Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Misused Verse #2

Hello Reader!

    Today we will be taking a look at Matt. 5:38-39 From the ESV it reads as such: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil, but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
    So first we take a look at the immediate context: Jesus is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon ever preached (If you don't believe me, read the sermon in Matthew 5 and then compare it to any and every one of your pastor's sermons (no offense to your pastor, but he ain't Jesus)), covering issues from blessing to sin, and how he came to fulfill the law. And finally he comes to the issue of retaliation in verse 38. At first glance, many people make the same mistake: Christians are to be pacifists, not striking anyone, and always loving their enemies (see v. 43-48). Now, do not get me wrong, not all of this is a mistake. As Christians we are called to love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us, but I believe these particular verses (38-39) are speaking only of revenge, not self-defense as many think. Taking a look at the surrounding context, we can now move on to historical context. Back in the day, a right handed person would slap another man with the back of his hand, on the receiving person's right cheek. This was a bad insult. Instead of replying with another insult, and escalating the situation, the person receiving the slap on the cheek should turn and offer the other cheek, causing the man to use the palm of his right hand which was not as bad of an insult. So instead of escalating the situation, the situation would diminish. Very interesting. Also, going partly off of other verses in the Bible and partly off of historical context, we know that Jesus was addressing three verses in the Old Testament that were often misinterpreted: Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. In all three of these verses, God is commanding the Israeli authorities to make the punishment fit the crime (eye for eye, tooth for tooth, fracture for fracture), and is thus both preventing the Hebrew judges from over-punishing a crime (stone him for knocking the tooth out), and under-punishing (apologize for breaking that man's leg) (neither of those examples are found in the Bible, I was just trying to think of a way to explain them.). Those OT passages were often misinterpreted to mean that it was open season for anyone wanting to take revenge, so instead of it being used only in the hands of the judges and other authorities, but now it was used by the people, apart from the law. So, by viewing the historical context, we can conclude that Jesus was addressing that issue, not banning self defense (Luke 22:36-38) or fleeing from evil (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59, 10:39; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). Also, sometimes the best way to love your enemies is to stop them from further attacking and injuring others ,thus bringing more charges against themselves in a court of law. Although there is no specific Bible verse that I can find where Jesus specifically states self-defense is ok, I hope that the verse in Luke where he tells people to buy swords is enough to convince you otherwise.
  So, your thoughts?




  1. As is so frequently the case, C.S. Lewis has some wise words on how "loving one's enemies" relates to cases when one may have to do an enemy violence. In this case, Lewis refers to the judge condemning a murderer to death or the soldier killing an enemy, but I think the broader point is applicable here. The full quote can be found at ( ), but I think these parts are especially relevant:

    "We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed."

    " Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves — to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not."

  2. CS Lewis was a very wise man, I had never heard he did anything on "loving one's enemies," but I'm not surprised he did.

  3. And upon seeing that it came from his book "Mere Christianity", then I am even more in need of hunting down a copy of that book and reading it...


If you are new to this blog, please read the rules of the blog and the mission of the blog pages. If you have read those, then please feel free to post away! You can find the mission of the blog in the archives for August 2011.