The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels

By Wolfgang Stegemann; Bruce J. Malina et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Contextual Ethics Of Jesus

Wolfgang Stegemann

Jesus’ ethics are an integral part of the symbolic moral system of his society. Hence, his ethics cannot be understood without knowledge of this moral system. What this mainly means is that the ethics of Jesus must be interpreted within the symbolic moral system of his society, not in contrast with it. More to the point, Jesus did not step out of the moral world of his society and design his own, new, symbolic moral system. Rather, he developed and articulated his own perspective within this symbolic system and put specific emphases on some dimensions of it.


Four Critical Observations
on the Traditional Understanding of the “Ethics” of Jesus

A Conceptual Theory of Ethics

When broaching the theme of Jesus’ ethics, scholars generally understand the subject as part of the “ethics” of early Christianity or the “ethics” of the New Testament. Although the term “ethics” has become established in exegesis, it seems in need of revision. The term “ethics” describes, “since Aristotle, an exercise in theory” that, among other things, has as its object “criteria of right behavior” (Herms 2000:1598). Hence one may say that ethics is a conceptual theory that establishes or formulates moral rules and norms of human behavior. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ethics” as “the science of morality.” Meeks prefers to speak of “morality” when dealing with early Christianity; he understands the term “ethics” to refer to “a reflective, second-order activity” (1993:4).

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