‘Jesus came to abolish the law.’ Discuss. (35)

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  • Jesus’ law and ethics are contained in the Sermon on the Mount chapters 5-7.
  • The key features are eschatology, perfection and holiness, reciprocity, love, righteousness and to be different.
  • John Drane called the Sermon on the Mount an outstanding literary composition which leads me to question whether what is contained is really the thoughts of Jesus or the gospel writer, Matthew.
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To be different

  • The setting of the gospel in 70CE was a time where various Jewish groups were fighting for prominence and so stresses the Christians difference to the other groups.
  • By putting into place the commands it shows they are different and something special.
  • However this leads me to believe that this was Matthews’s agenda not Jesus’ and Jesus did not come to abolish the law it was just Matthew fighting for recognition.
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Perfection and holiness

  • The idea of perfection and holiness is also key in Jesus’ ethics as there was a goal of many to be perfect as the heavenly father us perfect.
  • This is seen through the six antitheses, a series of six sayings which contrast old laws with Jesus’ reinterpretation of them.
  • They show Jesus’ understanding of the law as well as how he believes it is not just actions but thoughts and intentions that matter also.
  • Jesus is not however being original here as Jewish wisdom literature from the inter-testamental period is evident in Jesus’ thought.
  • The 1st antithesis refers to killing and anger, the 2nd adultery and the 6th to love your enemy as some examples.
  • Theissen has stated there is no doubt that Jesus calls into question our normal behaviour and so does suggest he came to change the law however links this to eschatology, another feature of Jesus’ ethics.
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  • Albert Schweitzer thought that the imminent kingdom compelled people to act in a way that would allow them to enter the kingdom.
  • The parable of the sheep and the goats links to judgement and moral behaviour, claiming only through good actions would you avoid judgement.
  • Mack, however, claimed that Jesus did not expect the world to end soon as Jesus’ primary teachings were not apocalyptic vision but wisdom teachings.
  • There is no doubt that the kingdom of god was central to all of Jesus’ teachings, Schrage stating it to be the foundation of his ethics.
  • It depends on your interpretation on how Jesus used eschatology to whether it meant he came to change the law.
  • I see it to be that Jesus’ ethics were short term in that he believe the kingdom was coming and if changing or abolishing the law was the way to get everyone ready then he was willing to do so.
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  • In addition, love is regarded as the main feature in Jesus’ ethics however Jesus sources of the time state Jesus used love as a summary of the torah which would mean he wasn’t abolishing the law but sticking to it.
  • The last antithesis urges us to love our enemy however this can be seen to be used for selfish, eschatological reason not honest love so may contradict my last claim of not abolishing the law.
  • Lots of traditions demonstrate Jesus’ attempts to reach out to sinners without mentioning love.
  • Keck believes that people have latched onto the idea of love and blown it out of proportion as Jesus actually said very little about love. Bultmann thought love could not be seen as an ethical principle with certain requirements.
  • The ambiguity of Jesus and love makes me think it was not used to change the law consciously and was not even Jesus’ main focus but that Keck is correct in saying it gains too much attention.
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  • A key term only used in Matthew is righteousness with Overmann saying it was an all embracing notion of the Matthean community.
  • Straight away this appears to be Matthew’s agenda not Jesus’.
  • What is required by righteousness is summed up at the start of the sermon giving it special prominence but again not a priority of Jesus but Matthew.
  • Jesus seems to be taking words with negative connotations and associating them with righteousness and eschatological blessings.
  • This link back to eschatology furthers the idea of it being Jesus’ focus over righteousness.
  • There is nothing too remarkable about the Beatitudes as there are plenty examples of blessed phrases in the Old Testament; genesis and the Dead Sea scrolls for example.
  • The fact that much of the Beatitudes are paralleled elsewhere suggests that Jesus was not fully abolishing the law but perhaps just reinterpreting it.
  • Also I am hesitant to say this is the thought of Jesus as the evidence suggests that this was all in fact the work and thoughts of Matthew. 
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  • The notion of the golden rule, treat others and you shall be treated well in return, implies that Jesus’ intention was to reshape human intentions and establish a new will that is for the whole person; a though by Schrage.
  • Again it is easy to establish a link back to eschatological reward for forthcoming judgement.
  • The idea of reciprocity does seem to suggest that Jesus was changing the law as is Schrage is taken to be correct his intention was to reshape human will which would change the laws.
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  • In conclusion I would state that changing the law or abolishing the law was not Jesus’ focus but was eschatology.
  • If abolishing the law came along with eschatology, my view us that Jesus would have been willing to do so by doing so was not his primary goal.
  • Where abolishing the law seems most apparent so does Matthew’s input in the gospel which also leads me to conclude that it was Matthew’s agenda being imposed on Jesus’ laws and ethics and so he did not actually come to abolish the law.
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