Christian Ethics: The Comprehensive Study Notes
Introduction Our goal in this unit is to become familiar with the ethical teachings of Christianity as they developed out of the Jewish tradition and evolved throughout the formative period. Begi nning as a branch or “sect” of Judaism over two thousand years ago, Christianity centres mainly on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and later, on the interpretations of those teachings by the apostle Paul of Tarsus. Coming out of a Jewish context in ancient Israel, Christianity adopted many of the values, customs, and traditions of the Hebrew Bible, while claiming to go beyond Judaism with a “new covenant” that emphasized faith over law, and a commitment to spreading the Gospel (good news) to all nations. Timeline 4 BCE Birth of Jesus 30 CE Death of Jesus 48–64 CE Letters of Paul 65 CE Death of Paul 70 CE Destruction of the Second Temple (post-apostolic period) 70–95 CE Gospels composed 325 CE First Council of Nicea 337 CE Constantine baptized on his deathbed 382 CE A complete list of the Old and New Testament at a council in Rome 392 CE Roman Empire adopts Christianity as its official religion 405 CE Canon of Bible is set Following the unit structure, we will explore: • early Christianity: origin and development; • Christian scriptures: the tradition’s source texts for ethics; • the basic ethical teachings of Jesus; • the basic ethical teachings of Paul; • analysis and discussion of Christian ethics: conduct, principles, worldview; • Christian virtues and vices • moral self and moral communityEthics in World Religions RLGN 1420 Unit 9 2 Learning objectives At the end of this unit you will be able to: 1. outline the historical and cultural context out of which Christianity emerged and describe the significance of the New Testament to Christian ethics; 2. identify some of the scriptural sources for Christian belief and how its ethical teachings developed out of the Jewish tradition; 3. distinguish and discuss the ethical teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; 4. discuss the interpretation and expansion of those teachings by Paul of Tarsus; 5. analyze Christian ethics on the levels of conduct, principles, and foundation; 6. suggest what are considered to be Christian virtues; and 7. suggest what the early Christian tradition defines as the moral self and the moral community. Required readings Read the following from the required textbooks: • The World’s Religions, chapter 11: Christianity: The Way of Jesus Christ • Anthology of World Scriptures, chapter 11, Christianity Suggested viewing • My Religion Lab: The World’s Religions: Christianity • Chapter 11 in the Companion website for Anthology of World Scriptures (do not submit any exercises to your instructor) Instructional content Early Christianity: Origin and development The World's Religions: chapter 11, “Introduction,” “The New Testament and the Birth of Christianity,” and “The Institutionalization and Spread of Christianity” Using your text, The World’s Religions, write out the definitions and provide the appropriate context for: • apostolic succession • Augustine • post-apostolic period • Theodosius Christian Scriptures: The Tradition’s Source Texts for Ethics Anthology of World Scriptures: chapter 11, "Overview of Structure,” “Contemporary Use,” and “The Council at Jerusalem” for an account of when Christianity began to separate from its Jewish roots As a study aid to sorting out the various scriptural texts that are mentioned above, in Young, and that are excerpted from in Van Voorst, write out definitions of the following terms: • Athanasius • Gospels • Acts of the Apostles • “Catholic” Epistles • The Gospel of Thomas • The Book of Revelation The basic ethical teachings of Jesus Anthology of World Scriptures: chapter 11, “The Birth of Jesus the Messiah,” “The Miracles of Jesus,” “The Resurrection of Jesus,” and “The Ascension of Jesus What is the significance of the Sermon on the Mount? What is unique to the Beatitudes? • Discuss the ethical implications of Matthew 5:21-4. • What is Jesus’s attitude toward forgiveness in the selection from Van Voorst, “A Sinful Women Forgiven.” The Basic Ethical Teachings of Paul Anthology of World Scriptures, chapter 11, “Paul’s Directions Concerning Marriage,” and “Ethics in the Christian Household” What was Paul’s message to the gentiles? How did his ideas expand on the teachings of Jesus? • In “Two Views on Christians and the Roman State” in Van Voorst, how does Paul describe the relationship between the church and the state? How do social ethics factor into this equation? • What are your thoughts on Paul’s treatment of gender? How does Paul’s treatment compare with that of Jesus? Analysis of Christian Ethics: conduct, principles, foundation Anthology of World Scriptures: chapter 11, “Church Order in Matthew” for a scriptural outline on humility, forgiveness, and how to deal with sin, and “Confession and Anointing” for a popular passage and the anointing of the sick. As we have already noted, Christians emphasize faith and good works over a strict adherence to the letter of the law. The idea of faith is not meant to undermine the law, however, but rather to stress humility before God and a willingness to “imitate Christ.” Given the size and spread of Christianity, basic principles tend to divide along two lines: there are those who see Christian principles in more general terms, such as love for one’s neighbour, helping the poor and oppressed, etc., and those who focus more on the “details” of scriptural practice, such as the prop Foundation (worldview): Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity holds that human beings were created in the image of God and charged with the duty to care for the earth. While Christians hold that the created order is basically good, hum Anthology of World Scriptures: chapter 11, “Nicodemus Visits Jesus” for notions of salvation and “rebirth” in Christ . What are the main differences between “liberal” and “traditionalist” interpretations of the Bible? • How are we to understand the Christian injunction to “imitate Christ?” What does this entail for Christian ethics? Christian virtues and vices Christianity stresses the virtues of faith, hope, charity, and love, a list which comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13. Likewise, in Galatians 5:22-23, we find an extended list of virtues of the faithful: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, Moral self and moral community We have noted more than once that Christians typically view the world in relation to the figure of Christ. Christian notions of the good life therefore cannot be conceived of without explicit reference to Jesus’s life and teachings. With reference to the passages we have looked at in Van Voorst on Jesus and Paul, compare and contrast their positions on the spirit versus the letter of the law. Is there any notable difference between the two? In your opinion, how might we understand this distinction? Conclusion This unit discusses Christianity as an ethical tradition that can claim a written record starting around the middle of the first century CE. The unit considers the four gospels, Acts, the various Letters, and Revelation, which, in Apostolic succession—the connection that the church leaders claim to the apostles Faith—emphasized in Christianity over the letter of the law Gospel—literally meaning “good news” the gospels were first oral and then written accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Gnostic—a sect in early Christianity Grace—God’s freely given, unmerited love and forgiveness Letters—writings of the apostle Paul and others concern instruction to the various churches in decades following Christ’s death Original Sin—idea that humans are tainted with the original sin of Adam and Eve Paul—famous missionary and composer of numerous Christian Letters Sacraments—rites and ceremonies, such as baptism and marriage Second Coming—belief that Jesus will return to earth Trinity—Christian idea of the unity of God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy SpiritEthics in World Religions RLGN 1420 Unit 9 15 Additional readings Barrett, C. K. The New Testament Background: Selected Documents. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994. Erhman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Funk, Robert, and Roy Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993. Hengel, Martin. Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity. Translated by J. Bowden. London: Fortress, 1983. Kraemer, Ross. Her Share of the Blessings: Women’s Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Perrin, Norman. Rediscovering the Teachings of Jesus. London: SMC Press, 1967. Roetzel, Calvin. The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context. 3rd ed. Atlanta: John Knox, 1991. Walker, Williston, . A History of the Christian Church.