“But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” – 1 John 2:11


Jesus’ presentation of the kingdom of the heavens in Matthew 5-7 was particularly intended for first-century Jewish people to understand that internal righteousness and not simply external adherence to moral code was necessary to enter that kingdom. In addition to demonstrating this key deficiency on the part of His listeners, His Sermon on the Mount further offers a model for the character of kingdom members and the culture of the kingdom, and thus has contemporary applications, since believers in Jesus during the church age have been transferred (positionally) to His kingdom.[2] While that kingdom currently has no (other) earthly expression in this age, it will one day come to earth in literal fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises in physical manifestation (hence, Matthew’s term “kingdom of the heavens”), thus the applicability of the Sermon for the present day is strengthened by the future certainty of kingdom-promise fulfillment. If it is appropriate to understand the Sermon on the Mount as having contemporary implications for character and ethics in general (because of the kingdom citizenship component of church-age believers), then future aspects of the kingdom and of the two intertwining destinies (heavenly and earthly) show a model of God’s design for the future of human relations.

This study (a) introduces several ideological diagnoses of social injustice with their respective prescriptions, (b) illustrates the extent of the problem as expressed in racial disunity, (c) outlines the solution expressed in Biblical eschatology, and (d) examines the hermeneutic legitimacy of contemporary application of the Sermon on the Mount, and of its future aspects and the destinies implied for its citizens, especially in light of the “every tribe” inclusiveness found in passages like Genesis 12:3b, Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6, 16:10, and 17:15. The resulting focus on human relationships and ethnic diversity in the kingdom helps us consider the implications of that diversity for the present-day church and its interactions with society, particularly on the topics of race and unity, with a view to candid and robust dialogue as we together pursue God’s design for His church.


An oft-repeated description of social justice suggests that it “entails a ‘redistribution’ of resources from those who have “unjustly” gained them to those who justly deserve them…”[3] Some might accept a less specific attribution, that “[s]ocial justice is really the capacity to organize with others to accomplish ends that benefit the whole community.”[4] Still, in popular usage the term seems to most generally imply, “among other things, equality of the burdens, the advantages, and the opportunities of citizenship…social justice is intimately related to the concept of equality, and that the violation of it is intimately related to the concept of inequality.”[5]

Model 1 – An Ecclesiastical Approach:

The Amillennial Economic Mean Between Individualism and Collectivism

Probably first coined by Jesuit philosopher Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio in 1843,[6] the term social justice for him represented the “constitutional justice of a society, the justice that defends right order in the constitutional arrangements of the society. Its task at that juncture of history, he believed, was to defend the inherited rights of the existing powers, the Church and the aristocracy, against the rising tide of democratic equality.”[7] Taparelli opposed the capitalism of John Locke and Adam Smith because “he saw liberalism as a product of the Protestant Reformation, which exalted private judgment over the divine authority of the Roman Catholic Church and thereby replaced the Catholic sense of community with an emphasis on the self-interest of the isolated individual.”[8] Still, Taparelli’s was not an economic core.

Though building on Taparelli’s foundation, Pope Pius XI focused almost exclusively on the economic aspects of social justice, a term which soon came to represent “a new kind of virtue (or habit) necessary for post-agrarian societies…”[9] From within this anti-individualistic stream of economic theory, Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno[10] epitomized the social justice mandate for the Roman Catholic Church. The encyclical sought to address “that difficult problem of human relations called ‘the social question,’”[11] and along with Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, On the Condition of Workers, proposed “a true Catholic social science.”[12] Quoting Leo XIII, Pius XI reaffirms that, the Church “strives not only to instruct the mind, but to regulate by her precepts the life and morals of individuals, and that ameliorates the condition of the workers through her numerous and beneficent institutions.”[13]

Pius XI combats the “twin rocks of shipwreck,”[14] namely individualism, which he suggests is fostered when the social and collective aspects of property ownership are ignored, and collectivism, on the other hand, which thrives when personal property rights are minimized. To strike the necessary balance, he reminds the reader that, “there resides in Us the right and duty to pronounce with supreme authority upon social and economic matters.”[15]  In this Pius XI distinguishes the Catholic doctrine of social justice from its secular counterpart (socialism): because “man is older than the State,”[16] the state doesn’t have the right to define or infringe upon property rights. Rather those authorities reside with the Church. Pius XI emphasizes that, “the deposit of truth that God committed to Us and the grave duty of disseminating and interpreting the whole moral law, and of urging it in season and out of season, bring under and subject to Our supreme jurisdiction not only social order but economic activities themselves

[emphasis mine]

.”[17] The Church, by virtue of the cultural mandate, has jurisdiction beyond that of the state.

Pius XI asserted that not only was the state insufficient for handling such challenges, the free market also lacked the capacity to properly regulate society, as he made clear in stating that “right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching.”[18] On the basis of natural law, then, neither the state, nor an entirely free market were fitted to govern society, but only the Church had divinely appropriated access and the mandate to provide the hermeneutic underpinnings necessary for the proper economic ordering of society. ”Christian social philosophy, must be kept in mind regarding ownership and labor and their association together, and must be put into actual practice.”[19]

This practice and right ordering avoid the two great errors of individualism and the capitalism that fosters it, and collectivism and the brand of socialism leading to communism that solidifies it. Pius XI prescribes a kinder gentler sort of socialism that “inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred”[20] But he is careful not to prescribe socialism in its pure sense, warning that, “Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.[21] Specifically, the deficiency is evident in that socialism “affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone,”[22] consequently, Pius XI concludes that “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist,”[23] and exhorts readers not to “permit the children of this world to appear wiser in their generation than we who by the Divine Goodness are the children of the light.”[24] The solution for inequality and oppression is to be found not in either economic system of capitalism nor socialism/communism, but in Christian truth as disseminated and interpreted by the Catholic Church.

Model 2 – The Statist Approach:

Collectivist Abolition of Free Trade as the Economic Messiah

In the Preface to the 1888 English edition of The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Frederick Engels introduces the fundamental proposition of communism as follows:

That in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which it is built up, and from that which alone can be explained the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; That the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class – the proletariat – cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class – the bourgeoisie – without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinction, and class struggles.[25]

For Marx and Engels social justice (even though they don’t use the term in the document, as it hadn’t yet come into vogue) hinged on resolving class struggle, which meant reforming the economic engines of inequality, primarily, by eliminating distinctions through the implemented communist ideal. While socialism was not philosophically dissimilar from Marx’ and Engels’ communism, they viewed socialism as a middle-class enterprise and communism as a working-class effort. Thus, communism would be more efficacious in actually bringing about change.[26]

Economics, and capitalism specifically, is asserted to be a catalyst for destructive societal forces. Marx and Engels posit a better economic model as the solution. Karl Polanyi asserted that “To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and the natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society.”[27] Feagin expresses four significant deficiencies in capitalist economies and societies.[28] Problem #1: Capitalism transfers wealth from the poor and working classes to the rich and affluent social classes: “in most countries great income and wealth inequalities create major related injustices, including shar differentials in hunger, housing, life satisfaction, life expectancy, and political power.”[29] Problem #2: Capitalism (through the exploitation of transnational corporations) brings disruption and marginalization to many. Problem #3: Capitalism takes a heavy toll on the environment. Problem #4: Capitalism fosters racial and ethnic inequality and oppression, homophobia, and other inequities. Racial divides are perceived as an economic problem, with economic solutions as the cure.

The specific problem diagnosed in the Manifesto is the systematic bourgeoisie abuse of the working class (proletariat) in “shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”[30] primarily through the “single unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.”[31] Only the proletariat has the capability to end the ongoing economic cycle through revolution. The other classes – like the lower middle class – “decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry.”[32] Marx and Engels viewed the lower middle class not as revolutionary enough to bring lasting change, but rather motivated in their own fight against the bourgeoisie, “to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative… reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.”[33] Only the proletariat has the capacity for effective revolution, for it is their labor that has been commodified as the capital which greases the economic wheels of a free market that benefits the bourgeoisie to the detriment of all else. As Marx and Engels seek to inspire the working class to revolution and a new economic model (communism), they prophecy that, “the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”[34]

            One critical means for the resolution of class struggle is the abolition of private property, for communism “deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.”[35] In short, if anyone can own property it will be the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie have always oppressed the proletariat by capitalizing the labor of the proletariat in order to get property. Since the proletariat rarely ever get property anyway, if there is no ownership of property at all, then the bourgeoisie can’t oppress the proletariat, and the proletariat haven’t lost anything, plus then they would be free from oppression.

            Beyond the abolition of property, Marx and Engels want to abolish the family by replacing “home education with social.”[36] The refined educational model “seek[s] to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.”[37] Ultimately, this protects proletariat children from being “transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.”[38] Further developments of communism include the abolition of national differences and nationalism (in favor of the partisanship of communism),[39] in seeking to eliminate oppression of the ruling class through ideas, religion is abolished – “The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.”[40] Eternal truths, religion, and morality are traded in as part of traditional, patriarchal, ruling class societal norms that must be removed if there is to be revolution suitable for installing lasting equality. Thus, if the working class unite (in the communist ideal), as prescribed, then “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”[41]

Marx’ and Engels’ prescription of communism as the economic remedy for inequality and oppression demands that the state set boundaries and ultimately manage the ownership of property, effectually eliminating individualism. The Catholic response to that concept, from Leo XIII and Pius XI, is the assertion that the state could claim no right to take such sweeping oversight. Both the secular and the ecclesiastical, however, agreed that individualism was not a viable solution, and was in fact a common enemy. These two models – Marx’ and Engels’ secular and the Catholic non-secular models, while sharing a mutual distaste for individualism, are rooted in competing views of human nature and of authority itself, have pursued, to date, mutually exclusive political power in order to exact the kinds of societal evolution necessary to achieve their respective ends. The paths to social justice for these two models scarcely intersect, but they are remarkably intertwined in iterations of Liberation Theology.

Model 3 – The Liberation Theology Synthesis:

Postmillennial Dominionism

            Gustavo Gutiérrez is credited with originating the term Liberation Theology, in his 1971 publication, Teología de la liberación. Gutiérrez defines theology as “a critical reflection on the Church’s presence and activity in the world, in the light of revelation,”[42] adding that “Theology is reflection, a critical attitude. First comes the commitment to charity, to service. Theology comes “later.” It is second. The Church’s pastoral action is not arrived at as a conclusion from theological premises. Theology does not lead to pastoral activity, but is rather a reflection on it. [emphasis mine]”[43] For Gutiérrez, theology is not the product of exegetical analysis, but rather is much more broadly construed – this is in part reflects a logical expression of the Catholic hermeneutic of interpreting the Bible according to the tradition of the Church.[44] Theology is active, and a “variable understanding,”[45] addressing the needs of the moment.

In Gutiérrez’ estimation liberation has three components: “the political liberation of oppressed peoples and social classes; man’s liberation in the course of history; and liberation from sin as condition of a life of communion of all men with the Lord.”[46] The mandate for liberation of the oppressed is rooted in a theological extrapolation of redemption by way of the Catholic Church-tradition hermeneutic. The “redemptive work embraces every dimension of human existence.”[47] Consequently, liberation becomes part of theology, with an “eschatological hope”[48] of social revolution.

The dominionist premise provides the means for achieving that eschatological hope, as Gutiérrez posits, “Mastering the earth, as Genesis bids him do, is a work of salvation, meant to produce its plenitude. To work, to transform this world, is to save…it means participating fully in the salvific process that affects the whole man.”[49] Not only is Christ “the Saviour who, by liberating us from sin, liberates us from the very root of social injustice,”[50] but humanity, by way of the dominion mandate is co-participant in that salvific enterprise.

Inadequacy of the Three Models

Tracing these three streams through the lenses of Leo XIII and Pius XI, Marx and Engels, and Gutiérrez certainly constitutes no comprehensive analysis of the history of social justice (that would be far beyond the scope of this present work), but merely an introduction of context for opposing foundations of social justice in the contemporary western mind. Further, this context-setting provides the helpful backdrop for the consideration of contemporary application of the Sermon on the Mount – a central theme of this project.

Still, these streams and their advocates were focused on equality in relation to economic underpinnings as governed either by the church, the state, or some combination of both. But each of these streams to date have proved deficient in their economic and political prescriptions, as they have not sufficiently addressed the root cause of the symptoms. Each of the three models diagnosed symptoms and prescribed solutions. The RCC asserted the faults of the extremes of individualism and collectivism, and prescribed an Aristotelian golden economic mean insured by the church. Marxism asserted the evils of class struggle resulting from free trade and sought a statist economic control to extinguish any hint of oppression-inciting free trade. Liberation theology pinpointed the problem as failing to fulfill the dominion mandate and synthesized the RCC and Marxist prescriptions to seek a church-driven political revolution that would complete the liberation of the whole man. To this point, while encountering varying degrees of success, each of these prescriptions has failed to accomplish its stated goal, at least in part because the problems diagnosed were symptomatic and not causative. The root cause of injustice and oppression is neither economic nor political, but rather was rooted simply in the devaluation of human life that naturally results from the spiritually bankrupt devaluing of the Creator. With good reason Solomon asserted that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”[51]

The Biblical record inextricably links the proper valuation of human life to the right perspective of and response to the Creator. Genesis 1:26-27 sets the linkage as the created origin of humanity and the image of God in humanity. Genesis 9:5-6 underscores the sacredness of human life based on that linkage. Romans 5:12 asserts the universal need and traces it back to Adam’s sin and the hereditary consequence for all of subsequent humanity, while 5:18 describes how God likewise provided for the resolution of that problem for all of humanity. John 3:16 and 12:32 explain how God has reached out to all humanity. God’s intention of delivering all of humanity is expressed in 1 Timothy 2:4, and the universal accessibility to that deliverance is pronounced in Titus 2:11. Because of the love of God expressed and executed through His redemptive plan, we have a new ontological unity in Christ, explained in Ephesians 2:14-18. Consequently, as Galatians 6:10 expresses, believers are to prioritize brothers and sisters in Christ, and to do good to all. That same love that God demonstrated for His created beings, we are to show toward one another, as Philippians 2:1-11 indicates. Humanity is created in God’s image, valued based on God’s image in us, saved because of God’s grace, and expected to do good to one another as expressive and illustrative of His grace. Titus 3:1-7 lays out an application of this progression of thought: there is (1) an ethical expectation (including showing consideration for all humanity), (2) because once we were in need, (3) and because of God’s love for all, (4) He saved us through Jesus Christ, (5) making us heirs of eternal life, (6) thus, there is an expectation based on our relationship to Him, and (7) because it is good for others:

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.[52]

These passages are emblematic of the univocal Biblical perspective that proper valuation of human life is rooted in proper valuation of the Creator, and that proper expression of that valuation in action cannot be unlinked from the epistemological premise that God has the right as the Creator to define reality and valuation itself – and that He has done so. Nor can orthodox expression of valuation in practice be unlinked from the metaphysical realities that God has revealed in Scripture. As John succinctly puts it, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”[53] Position undergirds practice, and where there is faulty practice, there is neglect of positional truths.


Presented to the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, September 18-19, 2019, Calvary University, Kansas City, Missouri

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 2:11.

[2] Col 1:13.

[3] Joe R. Feagin, “Social Justice and Sociology: Agendas for the Twenty-First Century” in Critical Strategies for Social Research ed. William K. Carroll (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004), 32.

[4] Michael Novak, “Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is” The Heritage Foundation, December 29, 2009, viewed at: https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-not-what-you-think-it.

[5] G. J. Papageorgiou, “Social Values and Social Justice,” Economic Geography, Vol. 56, No. 2 (April 1980), pp. 110-119.

[6] Thomas Patrick Burke, “The Origins of Social Justice: Taparelli d’Azeglio” in Modern Age, Spring 2019: 98, referring to by Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio in Saggio teoretico di dritto naturale appoggiato sul fatto, 5 vols. (Palermo, 1843).

[7] Ibid.: 105.

[8] Ibid.: 104.

[9] Novak, Ibid.

[10] Penned by Oswald von Nell-Bruening S.J..

[11] Pope Pius XI “Quadragisimo Anno” 1931, 2, viewed at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno.html.

[12] Ibid., 20.

[13] Ibid., 17.

[14] Ibid., 46.

[15] Ibid., 41.

[16] Ibid., 49.

[17] Ibid., 41.

[18] Ibid., 88.

[19] Ibid., 110.

[20] Ibid., 113.

[21] Ibid., 117.

[22] Ibid., 118.

[23] Ibid., 120.

[24] Ibid., 146.

[25] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Preface to the 1888 English Edition, Manifesto of the Communist Party, (From Marx/Engels Selected Works, Vol. One, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, 98-137), 8.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Feagin, 29.

[28] Ibid., 30-32.

[29] Ibid., 30.

[30] Marx and Engels., 16.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 20.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 21.

[35] Ibid., 24.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 25.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., 26.

[41] Ibid., 27.

[42] Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Notes For a Theology of Liberation” in Theological Studies (Lima, Peru), 244. Viewed at http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/31/31.2/31.2.1.pdf.

[43] Ibid., 244-245.

[44] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 113. Viewed at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm.

[45] Gutiérrez, 244.

[46] Ibid., 248.

[47] Ibid., 255.

[48] Ibid., 253.

[49] Ibid., 256.

[50] Ibid., 257.

[51] Prov 9:10.

[52] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Tt 3:1–8.

[53] Ibid., 1 Jn 4:20.

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