“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.” Luke 14:26
I’ll admit it. This isn’t one of the few verses my wife and I have tried to commit to my three-year old son’s formative sponge like memory.
I don’t remember it being stressed by my parents in my early childhood either, though I do recall a reference or two to the fifth commandment: “Honor thy mother and father…” (Exodus 20:12)
I imagine many parents wouldn’t appreciate the questions an inquiring six-year-old mind could muster up with a reading of Luke 14:26. But six-year olds who refuse to eat their greens aren’t the only ones with questions regarding this verse.
Many skeptics would make the claim that Luke 14:26 is a direct contradiction of Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2:
“‘Honor your father and mother’ — which is the first commandment with a promise.”
(To read my first post on Bible contradictions go here)
Skeptics and Six Year Olds Unite!
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible tries to make the point for six-year olds. The SAB commentary says the command in Luke 14:26 is a blatant contradiction, “against family values”, and cruel in its intent. It is interesting how so many contemporary minds with no theological training claim exclusive interpretive authority when dissecting the meaning of verses. I wonder if they give the same respect and authority to pastors who may have an opinion on the origins of life (I digress).
To assume this skeptical stance on Luke 14:26 one would have to assume the word for “hate” in the Bible must only be restricted to its modern meaning: to despise, loathe or detest.
If “hate” is only restricted the 21st century understanding of the term, then Jesus never practiced such abhorrence against his madre. In reality, Christ ensured his mom was fully taken care of as he hung on the cross in his waning moments (John 19:25-27).
Jesus refused to subject his mother to a tired life of shuffleboard and Old Testament crossword puzzles. He loved her.
When the Rich Young Ruler inquired of eternal life one of Christ’s commands to him was to, “honor your mother and father” (Matthew 19:19).
How can we reconcile the command of Christ to honor our parents on one hand with the command of Christ to hate them in the other?
I Love Your Guts Less
A little historical language study would do the skeptic well here. It is well known that in ancient Jewish idiom, hate could also mean “love less.” Genesis 29:30-31 is a perfect example of this:
“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 arch-enemy, as in the modern use of the word “hate.” Instead, he simply loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.
When the love/hate contrast is paired together in ancient Eastern literature many times it is speaking not in terms of affection/disdain but of greater love/lesser love.
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 disdain,” but means “to love less.” For instance, E.W. Bullinger, in his 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.”
The point is not about actively hating one’s parents, it’s about loving Christ more than anyone or thing in the world, even the most intimate relationships we share on earth. If we love our parents more than we love Christ then we make them an idol. To make anyone an idol of our affection is not real love since it is not putting first the God who is Love.
Jesus clarifies everything
The “love less” sentiment of Luke 14:26 is found in the words of Christ 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.”
Luke 14:26 is a shocking way to say Christ should be supreme in all things, even in a child’s natural affection for his mother. Christ graciously used such radical statements to awaken us out of our hard hearted stupor. Such verbosity was necessary to penetrate our darkened dull hearts.
Luke 14:26 is simply another way of stressing the greatest commandment to us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
When we love Christ above all, we point people to Christ and His undying love in the gospel. And in this way we truly honor people…especially our moms.