I certainly enjoyed reading the feedback, both positive and negative, to last month’s e-teaching, which centered around Jesus’ commandment to “turn the other cheek.” Because my position stands at odds with certain “nonresistance” theologies that are generally associated with the Anabaptist tradition, the negative feedback, as anticipated, came mostly from them. To their credit, most were very gracious.
Let me say from the start how deeply I respect those within the Anabaptist tradition, which includes Mennonites, the Amish, Hutterites, Brethren and various modern “true church” adherents. I respect anyone who is endeavoring to do the will of God. But may I also add that, sometimes, the most zealous God-loving people are the most susceptible to the kind of teaching that places a greater yoke upon them than Jesus’ easy yoke (see Matt. 11:30). Longing to prove their sincere love for God, pure-hearted people are often drawn to scriptures that seem to call them to make unusual sacrifices, scriptures which they then fail to interpret in the light of everything else God has said. To a degree, they end up “cutting off their hands and gouging out their eyes,” all “in obedience to what Christ clearly taught.”
The good folks I’m describing fall into a trap against which Solomon warned: “Do not be excessively righteous” (Ecc. 7:16). It would seem that the only way one could become “excessively righteous” in a negative way is if one went beyond what God actually expects or requires. In my humble opinion, I think that is what has happened to some who hold to certain distinct views regarding nonresistance. And for lack of a better term, in this article I will refer to that viewpoint as “absolute nonresistance.”
I didn’t intend to write further on the subject of nonresistance, but I seem to be compelled to do so. I’ve been contacted numerous times in the past from readers who wanted to know where I stood on the subject, and I had nothing I’d written at that time to which I could direct them, so this will also serve as a reference in the future.
Nonresistance is Certainly Biblical
Obviously, when Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek,” He was advocating some degree of nonresistance. But to what degree? Does Jesus require that Christians never, under any circumstances, defend themselves or others against those who would harm them? That Christians never serve in any field of government or law enforcement lest they “resist those who are evil”? What about serving in the armed forces and going to war? These are all important questions.
The basic premise for absolute nonresistance is that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, introduced a higher ethical and moral standard than what is found in the Law of Moses. He allegedly called His followers to do what God never expected of those who had lived prior to the Sermon on the Mount. Thus, anything in the Law of Moses that seems to contradict Jesus’ teaching on nonresistance, such as the lawfulness of striking a thief who is breaking into your house, can just be ignored.
Adherents to this view often point out that, six times in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said something like, “You have heard it was said,” after which He referenced some words from the Law of Moses, followed by a contrasting view that began with, “but I say to you.” In all six statements, it is claimed, Jesus raised the moral standard expected of His followers to a standard above what was expected of those under the Law of Moses.
So let’s consider that fundamental premise. If it is true, we would (1) expect that in every case Jesus would first accurately convey the old standard of the Law of Moses (as He certainly was an authority on it, being the author), and (2) we would expect that Jesus would convey a higher standard, one that was not expected of those under the Law of Moses. Let’s take a look at all six of Jesus’ “You have heard…but I say” statements, three this month and the other three next month. We’ll begin with His statement about adultery and lust.
1.) OK to Lust Under the Mosaic Law?
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matt. 7:27-28).
Jesus certainly accurately conveyed what was prohibited under the Law of Moses regarding adultery, quoting the 7th Commandment verbatim. But did He raise the moral bar for His followers? If we answer yes, then we must also conclude that lust was not prohibited for those under the Law of Moses. We must conclude that, although adultery was a sin in God’s eyes for those under the Old Covenant, what universally precedes adultery was not a sin for them.
Here are a few questions to help us determine the truth about lust under the Law of Moses:
1.) Would it have been morally acceptable behavior in the eyes of God for Moses, Aaron, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, as well as any and all other men living under the Law of Moses to mentally undress women who were not their wives and imagine having sex with them?
2.) When an old covenant man prayed, like David, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord,” did his prayer have no application to lust? Were lustful mediations acceptable to God?
3.) If an old covenant man’s God-given conscience bothered him for lusting, was his guilt unfounded?
4.) When David confessed his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, was he only confessing what occurred from the time he and Bathsheba started to disrobe? Was David thinking to himself that, had he only lustfully gazed at another man’s wife and not had sex with her, that would have been OK in God’s eyes, needing no confession?
5.) Were old covenant women not offended if they caught their husbands peeking over walls to watch their neighbors’ wives bathe? Is it likely that old covenant husbands defended themselves against their wives’ anger at such times by saying, “You have no right to be upset with me! I’ve done nothing wrong! It’s not like I was planning to commit adultery!”?
6.) Was the sin of lust, which Jesus soberly warned can result in one’s damnation (see Matt. 5:29-30), of no consequence under the Old Covenant? Is God thus making it more difficult for people living after the time of Christ to gain eternal life than for those living before the time of Christ, a time when lust carried no threat of damnation?
I’d be willing to bet that you answered “no” to every one of those questions.
I could rest my case, but there’s more convincing proof that lust was a sin under the Law of Moses. We only need to keep reading a few sentences past the 7th Commandment to discover that God forbade the coveting of another man’s wife in the 10th Commandment. Most men don’t covet their neighbor’s wife for her cooking skills. The 10th Commandment includes a prohibition against lust.
And what about this passage in the Old Testament? Does it have anything to say about lust?
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline are the way of life
To keep you from the evil woman,
From the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
Nor let her capture you with her eyelids.
For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread,
And an adulteress hunts for the precious life (Prov. 6:23-26, emphasis added).
Clearly, lust was forbidden under the Law of Moses. So Jesus was not raising the moral bar for His followers. He was simply condemning what everyone since Adam has known in their God-given consciences and what the Law of Moses confirmed for 1,300 years: Lust is a sin in God’s eyes.
It is also quite possible that Jesus, who had told His audience seconds earlier that their righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if they wanted to enter heaven (see Matt. 5:2), was condemning those men’s lustful lifestyles that made divorce and remarriage so common among them, something Jesus equated with adultery, and a topic He introduced about two seconds later.
Allow me to paraphrase Matthew 7:27-28:
You have heard from your synagogue teachers, the scribes and the Pharisees, “You shall not commit adultery.” They have done well to teach you the 7th Commandment. They have failed, however, to teach you the 10th Commandment, which includes a prohibition against lust, a sin which they practice, and a sin that always precedes adultery. God expects His people to be guiltless regarding both adultery and what always precedes adultery, namely, lust.
One down, five to go.
2.) OK to Hate Your Enemies Under the Mosaic Law?
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:43-45).
Was Jesus raising the moral bar for His followers with those words? If He was, then we must conclude that God commanded the people of Israel to hate their enemies rather than love them, because that is what Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.'”
The problem is, there is nothing in the Law of Moses that states, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” That is why in so many Bible translations, the first five words of that quotation are capitalized, indicating that they are found in the Old Testament, and the last four words are not capitalized, indicating that they are not found in the Old Testament. Jesus wasn’t quoting God. So who was He quoting?
He could only have been quoting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, the master Scripture twisters. Take note, Jesus did not say, “God said,” but rather, “You have heard that it was said.”
Not only did the Law of Moses not instruct the people of Israel to hate their enemies, it actually instructed them to love their enemies:
If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him (Deut. 23:4-5).
That was a law that was binding on the people of Israel from the time of Moses, from 1,300 years before Christ.
And let us not be so foolish as to think that the application of that law was so narrow that it only applied to the oxen or donkeys of one’s enemy! (“I just saw one of my enemy’s goats wandering away…so glad it wasn’t one of his oxen or donkeys, or God would expect me to do something!”) No! That commandment was just a way of saying, “Love your enemies.”
Yes, everyone knows that God commanded a certain generation of Israelites to annihilate the wicked inhabitants of Canaan who were having sex with animals and throwing their babies into fires. But that was a unique and temporary assignment that God gave to one generation, when God used Israel as a tool of His wrath upon deserving sinners. And what God commanded in Deuteronomy 23:4-5 about loving their enemies (quoted above) obviously did not have application to their enemies in war. In regard to daily matters of life with their neighbors, however, God undeniably commanded the people of Israel to return good for evil.
It could also be convincingly argued that God’s Old Covenant law to love one’s neighbor as oneself—which Jesus declared to be the second greatest commandment—would, in its application, result in deeds of kindness towards one’s enemies. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, which began and ended with a reference to the second greatest commandment, was a story about a Samaritan man being kind to a traditional enemy. Undeniably, Jesus’ story was an illustration of two people who didn’t obey the second greatest commandment (the priest and Levite) and one who did (the Samaritan), by loving his enemy (see Luke 10:25-37).
Here is yet another Old Testament passage that proves that God expected Old Covenant believers to love their enemies:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you (Prov. 25:21-22).
Interestingly and significantly, the Apostle Paul quoted those very same Old Covenant verses as he reminded his New Covenant readers of the moral ethic that God expected of them:
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” (Rom. 12:20-21).
Now please read slowly so you don’t miss this undeniable fact: To Paul, the New Covenant ethic regarding the treatment of one’s enemies was identical to the Old Covenant ethic. Nothing had changed.
So how can it be rightly said that the New Covenant ethic regarding the treatment of one’s enemies is superior to the Old Covenant ethic? How can it be rightly said that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, raised the moral bar above what was stipulated in the Mosaic Law in regard to the treatment of one’s enemies? The fact is, it can’t be rightly said. It can only be wrongly said.
Allow me to ask one further question: For what length of time has God been doing what Jesus said sets an example of loving one’s enemies, namely, causing “His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”? Only since the time of Christ? Not during the time of the Law of Moses? I rest my case.
Clearly, Jesus was not raising the moral bar for His followers regarding the treatment of their enemies. Rather, He was restating God’s original ethic as revealed in the Mosaic Law (and in every sunrise and rainfall since the time of Adam), while at the same time He was exposing the false teaching and practice of the scribes and Pharisees, the master Scripture twisters.
Allow me to paraphrase Matthew 5:43-45:
You have heard from your synagogue teachers, the scribes and Pharisees, “Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” That second clause is another example of your teachers adding to God’s Word and thus nullifying it. God never commanded you to hate your enemies. He has always expected His people to be merciful and gracious, not taking their own revenge, not returning evil for evil, but returning good for evil. He’s demonstrated that ethic by His own example since the time of Adam, as everyone can see that God returns good for evil. He causes His crop-growing sun to rise on evil and good people, and He sends crop-growing rain on the righteous and unrighteous.
Two down, four to go.
3.) OK to Hate Your Brothers Under the Mosaic Law?
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matt. 5:21-24).
Most Bible translations capitalize Jesus’ words, “You shall not commit murder,” indicating it is a genuine quote from the Old Testament, but leave “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court” uncapitalized, indicating that it is not an Old Testament quote. This is just like the previous example we considered. Jesus essentially quoted the 6th Commandment and then included what the scribes and Pharisees added. The scribes and Pharisees apparently condemned murder, but had nothing to say about the sins of the heart that always precede murder (sins of which they themselves were guilty in light of their hatred for, and eventual murder of, Jesus).
So was Jesus raising the moral bar above the Old Testament’s prohibition of murder? If we answer yes, we must conclude that under the Old Covenant, God disapproved of murder but approved the heart attitudes and sins that universally precede murder. Could that be?
Anyone who claims that Jesus was raising the moral bar for His followers must maintain that hate-filled anger and spiteful words were not sins in God’s eyes under the Law of Moses. They must maintain that, during the time of the Old Covenant, God was unconcerned when His people brought offerings to the temple after engaging in bitter unresolved conflicts with their spiritual family members.
But are those claims true? How could they be true if God commanded Israel to love their neighbors as themselves? Love precludes hatred. And how could they be true if God explicitly forbade in the Law of Moses the very same sinful heart attitudes that Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount? For example, we read in the Law of Moses:
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord (Lev. 19:17-18, emphasis added).
How could it rightly be said that Jesus raised the moral bar above what God expected of His Old Covenant people in regard to one’s relationships with his brothers when the Law of Moses forbade the same hatred that Jesus forbade?
Moreover, it is undeniable that the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself was not only binding on Old Covenant believers, but also New Covenant believers. In fact, the second greatest commandment is found only once in the Old Testament, but seven times in the New (see Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8).
That being so, has the second greatest commandment somehow intrinsically changed? Under the Old Covenant, did loving my neighbor as myself allow for spewing angry, hate-filled words upon my neighbor, while under the New Covenant, loving my neighbor as myself forbids such things?
The answers to those questions are obvious.
Again we see that Jesus was not raising the moral bar above the standard found in the Law of Moses. Rather, He was restating God’s original standard and exposing the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.
Allow me to paraphrase Matt. 5:21-24:
You have heard from your synagogue teachers that your ancestors were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” Murder is indeed a sin. But so is the hatred and anger that leads to murder and the hate-filled words that are always spoken prior to murder. So while the scribes and Pharisees have been warning you of the courtroom consequences for those who commit murder, let Me tell you about God’s heavenly courtroom, where you will all one day be on trial. It won’t just be murderers who are sentenced to hell there. It will be all those whose lives were filled with hatred, all those who ignored My great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, and the evidence of one’s hate-filled heart are his hate-filled words. At your trial in heaven’s court, your words will justify or condemn you (see Matt. 12:37).
So don’t be like the Pharisees who major in the minors, focusing on religious rituals while neglecting what is most important, namely, obeying the second greatest commandment. If you are in the middle of a religious ritual and remember that your relationship with a brother is not right, stop what you are doing. Take care of what is most important first. Go and strive to be reconciled with your brother. Once you’ve taken care of what is most important to God, then you can focus on lesser things.
Next month we’ll consider Jesus’ other three “You have heard…but I say to you” statements. Take note that, in all of the first three examples, Jesus indisputably did not raise the moral standard above what was expected under the Law of Moses.
As always, I appreciate your feedback and read all of it. — David