If any one 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, RSV)
Can the same Jesus who instructs his disciples to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) be responsible for this stringent requirement to hate one’s parents. In the early 1970s a cult appeared in the United States that taught as one of its basic tenets that young people must hate their parents. They encouraged the children to leave home and travel with them. This obvious distortion of the teaching of the Bible was based upon the saying quoted above.
At first glance our reading of the Lukan saying of Jesus does seem to suggest that the cult’s interpretation of the Lord’s command was correct. However, this saying like others imbedded in the Gospels, contains an important Hebrew idiom. On this occasion the idiomatic expression is central to our very understanding of the verse. It is important that we recognize the Hebrew meaning behind the Greek of our Gospels. Fortunately, in this instance the hidden Hebrew meaning can be unmasked even without a good knowledge of Hebrew. One only needs to give time and effort to study the Bible carefully with a good concordance. Let’s briefly trace this unique Hebraic use of the verbs “love” and “hate” in their joint occurrences first in the Old Testament and then their penetration into the Apostle Paul’s writings.