Posted by: sean | September 19, 2007

Matthew 5.38-42 (2)

by Peter Leithart

“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 an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

According to many translations, Jesus instructs his disciples, “do not resist him who is evil”
(Matthew 5:39, NASB). This is mistaken. What Jesus says is “do not resist by evil means.”
Jesus resisted evil, but he resisted evil by doing good. He calls us to the same kind of resistance.

Jesus quotes from the Old Testament lex talionis, the “law of retribution” (v. 38; cf. Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20). He doesn’t dismiss it so much as suggest a paradoxical fulfillment of this law.  A slap on the right cheek is a backhanded slap, an insulting slap rather than a danger to life and limb. Instead of carrying out retribution by returning a slap for a slap, Jesus calls his disciples to bear the burden of retribution and offer to receive a second slap. The “double restitution” comes back on the disciple, who bears the punishment on behalf of the one who assaults him. Just like Jesus.

Many have taken these instructions to be about “non-resistance,” but that’s inaccurate. Jesus is not telling us to “take it,” glowering resentfully as we get beaten to a pulp. Jesus is teaching a form of resistance, but a form of resistance in which good triumphs over evil. Instead of perpetuating insults and blows, Jesus teaches his disciples to act in a surprising way that brings an end to the cycle. Following these instructions also, subtly, restores the dignity of the person under assault. Instead of being a victim of an unwanted blow, the disciple takes initiative into his own hands – he offers his cheek, he removes his undershirt, he goes a second mile, he gives to whoever demands (vv. 40-42). In doing so, he exposes the bully for the brute that he is, turning the tables in a way that brings shame on the oppressor. Slapping might make the slapper look virile. Slapping someone who’s willing to be slapped makes the slapper look cruel (think of the attack dogs of the Civil Rights Movement).

Jesus challenges the perversion of loving only those who love you (vv. 46-47). We are to love those near to us (cf. Galatians 6:10), but if our love is restricted by blood, race, kinship, church membership, or whatever, it is no better than the love of Gentiles and tax-collectors. It is not the righteous love that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.

by Peter Leithart



  1. I have a doubt in the bible it says ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.
    but if we follow the complete instructions from bible, especialy the fruit of the spirit in Galations5.22
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
    long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
    5:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law, when You follow these instructions its is realy very difficult ,
    when you trust in God he blesses abundently ,
    but the strangers come up in the night & attack so what to do do we need to still behold, or do we need to ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH. so please give me a solution

  2. Anil,

    “please give me a solution” is the question we are asked most frequently. This discussion might prove fruitful for you: ( )

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