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From a book I am currently reading on christian ethics:

“While he may have taught a more ‘relaxed’ acceptance of people, at the same time Jesus ‘strengthened’ many moral areas into a more rigorous ethic. Thus in the area of marriage and sexuality, divorce was permitted by the law (Deut. 24.1); Jesus’ teaching, however, ‘intensified’ it by returning to the original intention of ‘one flesh’ in Gen. 2.24 and thus allowing no divorce. […] Similarly, Jesus ‘strengthens’ ethical teaching about celibacy, commending those who do not marry but become ‘eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19.12), another distinctive emphasis in a society where getting married was seen as a duty. Even looking at a woman with a tantamount to adultery (Matt. 5.27)!

When the subject turns to money and possessions, there are some suggestions in the Old Testament that wealth is a gift from God or a sign of his blessing (e.g., Gen. 13.2; Ps. 112.3; Eccl. 5.19), while other passages do warn of the dangers of riches and urge care for the poor (Deut. 15.1-11; 24.18-22; Ps. 49; Amos 2.6-7; 4.1; 8.4-6). Jesus develops this dimension also, stating that the poor are blessed (Luke 6.20); people are not to save wealth since one cannot serve both God and money, so it should be given away (Matt. 6.19-33; Luke 12.22-34). ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! . . . It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ This runs so counter to the respect given to those who have been ‘blessed’ with wealth, both in his society and in most ever since, that again it is likely to be the authentic teaching of Jesus; no wonder ‘the disciples were perplexed at these words’ and ‘greatly astounded’ (Mark 10.23-27). What Mealand terms ‘Jesus’ presentation of the challenge to existing values by the supreme worth of the coming Reign of God’ is no less demanding in terms of wealth and poverty than it was about sexuality.

The same is true about war, violence and the power of the state: in contrast to the lex talionis for retribution and God fighting for Israel (Exod. 21.23-25; taught nonresistance and nonviolence, to turn the other cheek’ and to ‘put away the sword’ (Matt. 5.38-44//Luke 6.27-30; Matt. 26.52). Far from advocating ‘holy war’ against the Roman occupiers, Jesus counselled obedience to the state and the payment oftaxes in the famous apho- rism, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12.13-17). We should even be prepared to carry a legionary’s pack for two miles, if requisitioned for one (Matt. 5.41) !90 Once again, we hear the same total demand for a complete response to the sovereign reign of God as in the two previous moral experiences.

The basic thrust of taking the old commands about basic human moral experiences and intensifying them does fit into this coherent overall ethical voice of the historical Jesus, stressing a rigorous ethic of lifelong sexual fidelity, poverty, nonviolence and obedience. Minear tries to give this teaching shape by grouping the ‘Commands of Christ’ into nine instructions:

  • ‘Let your yes be yes’;
  • ‘keep it secret’;
  • ‘love and lend’;
  • ‘become last of all’;
  • ‘sell and give’;
  • ‘ask, seek, knock’;
  • ‘be carefree’;
  • ‘watch and pray’;
  • ‘take this and divide among yourselves’.

However, these are not really what one might term ‘moral commandments’; rather, they help to form this overall ethical attitude of a total response to the kingdom of God.”


Richard A Burridge in IMITATING JESUS, from the chapter “Jesus of Nazareth: Great Moral Teacher or Friend of Sinners?” pp. 56-58