Re: [asa] A question on morals (OT and NT)

From: Pete Enns <>
Date: Tue Nov 03 2009 - 15:52:17 EST

You are right, Cameron. I was conceding Bernie's point for the sake of
discussion. Judaism is not "OT religion" but traditional, i.e.,
"Talmudic" i.e., the product of a lot of thought in the history of
Judaism about how their Scripture can be understood and applied in
situations that are very different from when Scripture was written.

This is roughly analogous to the NT, where the first Christians, too,
were wrestling with how to "engage" their Scripture in view of a
crucified and risen messiah. "Things have changed and it requires some
fresh thinking." Of course, this dynamic is all over the OT itself, as
we can see in how the Chronicler "engages" the Deuteronomic History
for a postexilic audience.

It's questions like this that keep seminaries in business :-o

Pete Enns

On Nov 3, 2009, at 3:46 PM, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> If I may jump in on this thread--
> The discussion began with a comparison of Old Testament and New
> Testament morality, but then an example was introduced involving a
> Christian and a Jew, and the example was set up in such a way that
> it was suggested that the Jew would follow "Old Testament" morality.
> I had the good fortune to be taught by several Jewish professors,
> and I have to say that there is a misconception here. Judaism is
> not a religion that simply reads off laws from the Old Testament and
> follows them "by the book". Judaism is not a static code of laws or
> morals, but a living religious tradition.
> Thus, a modern Jewish rabbi does not read his ethics directly out of
> the Old Testament laws. Even in strictly legal matters, his reading
> of the Law is shaped by many factors, including an emphasis on
> gentleness, compassion and forgiveness. And human life embraces
> more than legal relationships, so Judaism has developed teachings
> about attitudes and conduct which go beyond what is addressed by the
> laws. Jewish teaching is deeply concerned with how to live a higher
> ethical and spiritual life, and not only the Law but also the
> writings of the Prophets and the Wisdom literature have shaped that
> teaching.
> If you asked any modern rabbi whether it was permissible to return
> evil for evil in personal matters, the rabbi would offer a
> resounding "No". So if little Eli smashed little Daniel's bike, it
> would not be right for Daniel to return the "favour". Would such an
> action, in addition to being wrong, be considered "sinful"? I would
> not claim certainty on this, but I suspect that it would. Indeed, I
> suspect that many rabbis would consider even the desire for revenge
> sinful. Jesus was not the first Jew to realize that not only
> external deeds but also internal motivations corrupt the soul.
> Judaism has always been interested not merely in legal correctness
> but the development of hearts which exhibit compassion, forbearance,
> and forgiveness. And if someone here should point out that not all
> Jews live up to this notion, I would simply say that this is not
> surprising; all Christians don't live up to it either.
> In short, I don't see a huge gulf between Judaism and Christianity
> on moral questions. The impression of a gulf is created when
> Christians read the Old Testament laws out of their Jewish context.
> But just as one reading the book of Revelation, or some of the
> harsher sayings of Jesus or the writers of the Epistles, without
> having any first-hand knowledge of the actual practice of
> Christianity, might well take away the impression that Christianity
> is a narrow, vindictive and judgmental religion, so a Christian,
> reading the Laws of Moses, without any knowledge of the traditions
> within which those laws are interpreted and lived out by the Jewish
> people, might come away with the impression that Judaism is a rather
> primitive religion with a crude, tit-for-tat notion of morality and
> a very legalistic conception of spirituality. This would be a false
> impression.
> Cameron.

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Received on Tue Nov 3 15:52:41 2009

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