The New Testament And Peacemaking: Some Problem Passages -- By: Donald Senior

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 04:1 (Fall 1986)
Article: The New Testament And Peacemaking: Some Problem Passages
Author: Donald Senior


The New Testament And Peacemaking:
Some Problem Passages

Donald Senior, C. P.

Professor of New Testament Studies
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois

Any Christians who have engaged in serious discussion about the biblical foundations for peacemaking soon end up debating some of the classical “stoppers”: Jesus wielding a whip in the Temple; the instruction to the disciples at the last supper to sell their mantle and to buy a sword; the flat declaration of Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”; not to mention the military images in Paul and the general belligerency of the book of Revelation. No genuine Christian would try to make a case against peace on the basis of the New Testament; but many would make a case for war on the basis of texts such as these. So it might be worthwhile to examine these “problem passages” more closely.

Let me express my own perspective on the Bible and peace at the outset. I believe the entire Bible moves in the direction of peace. Shalom, peace, is a fundamental category both of the Old and the New Testaments. Longing for shalom is equivalent to longing for salvation itself. Peace is one of the essential qualities of life with God in the final age.

In the New Testament, opposition to violence and the quest for peace become urgent parts of Jesus’ message. Perhaps the most radical statement of this is Jesus’ teaching on love of enemies found in the Gospels of Matthew (5:43–48) and Luke (6:27–36), and the similar exhortations on non-retaliation and peacemaking found in the letters of Paul and later Christian literature.

This material has been thoroughly discussed in a number of recent works.1 Suffice it to say that the heart of Jesus’ teaching and ministry as presented in the Synoptic Gospels and echoed in various ways in John and the New Testament letters points to a refusal to accept violence as a way of establishing God’s reign and exhibits a vigorous pursuit of peace and reconciliation. This tradition was so firmly embedded in early Christianity that it led to very serious discussion whether bearing arms could ever be compatible with the Christian vocation.2

I would, therefore, approach the “problem passages” from the vantage point of the biblical commitment to peace. That, in fact, is why these texts are “problems.” How, for example, are injunctions about taking up swords and Jesus’ own apparent use of violent means in his cause to be reconciled with the New Testament’s fundamental option...

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