An Eye for An Eye?

February 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Many scholars agree that Matthew 5:38-41 has a tragic history of poor translations and even worse interpretations.  Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (5:38-39).  First, the translation, “Do not resist an evil person” fails to convey the full meaning of the original Greek text.  It would be better translated as “Do not violently resist an evildoer.”  Therefore, Jesus is not recommending becoming a doormat or that something like domestic violence should be tolerated.  The first two of Jesus’ three examples help explain this when we understand them in the context of the society in which Jesus taught them.  Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek… wants to sue you…” (5:39-40).  Jesus’ listeners would have known the “someone” he refers to could not have been everybody.  Because slapping on the right cheek was done by masters to their slaves (this is not about random fighting between friends or enemies), and suing someone else was about the privileged abusing the poor (peasants did not sue one another).  Jesus’ recommendation to not resist these abuses is therefore a recommendation of how to publicly shame and mock an evildoer by not responding with similar power of violence.  We too have the challenge not to respond to others according to laws of abuse and violence, but by illustrating the power of God’s love as we know it through the life of Jesus Christ crucified.

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