Should Christians Hate Their Families?

Should Christians Hate Their Families? June 16, 2011

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus of Nazareth
Luke 14:26

In addition to blogging each day (more or less), I write a devotional known as The Daily Reflections. These reflections are published on The High Calling website and are emailed each morning to more than 15,000 people. (If you want to sign up to receive them, visit  The High Calling page.) My plan is to work through the entire Bible. At my current rate, this will take about fifteen years.

If you have ever read through extended portions of Scripture, you know that you will inevitably come upon passages that are perplexing. Sometimes you aren’t sure what they mean. Sometimes you’re pretty sure about the meaning, but you just don’t like what it seems to say. Those who think the Bible is full of happy religious platitudes have never read it, let me tell you.

In the last couple of months, I have been working through the Gospel of Luke. This week, I came to a verse in chapter 15 that is one of those “don’t like what it seems to say” verses. In Luke 15:26, Jesus, the one who teaches us to love our neighbor and even our enemy, says something most unsettling: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Now what in the world does that mean? Should those of us who follow Jesus actually hate our own families?

I’m going to reproduce here what I wrote in one of my reflections this week. I thought my blog readers might find this interesting. As always, I value your comments.

Daily Reflection on Luke 15:26

I begin with a couple of confessions. First, I was tempted to avoid this verse altogether. As you know, in these reflections I don’t treat every single verse. So I could have easily skipped Luke 14:26. But, to have done so would have been to dismiss the tugging of the Spirit in my heart.

Second, I find myself wishing that Jesus didn’t say what he did in Luke 14:26. Verses like this are so unsettling. Plus, they’re the sort of thing that opponents of Christian faith trot out to make Jesus look both contradictory and cruel. The one who told us to love our neighbors and even our enemies now wants us to hate our closest relatives. What sense does this make?

In tomorrow’s reflection, I’ll try to answer this question. Today, I want to say a word about how we make sense of Jesus’ teaching. If we’re going to be fair in our reading of Jesus, not to mention if we’re going to discover what God wants to say to us, then we have to be wise interpreters.

This means, among other things, that we recognize when Jesus is speaking hyperbolically. Hyperbole is what we informally call exaggeration. It’s a way of communicating that uses bold overstatement and embellishment. Hyperbole, which was common among teachers in Jesus’ culture, is not meant to be taken literally. If I were to say to you that I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, I would be distressed if you actually slaughtered a horse and prepared it for my dinner. What I meant, in a matter of speaking, was that I was feeling very, very hungry. Similarly, in the case of Jesus, given everything else he said and did, we can be sure that he was speaking hyperbolically when he said that to be his disciple we have to hate our families and even our own lives.

Yet, there is a danger in identifying hyperbole in the teaching of Jesus. It’s the danger of dismissing both his point and his urgency. If we think to ourselves, “Oh, well, Jesus didn’t really mean that,” then we run the risk of utterly missing what he wants us to hear. Here we come to, not a question of interpretation, but rather of the state of our hearts. When we encounter a biblical text that is unsettling to us, are we open to hear what God is really saying? Are we willing to have our comfortable life disturbed by the Word of God? Will we let the hyperbole of Jesus shake us up so that we might be more truly and fully his disciples?

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Let me encourage you to consider the last three questions: Are you open? Are you willing? Will you let the hyperbole of Jesus shake you up?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as you know, I tend to be more of an engineer than a poet. I must confess that part of me wishes you had spoken more like a systematic theologian than a pot-stirring prophet. Sometimes I find your hyperbole to be upsetting.

Of course, that’s part of the point, isn’t it? You want not only to instruct me, but also to stir me up, to create within me a crisis of understanding. You want to break through my defenses and self-serving assumptions. Help me, dear Lord, to be a wise interpreter of your sayings. May I learn to read attentively. May my heart be open to you and your Word, ready to receive even that which unsettles me.

All praise be to you, God of truth, God of poetry. Amen.

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  • Rodney

    Interesting point, Mark.  His exaggeration (this is very important) has the opposite effect on us (dismissive–this is not important).  As you suggest, perhaps this says more about us than it does about him.

  • Anonymous

    That is ironic, isn’t it?

  • Bellowmom

    I wanted to assume Jesus meant we cannot follow Jesus, if we are a slave to the world. BTW Luke 14:26(you are human)

  • Anonymous

    That’s a good way to put it. Thanks. And, yes, Luke 14:26. I made the correction. And, yes, I am all too human. I wish typos were the worst of it!

  • Luke 14:26
    26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
    This is why I cannot stand the newer translations of the Bible “and even life itself” makes it sound like life itself, in general, should be rejected when it is clearly is talking about YOUR OWN LIFE. Many rely on Mark as the first Gospel written even though it is likely not to be case, the first Gospel written was Matthew, drafted in Hebrew and Greek as stated by early Church fathers. Luke was obviously the last Synoptic Gospel written. Let’s look at the corresponding verse in Matthew to gain a better understanding of Jesus’ words because the author of Luke obviously “copied” this scripture from Matthew and it appears he substituted Matthew’s statement of “loveth father or mother more than me” for the Greek word Miseo  .
    Matthew 10: 37He 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.
    It is a fact that the original Greek New Testament used the word “Miseo” or Hate, hatred or despise in Luke 14:26. We can rest assured that first of all Christ DID not contradict himself in any way. All we have to do to get beyond this perceived “problem” is to study Jesus’ Torah lesson in:
     Matthew 15:3-5
    3. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?4. For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.5. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
    So Jesus is clearly not encouraging a general rebellion against ones parents, UNLESS, it conflicts with putting G-D and Yeshua (Jesus) first in one’s life. No one is to be put before G-D and Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • Johnscribbles

    You misread the text, it doesn’t mean to hate our families.  It means this life, their lives, etc.  I don’t know if it’s real clear in the first translation from the King James Bible, but this is what I think it means.  I hate this life, because of all the ungodliness going on, the deceit of sin, the problems in our families, the problems in the churches, which are our families etc.  I don’t hate life itself.  If you love this life you will lose it, if you hate this life, you will gain it. 

  • markdroberts

    In the end, I agree with you, sort of. But the text really does say, literally and clearly, that we should hate our families. Right? How do you deal with this?

  • Curator

    As usual, most don’t bother to use a concordance such as the Strong’s Exhaustive concordance where hate in the Greek also refers to “love less” or as a comparative term. So, you should hate (love much less) your family (and everything else that is of this world) when compared to Godly things. Also, we must study Scripture in light of other Scripture since there are no contradictions in God’s Word.