Hating One’s Family?

This coming Sunday is the 23rd Sunday and we are considering the reading from Luke 14. In yesterday’s post we framed this gospel reading as beginning to lay out the costs of discipleship. Today we will look more deeply at the barriers that point to the repeated “cannot be my disciple.

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

The language here is strong – Matthew softens the text with “to love more than.” Jesus’ command of love makes it unthinkable that he commands hating one’s family all the while commanding to love those we do not know and are even our enemy. How does one understand Jesus’ words especially in the light of the commandment “Honor your father and mother” (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). Yet at the same time the OT is also quite stark pointing out the priority of God over familial bonds (cf. Ex 32:27-29; Deut 33:9; 1 Kings 19:19-21)

Hate is a Semitic expression meaning “to turn away from, to detach oneself from,” rather than our animosity-laden understanding. In Genesis, we read in one verse that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (29:30), but in the next verse, it literally says that Leah was hated (“unloved” in NRSV, see also v. 33). Leah was not hated like we usually use the word, but Jacob simply loved her less than he loved Rachel. Jacob didn’t have an intense dislike for Leah. In fact, he had seven children with her after these verses! (Stoffregen)

As Culpepper [292] notes, one should understand the Semitic hyperbole always uses stark differences so that the contrast is more clearly seen. The term misein (hate) denotes attitudes and modes of action rather than emotions. The point is not how one feels towards one’s parents, but rather one’s effective attitude when it comes to the kingdom.” This becomes clearer in 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, he will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  This continues Luke 12:49-52 regarding division with the household caused by the proclamation of the reign of God.

In addition, this saying likely had a practical application in the lives of the first generation of Christians. The first generation of Christian missionaries and evangelists were highly itinerant. Discipleship entailed a willingness to leave home and family with minimal provisions (cf. 10:1-2; 18:29). The starkness of Jesus’ language about “hate” makes clear that the choice itself is stark and demanding.

The demands of leaving behind familial ties in favor of right relationship to Jesus (v.26) as well as the demand to leave behind possessions that burden one from the fullness of the relationship with God (v.33) are not keyed to severing of family relationships or entering destitution, but rather ask a distancing from the high value that the culture places upon these things.  The mere claim that one accepts Jesus and his teaching is a far cry from a radical shift in fundamental allegiances away from the culturally normative family and clan. For example, the teaching about invitations (vv. 12-14) makes clear that the cultural expectations and obligations of hosting and attending sets up a pattern of allegiances that makes a claim upon a person resulting in the exclusion of all outside the bounds of family, friends, and social/business peers. Discipleship demands a distancing from those norms to the norms of the Reign of God in which one openly invites those “outside the camp.”

Just as Jesus has been reminding the Pharisees and scribes (vv.1-24) about the right behavior (orthopraxis) consistent with the Reign of God (belief as orthodoxy), so too are the crowds being reminded that the same is demanded of them – and it has implications and repercussions in one’s life. The listeners are not encouraged to abhor their families, their parents, but to reform one’s identity from service limited to the family/clan to an identity open in service to the Reign of God.  In other words, to reorient oneself within the new community dedicated to God’s purpose.


Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 291-4

Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com


Image: Apologia Studios CC-BY-SA

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