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Jesus the Pacifist

Thomas Whitley

My former professor, James Tabor, has an interesting post up asking just what type of pacifist Jesus can be considered to have been.

Jesus as a Pacifist? Apocalypticism, Non-Resistance, and Violence: The difference between Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others who have practiced “passive resistance” in our own day is that Jesus and his movement expected and welcomed a very “violent” apocalypse in which heads would topple and flood would fill the streets. These “Woes” that Jesus pronounced upon the rich, the persecutors, and those “laughing now” in the Q source (Luke 3:24-25) capture the flavor of this way of thinking quite well, as do lots of the parables that predict a sudden and abrupt calling of the wicked to judgment and a casting out of those wicked ones who had power in “this age.”

Certainly, there are many today who wish to label Jesus as the ultimate pacifist and liken him with figures such as MLK and Gandhi, but Tabor makes an important point here. Jesus not only hoped for and expected things to get better, but he expected, taught, and looked forward to a bloody and violent overthrow that would bring the hoped-for change about.

Tabor continues:

I would maintain that the kind of apocalypticism that was so prevalent both before and after the great war with Rome (66-73 CE) among a variety of late 2nd Temple Jewish groups, the Nazarenes included, is one of the most violent ways of thinking about the world and its future imaginable. Truly it was a view of the world in which “bringing down the house,” was its fondest hope and most fervent dream.

The problem of course is that the apocalypse never came and the challenge for Christians was how to live within an world in which all things continued in a “business as usual” fashion. Should one–could one–follow the pacifist ethics of Jesus if the old age was to continue indefinitely? Should evil be allowed to flourish without resistance? Or were the ethics of Jesus, as Albert Schweitzer suggested, a type of “interim ethics” that only made sense within the context of imminent apocalyptic overthrow–as a way of witnessing to those who still might be saved while “holding out” in the face of evil until the end? These are the questions that face any of us who are moved and challenged by the pacifists teachings of Jesus.

What do you think? Just what type of "pacifist" was Jesus? Is that even the right term to use of his teachings? How else might we understand the teachings of Jesus?