by MICHAEL OTTO
Speaking at the launch of Canon Law In Action by Msgr Brendan Daly, historian and Scripture scholar Fr Justin Taylor, SM, argued against the notion that Jesus was opposed to law.
Rather, “Jesus is the first legislator, the first lawgiver”, Fr Taylor said.
He observed that an idea often encountered is that Jesus was opposed to law and that he
proclaimed freedom from the legal structures of Judaism.
This view contends that the Church’s law was something invented after the time of Christ and
was against Jesus’ wishes, becoming an imposition of legalism on those Jesus wished to liberate from that very thing, Fr Taylor continued.
“That view of the historical Jesus, I would contend, is quite mistaken and misleading,” he argued.
Fr Taylor quoted the scholar John P. Meier, who wrote in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, that the historical Jesus is the “hallachic” Jesus.
“Meier refers by that adjective ‘hallachic’, . . . to the ‘hallacha’ [which is] the path of life traced for their followers by the Jewish teachers, who did not hesitate to make binding rulings and interpretations,” Fr Taylor said.
“In the Gospels, we find Jesus taking part in hallachic debates with other teachers and other schools of thought, on such vital topics as marriage and divorce, the obligation of children to support their parents, the binding nature of oaths, forgiveness of offences, non-retaliation,” he explained.
Fr Taylor said that it might be objected that these are moral questions, not legal.
“Let me point out that it always was and still is impossible to separate the moral from the legal in Jewish teaching,” he said.
“And that goes from the Old Testament through the Gospel and on to the later rabbis.
“That, of course, is one of the things that most disconcerts Christian readers of the Pentateuch. The apparent way in which moral principles and legal rulings are jumbled together without any attempt to separate them.”
Fr Taylor argued that, fundamentally, in real life and in any society, “the moral and the legal are inextricably intertwined”.
“What is the right thing to do? That is a question that the ethicist and the jurist both have to answer. “When Jesus teaches what is right, he is inevitably making legal as well as moral statements.
“The law of the Church repeats, interprets, and occasionally makes more precise, the law of God.”
by MICHAEL OTTO