The final line of this chapter may serve as a summary of the six expansions of Old Testament Law. Pennington argues this is the summary of all of Matthew 5 as well as a segue to the next set of teachings on practice (Sermon, 203). Matthew 5:20 introduced the Jesus’s teaching on keeping the Law by saying “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In 5:48 he goes even further, the true disciple of Jesus mush be perfect.

What does it mean to be perfect? The noun τέλειος (teleios) refers to being complete, mature, or whole. The point is not that the true disciple of Jesus score a perfect 100% on the holiness scale, but rather they become mature in their faith and practice so that the do consider their thoughts as more important than their actions, that they do in fact love their enemies as well as their neighbors.

Pennington devotes a chapter to the meaning of “perfect” in his book on the Sermon on the Mount. There is a serious problem translating τέλειος (teleios) with the modern English word “perfect” since the connotation of the English word has the sense of absolute moral perfection, sinless, or purity. But as Pennington rightly points out, the word teleiosis better translated “whole, complete” or even “virtuous” (Sermon, 70). When the disciple of Jesus tries to be perfect in the sense of completely sinless, they will fail since no one can be actually sinless. By connecting teleios with the concept of shalom in the Old Testament, Pennington argues the true disciples of Jesus will be whole, complete, and mature. In fact, Pennington says the idea of teleios is central to everything Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

For a Jewish person, keeping the Law perfectly was the goal, but no one was capable of fully keeping the Law (especially since “being holy” was far more than a moral state in the Law). The sacrifices covered lapses in holiness, but even with a sacrifice what really mattered was the state one one’s heart. Consider Psalm 51:10. When caught in a heinous sin, David begs the Lord to “create in me a clean heart” and in 51:16-17 he acknowledges God is not pleased with sacrifices, but with a “broken and contrite heart.”

In his six examples drawn from the Law, Jesus said one’s thoughts are as important as one’s actions. Internal anger is more damaging than murder. Internal lust is more damaging than adultery. Who could be considered perfect if our thoughts were exposed for all to see?

For this reason, McKnight argues perfection is not “the rigor of sinlessness” but rather the “rigor of utter devotion” (McKnight, Sermon, 146). The true disciple of Jesus is utterly devoted to God, pursuing righteousness in every way possible.

This is not the way most people think of perfection. A recent episode of the Simpsons the evangelical Christian Ned Flanders was teaching a Sunday School lesson on “how to get to heaven.” Several times he said something like “the only way to heaven is to be righteous.” That is not the case at all! The only way to get to heaven is to be forgiven. This is not a license to sin (Romans 6:1-4), but rather the freedom to grow in maturity, the freedom to embrace our wholeness in Christ.

How does this view of perfection as wholeness or maturity change the way the follower of Jesus lives out their life? It ought to relieve the disciple of Jesus from the guilt associated with failure to live up to perfection, but are there some other positive contributions to living out one’s faith?

The Law touches on every area of life. There are civic rules as well as commands governing worship and sacrifice, The Law included moral and ethical commands to guide the people as with economics, immigration, social and personal relationships.

By the time of Jesus, the Law had been interpreted and re-applied to new situations. The Law commanded the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath by not working on the seventh day of the week. But what did the Law mean by work? If one cannot light a lamp on the Sabbath, what happens if you accidentally snuff your lamp in the evening of the Sabbath?  Many of these definitions of “work” intended to clarify what as permitted (and what was not) on the Sabbath so that the people could keep the Sabbath properly. There was a good intention behind the rules, to honor God and keep his commandments.

When Jesus is asked about the “greatest commandment” in Matthew 22:34-40 he replied “love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” For Jesus, the whole of the Law and Prophets hung on these two commandments. Certainly he did not encourage Sabbath-breaking, but if a person was unloving to their neighbor while trying to honor God, then they have broken one of the foundational commandments. Likewise, if someone acting in an offensive way toward God while being loving toward their neighbor, they have broken the greatest of the commandments. Even so, it may be a shock to his disciples to hear, “love your enemies.”

The command to love one’s neighbor is one of the two “greatest commandments.” Along with the Shema, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18 as the key text in the Torah commanding love of one’s neighbors. Jesus does not reverse the command, but deepens it to define neighbor to include even one’s enemies.

Defining who is a neighbor (and who was not) was a common discussion in Second Temple Judaism. A person might love their neighbor, but is a Roman soldier was not a “neighbor” then it was possible to hate them. Certainly a Roman oppressor like Pilate could be the subject of hatred? Defining boundaries and deciding “who is in, who is out” was just as popular in Jesus’s days as it is today.

This is the point of the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus agrees with many Jewish teachers of the time by saying “love your neighbor” is one of the two great commandments, but someone asks him to clarify who counts as a neighbor. By using a Samaritan as the example of someone who was a “good neighbor” Jesus intentionally shocks his audience.

This love of one’s enemy extends even to the Gentiles. For Second Temple period the ultimate ‘enemy” was a Roman. For Jesus to tell a crowd of Galileans to love even a Roman gentile would have been a shocking reversal of cultural expectations. Imagine the most right-wing radical southern Christian showing kindness and love toward Bill and Hillary Clinton? Imagine the most left-wing liberal New York Democrat showing love and compassion toward Donald Trump? (Yes, I am embracing the stereotype to make a point!)

Jesus implies “hate your enemy” is a corollary to “love your neighbor.” But where is the command to “hate your enemy” found? There is little evidence any Jewish writer or teacher actually expressed the idea “hate your enemies” at the time of Jesus and hatred of an enemy is not typical of Judaism either in the first century or today.

Scot McKnight cites 1QS 1:9-11 as evidence the Qumran community expressed hatred toward the Romans. This text commands love for the Children of Light and hatred for the Children of Darkness (McKnight, Sermon, 142) It may not be necessary to find a text which states “hate your enemies” since hatred for people one does not like is common in every culture, especially the world of the first century. It is easy to find expressions of hatred in ancient literature, whether that is a Roman hating a Jew, or a Jew hating a Roman.

It is possible this “hatred of an enemy” is drawn from Psalm 139:21-22. The Psalmist expresses hatred for those who hate the Lord: “I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” Psalm 140:10 prays a curse on an enemy: “Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!” The Psalmist would not consider himself in breach of the command to love one’s neighbor, but he does pray for the enemy to suffering greatly. Who are these enemies? The Babylonians? The Persians?  The Greeks?  The Romans? The Democrats? The Republicans?

Do contemporary Christians draw similar boundaries? I see a great deal of hatred expressed by Christians on social media, especially towards public personalities. That might be an American free speech right, but Jesus is calling his disciples to set those rights aside and love even your enemy! We can be proud about “loving our neighbors” by donating money to ministries that feed the poor “over there” while doing nothing for the poor in our own community. We think we are loving our neighbor by praying for nebulous, unnamed needy people yet poor hatred on them when the show up on our borders in desperate need.

Paul, Ian. Revelation. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 371 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the 1969 commentary by Leon Morris, originally published by Eerdmans. Ian Paul is described as “a freelance theologian” as well as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate minister at St Nicholas’ Church in Nottingham, England. These three roles are reflected in this commentary. Paul certainly pays attention to the exegetical and theological details of the text, but he is also interested in accurately communicating the book of Revelation in a pastoral context.

Ian Paul RevelationThe fifty-six page introduction begins with the observation that Revelation has been an influential book on both culture and worship, but it is also one of the most neglected books of the New Testament. Outside of the first three chapters, few preach from the book of Revelation. For Paul, Revelation is an important book because it tests an exegete’s ability to read Scripture well. Perhaps the proof of this is the wide range of bad interpretations of Revelation over the long history of the church. But Revelation also has significant implications for how the Gospel interacts with culture.

Paul’s approach in the commentary is first to pay disciplined attention to the text. This close reading of what Revelation actually says is not always evident as commentators are often driven by theological assumptions. Second, Paul pays attention to how John draws on the Old Testament and parallel texts in the New Testament. This is more than a search for allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, since how John uses the Old Testament may tell us quite about his theological agenda. Third, Paul wants to understand how John’s message would have been understood by the original audience. Again, this is often set aside by some commentators who are only interested in the eschatology of the book. This attention to the original historical and social context will inform the fourth element of Paul’s approach, to make connections to the real world. How does Revelation preach in the contemporary world? In order to bridge the gap between the culture of first century Asia Minor and make appropriate applications to modern issues, the exegete hear the text as it was intended by the author in the first century.

With respect to other introductory details, Paul dates the book to the reign of Domitian, A.D. 85-95. Although this date certainly allows for the apostle John to be the author (the traditional view), the authority of book comes from what has been written rather than apostolic authorship. Paul does provide an argument that the Gospel of John and Revelation could be written by the same person, he admits the evidence is not conclusive.

Based on this date, Paul’s introduction surveys the historical, social and economic context of late first century Asia Minor. This necessarily includes a short section on the pervasiveness of the imperial cult in the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. Although he only has space for a short introduction to the issue, Paul emphasizes the importance of the imperial cult for understanding some of the imagery in the book. He also responds to recent discussions of the non-persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian. Paul agrees there was no systemic, empire wide persecution of Christians, they nevertheless faces varying degrees of pressure, often economic, for their resistance to local gods and the imperial cult.

The introduction also includes a short section on the genre of Revelation. On the one hand, Revelation claims to be a vision, but on the other the book is constructed with extraordinary attention to details and remarkable subtly with respect to its allusions to the Hebrew Bible. Is the book “revelation or research”? For Paul, it is more important to attend carefully the text regardless of how John wrote the book. The book is apocalyptic, but it claims to be prophecy and it has some features of a letter. As such, the book makes claims about reality, even if those claims are made using complex metaphors.

Most commentaries on Revelation must deal with how the book relates to the future (or not). Paul offers short descriptions of idealist, futurist, historical and preterist approaches along with four theological positions on the kingdom, premillennialism, amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Paul observes that although these eight possible positions are often presented as strategies for interpreting Revelation they are in fact conclusions about how the book should be interpreted. The interpreter brings their preterism or dispensationalism to Revelation rather than letting the book speak for itself. The book does speak to the Christians to whom it was addressed but it also has something to say about the future destiny of the world. In many ways the categories attempt to force Revelation into a theological slot which is not fully suited to the book. This blending of past, present and future is a healthy way to approach Revelation, although Paul does not always embrace the future aspects in the commentary.

The body of the commentary treats the English text (usually TNIV) in a verse-by-verse fashion. He divides each section into context, comment, and theology, although the first and last sections are usually just a short paragraph. When Paul deals with Greek or Hebrew words they appear in transliteration. Although this is certainly a scholarly commentary, in keeping with the style of the Tyndale series Paul does not often interact with other scholarship. This is refreshing since recent commentaries have become collections of views from other commentaries. Paul’s comments are intended to illuminate the text of Revelation and enable a reader to make sense of some difficult problems.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate Paul’s method. In commenting on the first four seals, the four horsemen, Paul rightly dismisses the possibility the white rider is Jesus and suggests it is an allusion to Apollo and refers to pagan religions. The next four horsemen clearly refer to war, famine and death, the conditions of Asia Minor in the late first century. He suggests a parallel to Jesus’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse (using Matthew 24:5-29 and summarized in a simple chart, p. 148). The theological point John makes with this imagery is that the imperial myth of peace and prosperity is actually a myth. The Empire is full of chaos and suffering, only the sovereign God has power over this world. Certainly this is a message each generation of the church needs to embrace, no empire brings real peace and prosperity to this world. But Paul does not address any possible future hope in the first six seals despite the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord” in 6:16-17. Some scholars have suggested each of the seals, trumpets and bowls culminate in the return of Jesus. It is certainly possible understand the seals as pointing toward a future hope in the return of Jesus without embracing any complicated dispensational timeline drawn from Revelation 6.

With respect to the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:16-18, Paul briefly explains the practice of Gematria and suggests the number refers to Nero Caesar in Hebrew. Both Nero Caesar and beast have a numerical value of 666 and identifying the number of the beast with Nero makes sense of some other elements of the chapter, such as the Nero Redivivus myth. Ultimately Revelation 13 is about human totalitarian rule which defies the sovereignty of God. The contemporary example for John is Nero and the Roman Empire, a message which will resonate in every generation of the church. Where Paul stops short is suggesting a future application of this defiant totalitarian rule to the ultimate enemy of God who will be defeated by God in the future.

Conclusion. Ian Paul’s commentary is an excellent guide to reading the text of Revelation. In keeping with the format of the Tyndale series, this is not an exhaustive commentary which delves into every nuance of the text. Compared to the commentaries by David Aune (WBC, now Zondervan, 1998; three volumes and 1600+ pages) or Greg Beale (NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1998, 800 pages), this book is a brief.  But other than scholars, few people have time to wade through the depths of such massive commentaries. This short commentary in the Tyndale series is a joy to read, both pastors and laypeople will appreciate Paul’s lucid style.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Jesus gives four examples of how his principle of non-retaliation may be applied.

If anyone slaps your face. This is likely a backhanded slap and would have been considered an insult to one’s honor. According to the Mishnah, the penalty for slapping someone with the open hand was 200 zuz, if it was a backhanded slap, the penalty was 400 zuz (b.Kam 8:6, cited by Quarles, Sermon, 149. A zuz refers to “non-Jewish small silver coinage” according to David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament, 201). A dinar and a zuz are used interchangeably in the Talmud. The Luke parallel uses a more violent verb (τύπτω) which can have the sense of an assault (Luke 6:29).

Turn the Other CheekJesus commands his disciples to “turn the other cheek,” meaning let them hit you again! For example, Jesus is repeatedly slapped and struck, be he did not retaliate (John 18:22-23) but he also escaped violence on a number of occasions (Mark 9:30-31, for example). This prohibition of retaliation is directed at an angry and violent response to attacks and does not imply the Christ-follower cannot defend themselves.

If anyone sues you and takes your tunic. Both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world were plagued with frivolous lawsuits. Jewish practice allowed someone to take a person’s chiton (χιτών), “a garment worn next to the skin” (BDAG) and were valuable enough to be used for bartering or making payments. The tunic (ἱμάτιον) was refers to one’s outer apparel. If the person was poor, this cloak served as a blanket. The Torah specifically forbids taking a person’s cloak as a security (Exod 22:26-27; Deut 24:12-13).

If this were to be followed literally, then the disciples would leave the courtroom naked! Keener says this is a “shockingly graphic, almost humorous, illustration” (Keener, Matthew, 198). But Quarles does not think this is hyperbole, pointing out it is unlikely a person only has one set of clothes (Quarles, Sermon, 153). He argues this saying urges the disciples are to pay what is fair and offer more in compensation when they are sued.

If anyone asks you to go a mile. The idea of going the “extra mile” is often applied to doing more than is required. In the context of the first century, Roman soldiers had the right to force people to do menial tasks, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, for example. There is sufficient evidence to show that Roman soldiers sometimes forced Jewish people to carry burdens normally carried by pack animals, and sometimes this happened on the Sabbath (NewDocs 7, 85-87).

This kind of de-humanizing oppression is in the background of the Jewish rebellion only 30-35 years after Jesus was crucified. Jesus is reversing the typical response to an oppressive authority, do more than is required!

If anyone asks you for something.  Leviticus 25:35-38 requires people to take care of a person who is in desperate need and there are many texts in the Hebrew Bible and the literature of the Second Temple Period to show that alms giving was a standard practice of a righteous person. This goes beyond alms since a person may ask for a loan. To turn away from someone (ἀποστρέφω).

It is possible Jesus refers to giving of gifts to the extreme poor and loaning without the expectation of returns as counter to the practice of giving gifts in order to gain favor with wealthy and elite people. Quarles suggests this as a way to connect the example to the principle of non-retaliation (Sermon, 157). If someone elite person is oppressing a disciple, perhaps a gift would change their attitude.

In Sirach, gifts and loans are to be given only to people who deserve them, and not to the “sinner.” Although this text does not define the sinner, Jesus’s practice of eating with “sinners” shows his ministry targeted those people Sirach would not have given any gift or loan.

Sirach 12:1–7 (NRSV) If you do good, know to whom you do it, and you will be thanked for your good deeds. 2 Do good to the devout, and you will be repaid— if not by them, certainly by the Most High. 3 No good comes to one who persists in evil or to one who does not give alms. 4 Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner. 5 Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back their bread, and do not give it to them, for by means of it they might subdue you; then you will receive twice as much evil for all the good you have done to them. 6 For the Most High also hates sinners and will inflict punishment on the ungodly. 7 Give to the one who is good, but do not help the sinner.

Is Jesus saying his followers ought to give away all their possessions to the poor and live a life of voluntary poverty? This is exactly what they did in Acts 24:32-35 (and illustrated in Acts 4:36-37, Barnabas sells property to give to the disciples; Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira; Acts 11:27-30, the gift from Antioch to Jerusalem, and the Pauline Collection contributed to these Christ followers, Gal 2:10).

As he did with murder and adultery, Jesus sharpens the Mosaic Law by saying that the follower of Jesus ought practice meekness and not always demand his legal rights. Under the “eye for an eye” principle, if someone slapped you, you were legally able to slap them back, and under Roman law you were required to carry the pack for a mile, no more.

Jesus says: “do not retaliate.” Let them hit your other cheek as well, and do not stop at one mile, go two miles. This has caused problems for centuries because people want to equate this to a literal command, Jesus is employing a metaphor here as he has in the earlier sections. The essence of the teaching is do not retaliate or harbor a grudge. If someone harms you, do not harm them. Jesus has already said “blessed are the peace-makers.” It is impossible for a peacemaker to seek revenge.

Jesus is not making a new legal ruling or re-interpreting the old legal principle in a new and radical way. He is contrasting the legal principle with an ethical principle. He wants his followers to be different from the world. The true disciple is to be light in the darkness, they are to be the peacemakers, the righteousness seekers.

The fact that the courts are to defend the rights of widows and orphans indicates not everyone ought to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus is not saying, “Sorry old widow lady, people have oppressed you, but you are supposed to turn the other cheek.” No one would recommend an abused child “turn the other cheek,” the abuser ought to be held accountable for their crimes. Nor would anyone think every Christian ought to sell all their property to give to the poor so that we like naked under a bridge.

If we read this principle in the context of Jesus’s followers, they have been told they will be persecuted on account of their association with Jesus. They will be slapped and have their property confiscated because they stand with Jesus. They are not to retaliate against this persecution.

By way of contemporary application, how does the individual Christian set aside a “right of retaliation” in contemporary western culture?

Instead of “eye for and eye” as a legal principle, Jesus commands his disciples to “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Jesus does not abandon the reason for the original law (do not seek revenge), but he deepens it by showing that revenge is not a right. There is significant debate in the commentaries on whether Jesus abolished the lex talonis principle from the Law. That he did, see Betz and McKnight; that he does not abolish the principle see Pennington and Quarles.

To follow Jesus one must set aside the right of compensation. The “eye for an eye” principle is a way to seek justice, but Jesus’s followers are not to be “vengeful, vigilante, self-distributor of justice” (Pennington, Sermon, 196).

The verb “resist” (ἀνθίστημι) can have the connotation of physical, violent opposition. For example, in LXX Deuteronomy 7:24, no one will be able to stand against Israel when they take the Land of Canaan (cf. Deut 9:2; 11:25). In Ephesians 6:13 Paul encourages his readers to take up the whole armor of God in order to “stand their ground.”  For Guelich, this refers to being taken to court, based on the context of Deuteronomy 19:19-20, but Quarles argues the legal meaning of resist is rare, only eight of eighty-five examples of the use of this word (Quarles, Sermon, 147; cf., Guelich, Sermon. 220).

Read in the context of Jesus’s ministry and the gospel of Matthew, Jesus may be telling his disciples to violently resist others when they are harassed for their witness to Jesus. In Matthew 10:16-23 Jesus warns his disciples he is sending them out like “sheep among wolves.” They will be arrested, flogged in the synagogues, and handed over to Gentile authorities. When this happens, the disciples might have the right to go to the courts and have their case heard by a judge.

In a Greco-Roman context, the law allowed for lawsuits to be brought to the courts for any number of reasons, including personal insults. These aggravating lawsuits were a problem in Roman society. Dio Chrysostom reports the Roman word of the late first century was filled with “lawyers innumerable, twisting judgments” (cited by Winter, When Paul Left Corinth, 62).  These lawsuits were often politically motivated attacks and opportunities for young orators to show off their rhetorical talents before the elite citizens. Any cause might be sufficient to bring a lawsuit before the courts.  Winter cites Epicharmus, “But after the drinking comes mockery, after mockery filthy insults, after insult a lawsuit, and the lawsuit a verdict, after the verdict shackles, the stocks, and a fine” (Winter, 62).  The result of such a lawsuit was personal enmity between the loser toward the winner, and even between the loser and the jury that found him liable and the judge that presided over the lawsuit. This enmity and “loss of face” in the community was the real danger, although there was also the threat of a fine from the judge.

Jesus commands the true disciple to set their legal rights aside and suffer harassment, persecution, arrest, flogging and even death for the sake of the Gospel. It the Hebrew Bible God will avenge the one who is oppressed. For example, in Jeremiah 23:2 the people of Israel are like sheep scattered by bad shepherds. The Lord promises he will “attend to them” (ESV, ἐκδικέω), the verb has the sense of punishment or vengeance, “to inflict appropriate penalty for wrong done” (BDAG).

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This is Fake

Setting aside one’s rights is the definition of humility, as illustrated by Jesus himself. He is God, yet he did not insist on his rights as God; he humbled himself in order to serve (Mark 10:45, John 13, Phil 2:5-11). In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul has to shame the church because they are settling disputes among brothers in Christ by bringing lawsuits to the public courts. Rather than bring shame upon the family of God, Paul says “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Jesus’s command to set aside the legal right of retaliation is difficult to consistently apply in a modern, western context because (like ancient Rome) people assume they have a right to compensation when they have been wringed. If my coffee order isn’t made right, I complain and they might give it to me for free. If a business practice causes harm to people, the ones harmed have a legal right to sue for compensation. But is this what Jesus is talking about? The one who suffers for Jesus’s sake ought to set aside their legal right to compensation and suffering willingly and humbly.

Perhaps the real problem is few people in the west actually suffer for the sake of the Gospel. When the American suspects an attack on their faith, they freak out and organize boycotts and social media campaigns. For example, the now annual “Starbucks red cup controversy” is an attack on Christmas and Christians, so boycott Starbucks! No one notices the Christian protests are great advertising for the coffee chain. By retaliating against a perceived threat, Christians look thin-skinned and paranoid, overly suspicious and judgmental. None of this furthers the cause of the Gospel

What are some ways a western American Christians have aside their right to retaliate for the sake of the Gospel? Are there examples from the majority world where the Gospel has been served by Christians not retaliating when attacked?

The tradition of the Mosaic Law was a “one for one” retribution. In legal terms, this is known as lex talonis (law according to kind). A similar principle appears in the Code of Hammurabi, although Quarles points out lex talonis only applied to persons of the same social standing. Quarles, Sermon, 145. The Torah ideally applied to all people regardless of social standing, but it seems obvious from the prophetic books the poor did not receive the same justice as the wealthy.

Between the fall and the flood, there was no law and people sought justice through unparalleled blood vengeance. For example, Genesis4:23-24 implies vengeance could be ten-fold. After the flood God instituted human government to control anarchy and capital punishment for murder.

The Mosaic Law used the principle of compensation for a loss, using the phrase “eye for an eye” (Exod 21:23-24; Lev 24:19-20; Deut 19:21). Although it sounds harsh, the goal of this legal principle was to prevent excessive penalties and uncontrolled vengeance (Pennington, Sermon, 197) but also excessive leniency for the wealthy or powerful (“you must not show pity”) (Quarles, Sermon, 145). It was possible for a wealthy, elite person to demand a harsh penalty against a poor person, or for a wealthy person to avoid a harsh penalty because of their status in the society. “Eye for an eye” insures all people are treated fairly in the legal system.

By the time of Jesus, the “eye for an eye” principle was expanded to include monetary compensation for loses (Josephus, Ant. 4.8.35, §280). If someone was injured they had a legal right to monetary compensation from the one who injured them. This is probably the most basic sense of morality humans share. If someone harms you, you have a right to get “pay back.” Nobody teaches children to behave this way, yet when children argue they follow this principle. If someone does it to me, it is therefore right for me to do it back to them.

Even though “eye for an eye” was a legal principle, total retaliation was not common in Second Temple Judaism. In fact, there are many examples of Second Temple texts which recommend forgiveness and living in harmony with outsiders. Consider Sirach 28:1-8, for example. God is the one who keeps accounts of wrongs, therefore the wise person forgives their neighbor and does not harbor anger toward someone who does them wrong.

Sirach 28:1–8 (NRSV) The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance, for he keeps a strict account of their sins. 2 Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. 3 Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? 4 If one has no mercy toward another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins? 5 If a mere mortal harbors wrath, who will make an atoning sacrifice for his sins? 6 Remember the end of your life, and set enmity aside; remember corruption and death, and be true to the commandments. 7 Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults. 8 Refrain from strife, and your sins will be fewer; for the hot-tempered kindle strife.

Although the date of 2 Enoch is uncertain, the writer of the book expresses a similar view. Since God will provide justice on the Day of Judgment, the wise person ought to live in “peace and harmony.”

2 Enoch 50:2-6 Now therefore, my children, live in patience and meekness for the number of your days, so that you may inherit the endless age that is coming. 3 ‹And› every assault and every wound and burn and every evil word, 4if they happen to you on account of the Lord, endure them; and, being able to pay them back, do not repay them to ‹your› neighbor, because it is the Lord who repays, and he will be the avenger for you on the day of the great judgment. 5 Lose gold and silver for your brother, so that you may receive a treasure (not) according to flesh on the day of judgment. 6‹And› stretch out your hands to the orphan and to the windows, and according to (your) strength help the wretched, and they will be like a shelter at the time of the test.

This principle of non-retaliation was part of the oath made by the Qumran community. Once again, the wise person does not cling “sustain anger” with unjust people, but they await God to judge them on the “day of vengeance.”

1QS 10.19-21 I {shall not sustain angry resentment for those who convert} /shall not be involved/ in any dispute with the men of the pit /until the day/ of vengeance. However, my anger I shall not remove from unjust men, nor shall I be appeased, until he carries out his judgment. I shall not sustain angry resentment for those who convert from iniquity, but I shall have no mercy or all those who deviate from the path. I shall not comfort the oppressed until their path is perfect. I shall not retain Belial within my heart.

This is also Paul’s view in Romans 12. In verse 16 he tells his readers to live in harmony with one another and in verse 19 he says “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

As with the other examples from the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants his disciples to reflect the heart of God revealed in the Law. Rather than seek revenge for perceived damages, Jesus’s people ought to set aside their rights in order to serve one another in humility. Jesus himself is the best example of setting aside rights to serve. In John13 he humbly serves his disciples by washing their feet in order to demonstrate how they ought to serve one another. In Mark 10:45 Jesus says he did not come to be served, but to serve others by giving his life as a ransom for many.

How should we push “setting aside one’s rights”? Can a Christian live out this principle as they play sports? Does this apply to Christians bringing lawsuits against one another? Against no-Christians? Does this apply only to interpersonal relationships, or does it extend to business ethics? How does one “do business” and live out the ideal of non-retaliation?

deSilva, David A. The Letter to the Galatians. NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. lxxix+541 pp.; Hb.; $55.00. Link to Eerdmans

Over the past few years Eerdmans has been replacing older volumes of the New International Commentary on the New Testament. In the case of Galatians, deSilva’s new commentary replaces Ronald Y. K. Fung’s 1988 commentary, itself a replacement of Herman Ridderbos’s 1953 work originally written in Dutch. Each generation of the commentary has grown, from Ridderbos’s 238 pages to Fung’s 342 pages, now deSilva’s 541 pages (plus 76 pages of bibliography). The new NICNT volumes are also larger size volume (6×9 as opposed to 5×7, Ridderbos has a larger font than the other two). Ridderbos had a thirty-eight page introduction, a half page subject index and no bibliography; deSilva’s introduction runs one hundred and eight pages, twenty-three pages of indices and fifty-one pages of bibliography.

deSilva, The Letter to the GalatiansWhat has happened in the study of Galatians since 1955 or 1988 to account for this kind of exponential growth in a commentary? First, Hans Deiter Betz commentary on Galatians was published in 1979. Betz was one of the first to analyze Galatians using ancient categories of rhetoric, arguing Galatians used judicial rhetoric and was an apologetic letter. Fung interacted with the rhetorical categories suggested by Betz and ultimately rejected the category of apologetic, deSilva presents a more nuanced interpretation of Paul’s use or ancient rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos, for example). In his introduction deSilva offers twenty-nine pages on Paul’s rhetoric and letter writing in antiquity and another ten pages applying this material to the letter to the Galatians.

Second, New Perspective on Paul was still new when Fung wrote in 1988 so he does not address some of the more controversial New Perspective issues in any detail. Fung discusses the phrase “works of the Law” in a footnote to Galatians 2:16, deSilva has five pages with extensive footnotes. The same is true for pistis Christou, the “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus.” deSilva has a nine-page excursus on this sometimes technical issue interacting with Dunn’s many articles on the issue as well as the response to Dunn. Fung simply notes the problem in a footnote.

Third, J. Louis Martyn’s Anchor Bible commentary used the category of apocalyptic to interpret Galatians. Martyn wrote an article on apocalyptic antimonies in Galatians just prior to Fung’s commentary, but it did not have much influence on the commentary.

Fourth, related to an “apocalyptic Paul,” there is far more attention in deSilva’s commentary on Paul’s imperial language. To give but one example, to use the language of peace in 1:3 is to use the language of imperial Rome. Augusts brought peace to the empire and Romans sacrificed on the “Altar of the Augustan Peace” and used coins which declared to all that the emperor was the personification of peace in the world (118). For Paul to talk of peace coming from another source, “Father God and Lord Jesus” implies global powers such as Rome are passing away. deSilva offers and excursus of nearly eight pages on the Imperial Cult and the Galatian believers.

With respect to the controversial issue of the destination and date of Galatians, deSilva favors a southern Galatian setting for the letter, although he recognizes the evidence is inconclusive on either side (29). He spends a considerable section of the introduction arguing for a southern Galatia destination based on the record of Paul’s missionary activity in the book of Acts. Commentaries on Galatians which take the book of Acts as a reliable witness to Paul’s missionary activity must deal with problem of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem. Acts records Paul visiting Jerusalem three times, Galatians mentions only two. Of critical importance is the private meeting of Paul and the Jerusalem “pillars” (Galatians 2:1-10).

The result of this meeting is a handshake agreement that Paul continue his mission n to the Gentiles and (most importantly) the pillars agreed the gentile Titus did not need to submit to circumcision. For many commentators, this meeting is what Luke records in Acts 15. DeSilva argues the private meeting in Galatians 2:1-10 is parallel to Acts 11:28-30, the famine visit (which he tentatively dates to A. D. 46-47). After Paul’s private meeting with the Jerusalem pillars Paul and Barnabas travel to South Galatia and establish a number of churches. After the return is the Antioch Incident (Galatians 2:11-14) and the visit of rival teachers to Paul’s churches in Galatia. Galatians was written after these events, either in A. D. 48 or 49, just prior to the meeting with the apostles in Acts 15. As deSilva says, “This is admittedly a tight schedule” (61) and it requires the book of Acts to be taken seriously as history. Those who reject Acts as accurate history may struggle to accept deSilva’s argument for an early date for Galatians, but it is compelling.

The introduction to the commentary includes a lengthy section on the rhetoric of letter writing in antiquity and Galatians as “persuasive communication” (61-106). DeSilva has contributed two commentaries which focused on rhetoric (Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, [Eerdmans, 2000] and Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation, WJKP, 2009). In this section of the introduction he traces Paul’s argument through the letter.

The body of the commentary follows the pattern of the recent NICNT volumes. Each section begins a short orientation and translation of the text with numerous notes on textual variations and translation issues. The commentary moves from phrase to phrase with technical details and Greek grammatical comments in the footnotes. When Greek words appear in the main body of the commentary they are transliterated so readings without Greek training will be able to follow the argument. It is important to observe this is not a Greek text commentary so there are fewer notes dealing with syntactical issues than in Eerdmans’s New International Greek Text Commentary. Most interaction with scholarship primarily appears in the footnotes, making for a readable commentary.

There are a number of extremely useful excurses in the body of the commentary. After his commentary on Galatians 1:11-17, deSilva includes a seven-page essay on Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus as a “paradigm shift.” Before the Damascus Road, Paul would have considered Jesus as a failed messiah and in violation of the Torah (at least according to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Torah). The followers of Jesus declare Jesus as the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52) and a “prophet like Moses” (Acts 3:22-23, 7:37). If God raised Jesus from the dead, the he declared Jesus was the messianic heir to the throne of David. Paul reacted violently against the movement since the followers of Jesus proclaimed Jesus was indispensable for experiencing God’s covenant blessings. After seeing the resurrected Jesus, Paul’s center of authority shifted from Torah to Jesus (153). Since God was pouring his Spirit out into the Gentiles and reconciling Gentiles to himself, “it no longer made sense to Paul to try and make Jews out of the Gentiles” (156).

Conclusion. Despite his misgivings expressed in the preface, David deSilva’s commentary on Galatians is a worthy successor to Fung’s 1988 commentary and stands well alongside F. F. Bruce’s classic New International Greek Text commentary. Students of Galatians should consider this commentary a standard work on one of Paul’s most important letters. Although this is a professional, technical commentary, deSilva’s text is very easy to read and will be of use for both pastor and scholar.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Perhaps an audience of Jewish listeners would have resonated with Jesus’s statements on murder (5:21-26) and adultery (5:27-30). At least in principle everyone can agree that anger and lust are the internal motivations for the external sins of murder and adultery. Even if one is not a follower of Jesus, controlling anger and lust is a positive and healthy goal. Greek philosophy encouraged people to balance their passions and to be in control of their inner thoughts.

I am offendedBut when Jesus taught on divorce and oath-making, he was challenging accepted practices of the Jewish world of the first century. It is likely few people who heard Jesus teach were adulterers and maybe no one was a murderer. But divorce was a far more common issue and everyone has made a promise or two they regretted and would like to have a legal way out of their oath. For some in the original audience, Jesus has moved from preaching to meddling.

After writing over one hundred pages on Jesus’s view of divorce, John Meier comments his prohibition of divorce would have disturbed his otherwise sympathetic listeners (Marginal Jew, 3:182). The same is true for his prohibition of oath-making in Matthew 5:33-37. As Meier points out, no Jewish teaching in the first century completely prohibited making oaths and vows. Even the closest parallel to Jesus, the Essenes, swore vows to obey the rules of the Community. The Pharisees would have reacted strongly to Jesus’s teaching on both divorce and oath-making (Meier, 3:205). Unfortunately we do not have their side of the argument, nor does Jesus explain his rationale for making these sweeping prohibitions.

It would appear the earliest Christians either did not know Jesus’s prohibition on oaths or they interpreted it differently. Paul made oaths in his letters. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:23, God calls on God as a witness, more or less swearing his claims are true by invoking God! Similarly, in Philippians 1:8 he says “with God as my witness.” The book of Acts appears to describe him taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18) and later participating in the conclusion of vows (Acts 21:26). The writer of Hebrews refers to swearing an oath by something greater (6:16). Although the command against oath making was taken literally in the early days of the church, by the Middle Ages “the entire tradition of the major churches has almost uniformly disregarded Matt 5:33-37 and accepted oaths, even if it often did so with a bad conscience” (Matthew 1-7, 267–268).

So Jesus says “do not swear an oath at all” and the rest of church history figures out ways around the command. In his recent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Jonathan Pennington says “Jesus is not overturning or abolishing the original commandment. He is not opposed to oath or vow making” (293). Charles Quarles argues Jesus prohibited “misleading oaths” intended to allow a person to break their promise if it was to their advantage (Sermon, 144). For Pennington, oaths and vows can be made only if the disciple of Jesus intends to fulfill them.

Perhaps.

These interpretations allow Christians to serve in the military (which demands oaths) or give testimony in court, or even have a mortgage, which is more or less an oath to pay back a loan. Modern society demands oath-making, so we have to find some way to deal with Jesus’s actual words. Modern society demands the possibility of divorce, so we need to find a way around Jesus’s actual words.

But did Jesus intend for his disciples to find ways around his words when modern culture finds them too inconvenient? I would suggest the ideal disciples of Jesus honor marriage in such a way that divorce is not an issue; the idea disciple honors truth to the point there is no need for making an oath. For the ideal disciple of Jesus, all their words are “with God as my witness.”

As demonstrated above, there was a great deal of discussion within Second Temple Judaism on the issue of making oaths and vows. Rather than define what sorts of circumstances would allow for an oath or vow could be set aside, Jesus tells his disciples to no swear oaths of any kind. Craig Keener summarizes Jesus’s teaching here as “oaths are a poor substitute for integrity” (Matthew, 192).

Truth MemeSince the Law is clear God’s name cannot be used to guarantee an oath, the Jewish people would swear by other things, with varying degrees of surety. A Greek might swear by any number of gods. In the treaty of Corinth. For example, “I swear by Zeus, Gaia, Helios, Poseidon, Athena, and Ares, by all gods and goddesses, that I will maintain peace and will not break the treaties concluded with Philip of Macedon.” The Hippocratic Oath began with the words “I swear by Apollo the physician, Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses…” By invoking the name of a god the person making the oath is calling on the god to judge them if they break their word.

Jesus forbids swearing by heaven, earth or Jerusalem as well as searing by “your head.” In Matthew 23:16-22 Jesus implies the Pharisees also swore by the temple, the altar. In each case someone is substituting something for swearing by the name of God. For Jesus, any substitute for God in an oath is just as binding as swearing by God’s name.

Swearing by one’s head may refer to one’s own life. A similar phrase appears in the Mishnah:

m.San 3:2  [If] he said to him, “If one litigant said to the other, ‘I accept my father as reliable,’ ‘I accept your father as reliable,’ ‘I accept as reliable three herdsmen [to serve as judges],’ “R. Meir says, “He has the power to retract.” And sages say, “He has not got the power to retract.”  [If] one owed an oath to this fellow, and his fellow said, “[Instead of an oath], take a vow to me by the life of your head,” R. Meir says, “He has the power to retract.” And sages say, “He has not got the power to retract.”

The problem with swearing by something is that breaking the vow not only dishonors the vow maker, but also the name (or thing) invoked (France, Matthew, 250). Jesus quoted the first part of Leviticus 19:12, the second have says the one who swears falsely “profanes the name of the Lord.” If one “swears to God” to do something and the oath-maker fails, the God himself is dishonored.

Rather than guaranteeing one’s word by swearing an oath, Jesus demands his disciples be truth-speaking people. The true disciple of Jesus speaks the truth and keeps their word when they give it. If someone is committed to the truth then their word will be respected and there is no need for an oath.

How can the disciple of Jesus live out this ideal of speaking the truth? Ulrich Luz points out “Once again the history of the text’s interpretation is characterized by attempting to remove the text’s sting and to soften it or to evade its demand” (Luz, Matthew 1–7, 266). The problem of “never swear an oath” is that virtually every society requires some sort of oath-making. This may be legal or economic. For example, if one gives testimony in a court case one must swear they are telling the truth. Any business relationship requiring payments is more or less an oath to pay off a debt by a certain time. Could a society function without legally binding contracts?

Most interpreters therefore argue Jesus is forbidding the sorts of frivolous oaths permitted by the traditions of the Pharisees. Pastors might extend this to flippant use of God’s name (“I swear to God…”)

It is also possible Jesus has in mind the used of God’s name in magical incantations. It was common in ancient cultures to use a god’s name in magical curses or blessings. Later magical papyri use Yahweh, Jesus, and other Christian “power words,” in modern swearing the speaker is using God’s name to invoke a curse on another: “God damn it” is calling on God to curse someone.

These are certainly appropriate applications of the respect for the name of God based on the commands of the Torah. But is this what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:33-37? He is demanding his disciples be known as people of integrity, people who can be trusted to keep their words so that their “yes” is just as certain as someone who has sworn an oath by the gold of the Temple.

Unfortunately, Christians do not live up to this level of integrity. Many are willing to ignore the truth if it furthers a political agenda, many are willing to state outright lies in order to score points in a public debate. Although philosophers might have debated the nature of truth for a long time, recently the American public has endured alternative facts, different interpretations of events, and errors or obvious falsifications presented as truth. Five minutes on Facebook will show that both sides of the political landscape are comfortable telling lies if it makes the other side look worse.

As Christians, we are to be people of integrity, people worthy of trust, but some of the worst lies I have read come from people who claim to follow Jesus. But it is not just politics (or what passes for political dialog today), Christians lack integrity in other areas as well. How do Christians fail to be people of integrity? Can someone regain a reputation for integrity?

The Law permitted swearing oaths. In Matthew 5:33, Jesus quotes the first part of Leviticus 19:12 along with Numbers 30:2 and (possibly) Deuteronomy 23:21. Oaths were used in both legal and religious contexts. A promise between two people might include oaths. One vivid example is David swearing an oath to Bathsheba that her son would be the next king (1 Kings 1:29-30).

Witness swearing on the bible telling the truth in the court room

A vow often follows the form of “if, then.” A person might make a vow to God asking him for something. If God acts, the worshiper would then fulfill their vow. In 1 Samuel 1:1-11 Hannah makes a vow to God: If God gives her a child, she will dedicate that child to the Lord as a Nazarite.

The Law recognized the possibility of a rash vow. In Leviticus 5:4-6 the one who has made a rash vow can confess their sin and makes an appropriate sacrifice. The judge Jephthah is well-known for making a rash vow (Judg 11:30-31).

In the Mishnah, there is an entire section on vows, Nedarim. (The Hebrew word נֶדֶר, neder means “vow.”)

Nedarim 3:1 “Four [types of] vows did sages declare not binding: (1) Vows of incitement, (2) vows of exaggeration, (3) vows made in error, and (4) vows [broken] under constraint.”

This section of the Mishnah includes a series clarifications on how vows are interpreted, such as “He who vows not to drink wine is permitted to eat a cooked dish which has the taste of wine” (6:7) and “He who takes a vow not to have wine is permitted to have apple wine” (6:9). There is a discussion of loosing a vow in particular circumstances, such as “They unloose [vows] by reference to festival days and Sabbaths. At first they said, “On those particular days [the vows] are not binding, but for all other days they are binding” (9:6). A father may loose the vow of his betrothed daughter (10:1, the rest of the section discusses how that passed to various people if the father dies, lest the poor girl keep her own vows!)

There is a remarkable parallel in 2 Enoch 49:1-3. The writer of this paragraph emphasizes speaking the truth as opposed to swearing an oath. A potential problem with 2 Enoch is the possibility the text has been influence by the words of Jesus in the transmission process.

2 Enoch 49:1-2“For I am swearing to you, my children—But look! I am not swearing by any oath at all, neither by heaven nor by earth nor by any other creature which the Lord created. For ‹|the Lord|› said, ‘There is no oath in me, nor any unrighteousness, but only truth.’ So, if there is no truth in human beings, then let them make an oath by means of the words ‘Yes, Yes!’ or, if it should be the other way around, ‘No, No!’

The wisdom literature has much to say about keeping one’s word. For example, Ecclesiastes 5:8, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools.” Sirach 41:19 considers breaking an oath as shameful as bad manners: “Be ashamed of breaking an oath or agreement, and of leaning on your elbow at meals” (NRSV). Likewise, Sirach 18:22-23 says:

Sirach 18:22–23 (NRSV) Let nothing hinder you from paying a vow promptly, and do not wait until death to be released from it. Before making a vow, prepare yourself; do not be like one who puts the Lord to the test.

The Qumran Community reach a similar conclusion to Jesus. Lacy K. Crocker, points out “The Temple Scroll, however, based on an interpretation of Deuteronomy 23:21–23, emphasizes that it is better to abstain from making a vowing in order to avoid committing a transgression by failing to fulfill one’s vow” (see Josephus, JW 2.135 for the rejection of oaths by the Essenes.)

The point here is that there was an ongoing discussion at the time of Jesus over what constituted a binding oath and how one might get out of a vow if necessary. Some writers thought an oath could be made in such a way as to allow for a way out. Others warn against this sort of maneuvering as coming too close to breaking an oath to risk the wrath of God. Better to avoid making oaths at all.

But at the core of keeping one’s oaths is simple honesty. If someone does not keep their promises, they are dishonest. That Jesus would demand his disciples speak the truth is no surprise, he is standing on the Hebrew Bible. In Zechariah 8:17, the Lord himself declares “love no false oath, for all these things I hate.”

Before looking at the details of Jesus’s words on oaths, it is worth pausing and asking what it means to me “people of the truth.” Is telling the truth something which is non-negotiable for the disciple of Jesus? What about a foolish oath? Or a promise made without all of the information? What about saying something to win an argument which is not entirely true (but not totally false either). Can the true disciple of Jesus tolerate deception even if the results are positive? Think about the average Facebook post in these politically troubled times. Can the disciple of Jesus really resort to “alternative facts”?

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