In one famous incident, God commanded Israel to wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth (1 Samuel 15:3), and then He punished king Saul for Saul's failure to follow those instructions to the letter (vv. 18-23).
So the Old Testament clearly does not support a radical pacifist worldview.
Pacifists therefore usually take one of two approaches to interpreting the Old Testament: either they attack the authority and reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures, or they devise a theology that accommodates some sort of massive shift from the ethical and moral standards of the Old Testament to a supposedly new and higher standard in the New Testament.
The former approach is patently liberal and quickly degenerates into some variety of deism or Socinianism. The latter approach is really no less problematic. It undermines one's approach to both hermeneutics and systematic theology at a foundational level. It opens the door for creeping liberalism, too.
Most of the Christian pacifists with whom I have dialogued have defended some version of the second approach. Some of them are Anabaptistic, some advocate a variety of dispensationalism, and (more recently) several have adhered to one style or another of "New Covenant Theology." The common belief of all of them is that the New Covenant era is governed by a whole different moral standard from the Old Covenant era. They typically argue that this is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about: Jesus was modifying the moral content of the Law. Some even claim He nullified the Law itself, despite Jesus' own explicit disclaimer in Matthew 5:17-19.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount skillfully refutes those views. I won't repeat all his arguments here, but they are well worth readingand conclusive, in my view.
The bottom line, however, is that the moral demands of Moses' law are no more or less stringent than, and in no way fundamentally different from, the New Testament ethic of love. The Sermon on the Mount simply amplifies the moral content of the OT law, but it does not abrogate or change any of it.
To be clear: Jesus "amplified" the law by making its true meaning clearer, not by adding anything that wasn't there before, and certainly not by changing the moral principles of the law.
The same pacifist gentleman with whom I dialogued in Tuesday's post strongly disagrees. His response to my Tuesday comments deals with precisely this issue.
In our dialogue, I explained to him from Scripture itself why I cannot accept the notion that the moral principles of the New Covenant are different from the old. What follows is the conversation that ensued. (Again, his words are in dark red; mine in black):
You're wrong about The Sermon on the Mount. No less than six times in a row, Jesus' teaching does alter the moral standard of Moses' law. Christ explicitly changed the law, set it aside, and made new laws which are more stringentsuch as the rules against remarriage and the swearing of oaths.
Let's see, shall we? I believe it's clear that Jesus was correcting the excesses and distortions of rabbinical tradition, not changing the law. And this is demonstrable from the Old Testament itself.
Not so. Jesus didn't even mention "rabbinical tradition." Virtually all His quotes in Matthew 5 are straight from the Pentateuch, and the changes He makes are big changes, and flat-out contradictionsnot mere affirmations of the OT.
They are not "changes." But neither are they "mere affirmations." They are expositions of the true intent of the law.
No. I'm convinced that Jesus' repeated expression, "But I say into you..." is the interpetive key to the passage. It proves he was altering the moral standard.
The expression "But I say into you..." doesn't necessarily imply any repudiation of the principles cited; in most cases it merely introduces a further elucidation of the moral principle underlying the law. To paraphrase: "The law says don't commit adultery, but I tell you that lust violates the same moral principle." It's actually quite clear that there's no contradiction between Moses' standard and Jesus'; after all, lust was sinful in the OT, too (Proverbs 6:25). So this is hardly a "big change."
In fact, it's no change at all.
Read again: In no less than six pairs of verses (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41) Jesus flatly contradicts, or substantially alters, Moses' law, replacing it each time with a more strict new commandment.
There is no contradiction of any OT law in any of those verses, but rather a clarification of its true meaning. Look at each passage you have cited:
vv. 21-22: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
- Moses: "Don't kill."
- Jesus: "Don't hate."
No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Killing is still wrong in the NT, and hatred was wrong in the OT (Leviticus 19:17).
vv. 27-28: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
- Moses: "No adultery."
- Jesus: "No lust."
No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Adultery is still wrong in the NT, and lust was wrong in the OT (Proverbs 6:25).
vv. 31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
- Moses: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement...." But he "...may not take her again to be his wife" (Deuteronomy 24:4).
- Jesus: "Divorce for any reason other than porneia constitutes adultery."
Again there is no contradiction, and no change in the standard. Moses' instructions about divorce emphasized its gravity and permanence. Jesus' emphasized that divorce is an extraordinary remedy allowed by God only in certain extreme cases. But even in the OT, God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). So the two statements are not in conflict.
vv. 33-34: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. . ."
- Moses: "Don't break your oaths."
- Jesus: "Better not to swear at all."
What Christ was prohibiting was the common practice of peppering one's everyday speech with indiscriminate oaths (often combined with the superstitious notion that if one did not swear, it was OK to lie).
Jesus is teaching that in our daily conversation as believers, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no, no. He is not prohibiting lawful oaths, such as those required of court witnesses, etc. (Jesus Himself testified after being placed under an oathMatthew 26:63-64. The Apostle Paul even included an oath in the inspired text2 Corinthians 1:23. And God confirmed His own Word with an oathHeb. 6:13-18; Acts 2:30.)
So again, there is no change and no contradiction. The OT also prohibited frivolous oaths (Deuteronomy 23:21).
vv. 38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
- Moses: "An eye for an eye."
- Jesus: "Turn the other cheek."
The eye-for-an-eye standard of the OT law (Leviticus 24:19-21) was designed to limit the civil penalties that could be exacted for crimes. It was a principle of mercy, teaching that the punishment should fit the crime, and not exceed it.
But rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance. It was meant to regulate penalties administered by legal authorities; but it was being misused as a rationale for deliberate acts of private retaliation. Jesus forbade that.
As shown in Tuesday's post, however, the NT elsewhere expressly affirms the right of governments and government agents to use the sword to mete out retribution to evildoers. So both standards ("an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek") are valid in their proper contexts in both OT and NT. No contradiction, no change.
vv. 43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
- Moses: "Love your neighbor."
- Rabbinical gloss: "Hate your enemy."
- Jesus: "Love your enemies."
No change; no contradiction. This is just a correction of a serious Rabbinical error. The truth is that Moses' law also demanded love for one's enemy (Exodus 23:4-5).
In each case, the true meaning of the New Testament perfectly accords with the true meaning of the Old, and vice versa. So the Sermon on the Mount offers no proof for the thesis that the moral standard changed in the NT.
Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants.