Jesus was not an originalist
Posted On March 23, 2021
The title of this blog might raise some questions – like, what am I talking about. In the last week or so, I read an article which made this argument: Jesus was not a strict originalist when it came to the law. He is quoted many times as saying, “you have heard it said…, but I say to you…” In other words, he offered a new interpretation on the law.
This shouldn’t be a shock actually, especially if you know anything about Judaism. Rabbis have been offering their own interpretations of the law for centuries. In fact, you can read some of these in The Misnah. It’s a collection of writings that tell the reader what different Rabbis thought about the law. If you read it, or even a portion of it, you’ll quickly discover that there are many variations on the interpretation of the law. There is no uniformity. And there is no originalist idea that goes with the law. Why is that? Because how the law is applied changes over time. People change, circumstances change. Societies change. Expectations change. Life is about change.
What words for one group of people does not equate with a timeless standards forevermore for all people.
I know that some of you reading this will throw out arguments in opposition to what I am saying. “But what about…” Your what-abouts are nice, but even if the situation you present is true, it doesn’t mean the whole argument that is being made is wrong. It’s not an all or nothing game.
None of this as radical as it sounds. It’s actually quite normal. In the 1830’s in the US, slavery was considered the norm in certain parts of the country. If we applied the strict originalist standards, then why have we moved as a society to believing that slavery is evil? It was allowed at the founding of the nation? Should that originalist position hold everyone forevermore hostage? Are those who find slavery to be immoral and evil wrong because they are out of step with the original standards and interpretation of the law?
Or is it possible that humanity and society has changed – grown?
The originalist argument makes a faulty assumption – that people and societies are incapable of growing in understanding and learning. If those who argue for originalist interpretations believe that societies and people can grow and learn, then why would an original interpretation be mandatory?
Even those who argue for originalist ideas don’t actually follow their own guidelines. If they did, they should shun all things that have changed since the law was written. But that’s impossible.