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Hyperbole in the Bible

Updated on April 7, 2011

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

3. BDAG,

loc cit.

4. Parkhurst,

loc cit.

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


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    • profile image

      Bruce Leiter 7 years ago

      Ann, I just came across your hub; your research is very impressive. Of course, God loves all of his creatures as their Creator (see Psalm 145) and loves believers with his special love expressed through Jesus (John 3:16) by the Spirit's power as our one God. Thanks a lot for your research!

    • profile image

      Dchosen_01 7 years ago

      Thanks for the hub......

      THis should also be a good example to us as in this contemporary world, christianity has become so doctrinal and Judgmental to man. In most cases, we take doctrines seriously into our heads and forget such basic truths of the scriptures. In as much as God hates sin and we should flee from it, we should as well love the sinners and use love as a tool to bring them to light. Imagine preaching to a group of hoodlums and then you portray God as the punisher of sins, the great and almighty one who will throw the rebellious ones into hell, the one who hates evil and will make us face the consequences of our actions. Believe me! Those hoodlums will see God as a wicked person and there is a 98.65% chance they will not give in to the Gospel. But if you portray Christ as Love, and His sacrifices even when they are yet sinners, His good intentions for them and many more. Of course, they will listen and will have a better chance to repent.

      Thanks once again.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting discussion indeed, and a lot of excellent research here. I have always believed in the saying "love the sinner, hate the sin!"

      Love and peace


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      I'll add another WOW! You have done so great here! Congrats for creating this wonderful response to whatever it was! But defining "hate" as you have is very well done, indeed. Is not the term "40 days and nights" referring to a large indefinite period of time? I cannot remember the reference I have for this but I believe it was verbal and in a sermon. Thank you Ma'am!

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 7 years ago from San Diego, California

      I had always wondered what the word hyperbole meant. That's a very interesting topic. I'll have to read through the other hub you mentioned to get the rest of the story.

    • skye2day profile image

      skye2day 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Ann Lee Great Job on research. Christ hates sin not his creation. He wants no one to perish, as you know. The wages of sin is death. Thank You Jesus, born again, we are made righteous through his blood shed on the Cross at Calvary.

      We all fall short of the Glory of God. If God hated sinners he would hate us all. He came for sinners so we may have an abundant lfe and eternal life with him.

      Many Blessings on your hub journey Ann lee. Welcome aboard the hubs!! In His Name.

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 7 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Hi Ann Lee, Yes, I had to look up the word for 'hated' when it came to Esau (Old Testament Hebrew), then the word for 'hate' when it came to not 'hating your brother' or 'hating your sibbling' to be considered a disciple of Christ.

      Regarding Esau, the Hebrew word is 'sane', which means "enemy, foe, be hateful odious, utterly; A primitive root; to hate (personally) -- enemy, foe, (be) hate(-ful, -r), odious, X utterly." However, as you said, God blessed Esau's descendents (Deut 2:22). It makes me think about Esau (personally, rather than his descendants) however, because the same word, 'sane' is used in God's hatred of idol worship.

      It's amazing that Jesus DIED for the forgiveness of sin, which He hates, to allow us to become righteous in Him by faith. Amazing grace!

      Regarding 'hating your brother' (1 John 4:20) and 'hating your sibling' (Luke 14:25), the Greek word is 'miseo' in both cases, however it has two meanings: the first is applicable to 1 John 4:20; the second is applicable to Luke 14:25: "From a primary misos (hatred); to detest (especially to persecute); by extension, to love less -- hate(-ful)."

      I enjoy inductive study, for without it, a veil may be kept over the eyes of those who do not wish to know the deeper truths of God. Rather than know there's a difference in the word 'hate', they will accuse the Bible on contradicting itself.

      The same thing goes for the word 'love'. God 'loved the world' as we are to 'love our enemies' [agapao - social, moral, principled]. However, God 'loves' those who've entered into that Covenant relationship with Him by faith with a different 'love', a 'love' we are not to give to the world [agape - charity, friendship].

      Consider Jesus' words in John 15:13: "Greater love [agape] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." However in James 4:4 we are told, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility [emnity/hatred] toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy [hostile enemy] of God."

      Fascinating revelation comes from study! I'm glad to see a sister that enjoys digging as I do! God bless you :-)

    • profile image

      Ann Lee 7 years ago

      Yes, I agree with you Joe. Sometimes we do backslide and when we are truly repentant, Jesus is ready to be our advocate. The word repentance means "to turn away from" and turn towards God.

    • Joe A. McCray profile image

      Joe A. McCray 7 years ago

      God hate the sin that man commits, but not the sinners. When we reconcile with God through the Blood of Jesus, ALL of our sin will be forgiven, because then the sin is washed under the blood into the sea of forgetfulness to be remembered NO more, that does not say that we want make a mistake or even backslide, when we are Godly sorry for any sin we commit, Jesus is our advocate, He sits on the right hand of our father making intercessions for us.

    • Joe A. McCray profile image

      Joe A. McCray 7 years ago

      That's why it better to study to show yourself approval unto God. When you run into something that you don't understand, the Bible said ask for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. When He speaks to your Spirit, He will confirm it with His Word.

    • Victoria West profile image

      Victoria West 7 years ago from Toronto

      Good research, congratulations. I read a part of the Bible and I realized it's interpretabe; also I discovered what priests are telling us and what it is actually written in the Bible is not quite the same thing.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 7 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      It is good to witness the change of thought. God will always hate sin as sin is evil but God can never and will never hate that which He Himself created, "MAN". Not even one of us.

      Brother Dave.

    • davidisaiah profile image

      davidisaiah 7 years ago from Klamath Falls, Oregon

      Remembering that God loves us all is a great way to start the day. This use of hyperbole as a literary device to help us understand some of what God "prefers" shows both the qualities of mercy and compassion.


    • Captain Jimmy profile image

      Captain Jimmy 7 years ago from WV

      Very Good Hub! It's refreshing to find someone digging into the word of God!

    • Sky321 profile image

      Sky321 7 years ago from Canada

      Wow, you did a lot of research. For sure God hates the sin. I wasn't aware or I may of forgot of the scripture you used. Interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.