Does God love or hate sinners?

Does God Hate Sin and Not Sinners? Revisiting a Cliché

If I go into an average church and say, “God hates some people,” I would immediately be labeled a heretic. We have engraved in our minds the clichés, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin,” or, “God loves everybody the same.” I would question the legitimacy of those ideas, and argue that God actually hates some people.

The point of this post is not to go through all of the details of how God’s love and hate relate. I simply wish to show the scriptural testimony that God hates sinners as well as their sin. Once we get over that hump the rest of the doctrine soon follows. And so I wish to discuss the several verses that identify the objects of God’s hate as both the actions and the actors.

If this doctrine is hard to stomach, as I’m sure it will be at first, remembering two important things will be helpful. First, that the Bible (from which I am getting this doctrine) is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. In it God tells us about Who He is and what He’s done throughout human history. Therefore, we must see what it teaches as authoritative over our feelings and even the deepest philosophy. And second, that I am not inventing something new here. Many famous theologians of the past and present believe that God doesn’t love everyone the same, and have agreed that God in some sense hates the lost. (For one example, see Charles Spurgeon’s comments on Psalm 5:5-6 in The Treasury of David).

God hates the sinner as well as their sin

Psalm 5:5-6 says, “You hate all who do iniquity… The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit” (emphasis mine). Nobody would deny that God hates iniquity, bloodshed, and deceit. However, this text goes even further to say that God also hates those who do the actions, and a man whose life is characterized by these deeds.

'God loves the sinner but hates the sin' is found nowhere in the Bible. Click To Tweet

Elsewhere in the Psalms we read, “The one who loves violence His soul hates” (Psalm 11:5, emphasis mine).

Many are familiar with the passage in Proverbs listing the so-called The Seven Deadly Sins. However, a closer look will show that not all seven things in this list are sins, but rather, a couple types of sinners are also included. “There are six things which the LORD hates…a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16-19, emphasis mine). Along with five specific sinful actions that the Lord hates and abominates, these two types of people are found: the false witness, and the one who spreads strife. Here too it is not the sins alone, but also those who commit them that are hated by God.

Jeremiah 12:8 says, “My inheritance has become to Me like a lion in the forest; she has roared against Me; therefore I have come to hate her” (emphasis mine). The people are the objects of hate here–unless we say that the literal dirt on the ground is that which roars against Him.

Hosea 9:15 says, “All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels” (emphasis mine). Here it is them who is hated and who is no longer loved.

Malachi 1:2-3, “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau” (emphasis mine). This is quoted in Romans 9:13.

Does God’s “hate” simply mean He loves some less than others?

There is, however, one objection against this doctrine which, at first glance, may seem to disprove it. Call it the “love less” theory. This idea is that the term hate in these passages, rather than literal “hate” in the strongest sense, means that the LORD feels a lesser love toward lost sinners than He does toward the saved. The text used for this is Luke 14:26, where Jesus says,

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.For the word “hate,” the NASB has the footnote: “i.e. by comparison of his love for Me.” That footnote is helpful for interpreting the passage. Jesus could not have meant we ought to hate these people, for we must love our mother and father, husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet Jesus is using shocking language to illustrate the kind of precedence we are to give Him over and above all people, possessions, and ambitions in our lives. The parallel in Matthew puts it, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (10:37, emphasis mine).

However, should we apply this definition to every time hate is mentioned? This cannot be so, for what about where the Bible says that God hates sin? Certainly applying Luke 14:26 to ever instance of the word would dramatically change the way we view God and His holiness. The context must always be the defining factor.

And so, let us look at other places in the Bible where “love” and “hate” are used together (this is not an exhautive list). We will soon see that the “love less” definition of hate, although legitimate in some cases, cannot be a blanket interpretation to be thrown over the whole Bible. After that we will return to our “God hates sinners” passages in their contexts and see that God’s hate really means hate.

  • Psalm 45:7 “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness…” Did Jesus (see Heb. 1) still love evil somehow?
  • Psalm 97:10 “Hate evil, you who loved the LORD…” Does the psalmist want us to still hold onto our friendship with the world?
  • Psalm 119:163 “I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law.” Can we still say we love God’s Word with our whole heart if we like when His truths are challenged and ignored?
  • Isaiah 61:8 “I, the LORD, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering…” Can a society function when both justice and robbery are approved? Can we really say a pure, holy God likes “robbery in the burnt offering” even slightly?
  • Amos 5:15 “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate…” How can we establish justice if we allow or enjoy evil?
  • 1 John 4:20 “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar…” The parallel in the very next part of the verse equates hating your brother with not loving them.

The context of “God hates sinners” passages won’t allow a lesser-love meaning

With those examples in mind, let us go back through our “God hates sinners” texts to see, from the context, if the Luke 14 interpretation is valid in any of those cases.

Psalm 5

Verse 4 contains a parallel to God’s hate: He takes no pleasure in wickedness. The attitude is clearly not that He still loves it a little bit. It is also noteworthy that the author uses harsher terminology to describe God’s feeling toward evildoers (“hate”) than that of evil itself (“takes no pleasure in”).

In verse 6 we read, “You destroy those who speak falsehood.” Thinking back to Luke 14, is that something we would say about our mother, father, son, or daughter? I think not! The context here must be speaking of a strong, negative emotion. Consider also in verse 6 that God “abhors” the man of bloodshed. The word in Hebrew, as well as in English, gives the idea of being disgusted by something. These men of bloodshed—and not their bloodshed alone—are disgusting to God. The Bible elsewhere mentions people as objects of God’s abhorrence in Leviticus 20:23 (“…therefore I have abhorred them…”) and 26:30 (“My soul shall abhor you.”).

Psalm 11

Verse 6 says that the LORD rains snares upon the wicked! Is that an outflow of love or hate? Is that something we should do to our parents or children? He continues, “Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.” Is that an expression of the Lord’s love for the wicked?

Proverbs 6:16-19

It must be that the people in verse 19 are hated with a real hate because of those actions with which they are grouped. Elsewhere in Scripture we know that the LORD hates evil, that Jesus hates evil, and that we ourselves ought to hate evil. There can be no reason to put a break in the list; that He hates and abominates the first five, but the last two He still somewhat loves. All things in this list are against God’s character and are in opposition to Him: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble; God is a God of truth, thus He opposes lying; God is a God of justice and opposes the shedding of innocent blood; God is a God of righteousness and holiness and thus He opposes evil and wickedness. It is no different for the ones uttering those lies and spreading strife. Those who do these are abominable to Him.

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Jeremiah 12:7-13

We will examine the rest of the passage for clues concerning God’s attitude toward these people–although verse 8 would be sufficient. Verse 7 mentions that the Lord has forsaken them, abandoned them, and has given them over to their enemies. In verse 9, He is calling beasts of the field (whether literal or figurative) to devour her. Verse 12 mentions that the sword of the Lord is devouring them. Finally, verse 13 mentions the fierce anger of the Lord. This is hardly an attitude of lesser love, or one we should feel toward our parents or children.

Hosea 9

Although the whole passage could be used to prove my point, only the immediate context will be addressed here. Just before, in verse 14, it mentions that the Lord will give them miscarrying wombs and dry breasts. Just after, in verse 16, we are told that He will slay the little ones of their womb. In verse 17 we see that God has cast the people away.

Malachi 1

This passage describes the lot of Esau as desolation and the tearing down of buildings. Thus the context would seem to mean a hate rather than a lesser love. The same observation is clear when examining Romans 9. There the reprobate are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.

What about God’s love for everybody?

This all may sound foreign to many of us. I understand that it is hard to stomach at first. Perhaps we’ve heard the cliché “God love the sinner but hates the sin” so often that we think it’s actually a Bible verse. But for how popular this teaching is, there is only one place in the entire Bible that teaches that God loves everybody. That is Matthew 5:43-48, where Jesus commands us to love our enemies just as God does by sending the sun on the wicked as well as the righteous. Although the truth that God loves the wicked is taught here, it is still only implied. Also, even in this passage the lost are called his enemies. There is also Romans 11:28, which says that (all) Jews are still loved because of the promises to the forefathers.

So yes, God does indeed love everybody, but the emphasis biblically is on God’s redemptive love for His elect and how He displays that love and effects their salvation through Christ’s atonement. We still technically could say, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin,” and be biblically. Although, usually people mean “God hates the sin only, but not the sinner.”

Again, the purpose of this post is not to hash out all of the details. I could provide quotes from the many, many authors who take the “hate” in these verses as a literal hate (just read reformed authors, you’d be surprised). I could discuss the differences between A. W. Pink’s stance and the rest of the reformed, and why I think Pink is closer to the truth. There is still a lot to be said about the difference between general love and redemptive love. But for now, this post is just to help convince you that (although He still loves the lost) the Bible teaches that God hates sinners with a real hate. Once you get over that hump you can begin to develop your view more fully, and how it fits in with the rest of the Bible’s teaching on redemption.

-Steve Rohn

What do you think?