The Influence of Mishna Avot and Other Jewish Thought on Jesus’s Teachings, With Special Reference to Nonviolent Resistance in Matthew 5:38–42

Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Theology

First Advisor

Dr. Robert K. McIver

Second Advisor

Dr. David Thiele

Third Advisor

Dr. Ruth Sandberg


5004 Religious studies| 5005 Theology


This dissertation reveals that, contrary to much prior scholarship on Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus was not an advocate of passive endurance of abuse; rather, he taught a peaceful form of resistance to oppression. His teachings, while nonviolent, still demanded justice and mercy. Jesus was a faithful and observant Jew, and the first audience that Jesus addressed was a mixed Galilean Jewish audience acquainted with Torah, the Oral Law, and the rules of the land as per Roman governance. This dissertation examines, in its intended context, Matthew 5:38–42, and compares its content with the Jewish writings of Mishna Avot, the Roman lex talionis (tenets of the Roman law), the Dead Sea scrolls, and other sources of Jewish Oral Law. By examining the historical and social aspects of Mishna Avot and Matthew 5:38‒42 through a comparative religious lens, what emerges is a similarity of conceptual ideologies. Both Matthew 5 and Mishna Avot show similar intellectual thought regarding passive resistance to abusive authority. Jesus did not adopt a pacifist identity and capitulate to oppressors. Nor should history incorrectly describe him as creating followers who abhor resistance and often, in consequence, justice. Jesus taught that social justice includes protecting against abuse and retaining personal dignity in a conflict. The theological connections between Mishna Avot and Matthew 5:38‒42 illuminate Jesus’s understanding of Oral Law and his view of non-retaliatory peace.


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