Fulfillment of the Law

ROBBERT VEEN

Fulfillment of the Law

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To Noëlle

…..…..TABLE OF CONTENTS……….
PREFACE.............................................................................13 INTRODUCTION....................................................................15 A. JESUS AND THE LAW IN MARK...........................................17 CHAPTER 1 JESUS AND THE JEWISH LAW...............................18 CHAPTER 2 FULFILLING THE LAW (MATTHEW 5).....................26 CHAPTER 3 JESUS AND JEWISH ORAL TRADITION IN MARK......31 3.1 3.2. 3.3 3.4 THE JEWISH TRADITIONS....................................... ..............................32 MARK’S RESPONSE TO THE TRADITIONS................................................. .....38 RECONSTRUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL DEBATE...............................................43 IS JESUS REJECTING THE ORAL TRADITIONS?..............................................48

CHAPTER 4 THE ISSUE OF VOWING: KORBAN........................53 4.1 THE CONFLICT OVER VOWING IN MARK......................................... .............54 4.2 THE EARLY JEWISH DEBATE ON VOWING.................................................. ....56 4.3 RESULTS: THE MEANING OF MARK 7.................................... ....................60 CHAPTER 5 THE SABBATH LAW (MARK 2 AND 3)...................64 CHAPTER 6 REDEMPTION AS HEALING (MARK 9)....................76 B. JESUS AND THE LAW IN MATTHEW....................................80 CHAPTER 7 THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (MATTHEW 5 – 7)....81 CHAPTER 8 SCRIBAL HERMENEUTICS OF THE TORAH (MATTHEW 18)......................................................................................93 CHAPTER 9 RABBINIC AUTHORITY AND THE CHURCH (MATTHEW 23)....................................................................................100 CHAPTER 10 JESUS AND JEWISH LAW..................................108 C. JESUS AND THE LAW IN THE LETTER OF JAMES.................116 CHAPTER 10 THE LETTER OF JAMES.....................................117 CHAPTER 11 THE PAULINIST FRAMEWORK...........................124 CHAPTER 12 CASUISTRY AND MORALISM.............................129

12.1. RUDOLPH BULTMANN AND NEW TESTAMENT ETHICS...................................130 12.2 THE CASE FOR CASUISTRY............................................................. ....135 CHAPTER 13 JAMES’S DEBATE WITH PAULINISM...................142 13.1 FAITH AND WORKS........................................................................ ..143 13.2 THE MEANING OF FAITH.......................................... ..........................146 13.3 THE REAL DEBATE BETWEEN JAMES AND PAUL...........................................150 CHAPTER 15 JAMES AND THE EARLY CATHOLICISM OF CLEMENT .........................................................................................157 CHAPTER 16 LAW AND OBEDIENCE AS CONSTITUENTS OF FAITH .........................................................................................161 CHAPTER 17 CONCLUDING REMARKS..................................165 BIBLIOGRAPHY..................................................................172

PREFACE This book contains in essence two chapters (3 and 6) of my dissertation, entitled “The Law of Christ” (Maastricht, 2000) that have been reviewed and only slightly altered. In that dissertation, I tried to make the case for a different type of Christian ethics that took Jewish casuistry as a model for applying the Torah to the daily lives of Christians. A revision and separate publication was necessary in part, because these chapters had not been available as a separate statement – which they are. I have left out most of the scholarly material that was in the footnotes. It is not necessary to understand my proposals and it is still available in the text of my dissertation. The present book makes in effect a single statement: that Matthew and James present us with a form of Christianity that tries to remain a partner of Judaism in its attempt to obey the Torah of Moses. I hoped to show that the new understanding of the Jewish background of the New Testament might contribute to a different way of doing Christian ethics. I appreciate the fact that much more needs to be said in order to make the case for a renewed Christian casuistry along Jewish lines. To think “legally” about moral issues is not a popular undertaking in our post-modern era, that prefers emotional consensus to a debate on principles. Yet I believe from my studies both in ethics and Rabbinic Judaism that the Christian witness to the Kingdom of Christ in this world could benefit greatly from Jewish moral and legal hermeneutics. Robbert Veen HUIZEN, Christmas 2005

Introduction
In 1982 Mennonite theologian and pastor John Toews presented his design for a theology of law in the New Testament that would be able to provide us with a biblical method of doing Christian ethics. In his view, the Torah should again have a role to play in ethics, precisely because all the evidence in the New Testament suggests that Jesus took a far more favorable view of the Torah and the Jewish way of deducing moral rules of behavior than had been acknowledged by the Reformation. His position might be summarized as follows: In the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Torah is normatively interpreted for the community of Jesus’ followers, who affirm His messianic position, and the nucleus of this interpretation is the love of God and neighbor. From this thesis, we can deduce a number of implications, some of which I will try to explore in this book. If the above thesis is valid, how did it come about that the Christian Churches ignored this central position of the Torah? What doctrine took the place of the Torah in grounding Christian ethics? And how did we arrive at the almost insurmountable schism between the demands of the Kingdom and the exigencies of ordinary life in the modern state? Is a Christian primarily a citizen with a specific religious attitude? Or is he a citizen of the Kingdom of heavens, that awaits the return of Christ while living in the remains of an old order, destined to fade away? It seems to me to be necessary to look with a fresh mind at the New Testament evidence, the epistle of James and the gospels of Matthew and Mark, to establish a biblical answer to these questions. After all, in modern Christianity, there seems to be no place for the concept of a true obedience to the Torah as an integral part of Christian ethics. The New Testament seems to leave us with a pair of conflicting positions on this issue. Which is the real Jesus? The Jesus who apparently abrogates the food laws in Mark 7 by “declaring all foods clean,” annuls the Sabbath, invalidates the Korban law and the laws of vowing in general, and rejects the institution of the Temple? Or is it the Jesus who in Matthew 5:17 declares that He “did not come to abolish the law and the prophets” and expects a higher righteousness of His disciples than that of the Pharisees, implying a greater obedience to the Torah? Is it the Jesus who has become the “end of the law” in Romans 10? In what sense then could we argue that

the New Testament teaches that the messianic era starts with the abrogation of Mosaic Law? I will first present the difference in opinion between the gospels of Matthew and Mark. I will try to establish that Mark is a writer that focuses on Jesus as the Healer, which goes beyond issues of Torah-obedience. Mark represents a point of view on Christ that is perfectly suitable for a missionizing Church in its contact with a pagan world. Matthew, though writing later than Mark, in my view has tried to reconstruct the original gospel by presenting Jesus in a Jewish context that is more congruent with Jesus own reality as a Jew in first century Palestine. In a third section I will try to show, that the letter of James presents us with a clear view on a mode of discipleship and a form of Christian ethics, that includes obedience to the Torah. The aim of this book is fairly modest. By using some of the available sources on the Jewish background of Christianity, I want to make the case that Christians should start to think again about the meaning of the Torah and its Jewish interpretation for the way we act as Christians in this world. The point I am trying to make therefore is a preliminary one. It defines a program of reinterpretation of Christian ethics in the light of our knowledge of the Jewish background of Jesus that will give us more specific ideas of what a Christian ethics should look like. Though I dislike the terminology, it might be fair to say that this book is a plea for a specific form of “legalism”. Devising a mode of discipleship in our time, in which ancient biases against Jews and the Old Testament are set aside, is nevertheless to me a fascinating undertaking that might make our witness in this world efficient by making it more apparent and specific.

A. Jesus and the Law in Mark

Chapter 1

Jesus and the Jewish Law
Who is the “real” Jesus? The Jesus of Mark or the Jesus of Matthew? If Church practice early and late can be considered at least part of the answer, the “real” Jesus obviously is that of Mark. The Christian Churches do not hold to laws of ritual purity nor do they abide by the various food laws, including those Noachide laws dealing with blood and the strangled that apparently had been adopted by the Jerusalem council under the joint authority of James, Peter, and Paul (Acts 17). For the same reason, if Pauline doctrine can be considered part of the answer and if it is in strict continuity with Jesus’ teaching, then Jesus must have been abolishing the law, since established exegesis has it that Paul surely did. Even Peter is portrayed as being the recipient of a divine vision in which impurity barriers between Jews and gentiles were lifted (Acts 10). Church practices then and now, and various texts in the New Testament, speak urgently in favor of the image of Jesus of Nazareth as the one who abolished the law. On the other hand, Matthew might have been speaking from within a part of the Christian Church to whom the recognition of an ongoing validity of the law was still important. To Jewish Christians a continuing role of the law must have been quite self-evident. The difference of the images of Christ in Matthew and Mark must then be due to the difference between two separate patterns of early Christianity, which we most often identify according to ethnic boundaries as Jewish and gentile Christianity. Read like this, Matthew’s position on the law might then have been a redactional input as well as that of Mark, both obscuring the “real” Jesus behind their own theological needs. To modern Christians, this issue is not without importance, but it does not confront us with an obstacle that needs to be solved in order to make progress. We must first accept that the “real” Jesus cannot be found behind the texts we have, as we must accept equally that we are left to do our work with the canonized text. We have to find our way through a maze of conflicting pieces of evidence amongst incongruent images of Christ, both between and within the given text. Is there a way to ease this burden? We might start with accepting the canon as such, as the given material to work with, defining our burden as finding the unity or the center of the whole of the text that the Church considered Sacred Writings. The canon is not a practical list or a divine revelation, but it implies a historical perspective and a way of reading Scripture

that was current in the early Church. Matthew was put first in the order of gospels for a reason. It was supposed to be the basic and grounding view of Christ. Mark could not set it aside, nor could Paul contradict with impunity the basic position of the gospels. The gospels had particular authority because they represented the living voice of Christ who was the Lord of the Church and the consensus of local Churches or Church groups. However, from our modern point of view the New Testament is in many ways a product of conflicting positions. James was in conflict with Paul on the issue of justification; Peter and Paul had their quarrel about the status of gentile Christians in the Church; the gospels of Matthew and John seem to depict quite a different Jesus. All of this is reflected in the texts. Should we harmonize them into one consistent picture? Side by side with the historical decision to adopt four gospels instead of the shortened version of Luke that Marcion and Arius had proposed in the 2nd and 4th century, there was the effort to harmonize the gospels into a synoptic vision of events. The conflicts between them were noticed and seen as problematic. Therefore, the conflicts among the New Testament writings had to be smoothed out by a meta-narrative that did not allow inconsistencies to be understood as formal contradictions. Harmonization, the smoothing out of differences, became the dominant hermeneutic strategy. E.g., if Luke said something that is not in John, both events must have happened at different times. The differences between Paul and James should be attributed to different emphases in the same overall gospel-story. If John mentions a date different from the other gospel writers, then he purposely deviated from the historical truth to make a point. In a modern approach, we would read differently. We surmise that the differences are part of different theological appreciations of the apostolic traditions that the gospel writers were working with, or reflect the different contexts in which their congregations had to deal with those traditions. In such a case, when the contradiction cannot be explained away, theological intent supersedes descriptive accuracy. Since the Reformation placed so much emphasis on the interpretation of the gospel by Paul, a new problem arose: that of harmonizing Jesus’ statements in the gospels with the letters of Paul. Matthew e.g. could be harmonized with Paul by using a double strategy: (1) Matthew was either writing about a preliminary position that Jesus took because at that time the gospel was still meant to reach Israel or (2) Matthew’s text, with its emphasis on “doing the Law” had to mean something else, i.e. it had to be spiritualized. One of the ways of doing that, was to speak about the demands of the law as a prerequisite of accepting the gospel. Jesus was actually showing us to what degree we had merited punishment in order

to guide us to divine grace. That strategy resulted in a near dismissal of Matthew’s own intent. That is particularly apparent in the case of the great stumbling block that we find in Matthew 5:17, the massive affirmation of the law and the prophets that is contained there. It was generally accepted that the passage was about the meaning of Christ’s death in the light of His resurrection, which was the real fulfillment of law and prophets. To be able to fulfill the law meant that Jesus was the One that the law and the prophets had predicted, and the higher righteousness demanded of Jesus’ followers could be equated with the righteousness imputed to sinners. The Matthew passage however becomes equivocal in this way of reading, involving a double-entendre at the moment it was uttered. From our present understanding of the Jewish context of early Christianity we can ask a different question. Perhaps already in the era of the formation of the canon, the Church had forgotten what it actually meant to “fulfill the law” and not to abolish it? Perhaps the early Church already employed a reading strategy that made it possible to circumvent the massive affirmation of the Torah’s validity? To fulfill might have come to mean to supersede, by the end of the 2nd century. Paul’s post-resurrection theology, after having reached the status of primary framework, could then become the foundation of all Christian theology. Jesus’ affirmation of the law was read from hindsight as a stage in a progressive revelation. His effort to build a new Israel had failed and was first present in a new shape in the apostolic preaching of Peter and James, and then given up halfway through the book of Acts to be focused finally on Paul’s mission to the gentiles. It is this meta-narrative of the replacement of Israel by the Church that allowed for the harmonization strategy to work, in essence dividing prefrom post-resurrection theology (whereas in fact all of the New Testament in its redacted state is post-resurrection reflection). It is then set in the framework of Jesus’ preaching of the gospel of God’s kingdom to Israel first, and only after they rejected His message could the complete gospel of freedom from the law be explained to gentiles and Jews alike. The placement of Matthew with its massive law-affirmation as the first of the canonical gospels is the decisive act on which we need to base our understanding of its practical status. The canonical stature of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, including the massive affirmation of the continuing validity of the law in Matthew 5, is a barrier to any contemporary attempt to formulate a law-free gospel, even if based on the gospel of Paul or his followers. It is necessary to leave a formidable tradition of reading the gospel behind us.

Even in modern readings of the gospel however, this ancient bias against the Jewish character of the gospel is present. Rudolf Bultmann can state, e.g., that Jesus’ teachings are ”a major protest against Jewish legality (Gesetzlichkeit), i.e., against a piety that sees the will of God expressed in the written law and the tradition that explains it.”1 Such a piety would try to achieve God’s acceptance through a painstaking effort to comply with the law’s demands. Religion, law, and ethics were not separated in Pharisaic doctrine, so that civil law became a divine institution and divine law was handled as civil law. That position in his view must lead to casuistry, where legal institutions that have lost their force because of changing circumstances need to be kept alive because they are considered of divine origin and must be adapted to the new circumstances by an artificial process of interpretation. “The consequence of all of this is that the real motivation for the moral act has become perverted.”2 Obedience is in that case seen as something formal and the question of why a moral act is commanded cannot be asked; the principle of retribution (Vergeltung) is the primary motivational force. In such a legal discourse, religious ethics cannot achieve a radical, real obedience from the heart. Jesus’ intent was, according to Bultmann, to bypass the codified law and the cultic requirements and present the case of a radical, moral obedience beyond legalism. God demands what is morally good in every situation anew. The moral relationship becomes the pure divine requirement, beyond legal, ritual and cultic law, to respond authentically to Gods presence. The antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount would in fact portray such a moral requirement versus the religious and legal dictates of the rabbis. The behavior of man cannot be determined by legal rules; it would leave a person a sphere of freedom outside of Gods imperative that the law could not deal with. Bultmann equates the halakhic system of the Pharisees (a way of understanding obedience as a “way of life”) with this legalist distortion of Torah-obedience. Even a casual reading of Sander’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism, written in 1977, should teach us differently. The themes of God’s grace, election, the ”direction of the heart,” the minor relevance of the aspect of retribution, and the great emphasis on moral attitudes beyond the strictures of the law - all present in early Jewish law traditions - are shown to imply the precise opposite of the legalist, cultic, self-centered righteousness that Christian scholarship attributed to Judaism in the thought of Bultmann. In
1 R. Bultmann (1953), p. 10. 2 Ibid.

our Churches, we have not really begun to draw the consequences from this revolution in our way of thinking. With a more realistic picture of 1st-century Judaism, our image of Jesus’ opposition to it must change, and with that, our appreciation of the role of the Torah in Christian ethics must also change. At the present, after several decades of new research into the Jewish context of Jesus’ preaching, we can no longer ignore the continuity between Jesus’ statements and those of his Pharisaic contemporaries. Liberal theology did so. Where Jesus states like the Pharisees, that God rewards full obedience, Bultmann does not hesitate to point out that behind the idea of reward lies the promise of redemption to those who obeyed for reasons other than the reward. Jesus’ use of the concept of reward is thereby given a theological depth to counteract the possibility that obedience for reward perverts the ”moral motivation.” However, such a sympathetic reception of language that opposes Bultmann’s own intuitions is not given to the Pharisaic teachers. The assumption is that the theological evaluation of the Pharisees, as presented by some readings of the gospel context, provides us with enough clues to accept in Jesus a statement that is virtually identical to a statement made by His Pharisaic contemporaries and still affirm such a statement by Jesus and reject that of the Pharisees. All of the explanations of Jesus’ original gospel by Bultmann are determined by his opinions about Pharisees. They are context-derived and biased in as far as they generalize from the gospel-accounts and do not offer an explanation for the intent behind the Pharisees’ position beyond a notion like their “zeal for the law.” I will endeavor to show that the intent behind some of the Pharisees’ disputed rulings can be reconstructed with some certainty, not in a concrete historical fashion, but by locating the “pattern of religion” (Sanders) involved, and that this actually throws an important light on the meaning of Jesus’ saying and the reasons behind it. According to Bultmann, Jesus does not reject the authority of the Old Testament, but distinguishes critically among its diverse commandments (which only mean that he has a specific hermeneutic) and has a sovereign attitude towards it. This last point is of course of primary importance. The relationship between the authority of the Torah and the authority of the Messiah is a vital issue. However, how can Bultmann claim that this sovereign attitude is without a doubt (1) attributable to Jesus Himself? After all, Bultmann discriminates between Jesus’ sayings and Gemeindebildung (redaction within the con-

gregation and for the latter’s needs), because the image of Jesus as standing above the law is part of the confession of Jesus as the Messiah. If it is part of the apostolic interpretation of Jesus’ gospel, it cannot revoke Jesus’ own sayings with regard to the authority of Torah. And (2) how can Bultmann claim that, even given this sovereign mode, Jesus actually did abrogate the law, over against the evidence of Matthew 5:17, which at least in the primitive Church was held to be authoritative? When it suits him, Bultmann can claim that words that deny both Jesus’ rejection of tradition and Torah are actually part of the Gemeindebildung, whereas words that reject the Torah must be authentic. A case in point is the expression in Matthew 5:17, where Jesus states that He did not come to abolish the law. Bultmann has this to offer: “...in comparison with other words of Jesus and taking His actual behavior into account this cannot possibly be a genuine saying of Christ; it must be a Gemeindebildung from a later age.” We beg to differ, and the reason is precisely this: that Bultmann rejects it as genuine because he interprets it as (close to) an affirmation of Pharisaic legalism. If, however, one can interpret the affirmation of Torah not as a form of legalism, but as something common to all strands of Palestinian Judaism, there is no problem. It certainly cannot be denied that Jesus was a Jew. The solution to the problem need not be the hypothesis that Matthew wrote for a Judaizing congregation, nor the introduction of a semantic framework in which ”to fulfill” suddenly becomes connected to Pauline Christology. There is no real hindrance to accept that there was enough in Pharisaic Judaism that could be adopted and adapted both by Jesus and by the early Church. That there is a problem with the absolute nature of this affirmation of Torah in Matthew 5 should lead us into the opposite direction. Precisely the incongruence between the position of the Church and this saying must mean that it is attributable to Jesus, by the standard of critical method that what is in conflict with what can be expected must therefore be genuine. Notwithstanding his general rejection of a favorable attitude towards the law in Jesus, Bultmann accepts that Jesus did not abrogate fasting in Mark 2, did not speak out against the Temple cult and did not reject the Old Testament. The redactional stage of Matthew 5:17, in that sense, remained in continuity with Jesus’ own attitude, even if it derived its position from the lack of criticism rather than from an actual position that Jesus had expressed. The impact of the saying is, however, greatly reduced to a general acceptance of the Old Testament as sacred literature, and reduced further

by its attribution to a Judaizing congregation, history of form and redaction history are given the final say over the matter. The assumptions behind Bultmann’s position therefore lead him astray here, as we will show by looking at the relation between gospel context (reflective stages) and (reconstructed) logion context. It is clear that a saying as recorded in Matthew 5:17 is a real hindrance to accepting the law-free gospel as something that derives from Jesus, and not from the pagan majority Churches and their (vulgarized) Paulinism. In it, Jesus states that He did not come to abolish the law but to uphold (fulfill) it. What does this mean?

Chapter 2

Fulfilling the law (Matthew 5)
Now we are somewhat prepared to address the reading strategy that takes the fulfillment of the law as implying materially the same thing as an abrogation. What does it actually mean to fulfill the law in a Jewish context? The expression “fulfilling the law” has been taken as the equivalent of “doing the law,” as in Rom. 2:13. Jesus then came to do the law, to be in obedience to all its precepts. But the Greek pleroosai stands closer to the Hebrew lehaqim which means to uphold, to accept as a standard. That is also how the Aramaic translation of Onqelos takes the Hebrew (doing, here “the law”) in Deut. 27:26. The translation with “to uphold” brings it closer to agreement with Rom. 3:31, where Paul states that he is actually establishing the law (but using a form of histemi, to establish). Besides, the LXX in 1 K. 1:14 clearly shows that the Greek pleroosai and the Hebrew word for “fulfill” i.e. establish or affirm were seen as equivalents. The prophet Nathan here announces his intent to come to the king to corroborate the words of Bathsheba. It seems clear that Jesus wanted to uphold the Law as a standard for obedience in a Jewish sense. The meaning of the expression is disputed, however. One might argue that fulfilling the law equals doing it, i.e., obeying its precepts individually. Jesus would then be saying that he ”does” the law, and Paul can then still say later that to the Church the law is abrogated because of changed circumstances: Israel after all did not accept Jesus’ gospel. The problem is that the Greek has a perfectly simple word for ”doing” the law. The Greek poiesai is used, e.g., in LXX Deut. 26:16, to translate the Hebrew for “doing” (‘asah) i.e., obeying the law. That does indeed suggest that to fulfill means more than to obey or do it. It is hardly likely that doing and fulfilling were seen as equivalents when the LXX takes such pains to differentiate the two. Another way to explain the underlying issue is to make a difference between doing the precepts of the law and upholding it, i.e., maintaining it as a standard even when occasional transgressions against it are committed. That seems to be clear from the Hebrew use of jaqim in Deut. 27:26, where we have the meaning of upholding (as standard) in order to do. It certainly is the meaning of meqim in MPirkei Avoth 4:9, which speaks about fulfilling the Torah in poverty. Surely, this does not mean doing all the mitzvoth, but rather affirming their validity. The LXX strengthens this impression when it translates the same word in Deut. 27:26 with “continue” (emmenei) and not with fulfill, thereby accentuating the required persistence in obedience. All of this implies that fulfilling the law goes

beyond obeying it, and that it has a meaning that cannot be harmonized so simply with Paul’s approach to the law. Or is there a way? Another, more popular approach involves putting the expression into connection with the so-called “formula quotations” (Erfüllungszitate) that are a redactional device used by Matthew, where the word for “to fulfill” has the meaning of “to give them their full meaning.” Law and prophets find their deepest significance in the coming of the Messiah, specifically in the way this Messiah acts and instructs His disciples on matters of law. Fulfilling the Law must then mean that Jesus reveals the true intent of the Torah and demonstrates it in action. This messianic authority may on occasion come into conflict with Pharisaic halakah or even with contemporary interpretations of the Torah. In this case, we take the verb pleroosai to have received its meaning from Matthew’s Christology. But even here, the basic sense of “fulfill” is to corroborate. The expression does not lead us into the arena of Pauline fulfillment-theology that would imply abrogation at the same time. In Matt. 3:15, the expression “to fulfill all righteousness” is used to mean something like “to do everything that is demanded by the standard of righteousness.” To fulfill the law might then be taken to mean to do the law and uphold it as standard insofar as it, as a written statute, leads to the fulfillment of the divine demand of righteousness. We should notice something else in this context. There is no reference to Jesus as a person who might annul the law here. In stead, we find a straightforward statement about Jesus’ obedience to and indeed reverence for the Torah. Furthermore, we can infer from the opposition between katalusai (to annul) and pleroosai that to fulfill does mean to uphold, to affirm its authority. As a technical term, it denotes a process of interpretation whereby individual laws are explained in such a way that they serve the goal of the whole body of law, i.e., establish justice. Another meaning of the word that plays into this, is that of completion. When a road is “fulfilled”, it is possible to reach its destination. The Torah is understood as a road to life, and fulfilling it might mean to apply it in such a way, that its goal is reached. Another approach might be to look more closely at the contents of this notion of fulfilling by trying to figure out what its particular usage might have been within 1st-century Judaism. Since we are now seeking a pattern of thought, and not historical dependency, even relatively late texts might provide us with valuable clues. A passage in BMakkoth 23b-24a might help us out here. R. Simlai opens a discussion with a statement that God gave Moses 613 commandments. David summarized (reduced) these

613 to eleven basic precepts in Psalm 15 (24a). The Psalm ends with the statement: “He that does these things will not be moved.” Now this does not mean that David annulled 600 commandments, but it does mean that the manifold of commandments were seen as being derived from a lesser number of major commandments, that could be regarded (a) as basic ethical requirements and (b) as fundamental ways of interpreting and doing all other commandments. Beyond that, (c) anyone who was able to perform these commandments with the fundamental concentration on doing God’s will that was required (what the Rabbis called “kawanah”) would merit the world to come. So the eleven moral demands David enumerated (which are not all part of the list of 613) form the basis of obedience to all of the 613 precepts. Rabban Gamliel then remarks that only someone who can practice all of these precepts can merit the world to come, but he is refuted: the text simply states “these,” i.e., any of these, and does not say “all of these.” So the merit of the world to come is already earned by practicing merely one of the ethical requirements mentioned by David with the required concentration, and it will be that obedience (which does not imply a rejection of the other 613 commandments) which brings salvation. At the end of the passage, Amos 5:4 is quoted as indicating that obedience to God (“And seek me and you shall live”) is the fundamental “ethical” requirement that will bring salvation. The Gemara refutes this by quoting Rav Nachman b. Isaac as saying that this ”seek Me” effectively includes all the 613 precepts and can therefore not be called a “reduction.” The Gemara then offers another text: Hab. 2:14, “the righteous will live through his faith.” It is not difficult to see how similar in reasoning, though different in result, this is from the text we have in Romans 1:16, 17. Could it not be that fulfilling the law is functionally the equivalent of a fundamental ethical requirement, as well as a hermeneutical perspective within which the precepts should be applied? To fulfill the law must then mean to uphold it by effectively obeying it in accordance with its most general principle, expressed in and as the summary of the law. Matthew now expresses the righteousness that is the inner standard of the law as written statute as the double commandment upheld in a specific community. In Matthew’s version, this most general principle involved (1) the basic principle and hermeneutic perspective of the law as explained by Christ, i.e., love for God and neighbor, and more particularly the nature of the eschatological community as defined by the introductory Beatitudes; (2) the authority of the Messiah to formulate absolutely binding halakhot while at the same relegating the formal rabbinic authority to the community “assembled in His name.” (Matthew 18)

The messianic authority as shared by the Church is in fact in itself a sign of the new Messianic era. In this respect, the anti-Pharisaic address in chapter 25 serves as a corollary to Jesus’ Messianic status, because it shows that the rabbinic decisions were being made by men. These men were unable themselves to “fulfill” the law in many respect. They were shown to be the opposite of Jesus as the one who through His death had shown the ultimate sacrifice in the service of God and His fellow-men, thereby ultimately demonstrating the absolute authority He had used in matters of law-exegesis.

Chapter 3

Jesus and Jewish oral tradition in Mark
If Jesus did not abrogate the law what then was His teaching about its use for His disciples? We must turn now to the difficult question of what Jesus really taught about the Mosaic law and of what consequences this has for the shape of Christian obedience. First, to simply go to the opposite and assume agreement between Jesus and the Pharisees on major issues of law, based for the most part on silence, is a dangerous enterprise. There is more than enough positive evidence to suggest that in many cases there was agreement between Jesus’ position and at least some of the reconstructable early sources of rabbinic doctrine. In any case, Jesus would certainly have agreed with the majority of his contemporaries that the Torah contained the decisive revelation of the will of God. However, there are differences. The texts show us that a different understanding of the nature of God and his response to the social tensions of his time that made Jesus different in some of his decisions on Jewish law. The following seemed necessary in the traditional view for understanding Jesus’ position vis-à-vis the law: 1Jesus accepts the gospel of John the Baptist that there was only one way to escape the coming judgment, and that way did not lead through the Temple and its system of sacrificial atonement. One needs to be baptized and follow the will of God with a new commitment. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan implies Jesus’ rejection of the sufficiency of the Temple cult. It includes an image of God as avenging Judge that soon afterwards is transformed in Jesus’ own preaching. 2Jesus shows that God is about to renew his marriage vows to Israel. God, the Bridegroom of Israel, is coming to His people to save them. That is why there can be no fasting! There is a deep sense of the presence of God among His people. 3If God is coming like that to His people, then Israel is not identical to the Kingdom of God. That kingdom was present since the Mosaic law, the commandments, were given to realize God’s sovereign rule in this world. What Israel is awaiting is a new kind of presence of God in the midst of His people without the mediation of the Temple, i.e., directly, forgiving the sins of all people without condition. That is the reason that Jesus is not interested in matters of holiness and purity. Jesus looked at the Torah in the light of his particular understanding of

God. Torah had the function to reveal to humankind God’s boundless and benevolent love for man. Because God had already begun His new kingdom of divine presence, it was not important to direct everybody’s attention to the Torah as a rule of life. Not the text of the Torah, but the revelation of God’s love contained in it, was to Jesus the essence of the traditions of Israel. It seems clear that though this is a different position from that encountered in mainstream Pharisaism, it does constitute a radical effort to affirm the validity of the Torah as a vehicle of revelation and the basis for man’s behavior. The nature and extent of Jesus’ abrogation of the Torah in its aspect of law could be combined with His statements on the validity of the Law as vehicle of the revelation of grace. Is this picture correct? Then we should find a clear rejection of the rabbinic way of thinking in Jesus’ teaching on the Law. Since the affirmation of the Torah as Law is the viewpoint that is most often associated with the Pharisaic approach to Torah, our attention now must shift to Jesus’ connection with the proponents of oral law.

3.1 The Jewish traditions
We must ask what Jesus’ response was to the Pharisaic traditions. Was He really that far removed from the way the Pharisees explained the law? We cannot simply identify Jesus with a form of Pharisaism, and the classical view informs us that Jesus was in opposition to the Pharisaic exposition of the Torah. We need to examine at least some of the evidence. The most decisive opposition to Pharisaism in the gospels seems to be found in Mark 7. Some introductory remarks are needed here. The gospel of Mark is based on Palestinian traditions about Jesus, which account for most of the sayings, and Hellenistic and Galilean narratives. His main effort was to provide a consistent narrative that could combine the various traditions that he had received. The main intent of Marks theology seems to be linked to a very early type of piety that saw in Jesus the exceptional teacher, debater, leader, and healer. The debates are constructed in order to show Jesus’ exceptional nature, and they focus less on the contents. Nevertheless, Mark received Palestinian traditions that did focus on the contents, as is clear in particular from such passages as Mark 2 and 7. It is Marks strategy to use them in such a way, that the emphasis shifts from the dialogue to a statement about Jesus. In the same manner, the role of the disciples is portrayed in various ways as a response to Jesus. The crowds, the disciples, the Pharisees, and other groups are confronted with Jesus and are astonished or in fear. (E.g. 1:22, 27; 2:12; 4:41; 5:20, 42; 6:50; 7:37; 9:14; 10:32; 12:17, 34; 15:5; 16:8) The meaning of Jesus’ mission is not presented in a more or

less independent Christology, but through the response of men to the exceptionality of Jesus’ character and mission. If we can ascertain that the break with Judaism is a product of the changing situation of the early Church and its debate with Judaism, we have thereby shown that Jesus’ own position may have given rise to a variety of positions on the Torah and, by implication, a variety of positions with regard to what constitutes Christian obedience. The major key in separating between the oldest traditions and the effort to harmonize those traditions with current Church-decisions will be the form of the material. If it is halakhic in nature, we probably have the material that occasioned the labor of the redactor. Halakhic elements therefore have priority over Christological material. Let us examine the issue of the impurity of the hands first, and let us examine it first of all from a Jewish perspective to see precisely what issue our chapter 7 of Mark is dealing with. First we must ask ourselves whether the issue of ritual washing of the hands was part of a live debate in the 1st century or not. The Gemara3 in Sabbath 15a quotes Rav Judah (Judah b. Ezekiel, a Babylonian Amora 4 of the third century) as saying in the name of Samuel, who lived one generation earlier at the end of the 2nd century, that King Solomon had instituted the ritual washing of the hands. That seems to indicate that the discussion was settled and the ritual an ordinary part of Jewish life. The statement about the antiquity of the ritual is then hardly exaggerated. Sanders, on the contrary, maintains that the issue arose much later, in the early period of the formation of the Mishnah tractate Yadaim, in his estimate well after A.D. 70, which deals extensively with the purity of the hands. The decree that triggered later conflict was, however, at least as old as the era of Shammai and Hillel, though the same text seems to indicate that there was initially a difference of opinion amongst them and that the matter was brought to agreement only afterwards amongst their pupils, therefore, presuming that the Talmud is historically accurate, also after Jesus’ lifetime.
3 “Gemara,” literally: completion. The word refers to the oral discussions on the body of Jewish Law as they were recorded and collected in the two recensions of the Talmud, the Babylonian or the Palestinian (Jerusalem) Talmud, or to the whole of the Talmud consisting of Mishnah and Gemara. 4 The authorities in the Mishnah are called “Tannaim,” expounders (of the law). The authorities that commented on the Mishnah are called Amoraim, teachers (of the law). These Amoraim lived in Babylonia or Palestine from the 3d century onward.

In the view of E.P. Sanders, the discussion in Mark 7 is highly artificial because there was no debate about ritual washing of the hands at that time; it originates much later, when it is also corroborated by Mishnaic sources. Hand washing before a common meal (as opposed to a festive meal or on Sabbath), according to Sanders, was a Pharisaic tradition at most and not a law; there is hardly any evidence for it in the 1st century; it was certainly not a uniform tradition; most Jews probably did not abide by it, so it could not have been a cause for deadly enmity. Could it have been an original first century debate? James Dunn, disagreeing with Sanders on this question, sees in Mark 7 strong evidence that the issue washing the hands before meals was already under debate. In his estimate, the core issue of Mark 7 is indeed a Jewish debate on a point of law. Dunn more or less accuses Sanders of having introduced the dogma that there could have been no conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees about halakah. Mark 7 would actually show the opposite. Is it just about a point of law or is more at stake? Is Mark taking a dialogue on a point of law out of context to present us with the theological opposition between the Messiah and the Pharisees? To my mind, it seems clear that the debate about hand washing is also about something else. Precisely because in this rabbinic commandment the issue of the authority of rabbinical enactments and the major drive towards sanctification of ordinary life were at stake, it must have been an item of grave conflict. The debate between Jesus and the Pharisees was not about washing hands as such, as James Dunn emphasizes, but about who could decide such an issue and for what reason it could be deemed desirable to have such a halakah. What did the rabbis actually say? The Mishnah in Chagiga II,4 states that hands need to be rinsed before eating unconsecrated food, and the Gemara (18b) explains that this must be for bread, while one need not rinse his hands before eating fruit, and Mark 7 shows that this must at least have been valid law in the days before the year 70. The first stage was most certainly also a debate between Sadducees and Pharisees, the second exclusively a debate among Pharisaic teachers themselves. In this context we may make a motivated guess that the historic referent of Mark 7 seems to belong at least partially to the first stage of the conflict, and that it is set against the background of the Sadducee conflict because it is about the authority of the oral tradition; in part, however, it also belongs to a much later Christian-Jewish debate, when the ritual itself was abolished for Christians. The element of the inclusion or exclusion of gentiles is then made into the context of the entire debate. I will go into this hypothesis in more detail later. So the core of the debate is probably authentic, and we may identify it as

pre-70, following Dunn’s analysis. Now we must ask the next question: what was this debate exactly about? The Gemara in Chulin 106a discusses the custom in a way that makes it clear that the rationale behind the commandment was secondary in nature. It was an already established custom that the Rabbis debated. First, it surely did not originate in the Torah itself. It was reported that R. Eleazar b. Arach (a teacher, Tanna, of the 1st century) commented upon a baraita (a Mishnah not found in Rabbi Judah’s compilation) that simply stated: “It is written: And whomsoever he that hath the issue touches, without having rinsed his hands in water, Lev. 15:11, herein, said R. Eleazar b. Arach, the sages found biblical support for the law of washing the hands.” But the biblical support they found was derived by a procedure called asmachta, i.e., a rabbinic ruling was afterwards homiletically linked to a quotation from Torah without contending that the text actually taught the ruling. In the text of Torah, the washing of the hands is not a separate act, but one that results from bathing, in the rabbinic ruling the washing of the hands becomes a separate injunction, implying that all those who did not wash their hands are unclean and unfit to partake of the meal. In fact, as is clear from Hirsch’s commentary on Leviticus 15:115, the text itself implies that the person who bathes also cleans his hands by doing so, and the hands are mentioned as a meaningful pars pro toto for the body as a whole, emphasizing that the capability to act was restored in such ritual bathing. It is clear, then, that an application of Lev. 15:11 to the washing of the hands before meals presupposes an intent to make the common meal into an analogy of the priestly meal, which required Levitical purity. We must note in passing that we follow here the general idea that Pharisaic teaching was characterized by the intent of applying Levitical purity to ordinary life, to “educate the masses in holiness” as was shown e.g. by Jacob Neusner.6 Neusner expressed the view that the Pharisees contributed a viewpoint and a method. The viewpoint addressed “all Israel,” and the method focused upon the sanctification of “all Israel. The Pharisees contributed to the nascent system after 70 a fundamental attitude that everyone mattered and an emphasis on the holiness of everyday life.”7 James Dunn mentions the “received wisdom” that the Pharisees at the time of Jesus were a purity sect. “Their concern was to keep the purity laws, which governed access to the Temple and participation in the cult, outside the Temple, to extend the holiness of the Temple throughout the land of Israel.”
5 Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch, translation and commentary, translated by Isaac Levy, London, Judaica Press, 19762 (1867 – 1878). 6 Jacob Neusner, Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees (1971). 7 Neusner (1995), p. 52.

Secondly, it is also clear that the custom is intrinsically linked to its authoritative source. In the same passage we find R. Idi b. Abin (a Babylonian Amora of the 4th. century) stating that the washing of the hands was instituted because of the ritual purity of terumah, food consecrated to the Temple. Hands are considered unclean, but only in the second degree, meaning that they could not defile common food but could defile consecrated food. However, this is valid for priests, and, on the assumption that the festive meals on religious holidays constituted an analogy to priestly gatherings, only valid for such occasions. How could it, on the basis of Torah, be applied to ordinary meals as well? In fact, only tradition itself could provide a foundation for that, and there can be a connection between two efforts to give a basis for the ritual: the one implying the priestly analogy, extending the ritual laws to laymen in order to sanctify Israel, and the other the sheer fact that it had been handed down by tradition. Obviously, R. Idi considered compliance with this rabbinic institution a meritorious act, even if there was no basis for it in written law. Obeying the rabbis is in itself a form of piety, since it expresses loyalty to the system in which halakah is produced. Therefore, when the Gemara asks the obvious question “why?” it is understandable why the younger contemporary of R. Idi, Abaye, is thought to have answered with a general principle: “It is a meritorious act to hearken to the words of the sages.” The formal reason for the obedience lies therefore in the authority of the sages themselves. But the sages’ opinion was not fully undisputed. Rab (2nd and 3rd century) argued that after a person had washed his hands in the morning, this would serve him all day if he so stipulated in his mind, if he did not dirty his hands or render them unclean later. Nevertheless, this opinion did not survive: it lost the analogy with the priestly requirements and contradicted the specifics of the earlier and already widespread Pharisaic institution. It implied also a more “material” and rational way of looking at the issue of impurity or cleanliness. All of this shows that to the third and fourth generation of Amoraim the only real reason for obedience to the commandment is the fact that the rabbis instituted it and that they loosely accepted the priestly analogy as the general motivation for it. This is shown also by comparison with a related minor issue. In the Chulin passage we also find mention of the sages instituting the washing of the hands before eating fruit, and not only before partaking of a common meal with bread. The reason for that institution is given by the same R. Eleazar as “reasons of cleanliness.” Raba explains this as meaning that washing the hands is neither a duty (not a rabbinic enactment) nor a meritorious act (which though not commanded is an act of piety), but merely a matter of free choice. What does this say about the washing of

the hands before eating bread? Surely that to some rabbis the washing of the hands (since ritual defilement cannot be conferred upon the bread) is intrinsically a matter of free choice or only an issue of cleanliness. Intrinsically, the rabbis accept the verdict that Mark 7 pronounces upon the custom and agree with Jesus’ main principle that there was no real defilement here. But the result of the discussion in the Talmud is not the abrogation of the institution of the washing of the hands before a meal where bread is used. Rabbinic authority makes it a duty on account of that authority itself. As we have seen, it is a meritorious act when the sages institute it as such. There is no valid ground for it apart from an analogy with priestly customs, which to some was not a sufficient reason. The washing of the hands was a prerequisite only for the priest when he had his meal in the Temple. So his “preparation” for partaking of consecrated food, terumah, provides analogous grounds for the washing of the hands of the nonpriest before a common meal. It is an act that strengthens the similarity between life at home and priestly life in the Temple. And that in itself is a choice the rabbis made, and which then, because of their status, becomes meritorious and a duty. The act itself is an acknowledgement of their authority and their intent to sanctify life outside the confines of the Temple. The issue in its final stage in Mark 7 is therefore moved beyond the question of purity or impurity to become focused on the authority of the rabbis themselves to build up the Jewish way of life. The gospel of Mark in its editorial layer very accurately opposes that by showing Jesus’ authority to reject not only the specific halakhic decision , but the system itself. In Mark’s rendering of the conflict, messianic authority clashes with rabbinic authority, even when originally a debate on the issue itself must have been concerned with principles and arguments along the lines of the debate recorded in the Talmud. So we can conclude: in the ritual commandment to wash the hands before eating a complete meal (implying bread), the rationale rests on a loose analogy with priestly law and ultimately on the fact that it was an institution of the sages, making what is in itself an “act of free choice” into an honoring of rabbinic authority and the intent to sanctify life. In this honoring of rabbinic authority, the acceptance of the basic Pharisaic endeavor to make life at home into an analogy to Temple symbolism is implied. Utensils, food, and company at meals must comply with specific rules for holiness. Obviously, a person who would not comply with this institution would be excluded from fellowship, since that would involve a rejection of rabbinic authority as such. However, the basis for that exclusion would not be, as we have seen, the fact that such non-compliance constituted a breach of Torah, but merely disregard for a rabbinic institution.

That changed an “act of free choice,” which might have been prompted by arguments of cleanliness, into a prescribed ritual.

3.2. Mark’s response to the traditions
We must now ask how early Christianity dealt with this element of Jewish halakah. Let us take as our primary witness the passage in Mark 7, which not only deals with the issue of the ritual washing of the hands before eating bread, but links it closely to another issue of far greater importance, that of the Korban pledge that overrules the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. We will deal with the various elements of this passage in some detail, but with a specific intent: what was the underlying issue of this strangely verbose and hostile encounter between Jesus and some Pharisees? How did such a passage function within the Church of Mark, more specifically, in Rome? Mark 7:1. And [then] came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. Immediately after the report of the failure of John the Baptist’s mission to Israel we find the extension of the gospel of the kingdom to the gentiles. It is shown in a symbolic manner in the act of the multiplication of the five loaves of bread, perhaps referring to the five books of Moses, complemented by prophets and writings (the two fish) combining into the seven pieces of food that can feed the multitude (the hundreds and fifties of the Roman army). In the chapter itself, Mark goes on to describe Jesus’ dealings with a gentile woman from outside the boundary of the Holy Land, indicating that, to him, the issue of purity is intrinsically connected to that of the extension of the preaching of the gospel beyond Israel (verses 24-30). The mention of bread in chapter 6 and the washing of the hands before partaking of bread in chapter 7 might form an element of connection between the passages. we find this passage, whose obvious intent is to explain the distance between Pharisaic Judaism and the new gospel of Christ, as that gospel had developed between Jesus’ death and the year 70. The Sadducees are of course not mentioned here, since they did not agree on this issue with the Pharisees. The latter, as the “cultic” party, tried to apply rules concerning ritual purity in the Temple to ordinary life, to extend the sanctity of the Temple to the whole of Israel. The Sadducees affirmed the primary sanctity of the Temple. Has it happened? After discussing and rejecting Saunders’ contention that the incident could not be authentic, James Dunn has argued that Jesus’ attitude would of necessity have been far more favourable to existing Pharisaic regulations. In that case, the passage reflects more the concern of the later Church. Dunn states as his conclusion that Jesus’ “cavalier”

attitude toward the purity laws might have constituted a threat to the integrity of the Temple, depending on the level of provocation of the recorded incidents and on the level of concern for purity regulations, which, though present in all factions of Judaism, might have varied. So, according to Dunn, the passage reflects Jesus’ own attitude toward the purity laws and the Korban law mentioned later, because it is doubtful to him that a gospel written before 70 could have reflected a concern over purity that had developed much later, as Sanders contends. The issue must have been pre-70, and therefore an authentic point of debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, and the latter would probably have held positions that were not recorded in later collections of rabbinic materials. Dunn does not discuss, however, the implications of the fact that Mark is obviously addressing a Roman audience unfamiliar with these laws, and that at least the context of the incident, which stresses a clash between Jesus and the Pharisees, is redactional in nature. Precisely because the gravity and implications of the issue are dependent on such circumstances as Dunn mentions, this contextual element in Mark’s rendering becomes more important than he gives it credit for. So Dunn is right in contending that the issue was real in Jesus’ time, but the evidence is inconclusive for his implicit affirmation that Jesus’ position was as principled a rejection of Judaism as the Marcan context makes it out to be8 (). 2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashed, hands, they found fault. A rabbi generally took his meals with his pupils, and in this incident Jesus might have eaten out in the open with his disciples. Such a meal was regarded as an occasion for instruction, since the behaviour of the rabbi and the implications of their fellowship together were a case of derekh erets, which besides “ways of the land,” i.e., local custom, can also mean behavior according to a general attitude, from which one might glean how a person had internalized and expressed Torah in his daily life. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash [their] hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. The expression “all the Jews” betrays Marcan redaction: he is addressing a Roman audience to whom the expression “the Jews” meant foreigners. The expression also gives evidence of a relatively late origin of the redaction, because the Sadducees surely did not adopt this habit outside the Temple. That might be an indication that Sadducee exception to this rule was deemed unimportant, since around 70 the importance of that faction
8 cf. Dunn [1991], pp. 43-44

diminished considerably. The expression “tradition of the elders” may mean technically that the institution was a rule derabbanan, commanded by the sages, and not directly present in Torah.9 However, to Mark the expression is equal to that other expression: traditions of men, whereby the connection with the Torah and the divine will is completely severed. That opposition between tradition of the sages and the Torah as an opposition between the commandments of men vis-à-vis the commandment of God is the kind of antithesis that early Christianity might have taken over from Sadducean proselytes, or more likely from Paulinist instruction, whereas the Sermon on the Mount had to be interpreted with considerable liberty to construct such an antithesis. The separation of divine and human institutions is, after all, a matter of how valid one considers those hermeneutic rules to be by which general principles command a process of adaptation and application of rules of Torah beyond their original scope. In rabbinic Judaism, this came to be expressed formally as the tradition of the “fathers” who had received Torah in a chain of tradition going back to Moses himself, who not only received the written Torah, but its interpretation as well.10 The principle of hermeneutics that opened ways to go beyond the scope of literal exegesis, Sadducee style, was not absent from early Christianity, as is evident from Matthew 18, which transfers this specific rabbinic authority (based on Torah, i.e., the institution of the judges as a select group of experts with moral authority, combined with legal authority in courts of law) to the community of the faithful. Yet, at the same time, the dispute with the synagogue became entrenched in part in the contention that the Pharisees followed human reasoning to adapt to Torah, whereas Christ had restored full obedience to the divine will. If we can accept, that the antithesis between Torah and human traditions in the passage is the result of the redaction and has its Sitz im Leben in the post-70 struggle with the synagogue, we might gain a more positive insight into the meaning of Christ’s opposition to these “traditions of men.” After all, the point at issue in verse 13 is not that human traditions and interpretations are invalid in themselves, but that they must be considered critically with respect to their congruity with the basic commandments in Torah. In this still unresolved debate about the meaning of the ritual of the washing of the hands, Jesus may indeed have basically accepted the Pharisaic effort to transfer the principles of the Temple to the realm of
9 The ‘sages’ or ‘elders’ are never mentioned in a positive sense in this gospel. They are the enemies of Christ (Mark. 11:27; 14:43; 15:1) and they conspire to kill Jesus in Mark 8:31. 10 Expressed, e.g., in MPirkei Avoth 1:1: ”Moses ‘received’ the Torah from the Sinai and handed it over to Joshua.”

daily life without favouring an abrogation of that cult itself. After all, as Matthew 5:22ff. and passages in Luke (2:41-51) and John (5:1; 7:10) show, Jesus had a positive attitude towards the Temple. The Marcan account, which shows Jesus to be extremely critical with reference to such basic cultic issues as impurity, sacrifice, and Sabbath, focuses more on the effort to apply the Temple’s intent beyond the localized cult and its sacred place. In Mark 2 e.g. Jesus, in assuming the priestly authority to forgive sins, does so without reference to the Temple authorities, and beyond the strictures of the cult, but does not set aside the meaning of forgiveness that the Temple was supposed to enshrine. In this sense, Jesus differed from the Temple by assuming a messianic-priestly role, but not by bringing a new insight, let alone by entertaining the notion of abrogating the Temple cult. He also agreed with the Pharisaic tendency to widen the sphere of influence of the Temple, but His insistence that this widening involved forgiveness and good works, and not primarily cultic rituals, puts him more on the side of the Sadducees. Jesus might very well have offered as his opinion that there was a way of applying Temple ideals to the ordinary lives of the faithful that was completely different from this acting out of the cultic drama of purity in ordinary life with its segregating effects. The Pharisaic solution, in effect, transcended the cultic boundaries between the priests and the people only to become restrictive or exclusivist again within the fold of those knowledgeable enough to understand its intricate and detailed halakah. In other words, the separation between the priestly caste and the people was lifted to be replaced by a new division between the learned and the ignorant. Jesus’ preaching was understood to be going beyond the Pharisaic solution. Not human involvement and duty in keeping cultic purity, but God’s presence amongst His people as forgiving and enabling, was to be made the pivotal goal of moving the cult into the realm of everyday life. That in effect changed the perspective on ritual law. The washing of the hands, therefore, being a paradigmatic case of the transformation of cultic rites into everyday ritual, could be shown to produce the opposite of what the Temple as symbol of God’s presence amongst the whole of His people was supposed to be about. Along these lines, it came to be considered in Christian circles as a sign of human strictures that kept people from God instead of leading them to Him. The language of legal decision in which Jesus probably framed this was soon to be dispensed with, to be replaced by a typical hyperbolic and moral formula that belonged to a different era and community. However, there is continuity between Jesus’ halakhic rejection of the institution of washing hands before a common meal and the early Church’s opposition to that practice as a prime example of a tradition that diverted attention away from the needs of the

Kingdom. The issue itself, as to whether the washing of the hands was arguably not a requirement at all in this case, is not elaborated on, presumably because that debate was either unknown to Mark, or had already been decided in Mark’s time in the positive (explaining “all the Jews”), or was of no importance to the Roman reader. There was no need any more to present the historic kernel of the debate. What was important to Mark’s gentile audience was that Jesus had raised an issue, which Mark connected to the hand washing debate and put in the context of the acceptance of gentiles, that had consequences for the general meaning of such halakhic traditions. Behind the issue of the meaning of the tradition of the sages lie others that affected the Church in Mark’s days: the form of obedience in the messianic age, the relevance of human authority in religious matters, the status of gentiles, and the status of scripture and human exegesis, and above all, the status of Jesus Himself as the only authority by which the divine command could be established. 4 And [when they come] from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, [as] the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of couches. There is some disagreement about the meaning of the words referring to the utensils. Cups and pots are the earthenware utensils available in every household and susceptible to impurity with regard to kashrut because they could absorb liquids, primarily perhaps with reference to the separation of dairy and meat foods. The vessels of brass can be traced to the Roman measure sextus or sextarius, about 1.5 pints, the expression for the contents here being transferred to the utensils holding such quantities. Some manuscripts add the klinoon, which is translated by KJV as tables, which is hardly correct. The term means “reclining,” so must refer to the couches used for meals in a Roman setting. It might be construed as an effort to show by hyperbole how far Jews went in their effort to determine purity issues and to suggest an unfriendly attitude by taking such a typical Roman piece of furniture as a cause for separation. Again, there is a possible technical expression here, because the accepted tradition is oftentimes referred to with the expression: he received (Heb.: qibbel), referring to a tradition of unknown origin, or most often to a baraita, a Mishnah that is reported in the Talmud but is not found in R. Judah’s Mishnah. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why do your disciples do not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? The question seems very much to the point if the observance of the rule

was common, but it cannot be ascertained with what intention the question was put. The reference to “your disciples” does, however, suggest that the question was collegial and expressed a genuine concern over the tradition. It does not contain a rejection out of hand, so it might be construed as part of a still undecided debate. Mark, however, has made the question stand out in a context where “they,” the “Jews”, designating them as foreigners to Roman readers, have a particular custom that proves to be as alien to Jesus as it was unknown and foreign to Romans. 6 He answered and said unto them, Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me. We have mentioned above the devices used here to set us up for this sharp rejection of Judaism: (1) the context of Mark 6 and 7:24-30 makes it clear that the inclusion of gentiles as such is at stake; (2) any possible hindrance to that comes from the observance of specific customs that divide Jews from gentiles, and implies that gentiles are impure and bars them from table fellowship (the inclusion of klinoon that is the bed of the demoniacally possessed indicates that as well); (3) those institutions that bar communion between Jews and gentiles are a “tradition made by men,” not divine institutions, which would imply the outright rejection of those institutions as such, notwithstanding their basis in Torah. So it is clear: the context of the Marcan redaction transforms a possible straightforward discussion about the halakah of the washing of the hands before common meals into a rejection of the hermeneutic principles, the basic intent of cultic transmittal of impurity, and the halakhic rulings of Pharisaic Judaism, even including their basis in Torah.

3.3 Reconstruction of the original debate
What then is the rationale behind this transformation? Jesus’ opponents have first been introduced as a group of Pharisees and scribes who had gathered to hear him speak, and now they are addressed as hypocrites because they ask the question on the ritual of the washing of the hands. What could have possibly provoked this response? This might also have bothered Matthew, who changes the order of things, first making Jesus answer the Pharisaic question with a counter-question referring to Korban, and then introducing the theme of the hypocrites and ending with an explanation to the disciples about the source of defilement.The very fact of their asking about the ritual must have been enough for Mark. Probably Mark decided to put the violent rejection of Judaism, including the quotation of Isaiah 29, between the Pharisaic question and Jesus’ dealing with the issue of Korban, and then he returns to what strikes me as the most obvious normal response by Jesus to the question of his Pharisaic col-

leagues. Suppose we could read the text like this: [1]. [Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. [2] And when] they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled (that is to say, with unwashed) hands, they [found fault. [5] Then the Pharisees and scribes] asked him, “Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with (unwashed) [defiled] hands?” [Meaning that the defilement would be transferred to the bread, and if eaten would defile the man.] [6] He answered and said unto them, [15] “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him [so bread eaten like this would not defile the man, even if it did constitute a breach of cultic law], but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” Reconstructed like this, Jesus is deliberately misunderstanding the question. But he makes his point clear: defilement is not about a man defiling the bread, passing on defilement to another, but blue the (moral) defilement of man is the issue. Cultic transmission of impurities in Pharisaic Judaism deals with objects and ritual acts that instruct man on a moral level, and that effort entails a relative independence of cultic law, whereas the intended and ultimate goal of the cult is the moral elevation of man. One might say that Jesus wants the moral intent behind the cultic law to be transmitted directly and not by way of a cultic law in itself generalized to include elements of daily life and function as a learning device. In our reconstruction, we have omitted the Marcan addition (defiled, unwashed) that was intended to make his Roman audience understand what this was all about, and then it becomes clear that the text is held together by the expression ‘defiled’, and we have removed the redaction in which Mark puts the longer reply to his disciples and separates it from the reply to the nations, again a device that emphasizes in this context two things simultaneously that are a product of later reflection on the event: (1) the multitude is then again the multitude that was fed by Torah in chapter 6 and represents the gentiles, and (2) it adds again to the impression that this teaching is weighty and of great consequence, as in all cases where the teaching is not understood by the disciples at first, because it refers to a reality of the Church after Christ’s resurrection. Now question and answer match each other more correctly. Jesus is taking issue with one possible application of the law by applying the purity

code to the basic issue of the congruity between the moral condition and cultic purity. He indeed, as elsewhere, does not address the question directly, but indirectly questions the concern that is behind it. “You who concern yourself so much over the purity of the hands because you want to sanctify ordinary life with the means that are available within the Temple cult, why not concern yourself more with the purity of the heart that is symbolized by it and is the final objective of the cultic ritual in the first place? You should be concerned with the defilement that man can cause to the world, not with the defilement to which he can be susceptible himself. Bread eaten without washing the hands is an outward reality by which man cannot be defiled in any real sense. “ The rejection of the halakah in this passage is therefore surely on grounds of principle, but it is not opposed to the oral Torah as such, but to its use toward keeping man sanctified, i.e., separate, and to the view that such a preparation for moral life was of such high value that it came close to being its substitute. To focus on the washing of the hands like this would lead to lack of concentration on what the intent of all halakah should be: the safeguarding of obedience to the will of God. In Mark’s redaction, the issue very swiftly evolves from this issue into one of the source of authority and the direction of the guiding principles of faithful living. Mark’s redaction is in complete continuity with the text it has incorporated, but still it provides an interpretation of an internal Jewish debate between Jesus and the Pharisees that transformed its original context. Such a contextual tension is still apparent when Mark makes Jesus jump from the issue of washing the hands to the matter of messianic authority and the flaws of rabbinic purity laws. Such an appeal to Jesus’ authority would have been the final word in Mark’s community, but obviously not in the debate, the story reports on. From this, we can gain a better perspective on how these issues are connected. It is obvious that the Korban issue represents a case where a received tradition makes it possible to use some provision of the law to avoid obedience to a major commandment. The analogy is clear: if the interpretation of the Torah leads to an authoritative tradition that makes it possible to break major commandments, then that tradition is not a “fence around the Torah” as it was intended to be, but a breach of that Torah in itself. The emphasis on ritual purity, and ignorance of that to which it refers, is taken as an analogy to the emphasis on the autonomous, independent validity of the oral law, and ignorance of the wide intent of the major commandments that were supposed to be protected by it. (We will deal with the particulars of the Korban law below.) The core element of Jesus’ response certainly sounds authentic, and that does not change when we read it within the context provided by Mark. A

further argument can be that it has been preserved also in the Thomaslogion 14 as ”For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what will defile you.” It seems to be an independent elaboration on a theme also expressed in Q=Luke 11:39=Matthew 23:25 with some variation, but obviously expressing the same idea: that without an intrinsic connection between the moral condition and the ritual as such, the ritual becomes an independent act that may actually hinder the moral achievement that it is intended to bring about. We must go a little step further though. In our reconstruction we have for the moment accepted Mark’s rendering that ”nothing...can defile a man.” But it must be noted that Mark, in distinction to Matthew, makes Jesus state a more absolute rejection of defilement of and by food. As Sanders points out, the Matthean version: “not...but” can imply: “not only this...but much more that.” The Greek of Matthew is transparently related to a Hebrew thought-form that moves from a minor issue to a more important issue, a minore ad majorem, or kal vachomer.11 If the law demands purification and scrutinous observance in the case of foods that can defile, how much more in the case of immoralities; if the law is scrupulous in the case of foods that come from outside, how much more with immoralities that originate from the heart. Such a kal vachomer is an easily identifiable structure of Jewish legal thought. In Mark 7:18 this way of thinking has been changed to: “whatever goes in, cannot defile.” Matthew makes Jesus say that defilement by foods is not by itself the whole issue of the law, but, much more than foods, there is immorality that defiles and renders a human being unclean.12 Mark, however, makes Jesus say that defilement by food is a non-issue, and the intent behind upholding such laws leads away from or counteracts the moral demand. For Mark, the authority of rabbinic tradition is the real issue, and that is why the original elements of the halakhic debate have become materials to be used for that purpose. Within the text, those materials that accurately report it have been transformed into building blocks for a different kind of case against the Pharisees. Accepting food laws and ritual rulings means accepting rabbinic authority and its purpose of sanctifying ordinary life by application of cultic purity to the common life, and it sets up the knowledgeable rabbis as the
11 This rule of inference from the lighter to the heavier case is based on the assumption that the law has “the tendency to proportionate its effect to the importance of the cases referred, so as to be more rigorous and restrictive in important, and more lenient and permissive in comparatively unimportant matters.” Mielziner, 1894 (19685 ), p.180. 12 Sanders (1993), p. 219.

final authority, at least with respect to the application of these laws. That contradicts the basic assertion of the Marcan gospel: that Christ is the messianic Healer of a mankind, including Israel, that is under control of demoniac forces, that He is the only authority that can explain the will of God, and that through Him the pagans, without any knowledge of Jewish law at all, can draw near to the Kingdom of God. In that context, the utter rejection of rabbinic tradition that is inserted here must be read on a practical level as an integral part of the effort to maintain a law-free gospel for Christians in Rome, who were probably susceptible to the thesis that the Jewish law added to basic Christian faith and could complete their conversion from idolatry. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other things like that you do. This passage is one of the major pillars of the contention that Jesus rejected, not the Torah, but only a specific trend of the halakah-under-construction at the time, i.e., the oral traditions of Pharisaic Judaism. By accepting the Torah as such, but interpreting it as an independent and autonomous guide to ascertain God’s will, Christ gave full validity to the law, which position could then be interpreted erroneously as a strengthening of the law’s demand to the point that all would understand that they were unable to fulfil it. Grace could then intervene within the Pauline gospel to create in man the conditions for God’s spirit to fulfil the law in him (cf. Romans 8:4). Let us examine the record then. So, e.g., did Jesus reject the Sabbath halakah in Mark 2 and the purity laws in Mark 7, together with the Korban rule? In Luke 8:44 it is mentioned that he wore the tallit, the tassels on the four corners of a rectangular garment that were commanded in Deut. 22:12. The cleansing of the leper is followed by the command to bring the sacrifice prescribed in such cases (Mark 1:44), and in many other statements, most prominently among them in Matthew 5:17-20, his affirmation of the Torah is obvious. It has been stated by Dunn that Jesus did set aside the law itself, e.g., in the case of the lex talionis (Ex. 21:24), the Mosaic institution of divorce (Mark 10:2-9) and the basis of the food laws in Mark 7, as we have seen.13 But, as Dunn concludes, Jesus’ statements here are not seen by Matthew as an abrogation of the Torah, but rather as a daring and radical interpretation of it. Dunn’s point is then this: Jesus did not abrogate the law, but he did change one of the basic presuppositions of the halakhic
13 E.g., by James Dunn (1994), p. 101.

understanding of it. In Dunn’s words: “It was not the law as such or law as a principle which Jesus called into question. It was the law understood in a factional or sectarian way. Jesus intended to free the interpretation of Torah from the dominance of the exclusion of the ‘sinners’ from its realm of blessing.”14 But would that imply that Pharisaic Judaism’s insistence on the importance of Israel as the elect nation, the land of Israel as the place for God’s people, the Temple as God’s chosen place of worship, and circumcision as the sign of belonging to the elect people of God, are part of a factional and exclusivist interpretation of the Torah? These are the pillars of Second -Temple Judaism, according to Dunn, which were all broken down in the course of the development of early Christianity, beginning with Christ who relativized the Temple and rejected a factional interpretation of the Torah, but who of course did not cross the border of Israel nor mention circumcision, which became a problem only later when the gentile component of Christianity began to outweigh Jewish Christians in number and in influence. The opposition against Pharisaism that Jesus had waged in the name of the restoration of Israel as one people, united by their devotion to Torah and God’s impending Kingdom, was taken as the starting point for the explanation of the inclusion of gentiles into the Church. A step which in turn highlighted elements of Jesus’ teachings that were never intended to be the focus at first. The early Christian teachings on the inclusion of gentiles were divided between the Jewish-Christian and the gentile-Christian view. The need for affirmation in retrospect of the Church’s decision to allow uncircumcised gentiles into the Church led to the redactional framework in which the debate between Jesus and some Pharisee teachers was set. It was thereby lifted out of its original context.

3.4 Is Jesus rejecting the Oral Traditions?
What will we then say to Jeremias’s judgment that this passage proves that Jesus rejected the Pharisaic Halakah in a “radical” way, and that His reason for opposing it was the inability of that Halakah to maintain the higher obligation to love one’s neighbour as oneself? In this view, the whole of the passage is interpreted as the ipsissima vox of Jesus, whereas we have argued that there is an interplay between a reported debate and a Marcan interpretation or application for his own time and situation. Let us look again at some of the evidence. In Mark 7:15 it seems to be clear that Jesus undercuts the whole system of the law on clean and unclean foods. Mark adds that “thus he declared all foods clean.” Sanders, who understands the passage like this, as an attack on pharisaic halakah,
14 James Dunn, op. cit. p. 111.

therefore rejects it as historically improbable. He holds that “there was no substantial conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees,” especially because there is no historical evidence that the Pharisees washed their hands before an ordinary meal, which the text seems to presuppose. The same would then of course hold for the statement about the food laws. This is what E.P Sanders has to say about the passage: To analyze this section, we shall return to the opening setting: the Pharisees criticize Jesus’ disciples (not Jesus himself) for not washing their hands before meals. Hand washing was a Pharisaic tradition, not a law. In Jesus’ day, it was not even a uniform tradition. Most Jews did not purify their hands before meals. Among the Pharisees, some regarded hand washing as optional; many of them washed their hands only before the Sabbath meal; they disagreed with one another with regard to whether or not hands should be washed before or after mixing the Sabbath cup. Deadly enmity over hand washing is, we think, historically impossible. Mark 7 moves from hand washing to Jesus’ attack on the Pharisees’ view of Korban: they declared their property or money to be dedicated to the Temple so that they would not have to help their needy parents. But this is an attack on what everyone, especially the Pharisees, would have regarded as an abuse. No Pharisee would justify using a semi-legal device to deprive his parents. Some Pharisee, of course, may have done this at some time or other. If so, and if Jesus accused him, decent God-fearing, parent-respecting Pharisees, 99.8 per cent of the party, would have agreed.15 If this is true, then the passage would reflect a post-70 conflict between the early Church and the successors of the Pharisees who developed the Mishnah Yadaim. It would show merely that Jesus debated the issues that were contemporary with his society and with the group, loosely speaking, to which he belonged by birth and choice: that of the Pharisees. But how is that possible? Mark is dated as pre-70, and the debate had to be explained by Mark to his gentile audience, so even if the former was not clearly established, the latter would make it unthinkable that a contemporary conflict that gave rise to this passage had to be explained first. If contemporary, it would have been recognized from the start. The conclusion would be that the conflict belonged solely to the Church. James Dunn therefore opts for a different solution, by arguing that behind Jesus’ rejection of the Pharisee halakah on purity was not a disdain for the issue of purity in itself, but a specific change in his view of the social effect of the various rules it generated. If we disregard the Levitical impurity of menstrual blood in Mark 5:21-43, and Jesus’ dealing with a gentile woman from outside the land of Israel in Mark 7, it seems that Jesus
15 Sanders (1993), p. 219.

rejected the social effect of the impurity laws. That in itself could very well be explained, as Mark did in chapter 7, as legitimizing the abrogation of the entire system. That also makes it possible to understand that Jesus was seen as “something of a threat to the whole religious system centered on the Temple.” (ibid) If, however, we distinguish between the intent of the original debate between Jesus and the Pharisees and then see how Marcan redaction transferred this issue into a new context, as we did above, we might be able to propose a different solution to the matter. There seem to be four levels in such a text as this: there is (1) the more or less reconstructable remnant of an early tradition containing a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees. There is (2) the redactional context, which derives its motivation from the contemporary situation of the community for which the gospel was written. Within the final stage there is still (3) the sense of the quoted material that has been given new meaning in the context of the redaction, but which remains a more or less closed whole in itself. And finally there is (4) the meaning of the final stage of the redaction, in which all of the identifiable blocks were put together to produce a new meaning in their new context. In Mark 7, the interplay between three strands of tradition: the hand washing issue, the Korban issue, and the Isaiah-quote polemic material, makes it even more difficult to interpret the genesis of the text as we have it. There has been considerable consensus that Mark 7:15, as part of the quoted material and as it received meaning from the Marcan context, is an authentic Jesus-saying, following the rule that statements by Jesus that express dissent with prevalent Pharisaic views are more likely to be remembered than sayings which show a congruence between Jesus and the Pharisees. This so-called “criterion of dissimilarity” has an obvious application in this case, since the distinction between sacred and secular can be considered one of the pillars of 2nd-Temple Judaism, and it is hard to ignore that this verse rejects its basis out of hand. It would be hard to say that this verse is inauthentic based on this criterion alone. James Dunn, however, summed up a variety of counter-arguments:16 1the comparative isolation within the Jesus-tradition makes it probable that gentile Christian influence sharpened a less radical saying; 2there is also the criterion of coherence: a less radical form of this statement would fit in better with other parts of the Jesus-tradition; 3the criterion of dissimilarity should also be applied for the dissimilarity
16 Dunn (1990), pp. 37-58.

between the statement and early Christian tradition. (For the whole of the passage seems to be more in conformity with a gentile missionary formula such as we find in Rom. 14:14, nothing is unclean in itself.) 4If Jesus had been so clear on this issue, how is it that the Jerusalem Church and Peter still had to wrestle with it (Acts 10:14; 11:3)? 5If we compare Mark 7:15 with the parallel in Matthew 15:11, it is more probable that Mark would add the strong expression (nothing; can) to the less radical statement than the other way around. (Matthew: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person; Mark: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile.) Dunn’s conclusion distinguishes three layers in the text: (1) an original Jesus-saying with a far less radical intent than it seems to have within the redaction by Mark, (2) Mark 7:17-19 reflecting a second layer of reflection that tried to make a more general point with regard to the issue of purity and rabbinic authority in itself, and (3) a radicalized, redactional layer, which consists both in additions to the earlier material (the change to “nothing and “can,“ making the saying in Mark 7:15 more general, and not only that, but changing the kal-va-chomer into an absolute rejection of the ritual laws) and the obvious additions to the material, as in the explanatory note in 7:3-5.The original layer would still imply that before 70 an internal Jewish debate about the washing of the hands was the context of the statements. In this debate Jesus took sides, according to Dunn, against (1) the exclusivist application of the law, in our estimate highlighted because of contemporary concerns and maybe selected out from their immediate context, to which we would add (2) the implied rabbinical authority, and (3) the motive of sanctification of ordinary life by applying Levitical regulations to ordinary life. The secondary layer would reflect the gentile-Christian freedom of the purity laws and its opposition to JewishChristian and/or Jewish teachers who might want to continue the practice. The tertiary layer would then reflect the outcome of the internal Christian debate of such issues, presenting it to a gentile audience as an opposition between Christianity and Judaism as such. It seems fair, then, to conclude that the passage in Mark 7 shows with some accuracy the way Jesus’ criticism of halakah developed in the Christian communities connected with Mark. The internal Jewish debate about the washing of the hands was sharpened to reflect the early schism between Jewish and gentile Christians, and that was finally redacted to present a complete break between Church and synagogue by incorporating the Isaiah-quote and connecting the hand washing to the Korban issue; connecting it finally to the two passages which indicate the inclusion of gentiles into the Church, which made the passage stand out clearly as a anti-separatist indictment. Against its acceptance as a historically accur-

ate representation of Jesus’ position there are quite a few arguments: the improbability of there being a consensus about these matters as presupposed in the Marcan text; and the historical probability that quite a few early Pharisaic voices would be in agreement with the original thrust of Jesus’ statements. All of the three layers of the text mentioned above had a Sitz im Leben which explains their meaning and wording. But, the first two are hypothetical reconstructions with only probability and historical intuition as real basis. If we would only accept the final redactional stage as “text” to be deciphered, all of our speculations would amount to nothing. We would end up with a clear rejection of Pharisaic halakah as such in Mark 7, and a Matthean effort to soften that position for a mixed gentile and Jewish congregation (accepting consensus on the Marcan source of Matthew.) Why do we not intend to make use only of the redactional stage? That seems to be required by the principle of canon-history in an abstract sense, i.e., if we are simply to accept the Reformation’s interpretation of the fact of the canon: that all of this is holy writ. But we would end up with a text that has no valid connections to known rabbinic sources that would give the passage its rationale, and we would finally have to decide to use such a passage only as a rejection of Judaizing efforts within the Church; in short, as an expression of Paulinism. We would do better to try and read the passage as a mixture of various elements, as a witness to a development in Christian thinking, ranging from Jesus’ own conflict over the oral tradition to the position of the early Church in its specific circumstances. The redactional stage, though deleting elements of the specific and original debate that Jesus had with his Pharisaic interlocutors and adding the vital issue of messianic versus rabbinic authority, does represent a valid attempt to derive from Jesus’ position and teachings and the fact of the existence of a Christian pagan community with its own established ”halakah” a Christologically embedded theology, the redaction stage therefore represents a valid effort of reflecting upon the consequences of Jesus’ words and position. There is, in short, a continuity between the two ”layers” that grounds the acceptance of the final stage as authoritative expression of Christian halakah.

Chapter 4

The issue of vowing: Korban
Let us turn now to the second thread within the passage, the argument that both Matthew and Mark use as Jesus’ counterargument against the Pharisees’ question about the disciples. In Mark 7:9-13 it is apparent that there was a provision under Jewish law that made it possible for a son to reject all future obligations to his parents by dedicating all the financial support he might have to give them to the priests. Since that implied that a person could continue to benefit himself, because only after his death did the property in question fall to the Temple authorities, it implied no damage to the person, but very real damage to his parents. Then this required financial support was declared “Korban” and untouchable for anyone else. Obviously such a vow in itself could not be retracted, in Mark’s view, and if based on Numbers 30:2 it is hard to see how it could have been maintained that it could be retracted. That has led many to the conclusion that Pharisaic exegesis of the law implied a breach of the commandment to honour one’s parents, in which financial support was held to be included.

4.1 The conflict over vowing in Mark
14 And when he had called all the people [unto him], he said unto them, Listen to me every one [of you], and understand: 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, in order to keep your own tradition. In verses 8 and 9, the main contention of the passage is stated twice. By keeping the commandments of men (which we can identify as a derogatory term for that part of the oral law that is not directly based on scriptural law), Jews do not obey the commandment of God. Verse 8 presents something of a problem because it implies that the law of kashrut is not based on Torah, at least not with regard to the purity of vessels. The specific problem of verse 9 is that it implies that the keeping of the oral law is with the intent to disobey the written law. Quite an enormous accusation. Jesus rejects these rulings of men because he intends to uphold the

commandment of God, which can only mean the full weight of the written law. However, if Jesus is using the weight of written law to reject Pharisaic halakah, how then could he reject the weight of scripture in the case of Sabbath law in Mark 2? What does this mean, and can we really assume that this opposition to rabbinic law comes from Jesus and not from the early Church, debating these issues with the synagogue or portraying a “de-Jewished” Christ to the world?17 10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever curses father or mother, let him surely die. 11 But you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, [It is] Korban, that is to say, a gift, by whatever you might benefit from me; [he shall be free]. 12 And you will not allow him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God powerless through your tradition, which you have delivered: and you do many things like this. In verse 10 we find the positive commandment to honour one’s parents, to give them their “weight,” in a quotation from the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12=Deut 5:16), and its enhancement in the prohibition from Ex. 21:17 (cf. Lev. 20:19) not to curse one’s parents, i.e., to cut them off from life. Such a commandment is annulled, made void (in the legal sense, as the verb katalusai suggests), if specific rulings make it impossible to follow its weight in specific circumstances. According to Mark, there is such a rabbinic rule concerning the validity of vows. A man may vow that anything by which his parents may ever derive profit from him is forbidden to them, as it is consecrated to the Temple. It is then a gift set aside for use in the Temple. It is also understood in verse 12 that such a vow is enforced: afterwards the parents may not use it, the vow stands and remains valid. Now such a vow would be tantamount to breaking the intent of the law concerning the honouring of parents, which is also taken to mean taking care of them in their old age. Apparently, then, the rabbinic institution which allows such a vow to be valid, and even enforces compliance with it, is in contradiction with the intent of the fifth commandment. This discussion seems to suggest considerable knowledge of Jewish law
17 Cf., e.g., the completely different implication of the beginning of Matthew’s collection of anti-Pharisaic statements by Jesus in chapter 23, where verse 3, despite its negative intent, does uphold the ethical and hermeneutic authority of the rabbis. Also the wording of Matthew 5:18, referring to the title and iota of the law, indicates in rabbinic usage an acceptance of the oral law, which was often taught to be contained in the shape of the letters.

on the part of Mark, or a very specific tradition going back to Jesus that remained intact as a unit and found its appropriate place here in connection to that other element of Jewish tradition. Bultmann explains that Mark even intended, through the force of Isaiah 29, which directs itself even at the Mosaic law, to reject the whole of the “legal ritualism” that aimed at outward correctness that could be linked to an “impure will.”18 To him, the issues of hand washing, Korban, and Sabbath were paradigmatic of the rejection of a will of God found through observance of rules. The issue looks decidedly different when seen from a historical perspective. It is certainly possible that the issue of vows was still undecided in Jesus’ time, or even in that of Mark. In both cases there might be good reason for Jesus to join in the debate that was going on and demand a better solution to the problem. But that is of course not the approach of the Marcan redaction. By extending the context to include all of the rabbinic enactments and the whole principle of the oral law, what may have been such a discussion on case law has become a principled attack on Judaism as “legalism.”

4.2 The early Jewish debate on vowing
Let us first look at the evidence from Mishnah and Talmud. Though much later in origin, the Mishnah especially may contain traces of traditions that were current in Jesus’ time, even when they were collated later and gained general acceptance centuries after Mark. We can certainly find ways of thinking, the inner logic of a given issue, that can help us define what the context of a halakhic debate in the 1st century might have been. “Might,” because all of this must be a matter of informed guesswork. We intend to find through this procedure insofar as is possible exactly what Jesus is protesting against, and we will use that material to separate the contextual generalization from the issue under debate as such. First we must make an important distinction: a vow forbids a certain thing to be used by the one who vows or by somebody else; an oath forbids the swearer to do something that is not forbidden in itself. Both were a common element in ordinary life. Vows were made in anger or resentment, in an effort to acquire merit, or even in more careless speech on the market place to entice a buyer. The biblical basis of both is found in Num. 30:2, where we read: “If a man vows a vow unto the Lord, or swears an oath to bind his will, he may not break his word, he must do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” In many commentaries, it is pointed out that the rule of Korban vows is put on this biblical basis: all vows should be honoured, the point being that in Mark 7 Jesus is portrayed as attacking
18 Bultmann (1955), p. 16.

not only the human interpretation of the law, but also the law itself. Again, others have stated that the point of the passage is the superiority of the fifth commandment over the laws on vows in Num. 30. That would make Jesus’ argument part of an effort to interpret the law through the letter of the law, i.e., by juxtaposing commandments and assessing their relative weight without referring to hermeneutic principles that would provide some structure to their relationship. It is indeed clear that the notion that all vows should be honoured is the only straightforward rationale behind the rule of Korban, as it is clear that the commandment to honour one’s parents is violated in the case under contention. But precisely this (presupposed) direct and unmediated support from Mosaic law for a practice that is against the spirit of Torah is an indication that we do not find here a Pharisaic but a Sadducee halakah, at least in its “pattern” of thought. Only from a point of view that does not allow human explanation and common sense to direct the application of the law can we expect enforcement of such a vow against the weight of the 5th commandment. We might even surmise, as to the historical context, that such a discussion with Sadducees could very well have been transformed into a debate with the Pharisees, both because (1) the Pharisees were represented in the Roman society to which Mark is probably addressed, and (2) because at the time of Mark, i.e., after the Galilee uprising and the assault on Jerusalem, the Pharisees, not the Sadducees, were rapidly becoming the proclaimed enemy of Christianity. We should be careful of simply accepting the title “Pharisee” to denote the Pharisaic party if context and contents seem to point in a different direction. There is no reason for Mark, in addressing his Roman audience, to be precise in this matter. In fact, the title “Pharisee” may be part of a development that began by identifying the opponent exactly and which ended up 40 years later in the era of the gospel of John by speaking simply of “the Jews.” Let us consider the evidence for this statement with regard to the meaning of the law. We take it for granted that to all parties concerned the general commandment to honour one’s vows was important and basic to the entire discussion. Despite this basic principle, there were four groups of vows that the rabbis did not consider binding. They are enumerated in MNedarim 3:1 as “Vows of incitement, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error, and vows of constraint.” The rabbis apparently considered the intention and condition of the vower, rather than moral value, to be important in assessing the validity of the vow. In Mishnah 2 of the same chapter, the vow by which a man forbids his wife from any future benefit from him is automatically annulled if it becomes obvious that the motive for his anger is untrue. E.g., when he said: “Korban (or konam or other synonyms)

be any future benefit my wife has of me because she has stolen my wallet.” The reason for the annulment, then, is that such a vow is made in error. The reason is not that he has no right to make a vow against his wife, because in such cases the commitment towards God obviously is taken to be more valid than the obligations one has towards his wife. In ethics, one must argue that one should not make such a vow, but in cases where it can be construed that the vow was invalid due to error or an apparent deficiency in the decision behind the vow, the rabbis provided a solution based on the premise that the law was absolute and not conditioned upon the moral meaning of the vow. The moral unacceptability of the intent behind the vow did not automatically annul its validity. To make that possible would have implied that the law on vows was itself annulled and replaced by moral considerations. Put differently: in cases where a vow was made publicly, it is obvious that the rabbis, wherever a decision needed to be made with regard to the validity of the vow, chose to uphold it as a commitment to God that could not be broken. Second, the literal statement of Mark 7:11 cannot be found in the Mishnah. Nonetheless, a similar issue arises in MNedarim 3:4 in a very peculiar context. If one vows under constraint, such a vow is void. But if one adds to what is demanded under constraint, the addition is valid because it shows intent. So, e.g., if a murderer demands of his victim to vow that all future benefits are prohibited for his wife, and the victim adds to that a prohibition for his children, according to Shammai only the vow with regard to the children is valid. But precisely the use of such an example suggests that the rabbis considered such a vow a monstrosity and a rare occurrence. And even then, they wanted to make sure that in such cases the formal obligation of the vow was not lost, since that would have meant a disregard for biblical law. But painstakingly they made sure that the vower would have an opportunity to take back his word. In Mishnaic parlance, there were ways open for repentance of such an act. In general, a way for repentance was opened if the rabbis could find a fact or reason afterwards that would have prevented a man from vowing his vow in the first place. Such a possibility is mentioned in chapter 9:1 of the tractate Nedarim in connection with the fifth commandment. We will quote the passage in full in Danby’s translation: R. Eliezer says: They may open for men the way [to repentance or absolution] by reason of the honour due to father and mother. But the Sages forbid it. R. Zadok said: Rather than open the way for a man by reason of the honour due to father and mother, they should open the way for him by reason of the honour due to God, but if so, there could be no vows. But the Sages agree with (or perhaps better: admit to) R. Eliezer that in a

matter between a man and his father and mother, the way may be opened to him by reason of the honour due to his father and mother. R. Eliezer (b. Hyrcanus) lived and taught in the 1st century CE. His opinion recorded here is that the fifth commandment is of such a nature that a man who vows in anger could annul his vow simply because it would lead to dishonouring his parents. The majority however disagreed: it would mean that the mere fact that the vow was immoral by nature could annul a vow, promoting that vows against anyone could be made in haste and without thinking, assured of the possibility of annulment. Therefore the condition for annulment was made more severe. Only a specific fact unknown at the time of the vow could be used as a means to nullify the vow to ensure the validity of the Numbers 30 law , which might be in this case that the son at the moment of his vow did not take into account that he would dishonour his parents by acting as one who vowed foolishly. But that he did not take it into account is difficult to construe as an error, but that interpretation on the surface of it is surely something the law makes possible. If the reason for annulment was regret only, which implies a clear knowledge of the meaning and implications of the vow, and the fifth commandment in itself could be the ground for absolution from the vow, the possibility would remain that a man would affirm that the conditions for annulment were met because of the influence of the sages and not because of his genuine repentance. If a man dishonoured his father and his mother in such a way that he vowed to rob them of any benefit, how could his vow be annulled with a reference to the fifth commandment which he had already broken by his vow in the first place? How could a transgression against the 5th commandment be repaired by a transgression against the law of vows? Such a way of repair would have destroyed the moral integrity of the person. It might also have led to an increase in automatically annulled vows, weakening the authority of the law. The commandment to maintain the vow did not preclude the possibility that the vow could be annulled if the son repented of his former attitude towards his father and mother. The vow would then be seen as result of an unintentional transgression against the 5th commandment and not taken as an act in itself. That is why the majority (the sages) admit that a way may be opened (for annulment) if the son dishonours his father and mother directly with his vow. But even that process is not automatic. The obvious severity of such a vow could lead to repentance afterwards, but it could not lead to automatic annulment, thereby destroying both God’s absolute rights and man’s responsibility. In my view, the general intent of the rabbis in this case was to safeguard both the integrity of vowing, as they were obliged to do under the principle of Numbers 30, and provide mean-

ingful ways of escape for responsible adults who vowed in haste, anger, in error or against better judgment, in the latter case only by a real process of repentance. In all of this, the importance of the biblical commandment to honor one’s vows was maintained, but it is obvious that the rabbis were convinced that such a vow was undesirable and foolish and that there must be provision for annulment. The ruling quoted in Mark 7, therefore, is either one of the more stringent opinions, based solely on the validity of the biblical commandment (which places its author in the vicinity of the Sadducees), or a misrepresentation of the actual intent of the law as it was developing at that time. To state that the law as it was quoted was enforced, and that was simply the end of the matter, is correct in stating the possibility of a rare occurrence: that the rabbinic law can become an instrument in the hands of those who have already broken biblical law. It is also correct in so far as it shows here that the rabbis intended to legislate where possible, and not intrude too much in the domain of the relationship between children and parents. Yet, the general thrust of their rulings is against swearing and taking vows, and intent on providing a legal basis for a son to repent of his rash act and restore his observance of the fifth commandment.

4.3 Results: the meaning of Mark 7
What, then, is left of the intent of Mark 7 after this all too brief excursion into the domain of Mishnaic law? The passage reflects, apart from apparent ignorance of the minutiae of Jewish law, if in the 1st century there was anything like the complex exegesis that we find in the Gemara, a disregard for its intent and the pragmatic context wherein it was enforced, and draws heavily upon the paradigm of prophetic critique and the principled Christian opposition between Jewish halakah and a law-free gospel. It intends to show that this way of legal-ethical thought is now discarded in the Church. But the main point lies, not in the accuracy of the discussion with Judaism, but in the decision that made the passage possible at all: to interpret the oral law, i.e., the principle of finding the will of God in exegesis and jurisprudence, as a thing of the past. The detailed Jewish exegesis of the Mishnaic law and its basis in the exegesis of Torah is replaced by the ethical discourse concerning inner attitude in verses 17-23. Only because the will of God was now seen as expressed in the language of morality did Mark ascribe to Jesus the affirmation of the Mosaic law only to the degree that it was congruent with that will. The basis for that was the conviction that Jesus had messianic authority to reject Pharisaic tradition and was in fact restoring the original intent of the written law. Although, as we have seen, the passage in Mark does not represent a

complete and accurate picture of the actual debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, the context does provide us with an important clue. It is beyond doubt that Jesus opposed the Pharisees wherever their halakah implied a segregation of the “elect within the people of the elect” or implied a possible laxity toward the keeping of the major commandments. In that sense, though the actual debate that illustrated it was obscured and Pharisaic intentions became unrecognizable and, most importantly, Jesus was shown now to favour a Sadducee acceptance of written law only, the Marcan redaction is still a faithful report of Jesus’ own intentions to break down the walls between the laity and the Pharisaic elite. The washing ritual implied the erection of a barrier between the knowledgeable and the amei ha’arets, who through their ignorance of the institutions were excluded from table fellowship. In that sense, we might conclude that Jesus did indeed turn against a side effect of the Pharisaic halakah and to that degree criticized its main purpose of applying Levitical holiness to the life of the common man. Jesus disagrees with that general purpose because it fails to unite the strong and the weak within Israel. The coming of God’s kingdom and this new presence of God amongst His people would be inconsistent with the exclusion of groups of people. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, this message was understood on a far more general level, as we can see by looking at the way the dispute is connected to Mark 6 and the passage about the Syro-Phoenician woman: now it has become a radical protest against Pharisaic separatist use of provisions of the law, motivated by the question of the inclusion of gentiles in the Church. The down side of the Pharisaic effort to cultivate ritual purity amongst the laity was the emergence of a separate class of people, so defined by the Pharisaic party themselves, who were usually designated as ”people of the land” (am ha’arets). All those who were not knowledgeable about Torah and the interpretation of the rabbis belonged to it. We find that non-Jews living in Israel, Samaritans, tax-collectors, and inhabitants of the countryside are designated as such almost automatically. The Mishnah (Demai 2:3) states that a member of the Pharisaic movement (organized perhaps as chevurot, small companies of teachers and students) could not be a guest of such people and would not invite them to his own home. We have until now simply followed the gospel’s indication that the opposition to Pharisaic halakah was addressed to the Pharisees as a group. That would mean that the basic intent behind Pharisaic halakah as it comes to the fore behind the polemics recorded in the gospel would be general among that Jewish sect, but that is far from the truth. While it is true that issues of ritual purity and impurity were upheld by most of Israel, especially during the era of the Temple, most Jews only had to deal with such issues while sacrificing in the Temple and preparing the so-called

second tithe.19 In Safrai’s view, some Pharisees did try to enlarge the scope of the law, trying to raise all of Israel to the level of holiness of the priests. The general intent of such laws and the tendency to widen their scope is nicely expressed in this Mishnah attributed to R. Phineas b. Jair: “Zeal leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and purity leads to self-restraint, and self-restraint leads to sanctity, and sanctity leads to humility, and humility leads to fear of sin, and the fear of sin leads to piety, and piety leads to divine intuition, and divine intuition leads to the resurrection of the dead, and the resurrection of the dead shall come through Elijah of blessed memory” (MSotah 9:15). Essenes insisted on applying the full content of purity law to every one of their members, and ritual purity was one of their chief concerns. Some Pharisees undoubtedly agreed with this general intent and added to the provisions of impurity the following causes: contact with a non-Jew (as in Acts 10:28), his residence (as in John 18:28), all land outside of Israel, and idolatry. We already discussed the issue of purity of the hands before meals that may have evolved out of the practice of washing the hands before prayer, which in turn depended on Levitical commandments for the priests. Safrai, disagreeing with Sanders, thinks the custom was quite common and mentions the Letter of Aristeas and the third book of the Sibylline oracles as evidence for its early date. Washing the hands was a symbolical act that represented taking a bath. 20 Food could be rendered unclean if it was touched by hands that were themselves unclean through contact with any of the major causes for impurity, such a dead body. Pottery was susceptible to such impurity as well, and impurity could be transferred through the hands or utensils. It is this stricter approach to Levitical purity that is found in the Essene movement and in some elements of Pharisaism that we encounter in the gospels. Jesus’ polemic seems to have been directed against the extreme form of cultic transference, but not to its principle. How then can it be considered in continuity with Jesus’ teaching that Mark’s congregation attacked it on principle? One possible argument could be that, to some, the destruction of the Temple meant that cultic purity was of minor importance. It could also reflect the experience of Jews living outside of Israel, who through their constant contact with non-Jews had to lessen the degree of severity with which they applied purity law. To a Jewish-Christian congregation
19 Cf. for this view S. Safrai, The Jewish People in the First Century, Assen (1987), pp. 828-833. 20 Cf. Safrai (1987), p. 831.

that was shaped by the historic demise of the Temple and the Hellenistic experience, the strict view on purity laws was a foreign matter, distant both geographically and historically. Jews living in Rome, e.g., in the 80s of the first century, would remember the purity issue as a thing of distant Palestine and as belonging to an era now thirty to forty years in their past. If asked about the essential issue of their Jewish life as children, or that of their parents and great-parents in Israel, they would probably refer to purity issues, since that would have been the most important issue of everyday religious life. The remembrance of that importance and their memory of its specifics would probably provide the background from which Mark created the context of Jesus’ sayings. The continuity, therefore, would exist insofar as there was a logical extension to Jesus’ decisions on particular elements of purity laws, within the context of a mixed Jewish and nonJewish congregation after the Temple had ceased to support the relevance of purity law. The separation of the Church and the synagogue would do the rest to generalize the debate into a fierce opposition to all of the Pharisees, widening the debate from particulars of the law into the principle of oral law.

Chapter 5

The Sabbath law (Mark 2 and 3)
The matter may be different with regard to the Sabbath. This of course was a commandment that did not rest upon the existence of the Temple, and it is unlikely to have been the cause for rigid separation between different groups within Judaism. The question is whether the Sabbath divided Jewish Christians from their non-Messianic brethren and if so, at what stage did this division occur? We will discuss the passage in Mark that seems to provide the basis for the contention that Jesus here opposed both oral and written tradition. Did the Sabbath function as a boundary marker? Mark 2:1-3:6 is basically a collection of five controversies that illustrate the growing opposition against Jesus. All of the five incidents serve to show the identity of Jesus as the Son of Man over against this opposition as their background, and they serve as well to explain elements of the Christian way of life: forgiveness (Mk. 2:1-12) , table communion without restriction (Mk. 2:13-17), fasting (Mk. 2:18-22), and the abrogation of Sabbath (both Mk. 2:23-28 and Mk. 3:1-6). From 2:23-3:6 the conflict narrows down to the issue of Sabbath laws, with two separate stories illustrating what seems to be the basic Christological contention of the entire passage: that Jesus of Nazareth is the ”Son of Man,” in authority with respect to all aspects of religious life. The second one deals with a healing on Sabbath and in that manner serves as an appropriate ending for the entire passage which started with a healing in Capernaum. To the average reader, the reasons for the opposition to Jesus seem to be clear. In the first incident, Jesus acts on the authority to forgive sins without any reference to the Temple. This is regarded as blasphemy, but Jesus immediately proves the reality of who He is by performing a cure for the paralytic (2:1-12). In the second incident, Jesus shares a meal with tax collectors, explaining His mission as the call to sinners. Again the division indicated is that sharing the meal is one bridge too far from addressing sinners, trying to bring them to conversion. In the third incident, again the topic is the identity of Christ. Fasting is seen to be abrogated as a practice because what it refers to is now present: how can one mourn the lost kingdom (=Temple) when the New Kingdom is about to become present in Jesus?. In summary, the entire collection serves to base freedom from the law on the identity of Christ as the Son of Man. On the surface, the dialogue about the Sabbath in 2:23-28 shows also why Christ opposed the institution of Sabbath – though only the oral teaching on the subject. In a pre-Marcan stage, the technical argument

might have been about the application of the law, or rather about the fixation of the oral law in this particular case. Jesus walked with His disciples through a cornfield, and as they walked, His disciples plucked the grains and (probably) ate them, as they were allowed to do under normal conditions according to Deut. 23:25. (The law of peah.) Reaping was however, considered by the rabbis to be a forbidden act, because it constituted a ”work.” The prohibition of work had already come to refer to all preparation of foodstuffs, as is clear from Jubilee 2:29 and 50:9. The latter reads: “And do not do any labour on Sabbath, that you have not prepared in the six days before, to eat and to drink and to rest…”. It is evident that we have here a direct commandment of the Torah that Mark is aware of, and it seems on that account alone extremely unlikely that we have here a direct violation of Torah in his mind. The oral interpretation of the concept of “work” was never considered to be an addition to the Torah, but a necessary interpretation of what it meant to work. Still, there might still have been all auto the Muslim and rules and You'll she our differences on specific issues. It seems more likely therefore that the issue is the legal interpretation of the Sabbath-law, and not about scribal authority a such. That is the more evident from reading Ex. 34:21 that the Sabbath will be held also in times of harvest and ploughing, indicating that all agricultural acts are forbidden on Sabbath. The quotations from Jubilee therefore do not constitute an addition to the Torah. Now it can nevertheless be argued that Deut. 23:24, which expressly forbids the use of a sickle (or a basket in collecting grapes) does not view the plucking of grains with the hands as work that must be forbidden on Sabbath, since it does not constitute an act of harvesting as intended by Ex. 34:21. If plucking grains can be called harvesting only on condition of the use of an instrument, and therefore peah as such does not imply the use of instruments, then the act of reaping with the hands does not constitute a work. It does go against the wording of the Jubilee version of the forbidden work on Sabbath, as it can be construed as an act of preparing to cook. Yet, the grains are immediately eaten! Can it be said then that the act of reaping involves in this case also a preparation of the food, which is equal to cooking? If that is so, the Pharisees do have a point. So it is quite possible that the most elementary level of the Marcan text refers to a difference of opinion on how to apply the law to a particular act, in this case, the choice is between the relative weight of a law that provided for the need of the poor (implying that reaping without utensils is not a work) and a (rabbinically enhanced) law that upheld Sabbath observance. In any case, the Pharisees turn up and criticize Him for allowing His disciples to pluck the grains, so at least it is assumed that (some) Pharisees would consider this an act of rebellion against the law of Sabbath.

David Catchpole also notes this in his “Mark”, in: Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 71, 72. Vs. 27 would originally serve as the final argument of Mark 2, which in our interpretation fits reasonably well: the intent of the original debate might then be reconstructed by saying that Jesus shows with a familiar thesis (the phrase is to be found also in the Mekhilta de R. Ishmael), that the laws of peah served to safeguard human wellbeing and are therefore in this case – of reaping without instrument – of higher precedence than the rabbinic ruling that even plucking grain is a forbidden work. Vs. 28 would in such an early context indicate an inference: if the Sabbath is for man (generally), then man (=I, Jesus am) is lord over the Sabbath, and can and must therefore interpret its laws in such a way, that the wellbeing of man is served. After the issue of peah had been forgotten or was no longer relevant, i.e. when Mark’s materials entered a non-Jewish community, vs. 28 could rise to greater prominence and the Aramaic reference to the speaker as representative of weak mankind (son of man) could come to mean a messianic title, indicating an “imperial” authority over the law. Jesus is then not seen to be arguing his case directly. Instead he is found arguing the principle of exemption in specific circumstances that the rabbi’s also hold by quoting a precedent whereby human needs superseded commandments that centred around God’s holiness, and the honor of the priests, as David ate with his companions from the showbreads that were reserved for the priests because he hungered. The implicit assertion on the level of the redaction is that from this precedent Jesus formulates the new principle according to which the Sabbath law is to be understood. The continuing importance of this is that the precedent which gave rise to the rabbinical rule, quoted in Mekhilta Exodus 31:13, that one is allowed to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save a life, was historically the need to defend oneself against the enemy when attacked on a Sabbath. During the Maccabean war the use of weapons in self-defence on Sabbath was accepted. In the Mekhilta text however this motive from the context of war was given no further consideration and the reason is now given as something within the system of law. Because it states ‘And ye shall keep the Sabbath for it is holy unto you”(Ex. 31:14) Says R. Simon b. Menasiah: this means, the Sabbath is given to you but you are not surrendered to the Sabbath.” Furthermore, if the law allows circumcision on Sabbath which deals with one limb, the more one is allowed to save a soul on Sabbath. Immediately afterwards however, the phrase “throughout their generations” is used to emphasize the holiness of Sabbath: “We should disregard one Sabbath for the sake of the life of a person so that person may be able to observe many Sabbaths.” The intent of this ruling therefore is not to reject the importance of Sabbath, but to actually add weight to it, by making it possible for man to keep it.

The Sabbath was given to man to serve his needs, and not the other way around. And on that fact the authority of the Son of Man is itself based. The principle can be interpreted as a means to secure the proper observance of Sabbath, whereas now, in conjunction with its function of establishing the authority of Christ as the Son of Man, it is used to defend the abrogation of the law. Clearly the redacted passage is an effort to give a basis in Jesus’ oral teachings for the practice of the early Church, maybe especially the Church in Rome after the expulsion of its Jewish members under Claudius, to disregard Jewish customs.21 So, in this incident the general principle that Jesus shared with his Pharisaic environment that one might transgress against the minutiae of Jewish law on account of personal needs is moved from a pre-Marcan stage where the debate is about the primacy of conflicting principles and laws to a position that secures the foundation for something else: the absolute freedom of the Son of Man (and by implication His Church) from the prescriptions of law. In the second Sabbath incident this comes to the fore, where Jesus on entry into the synagogue is greeted with the utmost distrust and animosity (3:2) setting the stage to observe a controversy centered around His person. In such a redactional setting it is clear that Jesus uses the man with the withered hand to bring out into the open what deeply rooted opposition against Him was present within them. When He asks whether it is permitted to do good or evil, to kill or to save one’s life, two references are being made. The one is that ”doing evil” is already there, in the inner mood of rejection with regard to Christ’s person. This is stressed even more at the end of the passage, where Marcan redaction adds to the incident by stating that Pharisees and Herodians meet on that same Sabbath to plot to kill Jesus. The contrast is made, therefore, between Jesus doing good (healing) on Sabbath and being condemned for it, and the Pharisees doing evil on Sabbath, plotting to kill, and remaining within the strict limitations of the law. The second reference is more implicit, but obvious to any 1st-century audience: if it is allowed to kill in defence on Sabbath, how much the more is it allowed to perform a healing. The incident as a whole can be read as an illustrated kal-vachomer argument for allowing those works on Sabbath that are for the good, precisely because saving one’s life had already been a perfect ground for desecration of the Sabbath in Maccabee-Pharisaic halakah. Yet, apart from the redactional context, we can see nothing more than a
21 Even Thomas-logion 27 seems to accept the Sabbath as a divine institution where it has Jesus say “If you do not keep the Sabbath as Sabbath, you will not see the Father.” There is no need to surmise that the phrase ‘as Sabbath’ should refer to a spiritual observance of the Sabbath, in fact, the logion provides evidence for at least a partial non-Gnostic origin of the sayings.

stage in the debate on the application of Sabbath law as it might have been held in the 1st century. That is clear from some details in the form. The introduction of halakhic statements within the context of an anecdotal incident is rabbinic, the so-called ma’aseh being an ordinary rabbinic device for illustrating a halakhic or moral principle, sometimes backed by someone who actually acted in a specific situation according to a specific rule as the real source of authority. 22 But to this is now added a specific context in which the debate is no longer about the application of a specific law, or the relationship between law-principles (peah and Sabbath, should not the intent behind both these laws work together to make this “reaping” into a legitimate act?) but about the abuse of the law as such. Those people who worry about Jesus’ keeping the Sabbath are the same people who plot against him. By implication, the Marcan redactor shows that the problem is not the details of the law being discussed, but the principle of the law as a whole, providing a secondary layer to the drama. If the Sabbath law is adapted to the needs of man, it should be celebrated in such a way that a plot to kill Jesus or a rejection of the healing of the man with the withered hand (even though he is not in mortal danger) cannot be considered appropriate behaviour. But apparently this care for detail could be combined with such murderous intent. The point is that not so much the authority of Jesus is at stake here, as the dramatic disclosure of the inner motivations of those who combine a strict Sabbath casuistry with a nationalist zeal. The Marcan redaction therefore lifts the paradigmatic discussion about the application of law out of its original context and makes it a motivational element for the discussion about the real and not formal source of authority: pacifist Jesus or the Pharisees insofar they uphold the Maccabee solution. . On these two passages there are contradictory approaches in New Testament scholarship. Two different strategies can be found. The one is consistent with the effort to add weight to the Marcan case against the law. This strategy is obvious, e.g., in the commentary on Mark by Walter Grundmann.23 Grundmann holds to the idea that the passage is not freely constructed, but a real incident, simply because the incident is riddled with unclear elements as if taken from real life.24 The question by the Pharisees is now a part of the formal warning procedure that is required by Jewish law to enable the actual execution of the prescribed punishment for breaking the Sabbath law: death by stoning. He further presupposes that the precedent of the incident in David’s life is an adequate reason for breaking the law and implies that the Pharisees were them22 Cf. e.g. M. Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, New York, 19686, (1925), p. 192. 23 Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Markus, Berlin (1977). 24 Ibid., p. 89.

selves at fault for not providing Jesus and His disciples with the food they apparently needed.25 And though he acknowledges that in general it was the prime Pharisaic intent to make Sabbath into a day of joy and rest, he also seems to chide them for efforts to lighten the burden of Sabbath by casuistry. The adaptation of the law to the necessities of life could be combined with rigorous rules where possible, e.g., rules about not using cold water to treat a broken arm. Without using the word, Grundmann is accusing the Pharisees, on the basis of the Marcan text, of legalism. Of course, Grundmann sees that the passage as a whole is about the transference of authority from the law to the Messiah. But he sees a further rationale in this as well. God wants to have free partners who are bound to Him in their hearts and will make the free decision in force of this bond as to what in any given situation is the will of God. (cf. commentary ad locum) It is assumed, therefore, that Jesus’ assumption of messianic authority over the law implies a discarding of the law and the institution of a new type of ethics: bound to the situation as it occurs, evoking a spontaneous decision to serve the needs of others rather than obey a commandment. This ”reception of freedom” is the correlate of the authority of the Son of Man, who by His own sovereign freedom represents mankind as God intends it to be. Despite Grundmann’s acknowledgment that the passage as a whole has a polemical and Christological intent that reflects the debates between Hellenistic Judaism and the early Church, he is also committed to see in these stories a historical nucleus. Thereby the continuity between Jesus’ own opposition to the law and oral tradition and the attitude of gentile Christianity is maintained. Already Lohmeyer judged differently in his commentary of 1936.26 Jesus does not respond to the issue, but to the human partner in dialogue: ad hominem. What we have called the redactional secondary layer is to Lohmeyer the real issue and at the redactional stage this is quite correct. In the first illustration, the reference to David as much as means: “if the law is to be upheld in all circumstances, why is it that David could break the law when he needed to?” To Lohmeyer this implies that the Sabbath law was already abrogated, which means that the text can only be understood as a product of the early Church. So here the historical continuity is refuted. The reason for the passage might even be the beginning of the celebration of Sunday. 27 With this assessment of the
25 Ibid., p. 92. Cf. MPeah 8:7. A poor man, wandering from place to place, must be given the equivalent of three meals on Sabbath. The text can be read, however: if he rests, (i.e., keeps the Sabbath) he must be given food for three meals. And the point is here that the disciples did not ”rest” but were caught in the act of reaping. 26 E. Lohmeyer, Das Evangelium des Markus, Goettingen (1937). 27 Ibid., pp. 65-67.

non-historical nature of the passage E. P. Sanders concurs. “It is very likely that the entirety of the pericope on plucking grain on the Sabbath … is a creation of the Church….If there is a historical kernel, I do not see how it can be recovered.”28 So in both cases the redactional level is accepted to be the only and ultimate meaning of the passage, and the dispute is only about the matter of continuity with Jesus’ teachings. But there is a second strategy which must begin by reconstructing the plausible context of Jesus’ statements, as they appear to be the material to which the Marcan redaction was a response, in other words, we should try to reconstruct the debate that is going on between Mark and his traditions. First of all we must note (with Sanders and others) that the entire collection of incidents is implausible if we would argue a simple and direct basis in Jesus’ history – which is not to say that these events did not occur, but that the redaction of the text does not bring out fully the possible real event, because it had been taken up in the different situation of the early Church.29 The incident about forgiveness in 2:1 - 12 is implausible e.g. because the passive voice in which Jesus phrases the declaration of forgiveness cannot be regarded as blasphemy by any stretch of the imagination, the passive voice being a reference to divine action, not to his own. Only if Jesus had said: “I forgive you your sins” would there be a possible case for blasphemy, if such an utterance was understood to be meaningful at all. If we accept that the saying attributed to Jesus is genuine, then the contextual interpretation of it is in the wrong and shows a lack of understanding of what it meant. So we are left with a tension between the context that might give meaning to the incident as such and the redactional context which seems to move from the issue of Sabbath to the issue of Christ’s messianic authority. The story of the picking of the grain (Mk. 2:23 – 28) is especially improbable. The incident could not have been very serious in the first place, since after the formal warning to Jesus and his argument that David had also broken purity laws when in need, the Pharisees apparently retreat, and the incident is closed. It means, therefore, that Jesus accepted the law, but pleaded special circumstances, and only for His disciples and not for Himself. If the story is accurate, Jesus did not transgress the law Himself and there is no reason to invoke His messianic authority to ground an infraction of the law where none occurred. .Even more improbable is the next Sabbath incident where Jesus heals a man on Sabbath. Jesus merely speaks in this episode, and speaking cannot be considered forbid28 E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 266. But he does accept that “It is not impossible that authentic sayings of Jesus have been incorporated in one or more of the stories that we have considered.” (ibid p. 267) 29 E. P. Sanders (1993), pp. 212-218.

den ”work.” If it had been prohibited by the Pharisees, they would have been even stricter than the Dead Sea sect. Mark 3 may provide us with a clue as to the historic context of the debate. Jesus’ question as to “whether it is allowed to do good or bad on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” refers to an issue that became relevant during the Maccabean revolt against Greek domination and the onslaught on Jewish religion. If it was not allowed to defend oneself on the Sabbath, every enemy could restrict its attacks to the Sabbath to slaughter Jewish soldiers without opposition. It became necessary to understand the commandment with an emphasis on “that you may live” (Deut. 5:33; 8:1, e.g.), meaning that keeping the Sabbath should not lead to the destruction of life. So if it is acceptable to kill in defence on Sabbath in order to save life, how could it be forbidden to heal a man on Sabbath, even if such a man’s life was not under immediate threat and no instruments were used? Jesus’ question shows his opposition to an interpretation of Sabbath that would make an exception to strict rules that allow killing, even in defence. His proposal affirms that the Sabbath is incompatible with killing of any kind, contradicting the Maccabee solution, and thereby he contradicted the Zealot method of combining faithfulness to Jewish law with a violent endeavour to free the nation of Israel from foreign domination. The response to the breach of the Sabbath would not so much lie in the fact that Jesus healed, but that this healing was both a demonstration of His power and an underpinning of his implied teaching that Sabbath halakah should intend to further life, rather than concern itself with holiness issues to the detriment of human life. But now we have a historical setting that we need to reconstruct in order to give meaning of the entire passage, on the basis of the fact, that the incident reported as such does not in its own historical context amount to an abrogation of Sabbath-law. So our position is, that in the redactional stage, neither the Sabbath-issue as such, nor the messianic authority as such, is really the point of the passage. The incident must derive its meaning from the implicit teaching in the healing-event when Jesus dramatically points out the full intent of the Sabbath over against provisions that are intended to allow for warfare. So the first Sabbath incident implies the ongoing validity of the law and tries to justify an occasional transgression with reference to a common rule: it is permitted to break the law in order to save a life. The historical kernel involves a debate about the priority of peah and the manual plucking of grain against the technicalities of rabbinic Sabbath-law that equated reaping by hand with a forbidden work. The second incident is not a transgression of the law at all, but a dramatic exposition of the intent of Sabbath-law against the Maccabee position. So, under the assumption that Mark in essence gives us a historical nucleus in the incidents themselves and in Jesus’ sayings, but reconstructs their meaning in a different con-

text, intended to bring out the main purpose of the law: the safeguarding of life, there is indeed a continuity between the probable genuine Jesussayings and the later redactional context. Only the redactional context makes it possible for non-Palestinian Christians to misunderstand its intent and argue that it was about the abrogation of Sabbath. The immediate contextual interpretation, in which the incident occurred historically in the context that Mark provided, is now refuted: the picking of the grains is not pursued as an infringement of the law by the Pharisees, and the second incident is not a transgression in a formal sense at all. The implicit context of the incident must be reconstructed and distinguished from the secondary context of the redactor to find the ultimate intent of the passage. The rationale of the story in Mark 3 can be twofold. Mark merely inserted the phrase ”on the Sabbath” into a story about healing and provided a negative reaction on the part of the Jewish audience to come up with a challenge to Sabbath law, at least to uninitiated Roman readers. Or, he deliberately showed Jesus’ opposition to the Zealot interpretation of Sabbath law and showed his opposition to the Maccabean solution. Because Grundmann accepts the text as it stands as historical, he needs to hypothesize about the historic presence of a type of (Palestinian) Judaism with a more rigorous Sabbath law than has been found anywhere, including within the Dead Sea sect. Taking the redactional stage of the text at face value, one needs to find a Pharisaic halakah forbidding any healing whatsoever to make sense of the passage. We would prefer a different approach. Because Sanders accepts Tannaitic materials as basically providing an understanding of Pharisaic thought, because of the uniform pattern of the rabbinic religion, he has a standard by which to reject the historical context as artificial. Sanders and Lohmeyer stand in agreement mainly on this one thing: that the whole passage originated in the early Christian Church, reflecting as it does the position of the law-free gospel. But a historic kernel in this text shows less Pharisaic Sabbath halakah than Essene and Maccabean extremism as the real field of contention, whereas the redacted context supplies the definition of the opponent: the Pharisee is here identified as the common opponent of Jesus’ words and action and as the enemy of the mission of Jesus and the Church. So, can we say that Jesus rejected Sabbath law, if He actually kept it in the two related incidents? Or did Jesus interpret the intent of the Sabbath law in such a way that the early Hellenistic Church, building on His example, abrogated the law herself and retrospectively made Jesus do it, by providing a contextual framework in which His words were taken to mean precisely that? If the latter is the case, then the concept of obedience to God that Jesus taught is different from the freedom from the law that the Church began to teach.

This is brought out sharply by James Dunn’s treatment of the passage in 1983.30 Starting from the observation that the incident that Jesus quotes has nothing to do with the Sabbath, and that the analogy needed here is lacking since David was both in a pure condition and fleeing from his enemies, Dunn argues that the passage as it stands cannot be but a massive rejection of rabbinical law. Jesus is not trying to give a justification for an incidental breach of Sabbath law. “Rather the point seems to be more about the liberty of the new age of God’s favor: in the new age brought in by Jesus, faith and piety are not bound to or dependent on such rulings.”31 Sanders and Dunn are in real disagreement here. To Sanders the passage is a misinformed effort to justify and generalize an incidental breach of the law; to Dunn it is a conscious effort to move beyond the level of the incident as such to a general and principled rejection of Sabbath law, indeed to proclaim a new form of obedience and piety where such rulings do not have a place. Sanders seem to base his position upon a precise knowledge of the reconstructed context of the Pharisees’ question and surmises that Jesus’ response must gain its meaning from that context if the debate had in fact taken place. Dunn, on the contrary, rejects the historical veracity of the exact wording of the debate and accepts the general intent of the redaction as the historical basis. How can one choose? Must one choose? The problem seems to be rather how the conflict, as Sanders has reconstructed, was transformed into the position that Dunn explains and how the later narrative reflection on the historic incident was in continuity. That the passage presented the early Church with some problems can be seen from the manner in which it was treated by Matthew and Luke. Matthew apparently is not content with the massive affirmation of Jesus’ messianic authority that seems the real issue behind Mark’s version of events. (But the motive for this emphasis on authority, as we have indicated above in the case of the Mark 3:1 – 6 passage, might be something else in all of these cases: the rejection of the Maccabee-Zealot interpretation of the law as a tool of power.) He adds, in Matt. 12:1, that the disciples were hungry, and adds two more arguments. First of all: even the priests violate the general rule of Sabbath by making a sacrifice, most often taken as referring to Numbers 28:9-10. But this argument does not hold up either, since the sacrifice on the Sabbath has been commanded. One cannot argue that we can infer from that as a general rule that other prohibitions are invalid, because here a specific priestly act is allowed on Sabbath. It would hold only if the Pharisee position would depend on the absolute and abstract principle of Sabbath so that any apparent exception would break down the rule completely. Could this be the reasoning? Then
30 James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the law, ch. 1. 31 Ibid., p. 23.

this would be the reconstructed argument: If you disallow this specific act by equating it to reaping, you would do that because you apply a general principle in a rigid manner, but even the law itself does not do that since it allows for sacrifices on Sabbath. Such a reconstruction would however be highly abstract.. The second addition leaves us puzzled also. In verse 7 Matthew has Jesus say: “But if ye had known what this meanest, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (KJV). This reference to Hosea 6:6 does not cut it either as a tool for understanding the reported saying as such. Of course, as we will explain later, Jesus affirms both the validity of the law and its prophetical interpretation as equally authoritative in Matt. 5:17-20. From that perspective, this verse from Hosea could be seen as an important principle of interpretation of the Torah, setting up an absolute priority of moral law over priestly law, but the problem in the immediate context remains because the prophetic quotation simply does not deal with Sabbath. Only if we allow the argument to be about the general intent of Pharisee halakah and connected loosely with the Sabbath-incident can we give the passage a meaning that allows for continuity between the implicit historical context and the redactional context. The Pharisees intended to deal with Torah law under the principle of the cultic transformation of ordinary life, fulfilling the moral intent behind the cult in every-day life. Jesus opposes that general principle with reference to the prophetic critique of the cult, thereby demanding a straightforward application of the moral intent of the law to every day life. At the same time we see the evangelist’s effort to apply the principle of Jesus’ messianic authority in the interpretation of Torah under the new conditions of the kingdom. Such a polemic became attached to the story of the incident, but Jesus’ response must then be construed to go far beyond the confines of the issue. The libertarian attitude of the early (pagan) Church probably lost sight of the concrete issue very early on. The Christological emphasis on the authority of the Son of Man, and the prophetic reference which made sense in a principled debate about the relative importance of God’s commandments, were linked to a debate about the intricacies of Jewish law. In short, any story about Jesus’ differing attitudes toward specific elements of Jewish law was redacted to express a general rejection of Jewish law by a Church that had from other sources learned to do so. And yet, we also maintain that such a re-interpretation of Jesus’ sayings was never intended to be the main brunt of the passage. If we can hear the passage with an understanding of the implicit context and hear the dialogue it actually expresses, we can achieve an understanding of the whole passage that has continuity between the two contexts that are overlapping. In Mark 3:1 – 6 the implicit context of the reported sayings of Jesus may make us aware that the entire passage deals with the incom-

mensurability of the Sabbath-law and the intent to kill. Jesus’ messianic actions dramatize a dealing with law in which the original intent of that law as providing life comes out in full force. Only because of that can the argument be made at all, that Jesus’ authority is an issue. But because authority did become an issue for the Church in its own dealings with the Pharisees, attention seems to shift from the issue under debate to the personal attack on Jesus.

Chapter 6

Redemption as healing (Mark 9)
We have found, in our short inquiry into Mark 2 and 7, that early Church tradition moved away from the context of the Pharisaic debate into a denial of the Pharisaic shape of obedience. What began as a difference about how to keep and apply Mosaic law developed into a rejection of (a part of) oral teachings, cult transmittal and rabbinic authority, the double focus of Jesus’ response being His opposition to the principle of the adaptation of the purity law to everyday life and His stress on the religiously separate community that developed among the more rigid followers of the sect. Now Marcan redaction gives massive weight to the personal authority of the Messiah itself. But that authority is made to bear, not on the legal decisions that Jesus made, but on the significance of His messianic title as such, and the fact of the Pharisaic opposition against him. The oral tradition itself was made the target of Jesus’ attacks. As we argued above, the motive for that lies still in Jesus’ interpretation of the law as such and not in the abstract and detached issue of messianic authority in itself. Now we must deal with a closely related question. If Mark’s gospel opposes Pharisaism on a principled basis like this, going beyond the context of the early traditions he found, what then is his solution to the problem of justification? How does God justify believers, if it is not on the basis of their actual deeds in conformity with divine law? Can we find in these texts that Jesus and his Pharisaic opponents had common ground in their dealing with the law? Mark certainly did not want only to provide a basis for contemporary Christian halakah, or to base the abrogation of halakah on Jesus, as was accepted in the post-resurrection Church. The references to the ”Son of Man” imply that Mark sought a connection with the earliest traditions about Jesus to show that His gospel had indeed a totally different goal than was shown even by His differing interpretations of Jewish law. The solution may come from an examination of a passage that seems to explain the core essence of Mark’s gospel. It is the story about the healing of the demoniacally possessed boy in Mark 9:14-29. In this story, as well as in the text about the rich man entering the Kingdom in Mark 10:1731, the main statement is Jesus’ saying that God is able to go beyond human ability to save, or rather, to make entrance into the kingdom possible. In chapter 9:23b we hear that all is possible for him who believes, in 10:27 that all things are possible to God, and both are expressions for the basis of salvation.

The passage we are examining follows one of the most striking Christological stories in Mark. The references to the Mosaic revelation on the Sinai are as striking as, and even more direct than in the case of the Sermon on the Mount. Law and prophets testify to the greatness of the messianic presence of Jesus and are finally transcended by the voice of God coming from the cloud: “This is my son, the beloved, hear Him.” The passage ends with a discussion of the role of Elijah in which Jesus apparently identifies Elijah with John the Baptist (9:13). Now it is stated, in verse 10, that the disciples try to understand what is meant by the resurrection of the dead, a statement that prompts the question about Elijah, who was supposed to come before the resurrection. Jesus’ answer therefore implies that since Elijah has already come in the person of John the Baptist, the era of the resurrection of the dead is already near. It is this issue that gives rise to the passage we are studying now, since the resurrection of verse 10 corresponds surely with the end of our passage, where we find in verse 27 that the boy “stood up” because Jesus “lifted him up” while he was in such a state that people were saying that he had died and after we heard in verse 9 about the resurrection of the dead. So the thread that runs through this chapter is the resurrection. Our passage brings two motifs to bear on that subject. The first is the depiction of the condition of Israel, representing mankind, in the image of the possessed boy. He is described as being under the influence of a “foul,” unclean spirit (v. 25) and is addressed by Jesus as a dumb and deaf spirit, ritually unclean, unable to hear the commandment, unable to pray - because prayer was most often thought of as praying aloud. It is his father who is able to “pray” for him, by pleading on his behalf. The boy is described as showing the phenotype of epileptic fits and suicidal tendencies. Where Jesus comes near, the spirit shows its hostility toward Jesus in showing at precisely that moment his power over the boy, in v. 20. While Moses, in Ex. 34, descended from the mount to explain to Israel the commandments of the Lord, and in Ex. 32:15 is confronted by the idolatry of the golden calf, here Jesus is confronted with an even greater danger to His mission. If people can remain in the power of evil, beyond the capacity of the crowd and the scribes, so that belonging to the covenant people and having the law explained did not help, then the mission of the Messiah remained as powerless to redeem as the system of Temple and law that was already in place. The presence and invincibility of such a power of evil is a direct challenge to the Christology presented just before, that in Jesus law and prophets have been fulfilled and the resurrection of the dead has come near. The second motif, added to the theme of possession as its corollary, is the notion of faith. Twice Jesus condemns the present generation, once qualifying it as “unbelieving,” “without faith”. In verse 21 Jesus asks the

father about the duration of his son’s predicament. When the father beseeches Jesus to help,”if you can, help us and have compassion on us,” Jesus replies: “If you can [believe], all things are possible for him who believes.” It would be better to translate the “you can” as a reference to the words of the father: “What do you mean, “if you can?” You express lack of faith in Me, when all things are possible to those who have faith.” The father in response manages to express his faith, which is prompted both by despair over his son’s situation and the reference to faith in Jesus’ words, as if enabled to have faith and yet without the ability to feel secure in it: I believe, help my lack of faith, expressed with the same word as in 19: “without faith.” So the issue is this: if victory over the powers of evil cannot be secured by the interpretation of the law, represented in the scribes, and is due to lack of faith on the part of this present generation, then all thing are lost, unless the lack of faith can be addressed by the Messiah. If the messianic age is the age of resurrection, then this lack of faith surely can be overcome. The change from unbelief to faith can be represented by the transformation from death to life. To arouse the faith of the father, his son needs to be ‘resurrected,” i.e., liberated from the condition of being possessed by evil. One might construe this to mean that the faith of Israel has to be restored by the resurrection of her Son, Jesus. Primarily, it is the response of Jesus the messianic healer to the weak faith of the father that restores it to full health. The Church, or Jesus’ disciples, live from the same reality that is now becoming apparent in Jesus’ actions. Only prayer can give them the means to conquer evil, i.e., the submission to the will of the Father of Jesus who has sent His Son to be the beloved One, the One that all the world should hear (9:7). Read like this, the passage expresses a major principle in Mark’s gospel: that salvation depends solely on acceptance of or faith in the beloved Son of God who can restore those in the power of evil to full health, going even beyond the lack of faith that people have. Hearing, i.e., obeying, the law has been replaced by hearing the Son. The motif of Jesus as the healer of humanity is brought into connection with the rules of purity in another passage as well. In Mark 5 a woman who was inflicted with “an issue of blood for 12 years” and was therefore ritually unclean, according to Leviticus 15:25, touches Jesus’ clothes. According to Mishnah Zavim 5:1, if someone who is ritually unclean under Leviticus 15:25 (a %"') touches someone who is clean, he or she renders unclean by that contact. R. Joshua ruled that someone who renders garments unclean also communicates first-degree uncleanness to foodstuffs and second-degree uncleanness to the hands. It is obvious from this, then, that the woman is spreading uncleanness throughout the crowd without their being aware of it. To touch Jesus’ garments, however, seems to her a possible cause of redemption. Jesus is not rendered unclean, but

the opposite happens. Power flows from Him and the woman is cured, something He credits to her faith in Mark 5:34, the point of the story being that redemption as healing comes from faith in a Jesus who went beyond the issue of purity. If the woman had obeyed the precepts of Leviticus 15 in its Pharisaic version, that would have obstructed her from receiving the redemption that Jesus had to offer. To a generation that lies in bondage under sin and is vulnerable to the attacks of the demonical powers of death, Christ is the Healer, not the propounder of law. The law has no force to heal the condition of “lack of faith”. It can only bring out its tragic dimensions even more. In the passage Mark 2 – 3:6 that we discussed above, two out of five incidents deal with a physical healing and one (2:13 – 17) uses the metaphor of healing in a moral context. Jesus calls the sick, i.e. the sinners. Moral and physical health is thereby combined into a single referent of the concept of redemption. And if that is the case, the passages about fasting and the plucking of grains on the Sabbath, must in a way deal with the same issue of healing. The strict application of the law would preserve the sanctity of Sabbath, but would leave the disciples hungry, the strict application of law would make the disciples fast even when the Healer is in their midst. Now that the Messiah has come, the application of the law must be in congruence with that most fundamental fact. And since this Messiah comes as the Healer of life, no provision of the law may be used to exclude people from life, not because of their ritual uncleanness, their condition as excluded “sinners”, nor because they eat grains on Sabbath.

B. Jesus and the Law in Matthew

Chapter 7

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7)
We began by arguing that, at least to the community for which Matthew wrote his gospel, Jesus’ mission did not entail an abrogation of the law. Fulfilling the law meant setting it up as a standard of behaviour. We have found, in the three cases mentioned in Mark 2 and 7, that Jesus gave full weight to the intent of the written law, but differed on the specifics of Jewish Halakah, most often with regard to the priorities involved. Does this mean that Jesus accepted the Pharisaic concept of obedience to Torah but differed only on details? Apparently not. The weight of the evidence we have considered from the gospel of Mark does imply that Jesus’ approach to Torah was in tension with some or most of the emphases of Pharisaic halakah, specifically with regard to cult-transmittal and the resulting attitude toward ”sinners.” The early Church that was Mark’s intended audience, though in a way exaggerating Jesus’ position by generalizing His statements on specific laws and probably reading its own developed law-free lifestyle back into Jesus’ teachings, did keep a memory of what must be considered a real historical core. There was a clear opposition, e.g., to the spirit of Pharisaic halakah with respect to the primacy of sanctification above ethics that has enough echoes in rabbinic literature to be considered historically accurate on that account alone. And behind the issue of Sabbath law issue we can discern specific messianic themes: the primacy of the concern for the poor; behind the Korban controversy the primacy of the commandment to honour one’s parents; behind the purity issue the primacy of a more inward moral purity as a better way of extending the sphere of influence of the Temple. There is no need to accept as equally historical that Jesus would have actually abrogated Sabbath, rejected Korban and the law of vowing (though directing his disciples not to swear at all), and annulled purity law as such, though the washing of the hands was probably an ”open” issue, so it might have been the case that Jesus rejected this single element of purity law. But even if we relegate all of these elements to the early Church as a narrative means to give force to the outcome of communal discernment concerning these matters, there is ample evidence to suggest that Jesus opposed the pattern of Pharisaic Halakah and its interpretation of Torah where it stood in the way of the urgency and primacy of moral law, defining thereby the inner standard of interpretation of Torah as the intersubjective demand of righteousness. We need to show this now by studying two elements. First of all: what

hermeneutical standard did Jesus adopt to present the ethics of the Kingdom as in harmony with Torah, as he was bound to do after accepting it as absolute standard, as we have seen. Secondly, how does this work out in the actual labour of exegesis; i.e., which concrete guideline of behaviour was the result of such a method of application of the Torah? Both can be studied by looking again at the Sermon on the Mount. We will first deal with the hermeneutical framework in Matthew 5:17-20, and then we will study the issue of neighbourly love dealt with in the so-called antitheses. First, the immediate context of the present passage needs to be made clear. The Sermon on the Mount opens with a definition of the community to which its teachings are addressed. Jesus sits down with His disciples and instructs His people in an manner analogous to Moses from Mount Sinai, but there is a difference. Christ is not given His teaching, but brings it Himself. The obvious implication could be that here is One higher than Moses. That impression of a higher authority is partly reduced by the statements that we will consider in depth in verses 17-20, where Christ actually affirms the authority of the Mosaic law. The pattern of this double impression is that of a tension between messianic authority and affirmation of the law of Moses.. It can be solved by seeing the similarity between Jesus’ Sermon and the final address by Moses in Deut. 29 and 30. Especially in Deut. 29:10-15, the whole nation is called into the renewal of the covenant, including the least of Israel: from the “hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” This corresponds quite well with verses 1-12 where the Beatitudes express in poetic language the character of those for whom the Kingdom is coming, or rather, those who have the character and condition that is presupposed in the kingdom. But when that occurs, the multitudes are lost to sight. Only His disciples come to Him, according to 5:1. The Mosaic law could be addressed to all, and Deut. 29 urges the people to make it possible for all to be included. Here in Matthew it seems presupposed that only a minority will come and obey. The kingdom announced is first and foremost the concrete sovereignty of God expressed here on earth. In that sense it is the kingdom of heaven, it derives its name from the origin of the authority that is valid in it. Corresponding to that character, those characteristics of Christ’s disciples are mentioned that depict an openness or submission to that sovereignty. The ”poor in spirit,” i.e., those people who remain poor because of the Spirit, have been given the Kingdom. Their lack of economic aspirations makes them accessible to the demands of the kingdom. They hunger and thirst for righteousness (verse 6); they are pure in heart, honest, and without guile. They seek to establish peace between man and his fellow, and they are able to exercise compassion. Such people are able to enter. And that still means that simply having these characteristics is not enough to be a

disciple. The essential characteristic seems to be persecution “for righteousness’ sake” (verse 11), which implies the ability to endure suffering while adhering to the behavioural character of the kingdom, a suffering that is perhaps intended in an individual sense in verse 10, the basis for that suffering being that the Kingdom, though present, still exists only among a minority while the remains of the old order are still here. Interestingly, this suffering for “righteousness’ sake” that is the character of those who wish to enter is identified with suffering because of Christ, in verse 12. We can learn, therefore, that the Sermon equates the characteristics of the previous verses with the following of Christ, and identifies this following of Christ as a commitment to the righteousness of the Kingdom. Christ is, in an emphatic way, the righteousness or standard of the Kingdom He announces. The logical next question then needs to be: who are these disciples of Jesus who long for righteousness and practice it under duress and for whom the kingdom of heaven is meant?32 The position of the disciples as a collective entity is indicated in verses 13-16. The disciples as a whole and in general are the salt of the earth (13). They are on the earth while they represent the character of heaven. They have a function in society and they are involved in its affairs seeking peace, exercising compassion, etc., but not because they belong to it. The involvement presupposes the distinctness of a community. The image is used more to express the vulnerability of this aforementioned character of the disciples than to explain the way in which the disciples work within the larger society. How could the image be considered a reference to the life of Christians within society, if the fact of their persecution by that society is already considered one of their main characteristics? Obviously the genitive means they belong to it in some way, but they need to remain pure and unmixed to fulfill their assignment. Salt can lose its force and character by becoming mixed with other substances, be it earth or water. The force of salt needs to be maintained and not become ”used up.” So we disagree here with Betz, who stresses that the disciples “are to re32 H. D. Betz argues (1995, p. 155) that the connection is not to be found in the surface language. But in verse 11 the language changes already from ”them” to ”you,” and verse 13 can be seen as an answer to the implicit question of verse 11 as to why the disciples are being persecuted. Verse 11 therefore can be considered as making a connection between the Beatitudes and the threefold definition of the disciples as a community. As Betz points out, the duties and status of the disciples’ community is a consequence of the blessings bestowed upon them as representatives of the kingdom of heaven, explained in verse verses 1-10 and expressed in verse 12 in particular.

gard themselves as a most important ingredient of this life...they must be part of the dirt out of which this world is made.”33 But the text has no reference to such an analogous use of salt. Any imagery of salting food or exorcising demons (from Greek custom), or even using salt in sacrifices, etc., is missing here, unless one infers from the expression “salting the salt” that the notion of “salting something” is implied. But it is highly significant that there is no reference whatsoever to what is being salted. Besides, the expression ”salt of the earth” is primarily a reference to the location of witness, that the community of disciples represents heaven while they are on earth. The origin of the salt is not in the earth but in heaven, and only when walked upon and thrown out can it be said to become salt of the earth in the real sense of being mixed up with the affairs of society. So the “of the earth” does not imply being mixed with the soil of everyday life in society. If Christians try to be ”part of the dirt,” they will soon find that their role in society is to be trampled upon, to become the scapegoats of society. It seems more appropriate to think of the salt needed for sacrifices as referring in general to a function of the disciples to lend validity to what happens in this world for the good of the Kingdom, but there is no specific terminology to back that either. One could think of a connection between sacrifice and martyrdom, but again there is no basis for that. We must conclude that, in using the metaphor, the writer did not intend to work out a precise analogy, but was thinking of the general value and vulnerability of salt and was focused on the condition of the disciples, not working out an exact image of the relationship between the disciples and the community at large with the aid of the metaphor of salt as being used to salt (preserve) something. On a final note, we must agree with Friedlander here that if we read the text as indicating that Jesus’ disciples should be useful in society, there is nothing very original in it. If, however, the disciples saw their contribution to society as their primary goal in life, trying to change it by enhancing its general level of righteousness and piety in a piecemeal manner, they would be trampled upon and used to pave the road, and in that sense would become one with the earth. Within society they would no longer have the force that they have as a separate substance. The separate position of Israel among the nations is analogous to the way the disciples are now constituted as a separate community within the society of Israel. This still is compatible with the idea that the basic intent of this separation is to ensure the inclusion of all those left behind in Israel as it was then. But the remainder of the Sermon serves to depict a ”higher” standard of righteousness, by which it was achieved within a community separated from society for the purpose
33 Betz (1995),p. 158.

of that achievement. But how then is this new community, with its higher standard of righteousness, supposed to interact with that society? The way in which the disciples are connected to society at large is explained by the threefold image of the light of the world, the city on the hill, and the lamp in the house. All three images imply separation from society and build on the picture of the salt that needs to remain unmixed to keep pure. As a ”pure” community, first of all it can be a light to the world. It shows to the world what it is by being a community that teaches and practices the Torah, which is also called a light. The general idea that Israel is a light unto the nations because they teach Torah to the world returns here. So we read in Isaiah 49:6: “I will also give thee for a light to the gentiles,” but here obviously the reference is to the Messiah (though he of course represents the collective identity of the nation), as it is to David in 2 Sam. 21:17. Yet in Is. 60:3 the light image is transferred to the restored nation: “And the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” In rabbinic literature the image is applied to God, specific individuals, Israel itself, the Torah, or the Temple and Jerusalem In the same manner light can be the name for the deeds of the righteous but this seems to be a rather late image in rabbinic literature. The people of God can also be seen by the world as a separate community of righteousness, for it is a city on a hill. It can only be visible, separate, and present as a community, not as individual believers. The community needs to be visible like a light in a room. Like the salt that should not be mixed, this light should not be covered with a bushel, something done not to keep it dark within, but to make sure the light is not seen from without and/or could not blow out. All of these images are then taken up in the short explanation that follows, which explains the light and city metaphor together by identifying the shining of the light with good deeds. The deeds of the community should be ”good,” i.e., should be works of righteousness, a concept to be explained in the whole of the Sermon later, and they should be such that the attention of people is directed towards the ”Father in Heaven” and not to the disciples themselves. So the deeds of the disciples are only a ”light” if they lead people to proper worship and a change of heart. The quality of their deeds resides not only in the fact that they can be considered to be good, but that they are witnessing to the Heavenly Father. Christian ethics is specifically an ethics of witness. We are now able to respond to four different approaches to the Sermon on the Mount that try to interpret the direct statements on specific elements of the Mosaic law from the status of the two introductory passages. One might argue that what is to follow is an ethical code for those who

have progressed in the order of saintliness beyond the level of the laity. The demands are construed to be so extreme that only those fully devoted to its achievement can take it on their shoulders. In essence, that was the solution of the early Catholic Church: that the Sermon was addressed to those who had a specific and intense interest in living according to the gospel code. Whereas it is true that Jesus’ disciples are addressed in the Matthean version of the Sermon, it is also obvious that the Sermon on the Plain, Luke’s version of the same material, is addressed to the multitude. It is further obvious that these chapters are the actual content of the instruction the disciples are to bring to the nations, according to the mission statement of chapter 28. The most important argument, however, is that the distinction between laity and real disciples is not made in the New Testament in the context of moral discipline, but at the most in connection with service in mission or with the eschatological urgency of an immediate breaking in of the kingdom (e.g., the passages directed to the eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom, i.e., those who decided to remain celibate.) The Sermon strengthens the usus legis elenchticus (its use as demonstrating our sin) of the law by radicalizing its demand. Its purpose is to demonstrate human inability and sinfulness. But of course there is absolutely no indication for that in the actual text of the Sermon. In fact there is the demand to achieve a higher righteousness than the Pharisees, which by no means indicates an inability to perform the commandments or show the required attitude. There is a bias at work that assumes knowledge of the function of the law, as in Paul’s letter to the Romans (through the law there is knowledge of sin), and through that doctrinary framework the Sermon is read. The Sermon is an appeal to achieve the highest goals in social and political life. In such a fashion the Sermon is a motivational document for Christian politics, and it has been read by Tolstoi, e.g., in that manner. In such an approach, however, the specific nature of the demands of the Sermon gets blurred, and their character as distinct rules of behaviour is transformed into a selective inventory of principles. One might argue that the double love command is an exposition of a principle (Mark 12:28-31), but the language here is reminiscent of the direct rule of behaviour, as present, e.g., in Mark 10:2-12 in the prohibition of divorce. Finally, one might construe the Sermon to contain the behavioural pattern of the new era. Because the Kingdom has not yet been established, there is an interim ethics in which the rules of behaviour that Jesus gives are moral guidelines or principles for behaviour that is at the same time determined by the contingencies and possibilities of the present time. It is clear, however, that the Sermon expects a new behaviour in 7:24. A sens-

ible man will hear these words and do them, to have a solid foundation for his house, i.e., his life, in the crisis of the eschatological judgment. The eschatological age does not precede the behaviour required of the disciples, but follows it. From all of this we must conclude that the Sermon does indeed intend to give us the rule of life for the followers of Christ. We must now see what we can learn from the opening statement of the Sermon after the double introduction. In this context, Jesus now addresses first and foremost a possible misunderstanding about His mission that might easily have arisen after reading the first three segments. “Do not accept as my position that I intend to abolish the law or the Prophets.”34 The full force of ”do not think” goes beyond the mere having of an opinion. Betz shows from numerous examples that the phrase is used to express a fundamental religious point of view, defining a general attitude. So the disciples should accept as their basic viewpoint that Jesus’ teachings did not intend to abrogate the law and the prophets. This goes beyond the rejection of a misunderstanding. Apparently it would have seemed the logical step to see Jesus’ teachings move in that way. The affirmation of the Torah reverses that logic and intends to show that all of Jesus’ teachings were in fact to be considered a valid application of the law. The Torah as such is given a new function within the gospel of the Kingdom, but it is not set aside. Secondly, they should not take the intent of Jesus’ teaching to be the abolition of the written law nor its prophetical interpretation. The terminology “the law and the prophets” suggests that both are intended as separate yet connected domains of revelation and both are equally affirmed. Jesus’ affirmation is not restricted to a general ”law and prophets,” i.e., the whole of the Old Testament, but aims specifically at the system of written law and (equally written) prophetic discourse and explanation on the law. A contemporary application of this order of things would be to deny the validity of the use of the prophets to ground a rejection of Old Testament law. The prophetical critique of Torah predates the writing down of the Torah and points to a tradition of explanation in which the Torah itself was given its final shape. This makes the prophets intrinsically interdependent with the Torah, as ”oral” tradition would be in relation to a written statute. The need to ground Jesus’ messianic claims on the prophets has tempted many Christian theologians to see in the prophetical writings the nucleus of the Old Testament, as if the Torah had already been abrogated in these
34 Betz suggests this in his commentary that the saying was directed at a real statement that was however falsely attributed to Christ. If we accept an early origin of the text, this must mean that even before the writing of Matthew there were strands of tradition current that differed widely on the issue of Jesus’ relation to the Torah.

writings, whereas in reality they precede the final redaction of the Torah. To state that Jesus claims not to discard the OT is not enough. He claims rather to affirm it in its dual essence as written law and interpretative prophetic tradition. In fact, He is Himself giving His (messianic) interpretation of it in the Sermon. The basic guidelines of Jesus’ hermeneutic so to speak are what these verses express. We have already discussed (in chapter 2) the meaning of the next verse, where Jesus states that He did not come to abrogate, but to fulfil. We can just reiterate our conclusion: To fulfil the law must then mean to uphold it by effectively obeying it in accordance with its most general principle, expressed in and as the summary of the law. The righteousness that is the inner standard of the law as written statute is now expressed as the double commandment upheld in a specific community. The next statement seems to put a time limit on the validity of the Torah: For verily I say unto you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one title shall in no wise pass from the law till all come to pass” (Matt. 5:18, KJV). In any case, it does apply the validity of the law to this life on earth, making allowance for an era beyond the present in which the function of the law would perhaps change. Within the confines of the present era, however, the law is here affirmed in its absolute validity in its written form, but also including the oral tradition, indicated by the smallest letter (orthographic details and the written text as it is being the peg on which oral tradition may hang new laws) and the smallest elements of the written letters, e.g., the small line that distinguishes daleth from resh, bet from kaf and the like. The question might then be asked whether the restriction of the law to this era was intentional and had a view to the ”now” of Paul’s eschatology in the present, as in Romans 3:21 and 8:1. Is the law then both absolute (for this world) but transient, because this world has been abolished by Jesus’ resurrection? Surely this was Paul’s position, as we can infer from Gal. 3:19, where we find that the law was added because of transgression, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. The law was therefore an interim measure intended to deal with sin until the ultimate revelation of grace was given in the Cross of Christ. In terms of redemption history, therefore, the law’s function as ”tutor” came to an end. Paul states something similar when he writes in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end of the law because He introduces a righteousness by faith that supersedes righteousness under law, his argument being (Rom. 9:31) that righteousness under law is bound up with the condition of man’s achieving obedience, which due to the character of humanity fails to even fulfill

the law, let alone the righteousness that it seeks to produce. But this is obviously not the function of the law in Matthew 5:17-20, since no specific aspect of it is mentioned that would come to an end in a foreseeable future. What is most striking is the affirmation of the Torah as such, while the limiting perspective lies only in the character of the messianic kingdom and discipleship. Here the Torah is seen as it was in Judaism, as the written source of our understanding of righteousness, the revelation of the divine will. As written statute, this law will of course pass away with the end of history, but until then, the faithful are bound to that specific way of communication and discernment of its demands. We find no indication that the written statute of the law is surpassed by the interiorization of the law as written on the heart, i.e., memorized completely and transformed into the motivational power of behavior, as in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31. We must acknowledge that this is a contradiction to Paul’s view that we cannot simply harmonize without destroying the plain sense of the passage in Matthew. Matthew and Paul are not saying the same thing about the function of the written law. And if we can further acknowledge that for several important reasons the passage in Matthew is to be considered authentic, laying down the basic hermeneutic of the Christian community, we cannot but conclude that the New Testament leaves us with the problem that Paul’s early statements about the (written) law, which we assume to imply that it was abrogated in the present, are in direct contradiction to Jesus’ statements about its ongoing validity and the hermeneutic practice that he affirmed with it. Paul’s eschatology and the real experience of the gentile Church would lead him to contradict the teachings of Christ in this point. The main issue is, that to Paul, the old heaven and earth have already passed away, and the written statute of the law has been replaced by the inner reality of Christ’s presence through the Spirit in us. Chronologically, the Church might have returned to the authenticity of Jesus’ much more difficult position in Matthew, while leaving the early enthusiast and eschatological Paul more to the background. That would be a complete reversal of Bultmann’s thesis, that the early Paul is the authentic gospel! The impression that Matthew’s Jesus emphasized the affirmation of the written law is strengthened by the next verse, which states: Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (KJV, Mt. 5:19).

Taking up the notion of the smallest details of the law, symbolized by and incarnated in the details of the writing of the Law, those who break the small commandments (fail to do them) and teach that they should be broken (and in that sense do not uphold the law as standard) shall be the least in the kingdom. Notably, such persons are still part of the kingdom; they could still be trying to respect the sovereignty of God. But their position is still false; could this be a direct reference to the adherents of Paul’s law-free gospel? The disciples Christ was seeking are those that abide by the smallest commandments of the law and teach likewise. One must note, however, that the law needs teaching, and teaching needs an uncompromised standard of behaviour on the part of the teacher. In direct contrast to those Pharisaic teachers who construct burdens that they themselves do not touch, here a new radical standard is expressed. The interpretation of the law must be based on its practice the teaching here ending the series of indirect references, first through the ”prophets” as a separate body of scriptures attached to the law, and then through the reference to the hermeneutic practices of the scribes through the iota and title. Interpretation must make obedience possible; obedience makes interpretation necessary. All of this leads to the final statement in this section, which returns to the theme of the identity and practice of the disciples who have entered the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20, KJV). We must ask what this exceeding righteousness is. It is loosely to be connected with the first reference in the Sermon, where we find the persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5:10) being equated with those persecuted because of Christ (5:11). Christ is set up as the standard for righteousness. Thereafter the separate status of the community and its mission to the wider society is brought in, and the passage ends with the command to show “good deeds” that bring people to glorify the heavenly Father (5:16). Our current passage as a whole, then, explains how Christ is the standard of righteousness in terms of the hermeneutic that He uses. He affirms the full demand of the law by interpreting it in such a way that it can lead to the practice that God demands in His sovereignty. Righteousness is not achieved by abrogating the law, but by an ongoing teaching and interpretation that accepts even the smallest commandments in the law, interpreting them, however, in such a fashion that they can actually be done. Such a teaching and doing within the community of disciples, accepting the suffering it brings while the old order still persists, is the

higher righteousness, and in fact summarizes the pattern of Christ’s life.

Chapter 8

Scribal hermeneutics of the Torah (Matthew 18)
Goppelt has stated that Jesus did not propose an alternative halakah, but rejected the principle of it. We must at this stage answer part of that contention, or rather, prepare our answer by taking a (short) look into two other major and surprising elements in Matthew that together constitute the full picture of Jewish-Christian hermeneutics. First, we must take a look at the passage in Matthew 18 where the congregation is given what we might call a semikha, that is, the rabbinic authority to give decisions. Secondly, we must study the meaning of the peculiar opening of Matthew 23, where the hermeneutic authority of the Scribes is affirmed. How do both of these formal statements with regard to hermeneutic authority connect with the intrinsic messianic authority that is emphasized in chapter 5 of Matthew? Chapter 18 of Matthew is the concluding passage of the Galilean section, connected to the former chapters by the opening phrase “in that hour,” showing that, to the writer, the chapter’s topics were connected to the issue of paying the imperial tax. After the separate realm of the Kingdom of Heaven is established in that manner and after Jesus’ statement that the sons are free, exempt from tax as such, but should not give occasion for reproach since that would attract attention to the wrong issue, the issue of being the greatest in that kingdom comes up. Already in Matthew 5:19 the concept of being ”great” has been explained. Those who teach the precepts of the law and do them are called great. Small are those who teach the annulment of elements of the law. Here we find first of all an opposition between the greatest and the child. In the first section of the chapter, to be ”like a child” is explained as one of the major characteristics of being in the kingdom. Conversion must lead to becoming like a child (verse 3). One should humble oneself (or consider oneself low in rank) like a child (verse 4). Those who believe in Christ in this manner are the ”little ones” who should not be tempted to sin (verse 6). What started out as an exhortation to become like children is now an exhortation to others, probably believers too , to treat such believers as children, i.e., to have care for their well-being and to be in that respect like the heavenly Father, who does not want any one of these little ones to be lost. In passing, we must note that Jesus’ concept of salvation here implies the possibility of going to hell, as opposed to entrance into life (verse 9), on account of sin. Such a course of events can only be avoided by not sinning, so the situation here for ethics is not that of any justification of the ungodly, but of life without sin leading into (eternal?)

life. After the explanation of the divine will that none of these little ones will be lost (verse 14) we come to our passage, running from verse 15 to the end of the chapter. The first section deals with the procedure of dealing with a ”brother,” apparently one of the little ones who has succumbed to temptation, who has sinned (15-17). It consists of five imperative clauses, structured along the lines of casuistic law: if x is the case, then you must do y or y is the result. On a closer look, these five can be reduced to one: if your brother sins, rebuke him privately. Then possible results are listed, with their appropriate response. (a) If he listens to you, the matter is closed, obviously referring to his repentance and being forgiven. Fellowship is restored, as is indicated by the phrase: “you have gained your brother.” (b) If he does not listen, the next step is to discuss the matter again with one or two witnesses present, to establish the facts with a view toward the next stage of the procedure, because of the general rule that two or three witnesses can establish a fact (16b), but also to widen the discussion and bring their moral authority to bear in the discussion with the brother. That is evident from the phrasing of the next verse, where it states (c) if he does not listen to them, then the matter should be put before the congregation as a whole. In case the brother does not listen to the congregation, (d) he should be excluded from fellowship more permanently and formally, since the ”gaining” of the brother in verse 16 obviously implies that fellowship has already been broken by the offense itself. If there is any Hebraic background to the meaning of listen, we should infer that he should obey the decision, as he should respond with repentance to the rebuke in verse 15. But it might also mean in all of these cases that he should respond, which might lead in some cases to a change of opinion and to repentance. The Greek verb for “hearing” (akouein) might be less technical than the Hebrew 3/: (shama’) and allow for a more general principle: that the offending brother should be brought into dialogue, with the assumption that this would lead him to repentance, since both parties after all share the same moral standard. The exclusion at the end of the process implies that being a member of the congregation means sharing the moral standard of the community to a high extent, and that acting in accordance with other standards of behaviour must lead to being treated as those that have other moral standards. The implication is that the community is determined by its acceptance of a shared moral standard. In this case, the gentile and the publican are mentioned to indicate the extent of the dissolution of the connecting bonds between offender and community and how the offender should be treated. The mention of the gentile probably refers to the fact that table communion at the Lord’s Supper is now impossible. Being a gentile further implies that the

law does not apply any more, so that the standard, being broken, is no longer applicable. The publican, however, is someone who, while belonging to the people of God, acts in consort with the forces opposed to the people of God; i.e., he has become an ”enemy.” Presumably, the proper response is again that table fellowship is impossible, but beyond that other avenues of contact (e.g. commercial relationships) are lost as well. If that is the case, it is a minor indication that Jesus’ eating with sinners and publicans was considered by Jewish Christians to be an exceptional act of the Messiah, and not an abrogation of the principle of the law that excluded them from fellowship. The next section includes verses 18 to 20, and it consists of two amensayings and an explanatory clause (verse 20). In verse 18 the authority to bind and loose, with respect to the exclusion of sinners, is given to the congregation, as has been detailed before. A decision reached in the manner outlined in verses 15-17 is validated by God. That would presuppose that the offender loses the status of belonging to the people of God and that this indeed has visible and practical consequences. Secondly, the formula “to bind and to loose” is derived from rabbinic thought insofar as it expresses moral discernment. It refers to the rabbinic authority to proclaim an object or act to be prohibited or to be permitted (for use in the case of objects or foods). The connection between the two meanings of the expression is not that obvious. One might argue that in the specific process of discipline, the definition of sin is tested and a definition is arrived at. Verse 18 then refers to the final decision to put the offending brother under the ban, thereby defining his sin and obstinate refusal to repent as a transgression that cannot be overlooked. To bind in this case would mean to proclaim a certain act prohibited, whereby the brother is loosed from fellowship. However, it cannot be overlooked that sin is not being defined here, but repentance and forgiveness is striven for. That means that the issue of the moral standard is not under debate. The offending brother is easily identified as sinning, since the standard is presupposed in the entire process and has been dealt with already in Matthew 5-7. One might argue that the definition of the offense is being tested since so many people get involved in discussing the issue, but this is surely a side-effect of the process and not its main intent. In that connection it is important to settle a problem resulting from differing text traditions of verse 15. Does it state: “if thy brother shall trespass against thee...,” connecting the passage to Peter’s question about forgiving the brother who offends against me in verse 21? Or does it state: “if thy brother shall trespass....”; i.e., in general, if you see your brother stumble. The addition of ”against you” could be explained as dittography, since the previous word ends with similar sounds: hamartesei then may give rise to the repetition of the ending esei into eis se, which means

“unto you.” However, the same argument can be used in reverse: because of the similarity in sound, the eis se could have been dropped, to avoid dittography. So we are left with the argument that the most reliable manuscripts, such as Alexandrinus and Vaticanus, do leave out the ”unto you,” and a reading that includes it seems less than likely because of the context. In any case the difference in reading is not essential to the argument, but we can rely on the context to guide us, as I intend to show now. Let us start with this question. What does the difference mean for the understanding of the whole passage? If the reading ”unto you” is correct, the passage starts with an individual and clear offence in a conflict between brothers. There is hurt inflicted and offence given for whatever reason. This destroys fellowship within the community between the conflicting brothers. The witnesses are in that case outsiders who deal with the issue as impartially as they can, trying to reconcile the two parties. In the event their attempt is unsuccessful, the congregation as a whole is then called in to decide the matter. If they find that the brother is indeed behaving contrary to the gospel and will not mend his ways, they can exercise discipline and expel the offender. Such a scenario is not unlikely, but it is dubious whether the context can give us license to construct the argument like this. For one thing, if this is the way we ought to deal with a brother who is offending against me, it is not clear how to connect this with 18:21, where Peter asks how many times to forgive the offending brother. Obviously the hurt done against me is dealt with forgiveness straight away. In other words, the reading that includes ”unto me” leads to a discrepancy between verse 15 and verse 21, since the one passage is concerned with bringing someone to repentance and forgiveness and the other is a straight commandment to forgive those who have offended against me, without the context showing that two different classes of offenses are intended here. If, however, we can read with the majority of witnesses: “if thy brother trespasses,” we are dealing with a trespass by a brother of the established moral standard that someone else happens to know about.35 The latter then should deal with it in private but, the offence is not against him, since in that case he would be obliged to forgive according to verse 21 and not admonish to repentance as in verse 15. But then it is also clear, that the whole passage presupposes a moral standard as well as an obligation of brothers toward each other to be aware of and concerned
35 According to Lev. 19:17 it is a duty to rebuke the offender first in private, since one “should not suffer sin because of him.” Only in regard to duties toward God is it necessary to rebuke someone in public. The private offence should not be made public because that amounts to the sin of “gossiping.” Cf. Lev. 19:16 and Rambam, Mishneh Torah, I, 6:6 and I, 7:1.

about trespasses by others, and the whole argument implies a general requirement to exhort one another. Or, even more specifically, the passage deals with the need to apply this concern for others in a process intended to bring someone to repentance and forgiveness, motivated by the concept of a salvation that requires us not to sin any more, and to engage in the reconciliation of conflicting parties and in the process of moral discernment active in establishing what the moral standard is. Without being able to deal with all the implications here, it is in our judgment possible to accept both these readings as meaningful ways to construct the congregational process of discernment and forgiveness. We tend to favor the reading that is the most logical, i.e., the one whereby we do not stumble upon a discrepancy between the exhortation to forgive and the injunction to deal with trespasses, i.e., the second reading, which implies that the offender is not offending against the one who tries to deal with it. But the other reading cannot in fairness be absolutely excluded simply on the basis that such concepts could not possibly overlap. It is also not clear what the connection is between the topic of verses 1517 and verse 19. Verse 18 can be seen as referring back to the former section, because it is in the plural and continues the concept of the congregational action referred to in verse 17. What does it mean, however, that “if two of you are in agreement about anything they ask [which probably refers to prayer; one praying, the other responding with amen], it will happen to them of the Father in heaven?” Instead of stating that God will accept the decision of the congregation, even though it may be wrong, we now hear that everything will happen according to the request of the congregation. If read on its own, it seems to be a pious statement of trust in the power of prayer. Or is it a reference, not to congregational prayer in general, but, because ”two” is mentioned here, as in verse 16, does it refer again to the disciplinary process? If two (the offending brother and the admonishing brother perhaps, or the witnesses) are in agreement, then the matter is decided. On a congregational level, if all are in agreement, then the decision is valid. In any case, where the brethren meet in prayer and the authority of Christ is recognized and He is in their midst, present because of prayer, and in their midst because of authority recognized, the action of the congregation is affirmed by God, and the reconciliation and forgiveness they seek is granted them, i.e., is a legal reality. So, in our reading, the context is probably limiting the application of ”whatever they ask in agreement” to the issue of exclusion, forgiveness and reconciliation. There are two conclusions to be drawn here that are vital to our inquiry. First: the presupposition of the disciplinary process is that sinning leads to exclusion and condemnation, so there is no justification of the ungodly without transformation, and that repentance and reconciliation (restoring

fellowship that has been violated by the sin of the offending brother) is the goal of all disciplinary action.36 The situation into which man is brought through faith is one of communal responsibility for the moral life of its members and a process of care and discipline that is directed at reconciliation and repentance. Disciplinary action and forgiveness are primary, communal “discernment” is secondary. Second, that the moral standard for sin is not found anew in each situation, but can be presupposed as the messianic Torah, for only they who teach and do the commandments are great in the kingdom of heaven. Yet this does include the fact that in applying that standard, the whole of the congregation, assembled in recognition of Christ’s authority and expressing it in prayer, is assigned the authority to interpret scripture. But in Matthew’s view, the authority granted to the congregation to bind and loose is not simply the authority to define the moral standard. That can be established further if we take a look at the role the rabbinic exegesis of the Torah has in Matthew’s view.

36 Excommunication in this sense is the “ratification of the rejection of the original baptismal covenant by the offending brother or sister and the refusal not to be reconciled again with the community. Only a visible Church must have such a procedure by which to establish who is and who is not a member.” Cf. J. H. Yoder, “The Forms of a Possible Obedience,” unpublished paper (1970).

Chapter 9

Rabbinic authority and the Church
To some, Jesus’ words that open his speech against the Pharisees and scribes have been a nuisance, to say the least. The Dutch translation of 1951 (NBG), as well as J.N. Darby’s translation, interprets the Greek tense (aorist) of the word “seat” in verse 2 as an ingressive instead of a gnomic aorist, so as to say: the Scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses, as if they had usurped power, instead of a reference to their proper and habitual position as interpreters of the law. The latter interpretation would favor the translation: they sit on the chair of Moses, implying that they had a rightful claim to that authority.37 Verse 3, which affirms that authority, could be understood on the basis of this decisive step in the interpretation, along the lines of the passage on imperial taxes in Matthew 17. Obedience to rabbinic authority is then a strategic step in the Christian’s dealing with authorities, a proper thing to do in the circumstances, in order to witness more effectively among the Jews, echoing Paul’s words that in order to gain gentiles, one should act like one. What are the scribes? During the Second Temple period the word sofer came to denote a special class of scholars that taught the binding halakah, explained the Torah to the people “distinctly and gave the sense” (Neh. 8:8). As expounders of the oral tradition they held authority in distinction to the priests and Levites who had been the keepers of law, and of tradition before that. Contrary to this view, and since there are no specific halakhot recorded in the Talmud and attributed to a specific era of soferim, it is surmised by others that they did not exist as a group. The term would then denote any Torah scholar, but in particular all authorities before the formation period of the Mishnah. But is this a proper interpretation? It echoes of course the consensus that deference to Judaism was a tactical move, a side effect of Jesus’ piety toward his ancestors, but not a principled position. Yet we find that the contrary is the case here. For one thing, the text even implies an enhanced reverence for the Pharisees, since strictly speaking only the scribes can be properly called to sit in the chair of Moses, which refers to rabbinic authority, something given to those who made the study of the law their life’s fulfilment and had been given ordination to serve as judges in the law courts. “Pharisees,” after all, is a reference to a Jewish “sect.” The state37 Darby emphasizes the usurpation: “have set themselves down.” KJV however renders: “sit in Moses’ seat,” and Luther has: sitzen (sit), both of which express a rightful position.

ment therefore implies that the Pharisaic interpretation of the law is to be considered such a valid application of Mosaic law that Pharisaism as such shares the authority the Torah accorded to the judges. Of course, a considerable portion of the judges would probably be of Pharisaic persuasion and instructed by the scribes. In fact, the affirmation of rabbinic authority that we find here is massive, especially when compared to Mark’s scepticism in this regard. Taken literally, the text imposes rabbinic authority upon all Christians. All that the Scribes and Pharisees tell Christians to do, whatever it is, they should obey. They should do it fully (poiesate, imperative aorist) and make it their standard for everyday life, i.e., observe it habitually (tereite, imperative present). Of course this would most likely be limited to those areas of the law that do not conflict with the messianic guidelines for interpreting the law in the Sermon on the Mount, but this messianic enhancement amounts to a stricter observance on the one hand (the greater righteousness of ch. 5:20), and a shift toward emphasis on kingdom virtues (of a moral nature) on the other. The negative perspective of the entire passage can then be properly understood: Jesus states that His disciples should not follow the example of Scribes and Pharisees, since in their practice they do not obey their own demands. The point is that they should not lighten the burden of law as do the Pharisees in practice, but should hold fast to the interpretation of the law as they decide it in the practical circumstances of their own lives. In other words, they should decide the law in order to make it possible to keep it according to its innermost principles, and not lighten that particular burden by fleeing into minutiae of minor importance. That demand of practicability on its own would have had considerable effect on the contents of their decisions. Jesus’ followers were required to choose in principle for the more rigid interpretation of the law as presented by rabbinic authority and to conform to it in practice, thereby surpassing the Scribes in righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:19). But at the same time, the brunt of the accusation is that the rabbi’s do not “move” the burdens they impose, i.e. they do not make them lighter for those who are found to be unable in practice to comply. The same thought is expressed in verse 4, which accuses the Scribes and Pharisees of imposing heavy burdens beyond their own capability to do them. Still, the text does not imply that legal decisions that imply burdens that ”they” themselves would not touch are thereby rendered invalid. On the contrary, it is presupposed in all of this that these burdens will be carried by Jesus’ disciples. For Matthew, this principle was mitigated by the fact that the messianic hermeneutic is concerned with the limitation of a teaching on law by the possibility, exemplified by the teacher’s own

practice, to do as he teaches. Without this ”do-ability,” a teaching is worthless. And furthermore, the specific messianic hermeneutic that we discussed above would mean a shift in emphasis towards moral obligations. Still, if scribes and Pharisees concur, and if it were possible to do it, Jesus’ disciples were required to comply. Then we have a second point of critique. Not only is there a gap between teaching and practice to be concerned about, but there is also the issue of motivation. In Matthew 5:16 we learn that the good deeds of the followers of Jesus should shine in front of the people, but such deeds were intended to make the people glorify the Father in heaven, i.e., they were part of their witness. Verse 5 in chapter 23 now teaches that the aspect in which the scribes should not be followed is precisely this, that their actions are motivated by the need to show themselves to the people. They behave themselves as rulers, motivated by honour and rank. Their religious practices are drenched in a form of social behaviour where the scribes and Pharisees act like an elite within wider society, aspiring to rule over the whole, using the instrument of legal exegesis to separate Israel from the gentiles, the strict adherents of Judaism from the outsiders, the amei ha’arets, publicans and sinners. From that perspective it can be said that the Scribes and Pharisees “shut up,” close the entrance, to the kingdom of heaven. Their practice, as defined above, implies that obedience to the law is not equal to a total recognition of the sovereignty of God and does not lead to glorification of the father in heaven. In short, Pharisaic practice does not witness to a coming Kingdom. If the obvious motivation of obedience to Torah is the achievement of social rank and status, and the proclamation of the law is more important than doing it, then the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is closed. We must remember that Matthew closely associates doing and teaching in ch. 5. If there is a specific characteristic to the behaviour in which the Torah is obeyed by its teachers, then that characteristic is being taught along with its contents. It is not necessary to assume that the text refers to the Church of the 80s or to the eschatological kingdom. The rejection of the practices of the scribes and Pharisees seems to suggest that the kingdom of heaven is a shared concept, though its interpretation may involve differences. The attack on Pharisees would be more understandable if it could be assumed that the Pharisees share the intent of bringing people close to the kingdom, but that they lack in a Christian perspective the radical intent to serve God only and primarily through the moral law, and deny the social side-effects of the religious establishment. After all, Matthew showed in many places how the religious establishment introduces foreign elements into the service of God and ignores the essence of the kingdom: the identity and character of the messianic King. Matt. 22:1-14, in a parable, and the incident of the cursing of the fig tree in 21:18-22 show that clearly.

The specific accusations made against the Scribes and Pharisees in the remainder of the address have certain characteristics in common. They cite elements either of decisions on the law or of specific practices, and the intent is to show that the major issues that concern the kingdom of heaven (the identity of the Sovereign and His rights) are thereby forgotten. That is the major and decisive discrepancy between the position of the Scribes and Pharisees and their practices. To that is added the accusation of hypocrisy in verse 28, hypocrisy meaning in particular that there is in fact contempt for the law insofar as its intent is in practice ignored and neglected in its intent, and this attitude is combined with an outward appearance of righteousness. The ”woe” in this connection should not be construed so much as a cry of moral indignation as one of astonished hurt that the occupants of Moses’ seat could in practice have been so wrong about the intent of the law, and so negligent of the real issues. Even though we should grant the highly critical attitude toward the Pharisees of this passage, its main function could hardly have been to instil contempt for the Scribes and Pharisees. The affirmations of 5:17-20 and 23:2b can hardly be negated even by this impressive list of accusations. The whole point is that if a specific accusation is made, then there certainly must have been exceptions, or rather, what is rejected of Pharisaism as a whole, is the fact that it could not effectively fight these aberrations within itself. It is not a generalized statement that Pharisaism was defined by the practices described. If it was true to say so, the massive affirmation of Pharisaic teaching in the opening verses would have been unthinkable, and yet it is unmistakably present. The specific character of the critique and the formal acceptance of Pharisaic authority can, in combination, lead only to one conclusion: that what we have here is in part an effort to establish the specific character of the messianic halakah over against Pharisaic practices and to fight against those aberrations within the early community of Jesus’ disciples that ran parallel to these categories of Pharisaic vices. The main focus of Jesus’ critique is the missing connection between teaching and practice in the light of the duty to witness to God’s sovereignty in the coming Kingdom of Heavens. It therefore seems incorrect to say that the opposition to the Pharisees in this chapter is based on principles. Nor can we say that the issue is all about the oral law. The affirmation of the authority of the Scribes also includes what can be strictly called the oral tradition, i.e., rules of law inferred by specific hermeneutic rules from the paradigmatic laws in scripture, functioning as a hedge around the law. That is obvious from the treatment of the law of tithing in verse 24, where the argument does not show that such rules are worthless, but that they should not interfere with the main intent of the law. When Jesus is quoted as saying: “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone,” the principle is that

of the complete fulfilment of the law, not of a separation between the mere ritual and the moral. Judgment, mercy, and faith are here called principles of the law that have at least equal rank with the laws of tithing. Verse 26 does the same, when to the implied importance of purity laws concerning vessels the moral demand is expressly juxtaposed, to which the former refers symbolically. One needs to purify vessels to become constantly aware of the need to be purified in a moral sense, to share that awareness with others, to practice it as an exercise in obedience to God and not as a road to proud achievements, and certainly not as a surrogate for the morality it refers to. But again, the intent of Matthew’s Jesus is not to abrogate the oral tradition on purity, but to fulfill it, by stressing in the manner of their application the moral goals that such laws would serve for the betterment of the community. There is one element in the address against the Pharisees that we have not yet examined sufficiently. We should do that now, but in a somewhat widened context. We have mentioned that in Matthews 23:23-26, tithing and purity laws are used as examples of hypocrisy, between the general indictments of hypocrisy in 23:15 and 27 that are a protest against a particular form of public piety, and the mention of the care taken for the tradition (the graves of the prophets, etc., in verses 29-36) and the pride connected with it. We can argue that the 5 indictments of hypocrisy therefore consist of three general rejections of Pharisaic piety, with a view toward establishing the way of the Church as a better path. (Because hypocrisy is overcome, the unity of the law is affirmed, and the general attitude is witness to Gods sovereignty in the coming Kingdom.) In short, they are intended to establish the distinctive nature of the Christian community with regard to Pharisaic piety and to serve as a boundary statement between the two groups. What we are concerned with now is the nature of Jesus’ position with regard to ritualistic halakah. As we tried to do in our discussion of Mark 7, we must now attempt to show how Matthew responded to Jesus’ original intent and tried to preserve continuity while at the same time expressing the self-evident principles of the congregation(s) he wrote for. If we consider the parallel text of Mark 7 in Matthew 15:1-20, we can see that Matthew actually accepts the Marcan redaction and in his reworking of the material even enhances the easy flow of the passage. Though this must indicate the existence of a common theological opinion that the washing of the hands was religiously unimportant and the side effect of the Korban rule was against the spirit of the Torah, it is easy to see that Matthew’s version of Jesus’ final ruling differs significantly on a vital point. Mark 7:15 reads: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” Matthew’s parallel states in 15:11: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is

what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Matthew’s version is then actually stating this: it is not so much what goes into the mouth, etc., but more what goes out, etc. In short: Matthew’s version includes impurity of food, Mark’s version excludes that kind of impurity as immaterial. Though difficult to establish with any degree of certainty, I find the greatest probability in the hypothesis that Matthew here has the most reliable tradition and quotes it accurately. The presence of such a rabbinically structured saying within Greek materials is an argument for its authenticity, based on the meaning. Mark would then have augmented his source by adding ”nothing,” since that was to him the final point of the issue. It also served to stress the moral aim of the passage. Matthews though restructuring the Marcan passage and accepting its implicit theology, restored the saying attributed to Jesus to its older form or had in his possession a separate tradition. Nevertheless, where Mark needs this statement and the addition to bring out a strong antithesis to Pharisaic purity law, Matthew does the same by adding in verse 3 and verse 8 the ominous direct statement that Pharisee tradition breaks the commandment of God for the sake of maintaining the separate authority of the oral tradition. In that sense, Matthew’s opposition to this aspect of oral teaching is more explicit even than Mark’s. Yet, the aim of Matthew’s position is that in this instance, the law is broken because of concern for a specific tradition, while Mark is implying that all of the oral tradition does nothing but deter from the obedience God requires. In the same manner, Matthew’s parallel to the incident on the Sabbath related in Mark 2:23-28 contains additions and changes that bring out its much more and limit the aim of the critique. Opening with ”at that time” as opposed to the more general ”one Sabbath,” adding the fact that Jesus and his disciples were hungry, prepares the reason for the plucking of grain that would only be necessary if Matthew could expect his readers to react with surprise at this breach of Sabbath. (And they probably would have if they had a halakah which respected the Sabbath but alleviated the rulings to accommodate basic human needs; i.e., if, as probable in this case, the Sabbath rule included exceptions because of hunger and thirst.) Furthermore, Matthew stresses that the disciples were acting against the law by adding ”your disciples,” making Jesus responsible indirectly as a teacher of law (implicitly the case in Mark as well, of course). He also brings in a secondary argument that at once points to a possible weakness in the structure of Pharisaic halakah and refers to the character of the messianic law that was connected with the Kingdom of God. Let us examine both of these elements for just a moment. In Matthew 12:5, Jesus is quoted as saying that ”in the law” one can read “that on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple break the Sabbath and yet are guilt-

less?” The reference is thought to be to the sacrifice of animals that continued on Sabbath, as is clear from Numbers 28:9-10. The interesting thing here is not the parallel that is drawn between Jesus and his company and the priesthood. David and his friends were persecuted at the time he entered the Temple, and surely his hunger was greater than that of the disciples. No analogy is intended here. No sacrifice is being made, and the point of the passage can hardly be that plucking grain is equal to the priestly exception of sacrifice on Sabbath. It is also not very plausible that the main intent is to establish the authority of Christ over the law, since neither David nor the priesthood can serve as similes for that. Christ’s authority over the law in Matthew is based on and restricted to his being the decisive hermeneutic “rule,” not in any formal fact of his superior power to abrogate, as we have shown in our discussion of Matthew 5:17-20. This passage does not change that already established principle. The analogies drawn actually confirm it. David was not above the law, but an exception was made; the priesthood was not above the law, and acted according to the law on the Sabbath while preparing the sacrifice. Without the Marcan framework that refers to Christ’s superior authority, the passage is not a defence of a principle above the law of Sabbath. In Matthew, the implications of the material that was before Mark are dealt with in a different manner. Now we have shown above that the Marcan sources refer to a decisive point of contention between Jesus’ approach to the law and that of the Pharisees. The Pharisaic intention, in continuity with most of the rabbinic material of a later date, consisted of applying the cultic demands of holiness designed for the priesthood to daily life. That was a tendency continued and greatly expanded after the destruction of the Temple. To Matthew, however, it is clear that it is not the Temple that serves as the hermeneutic pattern of the application of the law, but the presence of the Messiah and His proclamation of the sovereignty of God over all people. Therefore, when Matthew 12:6 informs us that “more than the Temple is here”, it must refer to the messianic presence of Jesus as the source of understanding the intent of the law and, by default, of understanding what exceptions would have to be made to the common rule. That impression is strengthened by verses 6 and 7, opening with the quotation of Hosea 6:6, where God’s main intent is mercy and not sacrifice. That passage is taken to mean that mercy is the goal of sacrifice, or that sacrifice expresses God’s mercy. If that is so, then the violation of Sabbath on account of the necessary sacrifice must surely imply the possibility of allowing a breach of Sabbath law for the purpose of a deed of mercy. In this case, the interpretation that the provocative principle being refuted was the rabbinic rule that even reaping without the use of utensils, something accepted for the poor according to the law itself, in Deuteronomy 23:25,

was not acceptable on Sabbath, is defective because it disconnects the moral purpose of sacrificial law from Sabbath law. At issue here is not the Sabbath law in itself, nor the principle of halakhic inferences, but the specific contents of that halakah and its conflict with Jesus’ messianic hermeneutic principle. If cultic law is to be applied to ordinary life, then the intent of the Temple cult in terms of the moral demands it serves are to be applied as well, rather than the material rules. We have in this passage a clash between the messianic halakah of a morals-oriented transmission of the goals of cultic life over against the Pharisaic intent of cult transmittal in terms of specific preparatory and pedagogical rites of holiness. Pharisaic tradition intends to institute a cultic pedagogy into ordinary life in order to prepare the moral life, while Jesus’ halakah aims at establishing the moral law as the primary hermeneutic of the interpretation of such law. In that perspective, Jesus rejects the Pharisaic intent to make holiness and purity into the primary demands of God’s sovereignty. Only then can we read the final verse of the passage properly, where we find that ”The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Now the messianic proclamation of the Kingdom governs the interpretation of the law of Sabbath. The same message is given in the Matthean parallel to Mark’s story of the healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12:9-14. Here we find Jesus stating as a rule that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” while Mark makes it part of a provocative question to the Pharisees. Matthew therefore understands Jesus in all of this to be maintaining Sabbath law and reinterpreting it, while Mark goes beyond that to indicate that Jesus’ messianic authority is the basis for its abrogation. Their common sources, however, remain closer to Matthew’s interpretation than to Mark’s and include an implicit acceptance of the authority of interpretative derivations from Torah-law.

Chapter 10

Jesus and Jewish law
We are now in a position to draw some conclusions with regard to the question of what Jesus’ attitude towards the Jewish halakah really was. This question is of the utmost importance, because it decides the meaning of the perspective with which Jesus approached the Mosaic law and affects the understanding of His ethics deeply. In other words, if we can determine the pattern of Jesus’ affirmation of the Mosaic law, we have a strong indication as to what the basic constitution of Christian ethics must be. First, we must acknowledge that Jesus’ criticism of the law was not directed against the law itself, but against a specific interpretation of it. Some have maintained that Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees was due to the fact that He did not explain the Torah according to the established tradition. It seems to me that this is at least part of the issue of the passage in Mark 7 as such, in the redactional stage in which we have it now, and if read as a seamless whole. Jesus is quoted as saying there that the commandment of God is nullified by the human traditions that sedimented around it. That can be understood as a rejection of oral teaching. Still, when we take a look at the passage without its redactional elements and in conjunction with Matthew’s interpretation of the same material which he probably knew in its Marcan version, a different picture of Jesus’ original intent emerges. In dealing with a reconstructed layer of the text, it is important to see how the same tradition could lead to such different theological conclusions as those of Mark and Matthew. We must move beyond the single voice of the Marcan redactor to the choir of separate voices. In it, we first see Jesus arguing within the boundaries of rabbinic debate: against the ritual of washing the hands before meals and against the enforcement of vows in the case where a conflict exists with major commandments. There are voices within rabbinic tradition agreeing with Jesus here, and in fact the Mishnah Nedarim paints a picture of a very complicated debate in which the rabbis apparently tried to find a subtle balance between the fifth commandment and the Numbers 30 passage on vows. In Mark, only the context and the inclusion of the quotation from Isaiah seemed to turn this into a major attack on the principle of oral law itself. The same goes for the passage on the Sabbath in Mark 2 and 3, where Jesus is portrayed as breaking the Sabbath by a provocative action. In this case most scholars have concluded that Jesus rejects all Sabbath halakah, and even the validity of the commandment itself. But in the two

incidents reported it is clear that Jesus did not break the Sabbath commandment at all, and only the context (which ascribes a rigidity of law to Pharisees undocumented elsewhere and surpassing the strictness of Qumran halakah) implies that Jesus in fact did so, from the Pharisees’ point of view, and that it was sufficient to arouse the most murderous intentions on their side. The notion that one may not heal a man on Sabbath, not even when it would not imply a forbidden use of an utensil, is sometimes attributed to Qumran halakah. I have not found any reference to this in scholarly work, but did find such an opinion circulating among academic theologians in oral reports. One of the quotes that is given in support stems from the Damascus-document, CD, XI, 13, 14. “”you will not assist, no one, your cattle to give birth on the day of Sabbath and if [it] falls into a well or pit you will not lift [it] up on the Shabbat.” The subject referred to in the phrase “if it falls” must be the cattle of the previous prohibition. The text is saying that cattle may not be saved or healed, since that would in itself be a transgression of Sabbath law. Even without the use of utensils, which makes it a “forbidden work.” In that case, there would be no evidence to support the contention that according to CD a human being could not be helped on Shabbat. The text only speaks about animals. However, CD, XI, 16 rules that one may not help someone that has fallen into a pit with the aid of a ladder or a rope. So the idea is again that no forbidden utensil might be used; not even to help someone in distress. But the issue in Mark 3 is healing without the use of any forbidden instruments. We have argued that the core passage in Mark 7 certainly seems closer to a Palestinian situation, and the contextual framework and editorial glosses are intended for a Roman audience, dealing with matters on a far more general level, from a far greater distance. The quotation from Isaiah also reflects a secondary level of reflection, in our view. That is why the idea that the situation of the Marcan redaction reflects an initiative taken by Jesus not to wash the hands, i.e., as a rejection of halakah on the basis of the written law, instead of saying that it reflects upon a contemporary halakah in a completely different situational context, is highly dubious. It presupposes as historically reliable fact that the ritual was common and undisputed in Jesus’ days, which we do not know for sure, and against which there is quite some good evidence; it also presupposes that Jesus is the source for the general rejection of the ruling, which is unsure also if we consider the structure of the passage; it also rests on the analysis that Jesus’ intent was to dismiss the ritual because it was man-made (a Sadducee-type contention), which is unlikely, considering the fact that Jesus himself in many of the authentic sayings affirmed halakhic reason-

ing and principles to present his point. So the whole basis for the common thesis that Jesus ignored Jewish ritual law on the basis of Isaiah 29:13, turning it into a general condemnation of the halakah, becomes uncertain. I would prefer to say that the general nature of the rejection of Pharisaic halakah reflects a further development of New Testament -theology in which the opposition between Pharisaic preparatory separatism and messianic witness-oriented moralism was broadened into an opposition between commandment-oriented “legalism” and a “moral” gospel of submission and ethical virtues. Goppelt summarizes Jesus’ attitude towards the halakah as follows: 1. Jesus separates halakah and Old Testament law strictly. 2. The halakah as such is condemned as “human tradition.” 3. Unlike the Essenes, Jesus does not provide an alternative halakah, but rejects it on principle. 4. Jesus does not discuss the interpretation of the law, but tries to change the attitude of people towards the law.38 We have seen, however, that the context of Mark 7 implies that the early Church developed Jesus’ dissent within the parameters of the rabbinic debate to mean an attack on oral law because of its segregating effect, rabbinic authority, and Levitical purposes. Specific halakah is rejected, and Jesus may have directed the attention of his hearers on occasion towards its secondary nature as ”human tradition,“ but a principled attack on oral tradition as such seems to be lacking. The strict division that Goppelt proposes is certainly not present in the earliest layers (the sayings that form the core of both Mark’s and Matthew’s treatment of the issue), and there seems no support for that thesis if we consider the careful development of the messianic hermeneutic of Matthew 5. It is far more peculiar to the final stages of redaction. The hand washing and Korban issue were now dealt with as examples of foreign (Jewish) rituals that, if rejected by Jesus, would imply a general rejection of Israel’s separate status that was maintained by a specific use of the law. Jesus’ intent to break down the walls between the Pharisaic elite and the laity that conformed to the Pharisaic movement had by this time been understood to mean paradigmatically the breaking down of the walls between Jews and gentiles. That is why the particular criticism of a specific element of rabbinic law had to be transformed into a general rejection of rabbinic law as such, and the traditions that Mark quoted could perform that function only because their context and details were no longer either understood or seen as appropriate teaching for the contemporary situation.
38 Cf. Goppelt, Theologie, p 142

At least the first and second elements of Goppelt’s summary, therefore, must be seen as part of the understanding of the early Church, or, if they were present in Jesus’ teachings, they were at least no longer understood as part of an ongoing debate. They were rather lifted out of that debate to provide illustrations of one dominant strand of Jesus’ teachings and thereby to lay a foundation for contemporary Church doctrines: his rejection of the separatist side-effects and cultic emphasis of Jewish halakah at the time. So to the extent that we have a critical position with regard to oral law, which in itself would not be strange since in all the areas discussed the law had not yet been unanimously decided, it was not about rejecting human traditions as such, but about rejecting those traditions that reflect an authority other than God’s (or the Messiah’s), apply Levitical purity to ordinary life, which should be the place where the intent and not the form of purity laws is lived out, and finally, exclude people on the basis of ignorance or weakness from the people of God. What is at stake in Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees is the shape of the faithful community. We have argued above that in the matter of the washing of the hands Jesus probably took a position against it, as did many of his contemporaries; in the matter of Korban, Jesus undoubtedly sided with those rabbis who were eager to find a way to prevent possible abuse of one commandment to break another. Jesus’ ethical thinking is far more part of the rabbinic tradition than against it. Marcan use of Jesus’ position reflects an era in which certain motives that had played a part in the original debates had become all important and where Jesus had to be made an advocate of a Church practice that had developed in gentile Churches. The truth of Mark 7 resides in the fact that neither Korban nor hand washing nor food laws were halakah in the early Church. Its opposition to Jewish halakah and its portrayal of Jesus’ opposition to Pharisaic tradition is historically improbable in itself, but may serve as an internal Church statement regarding the role of law-exegesis as a means of ethical discernment. Mark 7 provides us also with a clear antithesis to a rabbinic type of authority over halakah and transfers ethical decisions from the legal arena to the cultural environment: the ethics of Mark’s Church, according to Mark 7, consists of Stoic virtues. But we must be clear in this vital matter: the opposition against the oral law and/or the Mosaic institutions themselves is presented as principled only in the Marcan redaction, never in the reported sayings. And that is made plausible also by this one fact that Sanders noted in his Jesus and Judaism (p. 250). If Jesus had abrogated all foodlaws as Mark infers from Jesus’ statements in Mark 7:19b, why then “did Paul and Peter disagree over Jews eating with gentiles (Gal. 2:11-16)?… If Jesus consciously transgressed the Sabbath, allowed his disciples to do so, and justified such action in public debate, how could Paul’s Christi-

an opponents in Galatia urge that the Sabbath be kept (Gal. 4:10)?” But there is more than this. Sanders notes one instance that he says is clear evidence of Jesus actually demanding transgression of the law. 39 In his mind this saying must be the “most revealing passage in the synoptics for penetrating into Jesus’ view of the law.” Jesus states in Matthew 8:22 in answer to one of the disciples: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Darby) As Sanders remarks, the criterion of dissimilarity helps us determine that the saying must be original, since on first impression it definitely contradicts ordinary Jewish piety with regard to the burying of the dead. In post-Biblical Judaism this was understood and developed as an important commandment that ranked even higher than the duties of the priesthood. So this saying, if genuine, and correctly understood, violates both filial duty and the fifth commandment. The ordinary strategy to deal with this has been twofold. One might argue that the saying hyperbolically emphasizes the urgency of following Jesus and that in the eschatological hour, burying the dead becomes an unimportant duty. (Marcus Dodds, Adolf Schlatter; Wilder and Dibelius as quoted in Sanders) Some others have tried along the same line to suppress the weight of the saying, so e.g. H. Mulder in his commentary on the parallel passage in Luke (9:29), who states that the expression is colloquial and means: “Let me serve my father until he dies.”40 The decision for the kingdom of God cannot be postponed and discipleship excludes all other ties. (Even weaker is the statement by Baarlink in his commentary on Matthew41, where he states that “even the most intimate duty can no longer be an alibi for evading the duties of the Kingdom.”) Still, such a duty towards the Kingdom would overturn the obligation imposed in the Torah. Or one might introduce a spiritualized meaning by arguing that those who are dead in spirit must bury each other. (So also Dodds who argues for a dual sense of the saying). So also, surprisingly, Elias Soloweyczyk, already in 1877.42 And it is true that in rabbinic literature the concept of “dead” was also applied (proleptically? With reference to moral life?) to sinners. (JBerakhot 71; BBerakhot 18a, b) There is a third option. Dodds mentioned it in his commentary as an “eccentric idea” that the first men39 E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 252-254. 40 H. Mulder, Lukas II, een praktische bijbelverklaring, Kampen, 1988, p. 31. 41 H. Baarlink, Matteüs I , Kampen, 1997. 42 E. Soloweyczik, !9&8 -&8 (Kol Koree) Leipzig, 1877. p. 114. Soloweyczik argued in his commentary that the saying expresses the same thought as in BBerakhot 18b: “”But the dead know nothing”,: These are the wicked who in their lifetime are called dead.” Soncino Talmud, London, 1948. vol. I (Berakhot) p. 110.

tion of “dead” refers to the corpse-bearers who carried out the bodies of the poor at night. That of course does not diminish the harshness of the saying.43 Matthew Black mentions the possibility that an Aramaic original would have read lemiqbar, to bury in stead of limeqaver to the burier.44 But he calls it a “banal” solution. Instead he proposes a fourth option that we read: Follow me and the let the waverers bury their dead. Now the word metan is used for wavering, slow to decide and the like. Yet even then the verse has a harsh meaning and can be construed to imply an infraction of the law. In a way this brings us back to the first strategy of reading it in a spiritualized sense. That such a spiritualized reading is possible within the wider context of the New Testament can be clear from Paul’s usage of the terminus “dead” in a specific moral sense: we were dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:5), or the reference to the “living dead” in 1 Timothy 5:6. All of these solutions hinge on the fact that the saying seems to be of a general nature. Let all the dead bury their dead. And since the saying is in each case interpreted as an isolated statement, its character of universal wisdom saying is reinforced. The passage remains difficult, but that would caution us to infer from it that a clear disobedience to the Torah is intended. It seems more likely that the context belongs in this case to the original tradition and that we have here an example of a saying directed at the heart of the underlying attitude of the questioner. It does bring other “follow-me”-statements to mind, like in the case of Mark 10, where the young man with his zeal for the law is commanded to give up all his wealth in order to follow Jesus. That exaggerated demand – never repeated as a general commandment – seems to fit the particular situation of the questioner also. So I would be inclined to argue for the hyperbolic and contextual character of the saying, and in that way referring to an exaggerated commitment to family life on the part of the questioner, and an equally exaggerated response on the part of Jesus. In that way however, we do choose in favor of those who argued for the scandalous character of the statement and have yet inferred from that the weakened position that duty to Christ overrides all other duties, accepting all the weaknesses that Sanders has pointed out for that position. Sanders mentions the relationship with Mark 10=Matthew 19:16-30 that we have used above and comes to the following conclusion: “At least once Jesus was willing to say that following him superseded the requirements of piety and the Torah. This may (sic!) show that Jesus was
43 Marcus Dodds, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Franeker, undated, p. 143. 44 Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, Oxford, 1967 (19461), p.207.

prepared, if necessary, to challenge the adequacy of the Mosaic dispensation.”45 But I would still dispute that. Not the law as such is at stake in Matthew 8. It is true that the requirements of the law are superseded by the requirements of the Kingdom. But Matthew had already made it clear that precisely this “higher righteousness” of the kingdom can be considered a fulfillment of the Torah and not its abrogation. (Matthew 5:17 – 20) Besides, in his own application to become a pupil of Jesus (normally teacher would invite students) it is the would-be disciple himself who invokes custom. First to deal with all remaining family affairs, and then to follow the rabbi, was common practice in response to the invitation. Does the saying reflect in that sense a (hyperbolic) evocation of the greatly different style of discipleship that was required by Jesus? But if that is the case, it would not be an infringement of Torah-law in the eyes of Matthew, but a consequence of the unique authority of the Messianic teacher. There is one possibility that needs mentioning here, but it is of a highly speculative nature. Is it possible that Jesus intended to refute an exaggerated form of filial duty towards the dead? The problem is that we would now have to reconstruct a context that is unavailable to us through the text and cannot be ascertained with certainty from the remaining rabbinic material. There is first of all no direct commandment to bury the dead in the Torah. It is assumed on the basis of Genesis 23 and 49 that such a practice was obligatory and in the case of the hanged criminal, burial within one day is certainly commanded. (Deut. 21:22, 23) Yet in rabbinic practice the obligation towards the dead was so highly esteemed that other duties came second. The priests were under Torah-obligation not to defile themselves by touching the dead except their own kinsmen, in which case it was allowed, not commanded. (Lev. 21:1) The high priest was even under the prohibition not to touch any dead, not even his father and mother. The point of that being that the High priest, even more than the ordinary priests, was to remain socially independent in order to express the full ideal of life under the Torah. So the High priest was not allowed to mourn ritually and publicly and not permitted to refrain from his services during mourning. (Though he was allowed to rent his garment at the back of the neck, where it could not be seen by others, and could follow the funeral-train at a distance, BSanhedrin 18a)

45 Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 255. From this relatively modest conclusion Sanders without warning proceeds in his summary to declare: “We have found one instance in which Jesus in effect, demanded transgression of the law…” (p. 267) This conclusion is however unwarranted as we have explained in our treatment of the matter.

If we connect the halakah on the priesthood in the case of mourning with those other texts pertaining to the “social independence” of the followers of Jesus we can see a common pattern here. We read e.g. in Matthew 10:35, 37 “..for I have come to set a man at variance with his father …He who loves father or mother above me is not worthy of me”, cf. also Matth. 19:29, Luke 14:26. Can it be that Jesus here accepts himself as the functional analogue of the “Messianic” High priest, whose disciples need to share his condition of “social-ritual” purity, especially with regard to their dealing with the dead? It would then be required of his disciples to break away from all filial bonds that belong to the “Old Israel” in order to enter into the higher righteousness of the messianic community. And especially in the case of the natural obligations of burial (not directly commanded in the Torah!) that were overridden by the concerns for the sanctity of the priesthood anyway. In that case the verse can be read to mean: “Let those who belong to the old order concern themselves with burying the dead, but you as a disciple of the new Messianic King should concern yourself with the sanctity of life without delay, as if you were high priests.”

C. Jesus and the Law in the Letter of James

Chapter 11

The letter of James
We turn now to a different layer of the NT traditions. We have seen so far, that between Mark and Matthew there is a difference of opinion about the weight that should be given to Jesus’ statements about the Law. Matthew clearly favors a continuing role for the Torah and affirms at least a partial affirmation of the Oral Tradition by Jesus. Mark however seems to stress the messianic authority of Jesus over against the Jewish interpretation of the Law and is further inclined to make a distance between Jesus and the Torah. There is another text in the New Testament that gives support to a continuing role for the Torah in the Christian Church. It has been overlooked most of the time, precisely because it seemed so different from Paul’s interpretation of the gospel. It is a matter of consensus that the letter from James consists of a number of exhortations which show no clear order or principle of organization. Because of this, and the lack of a formal ending, the “letter” is actually thought to belong to the genre of paraenesis, which has no equivalent in the New Testament apart from sections in other letters but is well attested as a genre in Jewish literature. As is well known, Luther doubted its belonging to the canon on the basis of dogmatic considerations: the letter does not speak about Jesus’ cross and resurrection, indeed mentions Him only twice. And above all, as Luther understood it, the letter teaches justification by works and not by faith. His critique echoed early misgivings. Only as late as A.D. 382 was the letter accepted as canonical in the Roman Church, as it had already been by the Greek Church in A.D. 360. The origin of the letter is clouded in mystery, particularly because there is no trace of it in 2nd-century Christian literature. On grounds of canon history and its reception in the Church, it is obvious that the letter and its piety did not play a great role in 2nd-century theology. Still, it does make one wonder that a letter that so obviously contradicts a central theme of Paul’s theology was given a place in the canon at all. Did it take so long to devise a way to harmonize James and Paul? Or was there some kind of anti-Paulinism that needed to establish itself first and then produced the letter to give itself a canonical basis? It might have grown in stature during the Marcionite controversy to serve as a counterweight to the excessive Paulinism of that faction. That would mean its inclusion in the canon was in response to an internal debate and neither due to its apostolic origin nor its widespread use in the Church. It is held by many, especially in the Bultmann School, that the letter of James is an early example of the moralizing teachings of the post-

Apostolic Church. That picture is simple and alluring. The historical framework in which the letter is put provides a ready-made explanation for its contents. It can then be seen as a pseudepigraphical work of a JewishChristian faction that made use of Jewish paraenetical material which it put into a Christianized context.46 Historically, that explanation runs somewhat like this: the era of the proclamation of the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the kerugma, intended to elucidate the divine act of deliverance in Christ with a view to His imminent return, was then followed by a period of consolidation and adaptation of the Church to the cultural environments in which it settled. With the expectation of Christ’s return fading, a new imperative and morality came to be added to a gospel originally free from law and moral prescriptions, mostly adapted from Jewish sources. Traces of such a “re-Judaization” were detected in Matthew and the Catholic letters, which also betrayed Greek and Roman influences. The conclusion was drawn that this was a development that threatened the original gospel. The kerugma (preaching) of the Cross became overshadowed by a moralist didache (teaching), by legalist ethical teachings, by an increasing regulation of Church life and the growth of authoritarian institutions, and at about the same time by apologetics, whereby the gospel was “located” in the philosophy of the surrounding culture and took on philosophical shapes alien to Paul’s message. Against this appraisal we might argue that such a connection between the narrative of salvation and moral law, each having some measure of independence, is not without precedent, and there is sufficient exegetical argument to see moral paraenesis as more than a postscript to Paul’s theology. The pattern we find here was already firmly established in the Old Testament, where salvation history and commandments are intertwined in such a way that the redemptive act is remembered in order to provide a foundation for ethical response, while at the same time the ethical response puts the redemptive history into action. The commandments always referred back to the conditions that made them possible and meaningful to obey, which is what the two first commandments (it is better to speak of the “words” according to Jewish custom) of the Decalogue actually do explicitly. By proclaiming himself as the God that had liberated slaves from Egypt to be a free nation before Him, God laid the perpetual foundation for the fulfilling of those commandments that safeguarded the life of the nation as a liberated people. Because the commandments of the Decalogue are based on the liberty of those who accept them as commandments and are not forced to do so, and on liberty, in the sense in which shalom, perfect peace, and righteousness bring it about, as a goal
46 By adding 1:1 and 2:1 to a collection of ethical sayings.

of community life, it might be said that the liberating imperative followed the indicative of having-been-liberated. The foundation of the covenant was there, in the act of deliverance and the fulfillment of the promise, before the covenant-commitment. That pattern of connection between salvation and ethics can be seen in the New Testament as well. In the New Testament, Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice on the Cross in a similar language and imagery lays the foundation for a new covenant. The analogy between the Sermon on the Mount and the giving of the law, which both constituted a new community and a new covenant-commitment, is obvious and intentional. The higher righteousness of the followers of Christ is at once of the same kind as that of Israel, and of a different nature because of the imminence of the Kingdom, i.e., the presence of the Messiah. There is an eschatological tension given to obedience to the commandments, but it is obedience to them, and not directly to Himself, that Christ is demanding. However, in Paul’s theology it is not the freedom of the Christian to obey, but the power of Christ in which the Christian participates, that seems to have become of pivotal importance. Paul’s gospel did not try first and foremost to elucidate the duties of man under this new Covenant, since to him this Covenant was of a completely new nature. This in fact breaks away from the schematics. Paul seems not so much to have grounded the imperative on the indicative, but to take up all imperatives within the space of the actual work of the Spirit, synthesizing both into one single thought: the indicative of God’s triumph over sin and death. So what does this picture of Paul’s ethics imply for such works as the letter of James? The moral teachings of the 2nd-century Church are then not seen as the corollary of salvation according to the pattern of the Decalogue or the Sermon on the Mount; they are not seen as the imperative consequence of the indicative mood of salvation, but as a means of escaping from its consequences. There is a tendency, originating in Paul himself, and enhanced by the 16th-century Reformed reading of his letters, to view the moral and exhortatory statements in the New Testament as outside the context of salvation, as a possible relapse into a Judaism that was abrogated by Christ. It is thought that one of the basic characteristics of the new covenant is redemption out of slavery to the law, the very same law that was described in Exodus 19 as the way of life of the liberated community. On that basis, the strategy was developed to subsume all exhortatory and paraenetical passages under the doctrine of justification, making the latter to function as the ground and context of the former. It is very much in the center of Pauline theology (in Bultmann’s view, e.g.) to identify the deliverance that Christ brought with deliverance from the judgment of the law. The law that formerly epitomized the road to liberty

has now, in the eschatological judgment, become its deadly enemy. Paul’s teachings at one stage emphatically opposed the very form of the external and written imperative, as we will see in our discussion of Galatians. But it must be asked: why did he oppose the imperative, which one, and to what purpose? It does seem to be the case that Paul denied a specific way of obedience, a specific reduction of the Torah to an inventory of concrete commandments. Each of the commandments would be done because of one’s fear of judgment, or, positively, in one’s striving for salvation. Salvation by works of the law, no matter whether we read that as emphasizing the covenant markers (James Dunn stresses both circumcision and purity laws), or the ceremonial and moral commands as single duties (mitzvoth), that scheme of salvation is rejected by Paul in no uncertain terms, both in Galatians and in Romans. But the result of our analysis in the chapters on Paul’s letters will be different from what we find in the traditional Reformed view, which attributes the expression “works of the law” to the Jewish (Pharisaic) mode of obedience to God. In the classical view, there could hardly be a greater antithesis than that between Paul’s teaching on ethics and early Judaism. The life of the Spirit is not a life where we freely bind our will to the express will of God, i.e., it is not about formal obedience at all. In fact, the whole idea of striving to perfection by submitting to rules is seen by Paul, in this interpretation, as equal to aspiring to salvation “by works of the law,” while in fact abrogating God’s salvation offer thereby. If we deny, with the Lutheran Reformation, the possibility of obedience, all law is abrogated. Law then can only be seen as “legalist,” i.e., as rules pertaining to outward behavior, and as such it still has a negative purpose. The motivation to “evangelical” obedience must then be sought elsewhere. The law, however, is outside of the “perfection of Christ,” and we have to obey laws only because redemption has not yet been realized and because it is proper for a Christian, while awaiting the Return of Christ, to obey the government under which he happens to be living. But that is not all that must be said. The same Reformation as it evolved in Calvinism had other things to say about obedience and sanctification, and there was another side to Paul to back it up. For Paul, too, righteousness and sanctity are the defining traits of the new life in the Spirit. The contents of righteousness in Paul are still derived both from his Jewish training in the law and from Jesus’ messianic teachings on the law and the pattern of Christ’s life. There is ample evidence of Paul’s referring to Christ’s teachings in a way that is peculiar to Jewish tradition, i.e. as a Halakah. So Paul is certainly providing a vision of righteous behavior above and beyond duty to secular government and compliance with dominating social virtues. But righteousness in Paul’s view is not “done” by acting in conformity with rules, but acquired through grace in a life of con-

templation of Christ, by participating in the drama of His life, death and resurrection, in a change of our attitudes that leads to a change of behavior from the inside out. Sanctification for Paul was more a matter of participation and transformation in the efficacy of the Spirit and the Church than of abiding by a set of rules. All of which leaves us with the difficult problem of what to do with the undeniable presence of moral and legal (halakhic) teachings within the Pauline corpus, and indeed in the whole of the New Testament. The most common solution is the dominant attitude we began with: the kerugma explains what salvation is about, the moral teachings describe, indicative, not imperative, the life of faith that results from hearing the kerugma and submitting to its power. But it seems wrong to simply discard the exhortatory parts of Paul’s writings as inconsequential to the nature of his doctrine. That doctrine is explained not in a theoretical discourse and as standing on its own, but in a specific pastoral context in which the nature of a particular Christian community is at stake. The doctrine is given in order to establish a proper view of the practical life, and the exhortation therefore is at the summit of Paul’s texts. Paul wants obedience to Christ’s commandments, for which the entire body of doctrine serves as preparation. So we must delve again into the nature and grounds for the exhortatory elements in Paul’s letters and not decide in advance that commandment and imperative in Paul are secondary and the indicative is by default. To take this supersession of indicative over imperative as our basic principle has consequences also for the criteria we use to evaluate the historic development of these moral teachings. The closer they seem to a Jewish attitude of “works of righteousness,” the closer they are either to a preChristian level, or to a post-Pauline Judaization movement that signaled a return to these previous attitudes. If the imperative does not appeal to conscious (and by modern standards autonomous) liberty but can be interpreted as a descriptive rather than a prescriptive rule, it seems closer to Paul, and therefore to the “original” gospel. If it conforms to the structure of a commandment, if it in any way deals with obedience in a strict sense or implies a condition for salvation, it is branded as possibly legalistic, a relapse into Judaism, a moralizing attitude, in contrast to the gospel of deliverance.47 In that manner, a schematics of what we feel the historic development
47 Both of these: rules (commandments) and observations about the (moral) nature of things can be found in sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Matthew 5:44 is an example of a commandment, but the main point in Matthew 5:32 is an observation about moral nature. Though stated in the indicative, it does imply a rule of behavior.

must have been, based upon our understanding of the polemics between Paul and Judaism in Romans, takes precedence over the actual labor of exegesis. It betrays a monolithic view of what constitutes the revelation in the New Testament, even if worked out so subtly as in the search for the core message of the gospel as canon within the canon, the “center” of the New Testament. We must respectfully resist this tendency to find a single harmonious picture of the one truth of the gospel. Such a procedure must inevitably lead to a distortion of the picture of conflicting voices within the body of the New Testament and to our ignoring the vast amount of moral exhortation that is present in Paul: a procedure that can hardly be called satisfactory. How would we deal with the contradiction between our reconstructed Paul’s emphasis on the indicative of God’s acting in Christ and the perspective of “salvation by works” that is present in James? First we have to remove the layers of Paulinism that James’s letter has accrued, in order to read and evaluate the text as formally equal to Paul in apostolic authority and as connected to Paul’s theology through its inner contents.

Chapter 12

The Paulinist framework
A standard solution has been to harmonize the conflicting statements, in this case the letter of James with what was considered Paul’s central doctrine of justification. To illustrate this procedure we could briefly examine the commentary of C. Leslie Mitton. Paul, for instance, in Rom. 3:28 wrote: "We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law"; whereas James in 2:24 writes: "You see a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." From the general viewpoint that defined canonicity in terms of the theory of inspired scripture, this is of course standard procedure in the Reformation. E.g. this passage from Calvin’s Institutions (Book II, ch. XVII, 11, p. 941) 11. “But they say that we have a still more serious business with James, who in express terms opposes us. For he asks, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” and adds “You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (James 2:21, 24.) What then? Will they engage Paul in a quarrel with James? If they hold James to be a servant of Christ, his sentiments must be understood as not dissenting from Christ speaking by the mouth of Paul. By the mouth of Paul the Spirit declares that Abraham obtained justification by faith, not by works; we also teach that all are justified by faith without the works of the law. By James the same Spirit declares that both Abraham’s justification and ours consists of works, and not of faith only. It is certain that the Spirit cannot be at variance with himself.” In addition, the solution then lies in changing the meaning of the words: “Those who are justified by true faith prove their justification by obedience and good works, not by a bare and imaginary semblance of faith. In one word, he is not discussing the mode of justification, but requiring that the justification of believers shall be operative” (ibidem, 13). Of course, James is not saying that at all, as we will see. He continues: “Since this issue is of such vital importance, especially to those who represent the evangelical tradition within the Church, we must begin by trying to clarify the meaning of these three words in the New Testament, and inquire if James and Paul use them in precisely the same sense or with some variation of meaning. What superficially appears to be a blatant contradiction between Paul and James, may arise from a difference in the meaning [italics mine] they assign to these words.”48 Therefore, the harmony between the two conflicting statements is sought
48 Leslie Mitton, James, p. 102

by examining how these words are used. Of course, such an examination is based largely on the interpretation already present of the conflicting sentences to begin with, and on the presupposition that there could never be a real conflict. Some remarks are in order. In the first place, the meaning of a word does not depend solely on the dictionary. The context needs to be considered. And if it is already decided that Paul’s letters provide the framework for the whole of New Testament theology, that will provide the context in which the meanings of the words in James are being examined. Furthermore, if it can be found that Paul and James used the expressions “justification” and “works of the law” with different meanings, this of course does not automatically mean that they are not contradictory. If James was written in a time when justification by faith and not by works had become a Church slogan, the intentional variation of the meaning and scope of application could be construed as a form of criticism in itself. Precisely if James had a different view on the matter, he would use the same words with a different meaning, for to use different words would have implied the harmony or addition that those that represent the evangelical tradition would be so keen on finding. However, even if we agree that the difference of usage would imply a possible harmony between James and Paul, the question remains what kind of difference we are talking about. Is it indeed at least partially a difference because of the context in which Paul and the writer of James stood? At one moment, Leslie Mitton does incorporate into his examination the very important empirical background and context of the letters, but decides to take Paul’s letter as a polemic against an already identified Jewish-Christian heretical opponent: “A further consideration must be borne in mind, which will at any rate partly explain the discrepancy. The kind of error Paul is seeking to correct in Romans and Galatians is very different from the error that James is resisting, and our statement of a truth varies according to the error we are opposing. If we ourselves were arguing against antinomians, who believed that moral conduct in a Christian was of little importance, our arguments would be very different from those we should use if our opponents were "legalists" who believed that good conduct alone secured all the benefits of religion. So we must remember that in general Paul is urging his case against Judaizers, who believed salvation depended, in part at any rate, on doing the works of the law, whereas James was ranged against antinomians who believed that inward faith was all that mattered.” 49 Nevertheless, this argument is circular. It presupposes that we can first of
49 Ibid., p. 104

all “invent” the audience that James and Paul were talking about by referring to our own theory of the developments in the early Church, and that on that basis we can then argue how Paul and James must have applied the words that we are interested in so passionately (implying that we for the time being forget our own doctrinal interests in the matter). The distinction between antinomians and legalists is already a product of a reading of Paul, since that kind of opposition is peculiar to a mixed Jewish and pagan Church where the issue of the continuing validity of the law is alive. If James is writing to Jewish Christians who have only marginally been in contact with Paulinist teachings, the issue could not have been stated in that manner at all. So then Leslie Mitton can arrive at the conclusion, that the apparent difference between Paul and James can be explained largely as a difference in the use of terms. For Paul justification is God’s present act in Christ of setting right the relationship with Him that man has broken. The faith he commends through which this takes place is the total committal of life, in trust and obedience, to God in Christ. The works, whose futility for putting us right with God he criticizes, are the detailed observance of rules governing ritual actions as well as moral behavior. For James the "works" he commends are acts of love and charity to our fellows in obedience to the Spirit of Christ. The faith whose inadequacy he exposes is just an intellectual assent to an article of belief, though it calls itself faith. Justification is not just God’s immediate act of restoring man to right relationships with Him, but involves also the final verdict on a man’s life. 50 However, not surprisingly, this notion of “works” that Mitton derives from James is what the Paulinist writer of Ephesians had in mind when writing about “good works.” The rest of Paul’s reference to “works” is taken as short hand for “works of the law.” And so on the basis of a few occurrences of a positive use of “works” in the Pauline corpus, Leslie Mitton, with obvious relief, comes to the conclusion that this must be the sense in which James used it. It must be, indeed, if James and Paul are to be harmonized. But why would they need to be? If it is argued that such “works” could never mean obedience to “ritual” requirements or to straight rules of behavior, they would then have to refer to general attitudes of love and mercy and to spontaneous acts arising from these. The harmonization then is complete when Paul and James can be seen as two sides of the same coin: “Paul’s emphasis is this: A man is justified by faith in Christ, and this cannot but produce in him good works, that is loving actions to others.
50 Ibid., p. 107

James’s emphasis is: True faith by which a man is justified proves itself in Christ-like conduct towards others, and if such conduct fails to appear, what claims to be faith is shown to be not faith at all. The emphasis varies because the two apostles are addressing themselves to different kinds of errors.” 51 Another kind of solution is to affirm the contradiction, but, by denying antiquity to the letter of James, to deny also its authority. That was in essence the attitude to the letter that Luther had, and it obviously posits the primacy of the Pauline theology. So we need not go into that now. A third option can be to bring out the antithesis but simply declare that Paul’s doctrine is “much deeper”, which does not do anything but explain what moral theory the speaker is adhering to. Or again, one could soften the antithesis by accepting that James’s teaching on salvation was diametrically opposed to a “popular” and misunderstood Paulinism, but then defend the idea that James attacks these misunderstandings of Paul’s doctrine of justification along the lines that Paul himself had to contend with in Romans 6. Of course, all of these reading strategies are based on reflections about the reconstructed historical situation and not directly on the internal evidence. All of this originates in the basic presupposition that only doctrines that move away from Judaism, as it was understood in the pagan Church after the 2nd century, are evidence of Christian authenticity. This attitude can be illustrated easily too. To quote one more commentary, E.C. Blackman put it like this: “James stands much closer to the Jewish tradition than Paul does, though he has not reflected upon its teaching very profoundly. His cast of mind was not reflective, and that is why his statements about faith lack precision. He attempts no definition of faith such as we have at the beginning of the classic chapter in Hebrews: FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR, THE PROVING OF THINGS NOT SEEN [emph. Blackman’s] (Heb. 11.1). We are left to infer from James 2 that faith for James means (a) a general belief in God (v. 19), (b) the basic confession or loyalty of Christians (v. 1). Paul, who had also been much influenced by the Jewish tradition, and at deeper levels of his own being, was a much more independent thinker and he developed further away from Jewish presuppositions. This is quite clear in his teaching about faith and righteousness. His radical distinction between faith and works, and his depreciation of the latter, was a new departure. For most Christians this was too advanced a doctrine. It could so easily be made to imply that moral effort did not matter. Paul defends himself against this misunderstanding in Rom. 6 and elsewhere, but certainly
51 Ibid, p. 108

did not carry all Christians with him. James is a spokesman of the anxiety the majority felt.” 52 Up to now, the only framework we have encountered involves the distinction between kerugma and didache, between the indicative of redemption and the imperative of gratitude. James’s paraenesis is subsumed under what is supposed to be Paul’s un-Jewish position on works and obedience. In the next chapter we will have to get a closer look at this problem of the relationship between kerugma and didache.

52 E.C. Blackman, The Epistle of James, London, 1957, p. 100. Blackman affirms the antithesis, but then simply prefers Paul above James.

Chapter 13

Casuistry and moralism
12.1. Rudolph Bultmann and New Testament ethics
The third section of the third part of Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament is entitled: “The Problem of the Christian Way of Life.”53 It contains three paragraphs numbered 59-61, which deal with, successively: The understanding of the imperative, The contents of the demand and its relationship to different areas of life, and Discipline. It looks like a promising place to begin our investigation of the specific shape of Christian obedience as depicted by James. There are good reasons to include Bultmann’s description of James in our study. Bultmann shows a decisive interest in the Pauline version of the gospel, in fact makes it into the defining expression of it. That approach is congruent with major strands of the Reformed tradition. To Bultmann, the basic problem of Christian ethics as it was defined by Paul was that of the tension between the indicative of the new life and the imperative of the old world. As long as the new life must be lived within the conditions of the old world, the imperative was (or seemed to be) necessary. The new life in itself and as such is therefore supposed to be beyond any imperatives.54 According to Bultmann, it was Paul who solved this problem by his new understanding of Christian freedom. It meant being freed from the power of sin and death and receiving the gift of the Spirit as a “wonderful force” that secondarily becomes a standard of Christian life.55 Because we live the new life, a Christian is freed from all human conventions and values of a social or a moral nature, including the Jewish law.56 Therefore, the Christian lives the indicative of the new life, while still having to deal with the old imperatives, of which he knows, however, that they are void and without force. Now, this may be in accordance with Paul’s gospel as explained in Gala53 R. Bultmann, Theologie des Neuen Testaments, 1953. 54 The imperative, according to Dunn, follows the indicative in two separate forms. The one expresses the continuing sustaining grace of God in sanctification and charisma, the other is an appeal to human responsibility. The latter is denied by Bultmann, thought to be a part of the old world, the former is not called imperative at all, but interpreted to be an integral part of the indicative event. 55 Cf. R. Bultman, Theologie, p. 332, #38 56 R. Bultman, Theologie, p. 339, #39

tians and Romans, and we will deal with the thesis regarding Paul later on, but was it also in accordance with the gospel of Christ? Bultmann apparently thought so, since he took some pains to show that Jesus said approximately the same thing. We must raise the question of whether Bultmann ascribes to Jesus what apparently was his own conviction, grounded in his reading of Paul, that the Torah was merely a human institution. He makes Jesus say that the only positive element of God’s will is the demand of love, which surpasses all legal demands, specifically those of a negative, prohibitive nature. All of the cultic and ritual prescriptions of the law had been abolished by Jesus.57 Because Jesus’ preaching resulted from the unity of the eschatological and moral kerugma, making the expectation of the Kingdom into a present attitude, the fulfillment of God’s law could never be a real condition for participation in the coming redemption. Obedience to that law while awaiting a new and universal condition of life could only be called a provisional situation, soon to be changed.58 Bultmann meets with objections by arguing, e.g., that although Jesus does speak of the condition of obedience to enter the Kingdom, He at the same time confirms that this condition has an inner relationship to the gift of redemption. That is to say, Jesus’ ethical demand is not just meant for those who await the Kingdom while they are waiting, it is not a demand that we follow that will be without validity when the Kingdom arrives. It expresses the real commitment to the coming Kingdom as if it were realized here and now, which is the Kingdom where love will reign supreme, by demanding now what will be universally realized then. It is an ethos of anticipation, an effort to act under specific circumstances ”as if” that Kingdom had already arrived. It is emphatically not meant as a code of commandments for everyday life as such. Its relevance therefore is limited to what we might call inspired situations. Only those who encounter God’s demand in the specific circumstances where they meet their neighbor and then respond to that demand are prepared for the coming Kingdom. The keeping of the law, or any other rule of behavior, has no place whatsoever in this scheme of things because it too belongs to the old order of imperatives. Any rule which by its nature can be considered a demand for obedience under threat of judgment, which is given to my autonomous freedom to obey it or discard it, belongs to the old world. Precisely in that sense, Bultmann thinks, Jesus came to abrogate the law. This picture of Jesus’ relationship to the law is harder to defend now than
57 R. Bultman, Theologie, p. 16, #2.3 58 R. Bultman, Theologie, p. 19, #2.5

it was when it was conceived. James Dunn has argued that Jesus’ apparent criticism of the law in the gospel of Matthew “was well within the range of the then acceptable debate regarding the interpretation and application of the law.” 59 Dunn makes a convincing effort to portray Jesus’ preaching as now dealing primarily with the issues of inclusion and exclusion concentrated in matters of ritual purity and table fellowship, and he indicates that Jesus took issue with the law as far as it could be used fictionally, to separate the sinners and the righteous in terms of social belonging instead of the real concerns of the law. There are problems connected with this view. The gospel records how Jesus did not lift the restrictions between Jews and gentiles: his disciples should not go among the gentiles nor the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5-6) and His mission was only to the lost sons of Israel (Matt. 15:24). With regard to the major identity markers in Jewish law: Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws, we find Jesus disputing only how Sabbath should be observed, not disputing that it was to be observed, not arguing about circumcision at all, and perhaps arguing only for a deeper understanding of what the symbol of food laws actually refers to (cf. Dunn, 1991, 114). But even if we were to decide differently on such issues, it is inescapable that Dunn and others are right in stating that Jesus did not abrogate the law, and indeed saw His mission as the fulfillment of the law. Bultmann is right only in this sense, that to Jesus one of the major social effects of the law, the demarcation between the righteous and the sinners in Israel, becomes relocated with reference to the actual doing of the will of God. It is not enough to belong to the good party or family. But Jesus never removed the demarcation between people that arises from obedience to the moral side of the law, even as He crossed these lines to reach people who had been marginalized, nor did he abrogate the cultic and ritual elements of the law. And, according to Dunn, Jesus did not lift the even more important demarcation between Israel and the gentiles. So, in effect, to be part of Israel and not of the gentile nations still mattered to him. Of course Bultmann did not need to have Jesus say what a Paulinist understanding of the gospel demanded, since to Bultmann a theology of the New Testament is not about Jesus’ teachings at all. It exists because Jesus Christ is the object of a kerugma that became the foundation of the Church. The historical Jesus is merely a presupposition of Christian faith because it is a presupposition of the New Testament itself. He therefore did not need to devise a harmonization strategy.
59 James D.G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways, p. 102.

We need to keep this in mind, because we have here a pattern of exegesis that is quite dominant in many modern forms of Protestant thought. Starting from an understanding of the Pauline gospel, Jesus must be shown to lay the foundations for it. Differences are explained either by referring to Jesus’ ethics as a “moral code for the interim-period” (which Bultmann rightfully rejects, but apparently without accepting its ongoing validity as commandments, as logic would seem to dictate), or by taking the Sermon on the Mount as a radicalization of the law to impress upon men that they are unable to keep it, or by arguing that Jesus’ message was to point out the discontinuity of God and human values in order to relativize all of them.60 We will return to this issue later, but we will concentrate now on a further question: on the basis of Bultmann’s full acceptance of the Pauline gospel as the standard of the message of the entire New Testament, how does he view the elements of a more “moralizing” tradition in the New Testament? We have seen how he reinterpreted Jesus’ message in the gospels as in line with Pauline theology, but how does he view other witnesses? For Bultmann this question must be rephrased. The question should be whether the Church was able to hold on to the Pauline solution. Let’s quote Bultmann here in full to get a grasp of how he approaches this matter: “The question was whether this understanding was held on to; whether Christian freedom was understood as the freedom to obey and obedience itself as gift of grace or of the Spirit, or that obedience was seen as an achievement and therefore as a condition to be met in order to acquire salvation and the imperative would again receive the character of a law in the sense in which Paul’s doctrine of justification had destroyed it, the character of a way to salvation.”61 We must look carefully at the way the dilemma is set up. Of course, it is obvious that it presupposes the Pauline solution. Bultmann develops Paul’s theology to show that a life in the spirit was inconsistent with any kind of obedience, because obedience implies an achievement of the will of some kind. The Reformation teachers developed their anthropological notions with the aid of the concepts of merit, the fall, predestination; Bultmann, in a more modern fashion, speaks about self-centeredness and egotism. Both presuppose that the reception of God’s grace and the activity of obedience are incompatible, unless obedience itself can be seen as a gift from God. The frame of mind necessary for obedience as such is
60 Cf. J.H. Yoder, Politics, 1972, p. 7 61 R. Bultmann, Theologie, pp. 544-545.

both impossible (because man is unable to conquer sin and death on its own) and contrary to the gospel, because the latter’s essence is about what God sovereignly has done for man. Furthermore, it is presupposed that the advocates of obedience must necessarily also hold that it is a condition of salvation, lying outside it, as Bultmann stated in his reflection on Jesus’ teaching, and that their position has been successfully refuted by Paul’s doctrine, even if the gospels should attribute to Christ an emphasis on obedience. Let us look a little closer at one specific issue. It is one of Bultmann’s contentions that the commandment to love one’s neighbor “according to its essence does not allow explicitly formulated positive determinations, unless it becomes law again.” It would therefore provide a prime example of the difference between Christ’s moral exhortation, based on the indicative of God’s actions in history, and the attitude that strives for obedience to rules and commandments. The inability to come up with a casuistry is taken as an indication that we deal with a major moral command, and it is argued that such moral commands are the core essence of Christian ethics. Bultmann gives the following reasons: Matthew 5:43-48 shows that there are no limits as to the identity of the neighbor: it includes also enemies. No limits means: no casuistry is needed to define them. There is no limit to forgiveness, as is shown by the injunction to forgive 70 times 7, i.e., always, according to Matt. 18:21. So here as well no casuistry is needed to define exactly how much forgiveness must be given. No advance knowledge is needed to determine the situation in which it must be applied, in every instance where the need of the brother shows itself, one can know what to do, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And if we do not have to understand the nature of the specific context within which we practice this commandment, casuistry is out also on this third count. So would a positive determination of the commandment to love imply a limitation as to who my neighbor is, how many times I should forgive him, or define the range of situations in which I should and others in which I should not come to his aid? Now that of course represents a valid position insofar as we are talking here about a moral demand. In Judaism there are commandments that have “no measure” also, and therefore are not interpreted through casuistry to define their limits. Far from being an element of anti-Jewish thought, this is what Christianity took over from Judaism. The commandment to love thy neighbor has no casuistry attached to it in that sense, and is not limited to the “brother.“

12.2 The case for casuistry
But Bultmann’s position at the same time exaggerates this characteristic. It does not mean that the commandment has no inner determinations as to application and universality whatsoever that would define it as a character trait or as a virtue. The commandment is not given without a determining context, and it can still have the character of a rule of behavior, exemplified through the paradigm, as is the case, e.g., with the parable of the good Samaritan. In the first place, the commandment states: love your neighbor as thyself. This “as thyself” surely implies that a limitation is present that is not present in the first of the two great commandments, which is to love your God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and all thy strength. It means that I should make the well-being of my neighbor count for as much as my own, based not on the personality of this neighbor but on the very fact that God commanded me to do so (“I am the LORD” is the motivational clause at the end of the verse in Leviticus 19:18). The love for that God and the full acceptance of His sovereignty over all people is then a precondition of the practical caring love for one’s neighbor, because it allows me to be motivated toward showing loving-kindness even to neighbors that I do not love in the sense that there is some kind of sympathetic harmony between them and me. In that way, both the motivational clause and the addition “as oneself” imply an internal qualification of the commandment, even beyond the qualifiers that are in the context. The same goes for the contextual meaning of the passage in Leviticus, since one may argue that all the prohibitions before it are summarized in Lev. 19:18b. The commandment in Jesus’ context therefore implies a halakah, a behavioral strategy for expressing one’s identity as a follower of Christ, and not a general moral virtue without any context. Let us take an even closer look. That the commandment to love is without any limiting determination in this sense is also a Jewish concept, as we have stated. That is perfectly clear with regard to the practical side of its execution, which is called: charity or loving-kindness. In the Mishnah tractate Peah it is stated: These are the things which have no fixed measure (she’ur), the corners of the field, and the first fruits, and the three festival offerings brought on appearing before the Eternal, and charity [gemilut chasidim, i.e., practical help with money or personal service to all men of all classes – RAV] and the study of the Torah.62 Charity is mentioned immediately after that as something “the fruit of
62 MPeah 1:1, tr. Philip Blackman (Mishnayot, Gateshead, 1990)

which a man enjoys in this world and the stock of which remains for him in the world to come.”63 No one therefore can state that he complied with the demand of charity in full, there is no limit to it. The first element, that of universal application, is not so clearly present as it is in Lev. 19:18. Since the same verse speaks about the “sons of your people,” the neighbor might be the Jewish neighbor. This impression is strengthened by the fact that 19:33-34 speaks about love for the resident stranger, which might indicate that the categories of neighbor and stranger were mutually exclusive. In later times as well, the commandment was seen to refer in principle only to fellow Jews, but there are striking examples of a more universal application of this verse in the early commentary on Leviticus called the Siphra.64 Most importantly, the verse could be construed that way in a 1st-century environment. We must note, however, that the concept of neighbor still refers to someone who comes into contact, who is nearby. To love thy neighbor can never mean: to love all mankind, or to love humanity. That degree of universality would make it quite meaningless and abstract. Furthermore, such qualifying determinations were possible because the basic concept was not that of “love” in a modern sense of the word. The verse in its Hebrew form suggests that practical aid was intended, since it does not say love thy neighbor (ahavta et re’eicha) but act charitably toward thy neighbor (ahavta le-re’eicha) which indicates a practical service in connection with the specific needs of this neighbor. Sometimes the concern for the welfare of non-Jews is expressed in connection to the promotion of peace among men, maybe as an extension of Lev. 19:9, 10 and 23:22, cf. Peah 1:2: making peace between a man and his fellow (chaver). Jesus mentions the commandment of Lev. 19 in three places with the express purpose of defining the intent of the law (Matt. 19:19, 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31), though it is not clear from the treatment in Luke 10 that Jesus did in fact choose to define “neighbor” beyond the restriction to the Jewish neighbor that seems implicit in Lev. 19. We must not forget that, even there, the commandment to love the neighbor seems to sum up morally what has been determined legally, and in the form of prohibitions before that. The positive form of the moral command does not need to exceed on its own the scope of the commandments and prohibitions in which it was expressed in a more legal fashion and context. In other words: only on the assumption that all casuistic determinacy is in itself incompatible with the very nature of a moral command can it be said to be prima facie evident that the moral form ex63 Ibid., 1:2. 64 Cf. Siphra 19:18, Pirkei Avot 1:12, 6:1. See also Encyclopedia Judaica, XI, 530.

cludes any determinacy in rules of behavior. There might be another reason that we have the explanation of neighborly love in this paradigmatic fashion. That Jesus used the example of the Samaritan is not that surprising, considering what we learned from Dunn: that Jesus was intent on erasing the boundaries between the different social groups within Israel. So the Samaritan, who is excluded from the life of Israel as a sectarian but does not have the same status as a non-Jew, has certainly been taken up into the definition of the neighbor against that exclusivist tendency. But we must conclude that neither the Torah, nor 1st- and 2nd-century Judaism, nor the text of the gospels applies love for the neighbor in the sense of the boundless and indeterminate universal love for mankind that Bultmann credits it with. Love for the neighbor, within Jesus’ ethics, is the kingdom strategy of doing works of kindness to enemies that erases enmity and restores the unity of God’s people. The love for the neighbor does not transcend but presupposes a living community for which it became a strategy of responding to outsiders. To Israel, this meant a response to enemies from without; for the Church that consisted of Jews and gentiles, it remained a strategy for dealing with non-believers. The status aparte of the community as the defining ethical situation is not lifted or changed. So we contend we have no direct evidence that Jesus extended the principle of Lev. 19 to include all men. On the contrary, there are old traditions that reflect Jesus’ reluctance to transcend the boundary of Israel. Luke (7:1-10=Matt. 8:5-13,Q) makes it clear that a certain amount of persuasion was necessary to get Jesus to go to the centurion’s house to cure his slave, who might have been himself a Jew. The meeting with the SyroPhoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 also shows a reluctance on Jesus’ part to reach out to the gentiles. Nevertheless, we do find a possible universal scope in Jesus’ commandment to love one’s enemy (Luke 6:27) which implies practical and personal service again, since we have an easily detectable Hebrew parallelism here: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” The enemy here, however, is not simply the Roman occupier, but all those who stand outside one’s social circle, unlike the resident stranger (ger toshav) who has a status within it. So in the commandment to love the enemy, is Jesus moving beyond any particularism into the kind of universalism that Bultmann expects? But there is a provision under Torah which gives the basis for that. In Ex. 23:4, 5 we read: If thou meet thine enemy’s (‘oiev) ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt certainly bring it back to him. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee (shonei) lying under its burden, thou mayest not allow thyself to leave it

to him, but must forsake everything and hasten to its aid. Enemy here is the translation of ‘oiev, indicating someone who in deeds has done you real harm or belongs to a group that has done so. In the more specific circumstances mentioned here of a possibility of damage to the enemy’s livelihood, help is required, even to the point of “forsaking everything.” This is of course a positive qualification to the commandment to “love” one’s neighbor: if the neighbor is an “enemy” (socially or nationally defined) his well-being is in your care in those circumstances where you have actually have come to be in the position that ordinarily would be filled by the friends and family of your enemy. Can we say that Jesus’ commandment in Luke 6 goes beyond that? It does sound like an extension of the commandment of Ex. 23:4-5 in the sense that it contains more than actions on behalf of the enemy’s property, even when his livelihood depends upon it. The specific acts mentioned in Luke 6 define specific circumstances in which this love for the enemy is to be executed. To him that smites thee on the cheek, offer also the other, to show that you do not play the game of violence, ending the spiral of force and thereby disarming the situation, changing it from a war into a human encounter. The specific situation here of course is that of an outright challenge by the enemy. And from him that would take away thy garment, forbid not the body-coat also, a strategy intended to make a theft into a voluntary act of assistance on your part. Resisting the thief with violence would start a conflict which would probably end up with greater harm than implied in the theft. The voluntary act of assistance disarms the whole situation and possibly shames the assailant. Here the situation is that of an enemy who acts out of his/her own needs and because of that harms your property directly and you indirectly. To everyone that asks of thee, give, since possessions are there for the purpose of serving others. The situation here is that of the enemy behaving himself as a “neighbor” in asking your assistance. By affirming him in that role and lending the required assistance, he might very well become a “neighbor.” Jesus is here giving the same command as in Ex. 23:4, but now as applied to specific circumstances of the 1st century in the perspective of the coming Kingdom. The intent is now not only to behave “properly” toward the enemy by showing that in principle his well-being is your concern, but to act in such a way that the animosity is actually transformed into brotherly relations. Jesus explains and uses the Torah as a messianic tool without transcending its meaning. There is, we contend, no necessity to maintain that Jesus here abrogated

the law or exceeded it in its contents. The commandment to love one’s neighbor is explained by Jesus very much in keeping with the Torah and its provisions, and certainly as allowing for positive determinations as to the scope and method of its application. It is the eschatological situation that changes the way the commandment is applied. But its application follows ordinary hermeneutic principles nonetheless. Bultmann’s third point: that there is no knowledge needed as to the situations in which it is applied, is therefore incorrect in principle. In all of this, a precise grasp of the intent of the rule and the specific circumstances is necessary. It is not a matter of simply responding to someone’s needs, nor of showing sympathy and concern to all others without qualifications. Such a commandment would be considered too general, and even beyond human capability. Bultmann’s assertion that the negative merely helps us understand the purely positive and universal nature of the commandment is untenable, in particular because it rests on the assumption that the purpose of the law is for judgment only, and that it therefore must make excessive demands. Other examples show this as well. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:10 (Love does not harm the brother) is without meaning if no thought is given to the situation to which it applies and the conditions of it. Bultmann maintains that the Pauline solution is still present, though weakened, in Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter, and even more weakened in the other letters and early patristic literature. Everywhere he sees a return to legalism (with the exception of Ignatius who shows the first traces of sacramentalism). Legalism does still incorporate the doctrine of extrinsic salvation to an extent; it still accepts that grace is a necessary condition for ethics. But instead of affirming that grace is all-sufficient and thereby reducing ethics to participation in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, it considers the latter to be a renewal of man, who becomes capable of acquiring future redemption by way of his own obedience to law. Grace then restores man’s capacity for ethics instead of replacing it. Legalism fails to see that grace is a sufficient condition for ethics because, in it, the new situation of man under evangelical obedience is defined. It fails to go beyond acceptance of grace as a necessary condition. Bultmann sees the cause of this development in a weakening of the Church’s understanding of the radical power of Sin over man as compared to Paul’s. Salvation is now understood as the acquisition of a proper understanding of God by the heathens, or as redemption from Death. He then goes on to enumerate the loss of specific Pauline concepts that contributed to it: the notions of sin and flesh as personified powers, the opposition of spirit and flesh, righteousness primarily as an attribute of God, to which might be added the notion of faith (pistis) as a force coming from outside of man (if faith is considered a gift of God, Phil. 1:29, and not

the act of faithful obedience, as in Rom. 1:8). After Paul, faith became the entrance to a life of moral pursuits. “The Church is under way to slide into a religious moralism.” It begins to express the newness of Christian life as living under a “new law” that sets demands of righteousness (dikaioomata). The next question must be: what then are these demands of righteousness for the Christian in the post-Pauline theology of the early Church? And is Bultmann’s diagnosis correct, that this development represents a loss of the original gospel? Bultmann discusses this matter in par. 60 of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, called “The Contents of the Demand.” First of all, the Church’s late 1st-century ethics is determined by the awareness of participating in the Church, of not being of this world. (It seems to be axiomatic in Bultmann that this affirmation of a separate, redeemed community is a return to Jewish legalism.) That is why the ethical demand is primarily phrased in the negative. New converts are called upon to purify and sanctify themselves and to flee from all worldly and fleshly desires. This gave rise to a paraenetical and catechismal literature that sometimes followed the synagogue example of the Two Ways, describing what is commanded to those who follow the Way of Life and what belongs to those who follow the Way of Death. The prime example of such a literature is the Didache, which is thought to have incorporated a Jewish text of that nature. The letter of James is mentioned as presenting examples of such paraenetical texts, dealing as it does with the sins of the tongue, mercantile concerns, and exhortations to the rich. All of these subjects would belong to paraenetical homily and not to the heart of Christian theology. The common denominator of these texts is the demand for sanctification on the basis of participation in the Christian community. Still, the “ecclesial purity” is not expressed (yet) in specific actions or goals that might constitute a counterpart of the Jewish Torah and its oral tradition. Bultmann emphasizes that we find here mostly negative virtues: the exhortation is aimed at combating egotistical drives, and in that sense it is purely formal. It is the “perfect corollary of the primary commandment of love, that by its nature does not allow positively phrased determinations.” If it could be expressed otherwise, the commandment would again have the nature of “law.” Behavior under such a moral law is not directed at a specific achievement of the human will, determined by the application of a rule of behavior to specific circumstances governed by its provisions and worked out in the manner of casuistry, and then performed as a submission of the human volition to an obligation that is understood. In short, such compliance with the negative expression of the commandment of love is not an “ergon,” a work, at all. It is directed not at an achievement, but at the needs and concerns of the neighbor in my community. A Christian is supposed to judge without the aid of written laws what God wants

him to do. He is ordered to “discern” the will of God. I find this a problematic approach. The problem is that the criterion for this distinction is based on a modern, Kantianist appraisal of the ethical situation. The contradiction between rule of behavior and commandment on the one hand, and freedom, moral spontaneous action, and discernment on the other hand, is a modern issue. We found that already in Mishnaic Judaism the commandment to love the neighbor was seen as a “general” commandment, to become specific in the situation of the day. It was not limited in its measure, but perhaps limited to the Jewish neighbor in practice. Most of all, it was not a “work,” a defined task. In short, it was a mitzvah and not a moral principle. We must conclude from the above that Bultmann’s appraisal of the letter of James is connected with, if not based on, his Kantianist-Lutheran reading of Paul and his insistence on Paulinism as the heart of New Testament doctrine. What he attributed to Paul are modern notions of humanity as the universal community, and thereby he overlooks the ecclesiological and Jewish background of the commandments that Jesus had taught. If that is so, we cannot overlook the significance of the letter of James. Its closeness to the paraenetical material in the gospels and its obvious exhortatory character can not be seen as evidence of its late origin, nor can its basic viewpoint eo ipso be characterized as a departure from the “pure” gospel.

Chapter 14

James’s debate with Paulinism
So what is James all about then, taken by itself and read from its own internal context? We might develop from this letter another kind of evaluation of the paraenetical elements in the New Testament. If it cannot be argued that the commandment to love the neighbor in its very form refutes any kind of moral reasoning and reflection on conditions and situations that positively determine its meaning, then Bultmann’s “slide into religious moralism” could very well be indicative of something else. We would lose the necessity to approach Christian ethics as a version of the antithesis between good works (as casuistry about rules of behavior) and works of gratitude (the indicative of the Christian life, following on God’s redemptive action). As we have seen, it is precisely the closeness of Jesus’ teachings about love of neighbor to not only the literal meaning of Torah, but also to the formal structure of the argument as it is known from Rabbinic sources, that prevents us from reducing the commandment to a legalistic perversion of a moral expression of the will of God, to be responded to on the spur of the moment. But if the letter of James cannot then be regarded as a return to Jewish moralism, what does it represent, and how is it related to both the Christ of the gospels and Pauline doctrine? The theological high point of the letter is the short discourse about faith in ch. 2:14-26. 14 What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. 18 Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. 19 Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; 23 and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. 24 Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. 25 And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another

way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead. (American Standard Version) The main thesis, expressed in the rhetorical question of 2:14, is: the expression of faith without works cannot save. It seems to be the same kind of argument as in 1:22, where James states that we should be doers of the word and not only hearers of it. There is no “hearing” without “doing,” and then also no faith without works. In 15-17 the analogy is made between faith and neighborly love. A neighborly love that expresses itself merely in words is not real love. The same goes for a faith that is only efficient in words and not in deeds. It comes close to the faith of demons, who resist in practice the authority of what they believe in. So faith that merely relies on its assertion cannot save. By reading the text like this, we avoid any conflict with the Pauline understanding of justification by faith.

13.1 Faith and works
The problem with this interpretation is that we presuppose that we know what the expression “works” means here, and that we also find here an antithesis between the profession of faith (if someone says...) and the actual deeds of the believer. In Schlatter’s view e.g., the issue would then be that someone who describes himself as a believer, but has no works to prove it, makes a vain statement. By being without works, he confesses that he believes that his faith alone will save him!65 The statement that I have faith as a matter of fact is then opposed to the actual doing of works as a proof of faith. Only the statement of faith (in Christ) with the reality of it, in works of love, can be called faith in the Pauline sense of the word. If that is indeed the aim of the passage, we could easily find support for the traditional thesis that faith in itself, as our subjective faith, cannot save anyway. We believe in Christ, because He saves, and our faith itself is not the saving power at all. That would be in full agreement with (traditional) Paul. But the text obviously does not address the point that the content of faith is Christ as the savior. The One who is able to save and condemn is called lawgiver and Judge in 4:12, and it is obviously God and not Christ that is the subject of that verse. It is not about the contents of faith, but about the commitment that is involved in its confession. Let us take a closer look. The traditional interpretation states that James must be arguing against people who think that a mere statement of subjective faith has redeeming power. Now first of all it is hard to see who such people could be in the 1st-century Church other than Paul himself, and only the spread of the gentile Church with such a kind of gospel could explain why it was necessary to select such a position for this polemics. If
65 A. Schlatter, Jacobus, 1932, p. 185.

it is against the mere profession of faith, a (vulgarized) Paulinism must have been the opponent. There are indeed compelling grammatical reasons in the text to stress an opposition between the profession of faith and the doing of works. Strictly speaking this is what the text reads literally: what is the use if someone states (legei, says, states, confesses) to have faith and [if he] has (echei) no works [and implies that this is enough for salvation] The interpretation can then run like this: The statement of faith all by itself, being not corroborated by practical works, though as a confession implying precisely that, is useless for salvation. Then we might say: faith is not about making statements, so James is only arguing against a pretended faith.66 The emphasis would then fall on the word “says” and faith would be taken in the meaning of assent to a doctrine. Corroboration of that might be found in the fact the demoniacal faith in vs. 19 also believes in something (as the case is, believes in the oneness of God), but obviously does not obey. One other argument in favor of this interpretation is the very fact that James wrote legei (he says) and not echei (he has) which would mean confession of faith rather than the faith in itself. But we would affirm already with Dibelius67, that this usage indicates that a human being that cannot express his faith in works, needs words to do so. And that would mean that the whole expression of “says that he has faith” is as such the perfect opposition to “has works”. But we might consider other alternatives. We think there are two other possibilities that fit the context better, even if they do not seem to follow the grammatical pattern of the verse. We can either (1) stress the notion of legei (he says) to encompass the idea of confession in the sense of commitment above a mere verbal “profession,” or (2) weaken its meaning even further to construe a different and stronger antithesis. Let us consider the two possibilities. (1) The problem we find in the classic reading is that we find in the context no corroboration of this reduction of faith to a statement. A profession
66 So e.g. Leslie Mitton Epistle of James, p. 99, the opposite however Blackman, Epistle of James, p. 90. 67 Martin Dibelius, Brief des Jakobus, (first edition 1927) 1956, pg. 141.

of faith without works is not called a mere falsehood, as we would expect, but a dead faith: it is still there as faith, but it is not “working.” What we do find is a reference to a specific kind of confession of faith that goes beyond verbal profession, which we know to have implied in Judaism the assumption of ethical responsibility. The reference to the shema in vs. 2:19 then serves as the defining element in the context. If someone confesses his commitment to faith, implying ethical responsibility, then the fact that he does not obey the law that is part of the contents of that faith is a contradiction of that statement. We could then read like this: if someone confesses his faith in the sense of showing his faith-commitment to obedience and shows no evidence of compliance with the law in the form of works, that faith in itself remains meaningless and was not confessed truthfully. Then James would be saying that the effective element in faith with regard to salvation is the obedience in it that produces works, which is implied in its confession as a commitment. The problem is, however, that James is actually allowing for the possibility that even the demons affirm the confession of God’s unity in the shema, while obviously disobeying that same God. (2) We might also construe the passage like this, what is the use if someone has faith, (he says) and has no works [and implies that this is enough for salvation] In that case, we take the word echein (to have) to be closer to echei (he has) than the grammatically correlated legei (he says). Then we have the contradiction between “having faith” and “not having works”, or put positively, the equation that having faith implies having works. The sense is then in the first case the incompatibility between two statements. Someone claims to have faith even without doing the works of the law. Such a statement is then considered a paradox because faith must imply obedience and the doing of works. In the second case the issue is about the impossibility of two conditions being present at the same time. Having faith without having works is impossible. It is much harder in my opinion to maintain the opposition between the

idle statement of faith and the doing of works even if the grammar and “simple reading” would imply it. “If he says” is not necessarily construed as an antithesis to the ¨”but has no works” according to the sense, even though grammatically “says” and “has” correspond with each other. To sum up, the opposition is between two kinds of faith: the one is divorced from works (of the law) at least with respect to salvation, the other is intrinsically connected to works, and these are seen not as implied in any Paulinist sense (working faith, faith as source of spontaneous acts of love) but as visible result (faith that does works is alive in obedience to the law). Only taking the 8g(® as having to refer solely to an assertion of faith and construing the passage with heavy emphasis on the grammatical structure without taking note of the context allows for this particular harmonization with Paul. But even if we were to read in the traditional way, the problem is not fully solved. After all, even if it primarily does refer to a verbal confession, it creates a dissonance with Paul precisely because it then changes the meaning of “faith” that Paul attributes to it and views it with reference to what can be seen experientially of such a faith. The text then implies that a profession of faith along the lines of Paulinism disconnects faith from works and thereby empties the content of “faith.” Both avenues of interpretation therefore lead to an affirmation that a debate with Pauline theology is intended. But in the traditional reading, these works are a response to faith, and in our alternative reading, the works are an intrinsic part of faith.

13.2 The meaning of faith
So in what sense is “faith” used here, if it is not the (profession of) a faith that has works implied in it, but in any case a commitment of obedience to works of the law? Is law-obedience an intrinsic part of faith or a response through faith? The comparison in vss. 15 and 16 must give the solution. The analogy is first described in vs. 15 as a matter of poverty and need. In vs. 16 we find an expression that is analogous to a faith without works. Someone says: “go in peace, be ye warmed and filled” (KJV). That statement is of no use to the one who is poor and without clothes and food. The statement will not help at all, even though it is an expression of sympathy and acceptance of the situation. The comparison runs like this: the believer is like the admonishing brother or sister and faith is like the exhortation to get warm, go in peace and eat well. Faith is then like an admonishment that remains on the outside but does not change reality on the inside, a reminder of what is good and should be done, that lacks the reality. It is “dead” because it does not “work,” or better, does not produce works, but only expresses the need to

work. Faith and works are congruent in contents, faith implies the necessity of obedience; works is the actual deed that shows compliance with God’s will. As in the metaphor: the content of feeding and clothing someone is correlated to the statement that it is good to get fed and be clothed. But such a faith, while telling us what to do, will not help us to do it. It does not show us what to do either. Faith is there, where the obedience of faith is operative. The mention of a content in vs. 19, to believe that God is One, is more than an example of a doctrinal profession to illustrate the general principle of truthful speech. On this we have based our contention that the statement of faith is actually a confession of faith implying a full commitment to a life of obedience. One might objectively “believe” that God is one, as one can objectively believe that Christ is savior. But the importance of that basic confession in Judaism is the acceptance of the yoke of the law, something which is in effect only visible in the doing of the law. This connection between the shema and moral commitment was even more obvious when, during the second Temple period, the recitation of the Ten Commandments preceded the recital of the passage Deut. 6:4-9. Later on two other passages from scripture were added, and blessings were added before and after the recitation of the now threefold shema, while the ten Commandments were dropped. This happened apparently because of Christian insistence that only the Ten Commandments were valid now that Christ had come. But the passage that expressed God’s unity (Hear Israel, the LORD, our God, is the only LORD) became linked to the prohibition of idolatry and the obligation to suffer as a martyr to prevent it. Rabbi Akiba is reported to have died because of his refusal to commit idolatry under Roman torture while reciting the shema. That obligation was well established in 2nd Temple Judaism. Cf., e.g., S. Safrai (ed.) The Jewish People in the First Century, 1987, vol. II, pp. 800-801, and Encyclopedia Judaica under “Shema.” The latter mentions that saying the shema implied accepting the “yoke of the Kingdom of heaven.” All in all, the confession of the shema has a perfect counterpart in Matthew 5, where confessing Christ leads to martyrdom as well, and implies full commitment to the messianic Torah. And in James’s Christianity it is no different. The acceptance of the Lordship of Christ implies obedience as well. Faith in the sense of our commitment to obeying God or Christ is not faith at all if the reality of that obedience is lacking. Faith is therefore in itself a pragmatic resolve to act in obedience, but it still needs the effective deed to be real. Otherwise the confession deteriorates into “just” a statement. What then is a real expression of a “real” faith? The first mention of faith in 1:3-6 mentions “faith” in the sense of trust that drives away all doubt.

Faith, being put to the test, grows in endurance when it is acted upon. Such an experiential life of faith becomes the foundation of certainty. Anyone who prays with steadfastness, without being divided within himself as to the nature of a giving God (1:5), will receive from the Lord. Faith here is seen as the recognition of who God is as the one whom we obey and who judges our act in conformity with the law, and as trust in such a God for the things that are necessary to live the Christian life, summarized as the wisdom we need. In 2:1, then, faith can even become close in meaning to the “life of faith” when James states that we should keep our faith free from all acceptance of the person. That acceptance in question, the preference for the rich above the poor, is considered to be an infringement of the law in its most vital expression: the commandment of neighborly love. So “faith” is here the practice of the divine law which becomes compromised by the acceptance of the rich above the poor. By making such distinctions we reject the universality of the neighbor, and in doing so we compromise our faith on which this obedience is based. But obviously faith and compliance with the law are here thought of as equivalents. So faith is a recognition of God’s sovereignty, visible in practical obedience to the written statutes of God’s will, embedded in a practice of endurance under persecutions, leading to trust in a giving God amidst the circumstances of our life, and committed to neighborly love as the essence of the law. Such a faith cannot be deemed to be expressed properly if it is merely “claimed” to be there; in fact, such a claim makes no sense at all. James is not arguing that it could be claimed, but that there are those who are familiar with the attitude and the resolve to obey that is essential to it, but simply do not comply. A faith cannot be existent in that sense without the works of faith; it is not simply a faith that would be lacking in works, it would be “dead”. The issue of faith takes a new turn, however, in the next two arguments James derives from Scripture. Up to now, one might argue that the sense of faith is the experiential side of the same concept of faith that Paul has, merely because the contents of such a faith are not mentioned, and it cannot be concluded with certainty that James is talking about a moral commitment within faith. The contextual argument seems decisive but is counterweighted by grammatical considerations. We might argue that Paul understands faith to be grounded in the efficacy of Christ’s faithfulness, the trust in God’s power to redeem on the basis of our acceptance of Christ. His theology therefore focuses on the evocation of the content of faith, and James obviously shows no interest in developing that side of the matter. It is therefore also correct to say that though the slogan of salvation by faith even without works is a derivation from Paulinism, it is not Pauline in essence, so James is not directing his attack toward Paul himself. But the matter becomes different when we consider the passage

2:21-25. Here James takes on the issue of justification with reference to two passages from scripture, of which the first figures prominently in Paul’s discussion of the issue. James makes the following statements: • Faith is present in works and never without them, because that would make faith a mere declaration, or better: would imply that it is without life. (2:18) Even if the content of faith is correct (in the example: the idea that God is one, when uttered as confession, equals the resolve to obey God), this in essence is part of practical life; if it is connected with disobedience, it is similar to demoniacal faith (2:19). The opposition between living and dead faith is here superseded by the opposition between committed and demoniacal faith. Faith without works is not effective with regard to salvation; works from faith are effective (2:20) and not merely “proof” of the effectiveness of faith all by itself.

These statements might still be harmonized into agreement with Paul’s doctrine, when James expressed the experiential side of faith and we could argue that Paul emphasizes the new reality it brings. We would have to accept, some slight changes of meaning. The opposites in James after all do not harmonize well with Paul’s usage. E.g., the notion that dead faith is non-existent faith, and only faith that effectuates itself in works can properly be called so, shows that faith is taken as the practical attitude of submission to God in works of obedience as well as in suffering. But then again, if read slightly differently with emphasis on the phrase: “someone says,” we get an opposition between the profession of faith and real faith that is closer to Paul, as we showed above. But even if there were full congruence between these elements in James and Paul, we would still have to contend with these further elements. James brings a proof: Abraham was not justified by his faith, but by a faith that was only effective in combination with his works. His faith in God became perfect because he acted on it in obedience (2:22). Note here that James does allow for the notion that faith can be discussed in theory apart from works. So Abraham’s faith was reckoned as righteousness in Genesis 15 because of what Abraham did in Genesis 22: the sacrifice of Isaac. Now Genesis 15 is a proleptic statement, a prophesy that became fulfilled in Genesis 22 when Abraham acted righteously. So the distinction between faith and its product can be made only in conversation! The real act of faith and the real ground for justification is now Genesis 22 and not 15.

Conclusion: a human being is justified on the basis of works (of faith) and not only on the basis of faith (without works). Only the living, committed faith that acts in obedience makes God justify a man. There seems to be yet another way out, however. Does all of this perhaps mean that the dynamics of (subjective) faith led Abraham to act in accordance with (objective) faith? That would place James in full accordance with Paul. Schlatter maintained this: Abraham’s faith did not consist in words alone and did not exist merely in the fact that he said he had faith; in fact, Abraham’s faith created the deed; because he obeyed the divine command and put his son on the altar. 68 But Schlatter misses the point here. James does not state that Abraham was justified on the basis of his faith in Genesis 15 and that proof of the efficacy of that faith was given by his obedience in Genesis 22. James is saying that the justification depended not on the faith in itself at all, but on the deed of obedience, of which faith as act of commitment was merely the condition. The deed of obedience showed the fullness of faith in and as obedience. Faith in Abraham was a practice of obedience that prepared Abraham for the ultimate act of obedience, and that obedience in faith was the prerequisite of justification. The statement of Gen. 15:6 in that sense is proleptic, and was, as James puts it, fulfilled in the sacrifice of Isaac. To James, the meaning of that faith is not exhibited in Abraham’s acceptance of the character of God who promises life beyond death. Abraham’s faith is not explained, as Paul does in Rom. 4:17, as a faith that accepted God’s ability to act beyond death or His sovereignty in declaring even the ungodly righteous. It is not faith in the promises of God, but faith as the ability to obey beyond and against the circumstances and our natural inclinations while affirming the sovereignty of God at the same time. It is the faith of the shema! Obedience as shown in concrete acts of submission to the divine will is therefore the perfection of faith, i.e., its inner essence shown outward. In other words, faith is the corollary of obedience as well as its condition.

13.3 The real debate between James and Paul
We could try now, on the basis of the above, to reconstruct the debate between James and Paul on the issue of justification. In Romans 3:27-30 Paul states the issue of justification in terms of the antithesis between faith and works of the law. Man is justified by faith, without works of the law. Blackman prefers to understand the “works” as “deeds” which undoubtedly makes it easier to harmonize with Paul, if we read e.g. Paul’s
68 A. Schlatter, Der Brief des Jacobus, p. 199.

statement in Ephesians 2:10 that we were created in Christ Jesus “to do the good works that God has prepared for us before”. So we have received faith (not on the basis of works – Eph. 2:9a) in order to do the good works. Schlatter also contended that James dealt with an approach of faith that separated it from all works, not specifically the works of the law.69 But did James mean that? We must understand that in general, the Jewish concept of “good works” was divided into two sets of deeds, the requirements of the Torah (that had a fixed measure) and other duties, that could not be measured or legislated like the commandment to do charity or to give alms. The first is referred to by the Hebrew term mitzvoth and the second by the term tsedakah. Either one of these could be referred to by the phrase maásim tovim, or “good deeds/works. When James uses the simple term “erga” in Greek, is it not possible that he meant the “good deeds” and specifically the duties without fixed measure? To him, these would certainly be part of the legislation in the Torah, but they would be lifted from any restriction as was detailed out e.g. in those parts of the law that dealt with the tension between Israel and the nations or had a clear boundary-marker quality like circumcision and dietary laws or the sanctity of the Temple. We need not therefore construe the word to mean anything like the “moral deeds” in a specific Christian sense, and oppose that to any kind of Torah-obedience. On the contrary. In this case prescribed duties can be meant, that are e.g. expressed in the Decalogue or the sections on social laws within the Torah. James’s reply to the traditional Paulinist objection that justification has no basis in human acts can be found in 2:18, where he states that there cannot be a faith without works. I.e., it may be perfectly true that those commandments that regulate entry into the covenant will not suffice, but that does not mean that obedience has become superfluous. On the contrary, all of the law has to be obeyed (2:10, 11). And here we might say that the new image of Paul that Dunn has provided might give us an opportunity to see the harmony between Paul and James after all, because Paul is equally adamant that the purpose of Christ’s coming into this world is that “the rightful demand of the law will be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8:4). For James this connection between faith and law can be more directly expressed. Faith cannot exist without works, and what those works are can be determined only by studying the law of freedom (the Torah in its liberating, messianic shape) and judging oneself by it (1:25). Only then can we be blessed (in our doing [ibid.]). James is not arguing that the works demanded of Christians are the “works of the law” in the specific sense
69 Cf. Blackman, Epistle of James, p. 91, also Richardson James, p. 129; Schlatter Brief des Jakobus, p. 188.

that Paul is thinking of. But he is obstructing the interpretation that since justification is not based on specific demands of the law pertaining to membership in the Covenant, we may drop the law as such. As the law of freedom, it is still the source of our obedience. Can we find the harmony now between Paul and James? At this moment we have not yet given the full argument for our new reading of Paul, so the following must be seen in the context of what we will deal with later on. But the harmony between the “new” Paul and James is indeed obvious. In Romans 3:29-30 Paul mentions the importance of the Jewish creed that God is One. If He is, then there is one and only one way to relate to him, though there are distinctions. Both gentiles and Jews, however, will be justified on the same principle of faith, though the manner in which faith is present as principle may differ. To justify the circumcised by faith means that faith is the actual immanent principle of the covenant of Israel. Abrahamic faith redeems those in the Covenant of circumcision as is now shown through Christ, even if part of Israel does not subjectively accept it. gentiles, however, without entering the Jewish covenant first, are justified by “the” faith, i.e., the fullness of the Abrahamic faith as now expressed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. James mentions the belief that God is one in a different argument, however, when he addresses Jews by stating that faith in God’s uniqueness is not sufficient either. Jewish faith, in the unique relationship between the one God and His unique people, will not in itself suffice to escape judgment. James is, from another angle, giving weight to the same principle that Paul is using. To both, Abraham is a test case. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 : Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. In Paul’s explanation several things happen. (1) The statement that Abraham believed is transformed into a statement about faith itself. Faith then becomes the subject in Rom. 4:5b, where Paul states that “his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (2) The quotation from Psalm 32 is used to imply that this “reckoning of righteousness” means forgiveness of sins. Paul thereby confronts the Jewish notion that Abraham was without sin. (3) Paul inquires into the circumstances of Abraham when justification occurred. Since Abram was at that time not circumcised, and since his faith is a type of the faith, justification can occasion a forgiveness of sins outside the covenant for those who are not circumcised. (4) That grounds the statement, made almost in passing in the introduction of Psalm 32, that God justified the ungodly, i.e., those who are outside the Covenant. It seems clear that James does not deny the principle that justification is on the basis of faith. But he rejects all efforts to separate that faith from works, i.e., obedience to what the law demands. The separation in our conversation and not in reality, between faith and obedience, justification

and sanctification, to widen our horizon for a moment, is denied here on the basis of their very real and experiential interconnection. In James 2:21, James emphasizes that Abraham was justified on the basis of works when he in full obedience to God put his son Isaac on the altar. Note that Abraham was at that moment circumcised, and that James does not deny the element of faith. He is merely stating that faith became perfect from works: obedience in a visible act actually made faith, i.e., trust in God, complete and apparent. James 2:23 then takes Gen 15:6 as a prophecy that was fulfilled in the akeidah or “Binding” of Isaac. Paul, on the other hand, does speak about Abraham’s faith in accepting the promise of the birth of Isaac in Romans 4:19-22. What James would call a still imperfect faith, a trust in God that needed a work of obedience to be fulfilled and be effective in the here and now, is to Paul the single most important basis (cf. Rom. 4:22) for justification. James’ maximalist view does oppose Paul’s contention that the simple affirmation of Christ’s efficacy already constitutes saving faith, even if he allows for and actually emphasizes the fuller richness of such a faith in a life in the Spirit. The grounds for justification in Paul is simply the acceptance of God’s promise. It invites the idea that acceptance of the resurrection of the new Isaac, i.e., the objective contents of faith, is the reason for faith to be accepted by God. Paul is however merely postponing, or distinguishing in conversation, what he will later bring together in the chapter on the Spirit’s work within the believer. I.e., the grounds for justification is faith, but the work of justification is not faith alone but the enabling of real obedience. In James this very same faith in God’s oneness or promise or trustworthiness is not enough for salvation, but should be made perfect in acts of concrete obedience to the law. If we accept this as the full concept of faith, then we can see that though Paul discusses various elements of faith under different headings and in different contexts, the whole treatment of faith throughout Romans is actually in accordance with James on the issue of the connection between faith and works. The remaining difference is that Paul sees the unique nature of the commitment of faith as obedience in the attitude toward Christ as the new Isaac, and James directly takes up Abraham’s obedience as an example of faith. The midrashic and experiential context of Paul and James may vary, but the basic concept of faith as obedience remains the same. Paul and James are in agreement, against Judaism, that justification is not about “works of the law” in the sense that belonging to the Covenant community is the sole basis for justification. To repeat Israel’s confession of faith (the Shema expresses the oneness of God in connection with Israel and Torah) is not enough for James either. But the Abrahamic prin-

ciple of faith, which Paul sees as the basis for both gentiles and Jews to be justified, is to James insufficient. Paul’s eschatological midrashic context is denied by James. Faith should be understood as obedience to the law (of Christ), becoming a reality in acts of compliance with the commandments, not by judging each other with the law to establish who is in and who is out, but by judging oneself with it, using it as a mirror and a source of wisdom. One other objection to this description must be noted here. One might say that, to Paul, there is a distinction between justification in the present and the judgment in the future. To James, judgment and justification are not distinguished temporally like that: both are in the future, as we can see in 4:21. Paul would have agreed with the idea that in the future, our judgment will still be about our works (cf. Rom. 2:6; 5:19). Because Paul makes the distinction, he can speak with regard to the present about justification by faith alone. But we will see in our discussion of Romans that Paul did not make this distinction in such a sharp fashion. The future tense of Rom. 5:21 is already present reality, as is the case in 5:19, where the “many are constituted righteous.” The eschatological kingdom is already realized here and now, though it will be manifested fully only in the future when Christ’s reign will be a reality. But more importantly, the argument does not help at all, because as soon as James identifies faith with obedience and accepts “works” rather than baptism or confessional statements as the self-expression of such a faith, then the present condition becomes eschatological in another sense. In such obedience in faith, the kingdom has arrived in very much the same manner as it is already present to Paul because of the indwelling of the Spirit – granted, though, that to Paul the behavior of the believers is more of a sign of the presence of the Spirit. James could never have made that kind of distinction between behavior as fruit of the Spirit and the indwelling itself, precisely because he rejects faith as anything other than concrete obedience. In that sense, the believers can be called the first-born in 1:18. This new possibility of obedience is the sign of the entrance of the Kingdom in this world. Again, an objection can be raised. If James had the mitzvoth in mind and argued against a faith without them, it looks still possible to construct an opposition with Paul who uses the term erga to refer to any kind of action under law? But does Paul do so indeed? Against the traditional reading we could follow here James Dunn. In his view, Paul wanted to say primarily that justification is more than being part of and remaining within the covenant community. The works that the law demands to remain within the covenant (epitomized in circumcision, Levitical purity, and kashrut but not restricted to them) do not really justify in the sense that they make a

man stand righteous in the final judgment. God will justify both gentile and Jew, not by looking at the covenant boundaries, but only on the basis of real performance. That view is indeed expressed in Romans 2:6. But since the law shows us that in that respect nobody achieves the perfect standard, to be in the covenant will not by itself be of any use. Only faith in God’s promise will justify both gentile and Jew, because that faith will enable them to obey the commandments of God (cf. Romans 8 and our discussion in chapter 5). There is a difference, when Paul opposes precisely the doing of the Torah out of faith to the seeking for righteousness under the law by the “works” – those works are then the mitzvoth in their segregating effect. 70 First of all, the expression “doers of the word” is used in ch. 1 in antithesis to “hearers (of the word).” Because of the expression in 1:21, “the implanted word,” a doer of the word is someone who takes the Torah as the expression of the divine will. The passage obviously refers to Jeremiah 31, where it is the law that is engraved upon the heart. But the expression “works” is also explained by the context of our passage, the reference first to Abraham and then to Rahab. In what sense can it be said that Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is a “work”? Not only because it is in a general sense compliance with the divine will. Abraham obeyed God by presenting his son as a sacrifice. But there is something else. The offering of Isaac in Judaism is seen as the essence of obedience to Torah, not so much because it portrays total submission, but because it portrays the principle of radical obedience that is presupposed in the commandments of the Sinai. Both the cultic law, in its role of dedication of the whole human person to God in the symbolic act of animal sacrifice, and the moral law, as obedience to the specific divine commandment that expresses righteousness, are revealed in the offering of Isaac. In this sense, James does speak about obedience under the Mosaic law (against Goppelt, 541), both in his reference to Abraham and in the reference to the shema, as well as in the “doer of the word” passage. Faith is the prerequisite of a life of obedience to the commandments, which allows full obedience to the divine will and neighborly love to be its summary principle. So it is our contention that “works” in James does not necessarily mean the “good works” of Eph. 2. The doer of the word “does” the works, the work is connected to the principle of total obedience and connected to neighborly love as the summary of law. The works of James are the works one does in obedience to the law on the basis of trust in the lawgiver. But is it connected also to mitzvoth, to specific commandments? And is the reference to law in James a reference to the Mosaic law or to some kind
70 James D.G. Dunn Theology of Paul, p. 367.

of Christian usage of it? Obviously, if we could establish that James’s reference to “works” is a reference to the mitzvoth, the commandments of the Torah, the issue of what the expression “law” means in James would be settled from the beginning, as would be the opposition to Paul’s rejection of justification by works of the law, if taken in its traditional and universal sense of “all” works that can be demanded. Now there seem to be several arguments to accept this translation. First of all there is the outcome of research into the usage of the word in the Septuagint. Many words which denote conduct in general are used in combination with ergon. Though the specific meaning is decided by the context or the accompanying terms, the phrase erga nomou (works of the law), was well known. It translated the expression ma’asei mitzvoth and, as in Hebrew the notion of law or obligation could be left out, leaving just the word “works“. It seems to me highly probable that erga used on its own, was understood to refer to the ma’asiem, which was a shortened version of the Hebrew expression for works of the law. So by erga we mean activities by man that are required by God. The fact that ergon can also refer to the activity of man as such, in a negative sense, is important also. In Koheleth we find a reference to the work of the righteous and the work of the wicked. (Koh. 8:14) But even more general statements are made: everything that is called ergon in the life of man is sin. The opposition is then made between what God demands of man as the “works of God” and what man does on his own as the “works of man.” The point therefore is not so much the splitting up of the single divine command into many obligations, leading to a casuistry of a codified law, but the question of whether the demand came from God or not. At stake is the theonomous nature of obedience to the Mosaic Law over against its sectarian, “secular” use as a code for separatism and nationalist pride. Secondly, we can see in the previous passage that the commandments of the law are viewed as single tasks. The idea that breaking one single commandment implies breaking the whole of the law means that the whole of Torah hangs on any single “work.” Usually, though, it is used to make the assertion that not the single commandment but only the “whole” of man and his “whole” attitude is demanded by God. Though this is true, it is obvious also, that in James’s way of thinking there is no opposition between keeping the individual commandments and, in doing so, keeping the whole of it. There is nothing to support the idea that an attitude that strives for obedience to the “whole” could on that basis dismiss itself from a single commandment, which is the strange result of the reasoning that stresses the “whole.” That this whole is not a sum of disparate commandments is as true as that this whole is present, as the will of God, in each and every one of them.

Chapter 15

James and the early Catholicism of Clement
That this way of looking at Abraham, with the emphasis on his obedience, was present in the early Church beyond the confines of the New Testament points to two possibilities. James’s disagreement with Paulinism is found in his tendency to stress obedience in a concept of faith that he does share with Paul, and it might also at the same time reflect a strong tradition, unhindered by the apparent tendency of the Pauline letters, that the concept of obedience to Christ’s law belongs to the center of faith. To give just one example of that “strong tradition,” we will briefly compare James with the first letter of Clement to the Corinthians (written around 96 AD). Clement, in ch. 10, states the following with regard to Abraham: “Abraham, styled “the friend,” was found faithful, inasmuch as he rendered obedience to the words of God [italics mine]. He, in the exercise of obedience, went out from his own country, and from his kindred, and from his father’s house, in order that, by forsaking a small territory, and a weak family, and an insignificant house, he might inherit the promises of God. For God said to him, “Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great, and to be blessed. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” [...] And again [[the Scripture] saith, “God brought forth Abram, and spake unto him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be. And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” On account of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God on one of the mountains which He showed him [italics mine].” 71 The passage is completely Jamesian, especially where it states that Abraham was found faithful “inasmuch” as he rendered obedience. Apparently the notion that faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness, which is supposed to ground the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone, is not experienced as contradictory at all. In fact, the faith of Abraham is connected in this passage to the promise of the seed, as in Paul, but the word obedience obviously has precedence over faith as distinct from that. In fact, the blessing of Abraham is attributed to “righteousness and
71 1 Clement 10, 1-3, 6 Translation by Kirsopp Lake, Harvard edition of the “Apostolic fathers,” vol. 1.

truth(fullness)” that he worked through faith (1 Clem. 31:2). Still, without any doubt, Clement accepted the general doctrine of justification by faith and not by works where he states: All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Clem. 32:3, 4) The way Clement uses this general idea is noteworthy. If we believe in Christ, then we should be ready and zealous in good works (34:4). The logical connection is apparently based on a link between such a belief and moral action. But of what nature is this connection? Is it intrinsic in the sense that faith by itself leads to good works, or extrinsic because faith acknowledges Christ’s sovereignty and we therefore obey, perfecting our faith as James had taught? Clement answers our question like this: “We ought to do all things in good order that the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times” (40:1). Let him who has love in Christ perform the commandments of Christ (49:1), taking up the position of obedience (63:1). So the external motivation for obedience is Christ’s Lordship, His sovereignty. “Let us then be obedient to his most holy and glorious name, and escape the threats which have been spoken by wisdom aforetime to the disobedient, that we may tabernacle in confidence on the most sacred name of his majesty”(58:1). It is clear: the connection between faith and ethics is extrinsic in nature in this sense, that faith is the affirmation of Christ’s sovereignty leading to the attitude of obedience to Christ’s specific commandments; not the inner “flow” of the heart toward doing “good.” Nevertheless, Clement stresses that the Church in Corinth had the commandments and ordinances of the Lord “written on the tables of your heart” (2:8). Have we now found a contradiction? Because obeying on the principle of authority and obeying from the inner impulse, seen as being transformed according to God’s intent, are not identical modes of obedience in faith. Clement, after having first established the concept of external authority, now resorts to a procedure in which he lessens this externality and redefines obedience to become an inner submission, or growth of character. Formally, we have lost that shape of obedience as complying to the will of another whom I acknowledge as Sovereign Lord over my life which was the basic view of James. Still, when we look for the contents of these commandments, we find that they are called “the things or deeds of

sanctification,” and even though they are expressed as virtues, mixed up with proverbial statements in the wisdom tradition, they are still to be considered acts of compliance. This had several results: Without instruction from the law of Moses, in a different frame of thought than was developed in Pharisaic Judaism, the insistence on obedience to Torah in James and early Jewish Christianity • • • turned into the Stoic appeal to humility and virtuous living; moved away from obedience to commandments to the general style of inner submission and humility; replaced intelligent analysis of situations in terms of values and inferred rules of behavior by the general mode of moral awareness without external guidance.

What we are witnessing here is a moralizing and indeterminate use of Jamesian motifs. But despite this “Hellenizing” tendency, the reference to “works,” as demanded by God and transformed by stress on the inner change of individuals, maintains an essential link to the notion of obedience. Even if “commandments” are not seen as such anymore, the grounds for compliance is the external reality of God’s will, not, as in Stoicism, the human spirit or any immanent principle of rationality. The development beyond canonical James into the domain of 1 Clement also shows that the opposition between faith and works was no longer felt in the same way at the end of the first century, and maybe had never been there in the first place. The kind of argument that Paul contended with in Romans 6, that implied that a law-free gospel brought immorality with it as a consequence, was repeated in 1 Clement in a weakened form, this time to ensure that nobody would forget to add good works to faith. Nevertheless, in general, Clement mirrors a general view on faith: that faith and obedience to commandments go together, and that this is what faith had always meant in scripture. So it cannot be maintained that James is merely arguing against an unjustified claim to faith and would have agreed with Paul on a “faith that could be separated from works” as the basis of salvation. As soon as we read Paul with the emphasis on sola fide, we lose all possibility of harmonizing him with James. Why? Because James argues against the statement, that justification is dependent on faith in itself, because to him faith is merely one of the conditions of obedience. It is obedience (specifically in the form of compassionate, neighborly love) that will justify and survive the judgment in 2:13. Works are not added to faith to make a perfect Christian life, but faith is

developed and grows to maturity as obedience. Clement’s “spiritualizing” and “moralizing” tendencies did obscure the major emphasis in James: that it is the law that guarantees the external nature of this compliance with the will of God, and that the “works of faith” cannot be found without a direct use of Scripture as their source. What then is the status of the Mosaic law in James?

Chapter 16

Law and obedience as constituents of faith
We need to turn now to James’s treatment of the concept of “law.” We have found that the major difference between James and Clement lies in James’s emphasis that the external nature of obedience is grounded in the written source for understanding the external will of God. The law as “written in the heart” came to represent an “inner” morality of the heart in the 2nd century instead of a specific kind of cognition, as in “knowing it by heart.” That is the meaning of the expression “writing on the heart” in Jeremiah 31, as we will show later. It is also the reason that Paul opposed knowledge of the law as “written,” i.e., as something to be taught to others in an abstract manner and as a goal in itself instead of being applied to particular circumstances by the reader. So now the question must be how James views the role of the written law. The exhortation in 1:19-27 makes a threefold mention of the law. It is called the implanted word in vs. 21, very much in the tradition of statements concerning the new covenant. Again, twice it is called simply the word in vss. 22 and 23, and more directly the perfect law of freedom in vs. 25. That “word” and “law” are identical is easy to see from the end of vs. 25, where the doer of the law is mentioned on an equal footing with the doer of the word in vs. 22. The word that can save us in vs. 21 is equal to the law that frees us in vs. 25. In the passage 2:8-13, this same law is called the Royal law, the only direct indication that James is thinking of the law of Christ. So it seems as if James is identifying the Torah of Moses with, or rather sublating it in, the will of Christ. The messianic Torah is the law that frees us. Christ and Torah are seen in direct congruity with each other, though it must be obvious that the liberation and freedom of the law must have been seen as a consequence of Christ’s life and death. However, there are several ways to bypass this conclusion and this reference to the Mosaic law: One might argue that these concepts refer only to a part of the law that could be adopted by Christians without compromising their law-free gospel: the ten commandments as they were incorporated into the ethical discourse of the Church. But then it surely would be odd to speak about the Royal law in vs. 8, because that expression gives to the whole of the law the status of being an expression of divine sovereignty. And then it must be a reference to the totality of the law seen under a double perspective: first of all formally,

that this law has now become the rule of life within the Kingdom. It would need no mention that Christ is the appointed King of that kingdom. The Lord Jesus Christ is already mentioned in vs. 1 with this sovereign attribute. Secondly, in a material sense, the law should be “fulfilled,” i.e., maintained, kept, observed, “according to,” in conformity with the principle of its exegesis that Christ instituted. Christ is the sovereign of the law as well. Neighborly love is here not the “fulfillment” of the law, in the sense that the law could be reduced to it (in seeming opposition to Paul in Rom. 13:8: whosoever has loved his brother, has fulfilled the law). The entire law should be fulfilled, and as “Royal” law it could be fulfilled in accordance with the ways of the Messiah by doing it completely because of and in accordance with the principle of love. One might argue that it is the law only in this one element of neighborly love. The other commandments mentioned can of course be understood as flowing forth from this one central commandment. The status of the law would then be equivalent to Paul’s statements in Galatians 5, e.g., where the “fulfillment” of the law is in obedience to the commandment of “love thy neighbor.” It is hard to see, however, how this could be called a “work” and a “law.” The qualifications of “freedom and “royal” would not be enough to take away the implications of “law” as a commandment demanding observance and obedience. One might argue that here we see evidence that the letter was composed of elements of Jewish paraenetical teaching to which elements were added to make the letter Christian. The reference to the law was an element of Judaism that was kept, unfortunately. But then again, insofar as the letter of James functions within the Christian New Testament, even if the sources of the letter were Palestinian Judaism, the meaning of it in the Church today would not be bound to such a historical reconstruction. If there were Jewish sources, this rather strengthens the notion that in some circles, at least, the gap between Judaism and Christianity was not yet seen as unbridgeable. Even so, the expression “Royal” law, and the reference to neighborly love as the essence of the law, sound more Christian than Jewish. If there was a Christian reception of the entire Jewish law and the principle of obedience that goes along with it, it is most certainly expressed here. It is hardly possible to understand James’s reference to law as meaning anything else but the Mosaic law, though he refers to it in its “messianic” mode. We must of course see how the references to it are qualified. Primarily by the use of the term: law of freedom. Some have argued that this in fact is a decidedly Christian usage and would prove a reference to

some concept of the “law” of Christ in distinction to the Mosaic law. Nothing could be more wrong than this assumption. In Judaism, the notion that only the observance of the law made a man free was widespread, and it became reinforced by the Stoic notion that only those who acted in conformity with the underlying principle of reality (the logos which was identified with Torah in Philo) could be called free, in the sense of having freedom from their desires. The law of freedom can be called perfect, because the Mosaic law actually makes people free from the domination of anyone else but the God of Israel. It sets those who obey it and belong to its domain outside of the sphere of influence and power of the earthly rulers. They are bound only by the authority of the God of the Exodus, i.e., a God who liberates and who, in order to enhance and safeguard that liberty, gives His divine will in the form of instruction, Torah. After all: “None is your freeman but he who is occupied with the study of the Torah” (Pirkei Avot, 6:2). So we can conclude not only that the Christianity of James is very much centered around obedience, but that this obedience is structured along the lines of obedience to Torah. There is a multiplicity of divine commandments that man is obligated to do. The Torah as a whole is the incarnate wisdom of God. Faith (which remains somewhat ambiguous: is it faith in Christ? in God?) is the condition or the corollary of that obedience and has no meaning on its own. Its content is the resolve to submit to God’s will; its existence lies there where man responds to God by doing His will. The Torah remains the standard for that, though with a reservation: it is the Torah as it emerged from the reinterpretation of the Messiah. It is now called the Royal law, since it is the way of life in the Kingdom that Christ has brought. It is to be done in difficult circumstances, which demand endurance, wisdom and patience. It is to be an expression of the same depth of trust and submission that Abraham showed in the sacrifice of his son; with the same kind of allegiance that was shown by Rahab. How do all of these other elements come to play a part in James’s Torah-centered ethics? If we want to find out about the ethics of James, it is not enough to confine ourselves to those elements of exhortation or those doctrinal statements regarding the law that we usually connect to ethics in a modern sense. We must instead look at everything that defines the Christian way of life. In James’s letter it is not so much faith, or even obedience to Torah, that defines the Christian life, though these belong very much to the center of it, but suffering and temptation on the one hand, and the reversal of the relationship between the poor and the rich on the other. The letter opens with the issue of temptation in 1:2 and returns to it in 1:12 after mention of wisdom (1:5) and the contrast between rich and

poor (1:9ff.). Then at the end James speaks about the Coming of the Lord and its attendant suffering. An important observation to be made in connection with this letter is the fact that salvation is referred to three times, not counting the references to justification in 2:14-26 (1:12, blessed; 4:12, God as the Giver of the law is able to save and condemn; 10:20, to return a brother from his erring ways means saving him from death), the first time in connection with endurance under temptation, the second time connected to God’s attribute of justice, and the third time in connection with repentance. So what can we glean from this with respect to the Christian way of life? James views that way of life as being constantly on trial. The circumstances of Christian life are such that obedience to the messianic Torah brings with it a real temptation to choose the wrong path in order to avoid suffering. There is opposition in this world when Christ’s disciples try to obey their Master. In suffering, therefore, there is temptation: to avoid the suffering by becoming disobedient. In his temptation and suffering in the wilderness, Christ demonstrates His identity by enduring temptation. Perseverance, and not “certainty” (to be without doubt means to be of one mind, i.e., resolved), becomes the characteristic of a faith that has been put to the test. To James, the Christian is a follower of Christ by taking up the yoke of the law and applying it as the will of God in a pure sense: without discriminating between rich and poor, by following it against the dictates of society, in the conviction that trials and temptations are part of a life that obeys God above men. It is obedience to law that will bring redemption when God enters the stage of history as Judge, for this obedience is not only the sign but the reality of faith. Everything short of that is a mere assertion, a hollow statement of faith without basis. To James, the coming of Christ changed the circumstances of this obedience to Torah. It announced the imminence of the Judgment, it instituted the reign of Torah, it purified life under Torah from social distortions and obsession with social and religious distinctions, and it showed that a life of obedience in this world is necessarily a life under trials and distress. But, not insignificantly, “faith” as a possibility of obedience to God’s commandment was changed in shape by the coming of the Lord Jesus.

Chapter 17

Concluding remarks
Our reading of the gospels in the light of our understanding of 1st-century Judaism added another dimension to the old discussion about the sources of Christian ethics. There is a specific messianic hermeneutic of Matthew and a discourse on justification by works by James. Both construe the meaning of Torah as a direct source for our understanding of God’s will, both adopt the position that obedience to Christ entails obedience to the messianically explained and “fulfilled” Torah. Our renewed understanding of the meaning of the Torah in Judaism and the oral tradition in which it is interpreted (and the process of ethical discernment in the congregation in which it is applied) may signal a return to the Jewish mode of thought about God’s will and human obedience. What is needed for the future is the construction of a Christian way of life that can be called “halakah” because it tries to determine the basic guidelines for a Christian way of life for a separate community that is committed to discipleship, or Nachfolge. That derives from the given of the New Testament commandments of Christ and the hermeneutic framework in which the Torah is read by the messianic community. It should entail the Noachide commandments as adopted by the Jerusalem Council as a blueprint or constitutional law. It should endeavor to study the principles of Torah-law in concentrated legal reflection and try to apply them to our situation. It would mean a return to a Christian casuistry that has been rejected so vigorously for so long, and a farewell to the dualistic nature of an inspired narrative of ethical grandeur for the saintly and conformity to society’s standards for the common person. After all, what else can casuistry be in this context than the sustained effort to understand and apply divine law to the ever-changing circumstances of life? In short: it is a systematic mode of communal discernment. It should provide us with a grip on what our real task is today. To me it seems obvious now that significant parts of the New Testament imply or teach a validity of the Torah for Christians. It seems closer to Jesus’ original teaching to speak about upholding the standard of the Torah as part of the of life for Christians. In order to make that case, other arguments are needed though. We should discuss the meaning of Paul’s statements about the Law in his letter to the Romans and Galatians. We should also try to make clear what such an obedience to the Torah might look like in a modern context. All of that is part of an ongoing endeavor to present the contents and method of Christian ethics from the perspective

of a new appraisal of the Jewish roots of Christianity. The conclusion I reach in this book can therefore be only a modest one. Though Mark and Matthew show a difference of opinion on the validity of the Torah for Christians, Mark implicitly and Matthew explicitly do affirm the possibility that the Torah is some way the guide line for Christian behavior. How the meaning of Jesus’ Lordship can be connected with the validity of the Torah is shown by the letter of James. The Gospel of liberation is in conformity with the Torah of liberty. The gospel provides a different way of reading the Torah. However, it does not imply its annulment. Mark’s final redaction showed a strand of Church tradition that is determined in its core by the growing distance between gentile Church practice and the original Jewish background of the gospel of Jesus. The shape of obedience in such Churches was determined by the radical demand of the Kingdom ethics that Jesus had taught, but no longer was this obedience expressed and worked out in the legal form of discourse that we know of as rabbinic thinking. The freedom of the law that came naturally to gentile Christians, and was reinforced by Paul’s preaching, implied the necessity to seek out new analogies in Greco-Roman culture to express the contents of Christian ethics and serve as the framework of application. Jesus’ demands were set in a new context that emphasized some of its elements and dismissed others In contrast, Matthew shows us a Christ who affirms the validity of the law and presents His gospel of the coming Kingdom as an authoritative interpretation of that law, leading to a higher degree of righteousness for a specific and separate community within Israel. Here, it seems, the continuity is greater. Still, that impression is established at least in part by a conscious effort to re-evaluate Jesus’ sayings by placing them in the context of a mixed Jewish and pagan congregation and their effort to build a Jewish-Christian framework for a Christian way of life. Matthew’s effort to set Jesus’ teachings over against Moses’ revelation on the Mount as a decisive messianic reinterpretation is one of the literary means at his disposal to make his case. There is no reason to think that Matthew is closer to the ”original” tradition; in fact, the case can be made that he is actually not. Matthew’s gospel is more likely part of an effort to contextualize Jesus’ message into the framework of the ongoing concerns of the congregation, and reflects that fact by discussing the general principle of Christian exegesis and communal discernment. The picture that emerges can now be made clearer. In the whole range of ethical perspectives that the New Testament offers, Matthew and James present the case that the rabbinic form of thinking and the basic validity of the Torah, as exemplified and interpreted through the teaching and the life

and death of Jesus as the Messiah and the community that He founded as the locus of application, that all of this constitutes a concrete method of ethical discernment still focussed on the Torah. Jesus is the second Moses, the prophet that Moses referred to, the son of David that Nathan referred to; the messianic Torah is the Torah as explained in accordance with the fundamental and total obedience required by God. Love for God and the neighbour can then function as the decisive pattern of interpretation of the law. To be “justified by faith” in this perspective does not mean to be “reckoned” as righteous alone. It also means to live in accordance with the higher standard of righteousness that Christ brought in a community called to such an obedience. In distinction to that, the Marcan type of obedience involves a more inward ethics of submission for which the example of Christ in His submission to God serves as the pivotal example. The rejection of a rule-oriented or mitzvah-oriented ethics is motivated in part by the exclusionary effects of Pharisaic halakah, in part by the necessity to remain focused on the one major principle: love for God and neighbor as the single requirement of the kingdom of God. In Mark’s view, no halakah-type of Christian ethics is possible. Servanthood and being healed are the metaphors in Mark for the situation and condition in Christian ethics. The passage on paying the imperial tax, which refers to giving unto God what bears the image of God, i.e., total submission to the service of God and to the neighbor who is the real bearer of the image of God, is one expression of that essential Marcan ethics. This leaves us with at least three distinct patterns of Christian ethics: (1) Obedience to the messianic Torah in James and Matthew (the situation: the eschatological community of Jesus’ disciples; the condition: the acceptance of Christ’s authority and faith in God; application of Torah within the pattern of Christ’s life). The Jewish-Christian solution. (2) Submission under messianic and divine authority in a law-free situation in Mark; overlay of the pattern of Jesus’ life (and in particular his stand on halakah) over common values in the environment. The RomanGreek Church solution. (3) Transformation through the Spirit and the inclusion into the corporate entity of the Church as the new situation and condition in one: justification and sanctification through the Spirit leading to a fulfillment of the Torah as exemplified (a) by Jesus’ life and position on love for the neighbor and (b) love for the enemy, defining the relationship to the worldly powers. Paul’s

explicit position. But how then are faith and Christian ethics interlinked? Christian ethics is based on faith in a God who redeems humankind through a process of transformation of individuals as well as their social context. The faith that is required of man is a form of obedience to God’s revelation in His Torah, not in general as written law-code for humanity, but in the specific form that this Torah takes on first in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then in the community of His followers. The Christian reception of the law through the teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth implies obedience to a messianic Torah that highlights love toward God and neighbor as its major commandments and as the hermeneutic principle of the whole. The Torah that the gentiles received is an embodied Torah, and the incarnate Word of God is to be found primarily in the self-surrendering love of Christ on the Cross and in His obedience to His Father unto death, which transformed the human condition as well as the ethical order. The image of Christian ethics that emerges throughout the whole of the New Testament is firmly linked to scriptural revelation and the new situation of the Church. Christian morality is a morality received in a Scripture and passed on by a living hermeneutic tradition. It is primarily the congregation defining a commandment to be obeyed, not individuals exercising the inner voice of consciousness to be adopted if they see fit; it is a particular morality practiced in a separate people among the nations of the world, and not a motivational power for good citizens to abide by society’s standards. It is based upon a reversed moral order, where autonomous achievement and expected rewards are no longer the incentives on the road to self-willed perfection. It is based on a reversal of the situation in which man stands before God. Being justified and sanctified by participation in the life and death of Christ, Christians obey because the God of their salvation requires it and because the new life that they share implies the same. Let me conclude with a story that has become a paradigm for the Mennonite view of Christian ethics, which may show us the inadequacy of narrative ethics. In 1569 Dirk Willems was seized in Asperen, his native village, on the charge of being re-baptized in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.72 In his final arrest, he was pursued by the thief catcher and several others, including the mayor of the town. Dirk managed to cross an ice-covered river, but the thief catcher was not so lucky. He fell into the icy water, calling for help, and at that moment Dirk could easily have escaped. Considering,
72 Cf. the excellent analysis by James W. Lowry in The Martyr’s Mirror Made Plain, Ontario 1997, pp. 119-124.

however, that the others would not be able to reach his pursuer in time to help him out of the water, Dirk turned around and helped him. Now why would he do that? Based on a form of narrative ethics, he might have understood that he was like Israel, fleeing from Egypt, and the punishment for the thief catcher would be a righteous one. Just as they did on the pursuing armies of Egypt, the waters would have closed down upon him. The life of the pursuer was in Gods hands, after all, and so was his own. Could he not have understood this situation to be a result of divine intervention on his behalf? And how would Kant have judged this situation? By risking his own life to help his pursuer, did Dirk Willems in fact make his private rule of behavior into a moral law for all people? Then it would have set a standard difficult to follow. Now there was the commandment from Christ to love the enemy. Was it applicable here? Surely, the demand to love the enemy would not entail risking one’s own life. The world was not yet redeemed and the kingdom was not yet a reality. If one could interpret a commandment based on one’s rational assessment of the situation, there was no direct precept. Goppelt would have answered that such an action could not be required from anyone. Loving the enemy was a good inner intention, but practical reasoning would have led to the decision to leave the thief catcher to be the victim of his own recklessness, it would show that those who live by the sword will die by it. So the demand to love the enemy would have been counteracted by moral reason, by the narrative framework of salvation, and by a sober acknowledgment that the Kingdom was not yet present. But to Dirk, the commandment to love the enemy was not to be judged by moral reason, narrative theology, or practical reasoning. The commandment changed his perception of his own life and that of his pursuer. He was not to reason about morality, but to obey the commandment, trusting in God to lead the situation as he saw fit, even if that might cost him his life. When faced with the representative of the state, the principle of neighborly love had full force, even if that state was nothing but evil. The thief catcher was its victim as surely as it intended to make Dirk into its victim. But that did not change the main point: the life of the pursuer was not his to judge, nor was his own life to be esteemed “higher” than that of his pursuer. So Dirk acted like Abraham, considering that all life is in Gods hands, and that the promise of life could be fulfilled by God even above and beyond Dirk’s own efforts of preserving his own at the expense of that of his pursuer. Dirk’s action did indeed lead to his death. After rescuing the thief catcher, the latter was willing to let Dirk escape. However, the mayor began to

shout that he should arrest Dirk on the spot. Under oath to obey, the thief catcher reluctantly did so. Dirk was found guilty and burned at the stake. What did he accomplish with this action? Was there any visible result but his own death? Apparently not. But he showed in an extreme manner that obedience to Christ does not depend on our judgment and moral reasoning, and certainly not on our estimate of the good result. The commandment determined his view of life; it results in the paradox that we should love those that use force against us, make us suffer in Christ’s name, because we ourselves were God’s enemies and live by the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. We may not show the courage that Dirk has shown, but we cannot lay our consciences to rest in the conviction that Dirk was exceptional whereas he in fact did what is commanded of us all. The “Martyrs Mirror” that relates these events is a book that speaks about those moments in time when witness and suffering were joined together. The trust in God that is put to the test speaks in the non-resistant actions of those who had to endure the evil that lies at the heart of the political powers in this world. World history and its realism meet with the anticipatory power of faith: faith in a Christ who promised not to leave His disciples alone until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Faith in a God who transcends the boundaries of death and evil and enables us through His Spirit to do the impossible: follow Christ in our lives. To live according to that future reality in which Christ will be everything in all, to live the life of obedience to Christ that is determined by caring, self-surrendering love, and reconciliation and forgiveness, is the moral legacy that comes to us through the channels of time and tradition from the era of the New Testament. To accept that legacy means to affirm that the ways of the world and the realism of its history do not have the last word. The final word is the word that Christ will address to those who follow him in life, take up their cross, separate from the ways of the world, and obey his commandments:

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant”

Bibliography
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