Chuck Scriven, lex talionis, and All in the Family

(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

Commenting on this week's Sabbath School Lesson, Charles Scriven continues the conversation over biblical authority with seminary professors, Roy Gane and Richard Davidson. Scriven writes:In an e-mail, Davidson suggested that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount makes no advance on the moral standard, familiar from the Pentateuch, of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.2 Although Jesus appears to contrast his own vision with that of the so-called lex talionis, the Sermon, Davidson said, does not call us "to a higher ethical standard. The same call for personal love for one’s enemies Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount" can be found "throughout" the Old Testament.3

Davidson wants the Bible’s authority to be flat across all its bits and pieces, so he has to show that Jesus does not disagree with what you find elsewhere in the book. And it is true, certainly, that the Old Testament expresses the ideals of love for the stranger and reconciliation with the enemy. It is also true that Jesus himself was a lover of the Hebrew Bible. But the suggestion that the Old Testament gives voice "throughout" to the ideal of enemy love is, to say the least, debatable.

To take the severest counterexample, you can find in Scripture calls to…genocide, calls as unmitigated as they are horrific.4 This fact is one reason why the most influential scholars agree that Jesus’ reading of the Old Testament takes Jewish moral thought in a distinctive direction. Even if some disagree, the consensus on this is as wide as the sea.Of course you should read the rest in context here. And feel free to comment.

In addition, since this conversation over the proper Christian use of violence has appeared several times on this blog (Israel and Palestine and Lebanon and Iraq and Darfur) I had to smile while watching this famous episode from All in the Family.

It always surprises me when hawkish people find protecting family or others incompatible with a prophetic Christian tradition of peace-making. Garnishing this argument WWII, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Darfur get lumped in together with little nuance. In fact, John Yoder numbers 21 faith-inspired versions of pacifism in his pamphlet Nevertheless (1971). Here's a great blogger, Sub Ratione Dei, who has been reading through it and posting summaries and comments. Enjoy the show. Even All in the Family notes that ethics often stems from how one reads the Testaments.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at