we can understand what “hating our families” actually means. Matthew 10:37 says, “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…”

Some will immediately say that Matthew and Luke contradict each other on this teaching. However, as I wrote about in a previous article, the Gospel writers were free to paraphrase Jesus if they wished to do so. It is generally believed that Luke quotes Jesus more literally than Matthew does (why would Luke paraphrase Jesus as saying to “hate your families” when he easily could have changed the wording to help his readers avoid confusion). It is also helpful to know that Jesus taught in Aramiac and not Greek (the Gospels were written in Greek).

It seems clear that Matthew is the one who is paraphrasing Jesus’ teaching. Matthew’s primary audience would have been Jews (who spoke Aramiac). This is important because “hating” something was a Semitic (Jewish) idiom. Bible Scholar Craig Blomberg says it well, “In Semitic language and thought, ‘hate’ had a broader range of meanings than it does in English, including the sense of ‘leaving aside’, ‘renunciation’ or ‘abandonment.’”[1]

The Semitic idiom that Luke uses (“hating”) was correctly interpreted by Matthew. A person must love their families, friends, and even their enemies, but they must love Jesus before everyone and everything else.[2] One scholar puts it as “Jesus is not contravening the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. Moreover, he says a disciple should hate ‘even his own life,’ whereas he speaks elsewhere of loving ourselves (10:27; cf. Matt 22:39; Mark 12:31). It is important to understand the ancient Near Eastern expression without blunting its force.”[3]

Another scholar notes, “the Semitic way of saying ‘I prefer this to that’ is ‘I like this and hate that’ (cf. Gn. 29:30-31; Deut. 21:15-17). Thus, for the followers of Jesus to hate their families meant giving the family second place in their affections.”[4]

Jesus taught us the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). First, we are to love the Lord our God. Second, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Notice that loving God comes before loving others and ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we love God.

Conclusion

The Bible does not contradict itself on whether or not we are to love or hate our families. When Jesus was teaching to “hate our families” he was not being literal. The Bible tells us to love not only ourselves and our families, but our enemies as well. When Jesus was teaching to “hate our families,” he was telling us to put him first; to put him at number one in our lives. He was teaching it using a Jewish expression because his audience (who were Jews) would have understood the important point that he was making.


[1] Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd Ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007). Pg. 161.

[2] D.A. Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Frank E. Gaebelein ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Pg. 257. Craig L. Blomberg. Matthew. In The New American Commentary Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992). Pg. 181.

[3] Walter L. Liefeld. Luke. In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Frank E. Gaebelein ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Pg. 979.

[4] G. B. Caird. Gospel of St. Luke, pgs. 178-179. Quoted in Blomberg, 161.

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