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Peter Kirk

John, I won't bite your head off again about the way you continue to caricature and use ad hominem arguments against the kind of pacifism without withdrawal from the world which I favour. After all, you probably only have one head to bite off, as I don't think you are personally the beast of Revelation even if you might bear its mark!

But I do want to take issue with your initial statement that Jesus and Paul "invented literally nothing" - that is, unless your meaning is that what is new in their teaching came by divine inspiration rather than their own invention, which is true but not what you seem to imply. I appreciate your efforts to root Christianity more securely in the Hebrew Bible, and I suppose you are also bearing in mind "intertestamental" literature which I am not very familiar with.

But surely there are some aspects of New Testament teaching which are startlingly different from regular Jewish understandings, even if they are arguably implicit in the Hebrew Bible. Maybe you can make your case on issues like loving your enemy. But can you make it concerning acceptance of Gentiles apart from circumcision and obedience to the ceremonial and food laws? Or about a crucified and resurrected Messiah?

JohnFH

Peter, your comments, as always, help me clarify my thinking.

I thought I was pretty reserved in my characterization of your position in this post, but you're right, in principle I'm not against calling a spade a spade as I see it, even if that opens me up to the accusation of making an ad hominem argument.

Your politics, which mandate a non-avenging state, remain without a scriptural basis. But you know what? We probably agree on the practical level in many instances. If I understand you correctly, you are not against police officers intervening in domestic disputes, and forcibly imprisoning threats to society. You are also not against soldiers doing something similar at the international level, so long as the UN Security Council approves of it. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it's not a bad starting point.

But you won't have Christians doing these things, because of the risk that they will in fact be forced to apply lethal force. Or perhaps you assume that somehow the eventuality of using lethal force can be eliminated. I have yet to talk to a police or military officer who agrees with you.

It's the idea that non-Christians must do the dirty work for the sake of others, including Christians, that rubs me very much the wrong way. Don't expect me to be quiet about this any time soon.

As for Gentiles being accepted apart from circumcision and obedience to the ceremonial and food laws, yes, in Jesus' and Paul's time, "God-fearers" of this kind were acknowledged. Paul and others, as things worked themselves out, built on that foundation, and made baptism, already a typical rite for a proselyte to undergo, independent of things like circumcision and a kosher table. I see continuity here.

As for a crucified and resurrected Messiah, that was a surprise to everyone, but after it happened, in the eyes in Jesus' followers, it was not difficult to search the scriptures all over again and discover anticipations thereof.

Peter Kirk

I am not suggesting that Christians should leave non-Christians to do their dirty work. I never have done, so please stop accusing me of it. That may be the position of the Anabaptists you criticise, but it is not mine. If it is wrong for Christians to use lethal force in a particular situation, it is also wrong for non-Christians. I do not force these moral standards on non-Christians, but neither do I want to rely on others' dirty work.

Police officers in this country are quite prepared to avoid using lethal force except in very extreme terrorist situations. Most officers are still unarmed, and every use of firearms by officers, every single shot, is carefully investigated to ensure that it meets very strict rules of engagement. The situation is so different in your country only because you have allowed more or less free circulation of firearms, which are much more restricted in this country. But don't get me on to this hobby-horse.

As for UN peace-keeping forces, I accept that they probably need to be armed, but also to use those arms only in extreme situations. I would not object to Christians serving in such forces.

I accept that "God-fearers" were acknowledged among Jews of the time of Jesus and Paul. But they were always considered second class, not truly God's people, at least unless they formally converted and took on the obligations of the Law. The idea that there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile was new to Paul, I think. There is some continuity but also a radical new departure.

JohnFH

Thanks for the clarification, Peter. I'm sorry if I misunderstood you.

It now appears that we have no major difference of opinion. You accept the notion that it is ethical for people in general, and Christians in particular, to kill their enemies in extreme circumstances. You would probably also agree with me that even in those cases, killing is a sin, but a less grievous sin than the effect of doing the opposite, that is, non-resistance.

If that is your position, we might differ now and then about when it is opportune to threaten lethal force, or apply it, but not on the principle that sometimes it should be done.

Armed UN peace keeping forces already exist, but they have not always been very effective (understatement). One of the reasons they have been ineffective is that people who think like you devised the rules of engagement. That is, the whole purpose would seem to be to minimize the possibility of killing somebody. It sounds very good on paper, but in practice, it backfires. I encourage you to take a look at the history of these things.

I agree with you about the fact that "God-fearers" were second-class. The dividing wall, according to Ephesians, was torn down in Christ. This is absolutely true, historically, and a great reason to be a Christian. God be praised.

Jimmy

I've always thought Jeremiah 29 had a sense of "praying for enemies":

Jer 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Peter Kirk

Well, John, I don't want to continue the disagreement. But my position would be that killing is a sin when it is wrong, but not when in extreme situations it is not wrong. I don't accept your ethic of the less grievous sin being the right thing to do; if it is the right thing, it is not a sin. But perhaps this is simply an argument over words.

JohnFH

Jimmy,

the passage from Jeremiah you cite has been very important to Jews and Christians alike when they have endured oppression under a government that stood for things and did things at odds with their core beliefs.

On the other hand, revolutionary action, that is, the attempt to overthrow one's government, by violent means if necessary, was explicitly theorized by Calvin. On this view, the stance outlined in Jeremiah is not always the appropriate one.

Peter, you're right that we are arguing over words. But words are important. The locus classicus for the position I describe is from Exodus, when the midwives lie to Pharoah in order to save the lives of the children. On your view, lying isn't a sin in that situation because it's for a greater good. On my view, not telling the truth is always a sin, but in context, a lesser sin than that of allowing Pharoah's murderous ways free rein.

Bob MacDonald

>>It has no basis in biblical teaching - see Romans 13<<

This passage is not as obvious as it has been made out to be - have you considered Nanos' position in Mystery of Romans on the sword representing the authority vested in the leaders of the Synagogue? - i.e. nothing to do with state government.

AaronH

On the original question posed here, "Where does the commandment to love one’s enemies come from?" I would certainly agree that the verses cited above by JohnFH lend themselves to the idea, but I think a more central verse is Lev 19:18:
לא תקם ולא תטר את בני עמך
ואהבת לרעץ כמוך
I know that a great deal of second temple interpretive effort went into defining exactly who constituted one's רע (NT, DSS), but I think all this effort actually shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the verse in question. The two halves of the verse are inextricably connected. As most modern translations recognize, the person referred to in the first part of the verse, i.e. the person against whom one would be inclined to take vengeance and/or hold a grudge/rage (depending on how one takes נטר here) -- i.e. one's ENEMY -- is the same person referred to in the second half of the verse with רעך, meaning that the ו in ואבהת is best translated "but, rather" (and not simply as "and"). The verse thus forbids what would be the natural response to somebody who wrongs you and demands instead love for that person. In other words, this verse has always commanded not just a general love for one's fellow, but, more specifically, love for those one feels most inclined to hate (cf. also the previous verse, Lev 19:17, which commands not to hate in the heart, but to reprove [someone who has done you wrong]). Jesus merely calls his listeners back to the central point of passage.

JohnFH

Hi Bob,

good to hear from you. Let's assume Nanos is right (I don't think he is). In the Gospels, Jesus sees his kingdom as not in direct competition with the Roman empire. He counsels cooperation with the Roman authorities - even to the point of going an extra mile. 1 Peter 2:17 is of the same spirit.

Nanos is right that the early Christians might acknowledge the authority of, say, the Pharisees (Matthew), or of the high priest (Acts). But they likewise acknowledged the authority of the Roman Empire (see Acts again).

Now if you've been reading Crossan or Horsley, they will feed you another line. But it is not the line of the NT itself.

JohnFH

Aaron,

it's very nice to have someone commenting who knows their Torah! Keep it up. I think you are right on with your reference to Lev 19:17-18. It is a fundamental passage, literally smack dab at the midpoint of the Mosaic Torah.

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