There are always those who jump at any opportunity to disparage the character of the Son of God. They will pursue any apparent inconsistency and press it beyond anything resembling its biblical and original intent.
Such is the case with Luke 14.26. One antagonistic critic of Jesus of Nazareth declares this claim by the Savior as nothing more than the words of a “cult leader” bent of intimidating his followers.
The passage reads as follows according to the English Standard Version (2001):
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. (emph. added)
It would be disingenuous to deny that the passage is disturbing at first glance.
Nevertheless, as with superficial contradictions or inconsistencies the problem is skin deep and is in fact part of a larger flow of thought where the Lord is emphasizing total commitment (Luke 14.28-32).
Let us consider this passage from the vantage point of (1) understanding the context of the passage, (2) considering the term itself, and (3) reflecting over a cultural use of the Lord’s vocabulary.
A Look at Context
It is no secret to responsible students of the biblical text that in order to appreciate any passage of Scripture context must be understood.
Moreover, it is equally true that no one verse reveals everything the Bible has to say on a given subject. Anyone who does not keep these principles in mind will delve into this passage impaired.
Contextually, Jesus was teaching through the tool of parable, an image-rich narrative designed to teach a spiritual truth in an understandable and comparative way. Jesus takes a statement and reframes it to teach a spiritual truth (15).
In verses 15-24, Jesus presents the parable of “a great banquet” to which a man “invited many” (16). However, every invitee made “excuses” for not being able to attend (18-20). Consequently, the “Master” had his servants “bring in” the poor and the handicapped (21).
Nevertheless, there was still room to spare, and the Master called his servants to go to the thoroughfares and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (22-23). The parable ends with the grim reality, “none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (24).
The parable of the great banquet is essentially about the rejection of God through the façade of “responsibilities” which must be attended to at the expense of taking God’s invitation to be in His house and experience his blessings. There is no loyalty to their master’s invitation.
Moreover, God is seeking those who will hear his invitation to fellowship and blessings. This parable anticipates the rejection of God on the part of the Jews who delivered Jesus to Pilate, and the global outreach to the gentile world with the Gospel invitation. In connection with this parable, Jesus lays out four “loyalty arguments” (14.26-32).
(1) One must “bear his own cross” and follow him. A phrase loaded with figurative language, since the “cross” is a reference to certain death.
(2) To build one must first “count the cost” to complete the construction. This statement is parabolic, if not proverbial, illustrating thoughtfulness in commitment.
(3) When entering war one must “sit down first and deliberate”. Based upon military strength or weakness, one must act towards war or peace. Decisive decisions based upon deliberation is emphasized.
It is within this line of appeals couched in figurative language to full total commitment to Himself and His Father that Jesus speaks of (4) “hating” the closest of human connections. Jesus leads with this loyalty/commitment argument.
Contextually, then, Jesus is speaking to religious individuals who bock at the invitation to bask in the fellowship and blessings of God (as revealed in the parable).
There is no loyalty, commitment, or deliberate reflection to follow through in service to God, only excuses and pretentions. Jesus calls this failure out through hyperbole, an obvious and intentional exaggeration.
The Term and Culture
Another aspect of this passage is the word under consideration – “hate”. The Greek verb miseo is translated “hate” here, and also means “despise; disregard, be indifferent to” (Mat. 6:24; Luke 16:13; Newman 117).
The verse then may read “does not despise”, “does not disregard”, or “is not indifferent to”. Context, however, determines how the term should be translated. From the outset then “hate” in Luke 14.26 must not be viewed outright as malicious.
In fact, a parallel passage found in Matthew 10.37 reveals that Jesus is not speaking maliciously. Instead, it is a matter of “faithful preference”:
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. (ESV)
To the Jew this was a very common way to express that one’s loyalty to God was to surpass any human bonds of loyalty.
Another example is found in Matthew 6.24, which highlights a cultural way of expressing ideas of “preference”, “claims”, and “indifference”:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despite the other. You cannot serve God and money. (ESV)
Similarly, Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Gen. 29.30), yet this preference is also stated as “Leah was hated” (Gen. 29.31). As was Jacob elected/preferred over Esau based upon God’s sovereignty (Mal. 1.2-3; Rom. 9.10-13).
It is a well known phenomenon that among the culture of Jesus notions such as interest, disregard, and indifference are often expressed in terms of “love less” and “hate” (Bauer, et al. 652; Thayer 415).
Therefore, Jesus could say to those hearing him:
So therefore any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14.33)
To follow Jesus means to chose Him, to prefer Him, by renouncing all competing demands which attempt to lay a primary claim upon our energies and loyalties.
Too many times misguided assaults upon the character of Jesus are made by those who do not take the time to examine the passage adequately. Perhaps now, in light of the evidence, they will reconsider.