September 21, 2020

What did Jesus mean when he said we must “hate” our family?

soloLuke 14:15 (ESV) When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple….. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

A friend asked me to comment on Luke 14:26, Jesus’ statement that anyone who comes to him must “hate” mother, father and his own life.

Since this interacted somewhat with our previous discussion of “Can We Be Too God-Centered?,” I thought it would be a worthwhile topic.

I’ve reprinted a considerable portion of Luke 14 to place this verse in context. Luke, like all the synoptic Gospels, is very concerned to produce “honest” Jesus followers, that is, disciples who really “know the score” and what is expected of them. Throughout this section of Luke, Jesus is giving a decisive call to discipleship that will enter the Kingdom, but not by being like the world. Jesus’ way in Luke is a radical, decisive, revolutionary reorientation; a conscious, constant choice to live as a follower of one whose Kingdom is real, but invisible; whose demand is complete surrender and whose expectation is loyalty at a high price.

This is not Jesus trying to “nudge” people toward discipleship. This isn’t an attempt to include those who have no plans to follow Christ. It’s not Jesus being coy or gamey. This isn’t Jesus inviting you in on your terms. Without disparaging anyone’s efforts in relational evangelism, we need to be honest: this is Jesus drawing lines in the sand with some of his most intentionally provocative rhetoric and most challenging invitations.

What’s challenging about so much of Luke 14 is how it seems to contradict so many things we take for granted as normal and moral, especially family.

A new landowner assumes he should go see what he’s bought. A farmer buys five oxen- a major purchase- and wants to examine them. A newlywed wants his honeymoon. (Deuteronomy 24:5 gave him a year at home!)

All of these become examples of excuse makers who are more interested in the normal routines of life than the Kingdom of God that is coming.

I would put myself- and all of you- squarely in the group Jesus is describing, by the way. If you think you aren’t an excuse maker who would rather inspect his oxen than enter the Kingdom, you’re not going to see the intent of Jesus.

In the parable where these examples are found (14:15-24), the man giving the banquet (God working through Jesus) must literally drag and force people to come to the banquet. (“Compel them to come.”) Eventually his house is filled with the crippled, the blind, the lame and the assumed uninvited and unwelcome.

That’s the Kingdom, Jesus is saying. When it’s here, people don’t recognize it. So they choose this world (a good world!) over the Kingdom that’s here now, so the Kingdom then belongs to the unlikely; the last , least, lost, lonely, left out and unwanted. In other words, the Kingdom of God is populated by grace-rescued, undeserving people. It’s not populated by people who couldn’t and wouldn’t recognize Jesus and his rag-tag movement of losers as the Kingdom in their midst right now.

As usual, Jesus is asking if we perceive who he is, and how that changes everything.

But then Jesus really brings out the big surprise. Nothing in this world is more honored and more sacred in Judaism- or in scripture- than a person’s family. Family honor, family respect and family obedience DEFINED a person in ancient Israel. To be disowned by your family was the ultimate curse. To not have a family was to become a non-person.

Interestingly, Jesus deals with this on two fronts, most clearly seen in Mark 3.

In Mark 3, Jesus refuses to see his family when they come to take him home (Mark 3:31.) Within Jesus culture, this would have been seen as tremendously disrespectful to his mother and his family.

This wasn’t just a random action, however. It was quite purposeful. Jesus refusal to go and demonstrate his loyalty and obligation to his family was part of a larger statement he was making, as he is Luke 14, the Kingdom of God.

Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Here is Jesus being purposely provocative, going right to the root of normal loyalties and accepted morality, making a shocking demonstration that the Kingdom of God is a new and true family. Jesus’ action of not publicly respecting his family made a clear statement about the nature and priority of the Kingdom of God over the strongest earthly loyalties.

Jesus’ own actions as a 12 year old had foreshadowed this:

Luke 2:48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.

So when we come to Luke 14:26 we are listening to someone who has frequently put family on the table as an example of both persecution and sacrifice. Jesus asked the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 to turn his back on the people who had taught him to obey the law, the family who had given him all the gifts of a good upbringing and wealth as well. Jesus said sell it all, abandon your place in the family and come follow me.

This is the same Jesus who was not particularly impressed with Peter’s words about having given up family to follow Jesus.

Mark 10:28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The Kingdom of God- both now and in the future- redefines family and all that family means.

It is Jesus choice of the word “hate” that alarms contemporary readers, for reasons that hardly need to be listed. What we don’t appreciate is that in the mind of Semitic people, the word “hate” does not necessarily carry the obvious idea of “actively wishing for destruction or punishment.” Look, for example, at the story of Jacob’s two wives:

Genesis 29:30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Matthew’s version of this same Luke 14 passage uses language that he understood to mean the same thing:

Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come t to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 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. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Jesus closes this section of Luke 14 with a clear summation of what he wants all his followers to hear: Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Where does all of this come out for a Jesus shaped spirituality?

We fail to appreciate how much family defined a person’s identity, security, significance, future and every other aspect of life. The early Christians were faced with many kinds of sacrifice and conflict, but none were as close to the center of life as family. To be disowned by family– which is exactly what many first century Christians faced– was to lose everything that held life and future together. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus spoke about this without nuance or exception: The Kingdom of God means the renouncing of family.

But in what way?

Here I think the rest of scripture gives us lots of help. For example, Paul’s letters have much to say on family life. Family is a major reflection of one’s commitment to Christ and understanding of God. Paul even encourages Christian women to remain married to pagan husbands! Obviously, Christians are not hating their spouses and families in Ephesians 5. The Lordship of Christ is lived out in families.

But the Gospels are speaking to a different kind of family relation. Your enemies will be your own family. Even your own parents and children. And, of course, the great temptation will be to say “God would never– ever– want me to do anything that displeases my parents or that angers my family. I owe them complete loyalty.”

Jesus is plain: No. The Kingdom of God is your true family. The choice is plain. There is no place to waver. Renounce family IF that is what is necessary to follow Jesus and enter the Kingdom. Renounce any and every normal human activity and normal human relationship if that is what stands between you and the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will reveal a true and greater family and a true and greater security and reward.

In fact– and here is another post for another day– Jesus says that if your life gets in the way, then renounce your life. Just think about all that Jesus is saying in that simple sentence. It’s a lifetime of discipleship.

This year I had the privilege to see a young man from India come to faith in Christ. We were all delighted when he asked for baptism. But almost as soon as he made that profession of faith, he began asking about his loyalty to his Hindu family. They had arranged a marriage. What should he do? His conversion would humiliate his family. Should he keep it a secret? Even his ancestors came into the picture. He did not want to dishonor them by his Christian profession.

To this young man, and to many internationals that I have ministered to over the years, I have nothing more to say than what Jesus has said. I cannot soften it. I cannot spin it. It is hard. And it is the Kingdom of God in this world.

To trade family for the rag-tag company of the church seems insane. To give up all things for Christ is worth everything we sacrifice and more. If our family is supportive, we are blessed. Let us love them best by loving Christ most. If family says we cannot follow Christ, then we renounce family, and take Christ at his word that we will be repaid a hundred times now and in eternity.

If you understand Jesus’ words and their meaning for today, I pray it challenges you to see the importance of Christian community as a family of relationships of people who help one another along what can be a very difficult and painful road of separation from family and culture.


  1. Our success as Christians is in proportion to our ability to surrender. We teach baptism as an identification with the death of Jesus on the cross. As an example:

    For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

    What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    (Rom 5:19-6:11 KJV)

    If we are in fact dead, we have no family, and being persecuted, shunned or killed for family honor should not influence our decision for Christ.

    A 20th Christian Martyr once said: “That man is no fool who gives up what he can not keep, to gain that which he can not lose.”

    We have a sure promise from God – Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.
    (Joh 10:25-30 KJV)

  2. Bravo on the Semitic context! Translating biblical words involving emotions is quite tricky. You end up with verses like the one you cited or “I have loved Jacob and hated Esau.” (God speaking….)

    The meaning of the word in Hebrew is something akin to “disregarded” or “stopped paying attention to” or even “had no further dealings with.”

    Other words that need some serious re-examination are: “love” “loving-kindness” and “jealous.”

  3. Also, I think “familyism” is a largely unaddressed problem in the church.

  4. ……ok..that pretty much disqualifies everyone here… what?………

  5. Mike,

    I can’t put an entire Christian theology on every post.

    Jesus demand of discipleship is law. We NEVER fulfill it perfectly.

    We come to Jesus and live in Jesus by GRACE through FAITH. Jesus life and death is our constant standing.

    The disciples are all losers. They come to God by God’s grace. But Jesus still and always will call us to be disciples of the Kingdom.

    Law and Gospel. Law and Gospel. Law and Gospel.

    Go to New Reformation Press and get Rosenbladt on that one.



  6. I think you’re reading something that’s not there in Mark 3.

    It doesn’t say that Jesus refuses to go out and see his family. It’s silent on that matter. He’s pointing out that those who follow God’s will are His brothers and sisters. For all we know, after that, He went out and saw His mother.

    Actually, in Luke 2:51, it says that Jesus is obedient to His mother (and Joseph).

    Your interpretation of Mark 3 conflicts with Luke 2:51.

    Everything else you wrote was spot on!

  7. Dennis,

    Luke 2 is about Jesus as a child. Different context entirely and has no bearing on Mark 3 at all. A different Gospel written 20 years+ later.

    Mark 3 is about his mother and BROTHERS coming to take him home because 21 g And when h his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He i is out of his mind.”

    I appreciate the standard Catholic interpretation, Dennis, but you are alone on the view that Jesus did go out and submit to his mother.

    Find me one non-Catholic commentator in the last 50 years who says this story is meant to tell us that Jesus went out and submitted to his mother. It’s all about Jesus NOT going out to his family.

    If that’s your take, that’s great. But you’re protecting Marian dogma, not reading Mark 3. Argument from silence doesn’t define a passage.

    >I think you’re reading something that’s not there in Mark 3.

    Uh….I think that’s you are reading in what’s not there.



  8. BTW- we aren’t going to have a debate on Marian dogma on here folks. I’m not going there, so don’t try it.

    Moderation is going on to prevent that.

  9. sue kephart says

    You and I agree on this. I love my family. They are most important to me. But God comes first. The Kingdom is now in this present moment. I accept it in the now or reject it for something else. I don’t do it perfectly and I wander off to morn the past or worry about the future. God says don’t look back. Don’t fret about tomorrow. Stay with me in the present. Let me tell you who you are. Don’t let the past define you. Trust me to meet your needs in the future.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t have to do anything. It means God created me as a human being not a human doing. The world become more transparent, our path more illuminated as we trust in the Lord in this present moment.

  10. where once i had two siblings now i have millions. where once i had a family with one home now i have a family with homes in every corner of the world.

    the scope of jesus teaching is staggering.

  11. Jason S. Kong says

    Why, Michael, why oh why did you post this now of all days? When I am in this place where I am hated by my parents for every choice that is so seemingly antithetical to all my Chinese upbringing, where all of my choices recently have reflected actions that they can never condone. I am living in a hard rocky place, almost in a place not quite unlike that of your Indian friend you mentioned above. Unlike him, I am just a son of Chinese immigrants who have toiled endlessly to be where they are today. But it seems the same questions are asked. And every choice I have pondered and fought with in my heart has only been received with disappointment and anger.

    I fight everyday about what to do with my parents, with the rift that exists and seems to span more endless each day.

    Anyway, yes. This passage has been heavy on my heart these days, and your text has amplified that.

  12. Okay, to throw this one on the Marian dogma pile:

    Sermon of St. Augustine of Hippo, referring to this very text:

    “Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her – did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.”

    Fellow Catholics, this post is not about the position of Mary 🙂

  13. When I read this I had to think about all those Catholic saints who got some very heavy problems with their own families because of their religious vocations – and that not just only in Roman times, but in uniformly Catholic times and societies as well! St. Thomas Aquinas was even held prisoner by his own Italian aristocratic family, because he wanted to join the “rag tag” Dominican order; 300 years later, St. Stanislas Kostka, a Polish aristocrat, was hounded all over Central Europe by his own brother and had to disguise himself as a beggar, because he wanted to join the “new-fangled” Jesuit order.

    India is also a very good example, because, as an Indian Catholic friend told me, Hindu religious rites are such an important element of family life among Hindus, that rejecting that really puts a big-big strife on families. Hindu nationalists even accuse Christians of breaking up family bonds! That’s “hating your family” for you…

    Even in my case, when I told my parents that I wanted to become a supernumerary of Opus Dei (which neither includes celibacy, nor leaving the world or one’s possessions), they – lovely, but unbelieving people – were lost for words. “Why do you listen to ‘them’, instead of to us, who love you more than anyone?” they asked me.

    Of course they didn’t understand that I wasn’t “listening” to either “side”. I was doing what I had discerned God wanted me to do…

  14. “I appreciate the standard Catholic interpretation, Dennis, but you are alone on the view that Jesus did go out and submit to his mother.”

    I wouldn’t say that that’s the “standard Catholic interpretation”. I have read Catholic interpretations that rather view this scene from Mary’s point of view, as an example of the “dark times” she had to go through during the ministry of her Son on Earth. It can be viewed as one of the many examples of how she submitted to the will of God, even though she didn’t understand it at first. And also, how she “sacrificed” her Son, not “sticking” to Him but letting go, giving Him over to God – like she had done at the Presentation in the Temple when He had been a baby.

    I think that’s quite deep and also very close to the meaning of the text. (Maybe it’s one that Protestants can also accept?) Mary is seen as the model of Christian living by Catholics, after all, which of course also includes times that are dark and where God’s will difficult to understand.

  15. This passage has always troubled me. What does it mean? Then, in times I think I’ve figured it out, I ask “Is this me? How am I keeping this demand?” One of Jesus’ “hard sayings” to be sure.

    Could it ever mean leaving one’s church family? I’m sure some missionaries have raised this question.

  16. Rob Grayson says


    I agree with your post, in fact I think it’s spot on. However, there’s another way in which this passage has often been abused, and I speak as someone who’s been on the receiving end of it. I’m talking about when people in a church (including leaders) use this passage an emotional blackmail tool.

    A year or so ago my wife and I, who until recently were part of our church’s leadership, declined to be involved in a particular church event because we had a family visitor whom we rarely see (since we live overseas), and the event coincided with the one evening we had available to go out for a meal with this relative. Some of the leaders in our church used this as an opportunity to question our commitment, and actually quoted Luke 14:26 at us in this context. To me this is an example of two common phenomena in churches: (1) the belief that to be committed means that everything else in life, including family, should take second place to church activities, and (2) the assumption that putting Kingdom first automatically means putting church activities first.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible to use family as an excuse to avoid commitment to the body; but I believe a far more prevalent problem, and one that I’ve fallen prey to in the past, is neglecting proper Kingdom priorities around family because of overcommitment to church activities.

    Sorry if that was a little long, and slightly to one side of your main points, but I feel it’s an issue worth highlighting in this context.



  17. I think it’s important to keep in mind that many of those early Jewish believers actually did have to make a choice between their new faith and their families — and so did many gentile converts from pious pagan families. I suspect the main point Jesus was trying to get across was that their love of and faith in Him would be tested with some seriously gut-wrenching, soul-searching choices.
    But here in the comfortable arms of Western Christendom — where all the heaven-bound pew warmers are encouraged to have their cake and eat it too — Jesus’ words seem unbearably harsh and somehow alien to our current unchallenging environment. We’ve already swept the original Biblical concept of self-sacrifice under the rug, and now we’re starting to sweep it right out the door. I fear that eventually even suggesting that following Christ requires sacrifice of any kind will be regarded as heretical.
    Let’s be honest. There’s a great gulf between most present-day theology and Christ’s teachings on the true cost of following Him. And there’s an equally vast divide between our milksoap, half-hearted service and the complete, to-the-death dedication of many of those early believers — a divide that’s not so much theological as it is circumstancial.
    We can only hope that Jesus is actually more tolerant of mediocrity than He appears to be in the Gospels.

  18. I’m not here to argue Marian dogma either.

    I’m merely saying that the text doesn’t say that. It’s something that’s being read into the text or as you put it, “argument from silence.”

  19. Living with a husband who is not only not a Christian but is anti-Christian makes Jesus’ words very pertinent to my case. There are times (especially when he is drunk) that it is almost like he is channeling evil with the horrible things that he says. And yet, at times he says he “adores” me and there are times he says that he needs a miracle but that he doesn’t believe in miracles. He is a very passionate man in many ways and I know that once he “finds” Jesus, he would be a incredible force for the Kingdom of God. Please, all, pray for me and for Tom. And by the way, I no longer talk to Tom about God(unless something specifically comes up that he brings up) but I talk to God about Tom.

    (And Michael, if you feel this is too personal a post and you want to delete it, that’s OK…you and Denise can pray for us.)

  20. While I agree with you, I wonder how many cults have twisted this scripture to bind followers to their cult leader (rather than binding them to following Jesus)

  21. In comparison to how much we love Jesus it should seem that we hate our own flesh and blood…of course we don’t…but if we love our family so much, then how much more should we love our Saviour.

  22. Michael,
    I think you are spot on in your interpretation of this passage and I appreciate the thorough examination of the context and supporting scripture.

    So as I see it, (and I could be wrong so please take this as my interpretation alone) as long as we make following Christ our highest priority and don’t put something else ahead of it, we’re cool.

    Even with this more “forgiving” interpretation, I think perhaps we have a long way to go. Examples:

    1. We willingly send young men and women into combat knowing that some will die and yet we won’t let our own kids go to the inner city on a church project for fear something bad might happen.

    2. Out of fear of losing our jobs, we avoid any form of witness in the workplace.

    3. We don’t advertise that our church has a food pantry because we’re afraid a mob of dirty poor people will descend on us.

    No doubt there are exceptions to any example, but speaking for myself, I’m not so sure I have learned to put love of Christ ahead of my own pride, comfort, or controlling nature, let alone my family or life itself.

  23. Boethius says

    I remember when my first child was born I was overwhelmed with the new emotion of love that I had for her. I had never felt such an intense feeling in my life. This intense emotion began to transition into fearful thought patterns such as “what if something happens to her” and “how would I ever cope if she should die?” I soon realized her very dependant life was becoming an idol in my life. I began to pray, “Thank you for the gift of her life in my life, Lord. I realize that she ultimately belongs to You and You love her more than I. Please bless her, keep her safe, and allow her to grow in You, but if You should will to take her home before me, I will follow You just the same.”

    Our relationship and obedience is first to God and then to others as He wills it both in this life and the life to come.

  24. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said the same in his hadiths.

    (3) Narrated Anas: The Prophet said “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.” (Book #2, Hadith #14)

    (4) Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, “Whoever possesses the following three qualities will have the sweetness (delight) of faith: 1. The one to whom Allah and His Apostle becomes dearer than anything else. 2. Who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s sake. 3. Who hates to revert to Atheism (disbelief) as he hates to be thrown into the fire.” (Book #2, Hadith #15)

  25. Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, and the discussion has been truly fascinating, but please, iMonk, reconcile for me if you would Luke 14:26 and I John 4:20 that says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar, for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

    Okay, so Jesus was physically standing there in front of them and they saw him, but for the rest of us, since he ascended to the Father, we have not “seen” God.

    Also, Luke 14 does not say, as your friend originally asked you to comment about, that Jesus said that anyone who comes to him must hate mother, father and his own life.

    It says you cannot be His disciple.

    There is a difference, I think, and this is not just about semantics.

    There has to be a difference, I think, between “coming to him” and “being his disciple” because John 6:37 says “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

    Please help me understand better.

  26. Bob,

    Jesus said a number of things about who cannot be his disciple. All of them disqualify me. Again (and again and again) we have to see these statements in a “law-Gospel” paradigm. What is impossible (for sinners to have any relationship with God at all, disciple or otherwise) is possible via the grace of God that also comes to us in Christ. (Hence the parable of the banquet where the unable and unwilling are “compelled” to come in.)

    As to I John, that’s a “blunt” use of the word hate, not the Hebraic turn on the word. I said in the essay…”What we don’t appreciate is that in the mind of Semitic people, the word “hate” does not necessarily carry the obvious idea of “actively wishing for destruction or punishment.” I John is the “necessarily” use of the word hate.

    EVERYONE: Let’s not forget that 1) I didn’t say these things, 2) The feelings you have at some of Jesus sayings are the effect he wanted. You have to explore that and 3) Don’t reconcile texts. Just understand each one in context. Then find a reconciliation in Jesus himself as the ultimate example of all of it.

    IOWs, how Jesus treated his family (See Mark 3) is the flesh and blood example of what his words mean.



  27. arah, thanks for the perspective.

    Jason, good luck. Dealing with family makes it so easy to equivocate your faith and come up with little accommodations that sap all the clarity and hope from faith. Don’t do it, or you’ll be stuck wondering how you got to feel so blase.

  28. To begin this discussion on the heels of the “Can We Be Too God-Centered?” and Brennan Manning review is excellent. It forces one to deal with Jesus in the way he made his disciples deal with him; uncomfortably.

    It illustrates why systematic theologies, even the best of them, must ultimately fail. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God, will simply not submit to a system. Regardless of how well built they may be, He will not be contained by them. He is larger than they are. Systems are great. But they are effective only so long as they remain sensitive to life. Otherwise, they restrain the life, distort it, and quench it.

    Part of why Jesus was so hard to grasp is because he never for a moment submitted himself to a system. Not even one based on that was based on the best understanding of scripture and tradition. Not even one as honored as that of the family.

    Maybe this why Jesus said we must become as children. Children have not yet been formed and limited by systems that limit their seeing what is before their eyes.

  29. Michael,

    A correction to my doublespeak above;

    (Not even one that was based on the best understanding of scripture and tradition.)

  30. The interesting thing to me on the other side of this is, if we are all, as Christians, the family that God has promised us; then I think he would expect us to act like a family. So many churches I’ve been too, people in the pews hardly treat each other like a family. Well, except in a fair number of rural ones I’ve visited I suppose. But Rural Communities are different in being that small I guess.



  31. That Other Jean says

    Bob Brague,

    But semantics are important here, I think. So is context. The English word “hate” has, as Dave N. pointed out upthread, nuances that the Hebrew lacks. If you substitute “disregard,” the passages make more sense to modern ears. You can love your family very much and still disregard their advice/commands/pleas in order to follow Jesus.

    In the time of Jesus, of course, disregarding your family to follow the living Jesus would have had consequences. What good Jewish or Roman parents were going to say, “Sure. Do that. Deny the god(s) we worship, chuck your education and your career, and travel around with some crazy Rabbi spreading a doctrine that’s likely to get you in trouble with the authorities.” That would get you disinherited, or worse. While not many of them did so, Roman law gave fathers the right to kill disobedient children. Even being a “follower of Jesus” while staying firmly at home would mean conflict with both family and State, because you would put them all in danger by your failure to worship in the approved ways. It must have been a heart-rending decision to make.

  32. There’s been considerable discussion in evangelicalism about how we are transformed by Christ, but this passage takes it a step further: what Jesus is really talking about is taking on a new identity in Christ.

    This actually happens often when Muslims come to Christ. They are most often rejected by their families, even seen as dead; sometimes threatened with violence and death. There’s no choice but to leave everything behind. Many even change their names to reflect their new identity. It’s one of the reasons evangelism among Muslims can be so difficult, but at the same time, it has not stopped the advance of God’s kingdom; in fact, it has strengthened it.

  33. Okay, maybe I should give the rest of that sermon by St. Augustine:

    “Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power. and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.

    The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent – the most eminent – member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine – our head is God.

    Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfils the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

    Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? “Of Mother Church”, I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.”

    By ‘hating’ our earthly families, that doesn’t mean we stop loving them, it means not to set the ties of blood above the ties of grace. We are now all members of the one Body, brothers and sisters in faith, brothers and sisters of Christ, and indeed called to be “mothers” of Christ by bringing others into the family.

  34. ..”Jesus demand of discipleship is law. We NEVER fulfill it perfectly”…OK and if this is true then of what spirit are they who preach/teach discipleship as a way of life knowing full well that it cant be done ?? ….are we not being “set up” to fail?? and WHY would someone do that?

  35. Thanks for the great subject.
    ‘Hating’ my own family, has played out in my life by simply choosing to follow after my Lord Jesus.

    All cultures require family loyalty & obedience to it, to some degree or another. My family punishes or ostracizes by belittling, minimizing, etc, any member who does not adapt/agree/follow it’s world, political & social views, etc.

    Since Jesus is not of this world, and is hated by the world, it stands to reason that that same enmity would be displayed toward the believer as Jesus said it would be. But we are not given permission to treat them as they treat us.

    We are to live peaceably with all as much as it is in our power, but it’s clear when we must choose to love, honor & obey Jesus over our own flesh & blood. It is a testament of His grace & mercy towards them, how we do this, that is, if we do this in/with the same Spirit that Christ Jesus did.

  36. Stan Hankins says

    Thanks brother. Great post. It really ministered to my heart. I needed it. Thanks and keep up the good work.
    God bless you and your family!

  37. Dana Ames says

    are you familiar with Al-Anon? It might be worth considering if you haven’t been yet.

    Sending up a prayer for you & your husband.


  38. Misfit Jones says


    Thank you for this post. I am the person who asked your agent (and mine) for you to comment on this passage. I appreciate you insights into a very difficult teaching to live out.

    There are a couple things I see in this. First, it appears that the Kingdom of God is not just another part of this world, a way to enhance one’s life. Jesus draws a very thick line to separate the kingdom we are born into from the Kingdom we are born into anew. To try and live in both would be like having one foot on a moving sidewalk going one direction, and the other foot on another moving walkway going the other direction. Things will get very uncomfortable rather quickly.

    The other thing is this. Luke 14 concludes with Jesus telling perhaps his most misunderstood story. He asks whether a man would start a construction project without first being assured he has the finances to complete the job, or if a king with 10,000 soldiers would go into battle against a king with 20,000 soldiers. For so long we have taken this to mean Jesus wants us to take personal inventory to be sure we have what it takes to truly be his disciple.

    What foolishness! None of us has what it takes in our own strength or wisdom to follow Jesus. We must take inventory and realize we cannot do it on our own. We cannot faithfully follow, and cannot hate our families in our own abilities. This is where we are: We must rely on the Holy Spirit to follow. We need his help to obey. And we need his help to hate our families.

    Or at least I know I do.

  39. I think this passage points out why many struggle with reading the gospels. Add to this the rich young ruler or the the exhortation to cut off hands or pluck out eyes which cause one to sin. If one doesn’t throw out the “magic book” view of the bible, passages like these will get one into a lot of trouble.

    Some of us have been subjected to the “wretched urgency” interpretation, which equates hating ones family with neglecting spouse, children, and household responsibilities for the sake of church activities or the cultural war. Jesus clearly meant something different – especially after he confronted the pharisees over their hypocritical neglect of their parents in the disguise of religious dedication.

    I think your point concerning the authority of the Jewish family is key. Jesus really frightened the religious leaders by presenting an authority above tradition, temple, synagogue, and family hierarchy. They believed that plotting against Jesus in defense of their own authority protected the nation from falling into anarchy.

    I think the challenge is how to obey Jesus above all authorities – including popular evangelical talking heads or authoritarian pastors, preachers and leaders when these individuals fall into error. It’s difficult. I know pastors who have seen half of their congregations walk out the door when the flagrant sin of one influential member was confronted. For the sake of church growth, should they have looked the other way? How does one speak out against the pro-life political party when it becomes the pro-torture party? Would this opposition indirectly threaten the pro-life cause? Sounds ironic, but I have really been torn over this. I think Jesus calls us to obey Him – even when it means opposing the repudiated good-guys.

  40. Memphis Aggie says

    Nice synopsis thanks

  41. Great post!

    Regarding cult leaders, I would say that this verse also commands us to hate our church family.

    Of course, in ancient Israel, your family was your church family.

  42. I hear quite a few Christians proclaiming that family (the biological sort, I gather from what they say) is THE foundation of society and of personal identity, and that therefore anything that threatens the primacy of the family threatens the very existence of a civilized and humane society.

    I’ve also encountered in my own life plenty of Christians who will unblushingly assert that family must come first, even before church. This is not *quite* the same thing as advocating putting family before *Christ,* but at times I think it comes perilously close to it.

  43. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    BTW- we aren’t going to have a debate on Marian dogma on here folks. I’m not going there, so don’t try it. — IMonk

    Aww, IMonk. Mary Obsession is how we Catholics flake out! You have Rapture-itis and Bibliolatry, we have Mary-itis and Mariolatry!

    Makes you wish St Mary would actually appear to some of these wannabe Mary visionaries and slap some sense into them.

    I hear quite a few Christians proclaiming that family (the biological sort, I gather from what they say) is THE foundation of society and of personal identity, and that therefore anything that threatens the primacy of the family threatens the very existence of a civilized and humane society. — Chrissl

    Wouldn’t this be described as “Focusing on the Family (TM)”? (With anathemas for those of us who never were able to get hitched…)

  44. Atheist Gladiator says

    This is nuts. Why would anybody follow this teaching, unless they already hate their family? Jesus is invisible and can take care of himself. Family members are real.

    Besides, who is Jesus to tell me how to live my life, who I should love or hate? Even if you accept that he is divine, that doesn’t give him the right to impose his views on us (any more than the devil would have such a moral right). I might hear him out if he were making any sense, but in this case, I think no.

    Let’s face it, Christianity is not so different from your average cult–just older.

  45. not-so Dumb Ox wrote:

    I think your point concerning the authority of the Jewish family is key. Jesus really frightened the religious leaders by presenting an authority above tradition, temple, synagogue, and family hierarchy. They believed that plotting against Jesus in defense of their own authority protected the nation from falling into anarchy.

    just me, or is getting really hot in the room that DumbOx has described ? I think you’ve hit the proverbial nail head on: we have an issue of authority here, and JESUS is not that shy about telling us where all authority rests, and what THAT might lead to.

    GReat post….many great comments; thanks I-Monk and friends.

    GReg R

  46. thank you atheist gladiator, you pegged it…

    Besides, who is Jesus to tell me how to live my life, who I should love or hate?