There are some texts in the Bible that make modern Christ-followers cringe. Among the most difficult of these is the statement of Yeshua about the need to hate one’s own father and mother in order to be His true disciple (Luke 14:26).
The key to resolving this difficulty lies hidden in the ancient meaning of the Hebrew word שפוי (saneh’), that in all the Bibles I have seen it is translated as “hate.”
We read that God loved Jacob but “hated” Esau (Mal. 1:3). However, we can also see that in reality God blessed Esau greatly (Genesis 33:9), even warning the Israelites not to attack his descendants lest they risk the withdrawal of His protection from them (Deuteronomy 2:4-6).
In another place, Jacob is said to have “hated” his first wife Leah. Upon closer reading, however, it becomes clear that Jacob simply loved Rachel more than Leah (Gen. 29:30-31). Furthermore, according to the Torah the God of Israel permits divorce based upon certain stringently defined circumstances that would make a marital relationship impossible to continue (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
When our translation indicates that God “hates” divorce (Malachi. 2: 16), here too we must interpret it according to its original meaning in the ancient context. Israel’s God regarded divorce and remarriage as “second-best” not the ideal way to conduct human relationships. All of these examples show that the idea of “hating” in Biblical Hebrew could include the notion of “loving less” or “preferring someone/ something else.”
So, then, did Jesus call upon people to stop honoring their parents? Most definitely not! The Messiah did, however, call His followers to a life of radical discipleship and overwhelming love for Him, such that even their very great love for their own parents would seem pale and weak by comparison. We can see in this example that the correct translation would be loving less. God commands us to love him more than anything and our family second.
Meaning of “Unless You Hate Your Father and Mother” *From class note Jewish text s on the Jewish New Testament from the Israel Bible Center, Israel
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