There are certain texts in the Bible that make modern Christ-followers cringe. One of the most difficult is Jesus’s statement 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) inaccurately translated as “hate”.

We read that God loved Jacob, but “hated” Esau (Malachi 1:3). However, we can see that God actually 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).

In fact, the Torah narrative is developed in such away that anyone hearing the story of the stolen blessing and Jacob’s deception of Isaac would sympathize with Esau instead of Jacob! There is no question that God loved Jacob with his covenantal love (a different kind of love and care than he had for Esau), but He did not “hate” him in modern sense of the word. The translation also tells us that Jacob “hated” his first wife Leah. Upon closer reading, however, it becomes clear that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Gen.29:31). So the best I can tell in Biblical Hebrew soneh meant “loving someone/something less”.

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In the Torah God permits divorce based upon certain stringent circumstances that would make a marital relationship impossible to continue. In other words, God’s Word itself allows for divorce under some circumstances. When our translation says that God “hates” divorce (Malachi 2:16), here too we must challenge our English translation and demand a more nuanced (and accurate) meaning. We all know that divorce is one of the most painful experiences that any human being can go through in life. But there is one thing that is even worse than divorce – an abusive marriage. Torah protected people from needing to continue in this ungodly bond. Naturally, divorce and remarriage (even under biblical grounds) is not ideal, but to translate Mal.2:16 as, “God hates divorce” in general, is a horrible misrepresentation of the loving God of our broken world.

How many other passages in the Bible have we misunderstood because we’ve failed to understand their Jewish background?

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  1. Beautiful….. The explanation is awesome…..So Then….what is the “crux” of the word HATE? Thanks & blessings

  2. This article is pandering to those who divorce and remarry. However, there is nothing more destructive to a young child or even the confidence of an adult than divorce. The problem is not divorce. It is the concept of marriage. Marriage is a legal agreement between two families. The parties to the marriage are part of that agreement, but they are not the only part. Erotic love is not part of the equation. Many psychologists say that erotic love in marriage disappears within the first 16 months. Then we need children to hold the marriage together.

  3. Luke 16:18 (NIV2) “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Maybe you can speculate about the word “hate”, but you cannot speculate about the words “anyone”, “whosoever” and “adultery”. And then ask yourself question. Does God hate anyone/whosoever who commits adultery? Romans 1:18 (NIV2) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…

  4. Dr Eli it always amazes me how the miss translation of one word can almost create a culture of wrong thinking. Another case in point is the view the christian world has of Christmas and the LOWLY social status of Mary and Joseph. At sometime I would value your thought on that.

  5. So you mentioned everything that “soneh” *isn’t*, but never clarified what it actually means. With each of these contextual references in mind, might ‘soneh’ be better translated into modern English as a “lesser preference”?

  6. It is clear to me that the Bible, especially in Luke in 14:25-35, uses “love” and “hate” as a means of describing choice, often radical choice. Clearly the one who said “love your enemies,” would not be the one who said “feel extreme animus toward father and mother.” Rather, to follow Jesus is to make a radical choice of God’s Kingdom over all other relationships, including our dearest relationships. This also includes our own lives (14:26-27) and our possessions (14:33).

    • So clearly Jesus really said “You must love me more than you love your father and mother” or “You must love them less than you love me.”

      • Yes, something like this: but more like this: Your love for God and his Messiah, must be even stronger than the natural love for your parents.

  7. enemy, foe, be hateful odious, utterly A primitive root; to hate (personally) — enemy, foe, (be) hate(-ful, -r), odious, X utterly. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Brown-Driver-Briggs, et. al. completely agree that the word is properly translated “hate”. Your reasoning, “So the best I can tell in Biblical Hebrew soneh meant “loving someone/something less”, while charming, is on very weak ground.

  8. The whole matter is that Disobedience, flagrant or otherwise, is hateful to YHVH………..thus one who refuses to turn from that situation is classed as being hateful because Holy G-d cannot look upon that which is Sin. There would be no need for divorce if both parties stayed under what we are instructed in Torah. Thus becomes a hateful situation to YHVH. Whether you use the word hateful or distasteful is neither here nor there in actual fact.

  9. “God hates divorce” in general, is a horrible misrepresentation of the loving God of our broken world. I believe that is exactly what God means when He says He hates divorce. Not the people but the act of disobedience in the breaking of His Covenant, “two shall become one”, through distrust in Him and His good Word. Did He not say that marriage is for life, unto dearh? Yes He is a God of love but also a HOLY God, Righteous, and Just.

  10. Genesis 33:9 is where Esau says “No need for your gifts, I have enough of my own.”. (modern day parlance) D’VARIM 2:4-6 At that time they were not ready for any war, but were to quietly abide as they walked through Esau’s land and to buy food and water where necessary. There is a time for all things under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3. However, Amalek, grandson of Esau, see1 Samuel 15:18 And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they were consumed.

  11. To say that if you don’t “Hate” your father, mother and family you cannot be my disciple, seems like a contradiction as the 5th commandment tells us to honour your parents. But then when you look at Matt (10:37) Tell us that he who “Loves” more than me is not worthy. By this assumption, then the Hebrew word hate is also identified as “love less.” Then divorce as in Mal.(2:16), becomes God’s lesser intentions. Jesus gave us the two great commandments Matt(22:36-49), Mark(12:28-31). Through discipleship and marriage let’s keep them in order. Honour the Lord first.

  12. I agree that God blessed Esau. The hate of loved ones in order to be a disciple of Jesus is to put Jesus above everything else in life, including self. this ‘hate’ is not to disown or want to destroy. But to love the Lord Jesus Christ above all.

  13. When Hebrew is lost in translation it is people who get edited out of the Bible (made to feel less loved). Your approach helps me to understand ALL the scriptures. This seems very different than “our” apologetics . “We” defended ourselves against common doctrines which resulted in avoiding certain scripture, or vise versa “we” protected our doctrine by using certain scripture. I love how Hebrew helps us to see more of Jesus (loved) in ALL the scripture!

  14. Wow! Good insight! The word “Soneh” can possibly be interpreted as a word that is used to draw a comparison between (through contrast) a perfect (divine) purpose/plan and one that is permissive (least favorable).

  15. I think that Jesus position on divorce is that it is permitted only in the case of fornication. That is, the couple at the time of their wedding were expected to be virgins. So, if it happens that the husband found that his bride was not a virgin on that memorable night( meaning that she is a door, ref. to songs of Solomon 8:), the shock would be so great that divorce is allowed. Thus, adultery is not enough reason since Christians are expected to have deep compassion for others. I appreciate that abusive marriage is worse than divorce.

  16. One needs careful logic to understand and to interpret many words in the Bible, only by the Holy Spirit one gets the true meanings

  17. Have your school’s scholars considered a sequential reading of Genesis chapters 1-2:4a, vis a vis Genesis 2:4b and ff.? This view is advanced by Biblical scholar John Walton, who proposes that all of “days” one through six, at least, are completely finished before the narrative of Adam and Eve kicks in, during “day” seven. That suggests an “imago Dei” humanity which predates the two of them, possibly by a significant period of time, being described in Genesis 1:26-27 and ff. Would enjoy your reply, or weblinks to materials you already have published which address this interpretive scenario. Cheers!

    • Guy, hi. You are posting it under a wrong post :-). Please, find the post about Genesis (I think it is the latest one actually).

  18. We are also told that God loves everyone unconditionally so how does that compare to Jacob and Esau. How can God love unconditionally when HE loved Esau less?

    • Where are we told that God loves everyone unconditionally? (In general way, yes, as his creation, but in salvific – particular way?)

  19. God loves every equally, the Bible clearly states he is no respecter of persons. The Bible is meant to be interpreted allegorically, spiritually. Esau stands for the human in the flesh nature. That is why he is the first born; we have physical birth then we must have spiritual birth as represented by the second child born– Jacob. The physical man has no use for the spiritual birth right, the relationship with God and trades it for pottage. The physical, flesh, animal nature that prevents us from growing the spirit of God within us is what is represented as “hating”.

  20. GOD does NOT hate divorce he is for it if there is reason to be for it.In my case I had a man that was NOT right with Christ,his family,friends or me.Christ came to me & said you are my daughter,I am for the divorce & I am appointing Criss Angel to be your future husband the one that had his eyes closed.I had been threw alot & Lord knows I tried to make it work but he was cheating on me many times I even got an STD crabs.Since the divorce I have been alot healthier & happier

  21. Very well explained. I come out of a marriage where I was verbally abused of him having affairs and he did not know how to get rid of me. It was like death…..

  22. That is why closer to correct interpretation must be from those who have studied thorougly. Catholics must be right since it is a religion of distinction unlike those others who just fall into stereotyping.

  23. Dr Eli praise the Lord for showing us the hidden manna from the holy bible, i am a lay pastor serving the Lords work in villages, not able to enrol for Hebrew studies.
    I try to share your teachings to our village pastors we are not so rich,please pray for us.

  24. I find Elie Wiesels comment very explaining in this matter. He says that “Hate is not the opposite of love. Indifference is.”
    This gives us the explanation of Revelation 3, where it says “If only you were WARM or COLD, but you are neither WARM nor COLD, you are TEPID, and as such I will spit you out”.
    If you love that which is of God and which is good, it is natural to hate that which is not of God – and evil. But being INDIFFERENT, i.e. TEPID, having the “Whatever?”-attitude that is the REAL problem.

  25. So by hating Esau the Lord is simply loving Esau less than Jacob, and in the next few verses the Lord promises to destroy the land of Esau, how do you reconcile this?

  26. Inasmuch as the use of the word hate is wrong to be attributed to God it seems contradictory that God that is love, does not discriminate and made every man in his own image will turn out to love some people more and some less. I think our problem is that we see God from the perspective of man.

  27. I see it this way: God loves everyone, but hates evil. Jesus wants us to love everyone but hate evil. We can love someone evil enough to pray for them to seek truth. We are not to hate our parents. What Jesus meant was to continue doing what was right, and keep the faith, even if it means it will set you apart from your disbelieving parents. Not, I love you Jesus, but I can’t follow you because mom will disown me. You must love Him more than your parents.

  28. Here is a mystery: (1) God divorced Israel due to her spiritual adultery (Jer.3). (2) He is now, as Messiah, betrothed to another: the bride of Christ (Mt.25; Mk.2; Lk.5; Rev.19:7; 21:9 & 17) (3) It is a spiritual mystery (Eph.4:3-6; 5:31-32; Col.2:2) that God’s Old Covenant was replaced with His New Covenant in/through Christ. Part of the mystery is expressed by (linked to) the language of Messiah being a bridegroom to a new bride (the old – Israel – having been divorced). As such, we look forward to the soon coming marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev.19:7-10).

  29. I fully concur. As we are to love even our enemies, Love is what makes us Christian, hate is sin. Hate is sin, we hate sin. Sounds like an oxymoron. But no. Hate is a poor translation. To hate is sin, but we rebuke sin, we find no pleasure in sin, we grieve that there is sin. Even God would grieve, rebuke, and find no pleasure in Esau’s attitude, but still show love to Esau.

  30. Thank you always for your insight. I believe that most Gentile Christians try to divorce the Torah from the New Covenant by dismissing the Law as irrelevant. It is HOLY. Yeshua Himself is clearly upholding the Law by pointing to the Torah to explain the conditions under which divorce is permitted. If we argue against what He (being the Word from the beginning) permitted under certain circumstances, we are in effect divorcing Him from the Law. In Corinthians, remarriage is permitted when an unbeileving spouse leaves. Divorce is not ideal, but He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

  31. I struggle with Rom 9:13 because I learned that faith works alone, not together (Rom 8:28). I am trying to see God’s purpose in Rom 9:11 and I can’t help but wonder if the story of Jacob and Esau might be a reoccurring theme (i.e brick and mortar article). I’ve read that the two great lights in Gen 1:16 can mean elder light and younger light. The purpose of God would be 1. Give light on earth?, 2. Rule elder & younger?, divide the elder from the younger?. I see the words compassion and mercy, but cant connect to Hebrew

  32. So then, if “soneh” translates as “love something/someone less”, whar word word translate as “hate”, with all that work can imply, and is there an example of it in scripture?

    • Lev.19:17 says not to hate your brother in your heart (this is one verse before the famous love your neighbor as yourself passage). In this verse the Masoretic uses “tisna” (soneh) and the Septuagint uses “miseseis” (same as “misei”) in Luk.14:26. The point is, the word is the same, but to literally hate parents is fairly opposed to the biblical commandment, and Yeshua could not be going against Torah. So to clarify, we should compare the parallel passage in Mat.10:37. It explains the same idea as loving less.

  33. The word in Romans 9:13 and translated as ‘hated’, using the aorist tense, is the Greek word ἐμίσησα (emisesa) from μίσεω (miseo or I hate). It occurs 39 times in the NT and is always translated as the verb to hate. To show that it portrays a dark and negative meaning, some verses will be reproduced to show this and thus hopefully stop Christians trying to make it mean something benign by back pedalling all over the English language. Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other;

  34. The Biblical love/hate juxtaposition is an idiomatic expression denoting the preference for putting God first over not putting God first. A literal translation completely misses the meaning.

  35. The explanation brings clarity to these selections that God kept making. I’ve always thought that Jacob is vilified unfairly. My thinking is that he was named supplanter even before he’d had his first taste of breast milk. And we don’t know how God would’ve brought about His plan of having the “older serve the younger” if Rebecca hadn’t panicked and caused Jacob to deceive his dad. What I see is that satan kept corrupting the first born sons, probably trying to get rid of the “Seed of a woman”. He wasn’t catching on that God’s choice was the younger.

  36. I find it a bit strange that people have a difficulty with God “hating”. God is love we read in 1 John. The remnant of Israel was loved “with an everlasting love” Jeremiah 31:3. But Esau wasn’t, yet God blessed him. God causes the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. He can’t help loving all, but his covenant love is towards those in covenant with him. As the great Apostle Paul said “not all Israel is Israel”. He explains it well in Romans 9:6:13. So God’s covenant is only with the “children of promise”.


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