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An Inconsistency in John Piper's treatment of Matt. 5

Allow me to summarize John Piper on Matthew 5:

ON ANGER

21“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

22“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

John Piper: we are to take this literally. Anger is a sin.

ON LUST

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;

28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

John Piper: We are to take this literally. Lust is a sin.

ON VOWS

33“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’

34“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

(haven’t heard Piper comment on this)

ON DIVORCE/REMARRIAGE

31“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’;

32but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

John Piper: no matter the ramifications, this must be taken literally. Divorce/remarriage is a sin.

ON NON-VIOLENCE

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’

39“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

40“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.

41“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

John Piper: this passage can’t be taken literally. It must be taken hyperbolically, because the implications would be too difficult to cope with. (See article on this topic here)

My point isn’t to debate pacifism at this point – but I find it very interesting (sad and shocking, really) that such a strong literalist like John Piper bends and waffles on this point. Especially when compared to his treatment of the verses immediately surrounding it, his discongruity on this verse is very pronounced.

46 Comments »

  1. My take is Piper is taking these verses out of context in the 3 main ways to take text out of context, and just making stuff up resulting in a total botch job.

    As you point out, he has an inconsistent hermeneutic for the immediate pericope/teaching unit in this section of the sermon on the mount. He is ALSO inconsistent in terms of the subject matter on what the rest of Scripture teaches on these areas and totally fails in the cultural context area.

    As a first start in approaching this text, my take is one must use a consistent hermeneutic and that one must recognize that Jesus is using preacher’s rhetoric/hyperbole in this section; while my guess is you want to go the totally opposite way.

    • Yes. Like the early church, I take Jesus literally here – although I am still wrestling with the rammifications. Taking something metaphorically when there is no warrant in the context is eisegisis.

    • There are many more exegetical choices that between literal and metaphorical.

      My goal is to be literal as an original reader/hearer would understand it. If the literal meaning is a metaphor or idiom, then it is metaphor or idiom. If the original literal meaning is not a metaphor, then it is not a metaphor.

      • Where do you see the metaphor in “do not resist an evil person. If a person slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him your other also. If he takes your jacket, give him your shirt also. If he forces you to walk one mile, walk with him two.”?

        It’s a hard saying, but it seems very earthy, practical and literal to me. Also, the first Christians lived like this for centuries.

      • I do not see any metaphors, but I do see a cultural point that some miss. It is in the idea of turning the left cheek.

        The pagan teaching was that one did a backhand slap to an inferior on their right cheek using the right hand but hit a peer differently. Here we have Jesus describing what to do when faced with someone who thinks you are inferior, as he strikes you on the right cheek. When you offer the left cheek, you are claiming equality in that culture as there is no way for a person to backslap your LEFT cheek with his right hand.

        The other thing to notice is who is an evil person that can require one to walk with him in the 1st century? These were the hated Romans, the conquerers.

      • Yes, these historical insights certainly add richness to the text. But I do not see how they detract from it, or alter the meaning.

        Let’s get down to basics. Someone you are working with someone who has a foul temper, and hates your guts for no good reason. On one occasion, this person yells at you and unjustly hurls insults. On another occasion, he shoves past you on the street – knocking your coffee all over you (you DO drink coffee, don’t you? Just checking…;) ) – and slamming you into the wall. On another occasion, he utilizes an obscure rule of your boss, and forces you to do menial work for him. Finally, this person scratches his own car and blames it on you. He is taking you to court to sue you for some of your very-much-needed cash. What do you do? How does Jesus’ sermon apply? Does it apply? How would you “be a Christian” in such a situation?

      • I do drink coffee, normally 1 cup a day at bfast.

        I would recommend continuing the exegesis before jumping to application. Application might be where we want to jump to, and many might claim that the application is “obvious” but as these are God’s words, we need to be diligent. It is exactly in the application that we find Christians all over the map, let alone in exegesis.

        This is not to say that MY exegesis and application is correct and everyone should admire it; rather, I am responsible for myself, I make the decisions for myself and I am willing to explain how I got there is someone is interested.

        As an adult I have never been struck on the right cheek and I have never been compelled to walk with someone for a mile; and I have not heard of anyone in my circle having these experiences either. That right there can serve as a clue that something is going on in the text that I might not know without further study.

        And when one does such a study, one can find that these were actions of the conquerors of Judea, the Romans, and ways to inform the populace that they were to be kept in their place, that is, under Roman authority.

        So one can begin to catch a glimpse of what Jesus was discussing, what does one do when one is in a humiliating situation where another demands the recognition that he is superior to you and has the power to enforce it. Your options are limited, overt rebellion will be crushed, as it was when the Jews revolted around 70 AD. So what does Jesus suggest?

        I see Jesus as suggesting that one can do things that present the other with the option of seeing you as an equal to him. The other can still refuse, but the believer is to shape the encounter to give the other the best chance to repent.

        So what would I do in the case you gave? I will try to act redemptively, doing whatever I assessed would give the best chance of the other growing up and taking responsibility for himself. This MIGHT involve confrontation, “going the extra mile” or possibly other things, as led by the Spirit.

      • I was right there with you, until you said, “that might involve confrontation..” Can you unpack that? How could “turning the other cheek” equal confrontation?

      • As I see it, Jesus is giving ideas about what to do when one would normally think there are NO options except to comply. The evil overload WILL have his way with you, it is your choice how much pain you will suffer. In THAT case, Jesus points out there are STILL some things you can do to request acknowledgement as a human equal.

        But most situations are not like that.

        Some people teach and think that being a Christian means following lots of rules. This is not the case, being a Christian means following Christ and the Holy Spirit as they lead. So you gave a hypothetical and my reply is my response would depend on what I saw the HS asking me to do to redeem the other. In some cases, tough love is the answer, which can involve confrontation and yes, getting angry. In others, they may need something else, it is hard to say in a hypothetical. But your hypothetical did not involve an evil overlord where one has no options except compliance.

      • I have answered the rules-based portion of your comment under my recent post “sin-lists, and why we love them.” It just seems to fit better there, and I have a “thing” about keeping topics seperated from one another.

        I am still scratching my head over how you draw what you do out of this passage. Your problem seems to be that you have one tidbit of extra-biblical evidence, which you draw together with a marxist class-struggle ethic. Then you don’t seem to see anything here other than a class-struggle.

        I don’t disagree with you – I think that the message of “don’t treat me as inferior, treat me as an equal” is in this passage. However, we need to ask, “HOW is equality acheived?” It is not by demanding rights, and certainly not by becoming angry. As Paul says elsewhere, “Love is not angry..” (1 Corithians 13.)

        Do you see Jesus getting angry at his torturers, in his passion? Do you see Him getting in their face, demanding His rights? In His complete surrender to their abuse – in being like a lamb lead to the slaughter – he conquered them by His “patience” (a favorite word of the fathers) so that at least one of the soldiers said, “surely this man was the son of God.” Somehow, I think that if Jesus had stood his ground, gotten mad and declared “hey, treat me like an equal here!” his testimony wouldn’t have been the same. It would have been far too…human.

      • Marxist class struggle ethic? Jesus was no Marxist and neither am I.

        God grants us equality, all humans are equally in the image of God.

        In some cases it CAN be by demanding one’s rights. Christians do have God given rights, which they can CHOOSE not to use to achieve a higher purpose in some cases, but that is different from not having them.

        Also, 1 Cor 13 does not claim that love/agape never gets angry. Jesus loved the people in the temple when he upset their tables and drove them out with a whip, you can bet he was upset.

      • Okay, Marxism is a dirty word and maybe I shouldn’t have used it. However, I was speaking accurately, and not derogatorily. The Marxist class-struggle is a major theme in education and social/political theory. Whether people have heard or use Marx’ name or not, this concept of the underdog rising up against the overlord (or, proletariat rising against the bourgeoisie) is a dominant, overpowering theme especially for anyone spending time in secular education. A hall-mark of someone very influenced by Marxism is a proclivity to see all divisions in society, of any sort, as being defined as “evil over-lord” versus “oppressed underling,” and seeing the answer to this situation being some sort of overthrow of the overlord. Thus, Marxists have a very difficult time understanding valid authority, and almost have blinders on, thinking “the ONLY problem with the world is that there are too many dominant overlords. If only we could overthrow them all, we would have a utopia…”

        Anyways, maybe all that was too much – I’m not saying all that applies to you. Just that’s what I meant by “marxist class-struggle.”

        I am not saying that there are no similarities between Christ and Marx. Both are concerned with equality, and with the underdog being able to be on an equal footing with the “overlord.” However, the paths are opposite. It is humble patience versus anger and demanding, it is love and sacrifice versus hatred and stealing. It is Martin Luther King versus Malcom X.

        Yes, Jesus was angry about the temple. Notice, however, that he used his whip on the ANIMALS. Even though he had command of a huge multitude of people, he did not utilize their collective power to overturn the existing authority structure. He made a bold statement, preached his sermon, then left to allow the valid authorities to make up their minds whether they would follow Him. This is always His way – He does not force anybody, but communicates very forcibly at times.

        Yes, Jesus was on a mission to accomplish a certain task on the cross. He also died to give us an example:

        “20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22″He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[e] 23When 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 2:20-23) The cross is not just something we admire, and are grateful for, but something we are called to daily, “27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27, also 9:23, Mat. 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34).

        If we are to follow Christ, we must not retaliate when insulted, not threaten when suffering, and, ultimately, must “turn the other cheek” when struck – literally if that applies, but also figuratively. When we are wronged in any way, we must respond in love, NOT in demanding our rights as a fellow human being.

      • Jesus at the cross was on a mission from God, he chose to lay down his life for you and me. This does not mean he did not have rights, he chose not to use them, to fulfill a higher purpose.

      • You want to go the pacifist route and I think that is allowed but not mandated, at least in many cases.

        Paul invoked his rights as a Roman citizen, Peter had the right to travel with his wife, etc. The question is what will advance the Kingdom and there can be different answers for different people.

      • Pacifists would not have a problem with utilizing the state (paying to caesar, also receiving benefits at time, including protection), only they wouldn’t see themselves as being able to participate. Double standard? Yes, but that is how they would read the Bible.

        At the present, I am only trying to understand Matthew 5. Since this is Jesus’ main sermon, and because Jesus is the center of the Bible, if Matthew 5 leads to pacifism, it is difficult to say how this can be a “peripheral” issue – although I agree it is not a salvation issue.

      • There are some believers who read the Sermon on the Mount as endorsing pacifism. I respect these believers a lot, but I do not read it as requiring pacifism; if one is in a situation where ANY non-compliance will be crushed, perhaps the best is to comply in ways that request being treated as an equal. Remember, this is when dealing with evil occupiers, which is rare today in the West.

        Also, I see a trap in trying to form a Bible within the Bible, the WHOLE Bible is what is given to us, to try to form a subset is not how the Bible was given to us. Another way to say this is Red letter Bibles are not Biblical and most translators today know this and actively discourage such things.

      • The Bible is too big to be taken as a whole. Without some passages being naturally elevated, the readers will elevate the ones of their choosing. Protestants have followed Augustine and Calvin in raising Paul’s words (especially in Romans) to the center, and interpreting things around that, and thus they tend towards a very intellectual, logical faith. Catholics raise the “catholic epistles” (James, John, 1 & 2 Peter) to prominence, and thus end up with a very works-oriented faith. The Orthodox church raises the gospel of John to prominence, thus ending up with a more mystical faith.

        Anabaptists raise Matthew 5 especially, but also all of the writings of Jesus to prominence. They put the words of Jesus in “red” long before this was popular. As a result, they ended up living very, very much like the earliest church, which to me is a strong indication that they got it right. And really – is it not most logical to emphasize the passages where the AUTHOR of the Bible actually comes and speaks in the flesh, in person?

      • I just read through our comments. It seems like I presented a fairly powerful argument for pacifism, but also made that unfortunate mention of Marxism. Our conversation got derailed onto that, and you never answered my questions. Can you read through and engage my points, about us needing to follow Christ’s example, to suffer and in our submission to win a spiritual victory over our opponents, etc.?

      • Of course there are more important principles and less important principles in following Jesus. Jesus answered a question about what was the greatest commandment, which implies there are some that are less than that.

        Jesus always correctly interpreted Scripture, you can go to the bank on that. But it is also true that ALL the authors of Scripture were inspired to tell us what God wants us to know. And Jesus did not write anything that has come down to us as canon, everything we have has been mediated by humans. Yes, we cannot digest the whole Bible in one sitting, but that does not mean we are not to be diligent about NOT forming a canon within a canon.

      • You are not self-aware if you believe you have no “canon-within-a-canon.” It is simply impossible to read the Bible without some form of a theological framework. Most protestants begin their theology with the first half of Romans, so this becomes the center of their theology, and Jesus becomes interpreted in light of that. What I mean is that in Romans and Galatians, Paul is very concerned with describing how we are “saved.” Huge emphasis is rightly placed on the fact that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast (okay, that is in ephesians, not romans…). When you spend all your time reading Paul, however, you have difficulty understanding the rest of the Bible. Luther, for example, wanted to delete James from the New Testament, because he couldn’t make room for actual WORKS of rightousness as being necessary to true repentance.

        I am trying to be transparent, in saying that I think that Jesus’ words, especially in Matthew 5 should be the center of Christianity. This is what we are being called INTO. This is the life we are to live, the life Jesus died to give us. You may not like my method of placing the words of Jesus above others, but I would argue that you are doing the same thing, although likely with Paul.

      • The cross each believer is to take on is a dieing to self, but this can take many, many forms.

        For someone who has been taught that it is always a sin to be angry, dieing to that false belief can entail learning how to be angry but NOT sin, despite what they have been taught.

        For someone who has been taught believers are always compliant, dieing to that false belief can entail learning how to be assertive, despite what they have been taught.

        For someone who has been taught that believers should never drink alcohol, dieing to that false belief can entail learning to not judge those that drink responsibly, despite what they have been taught.

        And there are many other examples like this. Picking up one’s cross does not always necessarily mean actual martyrdom, it means growing as the HW guides one to grow, despite our uncomfortableness with it.

      • Your “cross” is one of being true to the authority of Scriptures. This is a valid point, but is it a “cross”? Where do you get this from? Isn’t literal physical suffering far more compatible with the whole notion of “cross,” especially as it is used in Jesus’ terminology, and in 1 Peter 2:21?

      • Cross can, of course, refer to literal death, as a martyr in some cases. I am not denying those extreme cases, I am extending them downwards into ordinary life. For example, if a person thinks they are “too good” to take out the garbage or clean a toilet, they should die to themselves and force themselves to do these things, as a part of growing up into Christ.

        “I’ll die for you in a big way, but I expect it will never be requested, but I refuse to die for you in a small way that is requested every day.” is false.

      • In this post, you have modified your definition from “faithfulness to scriptures” to “personal sacrifice.” I accept your modified meaning. However, I think that we in the Christianized west have a much softer idea of “dying to self” and “taking up your cross” than would have been evident in Jesus’ day. I don’t think people would have immediately thought of taking out the trash and generally being a nice person when Jesus told them to carry their cross – although, yes, this is a valid application of that teaching.

      • I try not to form my own canon within the canon. What I do try to do is form comprehensive and coherent teachings from ALL of Scripture, knowing that it was produced thru a process of progressive revelation. ALL of Scripture points to Christ, not just the gospels.

        A former Sunday school teacher of mine that I respect a lot used to work in the defense industry and is now retired and he now tends towards pacifism and he really likes the Sermon on the Mount and sees that as central to his faith, so I am familiar with that idea in my personal life. And I know the Anabaptists do similar things and I really respect their courage. But that still does not mean I see these verses in the same way that they do, it is one of those “agree to disagree” situations.

      • Don, I “get” that you agree to disagree on this point. I am just a little bit confused as to how you “get” there. You seemed to talk for a while, then just say, “this is a debated point, which Christians can take either side on.” I think I agree with this, but where do you find support for this? You are implying a statement: 1) this passage does not EXPLICITLY teach pacifism, and 2) if it did, it teaches it in such a way that it does not necessarily apply to all Christians. How do you support these statements?

  2. I had not read Piper’s response on the turn the other cheek verses, just your text summarizing his conclusions on other verses in this teaching unit.

    My take is does a good job on providing Scriptural context to those cheek verses. And he does point out the hyperbole aspect for at least the cheek verses, not sure why he would not do that for the others, as you claim. He does not get much into the cultural context area, which is probably the most common way today to make mistakes, so he misses some things here. But his conclusions are basically similar to mine, that Jesus was not a pacifist.

  3. “So one can begin to catch a glimpse of what Jesus was discussing, what does one do when one is in a humiliating situation where another demands the recognition that he is superior to you and has the power to enforce it. Your options are limited, overt rebellion will be crushed, as it was when the Jews revolted around 70 AD. So what does Jesus suggest?

    I see Jesus as suggesting that one can do things that present the other with the option of seeing you as an equal to him. The other can still refuse, but the believer is to shape the encounter to give the other the best chance to repent.”

    Excellent observations. This is a very timely dialogue when we consider that there are many in Christianity who strive for dominance and seek to lord and exercise authority over others rather than find maturity in themselves to share with others for their betterment.

  4. ESV Joh 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
    Joh 2:14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.
    Joh 2:15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
    Joh 2:16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

    You claimed that the whip was only used on animals, from this translation it appears that it was also used on people. Can you clarify?

    • Hm….interesting point. The translations seem divided (NIV – he used the whip on animals, NASB, ESV on people), which would imply that the Greek is obscure as to whether he used the whip on animals only or also people.

      Another point of difference which can be raised between Jesus and us is that while we are not to take our own revenge, since this is God’s job, Jesus was God in the flesh. Therefore, “zeal for my father’s house consumed me,” and Jesus was in his rights to act as God, bringing a foretaste of the wrath which was coming down on that temple while he was in his incarnation.

      At any rate, this shouldn’t be used as a support for self-defense, since Jesus was not being personally attacked, nor was he fighting for his own rights.

    • Well, if I was selling some animals and someone started whipping them, I do not think I would wait around to see if he was limiting his whipping to them only!

      My suggestion, as I do with other debates in the church, is to study both sides. Follow the principle in Pro 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

      • I have probably presented myself wrongly on this issue. I am not actually firmly convinced of pacifism, although that is (obviously) where I am leaning at the moment. I have been playing devil’s advocate on this one because what I have found consistently is that almost universally, just-war Christians: 1) have taken their theology for granted, 2) are vaguely aware of pacifists, but dismiss them with only one or two proof-texts, 3) like the general idea of war even though very few of them will actually fight in a war (especially not the pastors). When pushed, most just-war people don’t have a very coherent theology on this subject. Rather, since nearly the entire church for all of Christian history (after the third century) has been taking this point for granted, people just assume that any verse on pacifism is an “obscure” verse, which needs to be “read in context of the whole Bible,” – or, to state it plainly, to be ignored, since nobody else takes pacifism seriously.

        Okay, that was a long comment in response to a short one. The gist of it is that I am still seeking and questioning, and even though it sounds like I am firm, I am only playing devil’s advocate, trying to make you (since you have stated a position on the other side) to defend your case. Does that make sense?

      • My take on the Sermon on the Mount:

        1. Jesus is correctly interpreting Torah, and he is disavowing the additions and subtractions made by the Pharisees and others in the “You have heard it said” clauses.

        2. He is using “preacher’s rhetoric,” that is, hyperbole in order to emphasize the importance of what he is saying. But this means the hyperbole should be recognized as such.

        3. There are some believers who see the hyperbole as more literal, each needs to be convinced in their own minds.

        4. All of Scripture teaches that one is to obey God over humans and oppose evil. This can involve different responses among different people at different times; therefore these responses can appear inconsistent to an observer. In some cases the evil is overwhelming and one can die a martyr, however in the West this is very rare.

        5. A cross was an execution device designed to inflict pain unto death and set an example to others about what behavior to avoid, it was used mainly on rebellious slaves at first. To a 1st century pagan, it makes no sense at all to worship someone who was crucified, it was totally opposite all expectations.

      • Okay. I’ll leave it at that. This post was mostly about how surprising I found it that John Piper of all people (the literalist of the literalists!) calls this one passage metaphor when just above, he calls the verse on divorce literal.

        You have a far different hermeneutical approach, however, so it’s not really surprising that you interpret this passage as you do.

        It’s been good – God bless!

      • Since you return to what Piper says, I will respond in each category to what I see the Bible teaching when considered as a whole (which some teachers do not do).

        1. Anger – not necessarily a sin, however, it is easy to sin when angry so one needs to be careful when angry to not sin.

        2. Lust – sin.

        3. Vows – a believer is to keep their vows and not make vows lightly.

        4. Divorce/Remarriage – divorce for breaking a marriage covenant vow is allowed but not required, divorce if no vow has been broken is not allowed. Remarriage is allowed.

        5. Non-violence – allowed as a option but not required for a believer. In some cases it can be the best/only option.

      • If one divorced for “any matter” and not due to the other breaking a marriage vow, then one should work to revoke the divorce, per Paul in 1 Cor 7 assuming one is following the Lord at that point. However, this only works if both are wanting to do that. It does happen, tho, in some cases.

        And an unbeliever can divorce even for no valid reason and there is not much to be done, in that case, one is to accept it, per Paul, and move on with life, including possible remarriage. That is, remarriage is not excluded.

        All this is in 1st century context, which may take explanation to see how Scripture says this, but it is there. There are quite a few terms that are simply too easy to misuderstand if you do not know them and make a mishmash.

      • Okay, I see how you get there with remarriage. I am still a little perplexed as to how you get there with the other three, however:

        1. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” = anger is not a sin…?

        4. “I say to you, make no oath at all… But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. “ = “Christians should keep their vows.” (implying, “it is okay for Christians to make vows”)….?

        5. I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
        40″If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
        41″Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “ = “find creative ways to make sure people treat you as equally to others, and that others give you your rights and dignity as a fellow human being.” This can include getting angry, demanding your rights and in some circumstances using legal or physical force to get your way (note: am I misquoting you here?)

        I’m not necessarily trying to argue with you, Don. I just find it very intriguing how different hermeneutics lands us in very different territory.

      • I DID say what I saw the WHOLE Bible teaching, not just the Sermon on the Mount.

        What I do is try my best to accept the WHOLE Bible as canonical, giving instructions for one’s faith, and try to integrate ALL the relevant verses into a comprehensive and coherent (non-contradictory) teaching. I also take into account the progressive revelation idea and that God works with people and peoples plural where they are at, moving them into the Kingdom step by step.

        This is in contrast to the canon within the canon idea. That method, as I see it, is simply too easy to take text out of context. Jesus even warns against taking text out of context in Mat 5 when one understands what he is saying in the “you have heard it said” sections.

        That is, as a first pass model, the NT builds on the OT like a second story of a building sits on the first story. Just handing out NTs to newbies can lead to lots of misunderstanding about what it teaches, as the OT context is missing. (The actual Bible structure has more levels, but most people understand the 2 levels of the OT and NT.)

      • I realized that my post could be considered unbalanced in that marriage was not discussed, just divorce and remarriage.

        I see the Bible teaching that marriage is a covenant involving vows of faithfulness in sexuality, love, nourishing and cherishing; intended to be for life, and creating a one flesh union. As such it is not to be entered into lightly and is intended by God to provide the best situation to raise a family, altho this does not always happen.

  5. Josiah,
    I thought your insight into how different denominations center their focus on different apostles was interesting. And perhaps the Anabaptists did get a better focus by centering on the words of Jesus, Christ is after all the pinnacle of perfection in everything He did. But I think its good to make some attempt not to ‘form a canon within a canon’.

    • As usual, my wisdom is stolen. A history teacher once said that Catholics focus on the “catholic epistles” (James, peters, johns), and thus emphasize authority and works. Eastern orthodox folks focus on John’s gospel, and thus emphasize humility and mysticism. Protestants focus on Paul and thus emphasize salvation by faith, and (some form of) Augustinian/Calvinistic theology. I would add that Anabaptists emphasize the sermon on the mount, and thus (ideally) emphasize pacifism, humility, practical love, and complete trust on and surrender to God in practical matters and everyday life.

      There’s a balance somewhere. Just looking at those emphases, you can see that there is a lot that we can all learn from one another. However, I think that the only way to really be objective is to recognize where your biases are. As Protestants, we are all biased towards Paul more than Jesus, and when we realize this bias we will be more self-aware, and able to engage Scriptures more effectively.

  6. Don wrote on the 27th,
    ”There are some believers who read the Sermon on the Mount as endorsing pacifism. I respect these believers a lot, but I do not read it as requiring pacifism; if one is in a situation where ANY non-compliance will be crushed, perhaps the best is to comply in ways that request being treated as an equal. “

    You also said you didn’t think this happened much in the West. However, Christians have developed a style of church organization and government that can lead to situations where other good Christians and even leaders in the church are required to give absolute obedience to a person instead of the truths of Scripture, and are not treated as an equal when they should be. I was recently in such a situation and interestingly as I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, I responded in a way that required to be treated as an equal. It may have changed the way that our pastor handles such incidents in the future. I hope so. No one is perfect and all of us need to learn more.

    I say all of this to say that this is an important bit of insight into the Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Hi Josiah,
    I just stumbled across your blog and enjoyed reading the comment section here : )

    I’m just curious to know how a pacifist-leaning person deals with God’s command to Joshua to take the Israelites into Canaan and destroy the people that are there. (Maybe you covered this in another blog entry?)

    Since God doesn’t change and since Jesus is God, it seems we can safely affirm that Jesus thought war was necessary and proper in certain situations. Since God commanded his people to go to war in the Old Testament, it would seem strange to say that during the time of Jesus’ teaching, God chose to express a new teaching that pacifism is the only acceptable response.

    • Yes thanks – that’s a great question! I recorded a sermon on pacifism on my sermons podcast and also recorded about six follow-up podcasts on my nolongerbechildren podcast

      Unfortunately, these latter podcasts haven’t gone online yet – keep watching for them and they should be up in a few weeks.

      In brief: no, God does not change, but His revelation to us does. There are many significant changes in the new covenant including: a different pathway to salvation, a different idea of wealth and blessing, a different idea of God’s chosen people, a different idea of God’s special land, and a different idea of holiness.

      All of these things weren’t really “new,” but were hidden within the old testament. Once we see God’s heart in the NT, we can see how that is what He wanted all along.

      ….um…I have to run. I’ll finish my thought when I can.

    • …and furthermore….

      Bruxy Cavey really has a good answer to your question. He points out that the Joshua conquest was not a “just” war. It was a holy war. It was directed by God, and it included the complete extermination of a people-group, to take their land.

      Do you see modern armies as following this same pattern? Likely not. (Actually, this is exactly the mentality which the early settlers had towards the Indians – they were Joshua, the indians were the Canaanites. Very tragic…) But the point is that we can’t apply some of that teaching to us, and not apply the rest.

      God still makes verdicts on people groups, and decides when and if a people group should be punished or even wiped out. However, He uses pagan armies, or He uses disease or natural disaster for His ends. And we can’t really know what His plan is even after the fact. The bottom line is that we don’t have God’s information on who to attack in the same way that Joshua did, so we can’t ever fight a war with the same sort of confidence that Joshua did.

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