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

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Tue Nov 03 2009 - 16:17:34 EST

Let's look at when God gave this to the Israelites. Here it is:
Leviticus 24:19-22 (New International Version)
19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.' "
Are we in agreement that God gave this command and meant it to be literally followed by the people in the time and place in which he commanded it?:

19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.

(Forget about future application for now, let's see if we all agree on this first step, that God meant it to the people he gave it to for that time, literally. Maybe some people think it was hyperbole, instead?)


From: [] On Behalf Of Pete Enns
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 12:52 PM
To: Cameron Wybrow
Subject: Re: [asa] A question on morals (OT and NT)

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.


To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Nov 3 16:18:12 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Nov 03 2009 - 16:18:12 EST