Why did Jesus tell his disciples to hate their families?

IMG_9116In Luke 14:26, Jesus said: “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.”

Did he literally mean hate? Jesus preached the opposite of hating one’s family at other times. In Mark 7, he criticized the Pharisees for not honoring their father and mother. (They were refusing to give their parents financial support, claiming the funds they would have used were already given to God.)

Jesus didn’t hate his own mother. As he hung on the cross, some of his last few words were spoken in concern for her. “Woman, behold your son!” he gasped. Then he turned and told John, “Behold, your mother!” Even in the throes of death, he was caring for Mary.

Was Jesus contradicting himself with this statement on family in Luke 14?

In order to understand how the disciples would have understood this command, we have to go back to his first listeners’ mind-set. To a first-century Jew, family was more than a place to celebrate the holidays. Your family defined who you were.

We see this in Matthew 13:35. Jesus had returned to his hometown of Nazareth and was teaching in the synagogue. His listeners had seen his miracles and were now astonished at the depth of his teaching. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?”

Matthew tells us their conclusion: “And they took offense at Him.” They had judged Jesus according to his family identity and found Him unworthy of their esteem.

We see other instances of family identification in the New Testament. The first century Jews believed their family line would keep them from God’s wrath that would be experienced by the rest of the world. John the Baptist challenged them on this: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”(Luke 3:8)

Family identity was a profound indicator of status both in society and with God in the ancient world. You were who your family was.

My mother was not one to try to stick out of a crowd. As a young woman, she was painfully shy and tended to hide behind her younger sister who was the life of the party. In a short week they spent at Camp Berea, many people never even learned her name. She was merely known as “Margie Hunter’s sister.” Years later, at that same camp, she arrived to visit during a summer I worked on staff. When she entered the office and identified herself, the office secretary called out to an administrator, “Julie Zine’s mother is here!”

She later laughingly informed me, “I will never be known by my own name at Camp Berea! First I was Margie Hunter’s sister and now I am Julie Zine’s mother!” Mom knew first hand what it was to be identified by family association.

There are a lot of ways we can identify ourselves here in the 21st century. Our family, our career, or our successes can impact how we might think of ourselves. Others may get their main source of identity from mistakes or abuse in their past they are unable to forgive.

All of those things may tell something about us, but they don’t identify who we are. A beautiful description of how God sees us can be found in Ephesians 1. We are adopted sons and daughters of God. We live in the grace He has freely bestowed on us. We are redeemed, forgiven, and future heirs with Christ. THAT’s who we are.

Jesus was not calling his disciples to abandon their families. He was calling them to distance themselves from the cultural value placed on their family network and choose instead to identify with Him. According to God, our identity is in Christ alone. It frames our lives and defines what our perspective should be on the rest.

“For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation. Let the godly ones exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” Psalm 149:4-5

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About juliecoleman

Julie Coleman is an author, teacher, and speaker, focusing on Biblical study and women's ministries. Besides speaking at women's retreats and conferences, Julie has written two books - Unexpected Love and 15 Minutes a Day in Colossians.

  1. Beautifully done! I was raised understanding this, but I think it trips up many non-believers and young Christians. And I’ve had trouble explaining it in the past when the question came up. I’m so thankful for your way with words. I may be borrowing them in the future, if that’s okay with you!

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