Friday, 28 June 2013

Loving Your Enemy: Part 8: But what about?: Biblical Objections

An artist's depiction of Jesus 'going the extra mile'.

I have intentionally waited until the last half of the blog-series to deal with objections to Peace-Theology. The biggest reason for the delay is that I am trying my best to show how I have formed my position from the text and not from a positional stance. By this point in the series, we have covered the historical, and the biblical case for nonviolence. We have presented the case for peace theology in both Testaments. But we are not done yet (not even close). To give this 'peace-theology' a good shake, we need to response to the objections to peace-theology. This blog will just focus on the biblical objections that are raised against peace-theology.

BUT.... what about? (Examining the Biblical Objections) 

But what about the violence of the Old Testament?

We have covered this objection at length in Part 3.  Be sure to check out this blog post.

But what about the violent Jesus of Revelation? Revelation 19:11-21

One popular Calvinist Pastor sums up the appeal to Revelation 19 like this:

"Some emergent types want to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up." 
Do you notice how this Pastor says that Jesus has a sword in his hand? Do you think our need to have a retributive God might effect the way we read a passage? Don't Christians worship the guy that got 'beat up'? (crucified) Why is it so hard to see the Cross (and resurrection) as the victory of God? 

In the climactic battle scene in Revelation 19 Jesus appears as the conquering rider on a white horse. It is significant that "The Sword" Jesus uses isn’t held in his hand, as the conquering Caesars might be portrayed. It rather comes out of his mouth signifying that Jesus defeats enemies simply by speaking the truth. The 'warrior Jesus' is clothed with a blood soaked robe before the battle even begins (vs 13). The blood is clearly not that of his enemies, whom he has yet to fight. Rather, the symbolism suggests Jesus goes to battle and ultimately reigns victorious by shedding his own blood.

"The fact that the sword Jesus bears in Revelation comes from his mouth indicates that John of Patmos is referring to 
the spoken word of God. It was sheer divine will that ended primordial chaos and created the cosmos through God’s spoken word at the beginning of time (Genesis 1). Now the sheer will of God, through Jesus the Word, will end the darkness of malevolent empire and bring in the new heaven and new earth."[1]

I could understand if you are still not convinced.You might say, "Paul, but what about God's "fierceness and wrath" and the "smiting of the nations". Let's examine a bit further by opening up the great context of the next few chapters of Revelation.

"If “nations” (ethne) get struck down the by rider on the white horse (19:15), we might understand this as the end of corrupt regional governing systems or the end of nationalism. It is, after all, nations (ethne) that have been deceived by the sorcery of Babylon (18:23). Whatever it means for Christ to strike the nations, it does not signal wholesale slaughter. The blood on Christ’s garment (19:13) is not that of enemies; it is his own, shed at Calvary to redeem the world. Paradox imbedded in this imagery suggests something other than simple retribution: the nations (ethne) that get “struck down” will someday walk by the light of the new Jerusalem (21:24)!!!  The agent of this restoration is the Lamb, whose redemptive power makes him worthy of praise. Christ bears the new title “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16). Allegiance to Jesus displaces (“strikes down”) allegiance to every other political entity that would be king or lord in our lives.

To understand how God destroys evil, we must rely on the governing imagery that John of Patmos uses for Jesus—and that is the image of Jesus as the Lamb. John seems keenly aware of the paradoxical nature of the Lamb’s power. We see this when John is before the throne of God, weeping because no one is worthy to open the scroll (which apparently contains God’s plan for or foreknowledge of the trajectory of history). John is told not to weep, because “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” has conquered. But when John looks up, he sees not a ferocious predator but a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered (5:6). This verse more than any other is the hermeneutical key to understanding violence in Revelation: amidst the chaos and war and destruction of our world, God has chosen to intervene in the form of a vulnerable Lamb. 

The word “Lamb” appears twenty-seven times, in twelve of the twenty-two chapters of Revelation. Jesus the Lamb is the “shepherd” of God’s people (7:17), and the saints follow him wherever he goes (14:4). Christians hold citizenship in the new Jerusalem, where the Lamb is the “lamp” guiding them (21:23). If readers of Revelation still wonder whether they ever should take up weapons, even in the face of lethal persecution, John inserts this aside: “If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (13:10)." [2]

If we interpret Revelation according to its genre and in its original historical context, and if we pay close attention to the ingenious way John uses traditional symbolism, it becomes clear that John is taking traditional Apocalyptic violent imagery and turning it on its head.  Yes, there is an aggressive war, and yes there is bloodshed. But it's a war in which the Lamb and his followers are victorious because they fight the devil and Babylon (representing all  governmental systems) by faithfully laying down their lives for the sake of truth (”the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”). 

Not convinced?  I don't blame you. 'The Revelation' is notoriously ambiguous and fraught with difficult passages. I have even heard it joked that if you have three pastors in a room, they will have four different interpretations of Revelation! But all this discussion is besides the point, in my opinion. If, hypothetically, Jesus does come back with a literal sword (which I doubt); there is still no indication within the text that humanity will do any fighting. Nope. We will trust in Jesus as the deliverer. 

The question that should haunt us in the appeal to Revelation 19: 

Why should a veiled appeal to an eschatological event from apocalyptic literature get you out of following Jesus' direct and plain teaching on enemy love?  

 But what about Jesus saying he came to bring a sword?(Matthew 10:32-39) 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."  (v34 is often thrown out to prove that Jesus' didn't really teach nonviolence)

Here's the rest of the passage:

"For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." - Matt 10:35-39

It should become evident, when the verse is read in context, that Jesus is not talking about a literal sword here. Jesus is challenging our patristic loyalties. This would have been devastating news to a first century culture where the family structure was the most important social order in society. 

"The “sword” in 10:34 is a metaphorical sword, as proven by

Jesus’ rebuke of those who took up an actual sword to defend him in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:52). The sword can be a metaphor of God’s judgment (Ps. 7:12) or, as here, a metaphor of separation between those who believe and those who don’t, even if it is in one’s family. Earlier Jesus revealed that opposition to his mission would come from the disciples’ closest family relations (see comments on 10:21–23). Thus, Jesus’ claim to messianic identity and authority is a divider between people, including one’s own family."[3] -NIV Application Commentary on Matthew

Ironically, when read in context, Matthew 10:32-39 is actually a powerful teaching about following 'The Way of the Cross'.

"The absolute demand of Jesus brings us back to where we were in the Sermon on the Mount. It isn't the case that there are some fine ideals in the mind of God, and Jesus just happens to teach them a bit better than most people. Nor is it the case that Jesus came to show the way through the present world to quite different one, where we will go after death. No: Jesus came to begin and establish the new way of being God's people, and not surprisingly, those who were quite happy with the old one, thank you very much, didn't like having it disturbed. He didn't want to bring division within households for the sake of it. But he knew that, if people followed his way, division was bound to follow.

That's why Jesus' challenge to the disciples themselves and through them, to the Israel of his day, had to be so sharp- and often has to be as sharp today, where people still naturally prefer comfort to challenge. But the challenge of Jesus' says is matched by the remarkable promises he makes to those who accept them and live by them. He will 'own' us before his Father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them. " - N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everybody 

" This discourse (in Matthew 1o) encourages us to understand that disciples of Jesus will engage in mission and be transformed to meet life’s demands by being continually transformed to be like the Master. Discipleship begins by taking up one’s cross, which symbolizes God’s will for a person’s life, and by following Jesus into every situation while on earth. The extended section on the characteristics of mission-disciples draws together those two themes. The form of discipleship Jesus has explicitly instituted connects discipleship and mission—all believers are disciples/missionaries, and each role affects the other as they carry out that mission to the world. Persecution and suffering will be a regular part of discipleship and mission, just as it was of Jesus’ life (10:24–25). Several points may help us to see Jesus’ perspective on persecution and suffering.

1. How one bears up under persecution is basically determined by whether one is a disciple or not, which has eternal implications (10:32–34).

2. Persecution may include rejection, alienation, being hated, and ultimately martyrdom (10:21–22, 28, 38–39).

3. The severity of persecution and suffering requires us to give unqualified allegiance to Jesus. Jesus warns us not to give priority to any other relationship and not to deny allegiance to him because of fear of persecution. The disciple is not to fear those who can only kill the body; rather, we must fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (10:28). To deny Jesus here on earth is to be denied by the Father in heaven (10:33).

4. Jesus’ disciples can expect to be maligned and to have falsehood spread about their message and character, for the same was done to Jesus (10:25). However, they are not to fear this subversive persecution, because eventually they will be vindicated (10:26).

5. Most important, while experiencing persecution the Spirit will provide power and guidance to speak the right words of witness for the situation (10:19–20), and the Father will exercise sovereign control over all circumstances, so the mission-disciples are not to fear that the persecution is out of God’s control (10:29–31)." - NIV Application Commentary on Matthew

But what about Jesus encouraging the disciples to get swords? (Luke 22:35-38 Matthew 26:52-54 Luke 22:51; John 18:10-11)
Can you imagine Jesus doing this?

"Sell your cloak and buy a sword". The immediate context reveals that Jesus is doing this to be 'numbered among the transgressors' (v37), a prophetic fulfillment. When the disciples (12 of them) say they have two swords, Jesus replies, "that's enough". If Jesus had meant for them to honestly take up the sword; I am sure he could have done better than two measly swords. Either way, even if you think that Jesus is not fulfilling prophecy, the greater context of this statement is immediately self refuting. When Peter uses the sword against Malchus, Jesus rebukes him saying 'those who live by the sword die by the sword' and heals the man Peter injured. The early church understood this mean that Jesus was rejecting warfare not just rebuking Peter because he had to die. Let's look at few commentaries on this passage:

"It is important not to miss the rhetorical character of these remarks. The disciples take the comment about the sword literally—one of the disciples will even wield his sword at Jesus’ arrest, a reaction Jesus rebukes. But the Lord has in mind here a toughness and focus of attitude that do not need accolades or the world’s acceptance and care. Disciples serve as aliens in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11), as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20–21). They will need to draw together to support one another, while not expecting support from those who do not share their devotion to the Lord." - NIV Application Commentary on Luke

"Now is the eschatological hour, the time of crisis which calls for a different stance from that which characterized their earlier work for Jesus (9:r-6; ro:r-r2). The episode of the twoswords (vv. 36-8) is peculiar. Luke is aware of the tradition (which he uses) of some violence at the arrest (22:5) and he is emphatic in his presentation of Jesus as crucified in the midst of evildoers (2}:32). He presents Jesus as the fulfilment of lsaiah's suffering servant (Isa p:r3-53:r2). v. 37 contains Jesus' only direct quote from there, and the disciples' possession of swords is seen as a part of that passage's witness to him. Jesus is thus fulfilling the prophetic witness of the suffering servant."-The Oxford Bible Commentary on Luke 

"The strangest of Jesus' warnings comes in the last section. They are now going to face a time of testing in which the power and protection won't be available any longer.... They don't understand that he's talking in pictures, and seem to think he means them to get ready for an actual fight. When Jesus says "That's enough' he isn't suggesting that two swords would be sufficient for the job at hand. (and what could that possibly mean?) ; he is wearily putting a stop to the entire conversation, in which at every point they seem determined to misunderstand him." - N.T. Wright, Luke for Everybody

But what about John the Baptist encouraging Roman soldiers? Luke 3:14

John the Baptist
The objection goes something like this: When the Roman soldiers heard John the Baptist, they repented. John told them not to accuse anyone falsely, not to take money from anyone by force, and to be content with their wages. Just War theorists will point out that because John does not instruct the soldiers to quit their jobs this proves that there is nothing wrong with a Christian becoming a soldier or other official that uses lethal force.

Here is the critical hermeneutical mistake: It's John the Baptist! John the Baptist is not under the New Covenant, but is the foremost of the Old Covenant. Jesus says this regarding John the Baptist:

"Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear." Matthew 11:11-15

"John is a transitional figure who has prepared the way for the Coming One, but Jesus implies here that John will not live to see the full arrival of the kingdom. Jesus’ institution of the new covenant in his blood is a dividing line. John is the greatest of those born during the Old Testament era because of his crucial role in preparing the way for the Messiah and

his kingdom. His mission was great because of the greatness of the One he introduced. But those in the kingdom are greater because of their privilege actually to have entered it. John is the culmination of a long history of prophecy that looked forward to the arrival of the messianic kingdom. That prophetic hope has been realized in John’s preparation for Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom of heaven." 

Michael Hardin
"It is the theme of forgiveness which will differentiate Jesus from John the Baptist, for while it is true John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin and the washing away of uncleanness, John’s message contained nothing regarding forgiveness for the enemy other. Jesus’ message on the other hand, resounded with this theme of enemy forgiveness and enemy love. As we saw in Luke 7, it is this forgiving aspect of Jesus’ ministry that so disturbed John (the Baptist) who was looking for God to judge and overthrow the Romans (and possibly Herod and a ‘corrupt priesthood.’), while Jesus counselled a new way." - Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life

But what about Jesus and Peter not rebuking Roman soldiers? Matthew 8:5-13 // Luke 7:1-10; Acts 10

The objection goes like this:  When afforded an opportunity rebuke a Roman centurion, Christ does not rebuke him for his military position, but instead praises his faith. (This is often contrasted with Jesus' advice to the adulterous woman John 8 to 'leave your life of sin.') When Peter is granted an extended opportunity to converse with Cornelius the Centurion, he does not even hint that Cornelius’ occupation was illegitimate (Acts 10). For this reason, some suggest that believers can prayerfully consider using lethal force against an enemy.

A couple things to consider about this objection:

1. It's an argument from silence. It is a conclusion drawn based on the absence of statements in the text; rather than their presence. It works great as rhetoric and sound bite, but upon reading the greater context of the Gospel it begins to fall apart. In other words, to quote the silence of the text over what Jesus has previously stated in both Matthew and Luke, on the issue of enemy-love, seems peculiarly disingenuous to me. 

2. Jesus and Peter are 'radically hospitable'.  In the account of the Centurion, we have Jesus praising this man's faith and trust in God, as the healer of his servant. We have no record that this man was a follower of Christ. No where in both Jesus and Peter's examples does the context allow us justification for killing. The narrative in Matthew//Luke and Acts actually makes for a better case of Jesus showing radical love for a person whom the wider Jewish society would reject as the enemy other. We should not be surprised that Jesus would heal a Roman Centurion's servant precisely because Jesus taught 'love your enemy'. Likewise in Peter's case, we should not be shocked that the Holy Spirit would baptize a group of Gentiles who according to the popular Jewish view  are the 'enemy other'. (Side-note: Do you notice that 'holy perfection' is never a requirement of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? It would appear that God in the Holy Spirit does not wait for us to 'clean up' before pouring out God's Spirit upon people.- Just a thought) 

3. We don't know all the details. The text does not tell us what happened to the Centurion after this. Did he become a disciple of Jesus? Did he go away confirmed in his view of Jesus as a typical wonder-worker without changing his life? We do not know. Likewise in Peter's case, the text does not tell us if Cornelius was later discipled to leave his position of 'power-over' authority and told to take up his Cross in the imitation of Jesus. We don't know. 

4. We can justify anything from such reasoning. 

Examples of arguments from silence:

"We can justify anything from such reasoning. Since Jesus did not rebuke Pilate for being a governor of an occupying force, he must have sanctioned the Roman occupation and their right to exploit weaker nations, and by extension all colonial and military expansions. Since he did not ask Zacchaeus to leave his job as a tax collector, he must have approved of Roman tax collection and their right to drain resources from an area to the wealthy elite in Rome. Since Jesus did not admonish Pilate for murdering some Galileans in the midst of their sacrifices (Luke 13:3), he sanctioned police brutality and severe repressive measures. Since Jesus did not tell the judges at his own trial that they were wrong for their irregular court proceedings, he sanctions kangaroo courts and dictatorships today. Since Jesus did not reprove the centurion for owning slaves, he therefore condones slavery, even today. These arguments from silence can make Jesus to be the advocate of whatever we want. At one moment he sanctions aggressive warfare, and at the same time he sanctions defensive military action. At another moment he sanctions police brutality and kangaroo courts, at another law and order. Arguments from silence allow Jesus to sanction nearly anything and to contradict himself. The point is that we have to base our analysis of this text on what Jesus says to the centurion, on the entire narrative that Matthew weaves, and even more broadly, on the picture that the New Testament paints of Jesus in regard to nonviolence." - A Faith Not Worth Fighting For

But what about Jesus’ violence in the Jerusalem temple? Matthew 21:12-14 // Mark 11:15-18 // Luke 19:45-46 // John 2:13-17

One of the most cited biblical objections against a consistent nonviolent reading of the New Testament is Jesus' supposed violence in the Temple. Jesus in all four gospels 'clears the temple', 'overturns tables', and in John's account uses a whip. (although it is only used on animals) The reasoning that is employed in this objection goes like this: "You see, not
 even Jesus was passive all the time; therefore I can use force given the just cause". I can agree that Jesus was not passive, BUT Jesus was nonviolent in his prophetic judgement of the Temple. "Our problem is that the nonviolent Jesus was decidedly not passive. He did not sit under a tree and practice his breathing. He walked regularly into the face of danger, spoke the truth, and demanded justice. As far as decent, law-abiding, religious people were concerned, he was nothing but trouble. He hung out with the wrong people, healed at the wrong time, visited the wrong places, and said the wrong things. His nonviolence was active, provocative, public, daring, and dangerous. Most of Jesus’ actions were illegal. He committed civil disobedience on an almost daily basis."[4] 

Brian Glubish, a former dearly loved professor of mine shares his thoughts on the "Temple Tantrum."

"The Greek term used is the same in each of the accounts of Jesus driving out the merchants. (ἐκβάλλω)The term means to expel, to force to leave, to drive out. The experts say the term doesn't imply violence but "to cause to go or remove from a position without force."

The coolest Professor you could ask for!
Whipping and punching people???? Seriously!!!! Masculine verbiage? Sorry, don't see that. John 2 is the only reference to the whip. There is no reason to believe that He was using it on people. That is out of character with everything we know about Jesus and His preaching. Certainly this episode seems out of character--a noisy, shouting, table tossing Jesus--more appropriate for a John the Baptist sort!

YET! When one realizes the horrible blasphemy He was addressing--prostituting the very place one came to meet with God--it is not surprising He responded with a measure of judgment." [5]

 Dr. Brad Jersak shares his thoughts on the subject in this article: The so-called 'violence' of Jesus in the so-called 'cleansing of the temple'.

"1. It was not a spontaneous outburst of anger. Jesus didn't have tantrums. He only did what he saw his Father doing (Jn. 5:19). His words and deeds were expressions of what he was told as he listened carefully to the Father--sometimes in the moment, sometimes in early morning prayer. I would propose that what happened at the temple was deliberate, strategic and prophetic. But of what?

2. We know that Jesus was deliberately recalling the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah when he went into the temple, because he quotes both of them there as explanations of his actions (Jer. 7, Isa. 56). The link to Jeremiah is extremely important because both Jesus and Jeremiah go on to prophesy the same warning: the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, along with the horrible slaughter of the inhabitants of the city (Jer. 7, Mk. 13). So we know Jesus is warning the temple establishment that they will ultimately trigger the siege and destruction of the temple by foreign armies. His counsel is not to be strong and courageous and defend the city with a Maccabean-style revolt (which will actually cause the destruction), but to literally head for the hills (Mk. 13:14) or be slaughtered en masse (which Josephus describes, just as predicted). 

3. But why didn't Jesus just say this? Why also start overturning tables and driving out animals? As I've said, this was no tantrum. Rather, in the tradition of the Jewish prophets, and parallel to his prophetic curse of the fig tree, Jesus was prophetically acting out the coming final upheaval of the temple, just like Jeremiah! 

In Jeremiah 19, God tells Jeremiah to go to the gate overlooking the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, which we mistranslate 'hell') and to symbolically shatter a ceramic jar. The shattered jar portends the destruction of the city by Babylonian armies, then Jeremiah goes to the temple and repeats the prophetic warning. Jesus is doing the same thing: 'Hey everyone, repent! Because if you don't, the same thing is going to happen again!' He ends up weeping because Jerusalem could not see the things that would make for peace (i.e., embracing the Prince of Peace).

In fact, at the end of Luke 19, we have Jesus' last recorded words before he strides into the temple. He explicitly declares the meaning of what he's about to do:

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

4. All of this is certain. After carefully reading the text, we needn't imagine Jesus literally flogging people. The text never says that. In fact, the Synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark and Luke) only say that he was driving out the buyers and sellers. How? By overturning the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves and 'says to them' (Mt. 21:13), 'taught them' (Mk. 11:17). 

Only in John 2 do we read that he fashioned a whip. What does he do with it exactly?

14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

It appears obvious that this 'driving out' can be broken down this way: a., Jesus was using the whip to shoo out the animals; b., he overthrows tables to scatter the coins and doves; and c., he turns and speaks (Loudly? Probably!) to the merchants. Is he being 'violent'? If creating a scene is violent, of course? But in any way that violates his own commands not to strike back? It's just not there. 

In fact, in John 2, after he uses the whip, the temple authorities are hardly laying there bleeding. Nor is the temple guard alerted to restrain Jesus. Rather, the spectacle leads to a debate: the 'Jews' (= Judean leaders) argue with him about his authority and ask Jesus for a sign. He tells them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it" (Jn. 2:19). 

5. This leads us to two points to puzzle over:

a. This is peripheral, but again, note that we only see the whip in John 2. Also, it's only in John 2 that we hear the evangelist reflect in retrospect: "The temple he was referring to was the temple of his body" (Jn. 20:21). Perhaps the whip in John 2 connects indirectly to the picture of Jesus' own body being flogged (in John 19). John has placed the incident at the front end of his Gospel--a literary rather than chronological choice--as an opening bracket to correspond with the closing bracket of the passion of Christ at the end.

b. Picturing this scene is difficult on a number of fronts.

a. the size of the temple precincts was enormous? Did he really clear the whole place, or did Jesus choose a strategic spot to do this work of 'performance art'?

b. Obviously, not everyone left, because Jesus starts healing the blind and the lame, welcoming the children's cheers (Mt. 21:14-16), and debating with the authorities (Jn. 2). 

c. If Jesus was being 'violent,' why do the leaders only plot to kill him? Why don't they order the temple guard to arrest him immediately? We know that they feared him (Mk. 11:18) and his popularity with the crowd. But also, if he was so 'violent', how could Jesus say at his arrest, 

"And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me" (Mk. 14:48-49)." 

But what about the State bearing the sword?  Romans 12:14-13:7

Christians often justify warfare by an appeal to Romans 13: Be subject to the powers that be, which exist to be a terror to those who do evil. Given this teaching, war making may be justified for the Christian when it is engaged in service to a just cause.This reading of Romans 13 is problematic when placed in the greater context of Romans 12. 

Romans 13:1-7
Romans 12:14-21
May use violence (“the sword”)
Rejects the way of the sword

Takes “revenge” on God’s behalf
 Leaves vengeance to God
Maintains social order
Spreads radical love for all

Demands taxes and obedience
 Offers taxes and submission

The chart above dramatically points out the contrasting differences between the church and the state. While the State is God's agent to maintain social order the church is called to a radical love that overcomes evil with good. "Romans 12 and 13, taken as a single literary unit, are of great importance for understanding both the mission of the church and, while we await the consummation of God’s Kingdom, God’s use of the powers-that-be. The church is called as an outpost of the coming Kingdom to embody the ways of peace and non-retaliatory love, to live not according to the old aeon but according to the new work of God made manifest in the merciful work of Christ."[6] 

Can I a Christian be a member of the State? The typical answer, since the Constantinian Shift, to this question is yes... but let me sketch out some reasons why this answer might be problematic. 

1. Mutually Exclusive Roles: The moment you pick up 'the sword' you lay down 'the way of the Cross'. The way of the Cross' is the way of suffering, loving, and forgiving others to the point of death. 'The way of the sword' is the path of violence and destruction to obtain a desired result. It is the way of human civilization beginning with Cain. You can't have both. You can't 'leave room for the wrath of God' and 'become agent of wrath' in the next breath. 

2. Citizenship Issues: Our baptism grants us a new citizenship in the Kingdom of God. (Phil 3:20;Eph 2:19) Christians are representative of a new humanity! We are not just 'dual citizens' but Ambassadors of Heaven, whom God is using to reconcile the world. (2 Cor 5:20) We have thrown off the old ways to join the new creation. (2 Cor 5:17) This means our new citizenship renders our old citizenship functionally void.  "To rightly make sense of the New Testament, we must continually hold before ourselves the fundamental claim of the New Testament: namely that the new aeon had broken in. Aeon is the Greek word often translated into English as either “age” or “world,” and the New Testament speaks often of this “present aeon.” But the Good News is that the new aeon, the kingdom of God, has broken into the midst of human history. The “present aeon” has not yet passed away, and it is as if the two are now overlapping. But the call of discipleship is to live according to the New, even while the old is yet languishing but sure to be defeated. Jesus in his death set us “free from the present evil aeon” (Gal 1:4)."[7] 

3. Allegiance Issues. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ alone.  (Matt 10:37-39) Jesus indicates his form of discipleship calls for giving him ultimate supremacy beyond parents or children (or nations), something not even the most esteemed rabbi would demand. This is an implicit declaration of his deity, because only God deserves higher place of honour than the most valued social order. To take up one’s cross is a metaphor that means to take up God’s will for one’s life, in the same way that the cross was the Father’s will for the Son’s life. Taking up God’s will for one’s life will result in gaining true life as Jesus’ disciple. "Consequently it will not suffice to simply cite “our duty” to the powers as justification for killing brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of a political dispute. It is this factual rupturing of the unity of the body of Christ that is so very often overlooked in many conversations about Christians and war making.”[8]There is nothing more scandalous to the unity of the body of Christ, than baptized Christians killing baptized Christians.  This I submit to you is one of the great heresies that has befallen the Church. 

4. The Basis of Christian Ethics: Jesus is the embodiment of Christian ethics and the New Humanity/Age. Christ followers re-present the risen Lord in everything we do! Insofar that we remain faithful to imitation of Christ, is the exact measure we participate in this present age. We should choose to follow Jesus in all ways, including the way of peace, because it is right and good and honours God, not because we think it is the most efficient strategy for overcoming our enemy or preserving lives. Christian nonviolence is not right because it is always the best technique to disarm hostile situations or to preserve life. Christian nonviolence is right because it is the way taught and modelled by Jesus, our Lord and Master. When we live the way of peace, we are living as the body of Christ in the world today, directed by Jesus as our head. When we live the way of peace, whether we live or die, we are bearing witness to Jesus. (Romans 12:18; Mark 15:39)

Thanks for reading! The next blog with cover the remainder of the 'but what about's... "

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5,  Part 6, and Part 7

Here is Part 9.

Works Cited

1. York, Tripp ed. A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: What about Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19? 
2. ibid.
3.Wilkens, Michael. The NIV Application Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1031 (e-version) 
4. York, Tripp ed. A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: What about Jesus in the Temple?
5. Brian Glubish in a Facebook message to me, circa 2010.
6.York, Tripp ed. A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: What about Romans 13?
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Loving Your Enemy: Part 7: Devotional Reflections on Peacemaking

Watch the entire video. You may watch each segment again before engaging these or other questions. (taken from 

1. Peacemaking begins with the body of Christ (0:00-1:22)
Mary Emily says that God subverted every human expectation of how God would bring peace to earth by coming as a vulnerable, dependent infant, the baby Jesus. 
  • How does a baby “disarm” you? How does a baby undermine or turn upside down our notions of power? our ideas about God? 
  • Why would God choose to be weak and vulnerable? 

2. Shalom: All is well (1:23-3:22)
The Hebrew word shalom, often translated “peace,” is more than a ceasefire or a feeling of contentment, Mary Emily says. Where there is true shalom people have “access to the food they need, the health care they need, the opportunity for just relationships with one another, with God, and with the earth . . . Shalom is God’s vision for the universe.” 
  • What images come to your mind when you hear the word “peace”?
  • List a variety of ways we use the word “peace” in personal or national discourse.
  • How does God’s shalom fit, counter, subvert, or expand each of these meanings? 

3. A Little Yeast (3:23-5:10)
Mary Emily likens “daily acts of peacemaking” to the pinch of yeast that a woman puts into a bowl of flour (see Matthew 13:33); it has the power to leaven the whole batch. She mentions three such seemingly small acts: choosing not to say what we might have said, not sending the email that might have damaged a relationship, and not retaliating when we are provoked. 
  • Add to her list your own examples of small acts and choices that proved to have the power  of the “yeast” of peacemaking.
  • Think of the times when you or others did not choose small acts of peacemaking and imagine what other choices might have prevented ruptures or violence.

4. Under the Signs of Vulnerability (5:11-7:52)
God is “hidden” among us under signs of weakness, says Mary Emily (see I Corinthians 1:27-28). When have you encountered the power and beauty of God hidden in what the world calls weak or ugly or lowly? How might you live more attentively to God’s presence in these unlikely places and people and situations? 

5. We are Not Afraid: Read 1 John 4:13-21

Mary Emily speaks about our “idolatry of fear.” We make fear a god when it energizes and shapes our whole lives. Violence becomes our god when we trust it to save us.
  • When has fear held you captive? When have you placed your trust in violence?
  • When has fear and violence become the “false god” of a people or a nation?
  • What has the power to subvert fear in your life?
  • How might “choosing to be vulnerable,” choosing to love, even to the point of having our hearts broken, be the “yeast of peacemaking” in the face of fear?

A Prayer for Peace from St. Francis of Assisi 

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6

Here is Part 8.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Loving Your Enemy: Part 6: What does the New Testament teach?

An ironic depiction of a peace dove in the West Bank. 

In Part 4 and Part 5 we discussed Jesus' teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel's witness to peace-theology. We observed that there is a consistency among the four Gospels on the vision of Jesus as a practitioner and teacher of enemy love. The question we will wrestle with in this blog post is: What does the New Testament teach on peace-theology? Or in other words:

Do the other texts in the New Testament cannon reinforce Jesus' teaching on nonviolence or do they provide other options that might allow or require Christians to take up the sword?

"When the question is posed this way, the immediate result, as Karl Barth observed, is to underscore how impressively univocal the New Testament writers are on this point... From Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it."  

- Dr. Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament

Let's attempt to examine this claim. We will not attempt an exhaustive read of the peace theology of the New Testament but try to highlight the consistent witness to peace theology. Here is a brief survey:

(We will examine possible biblical objections to peace theology in the upcoming posts)  

Acts of the Apostles

Luke preserves the death of Jesus as a murder of an innocent victim. Peter on the Day of Pentecost addresses the crowd saying, "And you, with the help of wicked men, put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross". (2.23) His listeners are shocked that God does not respond with retribution but with the words of forgiveness and reconciliation to all. 

Luke portrays the emergent movement whose activity consist of preaching, healing ,worship and sharing. Those who carry the message of the Kingdom to various outposts of the Roman world do not claim territory through military operations; rather they proclaim the Gospel and often find themselves the targets of violence. (5.17-42) 

The Christian response to violence is modeled by Stephen the Martyr, who imitates the example of Jesus in his death by praying for the forgiveness of his enemy. (7.60) "Stephen’s last words are surprisingly close to two of the last words of Jesus just before he died. He asks God to receive his spirit (7:59; cf. Luke 23:46) and not to “hold this sin against” his killers (Acts 7:60; cf. Luke 23:34). Only Luke mentions the two parallel statements of Christ. Presumably he wants his readers to note the similarity and entered into the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings."[1]

The response of the early church to violence is too trust and obey God for vindication. Never is there any indication in the book of Luke-Acts that the church should stand and fight those who persecute her. Immediately after the murder of Stephen, the church does not 'stand and fight', but Luke tells us that, "All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."(8.1) 

"Suffering is one of the major sub-themes of the book of Acts. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that Luke is describing the suffering of Stephen and the church and their response to it in order that his readers might glean lessons on how Christians should face suffering. Stephen received strength to face his painful ordeal triumphantly. On many other occasions in Acts when God’s servants suffered for the gospel, God revealed himself in some recognizable way that gave them the courage to go on (4:31; 18:9; 23:11; 27:23–24). We can conclude that God, knowing how much we can endure, gives us his strength in our times of need, which boosts our spirits and spurs us on to obedience, even to obedience leading to death. In a similar way God fulfilled this promise in the life of Paul when no relief from suffering came to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). 

Christ is a suffering Savior, and if we are to be truly one with him, we too must suffer. There is a depth of union with Christ that comes to us only through suffering. But not only do we share in his sufferings, he shares in our sufferings. The exalted Christ, sharing in the glory of God, is not deaf to our cries of pain as we suffer; he himself suffers with us when we suffer. Paul came to understand this on the road to Damascus when he heard Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul had been hitting the church, but Christ had been feeling the pain!" [2]


In the letters of Paul; the death of Christ is interpreted as God’s peace initiative.
  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8-10)

"Paul refers to “peace with God,” the objective position we find ourselves in because God has ceased to be hostile toward us and has reconciled us to himself . Paul often uses peace in this sense (see esp. Eph. 2:14, 15, 17; also Rom. 2:10; 8:6; 14:17)."[3] How does God treat enemies? Rather than killing them, Paul tells us that God gives us his Son to die for them. Jesus comes with the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, to bring us back to God. Jesus, fulfilling his own Beatitudes, is the blessed peacemaker who 'persecuted for righteousness sake'. "For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." (Ephesians 2:14) 

The imitation of Christ in his self-emptying service for the sake of others is the central ethical motif in Paul. (Phil 2:1-13) "Let the same mind be in you that [was] in Christ Jesus': more literally, 'be thus minded in/ among yourselves as also in Christ Jesus'. Paul points to Jesus, as known on earth, as the example for Christians in their relationships."[4] Christ followers are to imitate the kenosis of Jesus, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!"(Phil 2:6-8) 

Paul, in Romans 12, commands the church to love and bless their enemies; overcome evil with good. This bears a striking resemblance to the Sermon on the Mount:

"Paul shows more dependence on Jesus’ teaching in this part of Romans than he does anywhere else in his letters. The way he weaves references to that teaching into his own exhortations without specifically citing Jesus is typical of the way the early Christians absorbed Jesus’ words into their own ethical tradition. Like Jesus, Paul calls on us to turn the other cheek, displaying a love for others that goes far beyond the normal boundaries of human love....
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Though redeemed and citizens of heaven, we believers still live in a world soaked in evil. We must battle constantly against the tendency to conform our behaviour to this world . But more than the purely negative quality of resistance to evil is needed. God calls us to be active in using the grace of the gospel and the power of the Spirit to win victories over the evil of this world."[5]

Paul’s occasional use of military imagery (2 Cor 10:3-6;

Phil 1:27-30) actually have the opposite effect the warfare imagery it’s drafted into the service of the gospel rather than the reverse. Paul appropriates battle imagery as the way of describing the apocalyptic context in which the community live. The actual fighting is done through the proclamation of the Gospel and the obedient yielding of one’s life. Rightly understood these metaphors witness powerfully against violence as an expression of obedience to God in Christ. e.g. "For our battle is not against flesh and blood".

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds his/her readers that they have been through such persecution in the past.

  • "You endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded." (Hebrews 10:32b-34)

Notice that the plunder of possessions is to be excepted with joy (meta chara) rather than resisted by force. Here we find a substantiative parallel to Matthew 5:40.


Peter is concerned with the community’s response to trials and suffering. (1 Peter 1:6-7, 3:13, 4:12-19, 5:8-10) Such afflictions are interpreted in a manner reminiscent of Paul, as ‘sharing Christ’s suffering’(1 Peter 4:13)

The author 1 Peter holds up the suffering of Christ as a paradigm for Christian faithfulness.
  • “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps....When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21;23) 
James declares anger as ‘not producing the righteousness of God’. (1.20) 

James believes that wisdom that is from heaven is 'peace-loving'. (3.17) 

According to James; those that sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness. James is connecting the activity of peacemaking to the establishment of righteousness on the earth. (3.18) 

James 4:1-3: ‘Wars and fightings’ are attributed to the ‘cravings’ that are at war within an individual. James never entertains the notion that their might be circumstances in which fighting and killing are necessary for some good purpose.

James encourages patience in the midst of suffering. (5.7-12) There is no call for 'godly retaliation' from the brother of Jesus. 


Revelation is often misread as a warrant for warlike attitude among Christians. This is to read the Revelation out of context. The entire content of the book is presented as a visionary revelation granted to someone named John who identifies himself as “your brother who shares with you in Jesus the persecution; and the Kingdom patient endurance. (1:9)

Revelation 5 becomes a controlling text for the hermeneutic of the book of the Revelation.Here we see the Lion who has become the slaughtered Lamb. (5.6) The shock of this reveal discloses the central mystery of the apocalypse: God overcomes the world not through a show of force but through the suffering and death of Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, Christ’s Lordship stands as a flat antithesis to Caesars. (11:15)

The Saints conquer the power of evil through the ‘blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony’ (Rev 12:11); not through recourse to violence.

In the climactic battle scene in Revelation 19 Jesus appears as the conquering rider on a white horse. It is significant that
the sword Jesus uses isn’t held in his hand, as the conquering Caesars might be portrayed. It rather comes out of his mouth signifying that Jesus defeats enemies simply by speaking the truth. The 'warrior Jesus' is clothed with a blood soaked robe before the battle even begins (vs 13). The blood is clearly not that of his enemies, whom he has yet to fight. Rather, the symbolism suggests Jesus goes to battle and ultimately reigns victorious by shedding his own blood.

"The fact that the sword Jesus bears in Revelation comes from his mouth indicates that John of Patmos is referring to the spoken word of God. It was sheer divine will that ended primordial chaos and created the cosmos through God’s spoken word at the beginning of time (Genesis 1). Now the sheer will of God, through Jesus the Word, will end the darkness of malevolent empire and bring in the new heaven and new earth."[6]

If we interpret Revelation according to its genre and in its original historical context, and if we pay close attention to the ingenious way John uses traditional symbolism, it becomes clear that John is taking traditional Apocalyptic violent imagery and turning it on its head.  Yes there is an aggressive war, and yes there is bloodshed. But its a war in which the Lamb and his followers are victorious because they fight the devil and Babylon (representing all  governmental systems) by faithfully laying down their lives for the sake of truth (”the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”). 

Thanks for reading this post! We will be dealing with biblical objections and problematic sections in the upcoming: "But what about?" series. 

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3Part 4, and Part 5

Here is Part 7. 

Works Cited

1. Fernando, Ajith NIV Application Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 655 (e-version)  
2. Ibid.
3. Moo, Douglas. NIV Application Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 418 e-version 
4. Barton, John. The Oxford Bible Commentary
5. Moo, Douglas. NIV Application Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 1015 e-version
6. York, Tripp ed. A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: What about Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19?