Biblical Hebrew and its New Testament application. Hebrew idioms buried in overly literal Greek. 'Hate your parents', Matthew 10:37




'Hate your parents', Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:26

Hate your father

"If 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." (Luke 14:26)
Talmudim, 'students' of Jewish rabbis were taught to place their affections for their teachers higher than that for their fathers, for:
"his teacher has priority, for his father brought him into this world, but his teacher, who has taught him wisdom, brings him into the world to come".
But 'hatred'? Surely that is taking loyalty to your teacher too far - even if your teacher is God in human form. For another commandment is that of honouring ones parents - which itself cannot be contradicted. Indeed, this verse in Luke has caused much anguish and pain between zealous Christian sons or daughters and their parents, who believing they were expressing their devotion to Jesus, had no regard or worse still, hatred, for their parents.

But what we have here is another Hebrew problem. Biblical Hebrew lacks the necessary language to exactly define the comparative sense, i.e., 'more than' or 'less than'. Instead it tends to express two things which may be comparatively of different degree like 'first' and 'second' as extremes such as 'first' and 'last'. In this way love and hate whilst appearing as opposites may in fact be related but lesser terms such as 'love more' and 'love less'.
"If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)
A Jewish man was not allowed to abandon a 'hated' wife's son's rights of inheritance. But more than this, the Deuteronomy passage describes favouritism between two wives, not absolute love and hatred, for the man bears children by both. Hence, different Bible versions struggle with the phrase "hated" and some adopt "unloved" or "disliked", as softer phrases. However, the Hebrew word used in the second phrase is cowdh - view larger image sโn๊' (Strong’s #8130) which in its more than 140 uses is always translated by 'hate' or by words indicating 'foe' or 'enemy'. Literal versions cannot soften the apparent invective, only an idiomatic understanding or paraphrase can explain the metaphor.

The Hebrew sโn๊' is the opposite of love which could mean 'non-election'. This contrast is the same in Genesis 29:31 between Leah ('hated' sen๛’โh from sโn๊’) and Rachel, who in the previous verse is described as "loved more than Leah", a contrast of degree not of absolute love and hate. Compare also the passages in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 above; 1 Samuel 1:5; Proverbs 30:23; 2 Samuel 19:6; and even Exodus 20:3 which speaks of preferring others gods as equivalent to hating God (cf. Matthew 6:24 on serving God and mammon, loving one and hating the other).

The Jewish midrash on Exodus describes God as hating the angels, and not just the fallen ones. It does not mean he dislikes Michael and Gabriel! It means that he chooses to give man the Torah, rather than the angels:
"By three names is this mount known: The mountain of God, Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai. . . . Why The mountain of God? (Exodus 18:5). Because it was there that God manifested His Godhead. And Sinai? Because [it was on that mount] that God showed that He hates the angels and loves mankind." (Exodus Rabbah 51.8, Soncino edition)
There is actually a Hebrew wordplay here, for Sinai sounds like the Hebrew for hate, although it begins with a different Hebrew letter and may mean 'thorny'. Similarly, Malachi speaks of God's preference for Jacob over Esau:
"... yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau..." (Malachi 1:2-3)
But Esau, like Ishmael instead of Isaac, was not hated absolutely, only "rejected" as the Aramaic targum (paraphrase) prefers to render it. In Aramaic sanah can mean 'to hate' and 'to separate', so the gospels could be saying separate yourselves from your parents if you want to follow me. This is a possible interpretation, but still against Jewish and biblical culture which is very supportive of family. Apart from Jesus' 'separating' and staying behind in the temple when he was younger he was a very dutiful son.

Matthew, in fact, gives the game away and here a synopsis of the gospels and a little Hebrew understanding could have answered our question from the first, for he translates as "love less" rather than "hate":
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Matthew 10:37)
Whilst Jesus does predict division as a result of following him he does not proscribe hatred for elsewhere he upholds the precept, "honour your father and your mother" (Matthew 15:4-6, 19:17-19; Mark 7:10-13).

Jesus expressed degrees in his love. He chose 12 disciples but 3 especially he spent time with and one of these, John, is called the one that Jesus loved (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). Jesus also had a special place in his heart for Martha, Lazarus and family (John 11:5).

Even if one were to take this 'hating' verse literally, a semantic twist would have you back where you started. For, Jesus tells us that our enemies will be the members of our own family, yet we are also taught, "love your enemies"! (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27,35)

More material like this can be found in our bible course "The Difficult Sayings of Jesus" and Hebrew Unit N, Hebrew in the New Testament.


Hebrew alphabet