Hate, A Word Study

Yesterday we studied the word “enemy” and found that it primarily refers to those who oppose, persecute, or hate someone. So what do those words mean, especially hatred? We’ve already done a study on love, so perhaps now we be a good time to discuss its opposite.

The Hebrew word translated “hate” is sane; the Greek word is miseo. Since both refer to the same idea, we will look at them together. First, however, we should make an important distinction. Just like people confuse disliking someone with being their enemy, people often confuse anger with hatred. When someone opposes us, it is natural to have ill-feelings towards them. Likewise, when we hate something or someone, anger is a naturally accompanying emotion. Anger, however, is not hatred, and hatred is not anger. If it were, then every time we became angry at a loved one we would have to admit that we actually hated them, which obviously is not the case.

Hatred is actually the lack of love (love, if you remember, is the desire to for the best interests of another). Love unites. Love brings together (1 Cor. 13). Hatred, then, is an aversion to a person or thing. Hatred sees something as undesirable and as ought to be shunned. Hatred divides.

We can further distinguish between two kinds of hatred, what we may call “cold” and “hot” hate. “Hot hatred” is that with which we are most familiar. It is an aversion that is accompanied by strong negative emotions. People often hate one another in this regard, and this is the idea the NT condemns when it says that to hate someone is to be a murder (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). On the other hand, Christians are called upon to hate sin, just as God does (Rom. 12:9). In fact, it is our hatred of sin that will often keep us from it! (cf. Ps. 36:1-3)

“Cold hate” is an emotionless aversion and may be more clearly understood as disinterest. To “hate” someone or something in this regard is to consider it so unimportant that it is unworthy of your interest; that is, you have absolutely no desire to consider it. In this sense, people are said to hate God (although they do so in the other sense as well), a sad fact which as terrible consequences (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 1:30). In this sense, to ignore people in need is to hate them in this way.

In addition to these literal meanings, the Bible also uses the word in a figurative sense of “love less.” Thus, Jesus says that we are to hate our father and mother and even our own lives (Luke 14:26). The idea is that, compared to our love for God, all other considerations are so secondary that that simply don’t matter to a degree that they could be considered hated. The point is clear: God comes first! Another example is found in Romans 9:13, which says that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. The idea is that God chose Jacob before he was born to carry the Abrahamic blessing but rejected Esau for it.

Hatred, then, is neither good or evil in and of itself. Like love, the important question is the object. To hate people is wrong. To hate sin is good. We are capable of being angry without falling into hatred, just as God does with us. Anger rooted in love is righteous anger; anger rooted in hate is murder. Understood properly, love and hate, properly understood, help us properly define all of our relationships and ultimately will lead to a more fulfilling, and fulfilled, Christian life.