Historical Jesus and Christian Ethics by Dale Martin


I would never take a historical Jesus study and use it as a basis for modern ethics. So, even if Jesus said something like, “I came to bring not peace but a sword.” as he does in at least one of the Gospels, and even if his disciples are armed at his arrest, I would just wouldn’t move that into any kind of modern ethical defense of arm bearing, of gun rights, of violence, of the death penalty.

I don’t believe that the historical Jesus supplies either the foundations for Christian theological faith or proper foundations for Christian ethics. We need to derive Christian ethics from the double love commandment because we find it in Jesus, we find it in Paul, we find it all over the place. …The basis of ethics in Christianity is first the love of God and the love of neighbor; and I don’t believe the gun lobby can defend its positions by sincerely saying they’re doing this out of love of neighbor.  I believe they’re doing it out of fear, and fear can never be a basis for Christian ethics. Love must always be the basis for Christian ethics.

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Dale Martin
Professor, Yale University

Dale Martin is the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. He specializes in New Testament and Christian origins, including attention to social and cultural history of the Greco-Roman world. His books include: Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity; The Corinthian Body; and Pedagogy of the Bible: an Analysis and Proposal. He currently is working on issues in biblical interpretation, social history and religion in the Greco-Roman world, and sexual ethics. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Often not the person Jesus but scholarly reconstructions of his life based on textual and archaeological evidence as well as theological beliefs.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

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