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David's Question on An Eye for an Eye (June 8, 2010)


When Jesus said 'ye have heard an eye for an eye, but I TELL YOU turn the other cheek etc etc..'', is that not diminishing to a degree the torah law that God gave?  Thanks.

My Reply

Hi David
You are referring to Matthew 5:38-39:

38`Ye heard that it was said: Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24];

39but I -- I say to you, not to resist the evil, but whoever shall slap thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other;

The command to turn the other cheek is a paraphrase of a passage in Jeremiah's Lamentations 3:30: "He giveth to his smiter the cheek, He is filled with reproach." It means you are not to personally retaliate.

The command of an eye for an eye was the rule of only for the judicial system to dispense just punishment. It is sometimes misnamed the Law of Retaliation. But Mosaic justice implicitly was a system that forces you to not personally retaliate for injuries to yourself. The Mosaic law always contemplated you personally do not retaliate, but you leave it to the judicial authorities to handle. Otherwise you have brawls constantly that no one can figure out. As a result of the command against personal retaliation, this means that if you could have stopped the attack by stopping yourself from retaliating, and you retaliated anyway, then you are guilty for the next blow. 

However, the religious leaders taught it was OK to strike back in retaliation if you were struck. This is implicit in Jesus' command not to strike back. But the Pharisees misread the law of Retaliation in the Mosaic Law to authorize personal retaliation rather than leaving vengeance to the judicial officers. (There is allowance for family honor against a murderer, but that served a social purpose of not needing prisons for murderers for they had to flee to cities of refuge to avoid death.) Jesus was adeptly exposing once more the silly misreading of the Law that personal revenge was always proper.  However, to repeat, personal retaliation was impermissible under the Mosaic Law and Prophets; it was only judicially permissible. Besides preventing brawling, there was another reason why only the judicial authorities had the power to determine guilt of the instigator. You had to have proof from 2 witnesses agreeing. You and I are not permitted to be jury, judge and executioner.

Thus, Jesus telling you to turn the other cheek rather than retaliate (which in His day was sanctioned by religious authorities extending the judicial code to a personal right to retaliate) is the only justified view of what the Mosaic law contemplated.

Listen to Peter restate Jesus and it is more clear: "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:9.) It is obvious that you don't retaliate personally. It does not mean that judicial authorities should stop dispensing commensurate justice for wrongs done.

Hope that helped.