Today, Churchmouse Campanologist inaugurates a new series of occasional posts, Apologetics Corner.

In short, Christian apologetics — from the Greek apologia — defends Christianity, supports the inerrancy of the Bible and points out error, among other things.  As Christians, we know that theologians down through the centuries have made apologetics their speciality.  Yet, laypeople are called on (1 Peter 3:15) to do what we can in our own way to practice apologetics.

Our first post begins with a saying that started making the rounds in the 1980s: ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’.  I have had several tries over the years at finding this verse in the Bible.  Until recently, I had been blaming my search engine for not being able to detect it.  Then, I happened to find that the search engines weren’t wrong — I was.

Yet, for 25 or 30 years, I had been hearing countless Christians say, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’.  How could that be?

In an article for In Plain Site‘Hated by God’ — Al Maxey writes that this injunction is a saying by … Gandhi, so nothing to do with Scripture.  And, thinking back, I did start to hear it after the film Gandhi hit the big screen.  Not having seen the movie, I’m not sure whether the saying is included the script.

We’re going to return to Mr Maxey’s article soon, but, to lead into it, let’s explore what is meant by the word ‘hate’ in the Bible.  English-speaking children grow up learning not to say the word ‘hate’ as in, ‘I hate you’ or even ‘I hate broccoli’.  It describes not only an absence of love but something dark — wishing harm or death to someone or something, as in ‘hate crimes’.  So, when we see the word used in the Bible, especially by Jesus Himself, it is somewhat confusing.

Biblical Hebrew explains the nuance of ‘hate’ from a Hebraic perspective.  What does Jesus say in Luke 14:26?

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.

Whoa.  I can hear people saying now, ‘Yeah, see, Christians — just a bunch of haters.’

Let’s contrast that verse with Matthew 10:37:

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Biblical Hebrew explains:

Biblical Hebrew lacks the necessary language to exactly define the comparative sense, i.e., ‘more than’ or ‘less than’. Instead it tends to express two things which may be comparatively of different degree like ‘first’ and ‘second’ as extremes such as ‘first’ and ‘last’. In this way love and hate whilst appearing as opposites may in fact be related but lesser terms such as ‘love more’ and ‘love less’.

This occurs in the Old Testament as well, often when discussing relatives and their relationship to God.  We read about Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau and Leah and Rachel.  The Hebrew word sânê’ does not refer to absolutes or extreme opposites:

Hence, different Bible versions struggle with the phrase “hated” and some adopt “unloved” or “disliked”, as softer phrases. However, the Hebrew word used in the second phrase is cowdh - view larger image sânê’ (Strong’s #8130) which in its more than 140 uses is always translated by ‘hate’ or by words indicating ‘foe’ or ‘enemy’. Literal versions cannot soften the apparent invective, only an idiomatic understanding or paraphrase can explain the metaphor.

The Hebrew sânê’ is the opposite of love which could mean ‘non-election’. This contrast is the same in Genesis 29:31 between Leah (‘hated’ senû’âh from sânê’) and Rachel, who in the previous verse is described as “loved more than Leah”, a contrast of degree not of absolute love and hate. Compare also the passages in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 above; 1 Samuel 1:5; Proverbs 30:23; 2 Samuel 19:6; and even Exodus 20:3 which speaks of preferring others gods as equivalent to hating God (cf. Matthew 6:24 on serving God and mammon, loving one and hating the other).

Going back to the verse from Matthew, Jesus expresses the comparative — ‘loving more than Me’.  Hate would mean ‘loving less’.  So, if we are so attached to our family — unbelievers, in this particular context — that we cannot leave them to follow Christ, then we are not among His disciples.  Even today, many people cannot tear themselves away from the sin of their families, the filial attachment is too great.

Yes, Jesus taught us to love God and our neighbour as ourselves which, by extension, include the 10 Commandments, among them honouring our father and mother.   Jesus spelled this out in more detail in Mark 7:20-23:

20And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:

23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

Those verses introduce the next Apologetics Corner post — coming soon — on what God hates.