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Hate your Enemy?  

July 18, 2021

by Barry Fike

Matthew 5:43 -- Hate thine enemy-  .  Hate in Hebrew doesn’t carry the same weight that the English word carries with it.  On one occasion Jesus says, If you don’t hate your mother and your father and your brother then you’re not willing to come follow after me and be part of the kingdom.  He’s not talking about hate.  He’s talking about loving less or placing in second place.  He said if you don’t consider me to be of more importance and place me in first place and love me more.  He’s not talking about hate the way that the 21st century Christian thinks about it.[1]

          The Greek word for enemy here is exopou.  In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (no. 2190) the definition, for expopu, is someone who hates you.[2]  Similar definitions are found in Greek lexicons. The problem with the Greek definition is that it ignores the fact that this is Hebrew, not Greek, and the word is trying to convey a Hebrew idea.

          The LXX was translated in 285 B.C. during the classical period by 70 learned Jews.  During this particular period of time, the Jews had chosen certain Greek words to convey certain Hebrew ideas or concepts.  At this period the meaning of those Greek words is fixed.  But the language changes so quickly that by the time you come to the NT it already means something different.  To find out what it means you have to go back to Classical Greek.  For Classical Greek the word Ekthros means, “hatred, hateful...an ekthros is one who has been a theos (friend)[3] but is alienated.”[4]  The enemy here is obviously parallel to the persecutor, and the ekthros is set in antithesis to the fellow-countryman and fellow-believer.[5]  In the Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin, chapt. 3, Mishna 5 it states, “A friend or an enemy is ineligible (to serve in a court of law).  By friend is meant one’s best friend, and by an enemy is meant anyone that has not spoken with him through enmity for three days.”[6]  This enemy is not some stranger, but a brother that has been alienated from you.

          An enemy in Judaism is something completely different.  In Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin, “If one comes to kill you, anticipate it, and be first and kill him first.”[7]  This is Jewish law on the subject.  Jewish law also states that if a man doesn’t protect his own person, family, personal property, he is a bad as a pagan.  He has a responsibility to protect his own person. 

          Some of the followers of Shammai, or his philosophy, followed a pattern of exclusivity.  (i.e., If you don’t follow my particular way of doing things, my particular experience of doing things, ritual purity, etc. then I cannot associate with people who do not follow my way of doing and thinking about things)   In the Gospels the ones who faulted Jesus for his association with the kinds of people whom he taught and loved were this latter group.

          In Judaism of that period of time, especially among the school of Shammai, there was the idea that you should restrict your friendship, and that you should not have anything to do with people who did not believe the way that you did and were not following in the same religious path.  What Jesus may be saying is that even though you do not follow the same path that others follow, you should still love them and be friends with them.  Thus, you can still be in association with them.  In Judaism, of Jesus’ day and time, you have as many as 19 to 20 different sects of the Jews in the first century.  (Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Herodians, etc. Just among the Pharisees you could break it down to 7 to 8 groups)   The bottom line was that these different sects were not your enemies!  They may have an opinion that is different than yours, and you may argue with them and never agree with them, but you can still be in association with them.


              [1] Dr. Roy Blizzard, Nuggets from the Sermon on the Mount, Yavo Digest, Tape 5, 1990. 

              [2] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, p. 265.

              [3] Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1939.

              [4] Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 748.

[5] TDNT, vol. 2, p. 814. 

              [6] Philip Blackman, Mishnayoth, vol. 4, p. 248.

[7] Philip Blackman, Mishnayoth, vol. 4, p. 279.