We’ve all heard that God is Love. But some Bible passages speak about hating sin, hating evil, and even hating people?
Is this a contradiction? If God is love, is He capable of hate?
God does not hate people the way we define “hate.” His holiness causes Him to detest evil, and His love led Him to make a way for us to be made righteous.
Read on to examine the Biblical meaning of “hate” in its context.
When translating, interpreting, and applying scripture, one of the biggest challenges that we face is the fact that we are reading an ancient text with modern eyes. Society operates differently than it did when the Bible was written. So when we encounter words that mean one thing in a specific context, the same words often take on a varied meaning in a different context.
One word that exemplifies this phenomenon is “hate.”
Today’s dictionary defines “hate” as “feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone),” or “have a strong aversion to (something).” This definition is consistent with how we understand and use the word “hate” in the English-speaking world.
To us, “hate” is a word laden with emotion, the antithesis of love. When we say that we hate something (or someone), we are describing an active, negative sentiment toward the object of our hate.
By contrast, the ancient Israelites had a different outlook on emotions altogether. As a result, when the Bible speaks of “hate,” it is saying that something (or someone) “stands in opposition,” “is shown less favor,” or “is rejected and closed off.”
This doesn’t mean that the visceral, emotional sense of hate is absent from scripture. It is present but is expressed with entirely different words. Consider the words of Proverbs 6:16: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him.” The Hebrew sawnay is rendered here as “hate,” while the Hebrew toebah is translated as “detestable.”
As English speakers, we grasp that “detest” is a stronger word than “hate.” In older English translations, the Hebrew toebah is rendered as “abomination,” and is used to describe the things that are deeply offensive to God. Most often, this word is used to describe the idolatrous and depraved practices that most visibly contrast the righteousness of God.
Hate in the Bible
Focusing on the Hebrew sawnay (and its New Testament Greek equivalent, miseo), we find that much of what the Bible says about hate is not related to the emotion that we speak of today.
Psalm 5 reveals how “hate” differs from “detest” in practice:
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.Psalm 5:4-6
By first stating God’s assessment of wickedness, then His closing off of the evil and arrogant from His presence, the psalmist sets the context for saying that God hates—opposes, rejects, and cuts off—those who do wrong.
God’s inherent goodness necessitates that He would reject and oppose evil and wrongdoing. And that is the Biblical definition of “hate.”
In the next verse, when the psalmist turns the dial up from “hate” to “detest,” he does so in the context of the demonic practices that are a deep offense not only to God’s holiness but to His created order.
Does God Hate People?
It is easy to understand that God hates evil, idolatry, and violence. But can God hate people, and not just things or actions?
One commonly—and improperly—used verse that is often cited in defense of hateful actions is:
Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:13
Here, Paul is quoting the prophet Malachi (v 1:2-3). But he is not saying that God finds Esau detestable. Rather, the context of Romans 9 shows that Paul is illustrating God’s sovereignty in saving people and choosing them for his purposes.
Both Malachi and Romans speak of Jacob and Esau not as individuals, but as representatives of the nations that they fathered (Israel and Edom, respectively). In other words, they are declaring that God favored Israel over Edom by selecting Israel as His chosen people.
To the modern reader, it seems contradictory that God would hate Esau. But the real scandal is that God loved Jacob.
All of us, because of our sin nature, deserve to be hated—opposed and disregarded—by God. This is why Paul says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21). Yet God chose, while we were still sinners—His enemies—to show His love for us by giving His life for us (Romans 5:8).
Did Jesus Instruct us to Hate?
Jesus often spoke about hate, especially when he was telling his disciples to expect the world to hate them because the world hated him.
Yet, Jesus instructs us to love those that the world tells us to hate:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.Matthew 5:43-44
Seemingly paradoxically, Jesus also taught:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:26
At first, it might seem a contradiction that he would ask us to hate our family while loving our enemies. Viewed together, these passages remind us that following Jesus means not following the ways of the world.
Jesus is warning us that there is a cost to following him and inviting us to weigh that cost as we prepare to take up the cross of discipleship. Others who are close to us may choose a different path and even reject us. But if we are committed to Jesus, we must be willing to place him above our own lives and above our families.
But this is not a call to animosity. We still ought to show the same compassion and grace to all people, even those who may be hurt by our conscious decision to place Jesus above all others.
Defined by Love
As Christians, we will necessarily stand in opposition to the ways of the world. Our convictions will require us to choose Jesus over others, and God’s holiness will lead us to detest sin and evil.
But we are not called to harbor resentment, animosity, or the emotion of hatred against others. Because hatred, as modern English defines it, is not consistent with God’s character.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.1 John 4:7-8