Love your enemies, the other side of the coin

While this discussion has been going on, I have been continuing to ponder whether the OT required the saints to love their enemies or not.

Recently I have started to wonder if I have rightly understood what Jesus was responding to.

Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus commands about non-resistance and love of enemy, have a direct parallel in Luke 6:27-36, except that they are more mixed together. And further, in Romans 12:14-21, Paul further makes these comments: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone… Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Verse 20 (“But if…”) is a quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22; further, it seems like the entire command to “not resist”, “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” is clearly related to this proverb, and could conceivably be reasonably deduced from it. Beyond that, just about every line from Romans 12:14-21 (including the verses I omitted) has clear parallels in Proverbs.

This gives a strong argument towards a non-strict-pacifist reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

Further “circumstantial” evidence is this: Matthew 5:17-20 at least give the prima facie indication that Jesus is not trying to substantially modify the law, though it is not obvious exactly how far “I came not to destroy, but to fulfill” can be stretched, given other considerations about how much Jesus did modify the law, as I mentioned in a previous post. In addition, there are reasonable readings of the main “but I say unto you’s” in the Sermon which could see them as adding no substantial proscriptions that were not already in the law: murder/hatred, adultery/lust (Job 31, Proverbs 6:24, Exodus 20:17), divorce, oaths (e.g., Ecclesiastes 5:1-7; and note, the NT seems approve of some oaths in other places, like in Paul’s epistles), and then finally, non-resistance and love of enemies, which I have already mentioned. He concludes this section, once again, with an allusion to the OT, Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” (which itself is followed by several commands about leaving gleanings for the poor, and being honest, fair, and peaceful, justifying both Matthew and Luke’s versions of it).

(It should be noted, too, that the wisdom tradition of Israel saw itself to be based on the law, so Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job are in fact inspired commentary on what the Law itself teaches; e.g., Proverbs 30:5-6, Ecclesiastes 12:13.)

As well, while I think my reading of Romans 13 is possible, I also think a reading which reads ethical approval from God into the state is possible.

On the other hand, the things I have said about the historical context of Jesus, about Jesus’ attitude toward the state, and about the powers, still remain. Thus I am not sure where to go from here.

Some initial thoughts:

It still seems that Jesus intended his non-resistance/suffering-service to be his political response to other political movements, as I have mentioned before. Further, there is nothing in the NT that explicitly says Christians can be violent; any permission of such activity *for Christians* must be inferred. As well, it does seem like it is a characteristic of the age of the kingdom that violence would be reduced and eliminated (if you’re a postmillennialist, at least).

This might leave me back with something like Yoder or Doug Jones’ position: it is wrong for Christians to use violence, even as servants of the state (which also finds a parallel in early church attitudes toward the empire), and it is something Christians should be working to eliminate (even on the part of the state), while recognizing that it is not always wrong for the state to use it. This is similar to parts of the Anabaptist tradition which had a two-tier ethic, an “ethic of perfection” for the church and another for those outside of it. It is also similar to Jim Ingram’s position on economics that I described elsewhere on this blog.