Violence is a persistent, prominent, and troubling feature of human existence. Usually we think of violence as involving some type of physical attack. But, violence also has a broader that encompasses any intentional harm, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, individual or collective. In every instance of violence, Christians may be called upon to speak about the relevancy of the New Testament to 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? These are the types of hard questions a violent world is asking Christians. How do we respond?In Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament, Thomas Yoder Neufeld examines multiple New Testament texts such as the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain), the cleansing of the temple, the "armor of God" passage from Ephesians, 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.
Is the New Testament inherently violent? In this book a well-regarded New Testament scholar offers a balanced critical assessment of charges and claims that the Christian scriptures encode, instigate, or justify violence. Thomas Yoder Neufeld provides a useful introduction to the language of violence in current theological discourse and surveys a wide range of key ethical New Testament texts through the lens of violence/nonviolence. He makes the case that, contrary to much scholarly opinion, the New Testament is not in itself inherently violent or supportive of violence; instead, it rejects and overcomes violence. [Published in the UK by SPCK as Jesus and the Subversion of Violence: Wrestling with the New Testament Evidence.]
Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (ThD, Harvard Divinity School) is professor of religious studies (New Testament) emeritus 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.
"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,
Dean, The Ecumenical Institute of Theology, St. Mary's Seminary & University
Thomas Yoder Neufeld explores violence-related questions throughout the New Testament, including love of enemies, forgiveness, Jesus's 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, University of Gloucestershire, England
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.
Head of School, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington