Answering Biblical ‘Contradictions’: Taking Eye For Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek
July 9, 2012 § 17 Comments
The Old Testament God requires “life for life, eye for eye” and the New Testament Jesus says to “turn the other cheek”. When would you take an eye for an eye and when would you turn the other cheek? That is two completely opposite reactions to a situation. How can these two contradictory commands come from the same God in the same Bible?
The passages in question:
God’s commands to the Israelites in Exodus 21:22-25: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38ff: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
In Exodus, God laid down the groundwork for civil law, including capital punishment. We are not strangers to this principle today. When a life is taken unjustly, the law may demand life. When you break something that belongs to someone else, you are expected to pay for its replacement. If you injure someone, you are expected to pay for the medical bills related to their recovery.
What Jesus was preaching was not a different approach to the same situation, but a different approach to a different situation. “Turn to them the other cheek also” is admonition against personal vengeance. When Jesus recalls Exodus 21, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye…’”, it’s clear that He understands some may be tempted toward revenge. Legal offenders are still accountable to the law of the land, but on a personal level, Jesus instructs us NOT to respond to insults and other offenses with the same sinful action.