The Violence of Matthew and Paul

Written by:  Wendell Krossa

Some good thoughtful comment from Nelson-Pallmeyer in his Jesus Against Christianity, chapter- Images of love of enemies…pg.276-295

“The biblical writers project so much pathological violence onto God as to leave us no alternative but to challenge scriptural authority… Much of the Christian tradition elevates Paul to a status far superior to Jesus. Many Christians allow Paul to determine their understanding of the character of God and the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection based on his mystical encounter with the Christ. They do so even though Paul largely ignored the life of Jesus in favor of his own apocalyptic views….He was flat out wrong about many things… Paul ignored Jesus when he shaped his interpretation of Christ in light of a visionary experience and his own apocalyptic expectations…By the time the Gospels were compiled, we find only a skeleton of Jesus amidst a great body of apocalyptic images and logic in which God’s redemptive violence is embraced as the key to justice within or at the end of history…

“Matthew also uses an apocalyptic lens to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ life and death in order to serve his own purposes…The gospel writer’s reliance on apocalyptic images is a betrayal of Jesus and the images of God that guided him…Jesus’ favorite activity according to Matthew, is to threaten people with violent punishments using his preferred phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  These vile images and violent portraits of God linked to Matthew’s Jesus are entirely at odds with the images of God that guided Jesus…It is impossible to reconcile “love of enemies” or the compassionate actions of the father in the prodigal story with divine threats of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. Either Jesus was a paranoid schizophrenic or Matthew and the other gospel writers lead us astray.

“He rejected messianic expectations and apocalyptic fantasies rooted in the liberating or punishing violence of God and insisted that God is both nonviolent and compassionate…His answer rebuffed these expectations (that the apocalyptic moment was near) and those who held them were probably as outraged as Jonah was when God did not destroy Ninevah.  Jesus’ partners want assurance that with God’s assistance their enemies will fry.  Jesus disappoints them with a story in which God’s compassion thwarts the human desire for revenge…Jesus’ rejection of apocalyptic judgment and violence has not led Christianity to purge itself of a punishing God’s righteous vengeance.  ’Apocalyptic eschatology can corrupt the human imagination profoundly in that it imagines a god whose solution to the problems of the world is slaughter’ (Dominic Crossan).

“Images of God matter.  Jesus invites us to imitate the infinitely loving, hospitable, giving, forgiving, and infinitely compassionate God.  We must choose between these images and other images and expectations of god that promise ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’.  What is amazing is that very few people embrace a God who is infinitely loving.  We prefer God’s violent power and God’s imposed justice to God’s compassion….Human beings prefer to project violence onto God and to turn God into another weapon in their struggle against enemies and evil.  Few are willing to embrace the mystery and power surrounding a nonviolent God”.