More on property destruction

Dan Oudshorn has just put up his promised post on Jesus’ and the legitimacy of destroying private property (for liberating ends), and so I will continue with the response I began earlier. (Due to the awkwardness of blogging, I will refer to Dan in the third person in the main body of the post, though hopefully no one will infer pretentiousness of me because of that.)

Dan did not interact with my response to his argument from the temple action given in my previous post, so I won’t add anything with regards to that argument at this point. However, he also adds two further arguments from the Gospel narratives:

1) Jesus’ apparent tacit approval of the destruction of a homeowner’s roof in the story where he healed the paralytic let down through that roof (cf. Luke 5:17-26 and par.), and

2) Jesus’ actions in the story of the exorcism of “Legion”, where he permits the demons to possess a large herd of swine who subsequently run off a cliff, falling to their deaths, at the economic expense of their owners.

As with Dan’s first argument, I don’t think these will work for the purposes he is using them. The first of the new arguments depends on (a) assuming Jesus’ silence about the roof’s destruction means he approved of it, rather than him just focusing on a more important matter, and (b) that what the men did could actually be classified as destruction at all. In Luke’s telling of the story, he mentions that the roof they let the man through had “tiles”, which suggests to me that all that would be required for them to achieve their ends would be the moving of a tile (or tiles). This would make their action no more destructive than opening a closed window, it seems to me.

The second new argument is more interesting, and perhaps useful, but I think also ultimately unsuccessful. Of all the places in the Gospels, the immediate context of this story more emphatically emphasizes the unique divine authority of Jesus (the immediately preceding story is that of Jesus’ calming the waves, with clear allusions to OT motifs of God’s mastery over the chaotic abyss). It would seem difficult, in that context, not to interpret Jesus’ obvious and complete authority over the demons (which they themselves explicitly confess) in the same light: Jesus is being acclaimed in this story as uniquely authoritative. Thus, as D.A. Carson points out in his commentary on the parallel passage in Matthew: “[T]he context offers some hints. He who is master of nature (vv. 23-27) is also its ultimate owner (vv. 28-34; cf. Ps 50:10).” [Carson, EBC on Matthew, s.v. 8:34-34) This understanding of Jesus’ action would thus be parallel to my argument in response to Dan’s reading of the temple action: in this narrative Jesus’ unique authority over the world is highlighted, and thus his unique right to do these actions.

This means that, given the arguments provided so far, we (as disciples of Jesus) still don’t have an adequate reason to override the general command given in scripture prohibiting theft, and enjoining respect for the property rights of others. Dan mentions future posts on this theme in relation to the corpus of Paul and John, and I will hopefully be able to address those when they come.