I gave this video lecture as a Teaching Intern in BS710 (Advanced Greek: Septuagint) at Asbury Theological Seminary during the Spring 2017 semester. Please make good use of the attached PDF above. This lecture is my summary of the entry for καί (“and” – the most common Greek conjunction) in BDAG (the most important New Testament Greek-English lexicon). I have counted 35 different uses that BDAG identifies of καί in biblical Greek! Good grief! Good Greek!
Timothy J. Christian. Summary of Ben Witherington III, “‘Almost Thou Persuadest Me…’: The Importance of Greco-Roman Rhetoric for the Understanding of the Text and Context of the NT,” JETS 58 (2015): 63-88.
In this article, Witherington puts forth and all out defense of NT rhetorical criticism (RC), refuting common objections in part I, confirming/validating the practice in part II, and demonstrating its important use to interpreting the NT (using examples) in part III.
I. REFUTATIO: OBJECTIONS TO NEW METHODS
- Rhetorical analysis of the NT is not a “new method.”
- It was practiced by many Greek Fathers
- Origen, Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus), and John Chrysostom, etc.
- Problems lies with scholars who have not kept up with classicists and patristic scholars.
- Nothing is new about RC of the NT.
- RC is time-honored
- Been in use for well over a 1,000 years.
- Predates epistolary analysis by 1,000 years.
- The rise of all the biblical criticisms during the 19th-21st centuries are “new.”
- RC is not an antique method.
- RC was used up until WWI.
- RC fell out of usage in the 20th century due to changes in university curriculum.
- Major universities dropped requirements for classical courses.
- Major universities AND seminaries dropped requirements for rhetorical courses.
- RC was a pattern of NT interpretation for the Western Church and Protestant tradition.
- Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana
- Philip Melanchthon –commentaries analyzing NT with Greco-Roman (GR) rhetoric, and handbook of GR handbooks for NT.
- If this is correct, then scholars have misread the NT for a long time.
- Yes – We’ve missed out.
- No – We shouldn’t ONLY use rhetoric to interpret the NT. Other methods are helpful/useful/valid.
- However, those who ignore rhetoric are missing enormous insights into the NT.
- Most objectors to NT RC espouse that early Christians were not highly educated, which means that they could not have known GR rhetoric, and rather argued mainly from the OT.
- Below are 12 responses to 12 common objects like this.
Response to 12 objections
- Historically, Hellenization swept the Jewish world (Jews, Galilee, Judea) so much so that GR rhetoric was taught in Jerusalem schools.
- Early Christianity was not led by illiterate Jewish peasants (contra John Dominic Crossan).
- Peter and John were probably educated in Galilee.
- Acts 4:13 (agrammatoi kai idiotai) – doesn’t mean they were uneducated idiots, but that they did not study with scribes in Jerusalem.
- This is typical snobbery of Jerusalem elites.
- Greek education was all over the world, even in the Holy Land.
- Josephus (historian), Theodorus (rhetorician), Meleager (poet), and Philodemus (philosopher) were all educated in GALILEE!
- Both grammarians (grammateus) and rhetoricians (rhetors) taught each other’s subjects – they both taught grammar and rhetoric.
- And this in SAMARIA and GALILEE (where Jesus was raised and disciples were from)!
- Rhetoric was the basic education of the day.
- Rhetoric could be used in epistles.
- letters of Demosthenes; Fred Long’s Ancient Rhetoric and Paul’s Apology.
- Rhetorical discourses could have epistolary frameworks.
- Many ancient documents had epistolary openings in non-epistle genres.
- A high, formal education in rhetoric was not needed to use and recognize it.
- Rhetoric could be used in epistles.
- The Roman Empire was rhetorically saturated.
- In education, public speeches, inscriptions, Imperial propaganda, etc.
- Most Greek speakers were either “producers or avid consumers of rhetoric” (69).
- “If early Christianity really was an evangelistic religion wanting to persuade a Greek-speaking world about the odd notion that a crucified manual worker from Nazareth rose from the dead and was King of kings and Lords of lords, this was going to take some serious ‘persuasion,’ and the chief tool in the arsenal of all well-known persuaders, orators, rhetoricians in the Greco-Roman world was rhetoric” (69).
- This quote helps demonstrate the contribution that RC gives to explaining the rise of early Christianity (contra Scott Hafemann in DPL [IVP] article on “Paul and His Interpreters”  where he states that rhetorical and sociological studies of the NT do not contribute much to the perennial discussion of the rise and development of early Christianity).
- Early Gentile Christianity was led by gifted, educated people – Paul, Apollos, Luke – who used oral means (rhetorical preaching) for an oral culture.
- Paul’s letters are surrogates for oral messages.
- Ancient book trade was highly expensive and only for Roman elites.
- Also, the ancient book trade was only in the beginning stages during the 1st century AD.
- Thus, texts were understood as oral and always read aloud.
- 1 Cor 1-2 is not Paul rejecting rhetoric in general, but particularly sophistic rhetoric.
- Epistolary analysis cannot be primary – RC is primary, whereas epistolary criticism (EC) is appropriate though secondary.
- Cicero says a letter is “a speech in written medium” (Att. 8.14.1; cf. Pseudo-Demetrius, Eloc. 223).
- Further, epistolary handbooks were later than the NT times and were not widely used/taught in schools.
- 1 John and Hebrews are homilies (rhetoric), not epistles – though many NT scholars wrongly attempt to classify them as epistles.
- The NT letters are not private (though they are personal), but communal letters for groups and thus are meant to be performed.
- Not private communication like Cicero to Atticus.
- Objections about there not being a scholarly consensus on the rhetoric in NT passages does not mean that rhetoric is not in the NT.
- Further, mere epistolary scholars also share no consensus either!
- And that is scholarship! Rarely do scholars enjoy the pleasures of consensus.
- Perhaps NT rhetorical critics are all too persuasive (my joke, not BW3)!
II. PROBATIO: THE CASE FOR RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF THE NT
- Rhetoric was the staple of GR education, not letter-writing.
- Letter-writing helps with prescripts, greetings, and postscripts, but “That is all” (73).
- EC provides little to no help in analyzing the bulk of NT letters (particularly, the letter body).
- “Middle body” wasn’t even a category in ancient epistolary theory.
- Scholars need to unlearn the anachronisms of EC, because epistolary theory developed after NT times.
- No big chiasms in the NT letters!
- Chiasms must be seen, but the NT was primarily heard (only the lectors/oral deliverers saw the NT texts)
- Sorry Kenneth Bailey (Paul through Mediterranean Eyes)
- I should write a book called Paul through Mediterranean Ears that furthers Witherington’s (and my own) view of NT RC.
- Duane Watson strongly critiques chiasm studies.
- Note (mine, not BW3): this is why in IBS Bauer urges that chiasm must be used with other primary Major Structural Relationships (MSR), since chiasm is a secondary MSR dependent upon primary MSRs.
- Delivery of Paul’s “epistles” was entrusted to trustworthy coworkers.
- It helped hearers if written/read documents were structured using common (κοινη) rhetorical structures.
- Ears were trained to hear these features and even anticipate them.
- The rhetorical force of the NT documents is largely lost in translation today.
- We need clever translators!
- The NT is full of oral documents.
- This means that rhetoric is needed to analyze the NT
- BECAUSE the NT was meant to persuade and preach; and the NT itself is persuasion and preaching.
III. COMPLEX RHETORICAL TECHNIQUES IN THE NT
- Macro-rhetoric revisited
- Revisits whether macro-rhetoric is applicable to NT letters.
- 1 Cor 1:4-9’s thanksgiving also functions as an exordium which prepares the audience for topics to be discussed throughout the discourse and also to make them well disposed towards Paul.
- Arrangement can be flexible – doesn’t always have to follow by the book, but flexible to suit the needs of the occasion and audience.
- Rhetorical species can be mixed – 1 Cor is deliberative rhetoric though it has an epideictic digression in 1 Cor 13.
- Methodologically, NT rhetorical critics must compare the NT not only with the GR rhetorical handbooks, but also especially from actual GR speeches.
- Margaret M. Mitchell set this methodological precedent in 1991 with her Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation.
- Fred Long also gives copious evidence on this score.
- Romans 9-11 is an insinuatio. ******HUGE FOR MY DISSERTATION******
- Changes in style explain why Paul’s language, syntax, etc. differs significantly in Ephesians, Colossians, and Pastorals.
- Paul uses Asiatic rhetoric (style) in Ephesians and Colossians.
- T. Johnson – “changing style was a common rhetorical tactic to be persuasive to differing audiences. It is not a matter of different authors. It is a matter of flexibility in rhetoric” (78).
- Paul and other NT writers knew rhetoric extremely well and in detail (79).
- Stanley Stowers
- Paul hade instruction from a grammaticus
- Further study in letter writing and elementary rhetoric
- Including progymnasmic exercises.
- Jerome Neyrey
- Paul had a tertiary-level education including rhetoric and philosophy
- Ron Hock
- Same conclusion based on Paul’s use of invention and arrangement in the undisputed Paulines.
- “It is time for us to give the apostle to the Gentiles his rhetorical due” (79).
- Stanley Stowers
- Rhetoric on full display
- Witherington’s Rom 7 spiel.
- “This text proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did not use rhetoric in some purely superficial or sparing way (e.g. using rhetorical questions). To the contrary, the very warp and woof of his argument here reflects, and indeed requires an understanding of, sophisticated rhetorical techniques to make sense of the content of this passage and the way it attempts to persuade the Roman audience” (79).
- “In short, if Paul can go to these sorts of lengths to use rhetorical conventions to convict and persuade a Roman audience that he has not even met, we may be sure that it is a mistake to underestimate what was rhetorically possible for Paul and other writers of the NT. Not all of them had Paul’s skills and finesse. But almost all of them had some knowledge and made some use of not just micro-rhetoric but also macro-rhetoric, and it is high time we are in more agreement with Origen and Chrysostom and Jerome and Melanchthon and others on this score” (87).
- And so?
- “One ignores Greco-Roman rhetoric at one’s peril if one wants to understand the NT. It is not enough to have a nodding acquaintance with minor rhetorical devices and how they work” (87).
This is Part 2 of my lectures on the ancient rhetorical practice of insinuatio that I gave in my dissertation mentor’s (Dr. Ben Witherington III) doctoral course entitled “Socio-Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament” (NT903) on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. This second lecture mainly covers insinuatio in ancient speeches (rhetorical praxis) from Thucydides, Lysias, Isocrates, Demosthenes, and of course Cicero. This is Part 2 of The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice. Click here for Part 1.
My dissertation mentor, Dr. Ben Witherington III, invited me to come and lecture on my dissertation topic (the rhetorical device called insinuatio [Latin]) in his doctoral course entitled “Socio-Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament” (NT903) on Thursday, October 12, 2017. Apparently I intrigued them all enough to warrant a second invite for the following Tuesday (Part 2). You can listen here to my first lecture from Thursday which mainly covers what insinuatio is, and what the ancient Greek and Roman rhetorical handbooks have to say about it. This is Part 1 of The Rhetoric of Insinuatio: Theory and Practice. Click here for Part 2.
Dr. Jason Myers is one of our most successful PhD graduates from Asbury’s PhD program (Biblical Studies) who published a book review yesterday (Jan 27, 2017) in RBL (Review of Biblical Literature) which is the book review sector of JBL (Journal of Biblical Literature) both of which are a part SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), the largest biblical scholar society today. His review was on Teresa Morgan’s Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire and Early Churches (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). This is yet another great achievement not only for Dr. Myers, but also for Asbury’s PhD program. Prior to this recent RBL book review, Dr. Myers landed a deal to publish his dissertation and before that he became one of the first Asbury PhD grads to secure a full time professorship immediately following commencement. Dr. Myers is not only making a name for himself as a teacher and scholar, but his erudition is also making a name for Asbury’s PhD program which is only a little over a decade old. Dr. Myers is a shining light for Asbury and I’m proud to call him my colleague and friend. Please check out his RBL book review here and the announcement of his hire at Greensboro College here. Congrats Jason!
You can find my first published article by clicking this title: A Questionable Inversion: Jesus’ Corrective Answer to the Disciples’ Questions in Matthew 24:3-25:46.
Here is my abstract from the article:
“This article explores the interrogatory relationship between the disciples’ two questions in Matt 24:3 and Jesus’ twofold answer in Matt 24:4–25:46 (divided 24:4-35 and 24:36–25:46). First, concerning how these questions and answers relate, Jesus answers inverted forms of their questions that imply the form, “what will be the signs of these things?” and “when will your coming and the consummation of the age happen?” Second, concerning why they relate in this way, Jesus does this to correct the disciples’ wrong views about the destruction of the temple and eschatology. Lastly, the article offers a corrective to the various eschatological positions which are often superimposed upon Matt 24–25” (Christian, “A Questionable Inversion,” 44).
Timothy J. Christian. Review of E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (London: SCM Press, 1985).
In his other groundbreaking work following Paul and Palestinian Judaism, E. P. Sanders in his 1985 monograph Jesus and Judaism examines the historical Jesus within the framework of his first century Jewish context. In his introduction, Sanders lays out his methodology stressing that the most secure evidence in discovering the historical Jesus rests not on his sayings as a teacher as so many previous scholars had done (form criticism), but on Jewish eschatology (8). He also presents eight undisputed facts about the historical Jesus:
- Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. 2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed. 3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve. 4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel. 5. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple. 6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities. 7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement. 8. At least some Jews persecuted parts of the new movement…and it appears that this persecution endured at least to a time near the end of Paul’s career (11).
These facts, along with knowledge of Jesus’ life and teaching, and knowledge of first century Judaism will help best explain, he argues, the relationship between what Jesus did, said, the reason for his execution, and the later break that the Jesus movement made with Judaism. Sanders’ overall goal is to ascertain the best answer to these connections.
The book has three parts. In part one (The Restoration of Israel), Sanders first argues for a symbolic reading (following Meyer, Brandon, Roloff, and Gaston) of the so-called “cleansing of the temple” in chapter one (Jesus and the Temple). Contra the dominant view, he strongly asserts that it should not be considered a “cleansing” at all, and has nothing to do with “purifying the worship of God” (68). Rather, Jesus’ actions symbolize an attack on the temple, preparing for its destruction and the subsequent new, eschatological temple. In chapter two (New Temple and Restoration in Jewish Literature), he further substantiates his assertions from chapter one demonstrating from a plethora of primary Jewish sources (Second Temple literature) the expectation in Jesus’ time for a “new temple” assumed a prior destruction and subsequent rebuilding, not merely a “cleansing” (90). In chapter three (Other Indications of Restoration Eschatology), Sanders then situates the context of Jesus and later movement by his disciples into Jewish restoration eschatology, showing how Jesus and his movement both operate within and at some points diverge from them. The ministries of John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul all point to Jewish restoration eschatology, along with the “the Twelve” symbolizing a restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel. The point of divergence is repentance. In Second Temple literature, a call to national repentance was common to restoration eschatology. Sanders however does not think that the historical Jesus called Israel to repentance, because John the Baptist already fulfilled this. This point will resurface later when he discusses the meaning of “the sinners.”
In part two (The Kingdom), Sanders begins in chapter four (The Sayings) by critiquing the previous methods used by historical Jesus scholars that focus almost exclusively upon Jesus’ sayings; form criticism more or less. He shows the severe limitations of this method particularly in determining Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (136). Sanders, therefore, doubts the authenticity of most sayings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels unless there is an overabundant amount of evidence in favor of its historicity. In this way, then, he is a minimalist. Next, in chapter five (Miracles and Crowds), he surveys Jesus’ miracles and the major scholarly opinions about them. Since most depend upon sayings, he dismisses what most have said previously, but agrees with MacMullen who rejects Smith’s assertion that Jesus was a magician because magician’s used evil spirits (168). As such, the term “prophet” is more appropriate than “magician” (170). Regardless, he concludes that the miracles in and of themselves do not point to Jesus being an “eschatological prophet” (170), but to the fact that he performed them in his public ministry career. This, Sanders deems, is “unsatisfactory” and does not tell us as much as we would desire them to though many previous scholars have purported the opposite (169). In chapter six (The Sinners), Sanders critiques Jeremias’ conclusions that “the sinners” and amme ha-arets are the common people. Using Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, he argues that “the sinners” are actually the unrepentant wicked (177-9). This, he suggests, is what offends the Pharisees, because Jesus was offering the kingdom of God to the wicked, giving them grace, and not requiring them to repent (199-201). In chapter seven (The Gentiles), Sanders critiques Jeremias and Riches concerning Jesus’ view of the Gentile mission. His summary of the OT prophets and post-biblical literature on the Gentile predictions shows Jeremias and Riches to be uninformed about the variegated Jewish views. He does not think that Jesus shared his view about the Gentile mission with his disciples (221), but that they later saw it as a logical extension of his work and ministry (220). In chapter eight (The Kingdom: Conclusion), he summarizes his main points in part two and concludes that Jesus’ movement was not a political threat to Rome and that Jesus emphasized an “otherworldly-earthly kingdom” (237).
In part three (Conflict and Death), Sanders begins chapter nine (The Law) by arguing that Jesus did not possess a negative attitude toward the law. Many before him espoused the opposite and that his negative view of the law led to his crucifixion and death. He examines passages on the temple incident, the quote “Let the dead bury their own dead,” the sinners, the sayings about divorce, and a few others. He deems Matt 5:17, nearly the whole Sermon on the Mount, and the Sabbath passages to be unauthentic. His conclusion is that the prohibition of divorce is the most historically reliable and substantiates that Jesus was not against the law (267). In chapter ten (Opposition and Opponents), he argues that Jesus did not oppose Jewish externalism or legalism (275). Further, he asserts that Jesus’ main conflict in Jerusalem was not with the Pharisees, the Romans, or the crowds, but primarily with the chief priests who ultimately were responsible for his death (286). This opposition and offense stems from his act and sayings against the temple (287), and his sayings about “the sinners” (293). In chapter eleven (The Death of Jesus), Sanders provides two firm facts: (1) Jesus was executed as a would-be king by the Romans, and (2) his disciples formed an apolitical messianic movement (294). He examines the triumphal entry, the betrayal, and the role of the Jewish leaders in his death and concludes that the chief priests played “the primary role” in Jesus’ death (310). He confirms this by also examining places in Josephus where the chief priests played the major role in people’s executions (316). Chapter twelve (Conclusion), gives Sanders’ final analysis of the relationship between Jesus’ actions, sayings, cause for execution, and his movement’s later break with Judaism. His most certain conclusions are that Jesus (1) “shared the world-view that I have called ‘Jewish restoration eschatology’,” (2) “preached the kingdom of God,” (3) “promised the kingdom to the wicked,” (4) “did not explicitly oppose the law,” and (5) “Neither he nor his disciples thought that the kingdom would be established by force of arms. They looked for an eschatological miracle” (326). As such, then, Jesus was not a rare Jew who believed in love, grace, and repentance, the Jews did not normally kill people for believing such things, and hence Jesus did not shake Judaism “to pieces” and thus destroy it as so many scholars had previously purported (326-7).
The strongest critique that I have for Sanders has to do with historical method. Overall, Sanders tends to be a minimalist, especially regarding the sayings of Jesus. This manifests itself throughout the whole work when he quickly and flippantly (seemingly) dismisses passages in the Gospels as being unauthentic, or not really from the historical Jesus. More often than not, he gives little to no reasoning for this (even in his end notes) which comes off as more of an opinion than actual facts based upon evidence. Of course, he could not fight every battle and doing so might detract from his main argument, but it should be unacceptable for scholars simply to say that a certain passage is not authentic just because they say so without due explanation, especially when the evidence would point not in favor to their proposed hypothesis which is often the case with Sanders. The most perplexing example of this is where he claims that “There is no explicit evidence that Jesus was a preacher of national repentance” (115). The most obvious places where Jesus preaches repentance is at the beginning of his ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15) and “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 4:17). But Sanders quickly dismisses these as unauthentic without much explanation. His denial of this is absolutely vital to his whole argument, because if Jesus did preach repentance, then his theory about “the sinners” being the unrepentant wicked is incorrect, which would then result in the Jewish leaders not being offended at him (though the other main offense was the temple incident), which might result in them not trying to execute him thus disassembling Sanders’ major premises. The other main place where he does this is in chapter nine concerning the law when he dismisses the Sermon on the Mount being authentic (262-4). If authentic, it might give more fuel to the fire that Jesus did oppose the law in some respects or at least challenge the current Jewish interpretation of it. He also dismisses Matt 23 as being authentic when trying to demonstrate that Jesus did not actually oppose the Pharisees (but the chief priests) but purports that Christian redactors put these words on the mouth of Jesus. All in all, Sanders’ biggest weakness is his minimalist historiographical approach, which often times comes across as Sanders changing (or dismissing) the evidence to fit his own proposal.
All of this should not deter the fact that Sanders’ work has many lasting and valuable contributions, not the least of which being that he was one of the first to establish the historical Jesus in his first century Jewish context. The only reason he was able to do this was because of his own expertise in Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, another strong feature of this work. Another strength of the work is his refusal simply to accept the work of other scholars whose views were driven from theological motives rather than historical ones. As such, he spends a great deal of time “slaying old dragons,” and pointing out the errors of previous scholarship uninformed by Jewish restoration eschatology. If one can overlook his dismissal of many sayings and passages in the Gospels, Sanders presents a very strong and novel case for the historical Jesus, providing a new understanding of the cause and effect relationship between Jesus’ actions, words, execution, and subsequent movement. Jesus and Judaism cannot be ignored in NT studies as it has spurned the renewed quest for the historical Jesus in his Jewish first century context.
Today I have seen numerous posts on social media sites about Memorial Day and rightly so. However, many of these posts have left me unsettled, unnerved, and frankly dumbfounded. This is mainly due to the apparent lack of critical thinking on the part of many Christians who equate or compare the sacrifice of (particularly U.S.) soldiers and the sacrifice of Jesus. It is in fact not a new thing that should shock me, since many American Christians today already tend to equate the U.S.A. with the kingdom of God or at least view America as God’s gift to the world. While this is no surprise, these notions still irk me because equating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ with anything or anyone, especially with armies and militaries, is frankly sacrilegious. So here are 4 reasons why Christians should refrain from equating and comparing the sacrifice of soldiers with the sacrifice of Jesus.
1. The Word “Sacrifice” Meant Something Different for Jesus.
On the one hand, the word “sacrifice” in Jesus’ time was a worship term, carrying a cultic sense and involving the worship of the one God, Yahweh. These sacrifices were carried out by the slaughtering of animals for the forgiveness of and atonement for sins. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is in fact portrayed in this cultic sense in the Gospel accounts. All four gospels frame his crucifixion during the Passover (Exod 12-13), and in this way Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7) and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
A soldier’s sacrifice, on the other hand, means something different entirely. For them, it means the sacrifice of being with family and loved ones, the sacrifice of comforts and pleasures, the sacrifice of time, energy, and strength, and ultimately, the sacrifice of their own lives if lost in battle. Now of course, the sacrifice of soldiers is not bad. In fact, it is quite noble to sacrifice so much for the sake of others.
But the point is that these two sacrifices are not the same: one is about the worship of God and forgiveness of sins, and the other is about giving up their lives for their country and loved ones.
2. Jesus Didn’t Die for His Country, But the Whole World.
The New Testament writers describe Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as something that was not simply for his own people – the Jews – but for all nations – the whole world (2 Cor 5:14-15). His cross and blood atones for the sins of all peoples, nations, languages, cultures, and ethnicities (1 Tim 2:6; 1 John 2:2). In contrast, the sacrifice of a soldier is primarily for their own country, only for their own “team” if you will.
3. Jesus’ Sacrifice Did Not Involve Killing Others.
The Gospel of John says that Jesus laid down his own life – “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18) – and this did not involve taking the lives of others in the process.
On the contrary, war inevitably means killing and being killed. Soldiers do not lay down their lives for their countries without taking the lives of others. This is something that was entirely foreign to Jesus and his sacrifice. In fact, the night when Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter tried to fight back by force and cut off someone’s ear, to which Jesus responded, “Put the sword into the sheath!” (John 18:10-11). Even on his way to the cross, Jesus did not want the lives of others to be taken. This is quite different from a soldier’s perspective and duty.
4. Jesus’ Sacrifice Displayed Love for Enemies.
The apostle Paul described Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the love of God for sinners: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Elsewhere he says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col 1:21-22). It is clear that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross showed God’s love for his enemies.
However, soldiers’ sacrifices display only love for their own countries, and demonstrate hate for their enemies. Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:43-48).
It seems to me that military sacrifice is much more like loving your neighbor and hating your enemies, loving only those who love you, thus doing what the tax collectors and Gentiles do. Jesus however requires his followers to go beyond this, to be perfect as their heavenly Father is, meaning loving those who hate you which includes even those on opposite sides of a war.
So, it is not bad to love those who love you, or to serve in the military, or to make the sacrifices that so many soldiers and their families make for American freedom – some of our beloved friends are doing this. But it is, however, a mistake to equate this with Jesus’ sacrifice and Christianity.
That means, contra so many FaceBook posts I’ve seen today, that John 15:13 – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – is not about military service! Let alone U.S. military service! (Reminder: America is not in the Bible). Rather it is about the sacrifice that Jesus would make on behalf of the entire world: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
While I am thankful this Memorial Day for the freedom to even write such a blog with religious freedom and the freedom of speech because of those soldiers who lost their lives for this country, I do so recognizing that this is not the same as the sacrifice of the One who truly made the ultimate sacrifice,
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
On April 15, I had the opportunity to present my paper entitled “Hell No? The Void of New Testament Theology” at the Doctoral Biblical Studies Seminar at Asbury Theological Seminary. This is a work of New Testament theology on the negative afterlife. My fellow Ph.D. student Donald Murray Vasser responded with a scholarly review.
Here is the paper abstract:
“It is no small quest to understand and plunge the depths of such a heated matter as Hell. Many throughout church history have perennially ventured on such an endeavor, some understandably with hesitancy and reluctance. At best, their efforts have demonstrated that this doctrine is vitally important for understanding the Christian take on the afterlife. At worst, they have left us today gazing into an abyss of immortal uncertainty about the final destination of the wicked. While some still hold to a traditional interpretation of Hell, many today have meandered off the trail pushing the theological boundaries with universalism, annihilationism, and purgatory. Furthermore, these differing perspectives and the unending debates concerning them seem to lead to more frustration and confusion, putting everyone into a state of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Not only so, but these further leave people asking the question, “What exegetical support is there for such proposed claims anyways?” The task set before us then in answering these questions is to delve into the recesses of Hell as presented in the NT and mine the quarry therein in order to provide a thoroughly exegetical NT theology of Hell. As such, we will do this by describing and summarizing each explicit mention of Hell in the NT throughout its major sections: (1) in Jesus and the Gospels, (2) in the book of Acts, (3) in the Pauline Epistles, (4) in the Catholic Epistles, and (5) in Revelation. After the survey of each major section, I will discuss the theological implications of that section for contemporary theology and the church. To finish, I will synthesize the various perspectives on Hell in the NT, thus setting forth a NT theology of Hell. Overall, I am arguing that only the traditional interpretation of Hell holds true when compared with the theology of Hell found in the NT. Put another way, neither universalism, annihilationism, nor purgatory have any exegetical grounding in the NT, but only the traditional take on the fate of the nefarious.”
Here is my paper presentation from SBL this past year in November at San Diego, CA. I had the honor of giving the very first paper for the “Rhetoric and the New Testament” section. I was very happy with how it went and with the feedback I received. I was also very thankful for my Ph.D. advisor, Ben Witherington III, coming to hear my paper. In addition, Greg Carey who presided over the session said at the end of the session, “Well, you’ve convinced me.” This affirmation has given me a lot of encouragement as I continue to seek this topic for my dissertation.
I welcome more feedback, positive and negative, so long as it is constructive.