Realized Eschatology in the Sermon on the Mount - II

Yoder writes of specific references to persecution of Christians by Jews in the Greek Testament and other early sources, though he is hesitant to say these abuses were widespread. Matthew understands that the recipients of his Gospel are not the first to experience this dilemma. Betz writes that “contrary to what many assume, the experience of being persecuted because of righteousness is not original to Christianity.

Still focusing on persecution, verse 5:11 is the first time in the SM that Jesus is clearly identified as the speaker, as well as the fact that an identifiable group is responding to His teaching and are willing to suffer the consequences for following it. Coupled with verse 12, 5:11-12 are seemingly independent from the previous eight. This is clear from the differing form. “Matthew probably received the (material) from another source.”

The final beatitude (verse 12, is it really a beatitude?) issues a call to “rejoice and be glad,” a liturgical response much like “hallelujah.” However, the following statement that “your reward in heaven is great” does not impede our commitment to identifying realized eschatology as the major strand of influence in the SM. “Reward in heaven” may refer to the fact that blessings originate in heaven with YHWH, not that kingdom citizens are bound for it. How do we otherwise explain the promise about inheriting the earth?

The beatitudes, as I have shown, introduce the theme of the kingdom of heaven as material as well as spiritual reality. The beatitudes set the tone for the ethics that set this kingdom community apart from other Jewish communities. Jesus, as we shall see in the next segment for study, is calling these communities to act in a manner that the people of Israel, and their response to the love of YHWH, had been steering clear of.

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, but on a lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify the Father who is in heaven.

This next section covers Matthew 5:13-16, which begins with “two comprehensive statements about living in a way that reflects the good news of the kingdom.” Betz regards this section as using “missionary language “ (as mentioned above) that provides a thesis statement for the Matthean community. “This commission, issued by Jesus as the intended speaker, formulates the self-understanding of that (community).” We should, however, take a closer look at this. We will look at the metaphors individually, and then look again and see if the segment makes more sense from a different angle.

The first of the “comprehensive statements” is that the hearers are “the salt of the earth.” The salt metaphor has parallels in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34. Hagner, however, states “rather than dependence on synoptics…we probably have an example of oral tradition… “As ‘salt of the earth,’ the disciples can be involved with the world in two ways: they can be a seasoning and fertilizing agent, or they can be a useless waste…” Hagner lists a number of ancient applications for salt: preserving, purifying, seasoning, possibly wisdom, sacrificial (Lev. 2:13a; Eze. 43:24), and covenantal (Lev. 2:13b; Num. 18:19). Betz considers “salt of the earth” as denoting discipleship and the salt becoming tasteless and no longer good for anything is denoting a failure of discipleship.

The “light of the world” is a well known reference to Israel itself. There are significant uses of the light metaphor often in the Greek Testament. “God is light” is found at I John 1:5, and “the light of the world” is found at the Fourth Gospel’s 8:12; 9:5; 12:46; and 1:7-8. According to Betz, The “light of the world” also has a foundation in realized eschatology:

“Light of the World” is a part of Judean self-understanding that aspires to be a beacon of religious and cultural import - a common claim of 1st century Jewish apologetics and proselytism. In the SM, the metaphor is neither merely cultural nor dualistic/cosmic, but clearly emphasizes ethics.

As for “the city on a hill,” this obvious reference to Jerusalem makes it clear that Israel is the light God is talking about.

Failed discipleship plays a role in understanding 5:13-16, but let us dig a little deeper. Boring finds that “Matthew believes that the empirical Israel has failed to carry out (the) mission of the people of God, and that the church of Jews and Gentiles is now charged with the task.”

Israel was always meant to be “the salt” and “the light to the world.” Yet Israel has fallen short of its covenantal duty (see Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19). Jesus points out to His followers that indeed Israel is failing, but why?

Throughout our study of the SM, we find Jesus calling Israel to a new ethic, a new way of reflecting YHWH’s love for creation. Israel, however, had been hiding its light under a bushel basket. Because of its national desire for the restoration of the land, and world prominence in the form of the submission of the nations around it, especially Rome, the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem had lost their saltiness. Jewish identity came not from being a nation of priests called to reflect God’s love, but a nation preoccupied with purity, power and the material dominance of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ challenge to Israel, and to the new Jewish-Christian community, is to tear away the barriers keeping the light of Israel in and allow it to shine freely once more, according to the ethics maintained in the Sermon on the Mount. Israel is to give up its claim to the land, and be a servant nation that is called to sacrifice in the vein of the suffering messianic figure of Isaiah 53 and shine with the glory of YHWH to the rest of the nations.

17 Do not think that I come to abolish the Law or Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our next session of the SM contains Jesus’ well-known commentary on Torah. Betz writes that Matthew 5:17-20 make it clear that Jesus used hermeneutical principles when He interpreted and preached the Hebrew Scriptures. This passage concerns the Law and Prophets, the kingdom of heaven and Jesus’ appraisal of other interpretations of Torah.

The segment may be an intended as an introduction to the following antitheses that follow in Matthew 5:21-48, but the fact that these segments appear together appears to be the work of the author of the Gospel rather than something originally strung together by Jesus Himself. Thus, we will study 5:17-20 as a unit separate from 5:21-48.

Again, Betz sees the hermeneutic principles of the SM, as identified by the antitheses and other comments concerning the Law from the mouth of Jesus, existing as alternatives to the Hillel tradition and other pre-70 halakic codes. Verse 20, which is expressly anti-establishment, is an example.

Matthew 5:17-20 may be seen by some as an author’s emphasis on a Jesus figure who speaks and acts more conservatively concerning purity laws than the Jesus portrayed in Mark, and gives evidence of an even more conservative Christian tradition in Matthew 5:19 and 23:3, 23. Many scholars feel that 5:17-20 is well represented by the affirmation of Marvin Wilson, who feels that Jesus “…never wished to see [H]is fellow Jews change one iota of their traditional faith. He [H]imself remained an orthodox Jew to [H]is last moment.” The Gospels, as a whole, seem to present a picture that agrees with Wilson. Geza Vermes writes:

Nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus depicted as deliberately setting out to deny or substantially alter any commandment of the Torah itself. The controversial statements turn either on conflicting laws where one has to overide the other, or on the precise understanding of the full extent of the precept.

Matthew 5:17 seems to soundly indicate that “the intent of Jesus is not to ‘abolish’ or ‘destroy’ the Law of Israel (i.e. to uproot or negate it through misrepresentation) but to ‘fulfill’ it (to establish or support it through correct interpretation).” The term ‘fulfill’, in Greek it is pleroun, appears throughout the Gospel of Matthew in the “proof from prophecy” quotations as a technical term for the eschatological realization of prophecy. According to 5:17, Jesus brought prophesied realization of the Law for the time of salvation.

Indeed, Matthew 11:13 and Luke 16:16 seem to bear this out. These verses consider the Law and Prophets proclaimed until the pronouncements of John the Baptist. Both versions “declare that with John, a decisive change has taken place from the point of view of God’s revelation to man.” Yoder writes:

Jesus’ own statement of the contrasts in Matthew 5 was that [H]e was not bringing rejection but fulfillment of what Torah had really always intended…

His call was for a “greater righteousness” than that of the other teachers, marked by none of the commandments being “dissolved” or “relaxed”…the intent of the original Torah is broadened or intensified by the antitheses.

In sum, to this point, Banks articulates our findings. “The prophetic teachings point forward to actions of Christ and have been realized in a more profound manner.” But this is far from the last word as far as scholarship pertaining to Matthew 5:17-20 is concerned.

James D.G. Dunn raises the question, “is Jesus the Jesus of Matthew 5, who declares the inviolability of the jots and tittles and the importance of even the least commandments?” Or is he the Jesus that speaks in Mark 17:15 and other similar verses? Many scholars simply state that the author of Matthew probably formulated Matthew 17:20 as an apologetic defense for Christian Jews. The Jesus Seminar declares that the author “nullified” Jesus’ “relaxed attitude towards the Law.” Funk and others argue that, while complex, Matthew 5:17-20 (and Luke 16:17) simply reflects ongoing controversy in the early Christian community over whether the Law was still binding. Funk argues that the passage in question is Matthew’s position on the Law, not that of Jesus.

E.P. Sanders’ view predates that of the above thinking. “In its present setting,” writes Sanders, “Matthew 5:17 points to a strict legalism which no one will attribute to Jesus…What chance, then, do we have with a saying such as Matthew 5:17? None, I think.” Actually, Sanders questions the legitimacy of attributing to Jesus anything stated in Matthew between 5:17 and 6:18.

Yet, while the grandstanding of the Jesus Seminar certainly stirs interest, objections to the genuineness of Jesus’ words concerning Torah should be rejected, the Matthean verses included. Yet other theories surround Matt 5:17ff and its attitude toward the Law.

It has been suggested that the text we are presently concerned with is the Matthean author’s response to controversy raised by the apostle Paul’s version of the gospel, or Pauline Christianity. Verse 5:19 is supposedly a response to Paul’s dubbing himself “the least of apostles.” This controversy is spelled out in Acts 15, and is alluded to in Acts 11:25-26, where Paul is cited as teaching at Antioch, a possible location for the Matthean community’s base. Three scholars, however, come out against this theory.

Boring feels that while the Gospel “seems to be written in Antioch…Paul’s lasting influence (there) seems to have been minimal, hardly affecting the Matthean stream of Christianity.” Schnackenburg detects no Pauline influence either way in Matthew’s theology, and W.D. Davies writes “The anti-Pauline interpretation of the SM (would) reduce Matthew to a mere moralist. But secondly, and more important, if Matthew is in opposition to Paul, he stands opposed to one of the most creative and influential figures in the early church.”

To show the difficulty scholars have had in reaching consensus on this brief passage, I will view two other possibilities before drawing conclusions. Hagner believes “the four verses of this pericope, although related in themselves, are not inter-related or interdependent in such a way that they form a single entity.” Hagner feels each verse is “readily separable” and that each individual verse may be lifted from a variety of different contexts - all the while being genuine representations of Jesus’ words.

“Matthew did not compose this material,” writes Hagner, “yet he is responsible at least for the present juxtaposition in order to shape it for Jewish Christian listeners.” He adds that “it is fair to assume that Jesus’ sovereign interpretation of the Law was so out of step with contemporary interpretation that it seemed to many that Jesus was going against the Law…”

Robert Banks, while seeing difficulties in the Gospel portraits of Jesus concerning the Law, asks the 21st century reader to remember the context. According to Banks, Jesus adapts His teachings to the audience He is addressing. This is especially the case, says Banks, in His teachings concerning Torah.

Jesus’ teaching to antinomians (Matt. 7:15ff; 13:41; 24:11ff) differs from His critique of Pharisaic requirements and casuistry (Matt. 23:3ff, 23ff, 27ff) and His sometimes radical demands concerning Law (22:37ff) differ from discourses such as Matt 15:15.

Jesus’ teaching was addressed to different groups of people in different circumstances at different points throughout [H]is ministry…and recognition of this principle can at least go part of the way in explaining different emphasis in [H]is teachings…throughout the Gospels.

Now we must reach some conclusions despite the difficulties raised by Matthew 5:17-20, and Jesus’ reading of the Law and Prophets, at least in the case of this passage. We can be sure that Jesus was not abandoning the Law, and, as we will see, He not only fulfilled the Law and Prophets, but carried on the great prophetic tradition of Israel. Jesus’ affirmation of the Law and its fulfillment in His ministry, however, means transcendence and not repetition, as in Matthew 12:1-4. As I have shown above, the prophetic actions of John announce a change has taken place in the way YHWH is revealing who God is. This is the change considered in Jeremiah 31:31. Jesus announces that His ministry is “the definitive revelation of the will of God.” This means that Jesus, not the Law, is not only ushering in a new covenant, but is the final authority concerning that covenant, and interpretations of Torah.

This is what the Law and Prophets have been pointing toward all along, just as the Hebrew Scriptures testify. A messianic, eschatological, definitive act of God. The kingdom of heaven is the fulfillment of Scripture, the law and the Prophets.

It is important to remember that fulfilment does not first take place on the cross, however, but in the teaching and practice of Jesus. Jesus was announcing, over and against the scribes and Pharisees of verse 20, that YHWH establishes the kingdom that leaves out those who would place restrictions upon it. Jesus redefines Israel, Torah, and the Prophets, and His kingdom reflects God’s intentions for those who would call themselves the people of God.

Without having reached it, the Law and Prophets point towards a summary command from YHWH. Love God, love your neighbor, love even your enemy, and renounce violence as a means of being the people of God. The politicking and pseudo-purity of the Pharisees and their ilk has to come to an end. This is Jesus’ imitation of, and obedience to, the creator God. His fulfillment of Torah, as we will see throughout the Sermon on the Mount, is the ushering in of the non-violent kingdom which reflects the true will of God for God’s people.

Our next unit of study, Matthew 5:21-48, is an indication that Jesus did not in fact oppose Mosaic code, but did find it inadequate. As we see from the start, where Jesus broadens the sixth commandment to include anger and confrontational behavior, the six antitheses that make up the unit are Jesus’ way of bringing the letter of Jewish Law into the context of the two great commandments, loving God and loving our neighbor.

Jesus does more than interpret Torah differently in 5:21-48, but He builds upon the old authority, and makes Himself the locus of authority apart from the limited specifics of written law. There is a structure to the six antitheses. The first unit of each pericope acts to reaffirm, not abolish, Jewish Law. Jesus’ interpretation is meant to get at the root (radix) of existing Torah commands. The second aspect visible is the Messianic radicalization of the Law. Not only is one to avoid murder, per say, but the behavior that leads up to it as well. Matthew’s antitheses declare that Jesus’ interpretation represents the Law’s ultimate intent. Finally, each antithesis contains an application.

Parallels to the antithesis style exist in rabbinic Judaism, though most are thought to postdate Matthew’s version. However, Jesus’ use of “I say to you” has the tone of messianic authority and karygmatic quality that clearly represent Jesus as a final authority over Torah.

The six antitheses are divided into two sections of three. The first three model the greater righteousness spoken of in verse 20. The second three are intended as theses for a disciple’s application. The third, fifth and sixth pericopes are paralleled in Luke and thought to be drawn from the Q source. The first, second and fourth units are drawn from M. Undoubtedly, all six antitheses should be found to originate with Jesus.

The first two units are taken directly from the Decalogue. The fourth (oaths) and fifth (lex talionis) involve direct Torah commands, and the third and sixth pericopes involve commands implied by Torah. Together, they are representative of what Hagner calls “kingdom ethics.” All six units are also expressions, as stated above, of “the Great Commandment” which is all-encompassing love. Boring outlines the antitheses this way:

5:21-26 love shows no hostility

27-30 love is not predatory

31-32 love within marriage

33-37 love is unconditionally truthful

38-42 love does not retaliate

43-48 love extends even to the enemy

All of the antitheses not only place an emphasis on love, but all reflect instances of broken relationships. These Torah instances are “fulfilled” in the sense that in the “love commandment” (Lev. 19:18) Torah is fulfilled.

Two final things to consider before we delve into Matthew 5:21-28. Does the statement “I say to you” imply a messianic consciousness in Jesus? While I put forth that it indeed does, Betz says it does not, which would mean the messianic emphasis is the product of the post-Easter community. Our reply to this may that of Hagner: “ ‘…but I (emphatic) say to you’ (plural)…points to the unparalleled authority of Jesus.”

Another consideration as we read through this section of the Sermon on the Mount. The imperatives of the antitheses are no exaggeration or calls to impossible perfection. According to Klassen, they are the “opening of perspective, without exception, to meet everyone in a life promoting or enhancing way, just as God does.”

21 You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder;’ and ‘whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court;’ 22 but I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court, and whoever shall say ‘you fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the hell of fire. 23 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

This first antithesis deals not only with the Decalogue’s command against murder, but Jesus offers that His followers must strive to uncover the root of such forbidden behavior. Matthew 5:22 is said to be a parody of rabbinic casuistry. While the beginning of the pericipe is thick with scribal wisdom, it ends with expressions that suggests God wills that we refrain not only from murder, but the hostility that builds toward that end as well. What is not said explicitly in verses 5:21-22, is found more concretely in the Didache 3:2: “Do not become angry, for anger leads to murder.”

According to YHWH’s standard of righteousness, even trivial remarks such as “fool” and “Raca” betrays that their author has been shown worthy of condemnation already. (Matt.12:34) These words, considered shaming to a first-century Jew, would have been considerably more insulting that today and would undoubtedly escalate a confrontation. Thus Jesus establishes that creating conditions that lead to violations of Mosaic Law is as condemnable as the betrayal of the Decalogue proper.

Yet, not only does Jesus deepen and transcend the letter of Torah, but He redefines evil as well. In the terms of this and the following antitheses, we see evil being defined as a relationship gone wrong, even in a simple dyad.

Verse 5:22 also introduces a first note of hyperbole that can be read through the antitheses. (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30) Jesus is recorded in nearly all English translations as condemning to Hell violators of his transcendent Law. The result of such widespread mistranslation has resulted in the ever present fundamentalist threat of an eternity spent in fiery torture at the bottom of a three-tiered universe.

Beginning with verse 5:21 and working further through to verse 24, we see Jesus laying a foundation for “working with anger and its projection out on others so as to maintain healthy communal relationships.” Matthew 5:23-24 provides a rule for community life. Reconciliation should take priority, even over cultic worship practices, and those who seek to be kingdom citizens must be reconciled to one another. These verses admonish those who have something held against them by others (no fault is mentioned) as related to Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge.”

It is obvious from the way Jesus engages this Levitical directive, in a manner that works to prevent the vengeful designs or grudges of an opponent, that reconciliation and forgiveness are closely related. Reconciliation, overcoming hostility and alientation, are in Jesus’ interpretation of Torah, considered weightier than worship in terms of eschatological judgment. A similar theme of reconciliation being a prerequisite of worship, possibly drawn from Sirach 34:23, is found in Mark 11:25.

25 make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way; in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent.

Moving onto verses 5:25-26, we read Jesus’ exhortation to “make friends with your opponent at law.” Making friends with an opponent has roots in ancient Hebrew ethics; taking the initiative and offering a settlement while giving up any claim against the opponent is choosing “the difficult route of righteousness that will gain more favor in the eyes of God.” Betz cites the work of Bernard Jackson as describing the events of 5:25 as indicative of the Roman procedure for the imprisonment of a debtor.

In the realized eschatology of my present reading of the SM, we see Jesus proclaiming kingdom ethics as surmounting Roman rule. Horsley writes, “Jesus and [H]is followers clearly understood the rule of God as direct, and unmediated by human institutions of government. Indeed, the later were to be avoided.”

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ 28 but I say to you that every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for the whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you, for it is better that one of your body parts perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.

This pericope is a straightforward citation of the seventh commandment. The antithesis, with its equation of a lustful glance and adultery has been commonly interpreted as being in complete agreement with rabbinic teaching. “This was not simply an exposition or radicalization of the seventh commandment,” writes Banks, “for by equating the covert desire with the overt act, Jesus was demanding a new relationship which actually transcended the requirements of the Law.” In this unit, Jesus redefines adultery and shifts emphasis from a simple transgression of a commandment to the innermost demeaning of another in the heart. This is significant in that Jesus is viewed in these verses as giving meaning to a woman’s existence.

“Jesus breaks with the tradition that a man cannot commit adultery against his own wife. The double standard is abolished…” writes Schrage. Closer investigation of this text implies the “radical discrimination of any sexual activity involving women other than a man’s own wife.” Winks shares a complete interpretation that fits into our present reading, defining the kingdom of heaven as a a realm where women are treated as first-class citizens.

A Jewish male could not commit adultery against his own wife, but only against the sexual property of other men. In that setting, lust did not refer to sexual desire or excitement as we use the term today, but specifically to the envy of another mans sexual property. Jesus radicalizes the meaning of lust and adultery to include even the mental act of dehumanizing women…He does so…to counter the self-righteousness of men who are technically free of adultery under the Law but continue to treat women as sexual objects.

We shall see a continuation of this revolutionary accounting of women in the next pericope. Jesus speaks directly toward the issue of divorce, a prominent aspect of first-century Jewish life, just as it is during the present.

31 And it was said, “whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal;” 32 but I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In this statement, Jesus speaks toward first-century interpretations of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which made divorce a common occurrence, and had lead to a breakdown of the institution of marriage. In this case, Jesus declares the word of God in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as taking precedent over Deuteronomy 24:1. And, while the Deuteronomic passage allows for divorce, Jesus may be radicalizing the Torah mandates of Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 21:14ff that provides protection for women in cases of marital splits.

Jesus also radicalizes the Torah foundations concerning divorce in another way. While Malachi 2:14-16 is certainly implicit concerning absolutes against divorce, Jesus’ prohibition concerning God’s will on the matter is unprecedented in Judaism. His statements on the subject would be taken as a provocative statement by a Jewish listener because wives were considered no more than property under Torah. Sanders elaborates upon this fact:

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, there is a clear statute: A man may not remarry a wife whom he had divorced if she had subsequently married another man. There is also an implied ordinance: A man who divorces his wife should write her a bill of divorce. Divorce itself is not a statute. It is neither forbidden or required…In the New Testament passages, Jesus forbids divorce…He introduces a statute where there was none.

Jesus is, however, radicalizing Torah on this point for reasons that do not often rise to the forefront in a society where most educated women enjoy economic independence and equal status under the law as human beings. Horsley writes that Jesus actions concerning divorce speak directly against the “patriarchal formulation in the Jewish tradition.” To men happy with the easy divorce laws of the day (easy for men that is), Jesus declared that the Creator’s will for marriage is a man and a woman joined together in a lifelong covenant.

The teaching of 5:31-32 speaks to the issue of what was happening to women throughout Palestine, as well as the Diaspora. Jesus is addressing the ease with which a man could divorce a woman with such severity because, according to Wink, He is trying to prevent the wholesale dumping of ex-wives in the streets. The fate of such women is spelled out in the Gospel of John 4:5-18, where a woman was in fact living outside of marriage with a man after five divorces. Treatment such as this lead to prostitution.

33 Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all; either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 or by earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of a great king. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be “Yes, yes” or “No, no” and anything beyond these is evil.

This prohibition of oaths represents the binding nature of the spoken word. The fourth antithesis recalls Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2ff and Deuteronomy 23:21ff; and radicalizes the Mosaic Law by going beyond false or unfulfilled oaths, to include all oaths. First-century Jews connected perjury directly to the Third Commandment against taking YHWH’s name in vain. The prohibition against oaths is recognizable in several Hellenistic philosophical traditions, but something in Jesus’ version sets it apart. The use or abuse of God’s name does not appear to be the reason behind the prohibition. Hagner feels that Jesus’ kingdom ethic does not necessarily prohibit oaths, but the radical truthfulness of Jesus’ followers makes them unnecessary. This should be questioned indeed. While truth telling is a cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian ethic, and this verse certainly can be read to be speaking against a double-standard for every day speech and formal witness, there are two issues that require deeper discussion of the unit.

The first issue is that, pertaining to truth, only YHWH may know the truth, and some truth is not perceptible to human beings. Humans should not declare to know absolute truth apart from that revealed in scripture or the life of Jesus. A first-century example of this reading accounts for verse 5:36. The example of swearing on one’s own head, that no one can turn the color white or black, is an example of “proverbial truisms” proving false, according to Betz. Ancients had found a way to color hair in some cases, raising question concerning even the validity of such a “concretely held” statement. The feeling here is that oaths inevitably lead to perjury. Those who have heard varying witness accounts, say, of the location Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the disciples, are a wonderful biblical example of human accounts conflicting even in the best of circumstances. Banks agrees, saying that this antithesis is

quite emphatic, and any attempt to weaken its force by reference to the distinction between public and private life, its limitation to a prohibition of false swearing or the casuistic examples of 34b-36 must be rejected.

Also at issue is the practice of swearing oaths and allegiances to governments, denominations or other entities. The Essenes, as part of their faith commitment, took an initial oath of allegiance, and then abstained from oath taking and swearing as part of their faith commitment. This shows that anti-oath tendencies existed in the first century C.E. At question is the worthiness of fallen human institutions such as governments, courts, or other institutions that not only fall short of God’s expressed will, but often purposely oppose it. Imagine being a soldier sworn to uphold a national constitution that enforced slavery, or, as more recently experienced, a system of aparthied. The idea of attributing oath status to any human institution is not only forbidden by Jesus in the presently discussed pericope (5:34a), but is a most widespread travesty of orthodoxy in the present church.

38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any one wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

The last two antitheses are the most often quoted texts in the SM, and have long been considered controversial in the some church circles as the the Body of Christ wades through a variety of interpretations. These have ranged from merely assigning the “hard sayings” or teachings of Jesus to a place in the eschatological future, claiming them to be an impossible ethic, to the literal stand of nonresistance championed by many Christian sects. As I will show presently, however, the teachings of the fifth and sixth antitheses are weighed heavily not only with realized eschatological significance, but creative nonviolence that sets the example for the church’s relationship to the world prior to Constantine.

The fifth antithesis begins with Jesus’ comment on lex talionis, or “the law of equal retribution.” This is a legal principle, as opposed to a moral or ethical rule. Betz says the SM text is not so much concerned with murder: the “life for life” unit found along with “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth” in Exodus 21:23 and Deuteronomy 19:21 is missing. It is, however, very concerned with violent attacks. While this text is often quoted as a comment on the death penalty, first -century Jews had long been using currency to settle disputes. Most Hebrew Scripture readers would not have interpreted the texts in Exodus and Deuteronomy as commanding revenge anyway. The texts, according to Boring, do not command revenge “but had sought to curb the tendency to unlimited private revenge…Already there was a steady stream of biblical and pagan tradition calling for restraint and opposing revenge.” As for resisting evil, there are a plethora of applicable interpretations that are suitable for the realized eschatological focus of this book. I will cover some of these, as well as arguments against these interpretations presently.

While other movements existed within the confines of Roman rule by resisting violently or cowering submissively, Jesus advocated a radical alternative to both in His teaching of Matthew 5:38-42. Ron Sider states that Matthew 5:39 means two very radical things. “1) that one should not resist evil by exacting equal damages for injury suffered (i.e. an eye for an eye); and 2) that one should not respond to an evil person by placing him in the category of enemy.” Paul Anderson writes:

Responding to wrongdoing with good, to return good for evil, is uncommon. It requires divine enablement, first to understand the concept, and then to put it into action. This is not doormat passivity, it is active, proactive, even activistic. Oppression thrives on fight or flight intimidation, and to confront it with agape instead of fear or challenge is to subvert its mode of domination.

Klaus Wengst adds concerning Matthew 5:38-42:

(It) is not a matter of accepting circumstances passively, but of changing situations produced by violence by the creation of a new situation. Violence is countered by a productive imagination, leading to situations which make it possible for the other person to understand himself as a partner and no longer as an opponent.

Lisa Sowle Cahill writes that from Matthew 5:39 it “can be concluded minimally that the disciple does not approach the evildoer in a hard, resistant, alienating, and self-righteous judgement, but in a compassionate desire to meet the needs of wrongdoers and victims as will as possible in the circumstances. Yet commentators raise valid questions concerning this approach to the text. Betz asks

If “resist” is the correct rendering (of 5:39), does it imply that the Christian exclude any form of self-defense or self-protection? Are we to avoid all forms of prevention, avoidance or other means of combating evil? Do Christian ethics demand that one allow evil to take its course?

Betz then quotes Joel Blau as saying “non-resistance may mean pity towards the individual, but it means cruelty toward society.” Shrage concurs. He states that as private individuals or Christians, people must act on the basis of Matthew 5. However, when acting officially and with the public responsibility in mind, Schrage says those same Christians are obligated under certain circumstances to do the very opposite, answering evil for evil and force for force.

As I will now show, however, Jesus is not talking about passivity, and Pacifism and non-violence do not mean as such. We first need to take a much closer look, along with Walter Wink, at the word “resist,” and then delve into the rest of the unit with a new understanding. Wink states theat “purely on logical grounds, ‘resist not’ does not fit the aggressive nonviolent actions…“ of Jesus not only in the present pericope, but in other actions in the Gospels, such as the cleansing of the Temple (Matt. 21:12-13 and pars.).

Wink states that translators often fail to recognize the frequency with which the Greek term translated as resist, antisteni, is used as a military term implying “counteractive aggression.” Liddell-Scott’s Greek- English Lexicon identifies antisteni as “to set against” or “withstand” especially in battle. Ephesians 6:13 is a perfect example of the word’s military usage: “Therefore take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

In the LXX the term is used to describe military encounters 44 of 71 times, and Josephus uses antisteni for violent struggle 15 of 17 times. Wink writes, “In the context of the Roman occupation, ‘resistance’ could only have one meaning: lethal violence.” What we have in Matthew 5:39 is a military term. Jesus is calling on followers not to cease resisting evil, but to cease militarism in dealing with evil. Jesus is not calling for passive nonresistance, but as we will see in the following examples found in verses 5:39b-41, Jesus is calling for creative (See Wengst quote above) nonviolent responses to Roman militarism and the temple aristocracy. Jesus is calling for a community of resistance that transcends the violence of the Zealots and the Maccabees.

Wink begins further explanation with an interpretation of 5:39b He writes:

A blow by the right fist in that right-handed world would land on the left cheek of an opponent. An open handed slap would also strike the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was only used for unclean tasks…The only way one could naturally strike the right cheek is with the back of the hand. We are dealing with an insult here, not a fistfight.

A backhand slap was the usual way of admonishing inferiors. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews. We have here a set of unequal relations, in each of which retaliation would invite retribution.

Why then counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? …such a response would create enormous difficulties for the striker. Purley logistically, how could he hit the other cheek now turned to him. He cannot backhand it with his right hand. If he hits it with a fist, he makes the other his equal, acknowledging him as a peer.

Jesus is in fact counseling His listeners, His disciples, not to fight back, but He tells them not to cower either. He leads them to assert their humanity as worthy creations of YHWH, certainly equal to the Roman soldiers or Jewish aristocracy. It is much harder for the enemy to intimidate a people who show the courage to demand justice from their oppressors.

Next, I will follow Wink’s treatment of Matthew 5:40, and the exhortation to give away clothes to your opponent in court. Wink states that only the “poorest of the poor would have nothing but a garment to give as collateral for a loan, and Jewish law strictly required its return every evening at sunset.” (The command to give up clothing in proper order is reflected in the Luke 6:29, but Luke does not preserve the legal setting that would not be understood outside of a Jewish context.) Nevertheless, Jesus is here addressing listeners who have experienced endemic debt very often suffered by Palestinian Jews at the hands of the aristocracy. Wink writes:

His hearers are the poor. They share a rankling hatred for the system that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their lands, their goods, and finally, even their outer garment…Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarment as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court naked…the poor man has transcended the attempt to humiliate him…nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Genesis 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought the creditor under the same prohibition that led to the curse of Canaan. As much as Isaiah had walked barefoot and naked for three years, as a prophetic sign (Isa 20:1-6) so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest.

Wink’s third example of Jesus’ message of nonviolent resistance to evil is found in Matthew 5:41, and involves a soldier’s forcing a subjected local to carry his equipment pack during a march. An example of this is found in Matthew 27:32 when Simon the Cyrene was pressed into helping Jesus carry His cross.

There was a limit placed upon soldiers impressing labor upon subjected peoples. This limit was one mile, and it was abused so much that enforcement mandates were deemed necessary by Roman military authorities with penalties exacted for forcing a subject to go further. It is within this context that Jesus speaks in 5:41. “He (Jesus) does not counsel revolt. One does not befriend a soldier, draw him aside, and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection…” The soldier is thrown of balance by his opponents’ eagerness. What will the penalty be, he asks himself, if he is found having his pack carried the extra mile?

Many commentators have tried to relegate the teachings of Jesus to the realm of personal relationships. When we view the admonitions of Matthew 5:38-42, however, we see that the contemporaries of Jesus would have understood them as alternatives to violent rebellion against the imperial army that enforced the client king’s authority in Galilee, and occupied all of Palestine. Wengst argues that if the commands of Jesus apply to whole persons who can reason, how can anyone exclude political responsibility and social justice as part of the individual make-up of a follower of Jesus? “How could it be wrong to compare these instructions,” Wengst asks, “with contemporary discussions of Peace?”

And it is peace that Jesus is advocating, but not simply for the sake of peace as an end. He sees peace as a means to that end, and those means entail a certain type of behavior that goes beyond even creative non-resistance in our study of Wink. Jesus calls upon disciples to Love their enemies.

43 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gatherers do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Father is perfect.

To begin, Betz observes that “loving the enemy” is a common platform of Hellenistic thought, though he feels the SM text is not dependent upon it. In fact, Betz attributes the phrase “love your enemy” directly to Jesus. He calls it a “classic example of Jesus’ exegesis of the Torah…” Boring states that the Matthean Jesus “makes the command to love enemies concrete. In its absoluteness and concreteness, it is without parallel in paganism or Judaism.”

The ethical problems found in many Greco-Roman attitudes of the first century C.E. are summed up in the maxim “a man’s virtue consists in outdoing his friends in kindness and his enemies in mischief.” It is certain that love for enemies contrasted with the mainstream of Hellenistic thought. Love for enemies does, however, find roots in ancient Babylon, antedating the written Torah in the Babylonian Counsels of Wisdom. Lines 35-40 read:

Unto your opponents do no evil

Your evildoer recompense with good

Unto your oppressor…

Let him rejoice over you…return to him

Let not your heart be induced to evil

Horsley, however, believes that Matthew 5:43-47 is not original to the Jesus tradition, and that in fact, the “enemy” cited in the texts is not a reference to Roman imperial troops or “outsiders”, but in fact refers to fellow Jews who would otherwise be considered “neighbors.” Horsley said that “love your enemy” in this context refers to the Synagogue members who persecuted Jewish Christians in response to their Messianic claims.

It is my contention, however, that Horsley falls far short of defending his position in light of the overabundance of New Testament texts concerning Jesus and His nonviolent stance toward Rome. That the gospel, and the Gospels, are political in nature, directly competing with Roman claims concerning lordship, peace, justice and salvation, is well documented. Any reading of Matthew 5:43-44 must keep Roman and Temple authorities in mind.

Trocme writes that when Jesus taught nonviolence over armed struggle, He did so over and against Rome, Hellenism, the temple cult leaders and the Zealot insurrectionists. In first-century Palestine, “neighbor” meant “Jew” and “enemy” meant “Gentile.”

As for verse 43, “Love your neighbor” is a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18. While it is often thought that there is no Hebrew Bible reference that calls for hating the enemy, Deuteronomy 23:6 not only provides a reference but establishes that the enemy may indeed be nations set against Israel. Another Hebrew Bible example of love for neighbor and hate for enemy is provided in the cyclical stories of David and Jonathan, and David and Saul, in chapters 18 through 24 of I Samuel.

Loving one’s enemies, according to Cahill, is “defined in Matthew’s Sermon as a way of acting, not an emotion.” These actions include praying for one’s enemies. Abraham, Moses, Job, and the Prophets all spoke intercessory prayers on behalf of persecutors, setting the standard for the righteousness taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. What else is meant by Jesus when He asks disciples to “Love your enemy?”

The hope for what was expected by first-century Jews to be a form of eschatological dominance brought about by the work of a messiah, was instead being manifest in “the prophetic and apocalyptic notion of the gentile pilgrimage.” Contrary to popular opinion, especially in the wake of the Maccabeean revolution, loving one’s enemies as an answer to oppression is not new to the Sermon on the Mount, or the New Testament. Loving one’s enemies is in fact a long-held Jewish mission in the example of Jeremiah’s call for the exiles to seek “the welfare (peace) of the city” in Jeremiah 29:7, and in the example of Jewish exiles in the Book of Daniel, who serve their enemies and act as God’s light unto the Gentiles, all the while staying obedient in the face of persecution by those they were serving.

William Klassen is cited by Cahill as professing “the way to peace” is nonretaliatory enemy love, tied to modeling a coherent life of discipleship, just as we find in Daniel. To love one’s enemies is to treat them as God treats those who have rebelled against Him. Thus, the children, the disciples should imitate their heavenly Father, as in verse 5:45.

The purpose of loving the enemy is to “be children of your [F]ather in heaven;” if one is to go beyond merely self-gratifying relationships, then one must be perfect in the ways of mercy and forbearance “as your heavenly [F]ather is perfect”

While this concept may still be difficult to understand, we find a perfect example of Jesus’ exhortation in action in the life and conversion experience of the apostle Paul. In the biblical record of Saul/Paul, we get an idea of love for neighbor, and hatred of enemy. We get an idea of who a neighbor would have been, and who counted as an enemy. And we then see what the experience of Jesus does for Paul’s outlook on how to best serve the living God.

First, who did Paul view as a neighbor, and who did he view as an enemy? Paul states in Galatians 1:13 that he participated in “Judaism.” James Dunn writes that the term Judaism used in verses 13 and 14 is “highly distinctive.” It is only used twice in the New Testament, in these two verses, and it is rarely used in earlier texts. When it is used, as in 2 Maccabees, “Judaism represented a rallying point for resistance to the Syrians and for maintainance of national identity.”

Paul’s neighbors were those who fit into the covenant people of YHWH, set apart by Torah, circumcision and Sabbath, among other things. It is clear, that the enemy is the national oppressor, but also, the Hellenists that threatened the much-coveted national purity of Israel. Here Paul’s pre-conversion character is much in evidence. Paul was “advancing in Judaism” and was “zealous for…ancestral traditions. The enemy of Israel in Paul’s case was not the Syrians, but the Romans; not the Hellenistic Jews of the middle second century B.C.E., but the new Jewish Messianic sect that was threatening the separateness and covenant status of Israel.

Let there be no doubt that Paul, by “zealous,” meant violence. He calls himself a persecutor of the church “beyond measure” (Gal 1:13). According to Dunn, there are three striking features to Jewish zealotry. First, as an unconditional commitment to maintain Israel’s purity and separateness from the Gentiles, second, a readiness to do this by force, and third, even or especially to use force against apostate Jews. Paul had role models for this zeal. There were the Maccabees, of course, but let us not forget Simeon and Levi who avenged the rape of their sister in Genesis 34, even though the Shechemites had been circumcised. There was Phineas (Num. 25:6-13), who speared an Israelite who took a foreign woman into his tent, (thus mixing his heritage and becoming impure) and thus made atonement for Israel. And then there was Elijah, who slaughtered 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40), and Jehu (2 Kings 10:16-17, 30), who wiped out Ahab’s descendants in Samaria.

But after Paul’s conversion experience, He underwent a dramatic transformation, where he preached that Gentiles were now members of the covenant family of God! Paul not only loves his enemies, he welcomes them into his once vigorously protected, radically exclusive fold. This is the love of enemies Jesus calls us to. To be radically obedient, like Daniel, or Jesus, as servants to YHWH, to the point of inviting enemies to participate in the fruits of worship and covenant faithfulness. Jesus, as seen in the conversion and new life of the apostle Paul, calls us to serve our enemies, to love them and become partners with them. Indeed, this brings us to our final verse of the chapter, 5:48.

Matthew 5:48 presents a final maxim summing up the doctrine underlying not only the sixth antithesis, but the entire set of antitheses. Often, this verse is downplayed because of the western philosophical tenet that perfection is an impossibility. But Jesus is not speaking about perfection in the western sense. He is speaking as a first-century Palestinian Jew. The word “perfect‘, translated from the Greek telios, means “having reached its end” or “complete.” The Greek root, telos, is most often translated “an end” in the New Testament. Telios is also the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word tamim - used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to “perfection in the sense of ethical uprightness…” The Hebrew word also carries the meaning “whole.” Boring translates tamim as “wholeness” and writes “To be perfect is to serve God wholeheartedly, to be single-minded in devotion to one God…”

We now move on to Chapter six of Matthew, the middle section of the SM. This section can be split into two parts. Verses 6:1-18 constitute the first part, and 6:19-34 make up the second. The first section, split into three parts (vss. 1-6, 7-15, 16-18), discuss traditional acts of piety. Here, Jesus offers an account of what authentic piety involves in relation to the common religious undertakings of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. This section of Matthew is derived from all three Matthean sources, most of which comes from “M”, with the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13) stemming from “Q”, and verses 6:14-15 paralleled in Mark.

Betz refers to the instructive aspects of 6:1-18 as a “cultic didache,” saying that “cultic instruction is the kind of thing one expects from ‘religious reformers’” such as Jesus and His followers. The instructive element provides critical evaluation for tradition and contemporary religious practices.

As a note of interest before I begin with the study of Chapter 6 involves the material found in our first section of study, all of which, except for possibly 6:1 and 6:14-15 can easily be found originating with Jesus, I turn to the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas is considered by some to be worthy of canon status. Interestingly, Thomas 14 makes Jesus out to be against “all acts of righteousness.”

“Jesus said to them, ‘if you fast, you will bring sin upon yourself, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.’” It is with Jesus’ regard for these displays of righteousness in verse 6:1 that we now begin, as He warns His disciples not to be obstinate when engaging in acts of piety.

6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.

Betz identifies 6:1 as a problem verse, a Matthean addition to original Jesus material. Boring agrees, calling the verse an addition that acts as a heading for the entire section of 6:1-18, which, as a whole, reflects much editing. Like similar claims throughout the SM, this is debateable.

Even so, the “acts of righteousness” in verse one of the NASB, is translated as “practicing your piety” in the NRSV. Righteousness fits better for a number of reasons. Betz writes “righteousness is to be taken in the Jewish sense as a discipline the disciples must learn.” This is in keeping with his description of the segment as a “cultic didache.” However, the term righteousness, or dikaiosyne, carries other connotations. Dunn describes dikaiosyne as the fullfillment of covenant obligations, and may be understood as “faithfulness.” The Hebrew concept of dikaiosyne, according to Dunn “is the meeting of obligations laid upon the individual by the relationship of which he or she is part.”

In other words, Jesus is instructing disciples in 6:1-18, as Betz indicates, but not simply as a commentary on contemporary practice. Jesus is requiring disciples to practice covenant obedience in a manner that identifies His community of disciples as different than their contemporaries - radicalizing common practices, in this case almsgiving, prayer, and fasting - just as He did with Torah interpretation. Hagner identifies these “acts of righteousness” as possibly the “Christian self-offering in spiritual service.”

There is however, an apparent contradiction between Matthew 6:1 and the previous SM verse 5:16. How is a follower of Jesus supposed to let his or her light shine so that others will see their works (5:16), if Jesus now instructs them to practice such righteousness in private?

Driver calls the inconsistency “superficial… If these practices correspond to motives which are sincere, they will be seen in the same sense that “a city on a hill cannot be hidden’ will bring glory to God.” Boring states the tension between these two verses is “somewhat relieved by the difference in motivation in each case.”

There is, in reality, no tension between the verses when we understand the good works that are foundational to that “city on a hill” or the spark of the light that shines before men refers to established kingdom communities. While these communities show high regard for loving the neighbor, Matthew 6:1 refers to individuals stepping out from their community and acting as a free-agent in search of self-glorification. A community that practices righteousness and justice as a matter of fact, will shine brightly before the world. An individual drawing attention to his or herself is destructive to that community.

2 When therefore you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honered by men. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing; 4 that your alms may be in secret, and your Father who sees you will repay you.

Verse 6:2 begins the formula found in 6:2-4, 5-6, 16-18, with verse7-8 of the Lord’s Prayer pericope. “When you…do not…but you…your Father sees.” Matthew 6:2-4 focuses on almsgiving.

Taking care of the poor is commanded throughout scripture by YHWH, especially in Deuteronomy 15. The amount of literature concerning almsgiving was, according to Betz, “enormous.” The Greek word otan, or “when,” refers to the custom of regularly scheduled giving as required by Torah (otan = a regularly repeated action). Of course, the term hypocrites comes from the Greek word for stage actors and is used by Jesus often through the Gospel accounts, especially in Matthew 23. The blowing of the trumpet and the noise this produced is sometimes compared to the “blare of rhetoricians” in Greek satire. This may account for the metaphor used in verse 6:2. Ulrich Luz writes, “Jewish sources demonstrate that almsgiving was also abused, and offered opportunity for advantageous public display.”

Pious Jews paid a first tithe, for purposes of maintainance of religious structures, and then a second tithe was taken and given to the poor, or spent in Jerusalem. “Palestinian society” says David Mealand, “fell largely into two groups: the small community of the rich, and the great mass of the poor…there was perhaps a small middle class which did not have much influence.”

It is important now that I provide a setting for 6:1-18 with this focus on 6:2-4. I will show after study that Jesus is not just commenting on piety practices, but is radicalizing righteousness for His kingdom community. Matthew 6:2 focuses on almsgiving, but as I will show, Jesus’ followers took His radical teaching beyond mere almsgiving.

An example of how poor Jews were treated is found in Josephus’ Antiquities 18.2.3. Herod built a new city in Galilee, called Tiberius, the name of another city that had already existed. Herod forced slaves and poor Jews to populate this city. While he was rich enough to free the slaves and build them housing, there was one problem. The land these slaves and poor Jews were moved to was a gentrified cemetery. Josephus writes:

(Herod) was a benefactor to, and made them free in great numbers, but obliged them not to forsake the city, by building them very good houses…and land also; for he was sensible, that to make this a place of habitation was to transgress the ancient Jewish Laws, because many sepulchers were to be taken away in order to make room for the city.

Obviously, Herod was so rich he built an entire city, and “generously” populated it with slaves, the ill, and the poor; most of them Jews. This generosity, however, came with strings attached. You could not move away, you had to work for Herod, and you had to accept permanent detatchment from the Jewish community, because to live on a gravesite made one ritually unclean. This contrast between the rich and poor, and the subjugation of the poor to the rich, needs to be kept in mind.

Most Christian converts of the first century C.E. were poor. They depended upon daily distribution of goods (Acts 6:1) for day to day living. Wealthy converts to the early church sold possessions, and community leadership and the poor were supported by the proceeds (Acts 4:34-37). Jesus’ instruction on almsgiving, as applied to the Matthean church is now clear. For the wealthy - give generously - without fanfare, and, unlike the Herods of the day, with no strings attached.

According to Mealand, some interpreters have suggested that almsgiving as an “act of righteousness” (re: covenant obligation, or, justice) is meant by Jesus as the restoration of what had been stolen from the poor back into their hands.

Also at issue is the eschatological reward promised at the end of the didactic pericopes. Boring writes “the promised reward is (future) eschatological. God will reward with acceptance into the kingdom of heaven and the granting of eternal life…This-worldly rewards for discipleship is not in Matthew’s perspective.”

Yet, is not the Book of Proverbs concerned with this-worldly rewards? And is not the kingdom of heaven a political term for the realized reign of God breaking into contemporary history? The statement by Jesus: “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” can just as easily be read as the blessings available to existing communities that carry out God’s will and are prospered by their willingness to take care of one another in a manner consistent with a realized eschatological reading of the SM.

5 And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your inner room and shut your door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Beginning with verse 6:5 and running through 6:15, we enter the structural center of the Sermon on the Mount. A relevant Hebrew scripture background to this section on prayer is Elisha’s shutting the door on the Shunammite woman and her dead son in order to pray for the son’s life (2 Kings 4:33).

Betz writes concerning verses 6:5-6 that “prayer instruction in the SM limits religious duties to the private prayer, and a strange silence remains with regard to all genuine acts of public worship in Temple and synagogue.” Schnackenburg writes that synagogue was the prefered place of prayer, but that regularly scheduled morning, noon, and evening prayers were often said anywhere.

Synagogue prayer was normal. However, according to Boring, praying on the streets was not. Jesus, however, is not condemning the act itself, but the motivation behind it. “One can also ostentatiously call attention to going to the inner room to pray.” As for the inner room, the meaning behind Jesus’ words does not mandate a holy place, as opposed to the street corner (or, indeed, the synagogue) for prayer. The King James Version translates “inner room” as “closet.”

7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.

In verses 6:7-8, Jesus stresses further the importance o

Realized Eschatology in the Sermon on the Mount - III

13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil

The Greek term translated here as “temptation” is peirasmos, which, depending on the context, can also be translated as “testing.” Here, the latter is actually preferred because God does not (cannot) lead creation into temptation (James 1:13). Hagner writes “To be tempted is to be enticed to sin, to be tested is to be brought into difficult circumstances that try one’s faithfulness.” Betz adds that “It is true that, even according to the Old Testament, God has been seen as the one who puts people, especially the righteous and the wise, to the test.” Jewish parallels using the word peirasmos are found, but speak only in terms of the temptations of everyday life. Luz says an alternative translation is “affliction,” or “suffering,” though he prefers the standard “”temptation.”

14 For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, then four Father will not forgive your transgressions.

This pericope seems to interrupt the flow of Matthew 6:1-18. Some scholars believe that the interruption is apparent because the verses are a late addition. Horsley believes as much, citing the fact that the word for “trespasses” or “transgressions,” paraptomata, occurs only in Matthew 6:14-15. Hagner believes that the verses may point to the existence of tensions in the Matthean community, thus the focus on forgiveness.

The fact that others find difficulty with the passage does not mean it is not original to Jesus. The act of forgiveness is found throughout the Gospels, and is central to the ethics of the SM, as well as the commandment to love. The very fact that the idea fits into the overall narrative of the Sermon on the Mount, and that forgiveness has always been a hallmark of YHWH, suggests that we should not be mislead into identifying the verse as foreign to the original text.

16 And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, annoint your head and wash your face; 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees you in secret will repay you.

Fasting was an integral part of first-century religion. However, writes Betz, while the ritual is not rejected by Jesus, its performance is scrutinized. Betz adds that “Jesus [H]imself did not have high regard for fasting.” Yet, while some commentators suggest Jesus placed little importance upon fasting, Matthew and Luke both portray a fast of Jesus’ preparation for His ministry. Jesus did not command almsgiving, prayer and fasting, He presupposed these actions. He spoke against contemporary methods and motives of such acts.

Fasting was often accompanied by the wearing of sackcloth (common throughout scripture) and abstaining from washing the body. Jesus commands disciples not call attention to themselves by these methods, so that only God will be aware of their devotion.

To suggest that fasting was inappropriate in the mind of Jesus is farfetched, though He is obviously critical of many aspects of contemporary practice. The reality is, however, that there is a firm relationship in Hebrew Scripture between almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, as is found in Isaiah 58. Indeed, God speaks at length about what is necessary for a fast that is pleasing to the Lord. Isaiah 58 also shows realized eschatological rewards for proper fasting. The kingdom community itself, and its freedom from Roman, and aristocratic Temple domination, is one such reward.

Matthew 6:19 through 6:34 provides our next pericope. In this second half of chapter six, Jesus speaks to concerns that were not only foremost in the mind of economically stable persons of the first century C.E., but also maintain an overwhelming presence in the hearts and minds of our 21st century contemporaries. Jesus challenges the order of the day by warning that a true disciple should not pursue material desires or wealth. He calls for total submission, and trust, to God’s providence for all the material needs of day to day life, even as He instructed disciples to pray for daily bread just a few verses prior. The first beatitude of Matthew 5:3 sets the theological and ethical tone for Matthew 6:19-24. Betz writes that “…the SM does not wish to claim any ‘wealth’ - be it spiritual or material - here on earth.” Materialism is recognized as a concern reminiscent of the first beatitude, as are the spiritual implications of that concern.

“Jesus had no possessions” wrote Martin Hengel, and He called on others to give up theirs. He sends disciples into the world with “extreme poverty” being a prerequisite. Again, Betz writes “…it is precisely the realization of poverty that enabled the disciple to cope with the human predicament, which includes not only want, but sufficient provision by God.”

“The identification and location of one’s treasure,” says Boring, “turns out to be a matter of one’s total self (this is the meaning of ‘heart’ in v.21). How one handles property turns out not to be peripheral, but a matter of saving or losing one’s being.”

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.

Matthew 6:19 warns against placing too much priority on material items, most notably, but not limited to, clothing, and coins or metal items of worth. Yet, how is one to store up heavenly treasures, if not those so appealing during life in the flesh? According to Mark 10:21, the first thing one should do is put those earthly treasures to good use. Sell them and give the proceeds to the poor. First Timothy 6:18-19 also provides a SM style exhortation concerning material wealth.

Where your treasure is, and where your heart is, results from the blessings of “performing good deeds on earth, particularly by sharing one’s possessions with others.” Luz finds the verses equally clear-cut concerning material wealth. “…the idea of reward is taken up without modification; it refers to almsgiving, works of love, or other good deeds.”

In keeping with the theology of the SM, we can take out another meaning from these verses. If love of enemies, let alone neighbors, is a priority for the community of Jesus followers, than we should allow nothing to interfere with God’s message to the world. If material wealth is accumulated to the point where someone may steal, or we may not want to share, the owner may feel forced to defend such property. How can a kingdom citizen defend property at the expense of the well-being or physical health of another, even if they are evil, person. Property should never win the ethical battle that is waged within, even if an opponent is stealing. The human life of an enemy is worth far more in the eyes of God than jewelry or currency, even if the enemy is coercing the victim. Treasure should be identified as human life, not material wealth.

22 The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore the eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is within you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

According to Betz, these verses are seemingly independent of the rest of the pericope, with no apparent connection to the preceding 6:19-21. The verses are parallel to Luke 11:34-36. Betz identifies the text, however, as being taken from a different Q source than Luke’s. It is more likely, however, that Jesus simply told different versions of the metaphor to different audiences, and both versions were carried on in the oral tradition. Textual difficulties are hardly resolved by adding yet another hypothetical source to the mix.

As for this text, Betz cites Harald Riesenfeld as saying that “the concepts of ‘heart’ and ‘eye’ exemplify holiness.” The ultimate origin of the eye as a lamp seems to be Greek in origin, though there is some evidence of related imagery in later Hebrew wisdom and apocalyptic literature. This is not necessarily the case, however. Boring states that the eye was viewed in the ancient world as being like a lamp, and that various Hebrew texts are examples of this. The light is shown as an instrument that projects inner light on subjects. Boring also sees the text as fitting properly into the seemingly incongruent context.

“(In) this context,” writes Boring, “Matthew relates the saying to the issue of the disciples’ attitude toward money and property, declaring that if the eye is not clear on the matter, the whole of ones life is perverted.” Luz also writes persuasively against Betz’ claim that the text is Greek in origin, and that it has no connection with the surrounding text.

Eye in Judaism is always metaphorical; in the eyes, the character and moral quality of a person are reflected. A fixed contrast is that of the ‘evil’ and the ‘good’ eye; the texts usually think of avarice and calculation verses generosity and honest.

The Greek word translated as “bad” in the NASB is poneros, which is translated “evil” as well, and works better in this context that parallels the “evil eye” of near eastern cultures. The aplous eye is the opposite - a generous eye - that stands in contrast to the covetous eye belonging to another.

24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.

“The singling out of materialism as a pseudo-religious alternative to the appropriate conduct of worship makes this passage unique.” By no means is this an unfamiliar verse, and if we were to apply 21st century standards to this first-century C.E. text, we would hardly be guilty of anachronistic thought. Proverbial as the opening statement of 6:24 sounds, Betz identifies it as a “legal provision pertaining to slave law.”

Indeed, slavery to the acquisition of wealth, and the maintaining of prosperous circumstances (or empire!) is undoubtedly serving an idol, a god other than YHWH. The Sermon on the Mount can make its stand against wealth no clearer than this proclamation that wealth is an idol. Boring states:

It is a surprising turn to find Jesus placing worldly goods on par with God as an object of service, and idolatrous rival to the one God…(it) is an affront to the common cultural understanding of the meaning of human life, both then and now.

Boring states that the verse does not refer to the emotions of “love” against “hate” but represent a biblical idiom for “choose” against “not choose” and that every choice - between Mammon and God - means not only a favoring of one but a rejection of the other. In all of this railing against wealth, however, the reader often overlooks one thing. Jesus presupposed the owning of personal property. His movement, in one version, was supported by well-to-do women (Luke 8:2f; 10:38f). However, Jesus strictly maintained that all possessions were to be used to help those in need (Matt 6:2; Luke 10:30-37), and money is to be lent without hope of return (Matt. 5:42). But Jesus by no means avoided contact with the rich. A quote from Martin Hengel is a perfect summary of Matthew 6:24.

Anyone who is dependent on his possessions and as a result forgets his neighbor lives in this state of anxious egotistical self-assertion: he rejects God’s commandment to love (of neighbor) for the sake of mammon.

This anxiousness, or self-assertion, is the focus of the final pericope of Matthew’s chapter six.

25 For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil or spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? 31 Do not be anxious then, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “with what shall we clothe ourselves?” 32 For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Betz writes that “The passage often entitled On Anxiety is clearly one of the most fascinating in the SM.” As Jesus spoke to peasants throughout the Palestinian countryside, one can just imagine the befuddled response to the following message against worrying about the basic necessities of life. Indeed, as I have shown, many peasants did indeed need to worry about clothing, as it may have been taken of their very backs in a court of law! Eric Dodds has written an entire book concerning the Roman empire as an “Age of Anxiety.

Matthew has taken this passage from the Q tradition (Luke 12:22-31, Thomas, and Justin Martyr) and “transformed it into a theological argument that is in keeping with the theology contained in the whole of the SM.” The exhortation that listeners should “not worry” is categorical, according to Betz. “No exceptions are allowed.” The “do not be anxious” clause appears in verses 6:28, 31, and 34. Verse 6:25 “presents the initial terms of the argument,” that worry about life, food and drink, and clothes is superfluous, and verses 26-30 provides the proof.

In verse 29, those of “little faith” being compared with those who “do not toil and spin” is reminiscent of those Israelites who wanted to gather mannah and quail on the Sabbath while in the wilderness. YHWH has always been clear that God is the trusted provider for Israel. Trust in God has always been paramount, and Jesus extols faith in verse 30-34, but limits God’s provisions to what is necessary.

God Himself had to come and instruct the first human couple about how to make better clothes (Gen. 3:21)… The person who trusts in God - this is the message - knows that God also fulfills human need through culture… only as long as those needs remain natural and therefore justifiable.

In verse 32, the Gentiles are the outsiders who are characterized by “striving for,” that is, by their excessiveness in pursuing material goods. Paganism is identified with materialism and consumerism. Were Jews to engage in such behavior (which they of course often did), it would amount to “forbidden assimilation.” Verse 33 veritably sums up the theology of the Sermon on the Mount, as Hagner calls it the climactic point of the entire text.

The kingdom and the kingdom alone is to be the sole priority of the disciple and that toward which the disciple devotes his or her energy. “Seek” here does not necessarily mean …one should seek to bring in the kingdom. This imperative means rather that one should make the kingdom the center of one’s existence and thus experience the rule of God fully in one’s heart.

Matthew is looking to tie in “righteousness“, or “justice” with the eschatological presence of the kingdom, and to God’s providential care. We must, however, remember that Jesus’ listeners, if not Matthew’s audience, were indeed anxious about food, clothes and water. They were poor, and lived on the edge of the worst poverty, where a pseudo-Jewish king might any day transfer them to a city built upon a graveyard (see above). Remember also, however, that Jesus and His disciples are organizing communities, eschatological kingdom communities, where everyone shares what property they have, and takes care of one another as an extension of the living god’s providence for His church.

“…the imminence of the kingdom of God demands freedom over possessions, the renunciation of all care, complete trust in the goodness and providence of (God).” Kingdom communities are marked out by, as evidenced in chapter six, their willingness and ability to trust that God has acted eschatologically through Jesus, and that as communities obedient to the will of God and not the idols of materialism and wealth, they will be the blessed recipients of God’s providence.

N.T. Wright goes even further in his interpretation of Matthew six, and especially the text of 6:25-34. He believes Jesus is not simply talking about Israel’s propensity to worship accumulated property, but the very idea of land, inheritance, and nationalism.

This is (chapter six), in the last analysis, a matter of worshipping the true [G]od as opposed to worshipping idols: Israel cannot serve the true [G]od and mammon and she is trying to do just that (6:25-34). Those who truly seek the kingdom need not be afraid, whereas those whose seeking of the kingdom consist in pursuing a national or personal agenda for the restoration of land, property or ancestral rights will find that they are serving a god who cannot give them such things.

We now arrive at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter Seven. The first two chapters provide the blueprint, the standards of the kingdom of heaven and those who wish to claim membership. Chapter Seven provides a series of instructions to disciples (7:1-14), and then shares specific warnings concerning the many threats that face the kingdom (7:15-27). The opening pericope instructs disciples concerning the judgment of others.

1 Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it shall be measured to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, “let me take the speck out of your eye” and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye; and then you will see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brothers eye.

Matthew 7:1 is nearly universally attributed to Jesus, and continues the already established path of radical standards of faith required of the kingdom community. The absolute prohibition on judging originates with Jesus (vs. 1) and the following material may be attributed to Jesus from a different context. Those of a Jewish background would be familiar with the SM notions of “moderation, toleration, and mercy,” but the criticism of the practice of judging others is unfamiliar territory. Commentators, however, warn against misreading what appears to be an obvious theme.

The prohibition against judgment should not be regarded as an all-encompassing statement against all discernment about right and wrong. Such judgment is apparent in Matthew 7:15-20; 10:11-15; 16:6,12; and 18:17-18. Hagner claims that one should simply refrain from judging others by a different or higher standard than we would ourselves. Betz views the instruction as simply addressing basic human preoccupations:

The imperative in vs. 1 implies the observation that in ordinary life people are relentlessly preoccupied with what is prohibited: passing judgment on one another. This habit involves everything from community relations to court actions…The context clearly implies that krinete refers to perpetual human obsession to criticize and correct the behavior of other people.

Betz further believes that the first verse of Chapter Seven implies that one’s own restraint in passing harsh judgment will entice others to use similar restraint. As for verse two, Boring believes that it presupposes “discrimination, not necessarily condemnation.” The principle states the standard of YHWH concerning judgment and that the kingdom community should adopt it. If God measures us according to his generosity and mercy, the SM directs us to act accordingly.

The eye metaphor in verse three has a familiarity to it with first century audiences. Looking into someone’s eye was an important means of discerning the character and personality of another person. According to Betz, “at the same time, another person’s eyes were believed to contain the mirror images of the beholder.”

Hagner asserts “the fact that vss. 3-5 shift from the 2nd person singular to the plural points to logia derived from a different strata of oral tradition.” That judging may be concerned with “discrimination” and not “condemnation” may point to Jesus’ insistence that outsiders be welcomed into the community without judgment. That there seems a slight discrepancy between verse one and vss. 3-5 shows that the original context could have been addressing this.

Verse five ultimately concludes that ethical judgment must be made at some point, but it must be made by persons humble enough to admit and repent of their own shortcomings. That Jesus is addressing His disciples about the subject of judgment, calling them “hypocrites” tells us that being a disciple of Jesus does not make one different than other people, obsessed with criticizing and correcting others while failing in one’s own self-criticism and self-protection.

6 Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they

trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

The first thing that comes to mind when stumbling over Matthew 7:6 is “Wow! Where did this come from?” Most commentators attempt to substantiate the verse, but end up falling short. The following is an example of scholarly input concerning the verse. Betz writes:

“There is at the present no consensus about the original text, the original meaning, the source…and the later interpretations.”

“Some interpreters have suggested that the verse might make more sense translated in Aramaic, but this has not been a credible hypothesis.”

“7:6 may relate to a riddle, but it seems to be an ineffective one, and does not have the qualities of a good riddle - I.e. ‘playfulness’”

Boring adds:

“What is Holy” is not an ethical term but is a biblical expression designating meat offered in sacrifice at the altar.

“In the Didache (9:5) the saying was understood to mean that the unapprised should not be admitted to Eucharist.”

Luz states that Matthew was simply being loyal to Q tradition, and added the text thusly. It must have had an effect on original listeners who were familiar with the original context.

Boring bravely states that the “proverbial meaning is clear. Holy things should not be profaned.” He then admits that the exact meaning remains unclear, “opening the way for a variety of allegorical interpretations in the history of the church.”

Finally, Hagner and other scholars find an allusion to Proverbs 11:22, but He admits that “little is gained from this.”

7 Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. 8 For every one who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him. 12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Driver writes that “the verbs ‘ask, seek, and knock’ are really parallel synonymous expressions which describe human activity.” Seeking is often used in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Jewish tradition as a term for prayer, with God’s will being the object. “Knocking” was a Jewish expression of prayer. Thus “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are not three different actions but three Jewish expressions for prayer. Taking needs to God in prayer is not an informational task, however, but an expression of dependency on God by people who are not in control of their own lives. While conventional wisdom might challenge the integrity of the statements of vss. 7-8, the SM assumes this and responds in vss. 9-11. Thus, those failing to believe in the propensity of God to meet their needs need look no further than their own treatment of and concern for their own children. This leads to perhaps the widely known and repeated part of the Sermon on the Mount known as “The Golden Rule.”

Verse 12 is regarded by Hagner “as an exegesis of the great positive commandment of Leviticus 19:18,” or “the love commandment.” As Matthew adds the phrase “for this is the Law and Prophets,” which is similar to Matthew 5:17, the two verses act as brackets of the instructional portion of the SM text. The “Golden Rule” is far from unique to the Bible, and it has numerous parallels that are known to virtually every culture in the world, and knowledge of the content predates literary transmission.

Surprisingly, both ancient and modern philosophy has failed to recognize the Golden Rule and its parallels as true ethical standards. Aristotle acknowledges it but finds it insignificant, Plato ignores it, and Augustine calls it a “common proverb.” Later, Locke could find no justification for it and Kant called it “trivial.” Closer to the 21st century, Luz feels the content of the Golden Rule simply “deviates” from the usual “radicality” of Jesus’ teaching.

Regardless of these feelings, verse 7:12 remains a favorite of the pious and non-religious alike. Originally, the context of the Golden Rule may have placed the saying alongside the text concerning love of enemies in Q. Other versions exist in contemporary Christian writings such as Luke 6:31, and Didache 1:2. The Matthean and Lukan version are stated in a positive manner, as opposed to the negative rendering in the Didache. While most literal translations read “Therefore, whatever you want…” the NIV more aptly reads “So in everything…” which Boring suggests makes the Golden Rule an expression of the same radical ethic that Luz found missing, placing verse 7:12 in the company of 5:21-47 and 48 as exhorting listeners to perfection.

Ultimately, we will not decide here what the theological significance of the Golden Rule might be in the context of the SM. Hagner is somewhat overreaching when he writes:

If this teaching of Jesus were to be lived out in the world, the whole system of evil would be dramatically shaken. Even if it were manifested seriously in the Church, its impact would be incalculable.

Luz sums the verse up differently:

With all due caution, one must ask whether the Golden Rule does not include a further development and alteration of the commands of Jesus…(The Golden Rule) assigns place to one’s own ego in the exchange relationship of giving and receiving love.

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. 14 For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

We are now at the major turning point of the SM. The ethical teaching is over, and what follows are warnings to the community. The metaphor of the two ways is common in Jewish, Hellenistic and early Christian writings. Yet there is more than just simple (or not so simple) choices concerning lifestyles for followers of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel has a pattern of thinking found first in this verse. Writes Boring:

In Matthew’s theology, the Christian life is not thought of in static terms, as a condition or once-and-for-all decision, but as a path or road of righteous living between the initial call of the disciple and the final goal of salvation. Thus, he repeatedly emphasizes that many are called but few are chosen. (Matt. 9:13, 20:16, 22:14)

The two verses of 7:13-14 serve not as a prediction of how many or how few souls might be saved, but to “exhort and admonish lagging disciples.” While Jesus is heard saying that few will be saved here, elsewhere Matthew states that many will be saved.

Betz suggests that the two gates mentioned by Jesus do not stand at the beginning of a journey, but at the end of the road. Walking the path spelled out in the SM is a way of life that disciple are expected to live in obedience to the living God. It is the result of living this life of obedience as a community of Jesus followers gives one the experience of God that allows them to choose the “narrow gate” that so few are prepared to choose. Only a life of obedience and sacrifice strengthens one to continue down the narrow way to life.

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Even so every good tree bears good fruit; but the rotten tree bears rotten fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits

Sheep is a common Hebrew metaphor for the people of God. Wolves are viewed not only as dangerous to sheep, but here, to truth as well. Wright states “False prophets are on the loose, leading Israel astray, and the only way to avoid being deceived is to note clearly where their movements lead.” Betz declares the warnings are aimed at outsiders from rival communities challenging the Jesus community of Matthew’s audience. Further, he states that the warnings are aimed at the “law free” teaching of the apostle Paul. Modern scholars have suggested a variety of possibilities for the role of false prophets. Zealots, Pharisees, Essenes, “rigorist” Jewish Christians, and antinomian followers of Paul are all possibilities. Boring disagrees:

“False prophets” is not a code name for Pharisees, Zealots, or other opponents of the Matthean community, but refers to Christian prophets who Matthew sees as misleading the church.

Boring fails to elaborate much further as to who these pseudo-prophets might really be, other than to declare the Matthean church was full of charismatics who were apt to be overzealous in their interpretations of spirit leadings. Luz clarifies that the proposed culprits are most probably “Hellenistic antinomians” and he believes most scholars agree. Most of these theses fail to state what is more obvious when taking into account the reading we have consistently put forth in this paper. That Jesus, as a nonviolent Messiah, was warning that the violent or militaristic means of bringing about the kingdom would seriously mislead Israel into destruction.

Those in sheep’s clothing are preaching restoration, fulfillment of the hopes of land and national glory in the name of YHWH. But inside, they are wolves who feed on those hopes of the people of God to further military objectives that ultimately betray God’s purpose for Israel. Parallels found at Mark 13:22 and Matthew 22:11 and 14 can be read in a similar fashion. Violence is not what God desires, and that is not the kind of messianic leader that God will send to guide Israel.

21 Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father , who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me you who practice lawlessness.” 24

Verses 7:21-23 provides the climax of the Sermon on the Mount and the specifics of the address eliminates the illusion that Jesus would bless those who fail to meet the standard set in the SM. Disciples must perform the will of the Father in order to be a kingdom citizen. This pericope may be considered controversial in suggesting that some have been persuaded that simple flattery is enough to be invited into the kingdom of heaven. Loyalty to Jesus involves more, however, than religiosity or excessive titles. It involves life lived according to SM principles.

Betz finds the fact that “kurie” or Kurios terminology is not used throughout the SM - and that reference in these verses is directed toward Gentile Christians who were fond of christological terms. Matthew is charging that high Christology is not enough for salvation. “(Paul‘s) doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ have no place in the SM.”

As much here as anywhere else in the SM, there is persuasive evidence of realized eschatology at work in the text. Obviously spiritual aspects such as prophecy, exorcism, and miracles do not imply concrete adherence to kingdom ethics, which entail a much more material commitment to community than spiritual contributions. It is ethics that defines this community, and the willingness to do the work of community building according to the will of God is what defines followers of Jesus, not miracles or majestic works. Betz writes that claimants who point to “extraordinary and supernatural manifestations” as evidence of God’s favor are told by Jesus that such evidence is not enough. Righteousness is necessary above all else. Some have pointed to the translation of anomian in 7:23 in the NASB as “lawnessness” is evidence that Matthew is speaking against those who are advocating the abolition of Mosaic Law, indeed again with the polemical Paul in mind. It is not, however, necessary to continue to play Matthew and his audience against Paul and his views on justification. Anomia is Matthew’s general word for unrighteousness, and it need not refer to antinomian controversy.

24 Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on a rock; 25 and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall; for it had been founded on the rock. 26 And every one who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like the foolish man, who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against the house; and it fell, and great was its fall.

N.T. Wright sees this final pericope as a comment on the Herod’s Temple. Calling Jesus “the good revolutionary that [H]e is” Wright finds Him offering a critique in this parable of other revolutionary movements who might use violence in establishing the kingdom of God. The way that Jesus offers is the only way Israel can avoid ultimate destruction, a “disaster which will not be merely personal, but national. The house built on the rock, in first century Jewish terms, is a clear allusion to the temple.” Unless Israel follows the nonviolent path of Jesus, the temple is like the house built upon the sand, and is in great danger of destruction. Suitably, the parable brings to an end the Sermon on the Mount by again offering the listener choices, and Matthew intends these choices originally meant for Israel to apply to the kingdom community as well. The called out assemblies of God can be founded upon the rock of the will of YHWH, or they can be built upon the nationalist and violent sands of militarism. The results of such choices are clearly spelled out by the parable.

Part V

Of course, kingdom ethics are made a priority throughout the Greek Testament, but nowhere as clearly and unambiguously as in the Sermon on the Mount. As I have shown through out this study of Matthew 5 -7, this collection of early ethical teachings attributable to Jesus and carried on by the Church set a standard that followers of Jesus were expected to live out obediently as members of God’s “called out assembly.”

These teachings were not simply spiritual or personal in manner, but a social and political ethic driven by an inseparable desire to serve the living God according to God’s will as expressed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The SM takes the life of Jesus and declares that it is indeed as important to God’s work on behalf of humanity as the death and resurrection of the Christ. This is a fact long overlooked by the modern Church, which has taught that SM ethics are limited in practice only to those interpersonal relationships carried on by believers. However, the SM is in fact an ethical teaching that demands the Body of Christ live out in order that the world may come to know and understand the will of God. The Sermon on the Mount is a call to a community, or social ethic as opposed to a personal one. As a personal ethic, the teachings of the SM may indeed be hard to carry out, but when set up as a standard for a community committed to living these principles out, they become practical. Wright states that:

The evidence points…toward Jesus intending to establish, and indeed succeeding in establishing, what we might call cells of followers, mostly continuing to live in their towns and villages, who by their adoption of [H]is praxis, [H]is way of being Israel, would be distinctive in their local communities.

And Yoder writes that what Jesus is saying is not that the gospel deals with personal relationships or individual changes of heart. “What needs to be seen is rather that the primary social structure through which the gospel works to change other structures is that of Christian community.”

That these communities were political is a Gospel documented fact. Horsley writes that early Christianity was ”a down-to-earth response” to the oppression of Roman authority and the concurrence of the Jewish aristocracy that had “disrupted economies and overturned ancient traditions.” And, as evidenced by my reading of the SM the early Church was made up of “close-knit communities and weekly assemblies…that rejected conventional career hopes, social ladders, and civic honors.” This evidence shows that the SM is not simply a spiritual goal, but a material ethic meant to define the Body of Christ.

The Sermon on the Mount represents the call of Jesus to His followers, an eschatological call that instructs Israel to give up its nationalism and inheritance claim, and follow what Wright calls a “new agenda.” This “new agenda” is the epitome of eschatology. “This is what we mean by eschatology” writes Yoder. “A hope which, defying present frustrations, defines a present position in terms of the yet unseen goal which gives it meaning.” In other words, the kingdom community lives according to the will of God in the present not only in obedience to God’s will, but in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation through Jesus Christ.

In this paper, I have defined kingdom community and its eschatological purpose in God’s plan for the Church. Indeed, I have attempted to define the Church, and the role it is commanded to fill in adherence to the call of Jesus Christ. Others will suggest that the community defined by this paper, a community that subverts the political and social assumptions not only of the world, but the modern Church as well, represents an impossible standard. Yet, it is exactly what the cross of Christ makes possible. A way of being God’s people that overthrows the idolatrous tendencies of the world and replaces them with a reality only made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hauerwas claims that genuine Christianity is determined only through the reality of the cross. We live out the ethics and values of the Sermon on the Mount, not because we know the world will someday be free from its material chains, but because we know of the truth of the cross, and as such we as the Church can live no other way. We simply live out God’s will, and invite others to be a part of that reality, over and against the desire of the world.

As witnessed by the Gospels, the reality of the cross is a reality of suffering servanthood. The Sermon on the Mount often calls for sacrifice. Sacrifice of economic and political strength, and security. Sacrifice of material fulfillment, and sacrifice of pride. As witnessed by the SM, selflessness is the ethic of Christ, His cross, and thus the Church.

The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event…The cross is the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the ruling powers of (Jesus’) society.

As such, the church may expect the same result as it lives according to the ethic spelled out by Jesus and recorded in the SM. When Jesus calls for disciples to take up their cross, He is expecting that the disciples participate in the same revolutionary political, social, and theological criticism of the very empire that executed Him in the end. And in response to this evil, numbers will be added to the Church day by day. As the cross of Christ, and the dictates of the Sermon on the Mount make clear, the kingdom of God is not enhanced by political or economic power, but by radical servanthood, radical obedience to God, and unwavering commitment to SM principles according to their original definitive meaning.

Bibliography of Works Cited

Anderson, Paul N. in Miller, Marlin E. The Church’s Peace Witness Grand Rapids; 1994; William B. Eerdmans

Banks, Robert Jesus and the Law in the Synoptic Tradition Cambridge U.K.; 1975; Cambridge University Press

Betz, Hans Deiter The Sermon on the Mount Minneapolis; 1995; Augsburg Fortress

Boring, Eugene M. The Gospel of Matthew New Interpreters Bible Nashville; 1995; Abingdon Press

Caird, C.B. edited by Hurst, L.D. New Testament Theology Oxford U.K.; 1994; Oxford University Press

Cahill, Lisa Sowle Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and the Just War Theory Minneapolis; 1994; Fortress Press

Chamblin, J. Knox in Elwell, Walter A. The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible Grand Rapids; 1999; Baker Book House

Chatam, R.D. Fasting: A Biblical-Historical Study South Plainfield, N.J.; 1987; Bridge Publishing Inc.

Davies, J.N. in Eiselen et al The Abingdon Bible Commentary Garden City; 1957; the Abingdon Press

Davies, W.D. Sermon on the Mount Cambridge U.K.; 1980; Cambridge University Press

Dodds, Eric R. Pagans and Christians in the age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Aurelius to Augustine New York; 1965; Norton Publishers

Driver, John Kingdom Citizens Scottdale, PA; 1980; Herald Press

Dunn, James D.G. Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians Louisville; 1990; Westminster/John Knox

----- The Theology of the Apostle Paul Grand Rapids; 1998; William B. Eerdmans

Edwards, George R. Jesus and the Politics of Violence New York; 1972; Harper and Row Publishing

Funk, Robert W. and Hoover, Roy W. et al The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? San Francisco; 1993; Harper San Francisco

Goppelt, Leonhard trans. by Alsup, John E. Theology of the New Testament Vol. II Grand Rapids; 1982; William B. Eerdmans

Hagner, Donald Matthew 1-13 Word Biblical Commentary Dallas; 1993; Word Books

Harink, Douglas Paul Among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity Grand Rapids; 2003; Brazos Press

Hauerwas, Stanley The Hauerwas Reader Durham NC; 2001; Duke University Press

Hengel, Martin trans. by Green, David E. Victory over Violence: Jesus and the Revolutionists Philadelphia; 1973; Fortress Press

-----trans by Bowden, John Property and Riches in the Early Church Philadelphia; 1980; Fortress Press

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Resistance in Roman Palestine San Francisco; 1987; Harper and Row Publishers

----- in Swartley, Willard M. The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament Louisville; 1992; Westminster/John Knox

----- and Silberman, N.A. The Message and the Kingdom Minneapolis; 1997; Fortress Press

Jeske, Richard in Miller, Marlin E. The Church’s Peace Witness Grand Rapids; 1984; William B. Eerdmans

Josephus, Flavius trans. by Whiston, William The Works of Josephus: New Updated Version Peabody, MA; 1987; Hendrickson Publishing

Klassen, William in Swartley, Willard M. The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament Louisville; 1992; Westminster/John Knox

Luz, Ulrich Matthew 1-7 Minneapolis; 1985; Fortress Press

Mealand, David L. Poverty and Expectation in the Gospel London; 1981; SPCK

Patte, Daniel The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith Philadelphia; 1987; Fortress Press

----- Discipleship According to the Sermon on the Mount Valley Forge, PA; 1996; Trinity Press International

Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism Philadelphia; 1985; Fortress Press

Schnackenburg, Rudolph trans. by Barr, Robert The Gospel of Matthew Grand Rapids; 2002; William B. Eerdmans

Schrage, Wolfgang trans. by Green, David E. The Ethics of the New Testament Philadelphia; 1990; Fortress Press

Sider, Ronald Christ and Violence Scottdale, PA; 1979; Herald Press

----- Living Like Jesus: Eleven Essentials for Growing a Genuine Faith Grand Rapids; 1999; Baker Book House

Trocme, Andre trans. by Shank, Michael H. Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution Scottdale, PA; 1973; Herald Press

Vermes, Geza The Religion of Jesus the Jew Minneapolis; 1993; Augsburg Fortress

----- The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English New York; 1997, PenguinGroup

Wengst, Klause trans. by Bowden, John Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ Philadelphia; 1987; Fortress Press

Wilson, Marvin Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith Grand Rapids; 1989; William B. Eerdmans

Wink, Walter Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination Minneapolis; 1992; Fortress Press

Wright, N.T. Matthew For Everyone 1-15 London U.K.; 2002; SPCK

------ The New Testament and the People of God Minneapolis; 1992; Fortress Press

------ Jesus and the Victory of God Minneapolis; 1996; Fortress Press

Yoder, John H. The Politics of Jesus Grand Rapids; 1972; William B. Eerdmans

----- The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism Scottdale, PA; 1977; Herald Press

----- edited by Cartwright, Michael G. The Jewish-Christian Schism RevisitedGrand Rapids; 2003; William B. Eerdmans

Jesus, Pacifism, and Resistance - I

-Part One

In many ways, the term “let’s roll” has been commandeered by a vast portion of the American Christian community as a worthy, if not clear cut, response to the fact of terrorism around the globe. These words, of course, were some of the final words of confessing Christian Todd Beamer as he and other passengers aboard the doomed September 11, 2001 Flight 93 readied themselves to undertake action against a group of terrorists who had overtaken the plane’s controls.

There is no question that the actions of those aboard a flight destined for mayhem were brave enough to contemplate the action of physically prying controls away from the terrorists in order to crash the plane into the Pennsylvania landscape. The alternative to this action was sitting idle as the plane caromed into an occupied superstructure somewhere in the United States. There is some question, however, of the suitability of the ‘let’s roll” response when used in a different context.

While the laying down of already doomed lives cannot be ethically or philosophically challenged in a context where there is no alternative other than certain death, we may have many more options at our disposal when our feet are firmly placed on the ground. When we take into account the choices available to those not confined to an airplane, we find that alternative responses to violence may indeed save lives with the same effectiveness of the crash landing of Flight 93. As Christians facing a world with both terror and oppression, we should consider these options. “Let’s roll” is no longer the clear choice when we weigh upon the scales of morality and ethics options other than violence and militarism. Also, and more important for Christians, than the philosophical or political arguments which may or may not sway the moral being from militarism to pacifism, or vice-versa, are the ideas of absolute truth as revealed by God through Holy Scripture and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

Though unpopular amongst mainstream Christian intellectuals and the moralists of the postmodern era, absolute truth can be identified in many areas that philosophical thought or situational ethics fail to conquer. The truth of nonviolence as the command and example of Jesus Christ is one such example. In this book, I will explore various aspects of Christ-centered pacifism and peacemaking, not only as an appropriate response to terrorism, but as the vocation of Christians who are serious about seeking justice and equity across the globe in the name of Jesus, and often, in spite of the church. My goal is to show that nonviolence is truly Christlike, and upholds the image of the Creator.

We must begin by refusing to accept the use of the word “just” (as in justice) in accord with the word war. For Christians, the idea of justice and war should be viewed as incompatible, but for a majority of Christians and philosophers alike, they are not.

The idea of “just war” is a favorite amongst those who view violence and militarism as a way of dealing with, or resisting, injustice and evil. Unfortunately, the moral right to use force is almost universally accepted, and that right has been extended to nation-states as a means of defending everything from national sovereignty to economic opportunity. This reality has evolved due to the lack of central political authority in a world of sovereign states. The United Nations has been rendered somewhat ineffective in its pursuit of global security/stability.

“Just war” theory is loosely defined by a varying set of standards that are generally in alignment with the following: A legitimate authority has established a need, or just cause to defend innocent life. War must be the last resort, even though an authority is not required to exhaust all measures if it is apparent they will fail. It also does not condemn first use of force. There must be an explanation by an aggressive nation for its departure from diplomatic measures. There must be a reasonable chance of emerging victorious, with the achievement of goals requiring a minimum of casualties, and innocents and non-combatants must not be targeted.

James Childress of Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute wrote in Theological Studies that “war can be more or less humane, and civilized. War and politics, or peace, are not two totally separate realms or periods.”

Childress continues to suggest that many proponents of “peace” wrongly believe that peace is the total absence of conflict. In war, states Childress, we may override the prima facie obligation against killing or injuring others when the ultimate goal of hostilities is peace.

Finally, Childress claims that no prima facie wrong, such as maiming or killing another person, stands alone. “Not all duties can be fulfilled in every situation without sacrifice…it is sometimes necessary and legitimate to override some prima facie duties.”

The Christian church, has in modern times, nearly unanimously conceded the just war theory its place in what has become the theology of conflict. Bryan Hehir quotes Catholic just war theologian John Courtney Murray as assuring that because “the church does not look immediately to abolish war…” some form of just war ethic must be maintained. As far as the church is concerned, Hehir himself states that because we are in a world where powers that be no longer acknowledge divine authority in politics or religion, the just war mandate is necessary.

My intention in raising these arguments is not suggest legitimacy in opposition to my own view, only that when conflict is debated in the political or ethical realm, there are arguments that will consistently allow for the use of military force under a set of guidelines that are arbitrary and unenforceable in warfare. The church, in most cases, has followed suit with this theology of conflict. Since September 11, 2001, just war theory has been defined as such: “…concerning the war on terrorism: It will not be enough to eliminate the bad actors responsible for particular acts of terror…(we must) have the will to repress and eliminate them preemptively whenever intelligence is sufficient to warrant such action.”

This suggest that just war criterion now be expanded to include reliance on intelligence that is simply deemed “sufficient”, not to mention how civil rights will certainly be jeopardized as intelligence officials “repress…preemptively” suspected terrorist. One need only view the weapons of mass destruction charges and pre-war Al Qaida-Iraq connections that have yet to surface as an example of what reliable intelligence working for the United States can accomplish. Attorney General John Ashcroft is constantly fending off charges of civil rights abuses committed by his Justice Department as well.

Nevertheless, the Christian is always faced with the argument that just war is necessary to combat evil because stopping the transgress of evil and protecting innocent life takes importance over the obligation to refrain from killing or injuring, especially against those who are committing the evil act. It is my contention, however, that the Christian response should be quite the opposite. Just war is not in the interest of justice, nor is violence and militarism a reliable way to prevent the spread of evil. The Christian response should mirror the scriptural documented response of Jesus Christ.

Theologian Ronald Sider writes that “Jesus’ decision to use nonviolent means is visible at every crucial point in His career. At His temptation Satan offered Him all the political power in the world. Jesus faced and decisively rejected…violence” as a means to establish His messianic kingdom.

As Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom, it offered new possibilities in the quest to overcome evil. In opposition to the just war theory - which we have shown above acknowledges neither a central political or spiritual leaning toward nonviolence - Christians must offer the kingdom of God as the response.

James D.G. Dunn, however, notes that the “territorial connotation of ‘kingdom’ should be qualified by the recognition that ‘reign of God’ or ‘rule of God’ better captures the Aramaic ‘kingdom of God’.” Walter Wink states, “the reign of God, the peaceable kingdom, is (despite the monarchal terms) an order in which the inequity, violence and male supremacy of dominator societies are superceded.” As such, so goes the just war theory. Biblical pacifism, however, as we will find, calls for sacrifice. Not only at the personal level, where of course everything starts, but at the national level where sacrifice of lifestyle and the politics of dominance must give way to the kingdom of God.

In order to witness God’s reign, we must not only make sacrifices personally and nationally, but we must revamp the church and return it’s focus to what made the Acts 2 church grow by leaps and bounds. The power of the Holy Spirit over the politics of power and force, and the theology of conflict.

In the earliest church, reaching across the first three centuries of its existence, the standard of pacifism and nonviolent response to persecution built the Body of Christ into a substantial entity - despite extreme oppression.

There is no firm evidence, from the close of the New Testament period until about 170 C.E., that places any Christian in any army. When we do have evidence of Christians serving in the military - which gradually increased from 173 onward, yet did not result in evidence of widespread service - it can be certain that it contradicted the church’s vision of what Christian behavior entailed. According to John Driver, the early church did resist the temptation to lower its teaching to the level of some members practice. The convictions of early Christian were without a doubt nonviolent.

Driver writes that scholars believe many early Christians opposed military professions mainly because of the idolatry inherent in Roman military service. The very titles that Rome bestowed upon its Caesars - such as savior and lord - were those Christians had reserved for Jesus, whose ministry was a direct challenge to not only to the authority of the temple cult, but even more so to Rome.

Also, early church leaders wrote of deeply seeded testimonies against violence. “The Christian lawgiver…nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violences upon anyone, however wicked…Christians…were taught not to avenge their enemy.”

From circa 170 - 236 C.E., the apostolic tradition of Hippolytus seems to have expressed an early Christian consensus toward warfare in three articles. The first directs the soldier of inferior rank not to kill anyone, even if ordered. If the soldier did not accept this mandate, he was dismissed from the church. Another article declared anyone with the power of the sword, or the magistrate of a city “who wears purple, let him give it up or be dismissed.” The third article stated that Christians who wished to join the army be dismissed from the church because “they have despised God.”

Another early church leader, Tertullian, opposed military service, capital punishment and abortion. This based on the belief that ‘humans are the unique centerpiece of God’s creation…that they bear the divine image, and therefore life is precious.”

After three centuries of organized Christianity, however, the world dominated by Rome took a drastic change in relation to the church. Walter Wink describes emperor Constantine’s battlefield conversion to Christianity as “Christianity’s weaponless victory over the Roman empire,” which, says Wink, “eventuated the weaponless victory of the empire over the gospel.” Christianity soon became the state religion of Rome.

Beginning with Constantine, says Wink, “…the Christian church began receiving preferential treatment by the empire it had once so steadfastly [and nonviolently] opposed, which had once seemed so evil, now appeared to be a necessity for preserving and propagating the gospel.” Just as one now had to be a Christian to serve in the Roman army, Christians needed to devise a plan for defending a militaristic defense of both empire - and gospel.

Enter the just war theory. Just war is set in some practices that some affirm as justice, but others, as we should, view as no more than a Constantinian bastardization of the nonviolent work of Jesus Christ.

Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo who was converted in the fourth century, has become the most well known apologist for the just war theory, couching the doctrine in the inspirational language of Christian sacrifice. Just war theologian Elizabeth Elshtain writes that for Augustine, “the most potent justification for using force is to protect the innocent. If one has compelling evidence that harm will come to persons unless coercive force is used, the requirement of neighborly love may entail a resort to arms.” Augustine, however, also stated that self-defense was a violation of Christian principles. As for just war, the Bishop is quoted as saying “when war is undertaken in obedience to God, who would rebuke, or humble, or crush the pride of man, it must be allowed to be a righteous war.”

Centuries after its development, Augustine’s just war doctrine was used in support of the Crusades. In 1095, Pope Urban II exhorted Christians by stating “You will go forth, through the gift of God and the privilege of St. Peter, absolved from all your sins…They who die will enter the mansion of heaven…” The question remains, however, whether or not fighting a war can be described as obedience to God.

Many will point to the First Testament as proof of God’s support of righteous and just war. The so-called, or presumed, problem of violence in the Hebrew Bible is often raised by opponents to Christian pacifism. The ancient texts clearly show, they argue, that God condones necessary violence in certain circumstances. Anti-Christian sentiments amongst the liberal peace movement are sometimes fueled by the biblical accounts of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan. The First Testament is used by many to justify everything from the death penalty to military aggression.

Importantly, John Howard Yoder reminds that when interpreting a text, one rule of thumb is that the reader should bear in mind what the original hearer or reader would have heard the text say. “Whether the taking of human life is morally permissible under all circumstances,” writes Yoder, “was not a culturally conceivable question in the age of Abraham or that of Joshua.” Take for instance, the story of YHWH sending Abraham to sacrifice his son.

Yoder writes that this story is used by modern ethicists to argue that God directs humans to break His own rules. However, when read from the perspective of the original recipients of the story, and assuming their cultural context, we may view the story differently.

“In the age of Abraham, or even in the age when the Genesis 22 account was written, the sacrifice of the firstborn was a common cultic custom,” writes Yoder. “It was no more ethically scandalous or viscerally disturbing than the killing of the villain in a western movie…”

The act of sacrifice would not have been viewed as taboo by Abraham, because it was a ritual act. It was not, as Yoder states, a command to sacrifice a loved one or to break a moral law. It was a command that tested Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to fulfill His promise of Abraham’s prosperity, and posterity, despite the ordered demise of his only son and heir. In fact, human sacrifice was first condemned not because it was deemed immoral or murderous, but because it came to be understood by Israel to be idolatrous. From this we begin to understand that violence was not only viewed differently in history than it is now - it was viewed as an accepted sacrificial aspect of living, according to the ancients, and as we see in the story of Abraham and his son, God often acted in opposition to those violent cultural assumptions.

For Israelites, even the recitation of God’s victories on the battlefield was meant to remind them that trust in the strength of the God of Israel saved them and won their victories, not their own weapons. Characteristic of Israel’s battlefield victories is the idea that military achievement would come without the aide of professional soldiers.

Yet, the conquest of Canaan, the promised land, still stands out as a collection of bloody and violent battles of total destruction.. A close reading of the text, however, reveals that it was not God’s intention that the land be taken by force, but that the sin of Israel meant a rejection of God’s nonviolent plan. Exodus 23:20-33 looks very much like a plan for peace. God states that He will first send angels and “hornets” ahead of the Israelites to drive out the adversaries of God by supernatural means, but without killing.

Secondly, God will drive out the adversaries only as fast as Israel can populate it through a natural increase, so that it would not be overrun by wild animals. The whole of God’s plan, however, relies upon Israel’s faithfulness, which failed.

When the bloodshed does occur in the conquest narrative, it must still be viewed in different terms than an anachronistic interpretation of military violence as a means to a political end.. Yoder writes that “before a battle an enemy army or city would be ‘devoted to YHWH,’” and henceforth, belonged to God, just as a sacrificial animal on the alter belonged to God.

The killing should be viewed, just as in the Abraham narrative, as sacrificial. No looting took place, but everything, including cattle, slaves, and treasures, was dedicated and sacrificed to YHWH. When we view this in light of Jesus Christ as the final sacrifice - the all encompassing sacrifice - and God’s victory over evil and death in resurrection - First Testament style violence is no longer acceptable, if it ever was, to God. Walter Wink adds to this view of “acceptable” violence by quoting French philosopher Rene Girard.

“Girard understands the Hebrew Bible as a long and laborious exodus out of the world of violence.” He also quotes Girard as writing that Jesus’ death revealed the “sacrificial system as a form of organized violence in the service of social tranquility.” The violence of the Bible, says Wink, “is the necessary preconditioning for the gradual perception of violence.”

Just as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7 that he would not have come to know sin except through the law, the people of God would not come to know the evil of violence without the experience of it, which lead to the final revelation of God’s plan for peace and victory over the powers that continue to fall prey to the lure of violence as a means to an end.

Finally, Wink explains First Testament violence in this light. “…violence is in part the residue of false ideas about God carried over from the general human past. It is also, however, the beginning of the process of raising the (sacrificial violence) mechanism to consciousness. In Israel, for the first time in history - God begins to be seen as identified with the victims of violence…other myths…have been written from the point of view of the victimizers.”

Part Two

Now that we have responded to “just war” criticisms of pacifism, with evidence of the nonviolent testimony of the early church, and the question of First Testament violence, we will set out to establish the political and social environment of first century Palestine. It is in this context that we begin to grasp the life and ministry of Jesus, and how it points directly to a nonviolent, but revolutionary, response to oppression.

Of the number of nations and peoples oppressed by Roman domination in the first century C.E., Judea had been a subjected nation for the past four and one half centuries of its history. This subjugation began with the Babylonian army’s sacking of Jerusalem 597 B.C.E. and the exile of the priestly and artisan classes of Judeans.

Then came the Persians, and the beginning of an economic system that reestablished old socio-economic hierarchies, and doubly subjected the Judean peasant class. The Persians allowed the Judean exiles to return to Jerusalem, and Persia ruled through the offices of the high priests. Richard Horsley writes that this demise of the Davidic leadership of the past allowed economic and political power to become entrenched in the high priestly families thus combining the temple cult with political and economic power.

In reality, power was held by the Persian imperial government, but the peasantry was found in the position of ensuring not only Judea’s ability to pay tribute to the Persians, but ensuring the financial and aristocratic stability of the priestly class. Most Judeans were under the thumbs of two oppressive systems.

This especially comes to light as the priestly class sought to rebuild the trappings of Jerusalem’s status, the wall that surrounded the city and the temple. The peasantry’s labor share intensified with these building projects. This reestablishment of the hierarchal social structures was addressed somewhat by Nehemian reforms but those measures were short lived.

Following the Persians were the conquering armies of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. Alexander allowed the Jews to observe their religious laws, and even permitted exemption from tribute during sabbatical years. Interestingly, I have found no documentation of similar Judean observances of Jubilee laws. Then came the rule of the Ptolemies. Horsley writes that during those years “a Greek traveler, Hecataeus, found in Palestine that some ordinary people still had rights to their own land,” and that this was “unusual and surprising.” Family land ownership possibilities, once a centerpiece of the promised land, would continue to erode.

We can further assume that the Judean peasant class continued to serve under the thumb of the priestly ruling class. As the ruling elites of Judea became more Hellenized and kept up tribute, the more pious and laboring classes of Judeans sank further not only into debt, but into a religious identity crisis as well. Hellenization was seen as a looming threat. The differences between the Hellenized class and orthodox Jews came to a head as the Syrians took over rule from the Greeks. These differences erupted under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus appointed to the high priesthood a man who took the Greek name Jason in place of his Hebrew name Joshua, and he worshipped the Greek god Hercules. At the time that Menelaus, another Hellenist, challenged the rule of Jason by force, Antiochus marched on Jerusalem.

The result of the invasion was the death of many Jews, the plundering of the temple, and the suspension of civil and religious liberties, as recorded in I Maccabees, chapter 1. As the ultimate show of contempt for Jewish culture, a pig was offered as a sacrifice on the altar of YHWH. In response to this Selucid brutality as well as the apostasy of Hellenized Jews, a popular revolt succeeded in overthrowing Syrian rule and reestablishing a Jerusalem free of imperial domination.

The revolt was started when emissaries of Antiochus expected an elderly priest, Mattathias, to offer a pagan sacrifice as a good example to his people. Instead, Matthias killed an apostate Jew who stood next to him at the altar, and then killed a Syrian official as well. Matthias and his sons from that point started a guerilla war on Syria, his son Judas the “Maccabee” (or Hammer) took leadership of the revolt, and in 164 B.C.E. won Jerusalem. For nearly 100 years afterward, Jerusalem was a free city.

The Maccabean revolution, however, was simply a respite from imperial rule. (Though not for the peasant class as the Jewish leadership could be just as repressive for those standing on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder). In 63 B.C.E. Pompey entered Jerusalem and Roman rule began.

Rome often ruled parts of its empire through the work of client kings, and Judea was one such instance. As long as puppet rulers paid the necessary tribute and showed loyalty to the emperor things ran fairly smoothly for the king. Along about 37 B.C.E. came Herod the Great, one of the most brutal client kings of the period. Herod and his sons, while answering to the emperor, could make a fortune in currency and land holdings by taxing the Judean working class to pay not only the tribute owed Rome, but to enrich Herod himself through extra taxation. Naturally, those who worked collecting for Herod also demanded extra to pay themselves.

All told, Judean workers lost nearly 40 percent of their total income to rent, taxes, tribute, tolls and tithes. By the time these Judean workers paid their obligation to Herod, they often lacked the money needed to fulfill their obligation to the temple.

This obligation, of course, was demanded by the temple priestly class, who undoubtedly supported the status quo. On top of the ruling client king and later governors, Richard Horsley states, “the behavior of the priestly aristocracy became increasingly predatory.” This must have been hardest to bear for poor Judeans. The temple priests, known as the Sadducees, are characterized by Alan Richardson as such:

The Sadducees constituted a hereditary aristocracy of an estimated 200 families tracing their decent from the High Priest Zadok, appointed by Solomon.

The fact is that the Sadducees were not religious men. They were worldly members of an aristocracy that felt at ease in Zion, having made their compromise with the Romans.

Since they controlled the temple, the Sadducees had control over the treasury. They did a lucrative trade in exchanging at profitable rates pilgrim’s money in to temple currency, with which alone travelers could pay tithes and buy sacrificial animals.

The Sadducees were conservatives in the sense that they did not want to alter the status quo. From their own view, any change would be a change for the worse. They were not the real rulers of the country, but they could pretend at the price of deferring to the Romans in all important matters.

Because the temple priests did not have an army standing behind their demands for money, they would censure from the temple any Judean who could not tithe the required amount. They reasoned that poverty and social marginalization was due to the failure of meeting financial obligations owed to God.

This brief sketch of oppression in Judea, the Maccabean period included, is meant to illustrate not so much the physical brutality Judeans experienced at the hands of imperial governments as it is to build a case defining the national character of Palestinian Jews at the time of Jesus. “When a people are under forced subjugation,” writes Horsley, “the mass psychology of the people is one of constant crisis.” Deeply impoverished and deeply religious Jews were looking for a way - a person - who could lead Israel to victory over its oppressors, just as Judas Maccabeus did a century and a half ago.

Significantly, the period of most interest with regard to popular movements and leaders such as Jesus is framed by large scale peasant uprisings against this oppression. The whole period of direct Roman rule by governor from 6 to 66 C.E. was marked by widespread discontent and periodic turbulence in Palestinian Jewish society. Between 14-37 C.E., while no major uprising necessitated intervention from Roman legions stationed in Syria, there was certainly unrest. There is plenty of evidence of revolutionary movements smoldering away through this period coming into explicit confrontation with the authorities from time to time as opportunity offered or pressure became intense. Below, we will catalogue some of the responses to Roman domination, some violent - some nonviolent.

There were three popular revolts in second temple and New Testament times that were prominent in Palestinian Jewish history. The first was, as mentioned above, the Maccabean revolt of 168-167 B.C.E. This successful rebellion was followed by the war in 66 -70 C.E. and another in 132-135 C.E.. In 66-70, the uprising target not just Rome, but the temple aristocracy as well. There was another significant revolt in 4 B.C.E. preceding the reign of Archelaus.

As Archelaus went to Rome to make his case to the Roman emperor as the next king of Judea, trouble was brewing at home. During the feast of Pentecost “the people got together not on account of the accustomed worship,” writes first century historian Josephus, rather they gathered in response to “the indignation they had (suffered).” During this uprising, Josephus states that “in many places…opportunity that now offered itself induced a great many to set up as kings.” He counts Judas of Galilee (son of Hezekias) as one who pulled together a force. Judas and his people broke into the Roman army at Sepphoris.

Simon of Perea was a claimant to the throne, as this royal servant gathered a force and burned down the royal palace at Jericho amongst other acts of rebellion. A third would-be king of Judea was a shepherd by the name of Anthrongeus, who raised an army to kill Romans throughout Palestine. In response to this sedition, Varus, the president of Syria marched the Roman army through Palestine from the cities of Galilee to Jerusalem, which culminated in the crucifixion 2000 revolutionaries outside of the City of David.

Josephus also reports the deadly encounters during the later reign of Roman governor Camaneus. During a Passover Festival, the oppressed Judeans protested a variety of injustices meted out by the Romans. In one instance, Camaneus sent soldiers to surround a temple protest, and, upon subsequent attack, thousands of Jews were trampled to death by one another in the ensuing panic.

In the later violence of 66 C.E., Josephus writes that during the festival of Xylophorya, where large fires were constantly fed with wood, siccari (Zealots) took control of the upper city in Jerusalem by force. In an action that not only addressed the inequity of the temple system, but was meant to invite poor Judeans into revolutionary struggle, the Zealots burned the archives and contracts belonging to creditors, thus erasing debts to the aristocracy.

Placing Jesus in such a context may make it hard to imagine a nonviolent campaign of resistance amid such stark brutality. Yoder points out, as do Horsley and Mattison that “Effective nonviolent resistance was not at all unknown in (the) Jewish experience…” during Roman rule. Horsley points to a “Fourth Philosophy” which emphasized to Judeans that there was “no master but God” and prompted many Jews not to pay Roman taxes or engage in the Roman census. The leaders of this 6 C.E. movement, Judas and Saddok, are prime examples of nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation.

While Camaneus was in power, he ordered troops to a Judean village to violently avenge the robbery of a Roman official. During the ensuing action, a soldier tore in half a Torah scroll. Judeans nonviolently marched in protest to Caesarea demanding punishment of the soldier, who was executed in response to the protest.

There were two other significant nonviolent actions during the Roman occupation, the first in 26 C.E., the second during the reign of Gaius Caligula (37-41 C.E.). Caligula, who was incensed at Judean refusal to obey emperor worship, ordered an official, Petronius, to erect a statue of the emperor in the temple. The Jewish response was to meet Petronius in protest at Ptolemais, while thousands of other Palestinian Jews engaged in a general agricultural strike. According to Yoder, the strike lasted for over a month and “the unity of the people could not be broken.” The collective mass of nonviolent resistance was the second successful act of pacifist resistance in a decade.

The following account is significant because of its proximity to, and possible influence on Jesus ministry. In 26 C.E., at the beginning of the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea, Pilate wintered troops in Jerusalem. Along with the troops came busts of the emperor - surely idolatrous in the eyes of the Judeans. In response, Judean protesters marched to the palace in Caesarea and prostrated themselves around Pilate’s residence for five days. When Pilate called upon soldiers to remove the protesters, they collectively bared their necks to the sword rather than see Torah broken. Pilate called off the soldiers and moved the busts from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

It is apparent that Jesus came upon a tumultuous environment. Most Palestinian Jews regarded both Rome, and the temple aristocracy, as unjust entities. The oppressors were easy to identify, and passions toward revolution and religious orthodoxy as a means of liberation were commonplace. Jews were looking for a national savior to burst upon the scene, much as Judas Maccabeus had done nearly two centuries earlier. They awaited the son of God, the messiah who would restore Israel’s glory and precede the return of God to His dwelling place with His chosen people.

According to N.T. Wright, messiahship “was central to Jesus’ self- understanding.” What was surprising to Jews, and integral to our Christian understanding of Jesus, was what Jesus’ messiahship entailed. Jesus was not the great military leader who would avenge all of the injustice and oppression suffered by Israel through its history. He was the radical Jewish revolutionary who insisted Israel give up its nationalistic and material desire for glory, and instead nonviolently establish the new kingdom of God, in which the followers of Jesus, the Messiah, would usher in as a light unto the Gentiles. No longer to be separate, Jesus called upon Israel to unite with the enemy, the pagan Gentiles.

Wink states that “in (H)is nonviolent teaching, life, and death, Jesus revealed a God of nonviolence. The God who delivered enslaved people in the Exodus was now the deliverer of all humanity from oppression.” For Jesus, the real revolution came not from inciting armed insurrection but in displaying, as Wright states, “total obedience to, and imitation of, Israel’s [G]od.”

As we further our study, however, we should remember not to view nonviolence as legalism, but instead as an act of discipleship. Wink views nonviolence as “the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world.” He adds, “Jesus’ gospel…God’s answer to that system of domination [evil]…it offers an alternative (to violence) more radical and thoroughgoing than any other in human history.”

We have read above what kind of evil existed in first century Palestine. Indeed, Matthew 2:16 speaks of Herod, in his desire to ensure his place on the throne for years, slaughters every baby in the vicinity of Bethlehem who is under the age of two when he hears of the birth of a possible claimant to his kingship.

Make no mistake, there is a certain political nature to Jesus’ ministry. But in His total obedience to God, when evil tempts Jesus “with all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” Jesus dismisses the offer as idolatrous, and as such, the political and nationalist nature of such an offer.

However, this is not to say Jesus avoids responding to the politically charged environment He lived in. Jesus’ response was certain and direct. His message to Palestinian Jews - love and mercy, as practical codes of living are to characterize the true people of God. Yet Jesus requires more of His followers than love and mercy. As we will see in parts of the Gospel of Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount, and in many of Jesus parables, nonviolent resistance to the oppressive situation first century Jews found themselves in was the ‘marching order’ for His disciples and other followers. The path of violence, Jesus preached, would bring certain destruction.

Jesus taught love. He enlarged the commandment to love in three ways. First, by inseparably conjoining the love of God and man. Second, by reducing the whole of the demand of God into the twofold commandment of love of God and neighbor. Third, extending the term neighbor to include everybody. Jesus universalized the command to love. This radical concept of love served to mount what Wright calls a “social revolution.” Persuading even small groups and villages to change their behavior in the fashion called for in Matthew 5:1ff represented a serious challenge to existing practices. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility, simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting or applying it, but doing and obeying it

The deeper meaning of scripture is found in the Sermon on the Mount, and this is the case in Matthew 5:21-48. The six antithesis between “You have heard the ancients were told” and “But I say to you” spells out Jesus’ commentary on the preceding Beatitudes. That poverty of spirit, meekness and peacemaking underline the crux of the text, and purity of heart and a hunger for justice are equally the concern of Jesus’ disciples.

In the middle of the six “You have heard -But I say to you…” statements, Jesus gives His listeners an idea of what revolution looks like. Beginning with Matthew 5:38-39 where Jesus’ words are often misinterpreted as a call to nonresistance, Jesus is beginning an exhortation to active resistance.

“Do not resist an evil person” reads Matthew 39a. Wink however, suggests the better translation of the Greek in this verse is found in the Scholars Version Bible. “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” This verse, far from being a call to nonresistance, is actually a call to nonviolent action. It has been shown that the admonitions of Matthew 5:39ff were understood by Jesus’ contemporaries as a call to respond to and resist Roman imperialism. Wright states the command not to resist evil is not to be taken in reference to personal hostilities or village level animosity. The Greek word used for resist - antistenai - is a technical term for revolutionary resistance of a specifically military variety. Jesus is actually declaring that in place of violence, creative nonviolent resistance is the way to respond to Roman oppression and the temple cult. We will see examples of this creativity presently.

Ron Sider writes of Matthew 5:39 that “It means two very radical things: 1) that one should not resist evil persons by exacting equal damages suffered, and 2) that one should not respond to an evil person by placing him in a category of evil.” One should love one’s enemies even at great personal cost.

The creativity of Jesus’ resistance to Rome and His command to love enemies becomes evident in Matthew 5:39b. “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek turn the other to him also.” This is, far from a call to submissive response to an oppressor, but a demand for equality!

The only way to hit someone on the right cheek is to use the back of your right hand, or a close left fist. For a superior to strike a peasant with a closed left fist would demonstrate that the peasant was a worthy equal to the oppressor. Generally, a superior - a master, husband or Roman - would use a right backhand to slap the face of his inferior - a slave, wife, or Jew. Wink states that “the whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of line back in place.” Jesus is instructing people who are used to being belittled as inferiors by the backhands of superiors to refuse to accept this. Jesus’ way of nonviolent resistance is forcing the oppressor to use the left hand or closed fist to strike the other cheek, thus forcing the oppressor to treat the peasant as a worthy equal. “He can have the slave beaten,” says Wink, “but he can no longer cower him.”

Another example of Jesus teaching His disciples to creatively turn the tables on their oppressors spoke more to relationships between peasants and the Judean aristocracy. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak also.”

In this instruction, Jesus is telling an impoverished party who is being sued in court for a piece of his clothing to turn the unjust system against itself by giving away their final piece of clothing as well, and standing before the court naked. “They share a rankling hatred for the system that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their land, goods, and even their outer garment.”

Why give away your last piece of clothing as a symbol of protest? Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell mostly on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). Wink writes that “by stripping off all his clothes, the debtor has brought shame upon the creditor…(as) the poor man has transcended the attempt to humiliate him in a court of law.

In Matthew 5:41, the Roman soldier is the target of Jesus’ call to nonviolent resistance. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” This verse addresses the Roman military code that allowed soldiers to coerce non-citizens and subjugated peoples to carry their packs as far as a mile in distance. Forcing a person to carry the pack more than one mile would bring disciplinary action from a commanding officer.

Jesus is saying that instead of violently responding to the injustice of the forced mile, respond by using the oppressors own rules against them by carrying the pack a mile further. Either the soldier will be disciplined, or, at the very least, wonder what his forced laborer has in mind. Wink writes that in this case, “the oppressed have seized the initiative.”

More importantly, however, than this creative style of resistance, more foundational to the teaching of Jesus, is the following command to love your enemies. “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

N.T. Wright explains:

Israel was not part of the chosen people for her own sake, but for the sake of the world. Part of the identity of Jesus and [H]is followers was that they would inherit this biblical vocation…The Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5:43-48 - develops the following theme: Jesus’ followers were to reflect into the world the love of the creator [G]od, who gives sunshine and rain to Israel and Gentiles alike.

In Matthew 5:44ff, Jesus replaces the manipulative concept of neighborly love with that of love of enemy, by which He understands not as one’s personal opponent, but in general the national and religious enemy. Loving one’s enemy contains the creative, yet aggressive, element found in Matthew 5:38-42. It does not leave the enemy as he is, but seeks to change him nonviolently. In essence, we are to love our enemy just as God does.

It should be remembered that the Sermon on the Mount is calling Palestinian Jewish peasants to resist oppression, but Jesus is also calling upon Israel to do something few Judeans were willing to do. Jesus called Israel to be “a light unto the world” at the expense of Israel’s claim to the promised land. Palestinian Jewish hopes for messianic leadership rested upon Israel’s hope of deliverance from oppression, and the restoration of its national borders. This is important to remember because in the words of Jesus, we should love our enemies, not conquer them, and we should try and change them, to show them the love of God, even at the expense of a prized inheritance. However, to use violence is to invite certain destruction.

Wright states that in Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus is calling upon Israel to

…worship the true [G]od as opposed to idols: Israel cannot serve the true [G]od as opposed to mammon and anxiety about the future is a sign that she is doing just that. Those who are truly seeking the kingdom need not be afraid, whereas those whose seeking of the kingdom consists of pursuing a national or personal agenda for restoring the land, property, or ancestral rights will find that they have been serving a god who cannot give them such things.

Wright adds that Matthew 6:19-21 is not an attack on the hoarding of wealth in the first century, but a call to Israel to give up its claimed stake or inheritance in the promised land.

It is not anachronistic to interpret this exhortation that Israel give up its claim to the land in order to better serve God’s will, in a fashion that translates into North Americans and other Westerners giving up the advantages of economy we inherit in the 21st century to better serve God’s command to love our neighbors throughout the world, and bring justice to it.

We should now conclude that many parts of the Sermon on the Mount, by no means all covered in this writing, are not only a call to peace, purity, justice and humble service, but a call to lovingly change our enemies by extending the loving grace and forgiveness of God, often in revolutionary or subversive ways.

In essence, Israel, or the followers of Jesus, were to show love and obedience to God not by working to restore Israel as proof of God’s glory, but by resisting and changing evil by sharing and showing the love God has for all creation. Jesus’ disciples were the agents not of Israel’s redemption, but of God’s restoration of His whole creation, including Israel. The caveat - One must follow Jesus’ way of nonviolence to participate in this restoration.

Another event impossible to leave out of a character study of Jesus, is the aggressive action of the temple cleansing. The image of Jesus clearing the temple, in one account with a scourge of cords, should help do away with the Sunday School images of the mild and meek, squeaky clean Jesus. The cleansing, however, should in no way lead us to believe that Jesus was anything but nonviolent.

Whether or not there was one, or two cleansings, which is debated amongst some scholars, is not of the utmost importance. We can accept, if necessary, that there was one cleansing, with John moving the action to the beginning of Jesus ministry to better suit the author’s purpose. Something, however, is made clear by the differences found between the synoptic accounts of the cleansing, and the similar action documented in John.

It may be said that Jesus engaged in two distinct actions - with distinct purposes - both necessary to make clear the idea of what will bring the kingdom of God into existence. We will find that the action in John brings judgment upon the temple cult, and the versions found in the synoptics, all similar to one another, distinctly say - there is no room for violent revolutionaries when ushering in the kingdom of God. Both cleansings were highly symbolic.

N.T. Wright states:

Jesus acted, and saw [H]imself as a prophet, standing within Israel’s long prophetic tradition. One of the things that prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel did was to act symbolically. We have seen that Jesus was capable of acting symbolically, and with deliberate scriptural overtones…we should not be surprised that when faced with the central symbol of Israel, he did so here as well.

For Wright, the temple cleansing is “Jesus’ announcement that Israel’s [G]od has become king.” One of the clear focal points of the temple action in John is the return of YHWH to Zion. As Jesus clears the temple, Wright asks, “who can abide the day of [H]is coming?” As written above, Jesus message was that Israel’s self-identity had become idolatrous. Nationalism, inheritance, and temple based piety as opposed to obedience of the heart had turned the focus away from God’s intent for Israel, and its sight away from God’s justice and compassion.

In the Johanine version of the cleansing, Jesus is pronouncing God’s intended wrath upon Israel. Just as Jeremiah predicted God would destroy Jerusalem and the temple, Jesus is saying Jerusalem and the temple will receive God’s wrath because of the failure of the temple cult to do justice in God’s eyes. Also, in John, Jesus is cleansing the temple not only in judgment of the temple aristocracy, but of the sacrificial system in general. Does this mean that God destroyed Jerusalem in 66 C.E.? It means that Jesus issued a stern warning to the temple cult. Repent and return to the vocation God intended of Israel, or suffer the repercussions of widespread mistreatment and oppression of people of faith.

In the synoptics, where Jeremiah is quoted, we have another, later cleansing, perhaps distinct from, but coordinated with the account in John. The difference is found in the words shouted by to the temple crowds by Jesus. In John, he shouts “stop making my father’s house a place of business”, targeting the temple aristocracy and its trading practices. In the synoptic, the target of Jesus’ wrath is different. “…you have made it into a robbers den” He cries. Here we find the allusion to Jeremiah 7:11, but something sets it apart from the Jeremiah warning, and the action in John. They key word in the synoptic is robbers. The English translation of the word lestai here is used throughout the New Testament for robbers, plunderers or pirates. Lestai is used to describe Barabbas in the trial account and the two thieves at the cross in the crucifixion account. The word is also used by Josephus in description of political revolutionaries, which is what Barabbas and the thieves at the cross were charged with. In the synoptics, Jesus is cleansing the central symbol of Israel of violent revolutionaries, like those of the Zealots. Does this mean that Jesus was not a revolutionary? Oscar Cullman writes:

The temple cleansing was a revolutionary act, but not the act of a Zealot. The Zealots, like the Essenes, aspired to radically reform the temple by the existing priesthood. The Zealots wanted to destroy it by force and set up a new system.

Yet, Jesus, as we have seen, called for a radical and thoroughgoing change in the Johanine account. Certainly revolutionary, as He brings judgment on the existing aristocracy and predicts its demise. But, as the other gospel accounts show, Jesus calls for nonviolent change in the oppressive systems, and tells the ones who would use violence that there is no room for them in the process.

After study, we find the revolutionary presence of Jesus existing in the parables he used to teach disciples and other listeners as well. N.T. Wright calls parables, among others things, subversive stories told to bring to light Israel’s new vocation as the people of God. They were essentially secretive, and Wright states, “Jesus was not a ‘universal teacher’ of timeless truths” but a revolutionary leader whose movement “would grow like an unobserved seed.”

Mark Mattison writes of two parables specifically that especially point to Jesus’ subversive nature.

The standard interpretation of the vineyard tenants is an allegory in which God is the vineyard owner. However, a Herzog study of Mediterranean cultures demonstrates an alternative view. The parable in question is the story of a peasant revolt concluding in a rhetorical question designed to get Jesus’ hearers to consider the futility of violence to assert ‘land rights’ to the ‘promised land.’

In this view the tenants are the oppressed and the absentee landowner is the oppressor. When Jesus is finished telling the parable, in which the landowner sends a number of servants, and finally his son, only to have them killed by the vineyard workers, He gets quite a different response from the two groups he tells the parable to.

In Matthew 21, the listening crowd is made up of Pharisees, who in support of the wealthy landowners respond to the question of what will happen when the landowner arrives at the vineyard, “…he will bring those miserable wretches to a wretched end.” In Luke 20:16, a group of peasants respond to the fact that the owner will “come and destroy those vine growers” with the cry of “may it never be.” This reading of the parable should not discount the traditional, Christological reading that we are more familiar with, detailing God sending the prophets, then His Son, all to be rejected by the growers. It is probable that Jesus told and retold this parable, each time having a different shading or nuance that were well understood by His audience. Double meanings were certainly not beyond the stretch of Jesus’ parable telling.

In another reading of the parable of the Minas, Mattison asks four questions of the usual interpretation that God or Jesus is the nobleman or king.

First, why is the king of the text reminiscent of Archelaus? Second, why does the king, if it is God, tell slaves to collect interest on money when this practice is expressly forbidden by Torah (Ex. 22:25ff)? Thirdly, would this king present a flattering image of God - ‘a hard man, taking out what you did not lay down, and reap where you did not sow’ (Luke 19:22)? Lastly, what happened to Jesus shortly after the telling of this parable, and what happens to the servant who didn’t obey?

Mattison writes that it may well be the king represents not God, but the Roman backed Herodian authorities. Unlike God, the Father of Jesus, the Herodian ruler is a harsh and oppressive figure, this parable is about resistance to imperialism and the man who did not comply seals his fate by confronting empire - just as Jesus sealed His doom by confronting authorities in Jerusalem.

Now we have established a few scriptural truths from a look at the Sermon on the Mount, the temple cleansing(s), and two of Jesus’ parables. We have shown that Jesus was acutely aware of -and addressed - the injustice suffered by fellow Jews of His time at the hands of both the Romans and the temple authorities. Jesus warned that a violent response to this oppression would not only bring total destruction to Israel, but that God demanded a different, though still revolutionary, response.

Jesus called upon Israel to give up its nationalist and material desires in order to truly serve, and to reflect a loving God to those who needed Him most, the oppressors.

Jesus, Pacifism, and Resistance - II

Part Three

What does all of this mean, however, for 21st century Christians. How do we read and interpret scripture in manner that teaches and inspires us to carry out God’s radical command to love our enemies, and be transformed. We must aggressively respond in a loving manner to injustice, whether it comes from and individual, our local or spiritual communities, or the state.

Often, the question of whether or not the authority of the nation-state includes the authority to, in denial of Jesus example of nonviolence, send Christians into war. More often than not, the text of Romans 13:1-7 is used as a proof-text for ordering Christian submission to the state, especially, some argue, because of verse 13:4b “…for it does not bear the sword for nothing, for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

Oscar Cullman recognizes three question raised of the state and its authority. We see from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching that:

1) Jesus does not regard the state as the final institution to be equated somehow with the kingdom of God… accordingly, disciples have both the right and duty to judge the state on the basis of their knowledge of the kingdom of God. 2) Jesus agrees with Zealotism as far as it takes seriously the expectation of the kingdom of God, and thus does not regard the state as the ultimate, divine institution. 3) In the case of Jesus’ condemnation… the Roman state transgresse(s) its limits as a state.

“Waging war,” says Cullman, “may be a matter for the state, but not for the community of disciples.” This view of the Gospels may appear in conflict with the Romans 13 text, as do other New Testament texts. It is not possible to discuss the Romans passage without referring also to 1 Corinthians 6:1ff. “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to the law before the unrighteous and not before the saints, or do you not know the saints will judge the world.. So if you have law courts dealing with the matters of this life, so you appoint them as judges who are of no account to the church?”

This text obviously points to a lack of trust in the state’s ability to discern the righteous will of God, and declares that believers will sit in the seat of authority at judgment. We should also view 1 Corinthians 2:8: “The wisdom which none of the rulers of this state has understood; for if they have understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

While Paul admits the state has the right to raise the sword and Christians are subject to that authority, he does not say Christians should indiscriminately obey government. While it is certainly true that governments exact God’s wrath on evil, it is also true that the state judges indiscriminately, and often meets evil with evil of its own, a thing Paul exhorts Christians not to do in Romans 12:17.

In fact, according to James D.G. Dunn, it is no accident that Romans 13:1-7 is “bracketed” by twin exhortations to love (12:9 and 13:8-10). The later not only reaffirms and draws upon the richness of the law as a guide for ethical conduct, but indicates how the law is to be interpreted through love of neighbor as the primary principle.

Considering all of this, it seems wise to take another look at interpreting Romans 13:1ff when others use it to call Christians to the war effort. Let us put the passage into its proper context and see what Paul was really saying.

Dunn writes that the “little churches of Rome” were living under a constant state of threat. We also know from contemporary sources that during the time the letter to the Romans was written, the heavy burdens of indirect taxation were causing unrest in Rome at the time.

“Failure of a number of Christians to pay even an inflated tax,” writes Dunn, “would have drawn attention to the little congregations and put them at risk.” As readers of Paul’s letter found themselves in the very capital of the empire - it was precisely among these Christians that it was possible for feelings of animosity toward the state to arise.

Finally, the Roman authorities had a well-developed system of informants and spies, and this was well known to Paul. Dunn writes “We should allow for the possibility that at least some of Paul’s exhortation was framed with the thought in mind that ‘walls have ears’.”

In summary, using Roman’s 13:1-7 as a proof-text to legitimize Christian support of state sponsored violence fails when compared to Jesus’ gospel views of the state, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and the proper context of the passage. Read in proper context, Paul was advocating for the churches in Rome to take a realistic, safe, and politically quiet response to Roman authority. According to Dunn, Paul exhibited the “realism of the…powerless.”

With this in mind, we can also reach the conclusion that Romans 13:1-7 does not rule out Christian protests against unjust state policies or laws. It does mean that Christians are subject to those laws. Violence is ruled out as a means of bringing about policy change, and if the state’s laws are broken, the Christian is bound to pay the legal price, if ordered to do so by the law courts. Of course, at the heart of every Christian action, even in civil disobedience, should be love, and the hope that love, prayer, and peaceful action will address unjust situations.

Now that we have established an ethic that relates us to a moral, and spiritual, way of living established by Jesus, we need to consider what this means for us as a church, and our relationship with the world around us. We can call this the kingdom ethic.

Many of our Christian brothers and sisters argue that the kingdom has yet to be established, or has been established only in a spiritual, or otherworldly, or inwardly sense only. As Bruce Chilton states, “It is not that the kingdom is one day to be immanent; it is rather that the kingdom is already immanent and is one day to be comprehensive.” I discussed above, on page six, that Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God. I also noted that an alternative term for kingdom offered by some scholars is “reign” or “rule of God.” In this last part of the book, I wish to discuss the “kingdom of God” in the sense that it is our current reality, and that Jesus welcomed the kingdom of God as being realized through His work, His crucifixion, and of course, His resurrection.

Ron Sider writes “If anything is clear in Jesus, it is that the announcement and demonstration of the kingdom are at the core of (H)is message.” As Jesus stood in the synagogue in His hometown and read from Isaiah 61:1-2a the event clearly announced the arrival of the messianic kingdom. John Yoder states that this kingdom “is a visible, socio-political, economic restructuring of relations among the people of God, achieved by His intervention in the person of Jesus.” If this is how the inauguration of the kingdom was viewed, how much more should these restructured relationships be evident in the Body of Christ in the present day? We are called as the representatives of the kingdom of God to overcome unjust socio-political and economic relationships in the name and image of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the anointed, bringing the good news, liberation and freedom to the humble and oppressed, not only of Israel, but human kind. The term “good news” is in itself a loaded political term that was well recognized throughout the Roman empire, and would have carried a double meaning to many first century listeners. They would have taken the “good news” to be a direct challenge to Caesar’s empire as well as a reference to the Hebrew Scripture.

Sider writes that this kingdom of God language was a direct challenge to the status quo of Roman imperialism and Jewish aristocracy. Jesus’ gospel demanded a “sweeping change” in relationships between rich and poor, men and women, the clean and unclean, and, indeed, Israel and God.

One of the meanings of the kingdom of God is found in Torah as well as Israel’s prophetic writings. If we view Israel’s vocation as being witness to the kingdom of God as found in Exodus 19:6; “You will be a nation of priests and a holy nation,” we get a better idea of how Jesus viewed the kingdom as a present reality inaugurated by His ministry. Jesus was calling for Israel - responding to God’s acting in history - to return to its vocation as a visible demonstration of God’s will for creation. Jesus, taking His cue from Jeremiah 31:31-34, is declaring that the establishment of a renewed, right relationship - a new covenant with YHWH - is at the center of the kingdom.”

As we have shown throughout this book, nonviolence is at the center of this new covenant, and along with grace and forgiveness, is to be the identifying marker of God’s present kingdom.

“The kingdom of God,” writes Yoder, “is a social order and not a hidden one. It is not a universal catastrophe independent of men, it is that concrete, jubilary obedience, in pardon and repentance…it reveals why it is that history should go on.”

The “universal catastrophe” Yoder writes about speaks more toward fundamentalist views that hold toward the kingdom of God being brought to fullness by an apocalyptic or end-time event. While viewing Jesus’ kingdom announcement as an eschatological event, we should not reason that this eschatology refers to or promises an end to the space-time continuum.

Instead, Jesus is referring eschatologically to an event - earth shattering as it is - in which God acts decisively to establish His reign on Earth during the course of history. Jesus’ life, and ministry, and His resurrection make up that event. Other apocalyptic language used by Jesus refers to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 66 C.E.

Through this event a community of believers should define their relationship with God, and His creation, as one of change and growth. Jesus’ messianic announcement was by no means unique. Others had made the same announcement and, like Jesus, did not live long afterward. Any announcement that the King of the Jews had arrived was bound to raise the ire of client kings, and naturally, Caesar. The unique aspect of Jesus’ ministry was that His kingdom announcement did not at all entail what first century Jews imagined it would. According to Jesus, there was an enemy to be confronted, but that enemy was not necessarily the Roman empire. Jesus established the kingdom to challenge evil of another kind, Israel’s own vision of its relationship to God. Wright states:

…Jesus spent (H)is whole ministry redefining what kingdom meant. He refused to give up the new symbolic language of the kingdom, but filled it with such new content that…(H)e powerfully subverted Jewish expectation.

…the fact that the full revelation or dawning of the kingdom remains in the future does not negate…but rather demands, that something be acknowledged as present, such as the messiahship of Jesus.

And, the ethic of Jesus’ kingdom must be acknowledged as well. It is this ethic that I have established with this book. An ethic of redeeming love, forgiveness and grace, coupled with a desire to see the will of God and justice promoted and demanded in a self-sacrificing and nonviolent manner. God commands that we strive to overcome injustice, and we find it in so many places throughout creation. We find it in poverty, racism, and sexism. We find it in a culture of violence and militarism. We find it in our own communities and family relationships. Sometimes, we find it in our own voices. More often than not, we as a people sacrifice justice instead of our own desires or material wants.

God commands that we love Him, and our neighbor, if nothing else, and Jesus establishes that everyone is our neighbor, especially in our 21st century global village. As we strive to meet these commands, often falling short, we can take heart that we are playing a role in God’s restoration of creation, and reflecting His will as a visible kingdom community. We offer the kingdom to others, not to get a reward in some heavenly netherworld, but to bring peace and justice in our struggle for orthodoxy in our relationship with the Creator. We then reap the benefits with the rest of creation as the result of the restoration of God’s good and perfect world, which Jesus Christ has redeemed.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich The Cost of Discipleship

New York, 1963; The Macmillan Company

Brown, Dale Biblical Pacifism: A Peace Church Perspective

Elgin, Il, 1986; Brethren Press

Cahill, Lisa Sowle Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory Minneapolis, 1994; Fortress Press

Childress, James F. Just War Theories: The Base Relations, Priorities, and Functions of their Criteria Theological Studies 39.03 Summer 1978 p. 427-445

Cook, Martin L. Moral Challenges

The Christian Century 118.31 Nov. 14, 2001 p.22-23

Cullman, Oscar The State and the New Testament

New York, 1956; Charles Scribner’s Sons

Davies, W.D. The Sermon on the Mount

Cambridge, U.K., 1966; Cambridge University Press

Driver, John How Christians Made Peace With War

Scottdale, PA, 1988; Herald Press

Dunn, James D.G. The Theology of the Apostle Paul

Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans

Elshtain, Jean Bethke Seeking Justice

The Christian Century 118.31 Nov. 14, 2001 p.26-27

Hehir, Brian J. Just War Theory in a Post-Cold War World

Journal of Religious Ethics 20.02 Fall 1992 p. 237-277

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Resistance in the Roman State San Francisco, 1987; Harper and Row

Horsley, Richard A. and Hanson, John S. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus San Francisco, 1985; Harper and Row

Josephus, Flavius, translated by William Whiston, Peabody, MA, 1987; Hendrickson Publishers

Lamoreaux, John and Beebe, Ralph Waging Peace: A Study in Biblical Pacifism Newberg, OR, 1981; The Barclay Press

Mattison, Mark Jesus: Nonviolent Revolutionary www.concentric.net/~Mattison/Jesus

---The Jesus Revolution: A Socio-Political Reading of the Gospel 2000,


---The Subversive Parables of Jesus 2001,


Richardson, Alan The Political Christ

Philadelphia, 1973; Westminster Press

Sider, Ronald J. Christ and Violence

Scottdale, PA, 1979; Herald Press

---Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel

Grand Rapids, MI, 1999; William B. Eerdmans

Wengst, Klaus Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ

Philadelphia, 1987; Fortress Press

Wink, Walter The Powers That Be: A Theology for a New Millennium

New York, 1988; Doubleday

Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God

Minneapolis, 1996; Fortress Press

Yoder, John H. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster

Grand Rapids, MI, 1972; William B. Eerdmans

Quaker Sojourners in West Alexandria, Ohio

quakersojourners at their new digs in W. Alex, Ohi

<< Previous 10 Articles  11 - 15 of 15 articles  

On This Site

  • About this site
  • Main Page
  • Most Recent Comments
  • Complete Article List
  • Sponsors

Search This Site

Syndicate this blog site

Powered by BlogEasy

Free Blog Hosting