Luke 14:26

ESV “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.
NIV If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple.
NASB If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
CSB "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, and even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.
NLT If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.
KJV If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

What does Luke 14:26 mean?

Jesus is giving a crowd a definition of what discipleship looks like. "Cannot" has the meaning of non-reality. Being a disciple of Jesus includes making Him the highest possible priority: even above loved ones and life.

The Bible is meant to be interpreted "literally," in the sense that it means what it says—yet "what it says" is not always intended to come from a wooden, mechanical, shallow reading of the words. Biblical authors used metaphor, anthropomorphism, and other figures of speech including hyperbole. "Hyperbole" is extreme exaggeration to express the weight of the message although it may not express the specific message. "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" is a common example in modern English. Another is when a parent says to a child, "I've told you a million times…"

We know that Jesus is speaking hyperbolically because verses must always be read in context: in the passage, the book, the other books of the same author, and within the whole Bible. Both Testaments tell us to honor our parents, and honor is fueled by agape love (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1–3). Husbands are to love their wives (Ephesians 5:28). And one of the sub-contexts that runs throughout the whole Bible is that good parents naturally love their children (cf. Luke 11:11–13; Ephesians 6:4). Loving our families is biblical.

Matthew covers a similar teaching where Jesus used slightly different wording: "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" (Matthew 10:37). Luke gives context: we must choose to follow Jesus even if our family members don't, even if doing so splits up family relationships (Luke 12:51–53).

Jesus also contextualizes His words about hating one's own life. We must be willing to lose our lives on earth if we want eternal life. "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:25). Specifically, we should not fear life-threatening religious persecution (Luke 12:4–5) and we should not spend all our energy trying to make sure we have the necessities of life when we need to be focused on following Jesus (Luke 12:22–23).

Taken without care, verses such as this can be scary. If oversimplified, they suggest those unwilling to immediately give up their family relationships cannot be saved. For many, that's not something they can fathom. Reading within the context of Scripture, however, we learn that becoming a person who can obey Jesus, called sanctification, is a long road. None of us will be perfect when we die. Learning to value Jesus more than the earthly fellowship we have with our closest people and more than our own lives is one of the many things we grow into.

At the same time, in the days of the early church as well as today, this is exactly the choice many new believers must make: faith in Christ or participation in their family. Rejection and persecution from culture are often part of following Jesus. The definition of a disciple of Christ is one who prioritizes Him first and fully, more than anything else.
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