Enmity (in the Bible)

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The mutual hostility between persecutor and persecuted, for which the Christian, following Christ's new morality, must substitute a new attitude by which he loves and prays for his enemy (Mt 5.4348; Lk 6.2736).

Enmity in the Old Testament. The doctrine of Leviticus demanded that an Israelite respect the rights of his neighbor and love his fellow Israelites (Leviticus19.1118) and even foreigners who lived among them (19.3334). One was urged to come to the aid of one's enemy when he lost or suffered damage to his livestock (Ex 23.45). Besides encouraging a beneficent control over excessive revenge, which was the main purpose of the law of exact retaliation (Ex 21.24; confer, Gn4.2324), Hebrew wisdom went further and urged those who had suffered injustice to leave vengeance to God (Prv 20.22), and even to act kindly toward their enemies (Prv 25.2122). Job, in his ideal innocence, never rejoiced at his enemy's misfortune or, by cursing, wished him dead (Jb 31.2930). No such command as cited in Matthew 5.43b, "' and shall hate thy enemy,"' can be found in the Old Testament. It is probably a gloss inferred as the opposite of the command to love one's friend (Lv 19.18), and has the tolerative meaning of "and you need not love your enemy."

On the other hand, the disdain in which Israelites held non-Israelites and enemy nations was one of their well-known traits, recorded by Tacitus (Hist. 5.5) and exemplified by many Old Testament passages [Dt 7.2;15.13; 23.47, 21; 25.1719; Ps 136 (137).79]. However, such international enmity is not in question here. Our Lord is contrasting the attitude between a person and his friends to the new attitude of God's sons toward their personal enemies, mainly those who persecute them for religious motives.

In this context of personal enmity Israelites exacted blood vengeance in accordance with their ethical background (Nm 35.19), not even allowing a ransom for the life of a murderer, although such a custom was prevalent in the ancient Near East (Nm 35.3133). This legitimate vengeance led the Israelites to feel toward unjust aggressors what can be called a justifiable animosity, so vividly depicted in Psalm 108 (109). Since Hebrew law was not only religious but civil, it had to allow for such external manifestations of animus against evil men.

Enmity in the New Testament. In Our Lord's insistence, the new law forbade a Christian to nurture even the best motivated feelings of animosity and demanded instead a benevolence toward enemies, copied after the Father's concern for all men, even the most evil. The enmity to be borne by a member of God's kingdom was especially apt to take the form of religious persecution. The Christian should, indeed, desire that God's enemies desist from opposing God's work in His faithful, but he should desire this without personal hatred for the persecutors. Rather, one should pray for them, a command that should be taken literally and not as a Semitic exaggeration to emphasize a vague moral ideal. Jesus Himself gave His disciples the greatest example of compliance with this command (Lk 23.34), an example later imitated by St. Stephen (Acts 7.60). To love and do good to another who is unfriendly and in opposition to oneself, is, therefore, to imitate in the highest degree the beneficence of God toward His rebellious creatures; it is to reach up and practice God's way of loving, commended to mankind by Christ's destruction of the source of all enmity: " because when as yet we were sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.89).

Bibliography: j. a. sanders, The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 2:101. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1381.

[j. e. fallon]