“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.” – Luke 14:26
The Bible has a lot to say on the importance of family and honoring family. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6, echoing one of the Ten Commandments, of the importance of honoring our father and mother, citing it as the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” And Old Testament law placed obedience to parents as utmost importance, making continued rebellion a capital offence (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Additionally, husbands are told to “love your [wife], as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25) and wives are told to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” (Ephesians 5:22), echoing God’s created order in Genesis 2. Elsewhere, the Bible makes being a good husband and dad a prerequisite for leading Christ’s church (1 Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6).
So, naturally, people can become confused when they read Luke 14:26 and Jesus’ command that in order to be his disciple, we must hate our “own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters.”
Is Jesus contradicting Scripture here? As the living Word, that is impossible. Rather, we must look to the context and the language Jesus uses to gain deeper insight to his radical call of discipleship.
Jesus’ call to discipleship
Jesus’ call to discipleship can be difficult. Contrary to common practice today, Jesus was not in the business of getting anyone and everyone he could in the door of his discipleship program. Instead, he took painstaking measures to clarify the costs of following him. Those who heard him often abandoned their pursuit after hearing his messages (John 6:52–71). In keeping with this truth, Jesus’ requirements for discipleship set out in Luke 14:26 are hard for us to hear.
Thankfully, scholars are in agreement in their understanding of this passage and its significance. In order to better understand the nature of Jesus’ statement, two things need to be clarified. First, we must look at the word “hate” (μισεω, miseo) and all that it can and does mean in the text. Second, we must understand the context of Jesus’ teaching and the significance his words had to his audience. Exploring these two ideas will help us understand the nature of Jesus’ call to hate all apart from him.
Nuances of “Hate” (miseo)
The Greek word translated “hate” in Luke 14:26 has a rather narrow range of meaning—for the most part, it means simply that: hate.
When used in the psychological sense, it carries the extreme force of a death wish. This is exactly why Jesus can say in Matthew 5:21–23 that anger (expressed in hatred) against someone is tantamount to murder. John makes the same point in 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Naturally, this leads to the following question: Is Jesus calling us to hate (to the point of murder) our family and ourselves in order to be his disciple? The answer is a resounding, “No.”
Thankfully, there is another sense for the word “hate,” as it pertains to this passage. When it’s used in the Old Testament, particularly in the Wisdom Literature, the word loses its psychological force. Instead, it carries a sense of intensified choice. For instance, in Proverbs, the writer often instructs the reader to choose righteousness over evil, often worded in terms of love and hate. The call is to reject (= hate) evil and to embrace (= love) righteousness. In Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14:26, the same principle is at play.
In this passage, Jesus’ call to hate both family and self is a call to rejection, not homicide. Some scholars are content to stop at this point, saying disciples should love Jesus to the neglect of their families—an action that could be interpreted as hate. However, this would stand in contradiction to Jesus’ instructions concerning proper love for both neighbor and family as discussed above.
Unfortunately, many of our “saints” in protestant Christianity seemingly operated under the assumption that family was to be rejected, destroying their families in the process. The reality is that a person who puts ministry as a priority above his family is not actually worshiping Jesus but instead worshiping ministry and is disqualified for ministry by Paul’s teachings on eldership. So what does Jesus mean then? We need to dig a little deeper for a full understanding of the passage.
The majority of scholars are in agreement that the concept of hate (or “rejection” as we have said) is idiomatic for a subordination of loyalties. “Hate” in this context demands the rejection of loyalty to family and even self for the purpose of following Jesus with a whole heart. All other people or things must come second to your pursuit of relationship with Jesus. Matthew 10:37 brings this concept out in its take on Jesus’ words: “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” (emphasis added). As noted New Testament scholar Darrell Bock reminds us, Jesus is to be our “first love” and all others second. We must be prepared to reject family and even self for the sake of discipleship.
The Context of Luke 14:26
That being said, our first priority is always to Jesus. Sometimes this means that we will face rejection from family members when we give our life to Jesus as a disciple. In instances like this, we are to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of rejection by loved ones. We are never to shun Jesus in order to gain the love and approval of our family.
From our modern day context, we don’t fully understand the cost to which Jesus calls his disciples in Luke 14:26. In Matthew 10:35–36, a parallel passage, Jesus makes this cost clear. He came to set “man against his father, and daughter against her mother.” This was very true in the first century church. Often those who embraced Jesus in the first century were disowned by their family. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and wives would indeed turn their backs on family members who had turned to Christ. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:26, then, is two-fold: First, disciples must realize that following him might mean being forsaken by family. Second, disciples must be willing to choose loyalty to Jesus over family.
Indeed, unbelieving family would often not accept someone back into the family unless they rejected Jesus. In our culture of religious plurality, believers often do not face this difficulty. But Jesus’ words still hold firm today—if we do not uphold our loyalty to him above all others, we are not worthy of the title “disciple.” The call is not to reject family to properly follow Jesus but that in following Jesus we must be willing to be rejected by our family.
For those of us living in the western world of religious pluralism, the thought of having to choose between the approval of Jesus and one’s family may seem odd. But in many places today, the situation is quite familiar. For example, one Mormon man I know was very concerned that his wife would divorce him and take their children. One woman told her devoutly Mormon family she had become a Christian and was hoping one day to marry a Christian and raise her children as Christians—her family disowned her and had the equivalent of a funeral to consider her dead to them.
A final note to those who’ve faced rejection
It may be that you’re reading this and have faced rejection from loved ones in your devotion to Jesus. I know that it must be painful to have that happen, and Jesus understands your pain, having been rejected by his people (Isaiah 53:3) and by his Father (Matthew 27:46) on the Cross in order to atone for our sins. But if you have faced a rejection such as this, Jesus has good news for you. Though you are rejected by your earthly family, you are adopted into his family—the church. Until that time when your family accepts you back, serve and love your new family (Ephesians 2:19-22), the church, to the glory of God, and ask the church to pray for your family’s salvation and a restoration of unity and love with your family.