There are certain texts in the Bible that make modern Christ-followers cringe. Among the most difficult is the statement of Jesus about hating one’s father and mother in order to be his true disciple (Luke 14:26). The key to resolving this difficulty is hidden in the ancient meaning of the Hebrew word שנא (pronounced: soneh) translated as “hate”.
We read that God loved Jacob, but “hated” Esau (Malachi 1:3). However, we can see that in all reality God blessed Esau greatly (Gen.33:9), even warning the Israelites not to attack the sons of Esau or risk the withdrawal of His protection from them if they were to do so (Deut.2:4-6). 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.29:31). But this is not all.
The God of Israel permits divorce based upon certain stringent circumstances that would make a marital relationship impossible to continue. When our translation indicates that God “hates” divorce (Malachi 2:16), here too we must interpret it in its original meaning. Israel’s God was persuaded that divorce and remarriage was only “a second best”, and not an ideal way to conduct human relationships. All of this is to say that “to hate” in Biblical Hebrew basically means to “love someone/something less”.
So, did Jesus call upon his followers to stop honoring their parents? Most definitely not! The Messiah did, however, call them to a life of radical discipleship, so that in comparison to their love for their parents their love for Him would be even greater.