Does Jesus use hyperbole to make a point?

I was inspired by Neil Shenvi’s comment to do a search on Jesus’ use of hyperbole, and below is an article I found on it.

From Hank Hanegraaf’s Christian Research Institute web site.


I want to pay particular attention to Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

One way to misinterpret this verse is to take it literally. Cults often operate on the premise that the statement is literally true — that it pits loyalty to the group against love for family. In doing so, they attempt to distance followers from family members who might make them fall away.

Critics of Christianity in turn point to the verse in order to denigrate the Christian faith. An atheist, for example, quotes the verse as “a perfect illustration of how a cult operates. Sort of makes you wonder about all those conservative religionists that preach ‘traditional family values!’”

[…]It is obvious that a literal interpretation of Jesus’ statement leads to disastrous results; but what is the alternative to interpreting it literally? The only viable option is to regard the statement as being a hyperbole — a conscious exaggeration that expresses truth in a nonliteral manner.

It apparently is not easy for people to label a statement as being a hyperbole. On the surface, it may seem to signal a lack of faith when we do not take the great promises of Scripture at face value. After all, “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Interpreting hyperbolic statements literally, however, lands us in much greater difficulties than interpreting them figuratively does.

[…]Elton Trueblood shows in his book The Humor of Christ that the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ discourses is their use of exaggeration — the preposterous overstatement in the mode of “our conventional Texas story, which no one believes literally, but which everyone remembers.” G. K. Chesterton notes that “Christ had even a literary style of his own.…The diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.”

This is, in fact, accurate; for example: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24); The kingdom of God “is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

The rest of the article is worth reading – the author talks about how hyperbole works in the Bible and how to recognize it.

I thought this was important to highlight since I love to exaggerate for effect, and now we know that it’s ok that I do. Certain people don’t like it when I exaggerate for effect. But I won’t say who!

7 thoughts on “Does Jesus use hyperbole to make a point?”

  1. Or we could read it literally and not hyperbolically but not take hate in the strong, personally vindictive sense.

    This may sound strange to modern ears, but there is a usage of the term hate that implies a rejection – a decision not to choose one over the other. The obvious example would be “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” where the whole message is that God chose one over the other – not that God harboured ill feeling or malice toward one but not the other.


  2. One further comment – I make the above comment as one who is perfectly comfortable with hyperbole in the Bible, to a level that some evangelicals might find disconcerting.


  3. Norman Geisler unpacks the term hate in Luke 14 and in Romans, in reference to Jacob and Esau, as loving less.

    By the way, R C Sproul currently is (that is to say current podcasts) teaching through Matthew 24 pointing out the different uses of language employed by Jesus.



  4. A couple points stand out. Allow me to offer a slightly different point of view.

    As Glen mentioned – “love less” ,”hate” and “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated”

    This opens up a whole new topic. It is quite obvious – God has favorites, is not democratic, and His sense of fairness is quite different that what most people might think ( God is not a American or democratic – The Kingdom / Will / Rule of God is both a Lamb (benevolent ) and absolute monarch ( think about this one – Has anyone seen a “angry lamb” ? May I suggest is not a good thing).

    I am lead to interpret scriptures like this to indicate the utmost seriousness of discipleship to Christ and how it takes preference over everything including family.

    Something to ponder – consider when Paul became a follower of Christ. Though it doesn’t mention the loss of his family – he does mention he lost everything. He counted everything as dung ( Phil 3 ). Btw, Paul didn’t use a hyperbole loss of immediate family, career, wealth, status, marriage etc…

    Scriptures like this need the Holy Spirit to interpret correctly.


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