Matthew Henry John Bartlett

+64 27 211 3455
email me

Thursday 13 October, 02005


by Matthew Bartlett @ 8:49 pm

I began summarising Chapter 14 – “Violence in Defense of Justice” of Richard Hays’ Moral Vision, but realised it would take hours to finish, so I’ve stopped after the first section. This beginning is still pretty helpful though, I reckon:

The Church has often accepted war as a practice that Christians may at times be required to pursue. But is it appropriate for followers of Jesus to take up lethal weapons against enemies? Is it ever God’s will for Christians to employ violence in defense of justice? NT at first glance seems to say ‘no’, but human experience presents us over and over again with situations that appear to require violent action to oppose evil.
   The just war tradition was developed to limit the use of violence, but as Hay’s previous chapters’ survey of theological ethicists (Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Haueras and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza) show, there are serious questions to be raised about whether this tradition can be justified on the basis of the NT’s teaching. What norms concerning the use of violence might be derived from the NT? First let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount:
   “Do not resist an evildoer”, “turn the other cheek”, “go the two miles with someone who forces you to go one”, “love your enemies”, etc.
   The Church has had trouble with this text – it’s clear but very difficult to follow. That difficult has given rise to at least six interpretive strategies: It’s about life in the future kingdom of God, not for now; It’s an ‘interim ethic’ which made sense because Jesus thought the world was about to end; It forbids self-defense, but not fighting on behalf of a third party; It’s a ‘counsel of perfection’ which only apply to a special class of holy Christians; It’s located within a specific social setting, limiting the scope of the injunctions, so “Do not resist an evildoer” means “Don’t oppose an evil person in court”.
   But a careful consideration of these sayings in their broader Matthean context shows that none of these strategies fits within Matthew’s theological vision. So let’s see how they do, first within the Sermon on the Mount: They make up the climactic parts of the Sermon, Jesus’ basic training on the life of discipleship. The Sermon is the first of the five main blocks of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. Being delivered from the mountain echoes Moses and the Exodus and suggests Jesus is giving a new Torah, a definitive charter for the life of the new covenant community.
   The Sermon to the disciples takes place in front of the crowds, reinforcing Matthew’s conviction that the community of disciples is called to be a light for the world. They are supposed to live in accordance with these stringent standards precisely because of a concern to exemplify the reality of the kingdom of God in a pluralistic and sinful world.
   The character of the kingdom, however, is surprising. The Beatitudes reverse common sense by declaring that God’s blessing is on the mourners, meek, peacemakers, and especially the persecuted. An upside-down reality. The community of Jesus’ followers is to be a “city built on a hill”, a model polis that demonstrates the counterintuitive peaceful politics of God’s new order.
   Matthew intends this countercultural polis as a fulfilment rather than a negation of Torah. The demands intensify those in the Torah. It’s not a comprehensive legal code, instead it suggests by way of a few examples the character of the new community that Jesus is creating.
   The kingdom of God shown in Matthew 5 is full of surprises. The transcendence of violence through loving the enemy is the most salient feature of this new model polis.
   This fits into the wider Matthean context thusly: In the desert temptation, Jesus renounces the option of wielding power over the kingdom of the world, choosing to worship and serve God alone instead. In the three passion predictions, Jesus says he will be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and that his followers will too. In Gethsemane he struggles with this vocation but aligns his will with the Father’s that he should drink the cup of suffering. Yoder has persuasively argued that the temptation to refuse the cup is the temptation to resort to armed resistance. Jesus chooses suffering obedience over violence. Jesus’ death exemplifies the character qualities taught in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Great Commission Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples of all nations, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
   So Matthew doesn’t regard those teachings as an impossible ideal, but instead they’re the way of life directly commanded by Jesus. They’re not impossible because the risen Lord is present in the community, “to the end of the age.”

12 responses to “Violencia”

  1. Tim says:

    Where does capital punishment in the OT fit into all of this?

  2. Says Hays:

    Of course, the greatest intracanonical challenge to the witness of the Sermon on the Mount concerning nonviolence and love of enemies comes not from any NT text but from the OT, particularly the holy war texts. Here we find texts that explicitly command Israel to kill its enemies. … Christian tradition has dealt with these texts in a variety of ways. … This is the point at which one of the methodological guidelines proposed in Part III must come into play: the NT’s witness is finally normative. If irreconcilable tensions exist between the moral vision of the NT and that of particular OT texts, the NT vision trumps the OT. Just as the NT texts render judgements superseding the OT requirements of circumcision and dietary laws, just as the NT’s forbidding of divorce supersedes the OT’s permission of it, so also Jesus’ explicit teachin and example of nonviolence reshapes our understanding of God and of the covenant community in such a way that killing enemies is no longer a justifiable option. … Everything is changed by the cross and resurrection.

  3. dennis bartlett says:

    what about the Jesus using a whip to drive the money changers from the temple?

  4. A.J.Chesswas says:

    The Anabaptist tradition is the result of confusing two entirely separate ministries – that of justice, and that of grace. Justice involves the use of violence, and is even validated in the New Testament by both Paul (Rom 13) and Peter. When Jesus spoke of loving one’s enemies, and Paul spoke of returning good for evil, they were talking about personal interactions. Violence is only acceptable when it is used to administer God’s wrath, and when it is carried out by the authorities he has ordained, and in a spirit of justice rather than personal malice and vengeance.

    Just a few fairly off-the-cuff uninformed thoughts.

  5. Dad, w.r.t. the temple incident, Hays says Jesus is performing a prophetic, dramatic demonstration, street theatre, like Ezekiel 4. The gospel writers don’t present it as a coup attempt to sieze control of the religious or political establishment in Jerusalem. No one’s hurt or killed.

    AJC, Hays doesn’t appeal to the Anabaptist tradition to make his case.

  6. Anonymous says:

    a whip…and no one is hurt?

  7. Sambo says:

    AJC, who do you mean by “authorities he has ordained”? If anyone that is.

  8. dennis bartlett says:

    here’s me thinking He was cross and wacked a few bad men

  9. david says:


    I find this interesting reading.

    By nature I am a peacful man. I don’t like fighting (cause I always get hurt) and I don’t even like it when my nephew’s hit me (which they do cause they think it’s fun). When I was challenged to a fight by a fellow Christian schoolmate, all I did was lay on the ground and offer him a free victory. And we all know I don’t even hit Lucy. So big ups to ‘peace’ and ‘loving enemies’.

    So tonight I get home from work and walk in the door to my home to find Ange being attacked by some random. The only way to protect my wife and bring peace to my home is to use force to restrain this invader. Once restrained and the police are on their way to take him away for justice to occur, I can love him by offering him a cup of tea + bikkie and maybe even throwing a few tracts into his pocket for prison reading. Do I love my wife and protect her from evil as Christ loves His bride and protects her from evil? Or am I supposed to stand at my door politely asking this invader to take his hands off my wife and to please have a seat so we can talk through his issues?

    Is the focus too much on ‘no, you can not kill your enemies’ when maybe it should be more on ‘yes, you MUST protect the innocent’?

  10. Sambo says:

    Wait, was that situation involving your home hypothetical?

  11. Rich S says:

    A few random thoughts which may be of interest.

    1. God in the Old Testament punished the Israelites for not killing everybody in a nation ( I forget which one). The Law had been given. Murder was wrong. Jesus expands the term murder to its full extent, but in either case the act of murder (putting to one side its extended meaning)remains wrong. Since God can’t sin (ultra vires etc) then telling the Israelites to kill everybody can’t have amounted to murder in contravention of the 10 C’s. God hasn’t changed – Jesus doesn’t remove the law, therefore the law hasn’t changed. I think the error is that somehow some people have altered the command “thou shalt not murder” (at least as it relates to killing), to “thou shalt not kill”. It’s part of this social gospel which the liberal church likes to bandy around – a gospel which is no gospel. Difficult though, because the true gospel most certainly has a social aspect to it.

    2. Interestingly enough, murder as a matter of law is unlawful killing. Something to ponder.

    3. On the Gethsemane bit – in one of the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples just before Gethsemane to sell their cloaks and buy a sword. The disciples say they have 2 swords. Jesus tells them that will be sufficient.

    3. One of the tough things about Jesus is that you can’t read Him in your terms. He says what he says – and some of it won’t gel with our limited human way of thinking. It’s a bit like those stupid gormless revisionist historians. You know – like a Marxist perspective on The Bible or whatever. Jesus is not open to reinterpretation from a 21st century post modern marxist/feminist/hippy/fascist viewpoint. However, equally – I shouldn’t dislike homosexuals as much as I do. It cuts both ways – we all have failures in the way we understand Jesus and we try to confine him within our own ideologies. We should pray that God will give us wisdom in these matters.

    Just some thoughts I wanted to express. I am unlikely to want to enter into debate. I just thought I might throw some ideas in.

Leave a Reply