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Was Jesus’ Criticism of the Pharisees’ Ethic Its Legalism or Lawlessness?

The popular understanding of the Pharisees is that they were legalists.  This is not, however, Jesus’ criticism of their ethics, even though the charge of Pharisaic legalism comes from a (mis)reading of the Gospels.  The Pharisees are cast in popular imagination as the quintessential example of legalists, overly focussed on rules and promoting works in order to attain righteousness apart from God’s grace.  The latter view, that Judaism overall and the Pharisees in particular advocated works righteousness, has been loudly criticised in light of numerous texts in second temple Judaism, celebrating God’s grace in choosing the Jews, not self-righteous works.[1]  Be that as it may, the Pharisees have remained the foil to Christian ethics precisely over their purported legalism—a focus on unloving, unforgiving rules and regulations that also places norms above, purportedly, higher moral principles.  Jesus’ ethic is contrasted as an ethic of forgiveness, mercy, love, and God’s grace as oppos…

An Ethic of the Heart and Faith in Jesus

Introduction
In Matthew 15, two adjacent pericopae (episodes) suggest an important theological relationship: the connection between ethics and theology or, more particularly, between an ethic of the heart and faith in Jesus Christ.  The first pericope involves an incident when Jesus’ disciples are criticized by the Pharisees for not washing their hands before they ate.  This allows Jesus to comment that it is not what goes in to a person that defiles him but what comes out of a person from the heart (Matthew 15.18-20).  The second pericope involves an incident with a Canaanite woman, who asks for help from Jesus for her demon-possessed daughter.  This allows Jesus to draw attention to the woman’s faith in him.  This essay will consider these two theological points in Matthew’s Gospel.
Reflect, for a moment, on what makes an act moral.  Immanuel Kant wrote on ethics at the beginning of the Enlightenment and suggested, as we might summarize, that a moral act: (1) must be universalisable (…

On the Soul: A Dialogue on Abortion

Does the unborn child have a soul?  Let us imagine a conversation between Aristotle (the 4th c. BC Greek philosopher) and some contemporary politician calling for abortion at any time up to the moment of birth.  We’ll call her ‘H’.  H. and A. are watching the recent news on television about abortion legislation in the United States.  During a commercial, H. turns to A. and begins the dialogue.
H: I believe that women have the right to abortion.
A: I do not dispute that you believe that.  If you say so, you most likely do.  But do you know what you are saying?
H: What do you mean?  Of course, I do.
A: Let us first consider what you mean.  Are you asserting something about the legal or moral right of a woman?
H: I am asserting that women have the legal right.  This is because the freedom of choice is a universal right.
A: So, if we for the moment allow that freedom of choice is a universal right, why would that make a particular choice a legal right?
H: We should not make laws that tak…