Should we regard the Old Testament and the New Testament as continuous, or discontinuous, with one another? The standard evangelical approach is to regard the relationship between the two as that between bud and flower, source and stream, promise and fulfilment.
But many are troubled by the moral teaching and actions recorded in the Old Testament, and ask how this can be reconciled with the teaching and actions of Jesus.
Taking the difficult matter of the destruction of the Canaanites as his starting point, Peter Enns looks at Matthew’s Gospel, asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’
Jesus taught that we should ‘love our enemies’ (Mt 5:43-48).
Matthew’s Gospel as a whole is laid out in five sections (each ending in ‘When Jesus had finished saying these things’), suggesting that Jesus is giving a new ‘Torah’ for his people.
It is Matthew who notes several aspects of Jesus’ life that parallel events in Moses’ life (deliverance from mass infanticide, enduring a 40-day fast before ascending a mountain to give God’s law).
The Sermon on the Mount contains the sixfold refrain – “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…” – suggesting to some that Jesus intended to show the true intention of the Mosaic law, but to others that he was indicating some kind of contrast between its teaching and his own.
When Jesus urges his hearers to love their enemies these latter would have been understood not merely as unpleasant individuals, but as ‘outsiders’ – primarily, the Roman occupiers of the Holy Land.
Enns draws attention to the work of Kenton Sparks, who has made a ‘compelling case’ for seeing Mathew’s Gospel as a whole as plea to its readers to look at the Mosaic ‘genocide’ through the lens of Jesus’ radical teaching about love. Gentiles are no longer objects of wrath, but of love. Of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, four are either Gentiles or have strong Gentile connections. It is Herod, and the citizens of Jerusalem, who regard Jesus with suspicion and hatred. It is the Roman centurian who shows faith, in contrast to Jewish rejection (Mt 8:5-13). The Syrophoenician woman of Mk 7 and actually called a Canaanite in Mt 15, and, despite surface appearances to the contrary, this episode serves to contrast Gentile faith with Jewish unbelief. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ instruction is to go and ‘make disciples’ of all nations, not to conquer them and kill them.
Conclusion: there is no neat line between the OT command to destroy foreign nations and Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. Jesus’ teaching is a reversal of OT exclusivism. You do not hate your enemies; you love them. You do not defend your place in the world: you go into the world and win the nations for the gospel.
Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (ch. 3).