In “Does Jesus commend the killing of children in Mark 7:10?” I argued that this verse (and the surrounding passage, Mark 7:9-13) does not provide warrant to think Jesus would commend (let alone participate in) the stoning of a child, even if the conditions for such a stoning as outlined in the Torah were met. Instead, I argued that the point of the passage is to condemn hypocrisy. In order to illustrate the point I provided the following analogy:
“Imagine that some teachers at Elm Street Elementary School complain that the vice-principal failed to wear a green tie on St. Patrick’s Day in accord with school tradition. In reply the vice-principal notes that the school policy says any teacher who steals school supplies from the office should be fired. And he notes that the teachers who are complaining about his failure to wear a green tie regularly subvert this policy by claiming that they are merely “borrowing” supplies. Hence, they are acting like hypocrites, subverting the written law while they require fidelity to a demand which is, in fact, no law at all.”
I then argued that the vice-principal’s invocation of the regulation as a means to illustrate teacher hypocrisy does not tell us anything about the vice-principal’s own attitude toward that regulation. Indeed:
“He may believe it is excessive and unfair. And he may be happy, as such, to leave the status quo. The point is not about endorsing the statute. It is simply about pointing out that the teachers reject it with rationalizing behavior that perpetuates their own selfishness while improperly judging others.”
Angra Mainyu’s Objection
Angra Mainyu didn’t contend with the claim that Jesus would not participate in a punitive pedo-execution. But Angra did take issue with my suggestion that the text leaves open Jesus’ attitude to the original appropriateness of the law given to Moses. Angra wrote:
“While the vice-principal is interested mostly in pointing out the hypocrisy of his accusers and Jesus may have similarly been interested in doing the same, the fact is that in the passage in question Jesus affirms that Moses gave them that law, and also that that was the law of Yahweh.”
“Jesus also acknowledges that there was such statute, and claimes [sic] that the statute came from Yahweh, and was given to the ancient Hebrews by Moses. Yet, Jesus:
a. Claimed that Yahweh was good.
b. Was seen together with Moses (in the transfiguration) and did not condemn Moses for his atrocities, but rather, it’s implied in context that Moses was considered a role model, at least as far as humans go.
“In context, the situation does not appear analogous. For instance, Jesus is committed to the claim of moral perfection of the person he claims is the author of the statute in question; the principal surely isn’t.”
Jesus and Divorce
In providing a response to Angra’s objection I think it will be helpful to take a look at another issue: divorce. In Matthew 19:3-9 we read the following exchange:
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
We find something similar earlier in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus declares:
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-2)
It would seem from these cases that Jesus brings a unique authority to the interpretation and application of the Law. And indeed this is what we find earlier in the Sermon on the Mount when he states that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). This brings us to a crucial point: Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law appears to be consistent with his saying that strictly following the letter of the Mosaic Law in Jesus’ own day could lead one into moral error.
This leaves us with two possible ways to understand how the Mosaic Law relates to Jesus’ own Law. I’ll call these “Relativism” and “Objectivism”:
Option 1: Relativism. On this view Jesus is claiming that Moses’ regulation on divorce was morally optimal for his day but that Jesus is providing a new morally optimal ethic for his day.
Option 2: Objectivism. On this view Jesus is saying that Moses’ regulation on divorce was never morally optimal and that Jesus provides the superior moral ethic for all times.
It seems to me that Option 2 is the far stronger option as a text like Matthew 5:17 suggests. Please note, however, that moral error is a separate issue from moral culpability so we need draw no conclusions about the moral culpability of individuals who strictly followed Mosaic mandates prior to Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law. But it remains the case that a man who divorced his wife while carefully following the Mosaic regulations could have ended up in moral error.
If it is possible that an individual could have been in objective moral error whilst following the Mosaic stipulations on divorce, it would seem to be likewise possible that an individual could have been in objective moral error whilst following the Mosaic stipulations on punitive pedo-execution. And this would allow a person to conclude not only that Jesus would not have commended or participated in punitive pedo-execution in his own age, but neither would he have done so at the time of Moses.