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Killing Enmity

Violence and the New Testament

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"Yoder Neufeld explores violence-related questions throughout the New Testament. Readers will find it an insightful and indispensable guide."--Andrew T. Lincoln, University of Gloucestershire

Violence is a persistent, prominent, and troubling feature of human existence. The usual understanding of violence involves physical attack. More broadly, violence can be understood as any kind of intentional harm, whether verbal, physical, or emotional, individual or collective. Pastors, theologians, and Christian leaders of all kinds may be called on to apply the message of the New Testament in situations of violence. But what is that message? The New Testament writers speak often of peace, but what do they have to offer in response to violence? Or does the New Testament, centering as it does on the crucifixion of its central character, perpetuate rather than alleviate the problem of violence?

In this book, Thomas Yoder Neufeld mines classic New Testament texts such as the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain), the cleansing of the temple, the "armor of God," and the Revelation of John. He also addresses more generally the rhetoric of violence: metaphors and thought patterns that may reflect the violence of first-century Roman imperial reality.

Taking his cue from the ironic wording in Ephesians 2:16, which credits Christ with "killing the enmity" in his own body through his death on the cross, Yoder Neufeld asks whether and how the violent death of the nonviolent Jesus points to the ultimate overcoming of all wrongs, and all violence, by the good and saving God in whom he trusted.

[Published in the UK by SPCK as Jesus and the Subversion of Violence: Wrestling with the New Testament Evidence.]


"Thomas Yoder Neufeld considers many of the New Testament's texts that might implicitly or explicitly condone violence of one kind or another. Though he concludes that these texts actually subvert violence, he does so without avoiding the very difficult questions they raise. Readers will be both disturbed and challenged by this timely book."

Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary's Seminary & University

"Thomas Yoder Neufeld explores violence-related questions throughout the New Testament, including love of enemies, forgiveness, Jesus's prophetic act in the temple, the atonement, subordination and divine warfare. His book stands out from other recent treatments of the topic because it deals honestly and clearly with the wide range of issues raised in the current debate while still holding to the texts as Scripture; it refuses to downplay the themes of judgment and vindication of the divine purposes; and it recognizes that the cultural, political and confessional location of the interpreter plays a crucial role in how the texts are evaluated. Readers will find it an insightful and indispensable guide."

Andrew T. Lincoln, University of Gloucestershire, England

"That certain rhetorical and theological features of the New Testament accounts can be read as endorsing or fomenting violence is undeniable; that this is how they ought to be read is quite another matter. In this crystal-clear and profoundly responsible analysis, Tom Yoder Neufeld shows how the New Testament writers speak realistically of and to the violence that pervades human experience while simultaneously declaring God's definitive conquest of violence through the death and resurrection of Christ. In setting forth this paradoxical and subversive truth, Yoder Neufeld exemplifies what it means to be a wise reader of Scripture today."

Christopher Marshall, Victoria University of Wellington

The Author

  1. Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld

    Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld

    Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (ThD, Harvard Divinity School) is professor of religious studies (New Testament) emeritus at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including...

    Continue reading about Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld


"Many thoughtful readers of the New Testament are puzzled, even offended, by texts that associate God and God's agents with violence, most notably in the accounts of Jesus' death. Yoder Neufeld examines the key texts and themes in an attempt to discover whether they enshrine violence or undermine it. Respectful of his conversation partners and attentive to the text, Neufeld's study is an important contribution to the ongoing debate."

Beverly Roberts Gaventa,

Christian Century

"The book is a solid resource for anyone exploring the theme of violence in the NT or looking for antiviolent readings of texts that may appear violent. In essence, the author argues that the violent vocabulary, images, and metaphors in the NT intend not to glorify violence but rather to subvert violence. To me, Yoder Neufeld has presented a rather compelling case. . . . In today's world, the book is a needed response to those who casually paint the NT as a book of violence or NT ethics as entirely passive. Yoder Neufeld's passionate engagement with troublesome texts will likely have a powerful affect on every reader regardless of theological standpoint. The book engages the reader's heart just as much as it engages the reader's mind."

Külli Tõniste,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"This is a serious and provocative study of violence in the New Testament--paradoxically as a way of framing a New Testament theology of peace and nonviolence."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"One of the strengths of the book is Yoder Neufeld's recognition that the matter of 'violence and the New Testament' is more complicated than anyone might wish. . . . Yoder Neufeld's exegetical studies and theological reflections are deep and rich as they stand, inviting the reader to engage his work with thought and care. The book is, in a way, like the beginning to a stimulating conversation. As such, Killing Enmity would make an excellent text for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate seminar--or just a terrific book to read in any setting for anyone willing to be prodded to hear afresh the NT call to peace and non-violence."

Michael W. Pahl,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Here is a scholarly study of crucial real-world relevance to the 21st century church. Thomas Yoder Neufeld engages in a detailed exegetical study of the motif of 'violence' as reflected within New Testament texts. . . . A significant strength of Neufeld's work is the candor and courage with which he approaches his task. Neufeld clearly names the challenges inherent in the texts that he discusses, and lays out the broad spectrum of scholarly viewpoints on the 'violence' associated with these texts. He then reads the texts carefully and canonically, raises pointed and insightful questions, and lays out conclusions firmly grounded at every level--exegetical, theological, and ecclesial. . . . Neufeld's book is a rich tool for pastors and academics alike."

Dorothy Jean Weaver,


"This book is especially appropriate for those who are new to conversations about nonviolence and Scripture. They will find basic instruction to orient them to the conversation and to relevant principles of New Testament interpretation. . . . Neufeld's efforts at engaging the newest voices in the ethical appropriation of Scripture will reward those more familiar with the literature. . . . I found this volume to be quite readable and coherent. . . . Readers will be challenged not only to rethink their interpretation of specific passages and doctrines, but also to consider Neufeld's haunting refrain: how a text is read largely depends on what kind of community is doing the reading."

John Nugent,

Englewood Review of Books

"Killing Enmity is essential reading for anyone who has ever wrestled with the issue of violence in the Bible. Although it tackles a huge and complex subject, this short book meets its aims in a lucid, accessible manner. . . . Yoder Neufeld brings a wealth of knowledge and a lifetime of teaching the New Testament. . . . It is impressive how concisely and cogently Yoder Neufeld summarizes various scholarly interpretations and explains complex issues without 'dumbing them down.'. . . One of the main strengths of the book is that Yoder Neufeld does not settle for easy answers. . . . Yoder Neufeld consistently holds his readers' feet to the fire and gently pushes them to wrestle with the potential violence in the text. Because of this, his insights into how the New Testament witnesses above all to the extraordinary grace and mercy of God, subverts violence, and calls followers of Jesus to emulate his self-giving love are all the more compelling. . . . Killing Enmity is a thought-provoking read that provides rich insights into difficult questions."

Sheila Klassen-Wiebe,

Mennonite Quarterly Review

"Yoder Neufeld's book is well worth the attention. Pastors will find it provides thought-provoking sermon material. Students and Sunday school groups will find helpful summaries of differing perspectives that will stimulate examination of and discussion about major biblical themes. More importantly, the way in which Killing Enmity portrays a majestic God rich in mercy draws readers into believing that the God of the New Testament is One 'into whose hands one might just dare to fall.'"

J. Janzen,

Mennonite Brethren Herald

"Yoder Neufeld has . . . given all of us questions worthy of further conversation as we week to live faithfully as Jesus' followers."

Nancy R. Heisey,

Brethren in Christ History and Life