Old Testament Bases for Christian Peace Theology

Ted Grimsrud

[Paper presented to the Scripture and Contextual Ethics Section at the American Academy of Religion annual meetings, Atlanta, Georgia—November 1, 2010]

The “just peacemaking” project that brought together Christian ethicists holding both to pacifism and to versions of the just war theory but united in the goal of “abolishing war”[1] has made a great start in a practical effort to overcome the curse of war. The desire to expand the project beyond Christianity is welcome—in fact absolutely necessary.

My paper points in two mutually reinforcing directions—one is to challenge Christians in our understanding of the bases for our peace theology, the second is to work at finding common ground between Christian peace theology and other traditions (most obviously Judaism, but potentially beyond).

The Old Testament as a Problem

Christian peace theology tends to be New Testament centered, especially drawing on the gospels. Most Christians would seem to assume that the Old Testament has little to offer for the work of overcoming war and violence. The comment of a friend of mine many years ago may be representative. We were in a Bible study group together and when someone suggested we study something from the Old Testament, my friend snorted and stated flatly, “I don’t want anything to do with that bloody book!” And many Christians who have wanted something to do with the Old Testament, going back to Augustine, have mainly used it as a justification for the acceptability of warfare.

So it’s no surprise when a Christian peace theologian such a Jack Nelson-Pallmyer writes a polemical book critiquing Christian acceptance of violent theology, he would portray the Old Testament mainly as a problem.[2] Every Fall I teach an undergrad class called “Biblical Theology of Peace and Justice” to students who by and large are Christian pacifists of a fairly theologically conservative stripe (mostly Mennonites). Rare is the student who doesn’t see the Old Testament as a major problem.

Even peace theologians who don’t share Nelson-Pallmyer’s antipathy toward the Old Testament (such as John Howard Yoder, Glen Stassen, and Walter Wink) nonetheless do little to develop a positive Old Testament centered peace theology.[3]

Happily, numerous Old Testament scholars have helped us make progress in understanding the Hebrew scriptures as conveying a message of peace, not only giving us problems to overcome in constructing a biblically-based peace theology.[4] But as yet, these scholars have mainly produced careful historical and textual studies more than constructive biblically based peace theologies.

I approach these themes as a constructive theologian drawing on the work of biblical scholars. I am trying to develop a present-day peace theology that will be usable both within Christian communities and as we relate to fellow peacemakers outside our faith tradition. Probably my distinctive contribution in relation to other peace church writers who deal with the Old Testament to push more strenuously the value of reading the Bible as a whole.

I believe we find in the Bible a coherent story, with plot development, that provides a powerful basis for our constructive peace theology. This story is what we could call “God’s healing strategy,” a story that from its beginning in Genesis one has peace at its heart.[5] In this story, the Old Testament plays a crucial role—not as a preliminary to the essential part (as if its main point is to show us humanity’s unresolved problems that require Jesus to fulfill the promises and give us for the first time the true message of salvation), but as providing the core enduring message of peace and salvation that Jesus and the New Testament confirm and vindicate.

I don’t want to deny that the Old Testament contains numerous challenging elements for peacemakers. And we legitimately devote much creative energy to understanding and responding to those problems. Millard Lind’s, Eric Siebert’s, and Douglas Earl’s books, mentioned in note 4, are invaluable in helping us to grapple with the genuine “problems.” However, it is a misreading of the Old Testament and an impoverishing of Christian peace theology to let the problems overshadow the positive message of peace that the Old Testament gives us. In what follows, I will outline that positive message. I will speak to three points: the Old Testament peace vision, the Old Testament justice vision, and the Old Testament critique of state-centered power politics.

The Old Testament Peace Vision

The psalmist tells us that “peace and justice shall embrace” (Ps 85:10), tipping us off that “peace” and “justice” are not in tension with one another in the Bible but rather are complementary. So, as I write first of the “peace vision” and then of the “justice vision,” I mean to present these two concepts as mutually reinforcing, not standing over against one another.

From the very start, the Old Testament gives a vision for peace—both in the sense of the immense value of peace but also a clear sense of how peace is achieved and the form it takes.[6] The creation story tells of God bringing order and harmony out of chaos. This harmony is a gift, though, not order imposed by coercive force. The consequence of the harmony is the empowerment of humanity to share in God’s work of cultivation in this new world God brought into being (not the subservience of impotent human persons to an all-powerful king-like God). The creation story presents harmony between humanity and God and among human beings as our default human circumstance. We start as peaceable creatures in harmony with (even in the image of) a peaceable God.[7]

After disharmony enters the story, and we read of the retributive response by God that ends with God’s decision to continue with humanity and a commitment not to respond with such violence in the future, we come in Genesis 12 to beginning of the main story line of God’s chosen people as agents of God’s blessing of all the families of the earth. In a nutshell, we find here the basic message of the rest of the Bible (Old and New Testaments). God has purposed to bring healing to broken creation through the establishment of a people who will know God’s peace, live in light of that peace, and be a conduit of peace to all the families of the earth.

In light of this calling that Abraham receives to bless all the families of the earth, we read of his embodying that calling in his exemplary practice of hospitality that is contrasted with Sodom’s inhospitality and in his exemplary petition with God on behalf of the sinful Sodomites. Abraham is scarcely a perfect human being, but he does put into practice his sense of calling to be a peacemaker.[8]

The rest of Genesis is dominated by stories of Abraham’s direct descendents. Two of the core stories emphasize, in somewhat roundabout ways, the call to brotherly reconciliation—Esau and Jacob reconciled, Joseph’s mercy toward his unjust brothers. Both of these stories provide a peaceable message in response to the “original sin” of Cain murdering his brother in Genesis 4.[9]

The central act of salvation that comes to define Old Testament faith also has at its core God’s peacemaking commitments. After Joseph saves his family from starvation, they settle in Egypt. Many generations later, the Egyptians have enslaved Joseph’s descendents, the Hebrews. They cried out in their trauma. God hears and acts to liberate them from slavery, in remembrance of God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendents a great nation who will bless all the families of the earth. The work God does to bring this liberation (the “exodus”) has troubled many because of its violent elements. However, a more careful look shows crucial elements that point away from inter-human, state-centered violence.[10]

The God of the exodus is a God responding to the sufferings of slaves, not a God of the rich and powerful, certainly not a God of kings, emperors, or Pharaohs. The exodus events are triggered by a human prophet, Moses, who very clearly does not have the status of king nor of military leader. The Hebrews do not win their freedom through wielding the sword. The only stereotypical weapons of war in the story (the Egyptians’ “horses and chariots”) are destroyed. Clearly, the violence in the story stems from the structural violence of Egypt’s slave culture and the refusal of Pharaoh to relent in his insistence on the continuance of oppression. Breaking from that violence is what the exodus events are for.

As the liberated Hebrews move through the wilderness and experience many painful educative encounters with God, they are given a written framework for their future society, Torah. While we cannot speak of Torah as pacifist in our modern sense of the notion, the heart of the commandments surely may be accurately characterized as a concern for shalom, wide-ranging social wholeness—that is, “peace.” Torah called for a society centered around the well-being of all people in the community.[11]

The Old Testament Justice Vision

In reflecting on “justice” in the Old Testament, the key point to note is that “justice” is not a stand-alone concept. It is often linked with other related concepts such as “peace” (shalom) and “mercy” (chesed). Peace and justice shall embrace (Psalm 85). What does the Lord require, the do justice and love mercy (Micah 6). And justice is most of all about faithfulness in the context of relationships—the covenant relationship between the people of Israel and their God and the peoples’ relationships with each other.[12]

“Justice” provides the standard for the quality of life in the community of God’s people. They have been delivered from the injustice of enslaved life in Egypt for the purpose of their knowing the wholeness of genuinely just relationships within their own community and for the purpose of witnessing to the nations of this justice in ways that, at least in some versions of the description of Israel’s vocation, will lead to blessing all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1-3: Isa 2:2-4).

At its heart, Old Testament “justice” is a life-giving force more than an impersonal principle of impartial fairness. The book of Amos contains the most thoroughgoing meditation on the meaning of justice in the Bible. Amos’s most vivid metaphor in relation to justice is that of water, an ever-flowing stream. Justice brings life for the community—and sustains that life. In a desert environment, a stream that does not dry up brings life like nothing else.

The overall argument of Amos underscores that the following of the ways of justice leads to wholeness; the lack of justice leads to brokenness. As much as any Old Testament writing, Amos speaks of judgment. Israel has left the core justice-enhancing elements of Torah behind. The inheritance system, meant to sustain full participation in the community over generations lay in shambles and an alarming number of Israelites were now landless and destitute. The concern for widows and other vulnerable people expressed in Torah has been forgotten and the vulnerable now are people to exploit, not empower. The system of “justice at the gate” that was the main recourse to counter exploitation has become corrupt.

And, maybe worse of all, these injustices were finding expression in the midst of an active religious life. The well off flocked to the worship services; while worshiping their sins went unconfronted and they return to the same oppressive practices. So, there will be hell to pay. Amos speaks of inevitable judgment.

However, the judgment is not characterized as an expression of justice. Judgment is what happens when justice is missing. Justice is the alternative to judgment. Do justice and the judgment will not come. And in the end, Amos somewhat incongruously presents the final word as being one of healing, not punishment. This switch of focus from condemnation to mercy has led many interpreters to conclude that this ending of Amos (9:11-15) was tacked on later to soften the harshness of the judgment oracles. However, if we take the ending seriously, we can see a different kind of message being intended by the book as a whole.

The background to Amos is Israel’s departure from the main elements of Torah’s vision for a just society. The various expressions of this departure are described and the consequences of the departure are spelled out in vivid terms as a means to call Israel back. Again, the meaning of justice here (as embodied in the message of Torah) is that justice is about life (not judgment or condemnation). The vision of healing at the end of the book is both a reminder that it is never too late to repent, to turn back, to return to the way of life—and a promise that Israel’s unfaithfulness will not in the end be more powerful than God’s faithfulness. Many may miss out; the consequences for turning from Torah are genuine. But healing will come. Justice will be served.[13]

So, the justice vision of the Old Testament brings together reconciliation, mercy, and social wholeness. The portrayal of life lived according to Torah involves freedom from the oppression of Egypt’s slavery, prosperity and a sense of security across the generations and inclusive especially of the vulnerable members of the community, the reality of consequences should the people turn toward injustice, and finally the promise of restoration and healing for those who turn back to God.

The driving force in the justice vision is hope for healing. Justice leads to reconciliation and making whole that which had been broken. Amos’s final vision of restoration following judgment actually echoes the other major prophetic books. Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah each are structured in similar ways. They tell of brokenness and trauma due to unfaithfulness (injustice) and of the powerful threat of judgment due to the community’s departure from Torah (retributive justice). But each one, in distinctive ways, concludes with a vision of healing. That is, the prophetic message portrays justice ultimately as restorative justice. The driving force for the threats of judgment is justice-as-life-giving, not justice-as-punishment. Recognize the costly fruits of your turn away from Torah and turn back so that you may live.

So, the meaning of justice in the Old Testament is fully in harmony with the other key elements of the biblical political economy—shalom/peace and covenant love/mercy. In response to the human predicament as portrayed in Genesis 4–11 (as addressed by the calling of Abraham and Sarah) and as portrayed in Exodus 1–15 (as addressed by the exodus and gift of Torah), this justice-oriented political economy sought for a social transformation that would, when implemented, overcome the problems of injustice and warfare.

The Old Testament Critique of State-Centered Power Politics

Of the three main elements of the Old Testament message that provide bases for Christian peace theology, the two I have just summarized are positive: the Old Testament peace vision and the Old Testament justice vision, two themes that are fully complementary.

The third element is negative—the critique the Old Testament provides of state-centered power politics.[14] The surrounding empires that continually threatened the Promise provided models that Torah explicitly presented itself as an alternative to. However, these empires also provided a positive model for many within Israel. As the Israel patterns itself more and more after “the nations” (see 1 Sam 8), Israel itself also becomes a counter-example for the visions of peace and justice. In the end, the failure of the Israelite nation-state to embody Torah’s shalom leads to a new kind of political vision. This new vision understands the transformative message of biblical shalom to be channeled not through nation-states so much as through decentralized trans-national faith communities.[15]

The beginning vision that established the identity of the people of God in the Old Testament came when God promised Abraham and Sarah offspring in spite of Sarah’s seeming inability to bear children. God promised that they would become the forebears of a great nation that, ultimately, would bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1-3). This initial calling defines the meaning and purpose of the election of Abraham’s descendents: their vocation would be to reverse the brokenness portrayed in Genesis 4–11.

A second point of origins for the chosen people emerges early in the book of Exodus. The direct descendents of Abraham found themselves enslaved in Egypt, at risk of losing their identity altogether. In their suffering they simply cry out (Ex 2). God hears their cries, “remembers the promise to Abraham and Sarah,” and intervenes to sustain the life and vocation of these people. God’s work of liberation here establishes both God’s identity as a God who takes the side of slaves over against their oppressors and the community’s identity as formed in order to provide an alternative to the way of empire that defined Egypt’s political economy.

A human leader, Moses, shapes the community. But the story presents Moses as a prophet who does not gather to himself horses and chariots or wealth or other kingly elements of human domination. Rather, Moses puts this liberating God, Yahweh, at the center of the community’s political consciousness.[16] And Yahweh stands over against human kings and empires. The political dynamics of the Hebrew community emphasize decentralized human power dynamics and trust in God rather than weapons of war.

After the escape from Egypt, God takes the people into the wilderness for a time of preparation before giving them a geographical home where they might establish their Yahweh-centered permanent human community. The key element of the preparation came in the form of Torah, the blueprint for this community’s common life. Torah throughout presents itself as based on a political philosophy grounded on values opposed empire. In contrast to Egypt, most obviously, Torah requires the community to show care and support for the most vulnerable people in their midst—the widows, orphans, and resident aliens. These would be precisely the weak people Egypt exploited.

Yahweh’s direct intervention, clearly presented as independent from any centralized human power blocks (no human king, no permanent military, no large collection of horses and chariots) gains the Hebrews their new home in Canaan. The Hebrews establish a new kind of political organization, centered on trust in God rather than in the power of the sword. This community is called to be a “priestly nation” (Ex 19), echoing the original calling of Abraham and Sarah to parent a people that will bless all the families of the earth.

However, the story tells of many and profound struggles in this community, actually dating back to the immediate aftermath of the liberating exodus and continuing throughout their movement into the promised land. One particularly painful moment is recounted in the book of Judges, where irresponsibility by a priestly leader and violent inhospitality by one the Israelite communities pushes the entire community into a terrible civil war. The people pull back before complete self-destruction, partly (it would appear) due to a rising threat from outside the community in the form of the Philistines, the paradigmatic enemies of the Hebrews in their early generations in the land.

However, after a short period of wise and effective leadership from the prophet/judge Samuel, the leaders of the Hebrews see themselves still at risk and make the fateful move of demanding that God allow them to choose a human king, “like the nations.” Samuel himself strongly opposed this request and outlines the consequences of such a move. Essentially, the people will return to “Egypt” should they take this path, with a human king who (like Pharaoh) will take and take. God relents though, and Israel embarks on a path that ultimately does lead to the destruction of their nation-state.[17]

The book of Deuteronomy, presented as Moses’ final word to the people just before his death and their entry into the promised land, contained a brief vision of what a Torah-respecting human king would be like. As it turns out, this vision mainly serves as the basis for indicting the actual kings of Israel, beginning with their third king, Solomon.

As portrayed in Deuteronomy 17, the faithful king would differentiate himself from the kings of the nations by refusing to gather great wealth or to marry many foreign wives or to collect many horses and chariots. As well, the king would model awareness of and adherence to the core elements of Torah. In fact, Solomon directly violates each of these commands. Perhaps most egregiously, Solomon worships the gods of some of his foreign wives and ends up in disgrace (at least in terms of the perspective of the historian who presents his moves away from Torah as setting the stage for Israel’s long descent into unfaithfulness and ultimate destruction).

A couple of key markers along the way reveal the dynamics within Israel of disregard of Torah and the evolution into an Egypt-imitating society that departed from the vision of Torah for Israel as an alternative to the ways of empire. Solomon’s son and successor as king, Rehoboam, continued Solomon’s practices of oppressive forced labor leading to a rebellion and splitting the Israel into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, both of which claimed to be the true heirs of the promise.

As it turned out, both kingdoms conformed to the ways of the nations, not the ways of Torah, in ordering their social life. We have several accounts that focus especially on the departure from Torah in the northern kingdom, Israel. I Kings 21 tells of King Ahab rejecting the core command concerning inheritance, a command intended to keep people on the land by requiring their holdings to stay in the family, assuring descendents of landedness. Ahab frames and murders a faithful follower of Torah who refused to give up his land due to his commitment to the inheritance laws.

A number of generations later, by the time of the prophet Amos, we learn of the kingdom of Israel having evolved into exactly the kind of society the inheritance legislation meant to prevent. The largest part of the community had become disinherited, landless, with few resources and little power—and vulnerable to the exploitation of the wealthy and powerful minority. The legal system, intended to protect the welfare of the vulnerable, had been corrupted and the religious practices, rather than remind the people of Yahweh’s will for justice embodied in Torah, had become exercises in reinforcing the present unjust status quo.

Not long after Amos’s prophetic ministry, the Assyrian empire destroyed the northern kingdom. In a rare moment of listening to the genuine prophets, the southern kingdom’s King Hezekiah paid heed to Isaiah’s directives and God saved the Judean kingdom from Assyrian conquest. The reprieve turned out to be temporary, however. Hezekiah’s descendents proved to be just as corrupt as the northern kingdom’s leaders. King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s grandson proved to be the worst, actually implementing the practice of child sacrifice.

Manasseh’s son was assassinated, leading to young Josiah becoming king. Josiah, with Hezekiah, was one of only two Hebrew kings affirmed by the biblical historian as faithful to Torah. In his reign, the scrolls of Torah are rediscovered in the bowels of the Temple and important reforms instituted. In the end, though, Josiah’s reforms came too late to save the Hebrew nation-state. The text tells us it was because Manasseh’s sins were simply too big to be overcome.

Josiah rode forth the join the battle between Egypt and Babylon and was killed by Pharaoh Neco. His successors returned to the ways of the failed kings, and Babylon destroyed the temple and king’s palace and exiled Judah’s ruling class.

However, Josiah’s most important accomplishment, the recovering of Torah, was enough to keep the promise alive. The prophet Jeremiah, who emerged in Josiah’s time, provided an analysis of the theological meaning of Judah’s fall that allowed people of faith to see in that fall not the defeat of God but actually a vindication of Torah. From the start in Joshua’s time, Israel’s place in the land was contingent on the people’s faithfulness. When they departed from Torah, their destruction actually proves to be evidence of God’s presence not God’s absence.

Jeremiah also provides a template for the sustenance of the promise apart from the nation-state. “Seek the peace of the city where you find yourselves” (29:7). From now on, the promise to bless all the families of the earth will be carried out through faith communities in the Diaspora and in geographical Israel (but without political power) who rely on their own lived witness and word of testimony, not horses and chariots and geographical boundary lines.[18]

The concluding lesson from the Old Testament story of the chosen people in the land was the failure of the conventional power politics-oriented nation state. However, the original promise of blessing given to Abraham and Sarah remained alive. It has found expression ever since through Jewish communities and Christian communities that have remained free from state domination.

The original promise in Genesis 12 was not linked to horses and chariots and to any particular nation state. As it turned out, the move to tie the people of the promise with a particular geographical locale was a failure, reinforcing the problematic dynamics of power politics and clarifying once and for all that the way of the promise was as an alternative to power politics. This clarification then stood at the center of the message of Jesus, a message flowing directly from the story of Israel.

The Old Testament in Continuity with Jesus

The New Testament goes to great lengths to make it clear that Jesus’ life and teaching are grounded in Old Testament faith and practice. Jesus self-conscientiously presents himself as anchored in the story of Israel. He intended to fulfill Torah, not abolish it. His summary of the path to eternal life—love God and neighbor—is presented as the core message of the Law and Prophets (i.e., the entire Old Testament).[19]

Jesus, though, provides a particular angle for reading the Old Testament. He emphasizes the elements of the story that I have just highlighted—the call to bless all the families of the earth, the critique of power politics both among the outside empires and within the community of faith, the special concern for including vulnerable people, highlighting mercy over sacrifice. There are many elements of the Old Testament that Jesus either ignores or implicitly rejects. The parts that seem exclusivist and chauvinistic. The parts that glorify wealth and power. The parts the portray God primarily as judgmental and coercive.

Jesus provides a model as we read the Old Testament and apply it to our concerns for peace on earth. He does so in a way both that accepts without qualification the truthfulness and authority of this collection of writings as a whole and that follows a particular reading strategy in emphasizing the parts from the collection that best serve Jesus’ own shalom-oriented priorities.

An element of Jesus’ practice that has not been highlighted as often by interpreters as much as some others is how he furthers Jeremiah’s insight about diasporic politics vis-à-vis nation-state politics. Jesus himself lived and ministered within the geography of the ancient Israelite nation state. However, his message of the kingdom of God in his time and vision for its future followed Jeremiah’s vision, not the vision of the old geographically focused nation state.[20]

Jesus made his critique of nation-state politics explicit when he challenged his followers not to imitate the rulers of the Gentiles who lord it over their subjects but rather to follow the path of the Servant (evoking Isaiah 53). The community Jesus created was suited for existence throughout the world as leavening within whichever nation state they might find themselves—leavening that would be a form of seeking the peace of these various cities.[21]

When Luke continues the story following Jesus’ resurrection early in the book of Acts, he portrays Jesus making a direct command to pursue a Jeremaic strategy: take the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—not as an imperialistic nation-state spreading its “good news” in imitation of Rome’s way of spreading “good news” through the sword. Take the “good news” as a message of peace, meant to embody its transforming power through defenseless communities of witness and service. This is how all the families of the earth will be blessed.

So, Jesus’ meaning in relation to the Old Testament is best seen not as “promise and fulfillment” where the partial revelation of God through Israel finally gained its full expression in something new and (in key ways) different from what has come before. Rather, Jesus’ meaning may better be seen as “revelation and embodiment.” The original revelations in the creation story, the calling of Abraham and Sarah, and the liberating acts of God in the Exodus and giving of Torah was complete. They revealed everything that humanity needed to know about God and God’s will for peace. The further revelation in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus is simply a further embodiment of the original revelation. The Old Testament reveals, fully, God’s ways of peace in the world—Jesus embodies that way, not something different.

The key New Testament symbol for God’s work in the world is Jesus’ resurrection. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God vindicated the Old Testament message. Jesus embodied that message and as a consequence, in continuity with Old Testament prophets, met with resistance from the powers that be. God vindicates just this embodiment of God’s will. In doing so, God underscores the Old Testament visions of peace and justice and the Old Testament critique of power politics that Jesus made present and concrete in first century Palestine.

The Old Testament and Interfaith Peace Theology

Reading the Old Testament (and the story of Jesus) in the way I am proposing speaks most immediately to Christian belief and practice. Taking the Old Testament more seriously in the way I am proposing (in full continuity with Jesus’ representation of the Old Testament) directly challenges Christian tradition insofar as this tradition has comfortably embraced violence and empire as a way of life.

However, such an appropriation of the Old Testament would also seem to have major interfaith significance. Most obvious would be points of contacts with Judaism. My direct sense of common ground comes from my reading of two major 20th century Jewish thinkers whose work has greatly influenced my own: Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Buber’s Two Kinds of Faith and, even more so, Heschel’s The Prophets,[22] seem to me to capture the heart of the biblical message as embodied by the Old Testament prophets and Jesus as well (or better) than just about any Christian writings I know of. Heschel’s work, especially, makes it strikingly clear that the message of shalom, mercy, and justice as complementary elements of a transformative faith that we Christians see in Jesus is equally present in the Old Testament prophets.

If we who are Christians understand our commitment to just peacemaking to be most of all based on the message of the entire Bible as I have sketched it, we should be well-suited to make common cause with all others of good will who also articulate a complementary peace vision and a complementary justice vision and a complementary critique of power politics.

[1] See the manifesto for this effort, Glen Stassen, ed. Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998).

[2] Jack Nelson-Pallmyer, Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001).

[3] For example, in his powerful book, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Wink briefly mentions several ways the Old Testament contributes to a peace ethic—but sees the ethics of violence more dominant (43-45).

[4] The pioneering Mennonite scholar Millard Lind deserves the first mention. See especially Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980) and Monotheism, Power, Justice: Collected Old Testament Essays (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1990). Other examples from peace church writers include Perry Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace (Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1987); Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994); Daniel Smith-Christopher, Jesus, Jonah, and Other Good Coyotes; David A. Leiter, Neglected Voices: Peace in the Old Testament (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2007); and Eric A. Siebert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009).

Siebert’s book is especially helpful in directly facing many problem texts from the point of view of an Old Testament scholar who is also a pacifist. Another recent book that confirms many of Siebert’s points is Douglas S. Earl, The Joshua Delusion? Rethinking Genocide in the Bible (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), with a critical response from Christopher J.H. Wright.

[5] See Ted Grimsrud, God’s Healing Strategy: An Introduction to the Bible’s Main Themes, second edition (Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2011).

[6] For a good summary of this theme, see Walter Brueggemann, Peace (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001).

[7] In an important exegetical and theological study, Terence Fretheim shows the powerful link between biblical creation theology and an ethics of shalom: God and the World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005). Also ethically and theologically helpful is J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Word: The Imagio Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005).

[8] This understanding of the Abraham story is shaped by Walter Brueggemann’s commentary: Genesis (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1982).

[9] See Patricia McDonald, God and Violence: Resources for Living in a Small World (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2004), 35-72.

[10] I draw here especially on Lind, Yahweh.

[11] For two perceptive and appreciative studies of Torah and its present-day relevance by Christian biblical scholars that support my points here, see Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos, Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005) and Patrick D. Miller, The Ten Commandments (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).

[12] On justice, see Enrique Nardoni, Rise Up, O Judge: A Study of Justice in the Biblical World (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004).

[13] See also Ted Grimsrud, “Healing Justice: The Prophet Amos and a ‘New’ Theology of Justice,” in Ted Grimsrud and Loren Johns, eds., Peace and Justice Shall Embrace: Power and Theopolitics in the Bible (Telford, PA: Cascade Publishing House, 2000), 64-65.

[14] Important influences on my thinking here come from Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, second edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001) and Lind, Monotheism. See also Norman K. Gottwald, The Politics of Ancient Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

[15] My first awareness of this point came from John Howard Yoder. See especially The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003).

[16] Millard C. Lind, “The Concept of Political Power in Ancient Israel,” in Monotheism, 135-52.

[17] See Walter Brueggemann’s commentary, First and Second Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990).

[18] See John Howard Yoder, “See How They Go with Their Face to the Sun,” in Jewish-Christian, 183-202.

[19] Much of the plenteous scholarly writing on Jesus these days reflects a much more profound appreciation of his Jewish context than used to be the case—and hence, of his linkage with Old Testaments themes of justice, peace, and political radicalism. Just a few of the varied works I have found most helpful include: N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996); William R. Herzog, Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000); and Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

An especially thorough historical treatment emphasizing Jesus’ Judaism is the multi-volume work by John P. Meier, the most recent volume being A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume IV: Law and Love (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). A couple of example of Jewish scholars engaging Jesus scholarship include Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novack, Peter Ochs, and Michael A. Siger, eds., Christianity in Jewish Terms (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000) and Paula Fredrickson, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Knopf, 1999).

Two books by Christian theologians have also helped me: Paul M. Van Buren, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Reality, Part 3: Christ is Context (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) and Clark M. Williamson, A Guest in the House of Israel: Post-Holocaust Church Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993).

[20] N.T. Wright, in his massive and influential Jesus and the Victory of God, makes a similar point in his lengthy discussion of expectations for Israel’s “restoration.” However, he does not draw out the implications in the same way I do.

[21] Again, see Yoder, Jewish-Christian.

[22] Martin Buber, Two Kinds of Faith (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961) and Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Prophets (New York: Harper and Row, 1962).

1 thought on “Old Testament Bases for Christian Peace Theology

  1. Pingback: Human Rights and Nonviolence | Creative Love Theism: Reflections of a Contemplative Neo-Anabaptist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s