Jun 23, 2013
The Sermon on the Mount, Mosaic Law, and Christian Ethics
The interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and its implications for the Mosaic Law and Christian ethics is much debated. Alan Johnson has a pretty good discussion of the issues in a festschrift for Samuel J. Schultz. He offers the following six points by way of conclusion and summary.
1. The ethic of Jesus develops legitimately out of the Mosaic tradition and is not in essential disagreement with it—there is continuity with the old.
2. Jesus’ ethic fulfills or surpasses the Mosaic ethical tradition and thereby radically transcends the old—there is discontinuity with Moses and the Prophets. Something new has come with Christ.
3. The two basic assumptions of the Reformers (Luther and Calvin) are exegetically indefensible—i.e., (1) God’s Law cannot be modified, and therefore the Law of Moses cannot be modified—there is no I progress in moral revelation; and (2) Jesus was not a new lawgiver.
4. Anabaptist literalism, while rightly stressing discontinuity, yet without regard to a more precise hermeneutic, has produced an unwarranted absolutism that has restricted and at times misdirected Christian ethical action.
5. A proper grasp of both the aspect of continuity with the old and an appreciation for discontinuity with Moses and the Prophets will provide a more adequate foundation for Christian theological ethics.
6. The final authority for Christian ethics is not the Torah or even the Prophets but Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Alan F. Johnson, “Jesus and Moses: Rabbinic Backgrounds and Exegetical Concerns in Matthew 5 as Crucial to the Theological Foundations of Christian Ethics,” in The Living and Active Word of God: Essays in Honor of Samuel J. Schultz, ed. Morris Inch and Ronald Youngblood (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 106–7.