Apparent Biblical Contradiction: Love Your Enemy, Hate Your Family?

A commonly asserted New Testament contradiction is Matthew 5:44 and Luke 14:26, which respectively read,

I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,


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.

There’s at least two ways that this apparent contradiction can be resolved.

The first is by simply looking into the larger context of each. Let’s look at the passage from Matthew 5 first, which reads,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45b, ESV, emphasis added)

Notice the two phrases in bold text: Jesus is contrasting a commonly heard and accepted teaching with his own. If we place this in the context of Jesus explicating what it means to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) then Jesus is refuting the implied distinction that had been made between ones neighbor and ones enemy. It’s interesting because Jesus points out that this is what God does to us. He loves people in spite of their hatred of him continually showing mercy until the day he appoints to bring them to judgment comes due. The contrast is made in the arbitrary distinction that the Jews had made between themselves and everyone else rather than fulfilling the commands of God. We see this matter similarly addressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. To that end let’s just say that there was a relationship in that example that highlighted the point that Jesus was making.

So, what about the context of Luke 14? I think the key to that is found just a few verses later,

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-28,33, ESV, emphasis added)

The question posed in v28 is one of two examples, the other being a king contemplating war, both familiar examples to the original audience, but still meaningful nonetheless to the fact that one has to make a cost/benefit analysis for life. Commentators point out that the strength of the Greek is hyperbolic in intention. The decision to follow Christ can be a costly one. In many cultures, becoming a Christian is punishable by death or imprisonment. Here in the west, we take the freedom that we have for granted, not realizing that in some cultures a person can lose everything that they own, even their very lives, for naming the name of Christ. The hyperbolic nature of the words of Jesus underly a stark reality: one must choose their loyalties carefully and make careful distinctions.

(Something interesting to point out, if the Greek of Luke 14:26 was passive, as opposed to its active form, it could very well be translated as a warning to those who desired to be his disciples that they would be hated by their family.)

The second resolution is this: Jesus never calls those mentioned in Luke 14 “enemies”. More than likely they are conflating this with a parallel reading in Matthew 10:34-39. Even then the prescriptive “love your enemy” takes over because they have made themselves the enemy.

The contradiction is therefore one that is being imposed rather than demonstrated. It does seem, at first glance as to be troublesome, but placed into the context of ultimate loyalties and the duties that flow out of them, including the larger context of the passages, the contradiction fades away.

Does this mean that it’s easy? No, ultimate loyalties are never easy, but they are necessary.

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