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A Study in Values and "Conflicting" Obligations and
Application of These Principles to the Bible's Use of the Words "Love" and "Hate"


A More In-Depth Look at the Use of the Words "Love" and "Hate"

When we examine verses that use the words "love" and "hate," we discover that they tend to fall into two categories.

1. Some passages use these words in an absolute sense.
In this case, "love" and "hate" are mutually incompatible, and cannot co-exist. For instance, a verse may tell us that we must have love, rather than hate, for a specific group. Used in this absolute sense, a person cannot have both love and hate at the same time; it is simply not an option.

2. Other passages use these two words in a relative sense.
In this case, they are not mutually incompatible. Such verses normally (if not always) involve a contrast - either between two different groups of people, or between people and God. Often we will be told that one group (or individual) is to be loved, and another group (or individual) is to be hated, at least in some sense. In such a context, we can (and must) have both love and hate at the same time - in whatever way they are defined by the context of the verse.

The verses in this second category stand in such contrast to those found in the "absolute" category, that, if their "relative" nature was not understood, they could be easily misconstrued as a contradiction to the "absolute" verses!

Below is a more in-depth comparison of these two types of love-hate relationships:



If the two words are being used in an ABSOLUTE sense:

If the two words are being used in a RELATIVE sense:

The situation (or example)

Suppose we are reading the Bible and we discover a verse that tells us to love and to not hate...

Suppose we are reading the Bible and we discover a verse that speaks of hate in a "positive" manner... [The word "love" (or something equivalent) may also be in the context.]

Brief definition

In this context, the two concepts (love and hate) are incompatible. If we are told to have love for a specific group, we must have love for all within that group (as defined in the context) and hate for none.

Depending on the context, this may involve: 1) having love for some but not for others, or 2) having different degrees of love - more for some and less for others. (This "love-hate" contrast may involve individuals within one group, or from two different groups, as defined by the context.)

Further explanation

We must express this type of love to all within the group, even to those who may be considered "unlovable." In no instance can hate (in the absolute sense) be present. If it does exist, we are sinning.

Used this way, love and hate can co-exist. In fact, the very expression of love to the one individual (or group) may, at times, require that it not be expressed to another, or that it be expressed to a lesser degree. In such a case, to love the one would, of necessity, imply "hate" (in a relative sense) for the other.

How these two types of concepts interrelate (or co-exist)

Love, in the absolute sense must still exist, even when we must have "hate" (or "less love") for someone, in the relative sense. Hate in the absolute sense is still not an option. As for our actions, we still have no right to do anything hateful (sinful) against anyone.

We may have to hate, oppose, or have less love for some people, in the relative sense - especially when they oppose what is holy, righteous and pure. But in the absolute sense, we must still desire (and encourage, when possible) their ultimate good - which includes their eternal good. We must not have a desire for harm (especially eternal harm) to come upon anyone - even upon our enemies.

This analysis focuses on the so-called "negative" concept of "hate," but there are other so-called "negative" concepts that could be examined. For example, there are a few passages in which the apostle Paul pronounces judgment upon someone. (See 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Galatians 1:8-9.) These verses do not use the word "hate," but rather, the word "curse" or "anathema." These verses involve people who have rejected the truth and (at least in the Galatians passage) are trying to mislead others. (The Galatians passage also extends the judgment to angelic beings, if they were to mislead people with a false gospel.)

The focus of these passages is on Paul's desire for justice, rather than on a vindictive desire for the people to experience a horrible punishment. If they were to repent (which is almost certain to not happen, in these instances), Paul would surely be delighted. As it is, these people are having a horrible influence - one that could possibly lead others to eternal ruin. Both God and "neighbor" are being sinned against.

Interestingly, Paul uses the same word ("cursed") in Romans 9:3 and applies it to himself. He says that he would be willing to be condemned (or accursed), if it would result in the salvation of others who have rejected Jesus. He would be willing to take on himself what they deserved. (Surely this is a strong testimony against anyone who would suggest that Paul had a vindictive, "non-loving" spirit, in the other verses!)

Now, back to the issue of "love" and "hate." We will first look at one of the ways these absolute and relative concepts can apply in our own lives. This will be followed by some verses from the Bible, where "love" and "hate" are used in these two different ways.



If the two words are being used in an ABSOLUTE sense:

If the two words are being used in a RELATIVE sense:

A possible way these absolute and relative uses of "love" and "hate" could be applied to life in a family situation

Parents are to love all of their children (whether or not the children are good), rather than favoring one and rejecting (hating) the others. This love is to be unconditional - it must exist even when the parent must punish (or in some other way correct) the child. [Of course, the child may describe such punishment as "hate," but it could not rightfully be called that, except, perhaps, in the relative sense.]

A husband is to love his wife and not another woman. When the word is used in this relative sense, he would "hate" the other woman. If the word were used in an absolute sense, he would not "hate" the other woman, but would love her and desire what is ultimately good for her - just like he must for all other "neighbors." [This love would, of course, include a desire to maintain a morally pure of relationship with her. It would be totally opposed to the world's distorted concept of "love" - which is often nothing more than a disguised form of lust and self-gratification.]

Verses that illustrate this use of the words "love" and "hate"

(NOTE: Most of the verses given here illustrate the relative sense of these terms, since that is the main focus of this study. If we were to examine all of the passages which use these two words, we would probably discover that these two words are used more frequently in the absolute sense.)

Matthew 5:43(+) - God loves his enemies. In this (the absolute) sense, he does not hate them, but shows kindness to them. Scripture tells us that we must follow his example. [Other verses also mention his kindness and patience toward those who do not love him - Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9, etc. Note that none of these verses cancel the reality of future judgment: Those who reject God's kindness will reap the consequences of their actions.]

Luke 6:27-31 - Love your enemies... [verses 32-36 - If you don't, you are no better than the pagans, who have love for those who love them back.]

Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:17 - Love your neighbor. (This would include all "neighbors," rather than just a few favorites).

Luke 14:26 - Our love for God, the Creator, must surpass the love we have for anything in creation. This passage in Luke applies this principle to people. It shows us that our love and loyalty for God, must be so great, that our attitude (and actions) toward family and self could be described by the word "hate." [Other passages, such as Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13, show an application of this principle to possessions: We cannot serve/love both God and money.]

Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-13 - God loved (showed favor to) Jacob and his offspring; but he "hated" (did not show favor to) Esau and his offspring. (He also had anger and wrath because of sin committed by Esau and his offspring.)

Psalm 5:5 - The LORD hates and destroys those who do evil, but he has mercy for the righteous. (See also Psalm 11:5; Hosea 9:15.)

Psalm 139:21-22 - David hates and abhors those who hate God, but he has complete love for God. He also asks God to examine his heart and to lead him in the way of life. [David understood God's moral requirements; he wasn't writing this psalm in ignorance! If his intense hatred were the sinful type, he wouldn't have asked God to examine his heart, and to look for anything that was offensive in him, especially right after mentioning his hatred!]

Ecclesiastes 3:8 (possibly used this way) - ... a time to love, a time to hate.

Dennis Hinks © 2001