by Doug Ward

One of the most challenging teachings of Jesus is his directive to "love your enemies." It appears in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:43-44:


"You have heard it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies ... ."


Here Jesus builds upon the instruction of the Torah and wisdom literature from the Hebrew Scriptures. Kind treatment of one's enemies is implied in Exodus 23:4-5, Job 31:29, and Proverbs 25:21-22.


However, the source of the saying, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" is harder to identify. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is familiar from Lev 19:18, but there is no biblical command to "hate your enemy." There is also no such teaching in rabbinic tradition. For centuries, in fact, it remained unclear who had said "hate your enemy."


Things changed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since the publication of the Qumran Community Rule (1QS) in 1951, much more information has been available about the source and rationale of the saying to which Jesus referred in Matt 5:43. Studying this information can help us put our Master's teaching in context.


Hating the Sons of Darkness

The Community Rule (also known as the Manual of Discipline), which dates from around 100 B.C., regulated the life of a Jewish sect at Qumran. According to Dr. Marvin Wilson, "The people of Qumran had withdrawn to the wilderness to await the end of the age. They were the `sons of light,' equipping themselves through intense discipline, rituals of purity, and scriptural study to overcome their enemy, the `sons of darkness.' "1 The Community Rule begins by saying that members of the community should be taught to seek God and obey Moses and the Prophets so that "they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God's design, and hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in God's vengeance."


The Community Rule and other documents from Qumran give more details about what it meant to love those within the community and hate those outside of it. In particular, members of the sect were to show mutual love by correcting other members if they noticed them going astray. In this way, the holiness of the community would be preserved and members would not harbor hateful thoughts or develop grudges against one another. The sect's practice of mutual correction and rebuke was based on Lev. 19:17-18, which says, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself."2


The Qumran sect noted that the instructions in Lev 19:17-18 are directed toward "your brother", "the sons of your people," and "your neighbor." For them, brethren and neighbors were members of their own community. On the other hand, community members were not to correct or rebuke outsiders, including fellow Jews whom they saw as apostate. Harboring hatred in one's heart toward outsiders was permitted. Chapter 9 of the Community Rule specifies that the leader of the community "shall not rebuke the men of the Pit nor dispute with them." Later in the chapter comes the declaration, "Everlasting hatred in a spirit of secrecy for the men of perdition!"


The sectarians arrived at their narrow interpretation of Lev 19:17-18 by comparing these verses with Nahum 1:2, which states that "the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies."3 While it is wrong to hate or practice revenge against a brother, they reasoned, hatred against an enemy is endorsed by God's example, which they were called to follow (Lev 19:2).


Learning from Jesus and History

The Qumran texts shed light on the teachings of Jesus. The statement "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" in Matt 5:43 turns out to be a good summary of the sectarian interpretation of Lev 19:17-18. Given the Qumran use of Nahum 1:2 in applying Lev 19, we can see why Jesus grounds his instruction of love toward enemies in the character and example of God (v. 45). Rather than practicing vengeance, which is God's sole prerogative (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19) exercised as a last resort, those who truly seek to follow God's example should imitate their Creator in bestowing love to all. Moreover, the sectarians' restrictive application of "your neighbor" to members of their own community gives evidence of the confusion on this subject that Jesus addresses in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).


While the "hate your enemy" saying was prevalent enough for Jesus to confront and correct, it was a sectarian error and not the predominant teaching of first-century Judaism. Christians historically have often caused bitterness and hindered the cause of the gospel by using Matt 5:43 as a weapon to disparage all of Judaism. Ironically, such misapplication of Matt 5:43 stands in direct disobedience to verses 44-48. In commenting on this irony, Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1913 to 1946, remarked, "It is Christian teachers who rarely preached, and still more rarely practised, love of those whom they branded as `enemies.'"4 Since we would not want our faith to be identified with aberrant doctrines held by fringe groups, we should be sure to follow the golden rule (Matt 7:12) and the rabbinic instruction to "judge everyone favorably" (Pirke Avot 1:6).


1Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Eerdmans, 1989, p. 119.


2Dr. James L. Kugel discusses the application of Lev 19:17-18 at Qumran on pages 227-240 of his book In Potiphar's House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts, HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.


3See In Potiphar's House, p. 231.


4The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Second Edition, Soncino, London, 1973, comments on Exod 23:4-5. Thanks are due to Rob Wilson for pointing out this reference.

Issue 30


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On 18 Jan 2015, 17:32.