Jesus was on a roll.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
Addressing his primary antagonists, the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus built their unflattering profile at the beginning of Matthew 23 and then hammered them eight different times repetitively calling them hypocrites (vv. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29), blind (vv. 16, 17, 19, 24. 26), fools (vs. 17), lawless (vs. 28), and ending with this grand finale:
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matt. 23:33).
You don’t need to have a Ph.D. in theology or doctorate in Jewish studies to figure out that pious Jews don’t take well to being symbolically linked to the animal most associated with the devil. But that didn’t stop Jesus from telling them that’s who they were like.
Now, if this scene were played out on the Internet and media stage of 2012, how do you think Jesus would have been portrayed and characterized?
I guarantee that Jesus’ words would be labeled as ‘hate speech’ and he’d be unfriended by countless on Facebook who would see his talk as ‘unacceptable’ for today’s times.
Whether it’s the recent Chik-fil-A episode or something similar, the #1 most used tactic in the public square to counter any criticism of personal actions or lifestyle is labeling the opposing argument or statement as hate speech. Never mind that the one making the claim is likely demonstrating their intense dislike (a.k.a. ‘hate’) for the one they’re opposing.
Are the ones constantly crying hate speech right in their accusations or have they redefined what hate is and given birth to a new term whose sole purpose is to wrongly stigmatize the opposition and further their agenda? Let’s take a look to find out, while also examining how Christians are commanded to handle themselves in today’s volatile environment.
What is Hate and Hate Speech?
Dictionary.com defines ‘hate’ in the following way:
hate [heyt] , hat·ed, hat·ing, noun verb (used with object)
- to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.
- to be unwilling; dislike: I hate to do it.
- to feel intense dislike, or extreme aversion or hostility.
Now, I’m guessing that most everyone would agree with the above definition. Moreover, all would likely not argue that there are genuine times that something should be hated. Like Solomon said, there is “A time to love and a time to hate” (Ecc. 3:8).
However in today’s postmodern culture, it’s no surprise that the term ‘hate’ has been clandestinely redefined in the public arena where ideas are exchanged. The postmodern philosophy, which can succinctly be defined as a worldview that affirms no truth (except, of course, the truth that no truth can be affirmed…), carries with it a linguistic component that distorts both what words mean and how they are used.
Beginning with the Swiss linguist Saussure and continuing with other philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Derrida, the idea of redefining words by the individual has led up to where words like ‘hate’ are changed to be something much different than what they actually are.
Today, ‘hate’ has been altered to signify: any attitude or expression that opposes how I behave, and what I want to do and practice.
This is oftentimes classified as the terminological fallacy, which is when a term is altered and then used to support a position or argument. For example, it can be seen in the definition of hate speech that comes from uslegal.com:
“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.”
All seems well with the definition up until the final sentence. Is an expression of hatred to be equated simply with what offends a particular person or group? If so, then classify Jesus as a purveyor of hate speech.
Should Christians Ever Hate?
This raises the questions of if Christians should really hate anything, and if so, how that hatred should be expressed. The Bible is not shy when it comes to answering ‘yes’ to the question of if hatred is, at times, appropriate. However, the object of hate is important to see and understand:
“There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16–19).
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows” (Psalm 45:7).
“From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104).
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Prov. 8:13).
“’These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord” (Zech. 8:16–17).
“Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).
Sin, evil, and that which opposes God’s truth are to be hated. But people? Jesus is clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43–44).
But such a thing doesn’t mean that difficult confrontations, like those recorded in Matthew 23, won’t ever happen.
What Should Christian Speech Sound Like?
Once we understand what Christians should and should not hate, we next need to know how we should go about expressing it. Again, the Bible is clear:
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Scripture says there is a right and wrong way to tell someone they have a spot on their shirt, and makes it plain how we are to go about telling someone that. This does not mean, however, that we are to stay silent when confronted with actions and behavior God dislikes. Paul warns us to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11). A good example of the wrong way to do this would be how the Westboro Baptist church handles things, whereas a right way would be how Chik-fil-A’s Dan Cathy went about affirming traditional marriage.
What about invoking violence (which is part of the uslegal’s hate speech definition)? Again, the Bible is unmistakable on the subject: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates” (Psalm 11:5).
One thing is certain though – even when we do speak up in the Biblical way, we can most times expect a reaction from the world that mirrors what Jesus experienced with His corrective teachings and rebukes.
What Should Christians Expect?
Jesus finished one of his discourses in a very interesting way: “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matt. 11:6). The word “offense” in the Greek is “skandalizo” from where we get the word “scandal”. It means to shock through word or action, or give offense to and anger.
The truth is, Jesus and His teachings do cause offense; the Bible specifically said He would: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:33).
When the world gets offended, you can expect some of those who decry hate speech to use the most hateful words in existence against those who stand against them. This, too, is spelled out clearly in the Bible:
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18–19).
“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
The truth is, it is not hate or hate speech that reproves a person for sinful behavior. In fact, it is just the opposite.
Speaking the truth about sin has also never been popular; it always has offended and it always will. But, Billy Graham makes an important point about Who to care most about in this regard when he says, "Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone – except God".
Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 may seem harsh, but they were spot on, appropriate for those who had blasphemed God’s Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:32), and were in no way hate speech. Pointing out moral wrongs and sinful behavior is not hate, but instead it can be the most loving thing a person can do because ungodly actions have eternal consequences. Jesus’ words, plus the work of the apostles, evidently hit the mark with some of their opponents because the book of Acts records the following: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7, my emphasis).
Some will receive God’s corrections and some will not, with the reactions telling you much about the person with whom you are dealing: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8).
No matter the response, our reaction should always be to continuously share the gospel message (Matt. 28:18), bless those who persecute (Rom. 12:14), bear up well under any abuse (1 Pet. 4:16), and respectfully ask those who oppose God’s teachings, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (926). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.