Some Criticis of Christian morlaity are always getting us to lose slight of the big pictue. They put so many little knit picking aruments like "in Passage X God cammands themt o kill so and so,and so and so didn't do anything that wrong."
They will present a massive profussion of such passages, most of which (thinking of the OT now) are based upon the fact that people over 2000 years ago looked at things very differently and had different standards of what constituted morality, truth, compassion and brutatlity. So natuarlly a great deal ancient world morality will seem very brutal to us.
But the atheists always distract us form the big picture. Everytime I try to demonstate one or two major princples that oversweep the whole field and tie up all the problems into one neat little point that can esaisly resolved, they just go "Yea? well abotu here, where x got stoned for blowing his nose?" "what about about where God tells them to wipe out the Pedestriakites and kill even the bateria on their dinner plates?!! that's bad, God is BAD BAD BAD!!!"
But never will they just face the central point and take it like real thinkers. They want this massive profussion of problematic verses to stand in the way of rally understanding or thinging about Biblical moralty; and often much what passes for their problematic verses is misunderstood.
DD prestens a lit of what's wrong with Jesus' morality, here's what he does:
(a) doubles up on synoptic passages so he can present them like four different enstances, instant multiplicty of examles. Now Jesus dint' say "pluck out your eye" once, but four times! four times as bad!
(b) mostly misunderstood because no attempt is made to watch for figurative language so he sees "i come to bring not peace but a sword" as a litteral statment that Jesus likes war! I can't even begin to comment.
But in this thread I want to ask each and everyone of you speicail, pease do not quote an massive profussion of texts in a vien attempt to show "how bad the bible is." Let's stick to the two central poinkts that I want to get at.Please?
Point 1: OT morality is progressive.
that's right. It doesn't seem so because it is brutal and unfair in many places. But:
(a) still better than surrounding committees that had infant sacrifice and no rules for freeing of slaves in jubilee year, no prohibitions against raping slave women, or civil recompense for rape or anything of the kind.
(b) Points to advancements in moral thinking over and above what the others had in terms of; written code, basic rights for slaves, expectation of humane treatment, laws to help the poor, ect.
The point; God told Israel they would be a light to the gentiles, they were. Their example led to better morality on a progressive scale; but it took time of course. Yet the standards did change.
Now of course atheists will argue that this is not indicative of a divine plan. On the other hand it meshes perfectly with my view of inspiration. It's not a memo from God but a collection of writings that are inspired by divine/human encounter.
Moreover, remember the principle of shadow to substance!
the Mosaic law was imposed to show how bad bad could be. It was a measuring stick to demonstrate and clearly define sin. It was not the solution to sin. So it shows how hard it is to live perfectly and how difficult it is to keep a benchmark of righteousness, it's supposed to be hard and unreasonable; because trying to live a holy life under our own effectuates is hard and unreasonable.
But in the NT we find God entering history as a man, and we have a direct example of what to do, just follow Jesus' charter. which leads to point 2.
Point 2: Jesus anticipated the Categorical imprative.
that gives us a logical modern framework in which to play out Christian morality in a deontolgoical fashion.
The imperative of Kant anticipated (and that's where Kant got it) in the golden rules do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The "as you would hagve them do unto you" clause is what makes it clever, because it is both objective and flexible at the same time.
These two points explain the basis of Biblical morality and they make up for all the little picky verses where God appears to be a rotter, because they explain why the context of OT morality is so culturally bound, and demarcation a sense in which OT morality is progressive. It also explains NT as modern, advanced, logical and Kantian.
Did Jesus Support OT morality?
Mithrandir24 Put a note on the comment section saying:
As is the case with most of your posts, this was very interesting and informative. While I understand that the morality expressed in the Hebrew Bible was rather progressive for its time and the New Testament has been the inspiration and/or basis of much of the more advanced ethical theories in Western philosophy (Kant's categorical imperative being one as you pointed out), I have a few problems.
Surely you would agree that some of the laws in the OT are rather unrealistic in the punishments they prescribe for transgression, and in many cases just barbaric (e.g. Deut. 21:18-20; Num. 15:32-36). Now, my problem lies in the fact that Jesus seemed to affirm and condone the law of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17). It's hard for me to believe that stoning children to death for disobedience (see the Deut. passage) is compatible with the character of Jesus Christ, who seemed to love children very much (Luke 18:16-17) and opposed those who wished to impose the death penalty on the adulteress (John 8:1-11).
My question is, how do we make sense of this? Do you think evangelicals are wrong when they argue that Jesus saw the Law as infallible?
The examples of verses you give say this:
Deu 21:18 ¶ If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and [that], when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
Deu 21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
Deu 21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son [is] stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; [he is] a glutton, and a drunkard.
Deu 21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Num 15:32 ¶ And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
Num 15:33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
Num 15:34 And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
Num 15:35 And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
Yes, these passages are a problem for me as well. Frankly, I find it hard to accept the OT or the idea that God would really mandate such a law. They are unjust, the leave no value for the individual, you are part of the tribe, the tribe does x, you do x, the tribe does not do y, you do not do y, you don't get to choose. that is all. I couldn't live that way. I can't believe God would really impose such vengeful and unjust ideas. So the question is, because Jesus says "the law will not pass away" are we believe that therefore, Christ supported everything prescribed in the OT? The conservative Evangelicals would have us believe that because Jesus says the law wont pass away, therefore, he's supporting every stoning of every child who may have ever been stoned in Israel. I don't think that's a fair conclusion. Jesus just didn't really really interested in systematic theology. My theory, that's why he drafted Paul. Jesus was a lot more concerned with modeling behavior for us.
The answer to this question will reflect our overall theological tendencies and it will center around our views of inspiration. Those who follow verbal plenary view of inspiration ("inerrency") are bound to believe that these dictates of stoning people (almost every kid in modern middle America would wind up dead) are really God and Jesus endorse Them. I can't believe he would, they do seem antithetical, and I dont' think the "law wont pass away" passage establish that he would support it all. Jesus never gives us a theological answer about inspiration or hermeneutics or any of it. He doesn't tell us how we know, he just shows us what to do, how to be, how treat people. It's that treatment of people that is most troubling. Because how can one says who says "love your enemies" endorse killing rebellious children?
Now mind you the passage above is not talking about Theodore Cleaver skipping school to seem himself on tv. That passage is talking about drunkards, late teenage kids who really live in Sin. Be that as it may I can't really see putting them to death.
One Clue we might take from this is that Jesus tells us the summation of the law and the prophets, the whole OT, is "love God, love your neighbor." That makes it seem even more absurd to think that he would support stoning an unruly kid, even he was drinking and smoking pot and sleeping with every girl in class; he still could be brought back. What about the story of the prodigal son, he went off as a rebellious teenager to live in sin.Jesus didn't say anything to imply that he should have been stoned. Instead he said the fathers welcomes him back with open arms when he repents. Kind of hard to do if you've already stoned them.
What about the verse "nothing shall pass from the law..." This fundies tell us must mean we have to live by the law, the law is good, the whole OT is inspired. I just got through having a major argument with a fundie who tried to prove that the Bible says a follower of Jesus will not believe in evolution because it's opposed to the law. The logic was so convoluted I can't even repeat it. But this person totally confused the law in the sense of Mosaic law vs "the law" as a designation for parts of the Bible that aren't the prophets. That allows him to say everything in the Bible must be believed because Jesus said nothing will pass form the law. law= whole bible, therefore, everything in the Bible is literally true.
Let's look at the passage where Jesus seems to support the law. Leading up the passage we have the beatitudes. Leading away form the passage we have a verity of teaching that all center around the idea of being more righteous than the pharisees. This is important because it seems to be the fall out of the passage, nothing shall be lost from the law, do all that it says, and you have to be than the pharisees. This seems to give us a super legalistic Jesus, but it's really something else.
Look at the beatitudes, leading up to the statement about the law:
Matthew - Chapter 5
Mat 5:1 ¶ And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
Mat 5:2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Mat 5:3 Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:4 Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Mat 5:5 Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Mat 5:6 Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Mat 5:7 Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Mat 5:8 Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Mat 5:9 Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Mat 5:10 Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:11 Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
What do we see going on here.I bet most of us would pick out the idea meekness, peacemaking, name of the blessed states, the poor, ect ect. But what he's actually talking about is the Kingdom of God after it comes. When are the poor going to blessed? When will the meek inherit the earth, sure wont be in the Bush administration. It's obviously, after the end of the age. That's important because what he says in the major statement about the law not failing, or not being negated is that it will be fulfilled. He says All will be fulfilled.
Mat 5:17 ¶ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
Mat 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
He is also talking about keeping the law, I'll get to that in a minute. It is important to notice here that the actual statement "I am not come to abolish the law" is about fulfilling the law. The beatitudes are an example of this because they refer to the end of the age. That's what the law predicts, in its broader scope as a designation of scripture the law is about the coming of Messiah, the coming of the kingdom and the end of the age. This is the ultimate point he's making it's an eschatological statement.
But he's going to tie the two ideas together, he's going to tie behavior, doing what the law commands, with fulfilling the prophesies of the coming Kingdom. The link is that we are living in the kingdom, in the "already aspect," of realized eschatology. That is we live in the power of the kingdom, the power to be Godly and do God's work, to bring God's love into the world. We look foreword to the complete coming of the Kingdom when God triumphs over all evil. We are holing up a rare guard action waiting until the main boyd of God's forces arrive, led by Jesus, to complete the battle. That's the connection, because until that comes we are the outpost of the kingdom and it is the power of the Kingdom, not the law, that get's us through.
Mat 5:13 ¶ Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Mat 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Mat 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
It is our witness that will draw people into the Kingdom. Now he is where the redactor places the statement about preserving the law:
Mat 5:17 ¶ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
Mat 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
So he is primarily concerned with fulfillment and our part in the fulfillment is to bring in as many as we can to the kingdom; we are the light of the world. We are the city of on the hill. Why does Jesus say "think not that I have come to destroy the law?" what was said that in any way suggests that he's abolishing the law? That could be a rhetorical device or some reference of which I'm not aware. Most of the Q1 statements come from this section, the beatitudes are the kind of thing supposedly akin to Greek cynicism and thus very Q1-like. So there may even be a Greek rhetorical device at work. Actually I doubt that. I think it's because they knew he was talking about eschatology disruption, so the tendency would be to think of the coming of the new age and the end of the old.
Now he shifts over from eschatology to daily life. Here's where he shows us his conservative side.
Mat 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The talk about fulfillment has a downside, we also have to do everything the law says. But it get's worse:
Mat 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Incidentally that statment indicates that Jesus identified more closely with the more heterodox factions, like those at Qumran, he's for being more strict than the pharisees. But why does he make this shift, and how can anyone expect one to be more legalstic than the pharisees?
Actually he doesn't say to be legalistic at all. He says to be more righteous. That's the whole point of Jesus' ethics all along. He defines keeping the law in the most compassionate sense. While the Pharisees say "put a fence around the law, make sure you keep every letter" Jesus says "Yea, yea, letter, letter's good, keep the letter but keep it in love." So even though he might say the law is true and the law will endure, would he actually say "stone the kid?" the law doesn't have to stone the kid. You can always find that he's not that strict. The law allowed for stoning adulteresses but Jesus let one off the hook.
Jesus principle of keeping the meaning (which includes the compassion) and rather than the letter, or perhaps fulfilling the content of the letter with meaning (spirit) is seen in the following passages, where he goes on to define what means by "your righteousness must exceed that of the pharisees."
Mat 5:21 ¶ Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
Mat 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
He's going further than just the letter here, he's dealing with the motivations for killing, or motivations for anger, or the subtly of anger.
Mat 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Mat 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
the letter of the law would say leave the gift at the alter. Jesus says hey that's not enough, go make it right with your brother so your gift will be sincere.
Mat 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Mat 5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
He's making an analogy between being held accountable for hatred of the brother and dealing with a legal advesary.
Mat 5:27 ¶ Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
Mat 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
It's not enough to just not commit adultery, but one must also snuff the motivation for straying. In all of these things he's going further than the law. He's always going in direction of compassion. Compassion would reconcile with the brother, compassion would refrain form saying the most damaging thing, compassion would not objectify a woman and would work on restoring the relationship in marriage.
Here we have one of my favorite verses because, in my view, it is tricky.
Mat 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Mat 5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.
What a super legalistic one might say. He's actually saying we should cut off our hands if they offend us or pluck out our eyes. Does Jesus relay expects anyone to do this? Of course not! why would he? No Christian I know has ever tried it either. Do Christians hands offended them? I've never ask but what does it mean? There's one use of the hand that offends when I was kid that I would have gotten in trouble for if my parents knew about it. In the context of adultery what do you think he's saying? The eye is offensive because it leads to lust, what does the hand do? well as James Joyce once said, when a woman at a party ask "may I kiss the hand that wrote Finnegan's Wake?" Joyce replied "It's done other things as well." What do you suppose he meant?
Jesus is not telling us to cut our hands off. He's using humor, this is actually some of the law mid eastern ancient world humor of the bible, and it's sarcasm. he's saying "if you have a lame excuse such as 'my eye can't stop looking,' or 'my hand can't stop flogging the log' then cut it off!" But he know these are merely lame excuses and one doesn't control lust by putting out one's eyes. One doesn't lust because the eyes refuse to corporate. Self control begins in the mind. You learn self control in the mind the eye and the hand can't help but follow. He's saying confront the problem where it exists, don't' give me lame excuses. Why is he talking about this at all? He's still working on the idea of living righteously.He's still working on Keeping the law, and he's laying out the principle that we keep the law not by keeping the letter, but by keeping the spirit of the law. This passage is proof of that. It would be letter of the law to say cut off the hand, pull out the eye. He's saying go further than deal with the motive for sin.
Mat 5:31 ¶ It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
Mat 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Here again we have this principle enunciated even more clearly. In our modern times all we can see is "don't' get divorced." In Jesus say what they would see here is, You owe your wife something. The wife could not make a living on her own. To be divorced would be a total disaster for a woman, a come down to poverty or even worse. she should not run down and get the want adds to look for a job. There were very few opportunities for an unmarried woman to make a living without sinning.
Jesus is saying sure the letter says you can get a divorce, but the spirit says you can't. Because the meaning of the law is not "you get off scoot free" the meaning of the law is a way to protect women. The divorce thing was originally good for women because it meant they could be let out of a marriage without being thought sinful. But then the economic situation make it a disaster. Jesus is saying you must consider the woman's plight and you can't divorce just for convince or so you can have your own affair.
Mat 5:33 ¶ Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
Mat 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Mat 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Mat 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
Mat 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Again, go fruther than the law. Instead of having a list of what not to swear by, just don't do it.
Mat 5:38 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
Mat 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Clearyly this is that principle, turn the other cheek. The law says you can take equal revenge but Jesus says you dont' have to, you can offer the other cheek, forgive, use non voiolence.
Mat 5:40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy] cloke also.
Mat 5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Mat 5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Give more than is asked, go further than the law.
Mat 5:43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Mat 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Isn't that horse dead by now? Go further than the law. Don't just love the nieghbor love the enemy, make him a neighbor.
Mat 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Mat 5:46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
Mat 5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so?
Mat 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
As a legalist he says "be perfect" which on one can do. In defining perfection, however, he does not order legalism, in every examle it is not the letter of law of which he is convered, it is goign beyond the law to find the meaning of the that with which the law deals, the motivation for sin, the nature of the problem, and then we apply love. That is what being perfect his, and he says it right here: eveyrone loves those who love him and hates those who hate him, when yo love everyone you are perfect as God is prefect.
Now in thinking about that stoning passage. Having my sense of hwat Biblical inspiration means I can see that as aamn attempt to come up with a law that we humans think is divine. I am certain Jesus really understood that that he really secretly knew all about Buatlmann and exegesis (at least on some level) and would have not really accepted such a passage.But even as an inerrentist I would not accept that Jesus would stone the kind. The principle of Jesus seems to always been the Spirit give life, the letter kills, go beyond the letter of the law and do that which is in keeping with the spirit of the law. The letter of the law says stone the kid. The spirit of the law says protect the community but try to reach the kid.
No reason to think he would support everything. you can't jump from a summary that says "the summary of the law is love." to stone the kid. It's not logical, and Jesus' standard was clearly go beyond the letter to the spirit of the law, which is love.