In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” At first glance, that seems to be a contradiction to the Bible’s overwhelming message of love. In fact, that would be such a strong contradiction that even if someone rejects the inerrancy of the Bible, that quote alone should drive him to think that there is more to the context. So, let’s consider some context.
The big picture
The world is a broken place. The basic story of the Bible is that holy God relates to sinful humanity through different dispensations. He put man in paradise with one specific rule and he failed (Gen 1:26-3:21). He allowed man to run the world based on his own conscience for a while and that led to corruption and destruction (Gen 3:22-7:24). He let mankind rule themselves using their own civil governments, which also resulted in direct disobedience (Gen 8:1-11:32). He chose a specific people group and gave specific instructions and they ended up in Egyptian slavery (Gen 12:1-Ex 18:27). Eventually, He pulled Israel out of Egypt and gave them a long, drawn out, Law for them to conduct themselves by (Ex 19:1-Acts 1:26). This whole time, He tells men that there will come a future dispensation when the world will be somewhat restored and there will be a righteous King ruling over a global kingdom. The condition is that Israel must accept the King and the kingdom.
The Jesus story
Jesus is that King and He came to Israel to offer the kingdom, but just like every dispensation before, this dispensation ended in failure as well. Instead of accepting the King and the kingdom, Israel rejected them. Eventually, they went as far as to kill Him. Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus will not bring the promised kingdom and it sure doesn’t mean that He established the kingdom anyway, but Jesus did postpone the kingdom for a future day when Israel will accept Him.
The middle of Luke
So, in the book of Luke, where our passage takes place, Jesus offers the kingdom to Israel and gets rejected. It gets to the point where He says:
34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Luke 13:34-35 NKJV)
Israel rejected Him. He is going away. He will return when Israel accepts Him. This is unfortunate that we have to wait, but it is still exciting that this kingdom will come one day. While Israel as a whole rejected Christ, there were some who followed Him and these followers were interested in knowing more about the coming kingdom. The kingdom is quite a spectacular thing, so Jesus taught about it using parables in order to present the doctrine in a way that is easier to grasp. One aspect of the kingdom is that we who are there will have varying degrees of rewards, glory, and responsibility there, based on how we conduct ourselves in our life on earth. Luke 14 begins at the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, where Jesus expands on these doctrines of the kingdom:
7 So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11 NKJV)
They were at a Pharisee’s house, and they have a bit of a reputation for doing things just to look good or to get paid, so Jesus turned to the host:
12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
“The resurrection of the just” is when believers will be rewarded at a judgment called, “The Judgment Seat of Christ,” which will occur shortly before the coming kingdom. Jesus has just told both the attendees and the host that if they are humble today, they will be rewarded in the future. If they seek reward today, then they will get it today, but if they are willing to serve today and neglect today’s reward, then they can anticipate a reward in this coming kingdom
One of the attendees got excited and said, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15b NKJV). Think about it from his perspective: how cool is it that he is sitting in a ruler of the Pharisees’ house eating with the promised King – imagine that time a bazillion, and that’s how cool it will be to sit in the kingdom and eat with the King!
One might anticipate that only the guys who are ruling today would be those who are worthy of sitting with the King in the kingdom. Jesus gave Israel an invitation to usher in the kingdom, but that most of the invitees rejected the offer and the King and therefore will not be in the kingdom. This excited disciple who is looking forward to eating in the kingdom is likely to be in for a surprise when he sees who is and is not in attendance. Jesus explains in a parable:
16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and thelame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’” (Luke 14:16-24 NKJV)
Some of Jesus’ closest disciples were at the dinner at the Pharisee’s house. Clearly there would not have been enough room at the table for the multitudes that followed Him or even the 70 whom He worked with in chapter 10. The disciples at the Pharisee’s house were from Christ’s inner-circle and just as He had degrees of friendships on earth before, He will have degrees of friendship in the kingdom.
We could say that Christ’s outer-circles consisted of the multitudes that followed Him around. They weren’t as close as His disciples, perhaps this one just wanted to see the miracles, perhaps that one just wanted to test Him, etc., but they weren’t disciples in the sense that those who sat and ate with Him were.
A note about discipleship
We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). We are not saved through discipleship. There is an erroneous teaching called “Lordship Salvation” which requires discipleship for salvation. In Russian and Ukrainian, this false doctrine is even called, “Salvation through Lordship” or “Salvation through discipleship.” In the context of Jesus speaking to the multitude, many were probably already saved through faith, so when He tells them how to become disciples, He isn’t telling them how to get saved, but rather how to become one of those in the inner-circle. Since then, Christ was killed, buried, resurrected, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father, so we are unable to have the discipleship ministry that His disciples had back then. There is, however, an application for us, in that if we live as He instructed the multitudes and the disciples at the dinner, then we can anticipate a future fellowship with Christ, even if we can’t physically walk with Him on earth today.
Promotion from Multitude Circle to Disciple Circle
The next scene in Luke 14 is outside of the Pharisee’s home. Jesus is walking with a multitude and He tells them how they can become a disciple, so that they can be eligible for the greatness of the kingdom that He told the disciples about at the Pharisee’s house:
25 Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:25-33 NKJV paragraph breaks mine)
At the center of this short speech are some parables. If you want to build a tower, you need to count the cost first to decide if you really want to do it. If a king wants to go to war, he needs to count the cost first to decide if he really wants to do it. We’ve just read what the discipleship lifestyle is like: you are neglecting much opportunity today for something that is still future. In fact, verse 33 really sums up everything in chapter 14 that we’ve seen so far, “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
What is “hate” in Greek?
So, how does Luke 14:26 develop the theme of Luke 14 as summarized in vs 33? Jesus said to “hate” your parents and siblings. It sure would be odd for Him to contradict other passages about loving your neighbor, brother, parents, and even enemies. Let’s take a look at what “hate” involves.
Many people assume that “hate” always means to harbor intense feelings of passionate dislike. I maintain that the word, “hate,” is about as nuanced as the word, “love,” only more so. We know that “love” can be used in a variety of contexts. The word, “love” has different nuances when we say things like, “I love my wife,” “I love my son,” “I love chocolate,” “I love my job,” and “I love ‘Murica.” In Greek, there are several words for “love,” which makes each word a bit less broad than the English, but like English, Greek only has one word for “hate.” The verb, “to hate,” is miseo (μισέω) and the noun, “hatred,” is misos (μῖσος). Let’s look at some occurrences of the Greek word for “hate,” starting with some non-biblical authors, then looking at some occurrences in the Bible to figure out what range of meaning the word has. Then, we can take a look at how it’s used in Luke 14:26.
Isocrates (436-338 B.C.) wrote:
Bear in mind that while the base may be pardoned for acting without principle, since it is on such a foundation that from the first their lives have been built, yet the good may not neglect virtue without subjecting themselves to rebukes from many quarters; for all men despise less those who do wrong than those who have claimed to be respect able and yet are in fact no better than the common run;
ἐνθυμοῦ δ᾽ ὅτι τοῖς μὲν φαύλοις ἐνδέχεται τὰ τυχόντα πράττειν: εὐθὺς γὰρ τοῦ βίου τοιαύτην πεποίηνται τὴν ὑπόθεσιν: τοῖς δὲ σπουδαίοις οὐχ οἷόν τε τῆς ἀρετῆς ἀμελεῖν διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἔχειν τοὺς ἐπιπλήττοντας. πάντες γὰρ μισοῦσιν οὐχ οὕτω τοὺς ἐξαμαρτάνοντας ὡς τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς μὲν φήσαντας εἶναι, μηδὲν δὲ τῶν τυχόντων διαφέροντας, (source)
Notice that in this passage, there is a degree of misos. Men “despise” (miseo) those who do wrong, but they really despise those who do wrong but claim to be respectable.
Strabo (63 B.C.-24 A.D.) wrote:
Jupiter, indignant at this state of things, destroyed all, and appointed for man a life of toil.
Ζεὺς δὲ μισήσας τὴν κατάστασιν ἠφάνισε πάντα καὶ διὰ πόνου τὸν βίον ἀπέδειξε: (source)
In this instance, Jupiter is not “indignant” at a particular person or people, but rather at the “state of things.” So, Greek hate is not necessarily restricted to people (nor is English hate, by the way).
Appian (95-165 AD) wrote:
Cicero in return now prefers Cæsar’s assassins to his friends. He hated Decimus as long as the latter was the friend of Cæsar, but loves him now that he has become his murderer.
Κικέρων δὲ τοὺς ἐκείνου φονέας προτίθησι τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ καὶ Δέκμον Καίσαρι μὲν ὄντα φίλον ἐμίσει, ἀνδροφόνον δὲ αὐτοῦ γενόμενον ἀγαπᾷ, (source)
Here, hate is compared to friendship. Cicero’s former hatred for Decimus was turned around when Decimus killed Cæsar, such that he now loves Decimus more than his friends. That’s pretty sick, Cicero.
Appian also wrote:
The mob having been dispersed, the corpses were thrown into the river in order to avoid a shocking spectacle. It was a fresh cause of lamentation to see them floating down the stream, and the soldiers stripping them, and certain miscreants, as well as the soldiers, carrying off the clothing of the better class as their own property. This insurrection was suppressed, but with terror and hatred for the triumvirs. The famine grew worse. The people groaned, but did not stir.
διαφυγόντος δέ ποτε τοῦ πλήθους τὰ νεκρά, ἵνα μὴ ἐνοχλοίη θεωρούμενα, ἐς τὸν ποταμὸν ἀπερριπτεῖτο: καὶ ἕτερον πένθος ἦν ὁρωμένων ἀνὰ τὸ ῥεῦμα, καὶ περιδυόντων αὐτὰ τῶν στρατιωτῶν καὶ ὅσοι μετ᾽ αὐτῶν κακοῦργοι τὰ εὐσχήμονα μάλιστα ὡς οἰκεῖα ἔφερον. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ἐπαύετο σὺν φόβῳ τε καὶ μίσει τῶν ἡγουμένων, ὁ δὲ λιμὸς ἤκμαζε, καὶ ὁ δῆμος ἔστενε καὶ ἡσύχαζεν. (source)
In this case, hatred is a brewing mentality of one group against another. Also, let this serve as a lesson: if you don’t want to shock people, don’t throw dead bodies into a river then pillage them for all to see.
Without even opening a Bible, we see that “hate” can have a greater or lesser degree, it can be against a person or a situation, it can turn into love, and it can be felt by a group or an individual. See how fluid the word can be? Now, let’s look at some biblical examples.
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev 2:6 NKJV)
Notice that they don’t hate the Nicolaitans. They hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. I would argue that the reason they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans is because they love God, which means they love what God loves and hate what God hates.
but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 23)
Here, they hate garments. Clothing. If “hate” is always a passionate negative emotion, then how can they be so emotional about clothing? The reason that we hate that which is defiled because we love the person who is in danger. In fact, we love them enough to “pull them out of the fire,” whatever that may entail.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21 NKJV)
If you have apathy toward a brother then you do not love God. Here, it seems that hate simply means not loving a brother.
As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom 9:12)
In what way has God loved Jacob and hated Esau? It is written in Malachi:
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?”
Says the Lord.
“Yet Jacob I have loved;
3 But Esau I have hated,
And laid waste his mountains and his heritage
For the jackals of the wilderness.”
4 Even though Edom has said,
“We have been impoverished,
But we will return and build the desolate places,”
Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“They may build, but I will throw down;
They shall be called the Territory of Wickedness,
And the people against whom the Lord will have indignation forever.
5 Your eyes shall see,
And you shall say,
‘The Lord is magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ (Mal 1:2-5)
So, in this case, “love” is the covenant with Israel and “hate” is keeping a nation from thriving. I may not sit at home dwelling on feelings of hatred for birds, but if I shut the windows on my apartment balcony, then I have “hated” pigeons in the sense that I have deprived them from thriving on the balcony.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Eph 5:29 NKJV)
Notice what the opposite of hating your flesh would be: nourishing and cherishing it. Both “nourish” and “cherish” (ektrepho ἐκτρέφω and thalpo θάλπω) are verbs that have the connotation of working to bring to maturity, like a farmer or a parent. In this instance, “hate” is not an emotion at all, but a work of neglect or denial.
See the range of the word, “hate?” The intense loathing feeling simply does not fit in every instance, so we really can’t jump to the conclusion that this is what it means in Luke 14:26.
26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Jesus essentially equates hating one’s life (Gr. psuche) with bearing his cross. Jesus used similar wording five chapters earlier in Luke:
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25 NKJV)
Here, Jesus equates bearing one’s cross with denying himself. Denying himself of what? Well, whatever it is that the world has to offer. Notice that the opposite of denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and saving one’s life (Luke 9:23-24) is gaining the whole world (Luke 9:25).
Back to Luke 14:26-27…
To hate one’s life in this context is to deny oneself. It doesn’t just say to hate or deny oneself, but also one’s “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.”
Suppose someone wanted to be a disciple of Jesus. That would mean being His student and attending his sermons. But suppose on a day when Jesus would be teaching, this potential disciple’s brother came to him with a business proposition to set up a falafel stand downtown. It certainly isn’t a sin to sell falafel downtown, but if someone skips his Teacher’s teaching in order to sell falafel, then he isn’t being a disciple. The disciple would simply have to deny his brother’s proposition and follow the Teacher instead. He doesn’t hate his brother in the sense that we often use the word today; in fact, since he’s a disciple of Jesus, he probably loves his brother very much. But we can still say, “no” to the people we love.
In short, the classic word, “hate,” had a wider array of meaning than it does today. When Jesus said that his disciples must hate their families, He did not mean to stop loving them or to have hard feelings against them. He meant that He and His teaching were the priority and that His disciples must be able to deny their families when they conflict with discipleship. Not everyone in the multitude had the right priorities. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t saved (salvation is through faith, not discipleship), but they would miss the opportunity to be disciples of Jesus rather than just faces in the multitude.