We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.
Let’s look into this further.
In the Old Testament, was it okay for the Jew to repay eye for eye and tooth for tooth? (Matthew 5:38-42)
“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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Remember first of all that Jesus is not fighting against or correcting the Law of Moses but correcting the hypocritical and carnal applications of the Law taught by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20). The Law would be fulfilled and nailed to the cross by Jesus, but He was not in this Sermon trying to correct or improve upon it.
In the Law of Moses, God made clear distinctions between murder, accidental death, self-defense, vengeance, capital punishment, etc. Not all killing was murder. But God did teach very plainly that the mindset that should guide His people is to love their neighbors and their enemies, and not to take vengeance for themselves.
The Law of Moses did say, “eye for and eye” and “tooth for tooth,” but in context God was teaching about how civil authorities were to administer punishment and fines for crimes. The Law of Moses in this case was not telling individuals that they could personally dole out retribution, but apparently that is how some, for carnal reasons, had applied it.
Notice the passage below. See the context of “eye for eye” was “as the judges determine.” It was the congregation as a community that administered punishment, not the individual (Leviticus 24:16-23).
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
This principle is very consistent with the New Testament. The Christian, just like the Jew, is not allowed to take vengeance, because that is God’s realm. Sometimes, many times, that punishment comes through the hands of civil authorities.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, Paul is quoting from I believe Deuteronomy 32:25).
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
You can see from these Scriptures, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to keep from retaliation. Vengeance was to be left up to God, and punishment was to be left up to the authorities. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.
More to come later..
Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1
Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2
Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3
Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 4