Violence is a persistent, prominent, and troubling feature of human existence. The usual understanding of violence involves physical attack. More broadly, violence can be understood as any kind of intentional harm, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, individual or collective. Pastors, theologians, and Christian leaders of all kinds may be called on to apply the message of the New Testament in situations of violence. But what is that message? The New Testament writers speak often of peace, but what do they have to offer in response to violence? Or does the New Testament, centering as it does on the crucifixion of its central character, perpetuate rather than alleviate the problem of violence?
In this book, Thomas Yoder Neufeld mines classic New Testament texts such as the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain), the cleansing of the temple, the “armor of God,” and the Revelation of John. He also addresses more generally the rhetoric of violence: metaphors and thought patterns that may reflect the violence of first-century Roman imperial reality.
Taking his cue from the ironic wording in Ephesians 2:16, which credits Christ with “killing the enmity” in his own body through his death on the cross, Yoder Neufeld asks whether and how the violent death of the nonviolent Jesus points to the ultimate overcoming of all wrongs, and all violence, by the good and saving God in whom he trusted.
Thomas Yoder Neufeld considers many of the New Testament’s texts that might implicitly or explicitly condone violence of one kind or another. Though he concludes that these texts actually subvert violence, he does so without avoiding the very difficult questions they raise. Readers will be both disturbed and challenged by this timely book.
—Michael J. Gorman, Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology, St. Mary’s Seminary & University
Thomas Yoder Neufeld explores violence-related questions throughout the New Testament, including love of enemies, forgiveness, Jesus’ prophetic act in the temple, the atonement, subordination and divine warfare. His book stands out from other recent treatments of the topic because it deals honestly and clearly with the wide range of issues raised in the current debate while still holding to the texts as Scripture; it refuses to downplay the themes of judgment and vindication of the divine purposes; and it recognizes that the cultural, political and confessional location of the interpreter plays a crucial role in how the texts are evaluated. Readers will find it an insightful and indispensable guide.
—Andrew T. Lincoln, Portland Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Gloucestershire
That certain rhetorical and theological features of the New Testament accounts can be read as endorsing or fomenting violence is undeniable; that this is how they ought to be read is quite another matter. In this crystal-clear and profoundly responsible analysis, Tom Yoder Neufeld shows how the New Testament writers speak realistically of and to the violence that pervades human experience while simultaneously declaring God’s definitive conquest of violence through the death and resurrection of Christ. In setting forth this paradoxical and subversive truth, Yoder Neufeld exemplifies what it means to be a wise reader of Scripture today.
—Christopher Marshall, head of school, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington
This book is especially appropriate for those who are new to conversations about nonviolence and Scripture. They will find basic instruction to orient them to the conversation and to relevant principles of New Testament interpretation. . . . Neufeld’s efforts at engaging the newest voices in the ethical appropriation of Scripture will reward those more familiar with the literature. . . . I found this volume to be quite readable and coherent. . . . Readers will be challenged not only to rethink their interpretation of specific passages and doctrines, but also to consider Neufeld’s haunting refrain: how a text is read largely depends on what kind of community is doing the reading.
—Englewood Review of Books
This is a serious and provocative study of violence in the New Testament-—paradoxically as a way of framing a New Testament theology of peace and nonviolence.
—The Bible Today
Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld is a professor of religious studies and theological studies at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament and a commentary on Ephesians.