Love and Hate in the King James Bible

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This is another one of those entries I wrote years ago and have never gotten around to posting. Actually I wrote this in the mid 1990s and tried to get someone to publish it, but every editor I offered it to declined. I think it's interesting, but no one else did at the time.

One day about in the mid 1990s in grad school I decided to do a search on "love" and "hate" in the scriptures. In the LDS standard works, the word love appears 412 times; loved shows up 116 times. Hate appears 104 times, hated appears 70 times, and hatred appears 37. Approximately three fourths of the references to each are in the Bible. Hate appears before any mention of love; it is first used in Genesis 24:60:

And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

The first time love is used in the Bible, it is in the past tense, and seems to be the romantic variety of love: in 24:67 we read that "Isaac brought her [Rebekah] unto his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death."

Love's second and third appearances involve strikingly carnal attitudes: in Genesis 25:28, we read, "And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." In Genesis 27:4, an aged Isaac tells Esau to "make me some savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, that my soul may bless thee before I die."

Love is mentioned only once in the ten commandments, not as a commandment in and of itself, but as an aside in the second commandment. First we are instructed that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Then comes

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:


Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me [again, hate comes before love];

and shewing mercy unto thousands of them [thousands of them, but not all?] of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Supposedly the Bible taken as a whole shows the transition from a punishing god to a loving god, and supposedly the LDS scriptures in their entirety illustrate the evolution of a loving relationship between God and his children over whom he has stewardship. One of my friends says he thinks it should be called a revolution rather than an evolution--merely a change, without any connotation of improvement--or at least something that can fail, as revolutions often do. But let's say it is an improvement: I wonder if the evolution is complete, how much further it might have to go. For instance, the final reference to love in the Bible occurs in Revelation 3:19: "And as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." I find it disturbing that in the end, it is asserted that chastisement equals love--this sounds like classic abusive rhetoric, along the lines of "punishment equals affection," an idea employed by spouse and child abusers everywhere. I think it would be nice if the final reference to love in the Bible were something more like "And as many as I love, I teach and train with kindness and fairness; I comfort them in times of suffering; I remember and care for them; and when life is good for those I love, I am happy and glad and anxious to share in their joy; therefore speak to me often, of all that matters to you."

The last word--as well as the first word--on the topic of love and hate in the Bible is hate, found in Revelation 17:16: "And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire."

Admittedly, there are several hundred other references to love and hate in between the ones I've cited. Still, the exercise did turn up a few points I believe are worth noting. Until I ran this rudimentary search, I had never realized how late love appears on the scene. I find it remarkable that there is no mention of love of any sort--romantic or otherwise--in the story of the garden. It doesn't say that Adam and Eve loved each other. It doesn't say that they were commanded to love God. It doesn't say that God loved the earth or the things he created in it or the people he placed on it. It doesn't say ANYTHING on the topic of love. Whoever wrote the text in the first place, whoever revised it or tinkered with it (including Joseph Smith; in his translation, there's no mention of love in the garden; he doesn't use the word until the story of the flood, when God is explaining to Noah why the flood is justified), not one of those deities or theologians or prophets saw fit to include a reference to the idea/ideal that Christianity is supposedly based on.

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I've performed a similar exercise, and was a bit distraught to learn how frequently the Bible seems to speak approvingly of hate -- usually in the context of hating unbelievers, and usually in the grimmest parts of the Old Testament (the parts about slaughtering all the men, women, children and cattle of conquered Canaan).

Hi JGW--yes, it's really disturbing. It becomes really hard to argue that it's a book about love when you look at all the hate it promotes.

In my studies I discovered the first time love is used, is when Abraham is asked by God ,"Take now your son, you only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." Significant as it foreshadows the coming of the one true sacrifice which many scholars believe to have taken place on that same mountain.

Interesting, Teresa--thanks for pointing that out.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on January 18, 2010 11:03 AM.

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