In beginning our examination of Holy Scripture on the questions of war, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking, we will begin with Jesus, as presented in the 4 canonical Gospels, then turn to the rest of the New Testament before examining large sections of the Hebrew Scriptures or “Old” Testament. Why are we taking this approach? Why begin with Jesus?
We begin with Jesus (and, in a different sense, end with Jesus) because, for Christians, Jesus is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, of doctrinal and ethical convictions and living. The earliest Christian confession, found repeatedly in the New Testament, is “Jesus is Lord!” That is the ultimate title of authority in the first century Roman empire in which the NT was written. The Romans proclaimed that Caesar was lord–was supremely sovereign. For the early Christians to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” was to say “Caesar is NOT lord! NOT supreme! NOT our ultimate authority!” It should carry the same political weight today. No Christian can give ultimate authority to anything or anyone else than Jesus. There have been many attempts at political or religious or other Powers and Authorities to try to usurp that authority. In the days of the Third Reich, the Nazi ideology claimed by the “German Christian” movement argued for “Christ for the Church, Hitler for the Fatherland!” They proclaimed that considerations of “Blood” (racial-ethnic identity), “Soil,” (national land ownership, but also implying cultural superiority), and “Volk” (Peoplehood, a term having far more racist overtones in German than the English equivalent of “Folk” carries) could be valid revelations of God alongside biblical revelation. This is what led the Swiss theologian Karl Barth to reject the ancient tradition of “general revelation” of God through nature and reason, along with the particular revelation of God in and through the unfolding history of Israel and the Church recorded in Holy Scripture. The Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church (which arose to combat the heresy of the German Christian movement), written by Barth declares in Article I, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we must trust and obey in life and in death.” Then along with this affirmation, it gave a denial, “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and and truths, as God’s revelation.”
In considering a biblical case for Christian pacifism, we do well to heed the lessons of Barmen. I am not claiming that any particular government is “another Hitler,” (a charge that is flung about by both Right and Left far too quickly). I am saying that governments make idolatrous claims and they want obedient subjects whenever they want to wage war. Even liberal democracies like the U.S., which allow for conscientious objection to military service, prefer that the numbers of conscientious objectors remain small. They give out propaganda campaigns through military recruitment commercials and military recruitment in public school classrooms and this seeps into the minds of churchmembers almost by osmosis.
In the 1990s, I was slightly irritated with the U.S. evangelical fad of wearing “WWJD?” (for “What Would Jesus Do?”) on bracelets and T-shirts and other paraphanelia because I didn’t think that this was accompanied by any serious examination of the Gospels to see what Jesus did in his time and place as any kind of guide to what the Risen Christ would have his disciples do here and now. The question WWJD? was not, it seemed to me, being answered by serious Bible study, but by mere guesswork–informed no doubt by sermons and praise songs, etc., but not tested by serious NT study. Yet, immature as that fad was, it was onto something. It could have led to a great reformation of the Church in these United States. It at least understood that Jesus’ life, teachings, and death are a model for Christian discipleship (1 Peter 2:20-22). But since the attacks on the U.S. on 11 Sept. 2001, these have all but disappeared. Most ordinary American Christians are not asking themselves anymore “What Would Jesus Do?” certainly not in responding to terrorists (or suspected terrorists), to Muslims, to immigrants, to treatment of “detainees.” These ordinary Christians are not asking, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” or “Who Would Jesus Torture?” but are taking the name of Christ as a totem in all out war against declared national and religious enemies. (I remember how shocked I was when newspapers ran a picture of a tank in Iraq with the words “New Testament” painted on it. See below.)
See also my previous post on the “Military Bibles” with accompanying quotes by George Washington, George W. Bush, General Patton, etc. designed to remake Christianity into a religion of war and conquest.
Beginning with Jesus, and reminding ourselves via Barmen, of how crucial it is to begin with Jesus, and to expect that the gospel message of Jesus will be one that other Powers and Authorities don’t quickly welcome, is a helpful corrective to the many insidious ways that rival messages try to pour Jesus into their preexisting molds: Jesus as CEO of a Fortune 500 company preaching a gospel of capitalism; Jesus as Therapist, preaching a gospel of self-actualization; Jesus as Self-Help Guru; Jesus as Super-Patriot (forgetting that Christians are a global community, called out “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); Jesus as Warrior and not the Prince of Peace.
This brings us to another problem: If we “begin with Jesus,” whose Jesus? That is, what view of Jesus guides our interpretation? The “politically correct” Jesus of the so-called Jesus Seminar is very different from that planned by the folks at “Conservapedia.” The Jesus of Rod Parsley stands in great contrast to the Jesus of Jeremiah Wright; the Jesus of Rick Warren is vastly different from the Jesus of Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis. Whose Jesus? How do we keep from making Jesus over into our own image? Well, as the late theologian H.Richard Niebuhr said, we have the “Rosetta Stone” of the original Gospel portraits. There are no absolute guarantees against misinterpretation, but we will consult a range of contemporary New Testament scholarship, and the Gospel portraits resist attempts to fully distort Jesus into an idol of our own making–as often as that has been tried.
An objection to this method of beginning with Jesus is that God’s revelation begins with the First or “Old” Testament–with Abraham and Sarah and Moses, with the faith and history of Israel, and the critique of the prophets. This is true. One does not fully understand Jesus apart from his context and heritage–his teaching in parables paralleled the teaching style of the sages of the Wisdom tradition (as found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job ) and he stood deeply rooted in the tradition of the prophets of Israel/Judah. Those not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures miss all the “Old” Testament quotations, paraphrases, themes, and allusions throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus. We also misunderstand Jesus by not understanding the rival factions within first century (i.e., Second Temple era) Judaism–rivalries so sharp that some scholars speak of the rival Judaisms of the Second Temple era–prior to the “normative” rabbinic Judaism of the 2nd C. We will have to situate Jesus (and the Jesus movement that became the early Church) within the rivalries of the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots (or proto-Zealot revolutionaries and social bandits), Essenes, or Hellenized philosophical Judaism like that of Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE-50 CE). And it is important to note that what we call the “Old” Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the early church.
But we must still learn to read the Hebrew Scriptures as Jesus did. For us, all these centuries later, there is often a tendency to develop our theology from a particular reading of the Old Testament and then decide to fit Jesus in and be sure he says or does nothing to disturb our view of biblical revelation. Yet Jesus was constantly surprising both his rivals and his disciples–who read the same Scriptures. Flat Bible approaches end up subordinating Jesus to a doctrine of biblical authority or a reading of Scripture derived apart from Jesus. They end up becoming religions “about” Jesus that stand in contrast to the faith of Jesus. The NT writers resist this tendency. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is they that speak of me.” John 5:39. Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “Long ago at many times and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these final days God has spoken to us supremely by a Son.” Heb. 1:1.
Christians throughout history have reacted to previous moldings of Jesus into mistaken shapes by affirming the supremacy of Jesus himself as revelation. Thus the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, in 1925 and 1963 said, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”
So, we will begin with Jesus, with the portraits of Jesus and his teachings found in the 4 canonical Gospels. In our next installment, we will consider ways in which people try to avoid or water down Jesus–often without realizing that’s what they are doing. And we will argue for reading the “Old” Testament as Christian Scripture, as the Bible of Jesus and the earliest Christians.
Note: My approach is not the only way to present a biblical case for pacifism. One could read the entire Scripture through lenses shaped by Jesus but present such a reading in a “Genesis through Revelation” canonical order. That is the approach taken by Church of the Brethren scholar Vernard Eller in his classic, War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation (Repr. Wipf and Stock, 2004). It’s also the route chosen by Mennonite theologian Ted Grimsrud on his website, PeaceTheology.net in a blog series that will become a book, The Bible on Peace. I recommend both works strongly. But I have seen so many recent attempts to remake Jesus and distort Jesus’ message (see the picture above for an extreme example) that I am taking extra precautions that, in the words of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, “We Do See Jesus.” (The phrase comes from the essay, “But We Do See Jesus”: The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth” reprinted as chapter two in Yoder’s The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (University of Notre Dame Press, 1985). )
We are exploring a biblical case for or defense of Christian pacifism. To get started, we need to define our terms and approach to the problem. First, this is a biblical case for Christian pacifism, not the only way the case can be made from Scripture. There are a variety of interpretations and approaches to Scripture held by Christian pacifists–and a number of legitimate ways of laying out the case. This is simply the case I am making and the approach I, as a Christian pacifist who has long studied these matters, have chosen to proceeed.
Second, this is a biblical case. Although bypassing debates over terms like “inerrancy” or ‘infallibility,’ I will be writing with the assumption that most readers are Christians who hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely authoritative for both the doctrinal convictions and also for the ethics or moral practices of the Church, both collectively in its gathered life together and individually as members. Protestant Christians generally belong to Reformation or post-Reformation groups which confess the Scriptures as the supreme authority, sometimes even saying the ONLY authority, in these matters. Eastern Orthodox Christians place the Scriptures within the interpretive framework of the early ecumenical councils of the undivided Church, especially the Apostolic and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Roman Catholic Christians hold that Scriptural authority is part of the twofold teaching authority of the Church Magisterium, the Teaching Church, along with ongoing church tradition as embedded in councils and papal pronouncements. (Under certain very limited circumstances, Catholics hold that the pope can and does teach ‘infallibly.’) Some Quakers and some Pentecostals view the authority of the Scriptures through the authority of the living voice of the Holy Spirit discerned within the local church. But all Christians have the Scriptures in common and I will appeal to those books which all consider canonical or forming the teaching norm of the Church universal.
For this reason, though some references to historical scholarship will be made from time to time, I will not here be trying to reconstruct “the historical Jesus” behind the four canonical Gospels, nor engaging in a “quest for the historical Israel” different from that presented in the historical accounts of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. This study is not aimed at scholars, but at ordinary Christian laity. I assume that if I cannot show that the Bibles they actually read point to pacifism and nonviolence as a Christian norm, it won’t matter what case could be made to academics. I may from time to time alert readers to matters they may want to pursue in-depth in other works, but I have to keep my attention on the goal: understanding the Biblical message as calling for nonviolence and pacifism on the part of all Christians.
Defining some key terms in this study:
- Christian: refers here to all who make the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord,” whose faith in God is mediated by Jesus, and who seek to follow Christ. “Christian,” means “Christ-follower,” and before the earliest believers were called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 13:1) they were simply called “Followers of the Way [of Jesus–as opposed to the Way of the Pharisees, Zealots, one of the Greco-Roman mystery cults, etc.]. So, in this study I am not writing to those who, as Clarence Jordan used to mock, simply want to admire Jesus, but to those who sincerely want to follow in the Way that he opened up. “Christian” in this study does not mean someone who had a certain religious experience (whether they call it being “born again,” or by another name), but then live just like their non-Christian neighbors, but those who realize that being Christian involves addressing claims that Jesus Christ makes on their lives. It will be the burden of this study to show that living without violence or revenge or waging war is one of those claims on the lives of Christians. Engaging in the pursuit of justice and peace is another strong claim Jesus makes on our lives. So, negatively, we avoid killing or violence, and positively we work for justice and peace.
- Violence is defined in this study as “using force or the threat of force to overwhelm the will or violate the rights or bodily integrity of another human being.” Questions of violence to property or to animals or other living things will be bypassed in this study. But mental or psychological violence is covered in our definition by means of the threat of physical violence. For more on this definition see, Glen H. Stassen and Michael L. Westmoreland-White, “Defining Violence and Nonviolence” in Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts, ed., J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Biesecker-Mast (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Update: Mark Congdon thinks this definition needs to change “or” to “and.” I’ll think about that. He may be right. But we need to separate the definition of violence from arguments about whether or not it is right or wrong. After all, Just War Theorists will agree that war is violent; it involves shooting, bombing, stabbing with bayonets, etc. Nevertheless, they would argue that, under precise conditions and terms spelled about by JWT (many of which are now codified in both U.S. and international law), these would be justifiable (they claim) to prevent conditions they would think of as even more evil. Likewise, there may be some things that would not technically count as violence under the definition given–such as assisted suicide, perhaps, that one would still want to argue are morally (and maybe legally) wrong. We need to define violence correctly, but then also argue for it being wrong. The article cited goes into far more detail and is more philosophically precise. Here, we are just getting our bearings for a biblical argument on pacifism. There will be many “borderline” discussions and “grey areas,” but the main argument against war or terrorism, violent coups, spouse or child abuse, etc. will be clear. Once we have moral clarity about the general direction of the life of discipleship as Christians, we can worry about “grey areas.” But we don’t want special pleading–to say that “I don’t believe in violence but I do believe in X, therefore X is not really violent.” We need to separate the definition of violence (whether or not that definition needs refining) from the argument about an action’s morality so as not to hide some types of violence behind definitions.
- As such violence is distinguishable from two related terms force and coercion. Force refers to any power to set an object or a course of events in motion. Coercion refers to all practices that pressure others to take actions or refrain from actions against their own desires. Violence always involves coercion and usually involves force, but not all force or coercion is a form of violence. If I swing a baseball bat, it always involves force, but it is only violent if my intended target is my neighbor’s head rather than the spheroid thrown by my neighbor called a “baseball.” However, if I poison someone without her knowledge, I have not used force, but my action was still violent. Similarly, if I insist that my children do their homework when they would rather not, I am being coercive, but I am not being violent just by using my moral authority as their father (nor is Kate when using her authority as mother to achieve the same end). If I threaten to lock them in a closet otherwise, or beat them into submission, my coercion has been violent.
- These distinctions may seem petty, but they are important. Many have objected to Christian pacifism by claiming that it does away with authority (and thus is always anarchistic) and that Christian pacifists are hypocrites if they discipline their children. That is not so. Some pacifists are against spanking, but not all. (My own objections to spanking do not involve the claim that spanking is always wrong or always child abuse–but that the difference in adult strength is so great, and adults are usually angry when they employ spanking, that abuse is always a strong potential outcome. Once I grabbed one of my daughters by the arm to prevent her from running into an oncoming car. I did the right thing. My action, though forceful and coercive, was hardly violent. But I still accidentally bruised her arm. So, I refrain from spanking because I do not trust my own strength when angry. I do think that parents for whom spanking is the USUAL form of punishment are failing as parents, even if they manage to spank in such a way as to not be abusive.)
- Consider other examples: If someone is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge and another prevents this by tackling the jumper, the rescuer is being forceful and coercive, but not violent–not even if they injure the jumper in the rescue. Workers in a mental hospital who practice safe methods of restraint against a violent patient are not being violent, but if they fight the patient they are being violent–defensively violent, but still violent. Nor are intentions everything: If a pilot accidentally releases his bombs over a wedding, we still call the resulting carnage violence. The argument being made in this study is that Christians are forbidden violence (and commanded to engage in practices of justice seeking and peacemaking), NOT they are forbidden to ever use force or coercion.
- Nonviolence is a term that has evolved in meaning. It once meant only refraining from violence. It has evolved to mean, and I use the term here, to refer to active practices against injustice and war that are not themselves violent. Examples of such practices include: strikes (if the strikers remain disciplined and nonviolent), boycotts, demonstrations, walkouts, nonviolent protests, symbolic actions, work slowdowns, general strikes throughout a nation, fasting (under certain conditions), etc. We will see numerous such examples in Scripture and history throughout this study. Nonviolent direct action is a form of conflict, of struggle against injustice. It is not passive or submissive or cowardly. It is an alternative to flight or fight, to submission or armed, violent, resistance.
- Conflict resolution or conflict transformation refers to a series of evolving practices for peacemaking in the midst of conflict, including in the midst of war or armed violence. These practices are distinct from the practices of nonviolent direct action, but they are not in tension with them. The practices include negotiation, cooling off periods, etc.
- Pacifism refers to the ideological conviction, often religiously rooted, that all war and violence is morally wrong and may not be used even as a “lesser evil.” In this study, I refer to Christian pacifism, the claim that Christians (Christ-f0llowers) must attempt to live without violence, especially without lethal violence, and, positively, to engage in practices of nonviolent struggle for justice and peacemaking. For this reason, at a minimum, Christians must refuse to go to war or to prepare for war by serving in national militaries (or by serving in armed militias or guerilla groups, for that matter). (The question of police work is more complex than can be addressed here, but it cries out for more attention. See further Tobias Winright, “From Police Officers to Peace Officers,” in The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, ed. Stanley Hauerwas, Harry J. Huebner, and Chris Huebner (Eerdmans, 1999, repr. Wipf and Stock, 2005). This is based on Winrights unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Christian ethics from Notre Dame, which I hope will be published in full in the near future.)
- Nevertheless, as we will see, the major thrust of the biblical message is not on what we should refrain from doing (violence, making war), but on what we should be doing (working for peace and justice). This point has come to have wide agreement beyond Christian pacifist circles. Christian pacifists and those from the “Justifiable War Tradition,” are beginning to agree on a set of normative practices in Just Peacemaking. I have discussed those in depth elsewhere on this blog. I may refer to them again at the end of this study, but not in detail.
I think we will end this first installment here so as to refrain from making these too long for busy readers to follow. The next installment, then, will deal with two more “getting started” questions: “Why Does This Study Begin with Jesus and the New Testament?” and “How Ought Christians to Read the Old Testament?” From there we will begin our biblical studies.
Biblical Studies on Nonviolence and Peacemaking
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Daniel: Under the Siege of the Divine. Plough Publishing House, 1997.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Exodus: Let My People Go. Cascade Books, 2008.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust. Orbis Books, 1997.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears. Augsburg-Fortress, 1996.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God. Fortress Press, 1999.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. Job: And Death, No Dominion. Sheed and Ward, 2000.
- Berrigan, Daniel, s.j. The Kings and their Gods: The Pathology of Power. Eerdmans, 2008. (On 1 & 2 Kings.) People are familiar with Berrigan as a nonviolent activist. Some others know him as a poet. But this radical Jesuit priest is also a very powerful biblical scholar. Yet these works are not technical, historical-critical, biblical commentaries (though Berrigan’s work shows how intimately familiar he is with biblical scholarship), but spiritual readings of biblical texts through the eyes of his radical, nonviolent faith and activism.
- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Fortress Press, 1940.
- Borg, Marcus. Jesus: A New Vision. Fortress Press, 1994.
- Borg, Marcus. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. HarperOne, 2008.
- Borg, Marcus and N. T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
- Brown, Dale W. Biblical Pacifism. Evangel Publishing House, 2003.
- Brueggemann, Walter. Peace. Chalice Press, 2001. This is a revised edition of Brueggemann’s much earlier work, Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom.
- Cassidy, Richard J. Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke’s Gospel. Orbis Books, 1978.
- Cassidy, Richard J. John’s Gospel in New Perspective: Christology and the Realities of Roman Power. Orbis Books, 1992.
- Cassidy, Richard J. Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles. Orbis Books, 1987.
- Chilton, Bruce. Rabbi Jesus; An Intimate Portrait. HarperOne, 2008.
- Chilton, Bruce. Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography. Image, 2005.
- Chilton, Bruce and R. Jacob Neusner, eds. The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission. Westminster/John Knox, 2004.
- Crosby, Michael H. House of Disciples: Church, Economics, and Justice in Matthew. Wipf and Stock, 2004.
- Crosby, Michael H. Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World. Orbis Books, 2005.
- Dear, John, s.j. Jesus the Rebel: Bearer of God’s Peace and Justice. Sheed and Ward, 2000.
- Dear, John, s.j. Mary of Nazareth: Prophet of Peace. Ave Maria Press, 2003.
- Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, and New Creation–A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. HarperOne, 1996. I don’t agree with Hays everywhere, but he does an excellent job of showing how nonviolence and peacemaking are in every strand of the New Testament.
- Herzog, William II. Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God. Westminster/John Knox, 2000.
- Howard-Brook, Wes. Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship. Orbis Books, 2004.
- Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer. Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation, Then and Now. Orbis Books, 1999.
- Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds. The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship. Orbis Books, 2002. If you want a 1 volume introduction to the New Testament that focuses on radical discipleship, sharing possessions, peacemaking and resistance to the violent Powers and Authorities, Howard-Brook and Ringe have edited that book here. Perfect for beginning scholars or for adult Bible studies in churches.
- Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. Fortress, 1993.
- Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Fortress Press, 2002.
- Horsley, Richard A. In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008.
- Jordan, Clarence. The Substance of Faith and Other Sermons, ed. Dallas Lee. New York: Association Press, 1972.
- Jordan, Clarence. The Sermon on the Mount. Rev. Ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1974.
- Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action? Orbis Books, 1986. The late R. Lapide was Jewish, of course, but this work belongs in the biblical studies on nonviolence.
- Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Orbis Books, 1988.
- Myers, Ched and Elaine Enns. Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Vol. 1: New Testament Perspectives on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. Orbis Books, 2009. (Vol. 2 focuses on contemporary practices rather than biblical study.)
- Rensberger, David. Johannine Faith and Liberating Community. Westminster/John Knox Press, 1988.
- Richard, Pablo. Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Orbis Books, 1995.
- Schussler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Fortress Press, 1998.
- Stassen, Glen H. Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance. Jossey-Bass, 2006.
- Swartley, Willard M. Mark: The Way for All Nations. Wipf and Stock, 1999.
- Swartley, Willard M. Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. Eerdmans, 2006. This is Swartley’s masterpiece. Most New Testament scholars finish their active careers by writing a New Testament theology that is the culmination of their scholarship. Instead, Swartley wrote what they often leave out: the centrality of peace to both NT theology and ethics.
- Swartley, Willard M. Israel’s Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
- Swartley, Willard M. , ed. The Love of Enemies and Nonretaliation in the New Testament. Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
- Swartley, Willard M. Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation. Herald Press, 1983.
- Swartley, Willard M., ed. Violence Renounced: Rene Girard, Biblical Studies and Peacemaking. Pandora Press, 2000.
- Trocme, Andre. Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution. Rev. & Exp. Ed. Orbis Books, 2003.
- Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Discernment. Fortress, 1992.
- Wink, Walter. Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way. Fortress Press, 2003.
- Wink, Walter. The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man. Fortress Press, 2002.
- Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Augsburg Fortress, 1997.
- Wright, N. T. Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Eerdmans, 1997.
- Yoder, John Howard. He Came Preaching Peace. Herald Press, 1985.
- Yoder, John Howard. The Original Revolution. Herald Press, 2003.
- Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Eerdmans, 1994. Original edition, 1972.
Key: Items marked with an asterisk (” *”) are introductory or for beginners in these fields of study. Those marked with the number sign (“#”) are of intermediate difficulty. Items marked with a plus sign (“+”) are more difficult or presume background knowledge in biblical studies, theology, and/or political theory.
The theme of “empire” has become widespread in recent biblical and theological studies, as well as recent political studies. Political theorists debate whether or not the U.S. is an empire (remember that Rome was called an empire in its colonies long before that language was used back in Italy, where the trappings of the earlier republic were kept for some time), whether globalized capitalism forms a new kind of empire, and related matters. For brevity’s sake, I am including only biblical and theological works, although they may reflect on contemporary issues. In general, the anti-imperialist tone of the biblical writings has become newly emphasized in these studies.
#Avram, Wes, ed., Anxious About Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities. Brazos, 2004. These are collected papers from a conference held in light of the unveiling of the “Bush Doctrine” in 2002 which proclaimed that the U.S. would tolerate no military or economic rivals and would launch “preemptive wars” against any and all perceived threats. Most of the contributors are quite critical of this doctrine, but political ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, once a liberal just war theorist, has become a vocal apologist for the Bush administration and the “war on terrorism.”
*Carter, Warren. The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide. Abingdon Press, 2006. This is an excellent place to begin exploring the recent biblical works on this theme.
#___________. Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations. Trinity Press International, 2001.
+Cassidy, Richard J. Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament: New Perspectives. Crossroad, 2001. A good introduction from a brilliant Catholic New Testament scholar who is also a peace and justice activist.
+___________. Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke’s Gospel. Orbis Books, 1978.
#____________. John’s Gospel in New Perspective: Christology and the Realities of Roman Power. Orbis Books, 1992.
*____________. Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles. Orbis Books, 1987.
*Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007. A popular-level book with rather sweeping conclusions, some of which may outrun the exegetical evidence.
#Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom: A New Vision of Paul’s Words and World. HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.
#Cullmann, Oscar (1902-1999). The State in the New Testament. Scribner’s, 1956. Contrasts the vision of the state as “God’s instrument to you for good” in Romans 13 with the vision of the state as demonic “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and says that discernment as to when the state is more in line with Romans 13 or Revelation 13 is a major Christian task.
+Griffith, Lee. The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God. Eerdmans, 2002. This is a difficult, but very important book. Griffith had already completed much of the book prior to 9/11. That terrorist attack and the U.S. response simply reinforced most of these conclusions.
*Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. Orbis Books, 1999. This is a serious study of the Book of Revelation, but written in the easy-to-read style of all of Howard-Brook’s works.
*Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds. The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship. Orbis Books, 2002. This is an excellent introduction to the New Testament from biblical scholars committed to radical discipleship and nonviolence. Two chapters deal especially with our theme: “Paul’s Letters: God’s Justice Against Empire,” by Neil Elliott and “Revelation: Claiming the Victory Jesus Won Over Empire” by Wes Howard-Brook.
#Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Fortress Press, 2003. Glen Stassen warns that some of Horsley’s biblical exegesis in this book doesn’t seem very careful. What is certain is that Horsley has changed his mind considerably since his earlier work, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. Harper & Row, 1987. In that earlier work, Horsley argued that Jesus dealt almost exclusively with Palestinian village society and that his teachings on nonviolence and enemy love did not address the question of Rome. Horsley has had a rather large change of heart in this regard.
*____________, ed. . Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Trinity Press International, 1997.
*Horsley, Richard A. and Neil Asher Silberman. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. Putnam, 1997.
+Horsley, Richard A., ed., Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl. Trinity Press International, 2000. Includes several scholarly essays on the theme of empire.
+____________., ed. Paul and the Roman Imperial Order. Trinity Press International, 2004. A collection of very deep scholarly essays.
#Keller, Catherine. God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys. Fortress, 2005. Keller is a feminist historical theologian who has co-written and co-edited works with the more famous Rosemary Radford Ruether. While I share her negative attitude toward the normal idea of apocalyptic writings, I argue that the only biblical examples, Daniel and Revelation, use the genre of apocalypse to subvert the usual expectations. I would not want to be “counter-apocalyptic” in the sense of counter-Daniel or counter-Revelation.
*Laarman, Peter, ed. Getting on Message: Challenging the Religious Right from the Heart of the Gospel. Beacon Press, 2006. See the chapter, “Easter Faith and Empire: Recovering the Prophetic Tradition on the Emmaus Road.” by Ched Myers.
# Northcutt, Michael B. An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire. I. B. Taurus, 2004.
+Phillips, Kevin P. American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Viking, 2006. The author is a former political strategist for the U.S. Republican party who has become alarmed at the direction of his party and the nation.
+Sugirtharajah, R.S. The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations. Cambridge University Press, 2005. A difficult, but rewarding, study from the viewpoint of a liberation theologian from India.
+Stringfellow, William (1928-1985). Conscience and Obedience: The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming. Word Books, 1977. A popularization of the work of Oscar Cullman on the state and application to the U.S. that Stringfellow knew in the ’60s and ’70s.
#Taylor, Mark Lewis. Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire. Fortress Press, 2005. Very important reflections from a contemporary theologian. Medium difficulty.
+Thompson, Leonard. The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire. Oxford University Press, 1990. Difficult, but rewarding reading.
+Wengst, Klaus K. The Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ. Fortress, 1987. This is an important and very careful study of the contrast between the kind of peacemaking that Jesus taught and the “peace through strength” policies of empire, whether Rome’s or Napolean’s or Britain’s, or the Soviet Union’s, or the de facto “empire of bases” of the contemporary USA.
In their popular work, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, Jesus scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan talk about the contrast between Jesus’ entry into the East Gate of Jerusalem with Pilate’s military/imperialist entry into the West Gate of Jerusalem on the same day. They state the simultaneous nature of these events with a little more certainty than is historically warranted, but we do know that Pilate did not normally reside in Jerusalem, but arrived with extra troops every year to keep the crowds from revolting Rome’s rule during Passover. After all, Passover celebrates the Exodus, God’s liberating of His people from another oppressive empire long ago. Discontent in the Jewish crowds would be strongest during Passover.
So, Pilate comes from the West with extra troops on war horses in a military display to cow the masses. By contrast, Jesus arrives from the East in a carefully staged (getting the colt/foal of a donkey) counter-demonstration. Drawing from Zechariah (not lost on the crowds), he presents a salvation from imperial rule that is not based on greater firepower, but on peace and meekness.
When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we don’t just remember the fickle crowds (so soon to desert Jesus, along with the 12) and their brief recognition/celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We also remember that Jesus presents us with a deliberate choice: Following His Way of meekness, humility, and peace or the Way of Empire and military might. There is no Way to follow Jesus that does NOT break from the military option.
In light of recent discussions, I should also work on getting bibliographies on abortion, the death penalty, and related matters. But this is a good starting point for examining Scripture and peacemaking. Future installments will cover theological works, church history, philosophical arguments, and contemporary applications.
I hope biblio-bloggers will give me additional entries, along with reasons why they would make good additions. MLW-W.
Alison, James. Raising Abel: The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination. Crossroad, 1996.
Allison, Dale C. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. Crossroad, 1999.
Bauman, Clarence. The Sermon on the Mount: The Modern Quest for Its Meaning. Mercer University Press, 1985.
Beck, Robert. Nonviolent Story: Narrative Conflict Resolution in the Gospel of Mark. Orbis, 1996.
Borg, Markus. Jesus, A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship. Harper & Row, 1988. (This is the best of Borg’s books on Jesus.)
Bredin, Mark. Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace: A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation. Paternoster, 2003.
Brown, Dale W. Biblical Pacifism. 2nd Ed. Evangel, 2003. (This 2nd ed. is a MUCH better book and incorporates Stassen’s just peacemaking theory and his 14 Triads interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.)
Brueggemann, Walter. Peace. Chalice Press, 2001. New, revised edition of Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom. United Church Press, 1976. (Brueggemann is one of the most amazing living scholars of the First Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. )
Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading. Orbis, 2000.
Cassidy, Richard J. Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke’s Gospel. Orbis, 1978.
__________. John’s Gospel in New Perspective: Christology and the Realities of Roman Power. Orbis, 1992.
__________. Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles. Orbis, 1987.
Collins, Adela Yarbro. Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Fortress, 1994.
Crosby, Michael. Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Challenge for First World Christians. Orbis, 1981.
Ferguson, John. The Politics of Love: The New Testament and Nonviolent Revolution. Attic, n.d.
Ford, J. Massynberde. My Enemy is My Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke. Orbis, 1984.
Grimsrud, Ted and Loren L. Johns, eds., Peace and Justice Shall Embrace: Power and Theopolitics in the Bible. Herald, 1999.
Hamerton-Kelly, Robert. The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark. Fortress, 1994.
Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. (This is an excellent work on New Testament ethics by a very fine biblical scholar. I have disagreed with his conclusions on “homosexuality,” but his arguments and conclusions on “the use of violence in defense of justice” is excellent.)
Hengel, Martin. Victory Over Violence: Jesus and the Revolutionists. Fortress, 1973.
Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Fortress, 2003.
_________. Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine. Harper & Row, 1987.
_________, ed., Paul and Empire: Religion and Power iin Roman Imperial Society. Trinity, 1997.
Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyther. Unveiling Empire: Revelation Then and Now. Orbis, 2003.
Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action? Orbis, 1992. (Lapide was a German Orthodox Rabbi who was also heavily involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue. )
Lassere, Jean. War and the Gospel. Trans. Oliver Coburn. Herald Press, 1962.
Lind, Millard C. Yahweh is a Warrior. Herald, 1980. (Lind is a Mennonite OT scholar. This is the best way I have seen in dealing with the “Holy War” texts in the OT, especially in Joshua and Judges.)
Macgregor, G. H. C. The New Testament Basis of Pacifism. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1954. (Macgregor, a NT scholar in the Church of Scotland, kept his commitment to pacifism even as the UK was bombed during WWII.)
McSorley, Richard, S.J., New Testament Basis for Peacemaking. Herald, 1985.
Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Orbis, 1988.
Rensberger, David. Johannine Faith and Liberating Community. Westminster, 1988.
Schuessler Fiorenza, Elizabeth. The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment. Fortress, 1985.
Schwager, Raymond. Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible. Harper & Row, 1987.
Sider, Ronald J. Christ and Violence. Herald, 1979. (This is an excellent argument that does not require any background in biblical studies.)
Swartley, Willard M. Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. Eerdmans, 2006. (Swartley, a Mennonite NT scholar and former Dean of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, here gives his magnum opus. It was well worth the wait.)
__________, ed. The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament. W/JKP, 1992. (A fantastic collection of essays by a wide variety of scholars.)
___________, ed. Violence Renounced: Rene’ Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking. Cascadia, 2000. (Rene Girard, a literary theorist and anthropologist, studied the connections between violence, religion, sacrifice, and literature. His conclusions converted him to Christianity as the only religion which unmasks the way that religion justifies violence. His work is fairly technical and jargon loaded. But he has been very influential in biblical studies and theology–though not uncritically so.)
Wengst, Klaus. Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ. Fortress, 1987.
Williams, James G. The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence. Harper, 1991. (An excellent Girardian argument.)
Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress, 1992.
_________. When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of the Nations. Fortress, 1998.
Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Fortress, 1996.
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Rev. Ed. Eerdmans, 1994.
I receive emails asking me questions WAY outside my fields of expertise. One recent one asked for an account of the canon of Scripture: how we got the books in our Bibles, how various ones made it in or didn’t, why differences (in the Old Testament) between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Bibles, etc. Well, I’ve read some works on this topic, but not recently. So, I contacted some biblical scholars that have their own blogs and asked if any would be willing to post a series on the same–aimed at laity. My old friend, Darrell Pursifal, who blogs as “Dr. Platypus,” decided to take me up on it.
His first installment, on the canon of the Older or First Testament is here. I expect his post on the New Testament canon, soon. Thanks, Darrell, for rescuing me. I’m always glad to be able to use the resources of the internet to educate the People of God and I know I need help from others like Darrell. This is that elusive “online community” you hear so much about, right? 🙂
Read Darrell’s blog, regularly. It’s fun and informative even if/especially because he doesn’t always agree with me!
Update: Here is Darrell’s post on the NT canon.
UPDATE: Darrell’s site is currently experiencing some kind of technical difficulty. When it is fixed, I will notify all my Gentle Readers in this space. Problem fixed, I think. It was not Dr. Platypus’ problem, but mine.
Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) was born 146 years ago, today, 31 July 1861. A friend of Susan B. Anthony and, like Anthony, a pioneer feminist and suffragist, Montgomery was active in social reform and became elected to the Rochester, NY city council–in a day when it was still considered shocking for women to walk outdoors unaccompanied or to speak up in mixed gender public assemblies. A graduate of Wellesley College(A.B., 1884), Montgomery placed first in her Greek course, which came in handy later. A Baptist layleader, Montgomery worked hard for the cause of missions, writing books on missions and prayer. She also became the first known woman to translate the New Testament from Greek to English and have the translation published professionally. Montgomery’s translation of the New Testament was published by the American Baptist Publication Society (forerunner of Judson Press) in 1924 as a celebration of ABPS’s 100th year of publication–which is why it was called the Centenary New Testament. It remained in print until the 1990s (and I used to give it to women ministers when they were ordained). Montgomery’s translation appears to have been the first to put titles on chapters and sections of the Bible and moved the verses to the side of the page to make it easier to read the text in paragraphs.
In 1921, Montgomery was elected President of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA), the first woman to serve as head of a major Christian denomination and one of the few laypeople to hold such an office. Although never ordained, Montgomery was licensed to preach and frequently led the worship at Lake Avenue Baptist Church, Rochester, NY when the pastor was absent. For ten years she was president of the Women’s American Baptist Missionary society and she was also elected president of the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions.
In addition to missions and the struggle for universal suffrage, Montgomery also championed such causes as the elimination of poverty, free public education, and peace.
Happy Birthday, Sister Helen! May your life and witness inspire many today, especially among women and Baptists!
I was going to note that on 12 July 1906, the famed Neutestamentler Ernst Käsemann(1906-1998), who launched the “Second Quest for the Historical Jesus” was born. But, Jim West beat me to it.
Jim, however, seems to have missed the significance of today for another giant in church history. 12 July 1536 was the day that the Catholic humanist and biblical scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) died. Erasmus, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, prepared the Greek New Testament that was a major factor in the launching of the Protestant Reformation. Although remaining Catholic, Erasmus influenced Luther, Zwingli, and several of the Anabaptists. Erasmus was also a pacifist–although of a very different type from most of the Anabaptists. He attempted to reform the Catholic Church from within, and was as shocked by the willingness of Reformers (both Magisterial and Radical) to split the Church as he was by the excesses and superstitions of late Medieval Catholicism.