“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” John 12:25
Hates – In Greek, the root is miseo. It usually implies active ill will toward someone or something. It is the opposite of agapao (to love, cf. Matthew 5:43). This is the same verb used in Luke 14:26 where Yeshua compares the love of family with the love for Himself. A lot of people have stumbled over this Greek word. It just doesn’t seem right to suggest that I have to “hate” my family or my life in order to be a follower of the Way. Maybe part of the problem is that Yeshua spoke Hebrew and this Greek verb is a translation of His real words. Let’s take a look.
There are two Hebrew verbs that could be translated “hate.” The first is sane, a word found in Exodus 20:5. This word is contrasted with ahav (love). It describes the rebellious wicked, the things that oppose God, the unjust and evil. In human terms, it is applied to enemies and those who seek to harm others. Revulsion expressed by sane is hatred for something unholy.
But as we discovered in Ezekiel 20:43, there is another Hebrew word for “hate.” That word is qut. It still describes revulsion, but we know from the prophet that this word involves self-loathing. It is the word of choice for reflection on resident wickedness in our past lives.
Which Hebrew word is most likely the one Yeshua used? If we choose sane, we must conclude that my life in this world is an abomination to God. It stands in stark contrast to love. It is nothing but abhorrent evil. It is totally depraved and worthless. Reading the verse this way supports several theological tenets of strict Calvinism. Obviously, there is a long history of interpretation behind this reading. But there is another choice here. If we imagine that Yeshua used the Hebrew word qut in the same way that Ezekiel used the word, then this verse becomes an assessment of the revulsion I feel about my life apart from God. It isn’t necessary for all of my life to be evil, corrupt and worthless. It is only necessary that self-evaluation determines the direction of my former life was useless, pointless and unholy. The reason for this conclusion is obvious. I lived according to the measurement of this world and those measurements do not reflect the true nature of the universe or the character of the Creator.
Ah, but you might object, “Doesn’t Yeshua contrast love and hate here? Doesn’t that indicate that He is using sane?” But what we discover on closer examination is that this translation does not contrast miseo with agapao. Instead, the verb translated “love” is phileo. “He who loves his life as if it were his best friend loses it.” The translator indicates that Yeshua didn’t draw a contrast between ahav and sane. He used another Hebrew word for “love,” perhaps ra’yah or dodh. Both are connected to enjoyment and sensual experience, not to sacrificial benevolence. We won’t know for sure, but it certainly seems possible that Yeshua is not endorsing a doctrine of total depravity, nor is He requiring that I despise my life as completely evil. He is telling me that making friends with the world is moving in the wrong direction and until I recognize that the world’s standards lead to disaster, I cannot be His disciple.
Perhaps we learn something important here. Our lives are expressions of both good and evil, even before we encounter the one true God. Yeshua’s comment gives us hope, not despair. There is time to change direction. There is time to assess. There is another way for us.
Topical Index: hate, miseo, sane, qut, depravity, John 12:25, Ezekiel 20:43, Exodus 20:5, Luke 14:26, Matthew 5:43