Chapter 3: The Idea of Right and Wrong
It is always possible to express an ideal of duty by an abstract noun and so, having used a generalized name for it, to discover that ideal in all ages and places. The primitive man depended on ‘justice’ as much as the modern man does, and the Sinais of history have as emphatically demanded it as have modern codes of ethics. Such verbal usage, however, easily produces a mistaken impression of similarity where, as a matter of fact, the differences have been profound. Justice, mishpat, was the central ethical concept of the Hebrews, but the word was an omnibus into which many meanings were packed and from which many meanings were dropped in the long traveling of the Hebrew mind.
Alike the major virtue and the major limitation of the tribal justice with which the Old Testament began are plain. The virtue lay in the strong cohesion of the group of kinsmen, in their mutual interdependence and loyalty, in their approximate equality of estate, and in the intimacy with which each was known by all. “Seldom the judge and elders err,” writes Doughty with reference to modern Arab tribes, “in these small societies of kindred, where the life of every tribesman lies open from his infancy and his state is to all men well known.’’ (Charles M. Doughty: Travels in Arabia Deserta (3d ed., 1925), Vol. I, p. 249). The major limitation imposed on tribal justice by its environment lay in the narrow boundaries of blood-kinship within which it was virtuous to be just. In a society based on kinship, especially under circumstances of severe inter-tribal rivalry for the means of subsistence, one finds high ideals of just conduct within the group combined with the absence of the sense of moral obligation beyond the group. To love the clan and to hate its rivals, to feel responsibility for just dealing within it and no such responsibility beyond it, were two sides of the same thing.
With such a moral heritage, combining both high value and narrow limitation, the tribes of Israel entered Palestine and, after a long conflict with the previous inhabitants, settled down to adjust and synthesize their cultural traditions in the midst of the much more complicated agricultural and urban society which they had conquered. Around the problems involved in this situation the stream of ethical thinking in the early Old Testament swirls.
One result was to have been expected. Whenever a sudden readjustment of cultural life and moral standards is forced by a fresh situation, society faces the peril of losing old safeguards and sanctions before it gains new ones. Just as in China, this last generation, the passage from a patriarchal to a political and commercial civilization has been attended by turmoil, so the Hebrews made the transition only at the cost of practical and moral confusion. As the ancient record puts it, “In those days there was no king; in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6.) Despite the powerful cohesion of the tribal life, the readjustments in Palestine produced a period of comparative individualism which in retrospect looked to the narrator like moral anarchy.
Nevertheless, the old ideals of justice never died out. The resistant power of Hebrew character and the sturdy refusal of tribal morality to be assimilated gave to the early prophets a strong basis of appeal. From Elijah on, they were not, as they commonly are pictured, progressives, but conservatives; they were contending for an ethical heritage in peril of being lost. To be sure, in thus contending for it and applying it to contemporary life, they expanded it. One never understands them, however, if one supposes that they thought of themselves as projecting a new ethic. They were consciously trying to conserve an old ethic, and are among the chief illustrations in history of the statement that all reformation is restoration. For intentionally restorative though the prophets were, they were too vigorous in their nonconformity not to be revolutionary in the end. Ideas of right and wrong were incalculably enlarged and deepened under their influence, and in this process they had to deal with certain outstanding limitations in their moral tradition.
The most obvious of these limitations was the narrowness of the area within which moral obligation was recognized. The idea of duty involves not simply a question of quality but of quantity –To how wide a circle of persons is one under obligation to be just? In any modern society are multitudes of people in whom the sense of moral responsibility is a matter of kinship and propinquity. Beyond a constricted inner circle their imagination fails and their consciences do not function. This natural poverty of imagination and conscience in dealing with people either distant in space or not intimately connected with the group was intensified indefinitely in primitive society, where ‘stranger’ and ‘enemy’ were so similar in meaning that one word commonly covered both. Customarily the tribe was at war with all other tribes it touched except kinsfolk, and the spirit that once said in America the only good Indian was a dead Indian said in Palestine, with complete satisfaction of conscience, that the only good Amalekite was a slain one. That is to say, no moral obligations were recognized toward Amalekites, so that while within the tribal group ideals of fair play and humane dealing might rise to great heights, this vertical reach of moral responsibility was not matched by its horizontal extension. So Professor J. M. Powis Smith moderately sums up the ancient situation in Israel: “A foreigner has few rights that an Israelite is bound to respect. The ordinary claims of humanity are largely ignored in dealings with non-Israelite groups and individuals.’’ (The Moral Life of the Hebrews, p.12.)
In so far as this restriction of the sense of duty to the kinship group was illustrated in war, modern life presents lamentable parallels. Hostility creates hatred and contempt; the necessity of either killing or being killed obliterates humaneness; and even those who in times of peace have been cosmopolitans, with international interest and goodwill, become under the spell of war intense group-loyalists with no sense of moral obligation to the enemy. Much more was this restriction of the area of ethical responsibility vivid and controlling in days when war was constant and internationalism had not yet dawned. The utmost cruelty was not only allowed but commanded by Yahweh against Israel’s rivals, and in the presence of habitual conflict fine ideals of humaneness had their chance to develop only within the circle of the blood-brotherhood.
The oft-quoted saying of Samuel, “To obey is better than sacrifice,” was associated with the idea that, along with the captured animals, the captured king of Amalek should be put to death as a human offering, ‘devoted’ to Yahweh. (I Samuel, chap. 15.) This does not imply that Samuel was an inhumane man. He may have been, as the records suggest, a high-minded, intensely conscientious, devotedly loyal, and kindly person. The area, however, within which he conceived himself as under obligation to exercise such qualities was strictly limited to his tribal confederation.
This development of high moral quality within a restricted field of application is best illustrated in the Book of Deuteronomy. Written in the seventh century, a summary of the prophetic ideals leading up to the Josian reformation, it is one of the great documents of history in its expression of social goodwill. It is notable for laws to protect the poor, mitigate the treatment of debtors, ease the lot of slaves, and in general to encourage humaneness. All this, however, was for domestic consumption within Israel, not for foreign export; such ideas of fair play and goodwill toward foreigners as are found in the book apply only to those sojourning in Israel. A distinction was made between resident and non-resident aliens, and while injustice toward outsiders living in Israel was forbidden (Deuteronomy 1 :16; 27:19. This distinction runs through the entire Law; cf. Exodus 20:10; 22:21; 23:9; 23:12.) and even love toward them commanded, (Deuteronomy 10:19.) no obligations to other foreigners were acknowledged. Still in this remarkable document of merciful laws, massacre and extermination are the ideal treatment of conquered enemies — “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them.” (Deuteronomy 7:2.) The only qualification of this statement which the evidence allows is that in Deuteronomy we find the idea of relative foreignness with a consequent gradation of responsibility. If an edible beast dies of itself, that is, of disease or old age, a Hebrew might not eat it; he might, however, give it away to an alien sojourner within the Hebrew community; but in dealing with a foreigner all barriers were down and diseased meat might be sold for what it would bring. (Deuteronomy 14:21.) So in gaining admission to the Hebrew congregation, an Ammonite or a Moabite might not “enter into the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation.” (Deuteronomy 23:3.) In the case of others, however, there were special mitigations: “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a sojourner in his land. The children of the third generation that are born unto them shall enter into the assembly of Yahweh.” (Deuteronomy 23:7-8.) Indeed, as though positively fearing that growing humaneness within Israel might be carelessly applied to foreigners, the restrictions of mercy were meticulously noted. Every seven years there was to be a moratorium on all debts owed by Hebrews to Hebrews, but this neighborly provision was not binding if the debt was owed by a non-Israelite: “Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-3.) As for loans, it was illegal for a Hebrew to take any interest from a Hebrew, but from a foreigner he might take all that the traffic would bear. (J.M. Powis Smith: The Moral Life of the Hebrews, p. 129.)
Against this background the succeeding course of ethical development in the Bible must be seen. For centuries the area of moral obligation was limited to fellow Hebrews, and the struggle of the greater spirits to outgrow this limitation and universalize the realm of ethical responsibility was one of the most difficult and important which the Bible records.
A second limitation of Biblical morality at the beginning concerned classes of people within the tribal group to whom full personal rights were not conceived as due. The early Hebrews, for example, were at one with their race and time in giving to woman a low social status and narrowly limited rights. In the older story of creation, she was even pictured as an afterthought, made not on an equality with man but as a by-product; and, along with the serpent, she was represented as responsible for Adam’s fall and was specially cursed with travail in childbirth as a penalty. (Genesis 2:18 ff.)
In the tribal set-up of society a woman was the property first of her father and then of her husband. The word baal, used of a god as owner of the land, is commonly used in the Old Testament also for the male head of a household, and in our versions is translated ‘owner,’ ‘master,’ or ‘husband,’ according to the context. The word correctly represents the social fact of male supremacy in the Hebrew family, where the man was owner of his household –wives, children, slaves, herds, and properties. In the same code of laws a man is spoken of as ‘the baal’ of an ox and ‘the baal’ of a woman — that is, her owner and proprietor. (Exodus 21:4,28.) Since, therefore, such legal ownership inhered in the male head of a household, he could do what he would with his persons as with his properties, even selling his daughters into slavery. (Exodus 21:7.)
At marriage a girl who was not a slave passed for a financial consideration from her father’s ownership to her husband’s. Indeed, so important to the father was this potential property value in a daughter that the law code carefully protected his right to it in case a girl was wronged by a man before marriage. (Exodus 22:16-17.) This conception of woman as a chattel led, of course, to grave abuses. So Lot felt free to offer his two virgin daughters to the passions of the men of Sodom in order to save his male guests from their lust. (Genesis 19:8.) He could do what he would with his own, and a woman’s rights were not comparable with a man’s. This chattel relationship in which from birth the woman stood to the male head of her family is consistently present in the background of the early Old Testament. Even in the Ten Commandments, as recorded in Exodus 20:17, woman was listed along with the house, slaves, ox, and ass, belonging to one’s neighbor, which one should not covet.
Among the Hebrews, therefore, as among early peoples generally, and, indeed, down to modern times, the process of courtship involved a commercial transaction. “Ask me never so much dowry and gift,” cried one eager suitor to the girl’s father, “and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.” (Genesis 34:12.) The same buying of a bride is seen in the case of Rebekah’s espousal (Genesis 24:53.) and more clearly in the story of Rachel and Leah; (Genesis 29:1-30.) and everywhere it is evident that a woman was always possessed by some man who exercised over her a proprietorship which only gradually was mitigated and guarded against abuse.
This picture of woman’s chattel relationship can, however, be overdrawn. For one thing, personality will out and, in a society as simply organized as the clan group, women of notable gifts could not be and were not kept down. Such names as Miriam, Deborah, Esther, and Judith in Jewish history and tradition are typical of an important fact about womanhood’s estate in Israel. Women could and did rise to leadership then as in all ages and no theory of status could prevent it.
Moreover, not only is it true that personality will out, but love will too. The romances of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Rachel, are among the most beautiful love stories in ancient literature. “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her”; (Genesis 24:67.) “Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (Genesis 29:20.) such romance is not dependent on social status and can flourish along with any custom of purchase which the existent society may have inherited. While, therefore, under the early Hebrew system a shocking absence of regard for womanhood is revealed in some narratives, so that Professor J. M. Powis Smith can even say that in the early traditions of Israel, “Chivalry is conspicuous by its almost total absence,” (The Moral Life of the Hebrews, p.41.) that is not by any means the whole story. Love had its way and the traditional romances of Rebekah and Rachel were doubtless reproduced in many families.
Moreover, to overstress the chattel aspect of woman’s status neglects the fact that in her functions as wife and mother she was, in a society organized around the family, the very center of the structure. An old background of custom is doubtless represented in Yahweh’s reported remark to Moses about Miriam: “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?” (Numbers 12:14.) Evidently a father’s rights over the dignity of his womenfolk were very wide. He could do what he pleased and even if, as in Jephthah’s case, his vow involved the sacrifice of his daughter’s life, (Judges 11:30-40.) his was the right and even the obligation to slay her. On the other hand, the exalted place of Leah and Rachel as the traditional mothers of the race and such stories as that of Hannah and Samuel (I Samuel 1:1 ff.) indicate another line of evidence.
Moreover, the rigid laws governing women’s chastity, the severe penalties meted out for harlotry, (Genesis 38:24.) for rape, (Genesis, chap. 34.) for adultery, (Genesis 26:10-11.) even in the early traditions and confirmed in the later laws, while showing a narrowly constricted interest in the sexual side of woman’s meaning to the tribe, reveal also a high estimate of the social values of wifehood and motherhood. It is true that in one of the Ten Commandments woman is classed with chattel property, but in another she is raised to coordinate dignity with man –“Honor thy father and thy mother.” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Exodus 21:15,17.) One need only read the story of Abigail to see that then, as now, many a wife and mother had the brains and character of the family and by one device or another successfully expressed them. (I Samuel 25:9ff.)
Indeed, seen against the background of their time and in comparison with the customs of surrounding civilizations, the noteworthy matter is not the degree to which the Hebrews shared the prevailing depreciation of woman but the degree to which they transcended it. The story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, judged by our standards, seems shocking to the dignity of womanhood, but in comparison with its Babylonian counterpart it is, as Stade says, “as a clear mountain spring to the slough of a village cesspool.’’ (D. Bernhard Stade: “Der Mythus vom Paradies Gn 2.3 und die Zeit seiner . Einwanderung in Israel,” in Zeitschrift für die alttestamenliche Wissenschaft, 1903, p.174)
Nevertheless, the early organization of society bore heavily on women. As has been the case for ages since, they were valued for their sexual uses rather than as ends in themselves. The perpetuity of the family name depended on their fertility and the levirate marriage laws, whereby when a man died without issue his brother took the widow to wife, (Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) make plain how central and controlling this test of woman’s value was. Always along with this primacy of her sexual uses, the Old Testament reveals a strong sense of her worth as property, so that even in the late and beautiful description of a wife and mother in the Book of Proverbs, (Chap. 31) the commercial method of estimate is not excluded — “Her price is far above rubies.” Never does woman escape the ownership of a proprietor, her father or husband or the patriarch of the clan, and against his will her rights are meager. Even her vows to Yahweh might be abrogated by father or husband (Numbers 30:3-16.) for, being the property of her family’s head, she is not free to involve herself in any oaths conflicting with his wishes.
One of the most important corollaries of this status of woman was polygamy. If women could be bought and sold, so that a father could even sell his daughter as a slave, the only limitation on the number of wives a man possessed lay in the available supply of women and in his financial resources to procure them. Polygamy, therefore, was taken for granted in the domestic arrangements of early Israel. How thoroughly it was taken for granted is amply revealed in the Old Testament with even statistical details. “Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten; for he had many wives.” (Judges 8:30.) David had eight wives individually mentioned, married more unmentioned in Jerusalem, and when he fled from Absalom left ten concubines behind him in the city. In this regard Solomon was, of course, notorious — “He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” (I Kings 11:3.)
As for more normal domestic establishments, the stories of the Hebrew patriarchs reveal households differing little in essentials from the family life of modern nomadic tribes. One who has seen a new wife welcomed to a chief’s tent among the Adwan Arabs –the new arrival recommended and selected by the first wife, alike for the chief’s satisfaction and to assist in the daily work now grown too onerous — feels himself at home in the Old Testament. When Sarah bore no children, she urged Hagar on Abraham as a concubine. (Genesis 16:1-2.) Jacob had two sisters to wife at the same time. (Genesis 29:21-30.) As for the common people, their economic status doubtless limited the size of their households and, as among all polygamous peoples, any rise in affluence was accompanied by an increase of wives. The ordinary situation was probably described in the case of the home in which Samuel was born: Elkanah “had two wives.” (I Samuel 1:1-2.)
Even in the later law codes, the old status of woman was retained without substantial change, although the Deuteronomic edition of the Ten Commandments amended the edition of Exodus by lifting the wife into special mention apart from the rest of the household. (Deuteronomy 5:21.) Far from being man’s equal, however, she was continually reminded of her inferiority. The legal value of a woman was only a little over half that of a man. (Leviticus 27:3-7.) A mother who bore a daughter was ‘unclean’ twice as long as one who bore a son. (Leviticus 12:1-2,5.) Polygamy still was taken for granted, slightly mitigated by provisions to guard against extremes. In post-Exilic times for instance, any Jacob possessing two sisters as wives at the same time would have found himself condemned. (Leviticus 18:18.) Likewise, to have a mother and daughter to wife synchronously was forbidden. (Leviticus 20:14.) The very presence of such prohibitions, however, makes clear how thoroughly polygamy in its ordinary forms must have been assumed.
As for divorce, the man alone had rights. Any husband could divorce a wife for any reason — “some unseemly thing in her”– of which he himself was the sole judge, but no provision was made for a wife’s escape from a cruel husband. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4.) The process of divorce was altogether in the man’s control, at a moment’s notice, without appeal to impartial arbitrament — “He shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house” — yet even this was an advance over the customs that had preceded it. In this regard the Hebrew law was far less humane and civilized than was the Code of Hammurabi drawn up centuries before. (The Code of Hammurabi, translated by Robert Francis Harper, sec. 142, p.51.)
Slaves constituted another class denied full personal rights. The fact that slavery, like polygamy, was taken for granted is disguised in our English Versions by the euphemisms ‘man-servant’ and ‘maid-servant,’ but in the Hebrew there is no mistaking the established institution of slavery with its characteristic customs and consequences. Indeed, one law in Exodus, intended to make the lot of slaves more tolerable, goes only so far as to declare the owner liable to punishment if, in beating a slave, he kills him outright, whereas if the wounded slave “continue a day or two” the owner escapes penalty, “for he is his money. (Exodus 21:20-21.)
Among the Hebrews, as always where slavery has flourished, the institution presented an endless series of moral and legal problems. The constant endeavor was to make the system as humane as possible, but the very laws to that effect reveal how inhumane it was. Early codes limiting the rights of masters concern themselves with Hebrew slaves only, implying that at first only fellow Hebrews in bondage were conceived as having rights, while foreign slaves were still regarded as having none. Hebrews became slaves to Hebrews mainly in two ways, for debt or by the sale of daughters, and the following statutes are characteristic of early endeavors to mitigate the misfortune of such bondmen and bondwomen: Hebrew male slaves were to be given their freedom after six years (Exodus 21:2.) — an ideal law more honored in the breach than the observance; Hebrew female slaves, if used as concubines and found displeasing, might be sold to Hebrews but not to foreigners; (Exodus 21:7-8.) if a man and his wife went into slavery for debt together, they should go free together the seventh year, but if the man, entering bondage alone, was given his wife by his owner, even though children were born, only the man could go free; (Exodus 21:3-4.) a master who put out a slave’s eye or knocked out a tooth must as compensation free the slave; (Exodus 21:26-27.) one who kidnapped another and sold him into slavery was to be put to death. (Exodus 21:16.) Such laws reveal a humane intention but they also disclose the inhumanity of the accepted system which they were intended to control. Doubtless the widow’s desperate cry was often heard in the land: “The creditor is come to take unto him my two children to be bondmen.” (II Kings 4:1.)
How resistant to improvement the institution was is made plain when the slave laws of Deuteronomy are compared with the earlier codes. In this later rendition of the statutes under the influence of the prophetic school, the woman, equally with the man, might go free the seventh year; (Deuteronomy 15:12.) the departing slave was to be furnished with sufficient goods to give him opportunity for readjustment; (Deuteronomy 15: 13-14.) an escaped Hebrew slave should not be returned to his master and should be protected from oppression. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16.) Evidently the conscience of the Hebrews was struggling with the cruel details of their slave system, but the institution itself was taken for granted as an integral part of their society.
To be sure, mitigating circumstances were doubtless present in many cases. To this day inter-tribal competition for the slender means of subsistence reduces individual nomads to such need that slavery is a blessing to them. Accepted as bondsmen in some clan, they can, at least, be assured of enough to eat. Similarly, provision was made in Israel’s laws of the seventh century for the kind of slave who, offered freedom the seventh year, preferred the safety of his bondage to the responsibilities of liberty. “If he say unto thee, I will not go out from thee; because he loveth thee and thy house, because he is well with thee,” then, at his own request, his bondage might be made perpetual. (Deuteronomy 15:16-17.)
Indentured servants, such as were familiar in the Colonial days of America, were probably comparable to Hebrews in bondage to fellow Hebrews when conditions were at their best. In the American Colonies men and women bound themselves to several years of servitude and after that went free, their passage money from the old country and their maintenance in the meantime being provided by their masters. They were technically enslaved for debt but one of them, Alsop by name, wrote as follows concerning his condition: “The four years I served there were not to me so slavish as a two-years’servitude of a handicraft apprenticeship in London.’’ (Quoted by Alice Morse Earle: Colonial Dames and Good Wives, p.11.) Doubtless many Hebrews, enslaved for debt, were in a similar case.
While, however, a sensitiveness of conscience about the bondage of fellow Hebrews can be seen developing, no such mitigation is suggested in the early Old Testament with regard to foreign slaves. To be sure, there are exceptions even to most rigid rules, and able personality, in slavery as out of it, makes itself felt. So in the story of Abraham, unless as some think the text at this point is corrupt, the patriarch’s plea for a son is based on the fact that, if he lacks a child as heir, Eliezer of Damascus, a bondman born in Abraham’s house and apparently an able manager of his estate, will inherit his property. (Genesis 15:2-4; cf.I Chronicles 2:34 ff.) Indeed, it should be noted that slavery itself was a social advance — a substitute for massacre and exile in dealing with peoples conquered in war: “It came to pass, when Israel was waxed strong, that they put the Canaanites to taskwork, and did not utterly drive them out. . . . but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became subject to taskwork.” (Judges 1:27-33.) Whether this explanation of the servile classes of aliens in Israel be taken as adequate or not, it clearly indicates a servile class to be explained. Indeed, the excuse for holding alien bondsmen was carried back into legend, and the Canaanites, as descendants of Ham, were represented as having been cursed by Noah and so doomed to servitude —
Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants shall he be. (Genesis 9:18-27.)
Far from being a minor matter, therefore, slavery was one of the dominant facts in the social situation that the prophets faced. A stratified society, with wealthy landowners at the top and slaves at the bottom and, in between, a mass of poor folk skirting precariously the edge of servitude for debt and in times of depression forced into it or compelled to sell sons or daughters to redeem the family’s fortunes — such a picture is revealed by a careful reading of the records. Even in the comparatively simple society of 1000 B.C., one household of which we read had at least twenty slaves, (II Samuel 19:17.) and the rumbling of servile discontent was evidenced in Nabal’s word to David: “There are many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.” (I Samuel 25:10.) As the social structure became more complicated, with increasing power in the hands of a few and increasing uncertainty in the status of the many, economic inequality became more, rather than less, pronounced and the slave system was alike more firmly established and more ethically troublesome.
In addition to the narrowness of the tribal boundaries within which the sense of moral obligation functioned and the supression of classes, especially women and slaves, within the tribal circle itself, a third limitation affected, at the beginning, the Old Testament’s ideas of right and wrong. As among early peoples generally, morals were to the ancient Hebrews what the etymology of the word suggests — mores, ‘customary behavior.’ The observance of tribal taboos and ritual ceremonies, along with such restraint on daily conduct as would protect and further the interests of the tribe, constituted a man’s duty, and every detail of this complicated obligation was regarded as the will of the tribal gods. Such observances and restraints, however, were almost altogether a matter of external behavior, while concern about motives and attitudes, about quality of spirit and purpose, was absent from the ethical picture.
This customary morality of prohibition and taboo was inextricably associated with early tribalism. Attention was concentrated on the tribe’s success and on those ways of acting that would secure the favor of the tribal gods. “Religion,” as W. Robertson Smith puts it, “did not exist for the saving of souls but for the preservation and welfare of society, and in all that was necessary to this end every man had to take his part, or break with the domestic and political community to which he belonged.’’ (Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, p.29) The result was that the whole duty of man was summed up in the observance of established tribal customs, and the utmost rigor was used in compelling conformity. Any irregularity was likely to bring down, not on the individual sinner alone but on the whole group, the god’s ruinous disfavor, and therefore the coercion of customary conduct and the extirpation of irregular conduct were ruthless. A typical illustration is to be found in Yahweh’s supposed insistence on circumcision — “The uncircumcised male . . . shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:13-14.)
Far down in history such insistence on uniform custom has commonly emerged when any group, especially if it has conceived itself to be a theocracy, has faced a severe struggle for existence in which social cohesion was indispensable. So Miss Agnes Repplier says of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:
It is hardly worth while to censure communities which were establishing, or seeking to establish, “a strong religious state” because they were intolerant. Tolerance is not, and never has been, compatible with strong religious states. The Puritans of New England did not endeavor to force their convictions upon unwilling Christendom. They asked only to be left in peaceful possession of a singularly unprolific corner of the earth, which they were civilizing after a formula of their own. Settlers to whom this formula was antipathetic were asked to go elsewhere. If they did not go, they were sent, and sometimes whipped into the bargain — which was harsh, but not unreasonable. (Under Dispute, pp.8-9.)
If the endeavor to build a strong religious state under pioneering conditions could work such consequence among notable individualists like the Puritans, much more would primitive Hebrew tribalism emphasize the necessity of conformity with custom. The idea of right, therefore, in the beginning of the Old Testament, suffered the limitation of externality, and this limitation continued to be, as Jesus found it, one of the outstanding problems of Hebrew ethics.
The nature of the problem appears in two main aspects.
1. A man could observe the tribal customs outwardly without deep concern about his inner quality. Customary ethics demand at the most respectability, but they do not lead a man to pray,
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10.)
The Old Testament came at last to such praying but it did not start there.
In one of the renditions of the Decalogue, (Exodus, chap. 34.) thought by scholars to be the earliest, are such commands as these: “Thou shalt worship no other god”; “Thou shalt make thee no molten gods”; “The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep”; “All that openeth the womb is mine”; “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest”; “Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread”; “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” These and similar commands are external regulations, which can be observed with no deep searching of conscience and with no concern about personal motive and quality.
When, beyond customary behavior associated with rubric, one considers actions associated with human relationships, a similar externality obtains. Murder, adultery, false witness, the covetous seeking of a neighbor’s goods — such prohibited conduct was antisocial and could be externally refrained from by any one who was determined to respect the established customs of the tribe.
Here, then, in primitive tribal life was laid the foundation of the later legalism which at its best was the boast and at its worst the disgrace of Judaism. The idea of customary ethics kept a persistent grip on the developing morals of Israel, all the more persistent because every detail of the customary ethics was regarded as the will of God. In modern thought and parlance, ethics and religion are separable; in Hebrew thought and parlance they were inseparable and even indistinguishable. Like heat and light in sunshine they came as one, and only later more sophisticated thinking differentiated between them. Whatever was customarily right was God’s will; whatever was God’s will was profoundly important and urgent. Thus the sacredness with which religion always endues whatever it touches clung even to the minutiae of duty. In order to protect the will of God from being in the least transgressed, the good life was defined and set down in laws. But laws can be expanded, interpreted, refined, evaded, and explained away, so that in the fully developed legal system the ideals of goodness were commonly externalized by the ingenuity of lawyers. As for early Hebrew legislation, it was largely absorbed in details of outward behavior, much of it entirely non moral, with much of what was moral so set in terms of customary action that the keeping of the law made only a small demand on ethical insight and personal quality.
2. This limitation of externality appeared in a second aspect. When the laws of early Israel were in process of formation, rubric and ethic were combined and, thus deposited together in the written statutes, they continued to exercise together a binding control over life. In consequence, even in the later codes, what we would call religious etiquette and humane ethic were often put upon a level, with the constant danger that the first would become a substitute for the second in the service of God. This is too obvious in the earlier codes to need special illustration. The laws about sacred seasons, Sabbath observance, details of sacrifice, clean and unclean foods, bulk much larger than legislation on ethics, and this lack of perspective and proportion, this inveterate idea that Yahweh was appeased by ceremonial behavior, obtained so firm a grip that even the prophets who contended against it never broke its hold, as orthodox Judaism today bears witness. Indeed, a great prophet, Ezekiel, lumped together adultery, idolatry, bloodshed, and the eating of meat improperly prepared, as alike displeasing to Yahweh. (Ezekiel 33:25-26.)
In this regard the early Hebrews faced a problem, common not only to all primitive faiths but to all advanced faiths too, in which humane conduct has to compete for primacy with ritual observance. The task of the Hebrew prophets at their best, insisting on the absolute supremacy of righteousness as the requirement of God, has never yet been anywhere completely finished. In the Old Testament this problem took shape from current circumstance and inherited tradition and in many forms is present in the writings of Israel. Even a late rendition of Hebrew history in Chronicles ascribes a pestilence to David’s presumption in taking a census of the people. (I Chronicles 21:1-17.) The banning of a census as a presumptuous exhibition of curiosity, seeking information which only the god has a right to possess, is a familiar taboo in primitive religion, and opposition to a census on religious grounds arose even in New Jersey before the American Revolution. (See Henry Pratt Fairchild: General Sociology, p. 311.) When one considers the appalling cruelties of which David was guilty, (E.g., I Samuel 27:9; I Samuel 27:11; II Samuel 8:2-6.) to say nothing of his perfidy in the case of , (II Samuel, chap. 11.) one feels a profound lack of ethical perspective in associating so severe a punishment as a wide-spread pestilence with the crime of census-taking.
Legalism and ritualism, therefore, tempted the Hebrews to externality in their idea of right living, and with this temptation the great prophets and Jesus were intimately and constantly concerned.
Such were the three main limitations on early Hebrew morals: the field of ethical obligation was tribally constricted; within the tribal circle certain classes were denied full personal rights; and the nature of moral conduct was interpreted in such external terms of custom and ritual as to make small demand on internal insight and quality. The progress made, therefore, in the later stages of the Old Testament, in the inter-Testamental period, and in the New Testament, may be interpreted as the overpassing of these three inadequacies.
Considering them in reversed order, it is plain that the great prophets and Jesus insistently drove back the moral problem into the inner quality of personal life The prophetic leaders of Israel were as much interested as any members of the nation in the success of the social group; the beginning and end of their thought was Israel redeemed, purified, and fulfilling her mission in the world. Their interpretation of what this involved, however, went far beyond meticulous legalism and ritualism into ethical insight and creative moral living, saying with Micah, “What doth Yahweh require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God ?” (Micah 6:8.) The progress involved in this creative work of the Hebrew conscience was one of the supreme contributions to human life which the Old Testament records.
The increasing humaneness and inwardness of moral life under the influence of the great prophets and Jesus is illustrated in the changing ideas about forgiveness of enemies: In the older strata of documents, retaliation was distinctly taught as the proper principle of legal procedure — “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:23-25.) Justice between man and man and between nation and nation was thus pictured in retaliatory terms; history was written to illustrate the principle of retaliation in God’s dealings with men, and even psalms celebrated the people’s hope of seeing it executed upon their enemies. (Psalm 137:8-9.)
Far from being inhumane, such strict adherence to the principles of retaliation represented, at first, progress in goodwill, for it put boundaries around man’s natural desire to wreak on personal and social enemies an unlimited and abandoned vengeance. In Lamech’s claim to the right of revenge “seventy and sevenfold,” (Genesis 4:23-24) we have the historic starting point for a study of the growing ideal of forgiveness, and the first step up from such unrestricted vengeance was the adoption of retaliation as a substitute. The law of ‘eye for eye,’ therefore, was at first a moral advance, curbing extravagant vindictiveness and allowing only the strict return of injury for injury, no more, no less.
A further enlargement of thought was associated with the idea that the requiting of evil upon enemies was not so much man’s business God’s. This idea lay behind even Paul’s argument against vindictiveness — “Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.” (I Romans 12:19.) In this statement Paul showed himself a good Jew, true to his racial heritage. Human vengeance in the Old Testament was restricted, not simply by being reduced to retaliation but by being handed over to the divine executioner. By this means the outward wreaking of vengeance could be forgone without giving up the interior hope of it. So Deuteronomy rejoices in Yahweh because “he will avenge the blood of his servants,” (Deuteronomy 32:43.) and a psalmist cries,
Yahweh is on my side among them that help me:
Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me. (Psalm 118:7.)
Obviously, while such methods of handling the passion of vindictiveness may be externally ameliorative, they are not inwardly curative, and they lend color to the words of Jesus, “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.” (Matthew 5:43.) Nevertheless, this substitution of God for man in dealing with enemies, as Paul’s employment of it reveals, was capable of high usage. It could be extended and deepened to mean a deliberate willingness to forgo either vengeance or retaliation, leaving the issue with God. So the Book of Proverbs puts it:
Say not thou, I will recompense evil:
Wait for Yahweh, and he will save thee. (Proverbs 20:22.)
A further advance was made when vindictiveness, or even retaliation toward a personal enemy, was under certain circumstances visited with moral disapproval. Even in the early law codes, special situations were visualized where not retaliatory justice but positive mercy toward a foe was commanded — “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, thou shalt forbear to leave him, thou shalt surely release it with him.” (Exodus 23:4-5.) By thus calling attention to the problem of treating enemies, not when they were triumphant but when they were in distress, a path of least resistance was indicated for the progressive spirit of magnanimity. A growing humaneness, expressed in positive mercy, was first commanded toward foes when they were in misfortune; generous treatment of enemies secured its foothold by appealing to pity. So said the Book of Proverbs:
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he be thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21.)
To be sure, such magnanimity was far from perfect. The Book of Proverbs, in another passage, begins on a high note,
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth,
And let not thy heart be glad when he is overthrown,
but, as for the inward motive, the passage ends on a low note,
Lest Yahweh see it, and it displease him,
And he turn away his wrath from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)
Nevertheless, magnanimity, having secured a foothold in dealing with distressed foes, could not be denied its further way. The evidence of enlarged humaneness is unmistakable, as when Job pleaded his innocence of wrongdoing and revealed his detestation of vindictiveness —
If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me,
Or lifted up myself when evil found him
(Yea, I have not suffered my mouth to sin
By asking his life with a curse). . . . (Job 31:29-30.)
Within the limits of the Old Testament, the most precise statement of this growing ideal of magnanimity toward enemies is found in the Exilic law: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Leviticus 19:17-18.)
It is to be noted that only fellow Israelites were included within the scope of such magnanimity. This persistent constriction of developing humaneness within the racial group explains otherwise strange contrasts in the Old Testament. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brethren, for example, presents one of the most moving scenes in ancient literature, (Genesis, chap. 45.) while, on the other hand, the Book of Esther with unabashed gusto enjoys the Jewish pogrom in which multitudes of alien enemies were massacred in all the provinces of the Persian Empire. (Esther, chap. 9.) This contrast in moral attitude, however, is only in appearance. Joseph forgave his brethren and the writer of Esther would have applauded that, while the writer of the Joseph stories would doubtless have agreed with the Book of Esther that alien enemies were not within the proper scope of such generosity and that to pardon them or even to refrain from vengeance on them was not virtue but disloyalty.
Between the Testaments, despite national evils which brought vindictiveness naturally in their train, there was a notable deepening of magnanimity. Vindictiveness there was a-plenty. Nothing in the Old Testament specifically condemned it when exhibited toward foreign foes. The unlimited outreach of divine mercy even toward Nineveh, such as the Book of Jonah represents, was the faith of a few and its human counterpart the attainment of only a small number. Rather, the Book of Nahum — a paean of joy over the downfall of Nineveh — represented the popular attitude toward foreign foes, as it would today in Christendom under similar circumstances. Despite this, however, the wisdom of the forgiving spirit was ever more clearly seen and its statement became so universal in form as to suggest unlimited application. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, for example, was a Hebrew book written in the second century B.C., and was probably known to Jesus. At any rate, its kinship with his spirit is unmistakable “Love ye, therefore, one another from the heart; and if a man sin against thee, cast forth the poison of hate and speak peaceably to him, and in thy soul hold not guile; and if he confess and repent, forgive him. . . . And if he be shameless and persist in his wrong-doing, even so forgive him from the heart, and leave to God the avenging”; (The Testament of Gad 6:3,7.) “If any one seeketh to do evil unto you, do well unto him, and pray for him, and ye shall be redeemed of the Lord from all evil.” (The Testament of Joseph 18:2.) Indeed, everything that Jesus said on this matter (See Mark 11:25; Luke 6:27-28; Matthew 18:21-22; 5:43-45.) is to be found in germ in the Jewish literature which preceded him, sometimes with verbal resemblance so close that conscious quotation is suggested. The Book of Sirach even says,
Forgive thy neighbour the injury (done to thee),
And then, when thou prayest, thy sins will be forgiven. (Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 28:2.)
Here, then, was a development of moral ideal in the Bible that extended all the way from Lamech’s claim to vengeance “seventy and sevenfold “to Jesus’ plea for forgiveness of enemies “until seventy times seven.” Such a development called increasingly for inward quality of spirit, for rightness of attitude and motive. Vengeance and retaliation could be outwardly administered; penal justice could be roughly managed by legality; but the more magnanimity was called for, the more inward quality was indispensable, until at last the Bible faced man with an ideal that put upon him a profound demand for interior regeneration — “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32.)
The overpassing of the limitation of externality in early Hebrew morals involved not only the development of ethical ideals concerning special virtues such as magnanimity, but a profoundly important evolution of thought about the nature of sin in general and of what is necessary in securing salvation from it. At first, sin was transgression of tribal custom and the penalty was the displeasure of the tribal god, with its dire results. The sum and substance of sin and salvation might then have been described in such terms as these: obedience to tribal custom means Yahweh’s favor and the tribe’s prosperity; transgression of tribal custom means Yahweh’s displeasure and the tribe’s disaster; therefore, do not transgress. The negativeness and externality of this idea of wrongdoing and of salvation from it is plain and, as well, the slight demand it makes on inward, personal resources of character. At this stage no question was raised as to man’s ability to refrain from transgression if he so desired, and there was, in consequence, no conscious need of inner assistance, much less of interior cleansing by the Spirit of God. One of the most fascinating roadways along which the Old Testament’s thought traveled led from this beginning to the consciousness of sin as inner defilement and of salvation as inner cleansing and renewal.
In this development Jeremiah played an eminent part. He too, an intense patriot, cared supremely for his nation’s welfare but, as the nation broke up under the shock of war and exile, his experience of God became a profound, inner possession in the strength of which alone he carried on through tragic days. Moreover, along with this experience of inwardness in his own religious life went his disillusionment over the external reform imposed by royal authority in the reign of Josiah. (II Kings 23:1-25.) The reform had seemed successful. It had achieved outwardly many of the ends the prophets sought. It had cast down the local high places, had centralized worship in Jerusalem, had eliminated the worst abominations of the heathen cults, and in the ethical realm had put in force the admirable law code of Deuteronomy. But it had remained an external reformation; the inner fountains of motive and desire had not been cleansed. So Jeremiah cried, “Wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved.” (Jeremiah 4:14.)
Jeremiah’s experience and ministry are chiefly notable because in him, for the first time in our religious tradition, the idea of sin emerged as inner pollution and that of salvation as inner regeneration. Still the goal sought was a righteous nation, but no social righteousness, he saw, could be achieved by external reformation only; right-minded and right-motived persons were the prerequisites of a fortunate society. In the sixth century before Christ, he understood with astonishing clarity the inward origins of public character and traced the good life back, behind taboo and custom, legality and form, to personal quality of spirit. Out of this insight came the prophet’s vision of the new covenant by which alone Israel could be saved — God’s law in the people’s spirit and written on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:31-34.)
This deeper current of thought in Israel made its way slowly. Before the Exile, old ideas of tribal morality withstood such inward conceptions of sin and salvation. During and after the Exile, the struggle of the Jews against being assimilated by paganism so coerced them into stressing their differentials and, as always in such a case, so led them to stress obvious peculiarities which are external, that Judaism emerged into a new era of accentuated legalism and ritualism.
Under the influence of this situation the duties of a Jew were formalized in written laws. What Deuteronomy began, Ezekiel and the Priestly Code carried on. Then the scribes arose and, by giving interpretations to, and drawing corollaries from, the Law, applied it with meticulous care to the minute affairs of daily life. Israel became a people of a book, the Torah, and the good life was defined in terms of written statutes. The trouble, however, with a written law is that, defining goodness in terms of statutory observance, it is tempted to set the standard low and to neglect the inner sources of great character and the interior need of spiritual renewal. Out of such legalism came the Eighteenth Psalm, which has seldom, if ever, been surpassed as an illustration of moral self-satisfaction, (Psalm 18:20-24.) and the remark of the complacent young ruler who said to Jesus, “All these things have I observed from my youth up. (Luke 18:21.)
As morality was thus formalized in post-Exilic legalism, formalism developed in the temple worship, and all the dangers associated with ritualism and priestcraft befell Israel. The wonder is not that legalism and ritualism thus absorbed so large a share of Judaism’s thought — the same has been true in all religions, not least in Christianity but that the deeper stream of prophetic teaching still flowed on. Even Ezekiel, who contented himself too much with eddies of outward conduct rather than with main currents of inner purpose, and who indiscriminately mixed up ethics and tribal taboos, had caught the deeper truth for which Jeremiah stood, and appealed repeatedly for “a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:31; 11:19-20; 36:26-27.)
Indeed, the same Psalter, the hymn book of the second temple, which contains the complacence of the Eighteenth Psalm, contains also the profundity of the Fifty-first. There sin is a deep, inward defilement; goodness is an interior fountain of spiritual quality; penitence concerns what a man is behind what he does; and the desire for a good life calls out the prayer for spiritual rebirth,
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10.)
In this matter, once more, Jesus belonged to the great tradition of his people. Between the Testaments the stream had flowed on, whose springs in the Old Testament we have traced. The good life, being more than law and rubric, was seen to lie in moral insight, wisdom, and goodwill. As the Fifty first Psalm had said, goodness was truth in the inward parts and, in the hidden part, wisdom, and the good man was washed thoroughly from iniquity and upheld by a willing spirit. The insight of Jeremiah, tracing evil back to private thinking, was taken for granted in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs — “Fearing lest he should offend the Lord, he [the good man] will not do wrong to any man, even in thought.” (The Testament of Gad: 5:6.)
This quality of inwardness was of the very essence of Jesus’ ethic. He saw anger as killing, hate as murder, lust as adultery, and insincerity as perjury. In his eyes genuine philanthropy and genuine prayer alike sprang from inner quality of spirit, for which no outward deed could act as surrogate. His ultimate moral philosophy lay in such propositions as that “from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed,” (Mark 7:21.) and that “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.” (Matthew 7:18.) In the New Testament’s insistence, therefore, on the need of inner spiritual renewal and empowerment, fulfillment came to a development of life and thought which had begun in the insight of a few prophetic souls centuries before. The development began with the external observance of tribal taboos; it ended with men saying, “Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God”; (John 3:3.) “Be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”; (Romans 12:2.) “The ordinance of the law . . . fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” ; (Romans 8:4.) “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.” (II Corinthians 5:7.)
This emphasis constitutes the essential matter in Paul’s life and thought. He had been reared in a system where sin was regarded as transgression of law, and where repentance, forgiveness, and amendment of life were the cure. This legal estimate of sin’s nature seemed to him utterly inadequate. Man’s sin had deeper roots than willful disobedience; it was, as it were, a demonic power so that it was not Paul who did evil but “sin which dwelleth in me.” (Romans 7:17.) Deep-seated and inveterate, sinfulness was now regarded as so essentially a part of human nature that no mere forgiveness of transgressions could salve its evil or volitional amendment undo its harm. A profound, interior deliverance was needed; one must pass from the dominion of the flesh into the dominion of the spirit. Short of that, the old moral cures of repentance and forgiveness were mere palliatives, failing to deal with the real disease “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.’’ (Romans 7:18.)
To be sure, the experience of forgiveness is to be found in Paul, (E.g., Romans 4:6-11;Colossians 1:14; 2:13; Ephesians 1:7; 4:32.) but only as the beginning of a far deeper and more thoroughgoing event — the crucial passage of a man’s life from being “in the flesh” to being “in the Spirit” or “in Christ Jesus.’’ (Romans 8:9; 6:11.) The Apostle’s estimate of the nature of sin and salvation, voiced in his cry, “Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 [marginal translation]). could not be matched by any legal transaction whatever — only by a profound deliverance, first, from the power of the flesh now, and second, from the very presence of the flesh in the great denouement. Then Christ “shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” (Philippeans 3:21.)
This radical estimate of the nature of sin, with its accompanying demand for a radical deliverance, while phrased by Paul in terms uniquely characteristic of himself, is one of the major contributions of the New Testament. To be sure, Christianity could be and was interpreted as a new law, as for example in the Epistle of James. (James 1:25; 2:8-12; 4:11-12.) Professor E. F. Scott, however, passes a not unfair judgment on James: “Conceiving of the new message as a ‘law,’ and not as a power which creates a new life, he misses what is deepest, both in the Christian religion and the Christian ethic.” (The Literature of the New Testament, p.216.)
As for John, he had his own way of conceiving and phrasing man’s need of deep, interior deliverance. He, too, saw in Jesus the one who “taketh away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29.) and in a Pauline metaphor he pictured Christ’s work as redeeming men from the slavery of sin to the freedom of sonship. (John 8:34-36.) There are even faint intimations in John of a Pauline contrast between flesh and spirit — “It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing’’; (John 6:63.) “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’’ (John 3:6.) Here, however, the resemblance ends and the fact emerges, as elsewhere, that there is no such thing as New Testament theology — only New Testament theologies. Indeed, so distinctive is John’s idea of salvation that it has been said it does not conceive the saving work of Christ as deliverance from sin. (Ernest Findlay Scott: The Fourth Gospel; Its purpose and Theology, p.218.) John says that men would have had no sin at all had not Christ “come and spoken unto them” (John15:22.) and that sin essentially lies in the refusal of the light so offered. The Spirit will convict men of sin, says the Johannine Jesus, “because they believe not on me.” (John 16:9.)
According to John, the evil from which Christ saves his people is not so much sin as it is an inner darkness of man’s unregenerate nature, a profound privation of true light, true knowledge, and true life. Sunk and benighted in this native estate of all who are born “of the will of the flesh,” (John 1:13.) man’s existence is really death and salvation from it is not attainable by man’s unaided will. In order to pass “out of death into life” (John 5:24.) one must be “born anew.” (John 3:3 [see also marginal translation]) A divine initiative from above regenerates the man so that he passes from a state of unspiritual darkness, illusion, and privation into the higher realm of being, concerning which John uses three major words — light, life, and love. To John, therefore, Christ is the life-giver. Coming Himself from the realm of “eternal life,” he confers it on those who receive him. They are reborn into a new world of being; they become children of God, (John 1:12.) possess life “abundantly,” (John 10:10; cf.6:40.) no longer “walk in the darkness” but “have the light of life.” (John 8:12.) Christ is the vine, his disciples the branches, and in this vital union life flows inwardly to each believer so that abundant fruitage is possible. (John 15:1 ff.) This is the distinctively Johannine phrasing of salvation, and it represents the way some early Christians, deeply influenced by Hellenistic thought, described man’s profound need of deliverance and conceived the inner regeneration which Christ brought in saving answer.
This overpassing of the limitation of externality, however, had it stood alone, might have led to a predominantly subjective religion, whereas the development of Biblical thought emphatically retained the unity of religion and ethics that Jeremiah stressed when he identified humane conduct with knowing God. (Jeremiah 22:15-16.) In particular, one perceives in the later Old Testament and in the New Testament a growing respect for personality wherever found, and, in consequence, a deepening concern about unjustly treated classes of people.
No one acquainted with the history of slavery and of woman’s status will expect to find, within the centuries covered by the Bible, either the elimination of the one or the emancipation of the other. Slavery still exists; its pressing consequences are today present in the United States and living men and women can remember the slave system in full swing. As for Greco-Roman civilization, it was based squarely on slave labor, and one of the profoundest differences between the ancient Mediterranean culture and our own is that there slavery was taken for granted along with a growing consciousness of the moral compromise it involved with man’s best ideals, while with us liberty is taken for granted along with deep ethical discontent at the parallels of slavery, or worse, which exist under the wage system. As for womanhood, millions of women today have no status remotely approaching equality with man’s. Throughout both the Old and the New Testaments, therefore, slavery was a recognized part of the social structure and woman was nowhere conceived as rightfully escaping from the proprietorship of father or husband. What the Bible does represent is a preparation of the moral soil for a new crop of ideas on these and kindred matters. Specifically, the Bible records a deepening sense of the value of personality wherever found and an increasing insistence on respect for it.
So far as woman was concerned, it is not so much in the Old Testament’s laws as in its poetry that we catch a distinctly altered tone. The Song of Songs, (Called the Song of Solomon, in the English Versions.) for example, is a love lyric often tropical in its passion, and very important as evidence that romance rather than convenience or barter was gaining recognition as the basis of marriage —
. . . Love is strong as death,
A passion as resistless as Sheol.
. . . . .
Water cannot quench it,
Nor do rivers drown it;
If one offer all the wealth of one’s house
For love, they will utterly reject it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 as translated by Hinckley G. Mitchell: The Ethics of the Old Testament, p. 347.)
This implies the ideal of personal choice rather than family sale as the basis of marriage, and indeed, if Budde’s emendation of one sentence is correct, the Song of Songs leaves no room in true love for polygamy:
Solomon had sixty queens,
And eighty concubines,
And maidens numberless;
My dove, the faultless, is one. (Song of Solomon 6:8-9 as translated by Karl Budde [see H.G. Mitchell: op. cit., p. 348.])
At any rate, this celebrated love lyric, whose admission to the Hebrew canon was vigorously withstood and was not finally settled until about 90 A.D., (At the Synod of Jamnia, although even later Rabbi Akibah pronounced condemnation on those who sang snatches from this book in wine houses.) presents an ideal of love highly romantic and individualistic. When the idealized bridegroom found his bride the “fairest among women” and yet, in her control of his affections, “terrible as an army with banners,” the relationship of marriage was plainly escaping its old tribal restrictions, the family was becoming more plastic, and the trail was being blazed from polygamy to monogamy.
The Book of Proverbs gives further evidence of the same trend. No specific condemnation of polygamy is to be found, but it is impossible easily to fit polygamy into the ideas of the writer —
House and riches are an inheritance from fathers;
But a prudent wife is from Yahweh. (Proverbs 19:14.)
He that hath found a [good] wife hath found a blessing,
And hath obtained favor from Yahweh. (Proverbs 18:22 as translated by H. G. Mitchell in op. cit., p. 330.)
A worthy woman is the crown of her husband. (Proverbs 12:4.)
Above all, in the thirty-first chapter occurs the description of a wife and mother in which she is elevated to such dignity that rivals in the household are not easily imaginable.
Along with such finer estimates of woman in Hebrew poetry went an inevitable tendency to improve the laws in her behalf. So Deuteronomy marked an advance over the earlier codes, and the Priestly Document of the Exile went further yet in ordaining, for example, woman’s right of inheritance. (Numbers 27:6-11.) As for the integrity of family life on a monogamous basis, Malachi’s protest against divorce bears eloquent testimony to Israel’s developing conscience: “And this again ye do: ye cover the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping, and with sighing, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, neither receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Yahweh hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did he not make one, although he had the residue of the Spirit? And wherefore one? He sought a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For I hate putting away, saith Yahweh, the God of Israel.’’ (Malachi 19:4-6.)
As among ancient people generally, the actual practice of monogamy among the Hebrews came not so much by direct legislation as by the indirect influence of changed economic conditions, the increase of individual freedom, the rise of romantic love, and the deepening estimate of womanhood’s worth in terms of personality. The very fact that Jesus took monogamy for granted reveals its prevalence in his day. He doubtless was appealing to the best conscience of his people when, against current looseness and especially against the injustice of husbands to wives in the matter of divorce, he stated the ideal of marriage in terms of a single, indissoluble bond — “Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6.)
The strictness of Jesus’ command against divorce which immediately follows this passage, and the even stricter command in Mark’s earlier account, (Mark 10:1-12.) can be understood only when set in the historic situation and seen as a defense of womanhood. The right of the husband to be judge, jury, and executioner in severing the marriage tie and expelling the wife from her home and children seemed to Jesus cruelly unjust, and with characteristic indignation against arrogant misuse of power he denied this legal right conferred on husbands by Leviticus. He granted that such a high standard as he set up was impossible as universal legislation, (Matthew 19:11-12.) but as against the prevalent practice, according to which a husband could, without appeal beyond his own wish, expel his wife from the home, Jesus pleaded for the rights of the woman and for the duty of the man, save in extreme cases, to keep his marriage indissoluble. All this is of one piece with Jesus’ general attitude toward women. It is impossible to distinguish women from men in the personal respect with which Jesus treated them. Repeatedly he came to their defense as he came to the defense of children. Despite its high estimate of womanhood, even the Book of Proverbs, in the many passages where it condemns harlotry, (Proverbs 2:16; 5:3-5; 7:5-27; 23:27.28.) habitually lays the initial responsibility on the woman, as though man were only the poor victim of her wiles. When Jesus, however, was presented with this problem, so the Fourth Gospel tells us, (This passage in its present form is of doubtful authenticity, as the Revised Standard Version indicates, but it represents a bona fide tradition of Jesus’ attitude.) he turned on the men as they prepared to stone an adulteress, saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7.)
Whether, therefore, one thinks of the prominence of women among the friends and followers of Jesus, or of his willingness to risk the wrath of the orthodox by dealing with sinful women as personalities in need of help, or of his spirited defense of women against the tyranny of husbands in a matter like divorce, or, in general, of his constant treatment of women as persons and, therefore, as ends in themselves, one understands the judgment that in Jesus woman found the best friend she ever had in the ancient world. It is no accident that in the movement which he originated it came soon to be understood that the distinction of sex represented no difference of spiritual status; there was “no male and female.” (Galatians 3:28.)
Indeed, the fact that this particular phrase is Paul’s should chasten the readiness with which many moderns, lacking an historical perspective, condemn him as an anti-feminist. He faced a perplexing practical situation. In Corinth, for example, only women of questionable reputation or of frankly public character as prostitutes commonly functioned outside the domestic circle as leaders in politics or religion. To allow the women of the Corinthian church public functions would have opened wide the door to a complete misunderstanding of Christian morals. As it was, the early Christians were generally believed to indulge in sensual orgies at their “love-feasts,” and prudence was imperatively called for by the situation. His injunction against a woman’s speaking in the church, therefore, must be understood with the local situation in mind. (I Corinthians14:34-35.)
Similarly, Paul’s statement, lamentable in modern ears, that it is better to remain unmarried but that if one cannot remain unmarried without being unchaste, “it is better to marry than to burn,” (I Corinthians 7:9.) needs historic background for its understanding. Its origin was not ascetic but apocalyptic. Paul thought that the last days had come, that before his death the Messiah would appear, and that in the few remaining years there were more important tasks afoot than founding families. As in another period of crisis General Robert E. Lee said, “This is no time for marriage,” (Quoted by Mrs Roger A. Pryor: Reminiscences of Peace and War, p. 327.) so Paul felt as he surveyed the current scene in the light of the new church’s tremendous tasks and of the Messiah’s expected return. Granted that the expectation was mistaken and that the obsession of Paul’s mind by it warped his perspective, yet he should be allowed to decry marriage for the reason he really thought he had and not be accused of decrying it for another reason altogether. Far from being ascetic, he not only idealized marriage as a true figure of Christ’s union with the church, but he carefully prescribed the complete satisfaction of biological needs in the marriage relationship and commanded that neither party physically defraud the other. (I Corinthians 7:3-5.)
Nevertheless, when all allowance has been made, it remains true that Paul was limited not only by the practical situation which he faced but by the ideas which he had inherited. He never resolved the conflict between the larger vision of womanhood which he saw and the actual status of woman as man’s inferior. On one side he was quaintly archaic, arguing that a man should not have his head covered in church “forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God,” but that a woman should have her head veiled because she “is the glory of the man.” (I Corinthians 11:7.) He retained even the ancient inference from the story of Eden: “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” (I Corinthians 11:9.) Having said this, however, he was troubled by its inadequacy, and tried to compensate for the historic and actual subjugation of woman to man by stating an ideal equality in the relationship of both to God — “Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.” (I Corinthians 11:11-12.) Nowhere is Paul more human or more like ourselves than in this confused endeavor to harmonize a spiritual ideal with an actual situation plus an inveterate set of inherited ideas concerning it.
In particular, Paul never escaped the opinion that the only proper status of woman lay in the proprietorship of her husband — “Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church. . . . But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24.) Doubtless if he had to legislate on this subject for the nascent churches, this was the only prudent legislation he could suggest, since any other would have wrecked the reputation of his movement. It required many centuries to prepare the race, even in its most civilized areas, for other ideas and other practices. Despite the boasted culture of Greece, Pericles in his great oration on Athenian liberality asserted that woman’s glory consists in never being heard of at all, either for good or evil. Professor MacIver claims that in all his history Thucydides referred to a woman only twice — then only casually in passing –and that “in the majority of Greek cities women filled so small a part that we cannot even obtain information about them.” (R. M. MacIver: The Modern State, p. 89.) Indeed, even yet the status of womanhood is eminently unfair and the emancipation of women is attended by domestic and moral turmoil amounting at times to chaos.
Far from depreciating Paul, therefore, for attitudes that were inevitable in his time, a true historic judgment must applaud him for ideas ahead of his time. The supreme reforms of history can be traced back to ideals on the spiritual plane in direct antagonism to facts on the practical plane. Such equality in politics or before the law as man has attained began in the ideal of all men as equal before God, who is “no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34.) Similarly, such practical equality as obtains between man and woman has sprung from an ideal equality. In Paul’s eyes there was one place where man and woman stood together with no preeminence of one over the other, and that was before the face of God. “In the Lord” they were equal. (I Corinthians 11:11.) At first this seems a poor substitute for the economic and domestic freedom of womanhood but in fact it was not so much a substitute as a creative idea, which, once set at work, could not be stayed in its leavening power. When persons are believed to be equal as God sees them, the race must try to make them equal as man treats them.
In the New Testament, therefore, while we see no completed process in woman’s elevation to an equal status, we do see the germinative ideas of equality, which today are still trying to grow into actualities. The New Testament presents God as “no respecter of persons” and, therefore, as no discriminator against women; it presents marriage as monogamy on a high level, comparable, as The Book of Common Prayer says, with the “mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’’; (Ephesians 5:25-33.) and, probably for the first time in human history, it presents a fellowship in which, so far as spiritual status was concerned, there was “no male and female.” (Galations 3:28.) As James Russell Lowell said about the New Testament in general, there was dynamite enough in such ideas to blow all our existing institutions to atoms. (See his essay, “The Progress of the World.”)
So far as slaves were concerned, nowhere in the Bible is the institution of slavery, as such, attacked or even questioned. What Professor Whitehead says about the Greeks, however, applies in large measure to the Hebrews and to the early Christians — “The Athenians were slave-owners: but they seem to have humanized the institution. Plato was an aristocrat by birth and by conviction, also he must have owned slaves. But it is difficult to read some of his Dialogues without an uneasy feeling about the compulsory degradation of mankind.” (Alfred North Whitehead: Adventures of Ideas, p.16.)
One of the early Hebrew laws, for example, forbade the holding of a Hebrew slave for more than six years. (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12.) Evidently this law was widely disobeyed, for it was suddenly treated with respect, as a means of placating Yahweh, when in the days of Jeremiah the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem. When, however, the enemy temporarily departed to meet the attacking Egyptians in the plain, the masters in Jerusalem speedily took back their slaves again and Jeremiah lashed them for their perfidy. (Jeremiah 34:8-22.) Nevertheless, despite its treacherous abrogation, the original agreement which King Zedekiah had made with the people of Jerusalem — “that every man should let his man-servant, and every man his maid-servant, that is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free; that none should make bondmen of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother” (Jeremiah 34:9.) –indicates a disturbed conscience about a Jew’s enslavement by a Jew.
Especially with reference to bondage for debt, the lot of unfortunate Jews was mitigated by successive laws (Deuteronomy15:12-18; Leviticus 25:35-43.) and Nehemiah was “very angry” and indulged in one of his most effective outbursts of indignation over the use of debt as a means of gaining slaves. (Nehemiah 5:6 ff.) This growing sensitiveness of conscience about Hebrew slavery was doubtless responsible for the fact that, whereas according to the earlier history Solomon prepared and transported the materials for his temple by “a levy out of all Israel”, (I Kings 5:13-16.) later history reports that the 153,600 men engaged in this task were “the sojourners that were in the land of Israel,” (II Chronicles 2:17-18.) and that “of the children of Israel did Solomon make no servants for his work.” (II Chronicles 8:9.) This rewriting of the record plainly comes from a late period, when opposition to the enslavement of fellow Hebrews had won its way to general recognition and when it seemed desirable to expunge from the historical record a precedent so dangerous as Solomon’s example would provide.
Aside from this effective protest of the Hebrew conscience against the enslavement of their own brethren, the contribution of the Old Testament to the problem is mainly by indirection rather than by direct attack. Says Dr. Louis Wallis:
Indeed, we may search the pages of the literary prophets in vain to find a single instance in which the question of human slavery in the abstract is discussed. Amos passes over it in silence. Micah says nothing about it. Isaiah makes no mention of it. Hosea does not raise the subject. And so with all the prophets. (Sociological Study of the Bible, p. 157.)
What the prophets did contend for, however, was a rising estimate of human value, which, while it did not cancel slavery, affected deeply the treatment of slaves. This demand of the prophetic school for humaneness is seen in Deuteronomy’s plea for mercy to slaves because the Hebrews had themselves been slaves in Egypt, (Deuteronomy 15:15 [the same argument had already been made earlier, in the Book of the Covenant, Exodus 22:21.]) and even more in the merciful law concerning the year of jubilee in the Levitican Code: “And if thy brother be waxed poor with thee, and sell himself unto thee; thou shalt not make him to serve as a bondservant. As a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee; he shall serve with thee unto the year of jubilee: then shall he go out from thee, he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.” (Leviticus 25:39-41.) So far as the Old Testament is concerned, humane consideration for slaves is most adequately expressed in the picture of the ideal man in Job:
If I have despised the cause of my man-servant
or of my maid-servant, When they contended with me;
What then shall I do when God riseth up?
And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?
Did not he that made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:13-15.)
This insight and attitude of Job are continued and advanced in the New Testament. Jesus never explicitly questioned or discussed the institution of slavery. It was taken for granted in Palestine, as in the entire ancient world, as a natural part of the social structure. Jesus, therefore, assumed it as inherent in this present evil age, and in his parables slaves appear with no attack upon the economic institution that produced them. At that time no one, inside the New Testament or outside, had apparently thought of slavery as anything but inevitable or had dreamed of its eradication. What Jesus did was to elevate incalculably the status of personality as in itself intrinsically valuable. He treated all persons on that basis — slaves and freemen, rich and poor, men and women, elders and children — and, even if he did not foresee what this would do centuries afterward to some of the institutions of society, he made an inestimable contribution.
One of the first consequences was the admittance of slaves on equal terms with freemen into the first Christian churches. This represents the New Testament’s greatest single contribution to the solution of the problem of slavery. “In Christ Jesus” there were no slaves — “neither bond nor free.” (Galatians 3:28.) The Epistle to Philemon, far from deserving opprobrium because it takes slavery for granted without protest against the institution, represents one of the most indispensable forward steps in history toward the ultimate elimination of slavery. It presents an eloquent and persuasive plea for the welcome not only of a slave but of an “unprofitable” slave, as now converted to Christ and therefore to be regarded and treated “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, a brother beloved.” (Philemon, vs.16 [marginal translation]). So far is this from being a small matter that American Christians to this day find it easier to rejoice in the historic elimination of the slave system as a whole than to welcome into churches children of ex-slaves on terms of equality, as brethren beloved. The principle of action recorded in the New Testament was profound and revolutionary; it is not yet even remotely lived up to. Certainly the ideal equality of slave and freeman as members of the Christian community was one of the major ideas presaging slavery’s ultimate downfall.
With regard to the institution of slavery and the status of woman, the writers of the late Old Testament and of the New probably saw least clearly the implications of their growing idea of personality’s sacredness. They could no more have foreseen what the giving of full personal rights to women and slaves would involve than they could have foreseen aviation. They did, however, make an incalculable contribution to man’s ethical life by their ever deepening recognition of inherent dignity in persons and their ever more sensitive demand for humaneness toward persons. The great prophets of the Old Testament were the defenders of the poor, the solicitous protectors of all the plundered and oppressed people of the land. In Deuteronomy, which is the early endeavor of the prophetic school to put its ideals into laws, this humane sympathy with all who suffer extends not only to the fatherless, the widow, the poor, and the stranger, but to criminals (Deuteronomy 25:1-3.) and animals (Deuteronomy 5:14; 22:6-7; 25:4.) as well.
Such humaneness was the direct result of the prophetic teaching — of Amos’ indignation against those who “pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor”; (Amos 2:6-7.) of Isaiah’s plea to “seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow”; (Isaiah 1:15-17.) of Hosea’s idea of the merciful Yahweh, who says, “My heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together.’’ (Hosea 11:8.) Within the changing national and economic setting the prophets were constantly at work upon an underlying moral attitude. They felt the value of human life, the sacredness of brotherhood, the right of persons to justice, the shame of the plundered poor, the supreme wickedness of cruelty. Of such teaching and, as well, of the courage with which the prophets launched it in the face of the powerful, Jeremiah may well be the exemplar as he addressed a tyrannical king in his new palace “Shalt thou reign, because thou strivest to excel in cedar? Did not thy father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this to know me? saith Yahweh.” (Jeremiah 22:15-16.)
In this regard the common opinion is mistaken that justice in the Old Testament is negative and in the New Testament positive. To be sure, various ancient writers stated the law of justice negatively, as Confucius did — what ye would not that men should do to you, do ye not to them. Nevertheless, Leviticus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18.) extending this admonition to cover the resident foreigner, “Thou shalt love him as thyself”, (Leviticus 19:33-34.) and in Ecclesiasticus Jesus may well have read: “Consider thy neighbour’s liking by thine own.” (Ecclesiasticus 31:15.) In Judaism the ideal of personal right and fraternal goodwill rose to great heights, involving the obligation not only of negative justice but of positive mercy, so that the virtuous man of the Book of Job is, above all, a philanthropist —
If I have withheld the poor from their desire,
Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
Or have eaten my morsel alone,
And the fatherless hath not eaten thereof
(Nay, from my youth he grew up with me as with a father,
And her have I guided from my mother’s womb);
If I have seen any perish for want of clothing,
Or that the needy had no covering;
If his loins have not blessed me,
And if he hath not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless,
Because I saw my help in the gate:
Then let my shoulder fall from the shoulder-blade,
And mine arm be broken from the bone. (Job 31:16-22.)
In this realm, as in every other, it is inconceivable that the Jews should have lived in isolation from the thinking of the world at large. In any given case, the degree to which Old Testament ideas have been affected by influences from Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, or Greece, is difficult to estimate. In general, however, Dr. James H. Breasted’s statement is true: “We are all aware that Egypto-Babylonian culture set European civilisation going; but few modern people have observed the fact, so important in the history of morals and religion, that Egypto-Babylonian culture also set Hebrew civilisation going.’’ (The Dawn of Conscience, p.14) Certainly, in teaching the ideal of humaneness, the Egyptians long antedated the Hebrews. Beginning with a drama originating in Memphis in the middle of the fourth millennium B.C., and containing the earliest known discussion of right and wrong in man’s history, the Egyptians progressively developed high standards of social Justice and humane conduct. The lament of Khekheperre-soneb, born about 1900 B.C., “The poor man has no strength to save himself from him that is stronger than he,” (Quoted by Breasted in above volume, p.179.) and the Heracleopolitan king’s elevation of righteousness over sacrifice in pleasing the gods, “More acceptable is the virtue of the upright man than the ox of him that doeth iniquity,” (Ibid., p.156.) represent developing ideals kindred with Hebrew thinking ages before the Hebrews reached them. Long before the Hebrew tribes reached Palestine, the Coffin Texts represented the sun god as saying:
I have made the four winds that every man might
breathe thereof like his brother during his time.
I have made the great waters that the pauper like
the lord might have use of them.
I have made every man like his brother, and I have
forbidden that they do evil, (but) it was their hearts
which undid that which I had said. (Ibid. p. 221.)
Indeed, as a parallel to Job’s ideal, written about 400 B.C., one may set Ameni’s ideal, put on his Egyptian tomb-chapel in the nineteenth century B.C.:
There was no citizen’s daughter whom I misused, there was no widow whom I afflicted, there was no peasant whom I evicted, there was no herdman whom I expelled, there was no overseer of five whose people I took away for (unpaid) taxes. There was none wretched in my com- munity, there was none hungry in my time. When years of famine came, I ploughed all the fields of the Oryx barony (his estate) as far as its southern and its northern boundary, preserving its people alive, furnishing its food so that there was none hungry therein. I gave to the widow as to her who had a husband. I did not exalt the great (man) above the small (man) in anything that I gave. Then came great Niles (inundations), rich in grain and all things, but I did not collect the arrears of the field. (Ibid.,pp. 213-214.)
Such general similarities, however, would not indicate any necessary dependence of Hebrew ethics on the preceding Egyptian development were it not for specific evidence. There is no doubt, for example, that the late Biblical Book of Proverbs, strongly impregnated with the feeling of Egypto-Grecian Judaism in Alexandria, is largely indebted to The Wisdom of Amenemope, written about 1000 B.C. Indeed, Proverbs 22:17; 23:11 is an almost verbatim translation of the Egyptian book, and in many other passages the similarity is too close to be mistaken. (For these parallels see above volume. pp. 372-380.) That there was effective influence, therefore, flowing from Egyptian to Hebrew thought is not only generally probable but specifically demonstrable, but how far that influence ran into the ideas of the great prophets or how important it was in shaping their teaching is uncertain. At any rate, nothing in ancient history equals the total moral quality and effect of the Hebrew prophets at their best.
Of this great tradition Jesus was the inheritor. Inwardness and humaneness were the twin qualities of his ethic. Moreover, his humaneness, far from being kindly sentiment alone, was solidly grounded in a well-considered estimate of personality’s worth. This indeed constituted the morally creative factor in his attitude. Whether he dealt with women, children, or slaves, whether he described the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37.) or announced the principle of service on the basis of which God judges men, (Matthew 25:31-46.) whether he vehemently condemned selfish luxury in the face of human need (Luke 16:19 ff.) or died for man because he thought man worth dying for, the common principle of outgoing, sacrificial humaneness, based on the supreme value of personality, gave unity to it all.
To be sure, the self-regarding motives were prominent in Jesus’ teaching and any interpretation of unselfishness as meaning forgetfulness of the interests of one’s own life found no support in him. We are to judge not, that we be not judged; (Matthew7:1.) to forgive, that we may be forgiven; (Mark 11:25.) to be merciful, since thus we shall obtain mercy.Matthew 5:7.) Repeatedly this rebound of blessing on the good man’s life was stressed in Jesus’ message, and his injunction to the rich young ruler to surrender present wealth was coupled with assurance that his loss was seeming, not real, and that he should have “treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21.) Personality is sacred not only in the human object of the serviceable deed but in the doer of it also, and he is to love his neighbor even as he loves himself. (Matthew 19:19.) In this respect Jesus frankly cherished self-regarding motives as part of the ethical life.
Nevertheless, his ethic was centered in humane love and in the New Testament love became the cardinal virtue. In Jesus’ teaching, it is important to note that love, far from being mainly emotional, was a profoundly ethical attitude capable of deliberate exercise and direction. It could be commanded. According to Matthew, when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he added, “pray for them that persecute you”; (Matthew 5:44.) according to Luke, he added, “do good to them that hate you.” (Luke 6:27.) Loving one’s enemies, that is, involved both inward goodwill and outward helpfulness; it required deliberate self-discipline; any emotional tone of kindly feeling in it was subordinate to the resolute schooling of the spirit in persistent beneficence; it was predominantly ethical, not sentimental.
In this regard Jesus was in the great succession of the Hebrew prophets at their best. If justice and love together were primary in the Old Testament, love and justice together were primary in the New, and in the literature between the Testaments stood parallels to many of the most characteristic sayings of Jesus in this realm. Even his principle of equivalence between the mercy a man shows to man and the mercy he receives from God (E.g., Matthew 5:7; 18:23-25.) had been stated in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs — “In the degree in which a man hath compassion upon his neighbors, in the same degree hath the Lord also upon him.” (The Testament of Zebulun 8:3.)
Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the clear emergence of the ethic of love as the dominant and unique principle of conduct in the ideals of the New Testament. Goodwill was to be exercised toward all persons, good and bad, grateful and ungrateful, friendly and hostile. It was to acknowledge no boundaries of race, nation, sex, or economic status. It was to be the sole reliance of Jesus’ disciples in dealing with all sorts and conditions of men, and in Paul’s thinking it was so comprehensive that the external law was displaced by it, since “love . . . is the fulfillment of the law.’’ (Romans:13:10.) Many differences in situation and opinion separated Jesus and Paul but with regard to the central ethical principle of whole-hearted reliance on the power and persuasiveness of sacrificial love, Paul, as the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians shows, understood Jesus very well.
The unique position which the ethic of love holds in the New Testament is made plain by the very contradictions of it that occur. For example, while man was to practise tireless love, vengeance still belonged unto God, and the inherited idea of everlasting punishment was still retained. On the one side, Christians were to exercise undiscourageable goodwill toward evil men, even praying for those who slew them when no other manner of expressing goodwill remained; but, on the other side, the new faith retained the hopeless torture chamber of Gehenna, where punishment was supposed to go on in endless agony long after moral purpose in the torture had been lost. Here was a clear contradiction in moral principle between a primitive idea of cosmic penology and a new ethic.
Moreover, the ethical teaching of the New Testament faced antagonistic elements not only in its religious tradition but, as well, in the current situation. On the growing churches fell such difficult days, full of hardship and persecution, that the ethic of love in its pure form proved impracticable. Concerning our present civilization Professor Whitehead says, “As society is now constituted a literal adherence to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death.” (Alfred North Whitehead: Adventure of Ideas, p. 18.) Likewise in the Greco-Roman world the pure ethic of love faced a desperate trial, and the marvel is not that the New Testament contains contradictions and qualifications of it, but that such elevated and triumphant faith in it was voiced at all and has remained to chasten and guide the conscience of the world.
Any Christian tempted to condescend to the Old Testament because the Book of Nakum is there with its unabashed delight in the catastrophic downfall of Nineveh, should read the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, with its similar delight over the prophesied ruin of Rome, disguised under the title of Babylon. And any Christian, failing to see how inevitably a cruel and tragic world forced on the Jewish community a greater humaneness toward its own members than they could possibly extend to the Moabites, should read the First Epistle of John, where love is expressed with supreme beauty but is always to be understood as love of the brethren.
The New Testament, that is, launched the ethic of love into a world whose inherited ideas and practical situations limited its application and denied its claims. Nevertheless, the New Testament did launch the ethic of love, and by persuasive statements of it and, above all, by the presentation of its incarnation in Christ made an incalculable impression on the world. The real contrast between Judaism and Christianity, at their best, is to be found in the fact that whereas the proper symbol of the one is the Torah, a great statute book of moral law, the proper symbol of the other is the cross, a supreme expression of adventurous, sacrificial love. This contrast is not mutually exclusive but it is characteristic and significant. Christianity has no more lived up to the meaning of the cross than Judaism has lived up to the meaning of the Torah, but the two are not identical. With the advent of the New Testament, centered in the cross, a new and revolutionary era, not even yet fairly under way, began in man’s ethical ideals.
Along with the overpassing of early limitations of externality and imperfect humaneness, the Bible records a widening range of moral obligation. This increasing universality in the ethics of the Old Testament was closely associated with the development of monotheism. A growing internationalism in Israel’s life and thought furnished the necessary basis for a growing monotheism; tribal conditions had to be transcended before tribal gods could be eliminated; but when monotheism once secured a foothold, its ideal implications outran the actualities of the political situation. Faith in one God was in part the result of an increasingly cosmopolitan experience and, in part, the cause of a still more extensive vision of the range of moral duty. This interplay between developing international relationships and developing monotheism constitutes one of the most significant and fascinating aspects of the Old Testament.
As early as the eighth century B.C., Amos thought of Yahweh not only as the God of Israel but as the controlling deity of other nations, who punished the sins of Damascus, (Amos1:3-5.) Philistia, (Amos 1:6-8.) Ammon, (1:13-15.) and Moab, (Amos 2:1-3.) and who was responsible for the migrations of the Ethiopians, Philistines, and Syrians, as he was for bringing Israel out of Egypt. (Amos 9:7.) From such a theology ethical influences inevitably flowed, even amid the bitter hatreds of that early time. Amos vehemently attacked specific cases of international cruelty and chastened the pride of his people by asserting their equality with other races in the divine care “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith Yahweh.” (Ibid.)
From this early beginning, monotheism and an international conscience grew together when they grew at all. Practical conditions, however, were hostile to both. In the eighth century Assyria utterly destroyed the Northern Kingdom and so attacked Judea that the Jews, invaded and ravaged, narrowly escaped a similar ruin. In the seventh century, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and left the city and temple a “haunt of jackals.” (Jeremiah 10:22 [Moffatt translation.]) The years from Amos’ ministry through Jeremiah’s were no congenial time for international goodwill, and the desire for vengeance rather than the celebration of human brotherhood represented the trend of the times. Even Jeremiah, while in contrast with his contemporaries he counseled submission to Babylon, could not draw the full inferences of universal moral obligation that were implicit in his idea of God; and his contemporary, Habakkuk, could get no further than the assurance that the terrible power of the conqueror was temporary and that his downfall would vindicate the moral order of Yahweh’s world.
In view of the obsessing immediacy of national disaster, it is the more amazing that the high altitude of international vision and goodwill, surpassing all that had preceded it and standing solitary long afterwards, should have been reached in the desperate years of the Exile — “Yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 42:1-4; 19:23-25.) For a long time, however, this comprehensive outlook on both God and man lacked widespread appreciation. The circumstances of the returned exiles under Nehemiah and Ezra, struggling for existence against the penury of nature and the hostility of half-breed neighbors, made irresistibly for a policy of narrow exclusiveness. All mixed marriages with aliens were prohihited to Jews. Ezra even demanded that Jews put away non-Jewish wives and their children, dissolving families already established. (Ezra 9:1-10:44.) This attitude is of one piece with the story in the Book of Numbers according to which a plague slew twenty-four thousand of the people before its cause was located in an Israelite’s marriage to a Midianite and was removed by the execution of the couple. (Numbers 25:6-18.)
Here was no fertile soil for ideas of inter-racial obligation. Upon the contrary, the desire fur vengeance was commonly given free expression, as through Zechariah, who hoped for the Jews that “they shall devour all the peoples round about, on the right hand and on the left.” (Zechariah 12:6; cf. 9:1-8; 12:1-9.) So late passages, inserted in the Book of Isaiah, predicted the coming revenge of Israel — “That nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” (Isaiah 60:12; cf. 60:14-16; 61:5; 66:12.) And so, in general, the imprecatory psalms heaped curses on the heads of all and sundry whom the psalmist regarded as enemies of his people —
Pour out thine indignation upon them,
And let the fierceness of thine anger overtake them.
Let their habitation be desolate;
Let none dwell in their tents. (Psalm 69: 24-25; cf. Psalm 59:13; 83:13-18; 109:8-15.)
This attitude, however, did not go unrebuked, and two books in the late Old Testament specifically represent the larger view: the Book of Ruth, written to encourage a more generous interracial policy, and the Book of Jonah, written to enforce the worldwide mission of Israel.
The Book of Ruth was apparently directed against the policy of forbidding mixed marriages. It is an historic romance recounting the way in which its heroine, Ruth, a Moabitess, became the ancestress of David. To this end the fact that Ruth was a Moabitess is repeatedly stressed. She was “of the women of Moab,” “the Moabitish damsel,” “a foreigner,” and five times, “Ruth the Moabitess.” (Ruth 1:4; 2:6; 2;10 1:22; 2:2; 2:21; 4:5; 4:10.) Thus the story drives home the fact that she was an alien and, what is more, of a particularly hated race and nation. (Cf. Deuteronomy23:3; Nehemiah 13:1-2.)Yet, according to contemporary standards, she was an ideal woman, unforgetable in her fidelity, and, married to a Jew, she became, so the climax of the story runs, mother of a son who was “the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth4:17.) The book, that is, presents in story form an argument against the prohibition of mixed marriages between the Jews and neighboring peoples.
The Book of Jonah is a picturesque appeal for the universal mission of Israel, a plea in favor of international goodwill in place of vindictiveness and prejudice. It is thus one of the supremely important books, not only of the Old Testament but of all ancient literature, and its common caricature, as the narrative of a fish literally swallowing a man and disgorging him alive after three days, is one of the most regrettable absurdities in the Western world’s long mistreatment of the Bible. Conceivably the Book of Jonah may be an allegory. In that case, the prophet Jonah represents Israel, hating such alien peoples as Nineveh and reluctant to undertake the saving mission to the world at large which God intends. The flight of Jonah is Israel’s refusal of her world-wide mission; the swallowing of Jonah is the Exile, and his disgorging, the return; the continued surliness of Jonah is Israel’s postExilic blindness to her international obligations; the repentance of Nineveh is a prophecy of the world won to righteousness; and the sullen prophet at the allegory’s end stands for the stubbornness with which Israel retains her nationalistic ill will. This allegorical interpretation, however, is not necessary to the understanding of the book and has been almost universally given up by scholars. The story may instead be understood as a vivid, dramatic parable intended to present a single lesson — the world-wide extension of God’s care and the folly and wickedness of Israel’s reluctance to share the divine spirit and purpose. As with the Book of Ruth so with the Book of Jonah, the lesson is made clear in the climax. The story ends with a vision of the all-merciful God, compassionate over Nineveh and calling his representative to a similar outreach of saving goodwill — “And Yahweh said, Thou hast had regard for the gourd, for which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I have regard for Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” So the book ends — bootlessly if it is supposed to be literal history, splendidly if it is seen to be an impassioned plea for Israel’s worldwide responsibility as the missioner of the universal God.
Along with this extension of Israel’s goodwill went a development of thought about war. At the beginning Yahweh himself was “a man of war” (Exodus 15:3.) and his prophets were leaders in battle. In the early days in Palestine, before outstanding individuals appeared in the prophetic succession, bands of prophets represented the most fanatic patriotism of the Hebrew tribes, and Saul’s espousal of his people’s cause against their enemies followed his falling under the spell of the prophets’ frenzy. (I Samuel 10:9-11.) Elisha was a prophet of war and a counsellor concerning strategy, (II Kings 3:15 ff.) and both Elijah and Elisha were praised as being “the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” (II Kings 2:12; 13:14.) One has only to read the final address of the dying Elisha to his king to see how vehement an encourager of war the prophet was and how lusty a chaplain of the hosts of Yahweh. (II Kings 13:14-19.) In the latter part of the eighth century, however, another note was heard. In view of the unquestioned prevalence of war, the inveterate conditions producing it, and the apparent necessity of success in it to preserve national existence, this new note was and is one of the most astonishing elements in the Old Testament. That there was an irreconcilable conflict between the practices of war and the developing humaneness of the prophets and their ideas of God is clear in retrospect, but that it should have been clear in the eighth century and that even then the hope of a warless world should have been unequivocably stated, is amazing. There is nothing to compare with it in Egyptian or Babylonian literature, and in Greek literature, even a great anti-war drama, such as Euripides’ “Trojan Women” — first performed in 415 B.C. — issues in no such positive demand for war’s elimination as the Hebrews reached centuries before. The same prophet, Micah, who summed up the divine demand as doing justly, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, (Micah 6:8.) foresaw the consummation of such an ethic in a warless world — “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Micah 4:3; cf. Isaiah 2:4.) Difficult as the confident dating of specific passages may be, there is no mistaking the strength of this prophetic hope in Israel. Isaiah’s notable passage announcing the coming of the “Prince of Peace” is preceded by a picture of war’s end — “All the armor of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood, shall be for burning, for fuel of fire’’ (Isaiah 9:5-6.) and the mission of Messianic Israel is portrayed as ushering in a new epoch in which “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9.)
To be sure, this note was commonly drowned out in war’s cacophony. The prophet Joel, probably writing during the miserable humiliations of the Persian period, left a book containing some of the most bloodthirsty passages in the Old Testament, calling for vengeance and inciting to battle. He even deliberately took the peaceful phrases of Micah and Isaiah and reversed them. “Beat your plowshares into swords,” he cried,
“and your pruning-hooks into spears.” (Joel 3:10.) Far from appreciating the pacifism of his predecessors and their dream of a fraternal world, his hope was in revenge “Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the children of Judah.” (Joel 3:19; cf.3:1-8.)
The Old Testament, then, ends with no unanimous consent to the great ideas of an all-merciful God, a world-wide moral obligation, and a brotherhood of man from which war has been banished. Such ideas, however, were there; the possibility of their fruition was rooted in the deep convictions of the prophets concerning them; to change the figure, though the slag of the Book was greater in the mass, diamonds of infinite value had been formed in it.
On this important question of the range of moral obligation, the New Testament arrays itself on the side of the larger outlook and is unequivocal in its proclamation. “The field is the world” (Matthew 13:38.) has been the church’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching from the beginning. Not only did his monotheism, taken morally in earnest, imply this, but his humane ethic likewise involved the overpassing of all national and racial restrictions. When, for example, in his dramatic portrayal of the last judgment, the nations of the world are gathered before the Messiah, the basis of estimate is a test which contains no special Judaistic adhesions but is simply humanitarian service to the needy — caring for the hungry and thirsty, for strangers, for the naked, sick, and imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46.) A Gentile, as readily as a Jew, might meet the test of so universal an ethic, and no question of race or nation is suggested by it.
Indeed, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37.) was a deliberate attack on the limited range of moral responsibility popularly taught in Jesus’ time. As Professor E. F. Scott says of the parable,
It embodies Jesus’ criticism of the common Jewish attitude in his day. It was assumed that humane obligations were strictly limited. A Jew owed no duty to a Gentile; a religious Jew must think of his own associates and not of strangers and outcasts. The Law, to be sure, enjoined love to one’s neighbor, — but “who is my neighbor”? was a question warmly discussed in the Rabbinical schools, and it was answered, as time went on, in an ever narrower way. Jesus tells his parable in order to show that no restrictions can be drawn. (The Ethical Teaching of Jesus, pp. 84-85.)
Moreover, the reason why no restrictions can be drawn is plain: Jesus’ ethical demands are so universally humane, evidenced in such service as the Good Samaritan rendered the needy man, that no race or nation can be picked out as singularly implied in them. Every man of every race is included in them by virtue of being human.
To be sure, the Christian scriptures retain unmistakable evidence of the struggle in which the early church was involved in thus breaking free from Jewish particularism and racialism. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, presents us with ambiguous testimony. On the one side, the Torah is declared permanently valid; (Matthew 5:17-18.) while its interpreters may not be worthy of imitation in their lives, they are to be obeyed in their teachings; (Matthew 23:2-3.) and Jesus’ mission is limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24.) On the other side, the universalistic prophecy, “In his name shall the Gentiles hope,” is applied to Jesus; (Matthew 12:15-21; cf. Isaiah 42:1 ff.) the parable of the husbandmen teaches the substitution of the Gentile church for rejected Israel; (Matthew 21:33-43.) love to all men is presented as true imitation of the Father; (Matthew 5:43-48.) terrific denunciation is visited on Jewish leaders (Matthew 23:1 ff.) and cordial praise is bestowed on a Roman centurion; (Matthew 8:5-10.) Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, pagan cities, are to be preferred in the judgment before Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum; (Matthew 11:21-24.) when the kingdom arrives, “many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,” while
“the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness’’; (Matthew 8:11-12.) at the judgment “shall be gathered all the nations”; (Matthew 25:31 ff.) and, in the meantime, the Christian mission is world-wide and inclusive — “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19.) This diversity of witness in the records is an evidence of their honest adherence to their sources. There was a bitter controversy over the universalizing of the Christian movement, but in the end the larger outlook was victorious
An unlimited range of moral obligation was revealed in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. This was his central message and in his thought of it there was, so far as the Gospels reveal, no nationalistic element. The coming sovereignty of God over all mankind was not hoped for by him as the victory of Israel over the world but as the arrival of a new era in which all men should live as sons of the one Father and brothers to one another; into this new kingdom men would come from east, west, north, and south, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; (Luke 13:28-29.) and the conditions of its enjoyment lay in a quality of character which had nothing to do with special race or nation –“Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50.) Indeed, on this point, the comment of a Jewish scholar is relevant. Professor Klausner of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an ardent Zionist, criticizes Jesus for the very thing that elevates him in the estimate of his followers — the universality of his ethic:
Judaism is a national life, a life which the national religion and human ethical principles (the ultimate object of every religion) embrace without engulfing. Jesus came and thrust aside all the requirements of the national life; it was not that he set them apart and relegated them to their separate sphere in the life of the nation: he ignored them completely; in their stead he set up nothing but an ethico-religious system bound up with his conception of the Godhead.
In the self-same moment he both annulled Judaism as the life-force of the Jewish nation, and also the nation itself as a nation. For a religion which possesses only a certain conception of God and a morality acceptable to all mankind, does not belong to any special nation, and, consciously or unconsciously, breaks down the barriers of nationality. This inevitably brought it to pass that his people, Israel, rejected him. (Joseph Klausner: Jesus of Nazareth,translated by Herbert Danby, p. 390.)
The New Testament as a whole represents a movement which had broken away from its original moorings in Judaism and had taken to the open sea with no restrictions of race or nation. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16.) was the essence of its gospel; “Whosoever believeth” (Ibid.) represented the inclusiveness of its fellowship; “There can be neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28.) revealed its transcendence of racial lines; and its ultimate ideal was a kingdom of souls “of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9.) Such is the undisputed character of the New Testament. In its eyes God is one and mankind is one, and there are neither boundaries restricting moral obligation to a special sector of the field nor preferences of race and nation making duty to one relatively more important than to another. From the tribal ethic of the Bible’s beginning to this world-wide gospel and this universal range of moral obligation, the Scriptures record one of the most momentous developments of thought and life in all history.
With regard to war, two factors prevented international conflict from being specifically dealt with in the New Testament as a pressing problem: the apocalyptic expectation of the world’s immediate end, so that the gradual reform of social institutions was not in the picture, and the further fact that the first Christians had no responsibility for governmental policies or influence in determining them. Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the conscious conflict in the morals of the New Testament between the ethic of love on one side and bloody violence on the other. Jesus, in particular, faced a situation where this conflict was explicit. His contention with Pharisaic legalism is popularly understood, but his contention with the militant Zealots is not so clearly recognized. They were the flaming patriots of his day, proclaiming revolt against Rome, in the face of whose incitement to violence Jesus counseled non-resistance, love of enemies, prayer for persecutors — reliance, that is, on moral forces. He even went so far as to say that, when conscripted under the Roman law to go one mile in bearing a burden, a man should go two. (Matthew 5:41.) If it be said that, like Jeremiah’s policy of submission to Babylon because revolt was useless, Jesus counsel was partly prudent good sense under existent conditions, this may be granted. For the Jews to undertake bloody insurrection against Rome was folly, as the later event proved. But the ethic of Jesus, the very essence of his teaching and life, was far profounder than such a theory plumbs. It involved the idea that violence begets violence, ill will creates ill will, and that the only force adequate to stop the vicious circle is undiscourageable, sacrificial goodwill. In his eyes war meant an endless cycle of evil — “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52.)
In view of this total attitude of Jesus, it is an amazing piece of textual atomism to quote in support of war a sentence from one of his discourses — “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The context is a flat denial of such an interpretation. “For,” reads the following sentence, “I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law: and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36.) In other words, Jesus was speaking of the division in families that would be caused when some of the household became his disciples while the rest remained orthodox Jews, and, as the parallel passage in Luke makes evident, (Luke 12:51-53.) ‘sword’ in this case was a symbol not of international bloodshed but of domestic strife. Indeed, the New Testament as a whole is so clearly committed to aversion against war that the thoroughgoing pacifism of the early church was in all probability a continuance of the common attitude of the first Christians. (See Cecil John Cadoux: The Early Church and the World, chap. 6, “War” pp.269-281; also The Early Christian Attitude to War.) It was only when Christians began to face public responsibilities, in the second and third centuries, that the long story of Christianity’s compromise with the sword commenced. In the New Testament itself the universal fatherhood of God involves the universal brotherhood of man, and, so far as human agency is concerned, only moral forces are counted on to bring about the recognition of the one and the reformation of life to fit the other.
Inwardness, humaneness, and universality are thus the three major goals of ethical development in the thought of the Bible. At the start, external observance of tribal custom was sufficient; at the end, the good life involved being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind. At first, outside one’s social group ruthlessness was enjoined and within it justice was commonly denied; at the end, an ethic of love had been envisioned whose fulfillment is still the best hope of the world. At the beginning, no moral obligation extended beyond tribal boundaries; at the last, one mankind under one God claimed the sacrificial service of the good man without regard to race or nation.
Surely, all this has an important bearing on contemporary disparagement of the New Testament’s ethic in general and Jesus’ ethic in particular, based on the supposedly perverting effect of expecting an immediate end to the present age. Such an apocalyptic hope foreshortened the horizon and falsified the perspective, some say, so that only an impractical ‘interim ethic’was left. Before one consents to such a judgment, opposing considerations should be given due weight. For one thing, in so far as the influence of apocalyptic hopes can be clearly discerned, they seem to have positively heightened and clarified moral ideas and ideals. They faced the early Christians with the absolute demands of God’s realized sovereignty, confronted them with an imminent kingdom of perfect righteousness, and so called out not small prudential counsels for getting on in this world, but the highest, most unqualified insights as to eternal values. However inapplicable to immediate conditions in this present age some precepts in the New Testament may seem to be, the ethical ideals of the New Testament as a whole have gone ahead of the race like a pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day. They have been not so much proverbs of practical counsel as criteria by which all proverbs of practical counsel must ultimately be judged. In this result, apocalyptic hopes, with their challenge that Christians be prepared at once to face a kingdom of absolute righteousness, may well have played an important part.
For another thing, while apocalyptic forms of hope probably did exercise this influence, it is flying in the face of the evidence to explain the New Testament’s ethic, as a whole, as dependent on and everywhere fashioned by apocalypticism. What have the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, or the idea of love in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians to do with apocalypticism? Jesus’ ethical teachings, so far as tradition was involved, were rooted in the prophecies and psalms of the Old Testament, and their development can be traced directly back to these non-apocalyptic sources. Forgiveness of persecutors, (Matthew 5:43-48.) mercy toward sinners, (Luke 15:1 ff.) humaneness as true service to God, (Matthew 25:31 ff.) the surrender of life’s dearest loyalties when more imperative loyalties are at stake, (Luke 14:26[cf. Matthew 10:37] .Far from being a disparagement of the family, this statement of utter devotion to God in terms of surrendering family ties, when that is called for, is evidence of Jesus’ supreme estimate of the family, as the value most difficult for a man to give up.)inwardness of spiritual quality as necessary to true goodness, (Matthew 5:27 ff.) the finding of life by losing it in a high devotion, (Matthew 10:39.) the utter subjection of anxious care about transient things to care about abiding values (Matthew 6:19 ff.) — such characteristic teachings of Jesus, even when their statement happens to be set in an eschatological framework, have another source than apocalypticism, and they are not so demonstrably fashioned by it that, without it, we can be sure they would have been very different. Indeed, if the urgent imminence of the kingdom were the real architect of the New Testament’s ethic, how should one explain such similarity of ethic as exists between the Johannine writings and the rest of the Christian scriptures? For far from being Johannine, apocalypticism was fairly well read out of the record in the Fourth Gospel. (This subject will be treated more fully in chap. VI, sec.xI, p. 286 ff.) Yet many of the same emphases which are ascribed to apocalyptic influence are present in John, as well as in the Synoptics and Paul.
For another thing, the criterion by which ethical teaching is to be judged is never the mental category in which it happens to arise. Moral ideals were developing throughout the ancient world — in Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Judea, Greece — and effective influences were flowing back and forth among them. The mental categories in which these developments of moral idea and ideal were taking place were various — sometimes apocalyptic, more often not — and in no case can one judge the value of the ethical insights that emerged by the mental patterns which happened to give them temporary housing. This certainly seems to be true in the New Testament, where both apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic categories exist and yet where the major ideas that rose in the non-apocalyptic Old Testament sustain their continuous development. If some one notes, as we have already noted, the influence of early Christian hopes of Christ’s immediate return on the church’s aloofness from remedial civic and social tasks and from all sense of responsibility for the improvement of social institutions, the answer seems plain. The barrier to early Christian participation in the tasks of civic and cultural life was not alone the apocalyptic idea but even more the prevailing practical circumstances of social and political life. It is to be remarked that when, at last, the way was open for Christians to become potently effective in the affairs of state and society, not all the apocalyptic ideas in their scriptures or in their current thinking prevented their acceptance of the responsibility.
Finally, the course of thought we have been tracing in this chapter is adverse to those who claim apocalypticism as the real creator of the New Testament’s ethic. From the beginning of the Bible to the end runs the development of inwardness, humaneness, and universality as the major qualities of the good life. This development began long before apocalyptic hopes were dreamed of; it passed through days when they were a ruling category in Christian thinking to later days when in wide areas of the church the old Jewish forms of expectation were sublimated, spiritualized, and explained away. Neither in its sources, its main channel, nor its outcome was this stream of development so dependent on any special category as to give that category a just claim to have determined the stream’s direction.