Yoder and the OT

So far, Yoder has shown that Jesus’ life and teachings have clear political implications. He has also shown an unfortunate trend towards minimizing the spiritual or non-political implications, including overlooking the Resurrection. In chapter 4, he turns to the Old Testament.

The point that Yoder wishes to make is that the main theme of the OT is that God looks after his people Israel, not through their strength or power, but by his. He surveys a number of incidents in the OT to justify this position. Though I am at times surprised at which incidents he considers and which he does not (there is a massive gap between Judges and 2 Chronicles 16), I agree with the conclusion. Some times there is war. Sometimes there is not. Either way, the OT is not a manual for justified war on the part of God, it is demonstration of God’s sovereign power to save his people his way, without his people getting any fancy ideas and trying to “help” God. Clearly this is part of Yoder’s defense against Christianized “just war” theories.

The second point that Yoder tries to make is somewhat fuzzier. He tries to define how the contemporaries of Jesus would have heard his preaching, based on the OT. First, he rightly asserts that Jews did not see God’s promises as only being fulfilled in the distant future, but have been fulfilled in the nation of Israel in the past. Secondly, though, he seems to be saying that the Jews would have only expected God’s promises to be fulfilled historically. He opposes “apocalyptic” future-oriented expectations with the experience of Israel in having promises fulfilled historically. To do this would be to ignore the impact that books like Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel had on 1st Century Jewish thought. Yoder doesn’t consider these books, just the historical ones. Again, in his enthusiasm to show that God is capable of acting in the present, Yoder has swung too far away from the potential future-orientation of Jewish thought, and of Jesus’ teachings.

In chapter 5, Yoder further emphasizes the non-violent forms of salvation. To demonstrate that 1st Century Jews did not expect God to act only violently, he gives three examples of non-violent resistance against occupying Rome. Two of these examples resulted in success, one in a bloody massacre of the Jews.

Putting these two chapters together, Yoder’s main point comes clear. The 1st Century Jewish mind did not consider only two forms of resistance: fight or withdraw into the desert. Instead, there was the very real possibility of salvation either through God’s sovereign intervention, passive non-compliance, or both.


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