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In the gospel of Luke, I find this :

Suppose you that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, No; but rather division: For from now on there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

— Luke 12:51-53


If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

— Luke 14:26


In the gospel of Matthew, I find this :

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

— Matthew 10:34


How should I interpret these passages, and how can they be reconciled with the famous "love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27) and "love they enemies" (Matthew 5:38–44)?

  • Possible duplicate: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/57/… – Frank Luke Apr 12 '17 at 15:04
  • “Hate” wasn’t always defined then the way we usually define it today. Jesus wanted disciples who would follow Him, making all else, including their families, secondary. One tool that helps show what numerous Bibles show for any verse is Bible Hub, with one example being the biblehub.com/luke/14-26.htm . Terms used instead of “hate” there are “ready to abandon” and “disregard” (i.e. as an answer(s) below mention). – John Martin Nov 23 '18 at 16:33
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Another passage that is relevant here, I think, is Revelation 3:16:

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.

The verses regarding one's family were understood to refer to not compromising one's beliefs for the sake of harmony with one's relatives. Anything that keeps us from God must be rejected - even our own ego (hence ... and his own life also).

One older Greek commentary on this passage reads:

Because many of those who went with Jesus were lukewarm and did not follow Him with zeal and obedience, He teaches them how His disciples ought to be. He describes and depicts His true disciple, explaining that he must hate not only those to whom he is united outwardly by the bonds of love or kinsship, but he must "hate" even his own life. See to it that you are not seized and carried away by this saying, interpreting it literally and without understanding. For the Lover of man does not teach hatred for man, nor does He counsel us to take our own lives. But He desires His true disciple to hate his own kin when they prevent him from giving reverence to God and when he is hindered from doing good by his relationship to them. If they do not hinder us in these things, then He teaches us to honor them until our last breath. How does He teach us this? By that great teaching - His own deeds. He was obedient to Joseph, even though Joseph was not truly His father, but was only regarded as such. And He showed such care for His mother on every occasion that he did not neglect to care for her even while He was hanging on the Cross, but entrusted her to His beloved disciple [John 19:26-27]1

As Theophylact suggests, one must exercise some discernment in interpreting the word "hate" here (Greek μισέω - miseō). Elsewhere, as you point out, we are urged to love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-44), which would seem to make hating our kin completely incongruent. But miseō does not necessarily always mean to hate to the point of wanting to do harm to someone. For example, Paul quotes from the Septuagint [Malachi 1:2,3] in Romans 9:13, Jacob I loved, but Esau have I hated, using the same Greek word. A more contemporary commentator explains:

It is perhaps prudent to advise at this point that the English word "hate" (miseō), as it is used in Holy Scripture, does not always convey the sense of an "intense adversion" or an "abhorrence"; consider the Lord's making "hatred" of family a requisite for being His disciple (Luke 14:26).2


1 Theophylact of Ohrid, Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke (tr. Chrysostom Press, 1997), p.187
2 Dmitry Royster, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary (St. Vladimir Seminary Press), p.237

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    So what about "love thy enemies" (Matthew 5:38–44)? → I added this reference to my question – John Slegers Apr 12 '17 at 13:32
  • @33515, thank you for this brother, great answer! – N.Ish Apr 12 '17 at 15:56
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Just to add my 2 cents after user33515's and enegue's answers.

The word "hate" in Scripture may convey the idea of "not love" or "love less" (as per user33515's answer). So, I think Luke 14:26 is explained by Matthew 10:34: what Jesus is commanding is not that we hate our family (to the point of wanting to do harm to them), but that we love Him more than them.

I think the whole point of all those passages is exactly this: that we shall love Jesus more than our family or ourselves.

In light of this, both commandments that seemed contradictory become:

  1. Hate your family and yourself, i.e., Love Jesus more than your family or your own self

  2. Love your neighbour/enemy as you love yourself

In other words, this is exactly what Jesus explains elsewhere:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

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45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
-- Matthew 13:45 (KJV)

Did the merchant consult his wife/mother/father/etc before he sold all he had? Should he have? One can be pretty certain Jesus would not consider the pursuit of the kingdom of heaven something that requires family approval.

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
-- Matthew 19:29 (KJV)

Onehundredfold what was left behind, and eternal life. That's one mighty big pearl! What would the family think of such a sales pitch? How would the family react when a significant decision has been made about the family fortune, without having been consulted? They would most certainly feel unloved (hated), and would resent the thing/one that caused such unthinking behaviour.

For the merchant to behave as he did, he demonstrated his love for the pearl and his hatred, as they might perceive it, for his family.


34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
-- Matthew 10:34-38 (KJV)

This is another passage that causes the OP's kind of dilemma. But, whose hand will be taking up the sword: the man or his father; the daughter or the mother? A man's foes, says Jesus, will be those of his own household. Jesus is not putting a sword in the hand of his disciples, but it is the hand of those who have not caught the Gospel vision that will it take up.

From my reading of the English text: the father is a disciple, and his son has been set at variance with him. Who set the son at variance? Jesus did by calling the father to the work of the Gospel.

This scenario can be seen in various passages of scripture. For example:

  1. 38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41
    And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
    -- Luke 10:38-42 (KJV)

    Martha was peeved because she had so much to do, and all Mary wanted to do was spend time with Jesus, listening to his words. And, if Martha had have been a woman of different heart, Jesus' words, "Mary has chosen that good part ...", likely would have seen her try to make life intolerable for her sister (taking up a sword, as it were).

  2. Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
    4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
    6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.
    -- John 12:1-8 (KJV)

    We know that Judas' was a man of different heart to Martha, because he planned and took part in Jesus' demise (again, taking up the sword, as it were).


Conclusion

Jesus, and those who follow him, hate no one (in the sense that is usually attributed to the word), but calling them to ...

... go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
-- Mark 10:21 (KJV)

... will certainly upset those who haven't caught the Gospel vision.

To define what Jesus means by "hate" here, I would suggest this: The things one lets go of in order to maintain a hold on what is loved, are the things one hates. If they were loved, why were they let go?

To be a disciple of Jesus, suggests he, the last thing one must hold on to, is him.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
-- Matthew 5:11-12 KJV

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Considering as a whole how Jesus lived his life and interacted with all people, from his family and neighbours to the most despised people in his community, it seems unlikely that he wanted his disciples to live the life of a hermit, severing all their connections to humanity. This is not following his example at all.

But it is clear that his words, on more than one occasion, specifically aim to destroy what is considered our most significant connection to the rest of humanity - the genetic bond between family members. Why would he instruct us this way? More importantly, is it even possible to hate someone because they share your genetic code? How do we even begin to do that?

What does it mean to hate?

What is the nature of hate? What does it mean?

To hate is to destroy the relationship from our end, to intentionally disregard the feelings of the other person and directly or neglectfully cause them pain and anguish.

Did Jesus ever hate?

The automatic answer to this is no. But there are two passages that bear considering from the other person's point of view in order to understand their relevance to this question.

The first one is from early in Jesus' life, as told in Luke:

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (NIV Luke 2: 41-50)

When Jesus stayed behind without telling his parents, knowing that he was expected to travel home with them after the festival, he disregarded their feelings as well as the expectations they had in terms of their relationship with him as his parents. From his parents' response, it's clear that they felt mistreated, and that he had caused them anguish. His reference to his 'Father's house' in reply would have also been painful for Joseph to hear - a cutting remark that completely disregards his own position as the boy's father.

This second passage from Matthew gives us another example of how Jesus treated family members:

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV Matthew 12:46-50)

Here Jesus is very clearly downplaying the significance of his genetic connection to the people standing outside. Can you imagine how it would feel to be his brother and hear that response? To hear your mother and yourself being dismissed so readily by her eldest son, your brother, in front of crowds of people who would be guided by his example?

Both of these passages describe behaviour from Jesus that can be interpreted on the receiving end as hating his biological mother, father and brothers. Although he expresses no hate for them as human beings, he deliberately dismisses the significance of his relationship to them as a blood relative, as their son, and relegates them to the same significance of every other human being in his life.

What if you were told tomorrow that your parents are not your biological parents - that you have no actual genetic bond with the family in which you grew up? Putting aside the significance of a sense of historical identity, would that news change your love for them even one iota? Is there really such a thing as an emotional or spiritual connection built into our DNA, or is it simply our perception that intensifies the bond? Is it possible to lovingly connect with another person just as much, whether or not they share your genetic code? Can a mother love a child that is not her own just as much as if he was?

Evolutionary instincts to survive, to procreate and to benefit our own kind can generate physiological responses that intensify the awareness of a spiritual/emotional connection to another human being. What Jesus teaches by his example and by his blatant disregard for the genetic bond (and sexual attraction, for that matter) is that our spiritual potential to love another human being is actually the same for every human being, regardless of how close/similar/attractive they are to us genetically or physically, let alone culturally or ideologically.

Love as a spiritual connection is everywhere - only our awareness of it differs.

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Context of Matthew 10: Jesus is sending out his disciples to preach the gospel and he gives them some practical instructions as well as prophetic insight into what will happen in the future when they preach the gospel. Note that upto verse 31 he says "ye" or "your" which means he is talking to the disciples. But from verse 32 onwards, he changes to "whosoever","him",and "he"- talking about the hearers of the disciples' message. The hearers have two choices: either believe and confess Jesus as the son of God-which is how salvation comes, or don't believe and confess Jesus as their Lord. Based on their choice, there will be a division.

As on that day, even today we have a divide. Those who receive salvation and those who reject it. Jesus in this context has divided the world into two. Even in families there are believers and unbelievers.

We can't believe what our family believes. We have to believe the truth of God's word irrespective of our family's beliefs to be saved. That is the context here.

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