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The Table Video

Richard Mouw

Was Jesus Civil? Yes and No - Richard Mouw on Biblical Civility

President Emeritus and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary
August 9, 2015

Was Jesus civil in his discourse? What about when he condemned the Pharisees? Stated another way, should we have been civil toward Hitler? Richard Mouw points out that there is a time and a place for condemnatory speech, and that civility isn’t the whole story, but it sure is a big part of it.


To what degree are Jesus and Paul, you mentioned Peter, other prominent biblical figures who had to live with difference, communicate with those who disagreed. To what degree do they model for us what passages, scenes, what other ones come to mind that are a guide for us as we consider our…

And let me just add to that, maybe you could say a little bit about how to understand those passages where we see something other than civil discourse. Jesus referring to the Pharisees as snakes and the like of that.

Yeah, the weighted sepulcher stuff.

And Paul and the Judaizers, going after them.

I think, and again that’s there. And I want to say, civility isn’t the whole story. There are certain times that you have to draw the line. And there are certain times that you have to oppose. I mean, if I had, somehow, had an opportunity in 1941 to have a conference with Hitler, I wouldn’t have wanted to go in there with a lot of empathy for him, the time for that was long over. And you’d go in there and, I probably would have been willing to participate in a plot to use that as way of putting an end to what he was doing. So civility isn’t the whole story. But it sure is a big part of it. And, Jesus condemned hypocrites and Paul condemned Judaizers, but it was always on behalf of people with whom he had empathy. It was their failure to allow that kind of civility, that empathy, those bonds that God had ordained to flourish. So, if I were to go into a viciously racist situation, I would have to condemn. There might be times, and I think there are times for conversation, but there are times you simply do need to condemn. But, typically, Paul and Jesus used their harshest critical language about people who lacked the civility that they were trying to promote.