Monthly Archives: June 2012

Old Testament Peace Theology

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.1

[This paper was presented to the Contextual Ethics section of the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, Atlanta, November 2010. It was published in Ted Grimsrud, Arguing Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 3: Biblical and Theological Essays (Peace Theology Books, 2014, 18-31.]

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. Continue reading