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Hyperbole in the Bible
Should We Hate Sinners?
In responding to comments on a previous hub, "Does God Hate Sinners?" I stated that if someone could show me where I was in error, I would publish a hub correcting the conclusion of that hub--which was "Yes, God Does Hate Sinners."
After reading comments from other hubbers, I began researching the word "hate" and how it was used in the Bible.
What I have determined is that when the word "hate" is used in the Bible, it is often in the form of hyperbole.
The word hyperbole comes from ancient Greek and is a rhetorical device in which statements are exaggerated. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally. Wikipedia gives a pretty good example of this: Hyperboles are figures of speech that are exaggerated in order to create emphasis or effect. Hyperbole is a literary device often used in poetry, and is frequently encountered in casual speech. An example of hyperbole is: "The bag weighed a ton". Hyperbole helps to make the point that the bag was very heavy although it is not probable that it would actually weigh a ton.
One example of hyperbole in the Old Testament occurs in Malachi 1:2-3 when Malachi states that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau. In the BDAG Lexicon (The Bauer-Danker Lexicon is among the most highly respected dictionaries of Biblical Greek) and in Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the word translated “hate” gives this definition, “to bedisinclined to, disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment.”3 Parkhurst (another lexicon) follows with, “to hate, comparatively, to postpone in love or esteem.” Vine (still another lexicon) offers a lengthier definition that may help with the understanding, “of relative preference for one thing over another, by way of expressing either aversion from, or disregard for, the claims of one person or thing relatively to those of another.”
The words hate and love in certain instances are used in hyperbole. The importance of a comparative difference between two thoughts is emphasized by exaggerating that difference, in this case, through the use of very strong words meaning the opposite of each other.While not unheard of in more western cultures, this sort of word use was not at all unusual for the Oriental of the ancient world. Kittel notes that the alternative use of the word hate (and in several Bible passages, its counterpart, love) is a Hebraism. In other words a figure of speech used by the Hebrew people.
This is God’s point to the Jews in Malachi’s day. When God said “
yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated…” It was this preference for Jacob as the heir of promise over the firstborn, Esau. It is in this verse that a Hebraism was employed. God loved (preferred) Jacob and hated (averted or disregarded) Esau. It would appear highly unlikely that God would bless Esau with fathering a nation if he truly hated him in the conventional sense of the word as we use it today.
There are many other examples of where these words are used comparatively, such as where Jesus tells his disciples they must hate their own families in order to serve Him (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not telling his disciples to literally hate their families, but is stressing the importance of putting Jesus first, family second.
Therefore, it is now my belief, that where the Old Testament speaks of God hating sinners, that this is also hyperbole. God loves all men's souls, and does not wish for any to perish. I believe he favors those who strive to live righteously over those who flagrantly disobey Him, just as He favored Jacob over Esau./;
1. Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other
Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. pp.652-653
2. Parkhurst, John, A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Tesatament, London: 1769. p. 379
5. Vine, W. E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. 2, Old Tappan, New Jersey:
Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966. p. 198
6. Kittel, Gerhard and Friedrich, Gerhard, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol. 4,
Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1993. p. 690