Forum Scientiarum

Prof. Seyoon Kim (Theology), Fuller Theological Seminary Pasadena, United States: ‘Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God' (Romans 12:19). The Apostle Paul and the Law of Talion

Abstract

In his Letter to the Roman Christians Paul forbids them to practice vengeance and exhorts them rather to love their enemies: “Pay no one evil for evil … but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21). Thus, following Jesus’ teaching (Matt 5:38–42, 43–48; Luke 6:27–36), the Apostle forbids Christians acting in personal relationships according to lex talionis, the law of just or appropriate retribution, stipulated in Exod 21:23–25 and elsewhere in the OT (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc. ”). But then he goes on in Rom 13:1–7 to exhort them to be subject to the governing authorities, as they are God’s “servant(s)” whom God has appointed as his “executor(s) of justice (ἔκδικος) to inflict his wrath (ὀργή) on the wrongdoers” (v 4). Thus, Paul sanctions state laws and penal systems as divine instruments for establishing justice and order in society and assumes that they are based on the principle of lex talionis. Furthermore, he teaches that at the last judgment God will mete out his just judgment for all human beings according to their deeds, rewarding righteous people with eternal life and pouring out his “wrath” upon evil doers (e.g., Rom 2:5–10; 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Thess 1:5-10). So apparently Paul thinks of God’s last judgment as taking place in accordance with the principle of lex talionis. But isn’t it the essence of Paul’s gospel that out of his love God delivered up his own Son Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for our sins in order to justify the ungodly and reconcile them, his enemies, to himself (e.g., Rom 3:24–26; 4:25; 5:6–10; 8:3–4; 2 Cor 5:13–21), just as it is the essence of Jesus’ gospel that out of his love God forgives sinners (e.g., Matt 6:12/Luke 11:4; Mark 2:17pars; Luke 15:11–32)? So God’s saving act in Christ Jesus represents the supreme example of “overcoming evil with good.”

This set of Paul’s teachings raises several questions on the level of personal ethics, social ethics, jurisprudence, etc., including a most fundamental theological question: How is the tension (or contradiction?) between God’s saving love and his punishing justice to be reconciled?

Bio

- Doktorand at Uni. Tuebingen (1974-76)
- Ph. D. in Theology (New Tesament) at Uni. of Manchester (1977)
- Stipendiat von A. von Humboldt-Stiftung at Uni. Tuebingen (1981-83)
- Professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, U. S. A. (1985-87)
- Professor at Chongshin Theological Seminary, Seoul, Korea (1987-94)
- Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, U. S. A. (1995-2019)
- Senior Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (7. 2019 - present)
- Stipendiat (Renewed Research Stay) von A. von Humboldt-Stiftung at Uni. Tübingen (2019)