Matthew 5:43—Why did the OT prescribe that one could hate his enemies?

Problem: Jesus said here of the OT, “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ” How could a God of love (Ex. 20:2, 6; 1 John 4:16) command them to hate their enemies?

Solution: God never commanded His people at any time to hate their enemies (see comments on Mal. 1:3). God is an unchanging God of love (cf. 1 John 4:16; Mal. 3:6), and He cannot hate any person, nor can He command anyone else to do so. Jesus said the greatest commands were to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself (Matt. 22:36–37, 39). In point of fact, this very command is taken by Jesus from the OT. Leviticus 19:18 declares: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”!

Why then did Jesus say the OT taught that we should “hate our enemy” (Matt. 5:43)? He didn’t, and for a very good reason. Nowhere in the OT can any such verse be found. In fact, Jesus is not quoting the OT here, but the pharisaical misinterpretation of the OT. Notice, Jesus does not say “it is written,” as He often did when quoting the OT (cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Rather, He said, “you have heard,” by which He meant the Jewish “tradition” that had grown up around the OT and by which they had made the commandment of God of no effect (cf. Matt. 15:3, 6). The truth is that the God of love commanded love both in the OT and NT and never at any time commanded that we hate other persons.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.