I was recently asked to comment on Yoder's use of Jn 13:34 as a prooftext of pacifism. Here is my reply:
1.Yoder is assuming that love is incompatible with violence. However, that’s far from obvious. In a fallen world, it isn’t possible to be loving to everyone every time. For in a fallen world, people do harmful things. If you’re loving to the perpetrator, then your unloving to his past or prospective victims. If you refuse to restrain the perpetrator by force, then how is your pacifism loving to the victim? And if you refuse to punish him, that’s unloving to his victims since it denies them a just recompense.
Or, to take another example, we might spank a 2-year-old who runs out into a busy intersection. He’s too young to be amendable to reason. But he understands pain. The fear of corporal punishment deters him from repeating that risky behavior. It’s “violent,” but loving.
2.Jn 13:34 couldn’t furnish a prooftext for pacifism since, in context, it’s referring to in-group love rather than out-group love. Christians are commanded to love one another. So the scope of the command is restricted to members of the covenant community.
Of course, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of out-group love. But Yoder will need to find a different prooftext to swing that argument. A prooftext for pacifism would require a reference to one’s enemies–not fellow Christians. And even then, it would be subject to other qualifications (see above, #1).
3.What makes the new commandment new?
i) The explicit differential factor is a new standard–the example of Jesus.
Indeed, it’s more than exemplary. It’s grounded in his redemptive death for his own (cf. 13:1). Christians love one another as the reflexive response to God’s love for them.
There are likely one or two implicit differential factors as well:
ii) This is a command for members of the new covenant community.
iii) And Ridderbos thinks that this is new, in part, because the coming of the Paraclete will create a new ability (through spiritual renewal) to keep this commandment.
I’m not sure about that interpretation, but it’s worth considering. (Hard to prove or disprove since we can’t enter into the experience of pre-Christian believers.)
4.BTW, the command is outward looking (v35) as well as inward looking. It includes a missionary dimension. However, even that is oriented to members of the in-group. To those the Father gave Jesus. Present and prospective members of the new covenant community. The ingathering of God’s elect.