Today we’ll continue our attempts to reconcile the following verses:
“‘You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” – Matthew 5:43-45
“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.” – Luke 14:26
In yesterday’s post I wrote about the first of three possible ways to reconcile these verses: Luke 14:26 is hyperbole. Today I’ll investigate the second possibility:
- Luke 14:26 was added to Scripture to address a specific group of people, namely, late-First and early-Second Century Christians dealing with expulsion from the Temple and/or being ostracized from their families for their faith
Let me begin by briefly discussing the concepts of truth and historical accuracy. In the first century the concept of “historical accuracy” did not exist; this idea was created much later in history. So when an author sat down to write, say, the Gospel of Luke, he was not concerned with “historical accuracy” because the words didn’t exist and that mode of thinking was not employed by anyone alive. What the author(s) of the Gospel of Luke tried to convey was the truth of Jesus’ ministry, not the historical accuracy of His ministry.
As the Gospel of Luke was being written some 40-50 years after the death of Jesus, when it was becoming obvious that Jesus was not returning on the clouds right away, the Gospel writer(s) were facing questions and challenges the first generation of witnesses had not faced. Specifically, the conversion of family members within the established (and very hostile at this point!) Temple culture. The author(s) had spoken to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and had themselves probably witnessed many miracles. They would have been familiar with Paul’s epistles, other early Christian writings, prayers, etc. It’s safe to say the author(s) probably felt like they “knew” Jesus well, even if they never met Him in the flesh.
So as second- and third-generation Christians faced the challenges of the late First Century, the author(s) of Luke needed to address their specific concerns to reassure their faith. Remember that the Gospels were written primarily as a way to strengthen the existing body of believers; they were not written to serve as evangelical tools. It’s possible, therefore, that the author(s) inserted Luke 14:26 to address their contemporary peers’ concerns, and had Jesus “say” these words to reinforce their power and truth.
Am I suggesting that Jesus didn’t actually say the exact phrase found in Luke 14:26? Yes, it’s a possibility. For you see, quotation marks were also an unknown concept to First Century writers. The need to quote a speaker verbatim did not exist; the authors were after the truth of something, not its historical accuracy. So it is entirely possible that Jesus did not speak the exact phrase found in Luke 14:26. Clearly, however, the author(s) of the Gospel of Luke felt they knew the person and truth of Jesus well enough to be comfortable putting words in His mouth.
As an example, think of a family member you are particularly close to, maybe your spouse or one of your children. Imagine this person, their beliefs, how they speak, etc. Now imagine this person in a somewhat familiar scene, maybe shopping at the supermarket. Imagine yourself doing something clumsy at the market like spilling fruit from that ridiculous pile of oranges on a display stand. What would your spouse say at just that moment? If it were my wife and I in this situation, and I tumbled the oranges onto the floor, I can picture her hands flying to her face, a big “O” forming on her mouth, then her bursting out in laughter and dropping down to one knee to start picking up the fruit.
Has the scenario above happened in the past? Probably. If it happened today, would it happen exactly as I described it? Probably not. But the truth or spirit of the story would be there: My wife’s surprise, her laughter, and her willingness to help clean up a mess she didn’t make. And that is exactly what may have happened with Luke 14:26. Jesus may never have spoken those exact words, but the author(s) of the Gospel of Luke knew Jesus well enough that they felt had He needed to personally address the concerns of second- and third-generation Christians being cast out of the Temple culture, He would have said something like this. The truth or spirit of Jesus is in the words, even if historical accuracy is not: His warning that trouble would come and His desire for His disciples to hold fast to their faith in the face of persecution and ostracization.
Here’s a final thought to close on: If Luke 14:26 was targeted at a specific audience, it may not be relevant for all audiences today. As one of our readers, Mary, pointed out yesterday, there are Christians being persecuted in the world today in the same way the second- and third-generation Christians (the possible target of Luke 14:26) were persecuted at the time of the composition of the Gospel of Luke. For these contemporary believers Luke 14:26 is extremely relevant. They are being physically persecuted by their communities; their families have cast them out. They have had to make the real choice between loving Jesus and “hating” their families. Conversely, Luke 14:26 may not be relevant for someone like me who was raised in a Catholic home, in a country which is nominally Christian, and who’s never faced real persecution in his life.
Perhaps I don’t have to “hate” anyone because I’m not in the right situation; I wasn’t the target audience of Luke 14:26. But I believe I should always stand prepared to abandon everything for the sake of the Gospel.