The Early Church on Killing
A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment
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"An exceedingly careful, measured study of the literary evidence left by the early church on the morality of killing. It should prove to be authoritative in this field."--David P. Gushee, Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University
Noted theologian Ron Sider lets the testimony of the early church speak in the first of a three-volume series on biblical peacemaking. This volume offers a thorough, comprehensive treatment on topics of perennial concern--war, abortion, and capital punishment--providing English translations for all extant data directly relevant to the treatment of these issues by the early church until Constantine. Primarily, it draws data from early church writings, but other evidence, such as archaeological finds and Roman writings, is included. The book contains brief introductions to every Christian writer cited and explanatory notes on many specific texts. The Early Church on Killing will be a helpful text in courses on ethics, theology, and church history.
Part 1: Christian Writers before Constantine
"In a time when violent death is all too common and wars of choice are undertaken all too readily, it is bracing to be reminded by this cloud of witnesses from the early church of the value that early Christians placed on human life and the severe judgments they issued on those who took it without cause."
Harold W. Attridge, Sterling Professor of Divinity, Yale Divinity School
"The question of 'killing' has been a contested and debated issue from the earliest years of the church's history. May Christians serve in the military? Is abortion ever justifiable? What of the question of capital punishment? Ron Sider has produced an invaluable handbook of primary source material from an ancient Christian perspective that can serve the entire church well as we continue to face these thorny and often heartrending questions in a modern context."
Christopher A. Hall, chancellor, Eastern University
"In recent years some have argued that the church of the first three centuries might have been somewhat ambivalent in its opposition to war and killing. Ron Sider's excellent and comprehensive sourcebook shows once again that, even though the practices of individual Christians might have deviated at times from what Christians are called to be and do, the uniform voice of the church before its rise to political power was one of unconditional rejection of war and killing in all its pluriformity. Against the cultural norms of power and the state's demands for obedience, early Christian writers responded with a bewildering call to love one's enemies and pray for one's persecutors. And that, as Tertullian insisted, sets Christians apart from all other people."
George Kalantzis, director, The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies; author, Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes to War and Military Service
"In this very important work, Ron Sider returns to his roots as a church historian to offer an exceedingly careful, measured study of the literary evidence left by the early church on the morality of killing. This volume is entirely free of propaganda or polemics, following the evidence where it leads. This deceptively brief, highly disciplined study should prove to be authoritative in this field."
David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director, Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University
"The composite portrait that these texts create is one of a radical Christian ethic and of a church that struggled to live into it. Even in the midst of this complexity, one can still see the outlines of a 'consistent ethic of life' in which aversion to the shedding of blood is paired with a willingness to lay down one's life in witness to the Prince of Peace. Should today's Christian communities have ears to hear this message, then the death-dealing powers that organize our world might have a genuine revolution on their hands."
Christian Collins Winn, associate professor of historical and systematic theology, Bethel University
"In a most helpful way and with an evident knowledge of the primary sources, Ronald Sider presents in translation a comprehensive sourcebook of early Christian statements on the issues of abortion, capital punishment, and military service. . . . Sider confronts the reader with the relevant texts themselves and so allows us to make our own independent judgment on the important question of the early church's position on these difficult and yet highly relevant themes. This book will be an asset in the libraries of pastors and laypeople alike and a welcome text in college and seminary classrooms."
William C. Weinrich, professor of early church history and patristic studies, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
"A book of writings from the early church having to do with killing. . . . What Sider has done is gather these passages into a single volume. There are a wide range of sources here. . . . Along with the passages, he provide[s] some context and helpful notes to help us get the point better. He [is] obviously trying to expand his audience to all levels of Christian readers: student, teacher, leader, layman. . . . It's in the Afterword where Sider present[s] his perspective on the passages, especially how to interpret and understand them practically. . . . And, in what should be welcomed by all, he [deals] with the difficult passages that some have argued challenge if not contradict his own pacifist, Anabaptist tradition. . . . Sider [makes] his case well for being able to say, 'The early church taught . . .' with some authority, some real meat behind his words. And this is definitely a very welcome and helpful resource for any Christian's library. . . . The Early Church on Killing (if utilized) will definitely raise the level of the conversation."
Englewood Review of Books
"A very important work. . . . This volume represents [an] unprecedented contribution to our contemporary discussion. . . . Contemporary readers are likely to be surprised at the richness and diversity of these selections from the life of the early church. After all, the issues of war, abortion and capital punishment are hardly new issues. Sider's work reminds us of how the church struggled with these issues from its founding."
R. Albert Mohler Jr.,
Preaching (Annual Preaching Survey of the Year's Best Books, 2012)
"[Sider] has given us the definitive sourcebook of the early church's views on war, capital punishment, and abortion. . . . Although [his] conclusion is not altogether new, it has never been so carefully argued, sturdily buttressed, and comprehensively presented. A first-rate historian, Sider mines extant sources with remarkable precision and restraint, studiously avoiding the faulty generalizations of scholars who have suggested that just war thinking has deep roots in the early church. . . . Thanks to Sider's meticulous scholarship, we now have easy access to some of the best sources in our faith--the wise words and courageous witness of the early church."
Michael G. Long,
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