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Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man"

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"EYE FOR AN EYE" VS "TURN THE OTHER CHEEK": THE REAL MEANING


an eye for an eye picture man covering his eye

The idea of turning the other cheek really seems to have cemented itself as a key principle of Christianity. It appears to be the default setting for every Christian. I was speaking to a friend who told me that he met a woman while he was working who told him that Christians should turn the other cheek, not retaliate and follow Jesus…


This lady is clearly a person that grew up with traditional unchallenged ideas and beliefs of Christianity. What I mean by that is that there are sets of principles and ideas in christianity that are never questioned and just presumed to be true, here are a few: 


  1. The picture we see of Christ is actually Christ

  2. Turn the other cheek regardless of what’s happening to you.

  3. Old testament is done away with 

  4. Jesus is God


I won't be discussing all these topics because the topic here is the “an eye for an eye” verse in Exodus and the most updated paraphrase “turn the other cheek”. At the end of this article you will come away with the truth about both of these commands. 


An Eye for an Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth Bible Verse


First let’s look at where the term “an eye for an eye” comes from:


Exodus 21:23-25


23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Here we see the Most High setting out laws for Israel. This law sets out the punishment for damage or losses that a person could experience in different situations. The Most serious being the killing or murder of a person. Here we are told that if a person is killed or murder by another they also are to be killed. 


Likewise if a person suffers damage by another person such as the loss of an eye, tooth, hand, burning, wound or being struck, the same was to be done in return. 


I say “was”, because this is the law that Israel was supposed to enforce when they were governing themselves. 


If you have ever wondered why some might say an “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth”, it’s because this is a partial quote of verse 24 (Exodus 21:24).


The Meaning of An Eye for an Eye


The exact meaning for an eye for an eye is basically like for like. So whatever thing was done to you, you were allowed to do the same thing back. 


Today we have a fulfilled commandment from Christ as he tells us not too retaliate when an injustice is done to us.


Matthew 5:38-40


38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

The question is does this mean we let people slap and punch or beat us up? Some Christians actually interpret it that way, but if we look at Christ's words, we can see Christ use the word “law” in verse 40, which told Israel that there was a change in the authority of the law. 


At the time Christ arrived the Israelites were living under Roman rule, even though they still had their own court systems. So Christ was preparing them for this change in authority. Without Christ’s fulfillment of this law an Israelite would have been justified if they retaliated for a crime committed against them. 


But we have to ask ourselves what would be the outcome of this today and even during Roman rule? The answer is clear, the person retaliating would be arrested or imprisoned under Roman Gentile.


We know Christ is fulfilling the law because Christ encourages his disciples to buy a sword. If Christ was totally opposed to retaliation or violence he would have never mentioned this.


Luke 22:35-39


35 And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.
36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.

This is all in keeping with other scriptures too, because in Ecclesiastes we are told that there is a time and purpose for all things:


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Above we see that it agree that everything is done in its right time, that includes:


“A time to kill, a time to heal”

“A time of war, a time of peace”

“A time to love, a time to hate”


We know Christ came to fulfill the law and that on his return there will be judgment, so the idea that turning the other cheek has anything to do with allowing a person to hit you no matter the situation is ludicrous. 


An eye for eye is clearly a principle that the Most High agrees with, we just know now that the Israelites government is not in power, due to God's prophecy and the different kingdoms he has allowed to rule because of Israel's disobedience you can read more about this here, so these principles are unable to be applied. 


This explains why Christ had to explain to Israel that they no longer would have the authority to implement their old law of “an eye for eye”


"Turn the other Cheek" Misunderstood


Now let’s look at the scripture that tell us to turn the other cheek, which is greatly misunderstood. 


What does the Bible say about turning the other cheek? Below you can see the scriptures that address this question and what they were really talking about. I will use the KJV and the Amplified versions of the bible to give you a better understanding of what “turn the other cheek actually means”.


Matthew 5:38-40 (KJV)


38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

Matthew 5:38-40 (Amplified) 


38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth [punishment that fits the offense].’ 
39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person [who insults you or violates your rights]; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other toward him also [simply ignore insignificant insults or trivial losses and do not bother to retaliate—maintain your dignity, your self-respect, your poise]. 
40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also [for the Lord repays the offender].

We can see that the whole premise of an “eye for an eye” is to give just punishment for offenses that were committed (Matthew 5:38, Amplified). In most cases like for like. 


When we read verse 39 the Amplified gives us greater elaboration on what is meant by letting someone slap you on the cheek. As I explained prior, the meaning of turning the other cheek is not intended in life and death matters, but more insignificant matters. I will add on to this the fact that Israel was no longer to rule, so the change in rulership would no longer accommodate God’s law. 


Today in the western world, in particular, you would be judged and most likely go to prison if you killed a person who killed one of your relatives, in such a case you would be considered a vigilante and charged for Murder, but under God’s law which was implemented by Israel life for life is righteous judgment. 


Did the Disciples Turn the Other Cheek?


There are “no turn the other cheek” examples but we can see the temperament that the disciples had when Christ was being taken by the Roman soldiers, and they did not turn the other cheek Peter in particular was ready to fight to prevent Christ being taken by the Roman soldiers. 


John 18:10-11


10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 
11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword [back] in its sheath! Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

What we can take from Peter's conduct is that it is clearly natural to defend yourself from your enemies when they set upon you. The only reason Christ told Peter to put away his sword was because it was a prophecy for him to be taken. So we see that the bible clearly teaches us that there is a time and place to defend ourselves. 


As explained prior there is time for every purpose, which is not all the time (Ecclesiastes 3:1).


Conclusion


The aim of the article is to present a proper understanding of “An eye for an eye” and the phrase “Turn the other cheek”. 


You should now know that “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24) is a law that Israel used to adhere to where serious and not so serious actions inflicted on other people were in most cases met with the same equivalent punishment. 


The scriptures sum this up more clearly here:


Exodus 21:23-25


23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

In meaning of “turn the other cheek” is the fulfillment by Christ of Israel's old law of “an eye for an eye”. Unfortunately most Christians that read this scripture, wrongly believe turning the other cheek has something to do with non retaliation no matter the circumstance. 


The implications of the inaccurate interpretation of these scriptures mean that many Christians actually believe that they should be subject to unjust persecutions…


So in short the scriptures are not opposed to self defense or retaliation.


Everybody knows that If children are bullying your child at school and they don’t hit back they will be forever bullied. Allowing them to keep beating on your children would not solve the problem.


The point is “turn the other cheek” is Christ addressing Israel's law, because he knows that the last phase of the faith involves the gentile rule, which does not follow the laws that God set out for Israel. 


Luke 21:24


24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

As mentioned in this article if we exacted Israelite law of “an eye for eye”, we would all be locked up.


Shalom, and share this with someone that needs it. 


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