Following his overall method, Hays begins this chapter with what he calls the descriptive task. This is where he attempts to identify what particular passages of the New Testament had to say on the issue in question (original meaning). In this chapter he focuses in particular on Matthew 5:38-48, the love your enemy part of the Sermon on the Mount. He argues against several interpretations out there with regard to the original scope of these words. So...
- Matthew does not treat this material as an impossible ideal. The wise man does these things (Matt. 7).
- This is not an interim ethic, since Matthew 28 anticipates that the end of the age may be some time off.
- The Gospel of Matthew never advocates violence in defense of a third party, such as one of those with Jesus tries to do in the garden.
- Matthew applies these words to the disciples (beginning framing) and the crowds (ending framing). They do not apply to just a special class of Christians like ministers.
- Matthew knows nothing of "our inevitable failure to be able to do these things simply is to show us our need for grace."
- And even if Horsley were right that Jesus were just speaking to peasants in Galilee about fighting with their neighboring villages, Matthew universalizes the teaching--and it is Matthew as Scripture that is normative for the church, not some hypothetical reconstruction of Jesus.
Next, Hays performs what he calls the synthetic task, which is something like what I call integration. He goes through various other biblical texts to see how unified it may be on the topic at hand.
Here he concludes, first, that the NT is uniform on this issue. Whether another gospel, Acts, Paul's writings, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, even Revelation, Hays finds no justification for going to war, self-defence, or even acting with force for the sake of another. Rather he finds that Christians are to submit to persecution in hope of God's ultimate vindication.
First, I mostly agree with him on the OT. When the NT and OT are in conflict on an issue, the NT trumps. So to the extent that the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' love ethic stand in conflict with OT warring, the NT wins.
I slightly disagree with him, however, in the sense that the OT addresses matters of governance, while Jesus and most NT texts deal with a position of disempowerment. I have not found any of Hays' arguments to alter my sense that this fundamental distinction must be factored into the discussion.
I personally suspect that he and others like him have also over-reached in their reading of the NT as well. For example, when Paul mentions that rulers are appointed to administer justice, Paul approves of this role (which would include a tacit support of capital punishment). I draw the implication that, although it would involve significant modifications, Paul the Christian would also administer forceful justice if he were in political power.
Hays also recognizes that the mention of Christian soldiers in the gospels and Acts is a potential weak point. He responds by lumping them in with tax collectors and prostitutes. But in their cases, the gospels indicate that they should stop the sinful aspects of their "jobs." When John the Baptist indicates what these might be for soldiers, he does not tell the soldiers to stop being soldiers. He tells them to be content with their wages and refrain from extortion. He gives no indication that soldiering is intrinsically unchristian, as Hays believes. This seems to me fatal to a thoroughgoing pacifist interpretation of the NT.
In my opinion, the obvious need for governments to enact justice--at times in a forceful way--was so obvious to most of the NT authors that it was an underlying assumption, revealed by these anomalies in Hays' position. The reason they do not come to the fore is precisely because the NT world was a thoroughly disempowered world.
By the way, Hays also integrates with three primary lenses: community, cross, and new creation (ecclesiology, soteriology, and eschatology). A nice touch, I think. He finds these to support a pacifist position as well.
Hays third phase includes more of what I would put in the category of integration and then a running of the issue through tradition, reason, and experience. He calls it the hermeneutical task.
First, he finds unanimity in all the biblical modes. Explicit rules prohibit violence. Biblical principles would preclude violence. Narrative paradigms do not model violence. And the symbolic world of the NT does not include struggle with flesh and blood.
It is, of course, in the category of tradition, reason, and experience that Hays finds the strongest arguments against his position. Since Augustine the consensus of Christendom has supported the appropriateness of war under certain circumstances (just war theory). Reason and experience of course strongly tell us that the person/nation that does not defend itself is a person/nation destined to be annihilated, barring some deus ex machina (which seldom arrives).
Common sense would also say that defending someone else fits well with love of one's neighbor, even if it involves forcibly stopping an agressor. To be sure, the unloving run miles with these "inches." But abuse is no excuse. It is a diversion of topic to try to undo a truth by what abuse someone else might do with that truth.
Hays cannot listen, for "extrabiblical sources stand in a hermeneutical relation to the New Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority" (341). So despite the fact that "this way is sheer folly" (343), we are called to have "simply obedience to the God who willed that his own Son should give himself up to death on a cross."
Certainly we must admire this level of obedience, and fundamentalists should recognize that he considers this element of NT teaching far clearer than its teaching on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or abortion. As I've said above, I don't think the NT integrates nearly so neatly as Hays suggests. But Hays is more right than wrong to be sure.
The final phase living the text is clear given what has preceded. Do not resort to violence for any reason, including self-defense of individual or nation or to protect others.