An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Sounds good? Not according to Matthew
But I (Jesus) say:
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 oppose the evil one. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other. And to the one wishing to sue you and take your shirt, give him also your coat. And whoever will force you to go one mile, go also a second mile. Do not turn away from the one asking you to give and the one wishing to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy”. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for the ones persecuting you, so that you may become sons of your father in heaven, for he makes his sun to rise upon evil and good and rains upon the just and unjust. For if you love the ones loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Do not even the gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In these passages Jesus is teaching that revenge is not acceptable. The first reason is because revenge, even the thought of it, causes you to sin. Revenge comes from the heart, but it is not love. God is love and we are to be like Him, therefore, we are to love. Not loving is committing sin in our heart. More importantly, revenge creates separation of the one you are revenging against and God. It does this by the witnessing of hate and also causing another to sin. If you only love those who will benefit you, then you are no better off than if you did not belong to God. Note that this love God calls you to does not require action from your loved ones or your enemies. It only requires action on your part. It is unconditional.
5.38 You have heard that it was said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
“You have heard that it was said” is generally translated to mean that “you have heard that people were told in the past”. As an impersonal passive form of “it was said” errethe can be construed as “people of the past said”, but in the New Testament, this type of passive introduces a divine utterance or a scriptural quotation. Therefore, this can be translated “You know that God said to your ancestors...” This is important because Jesus is showing that at one time God had a specific purpose for the laws he created. However, those purposes have since been lost to his people and have little meaning. They have been misused. Jesus has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law, by reiterating its original intent. It is not the acts of the law that are the law; it is the intent.
The law of “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is referenced in Exodus 21, regarding the treatment of slaves and personal injury. Its purpose was for the just compensation of equal value. It was Jewish law, but was also adopted by the surrounding communities and so became a cultural standard. Furthermore, it is the basis of modern legal compensation in the United States and other countries, so the message of Jesus is a contemporary one. There are many variations. For example, the Qur’an does not deny the right to fair compensation for injury, but encourages forgiveness and limitation on that compensation; accepting less than what is due. In the case of Jewish law, as laid out in Exodus 21, it may have also been for the purpose of making sure that the punishment fit the crime and was not over-exceeded. However, over time, the purpose of the law was lost to the Jewish people and they began using it as a defense to their legal claims.
Jesus first outlines the law in Exodus and therefore the law which was misused in the world. By doing so, he is explaining that we must sacrifice what is allowed and due us by law, not a partial sacrifice, a complete one. This sacrifice includes the right to punishment, retaliation and/or payment for injury or loss. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” no longer applies because it is misused and because Jesus is fulfilling the intent of the law, love. The perfection of love is complete self-sacrifice and cannot be misused.
5.39 But I say to you, do not oppose the evil one. But whoever hits you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other.
Mē antistēnai is the second aorist infinitive of negative anthstēmi, meaning do not oppose, do not resist, and the object of this is tō ponērō, the evil one. The legal context and parallels found in rabbinic sources may indicate that this is specific to a court of law and because of this, it is important that we are careful not to translate this to mean physical resistance but rather to translate it as not taking revenge upon the evil one. Tō ponērō is in the dative singular masculine neuter form of ponēros, evil, wrongful, malignant, make violent, wrong, wickedness. The evil one in this passage cannot mean the devil. This is evidenced in James 4:7 where Christians are directed to resist the devil.
Used as a noun, it means a bad person. One way of interpreting this passage is that you should not resist a bad person. However, following is ostis se rapizei, “whoever hits you”, referencing back to the evil one, so the reference may be to the act as being evil rather than the person. This reference to the evil acts that humans do to each other makes sense because God does not see us as evil beings but as beings who do evil. Tō ponērō is also restricted in the New Testament as the evil humans do against God and other humans.
Note that “whoever hits you on the right cheek” means an insult, not an act of violence. In the Near East, then and now, the worst insult that can be given to another is the back of the hand slapped against the right cheek. Though in 6.29, Luke may suggest a violent act. The words “hits you” should perhaps be translated “slaps you” to reflect the insult. However, in Western Civilization, “hits you” may be an appropriate interpretation for insult.
The message of 5:39 is simple and clear. Jesus wants us to go beyond our own desires of revenge and truly resist. In another other word, forgive. Forgiveness means letting go of the injury in the heart and that is symbolized by letting go emotionally and physically. Forgiveness is not as much for our benefit, though that is true, but more importantly, for the benefit of the one doing the evil act. Our demand to get what we think we justly deserve can have two major negative impacts. First, it can lead us to sin because in an emotional state, we will actually demand more than what is justly ours. Human nature and the history of the law prove that this is the case. Second, it can hinder the relationship between the one doing evil and God. This revenge, this judgment, would in essence be ineptly attempting to be God instead of being one his children. I think it is for this purpose that God reserves the right to judge. Matthew 13:49-50 confirms that final judgment will be separated out by God and those condemned according to His ways. Children do not know the ways of their fathers.
Finally, I cannot help but notice that one definition for tō ponērō is malignancy. This means that the issue at hand is severe and will become progressively worse. Jesus wants us to stop the spreading of this malignancy before it metastasizes.Our revenge not only directly affects the ones we aim it towards but others surrounding us as well. It is a cancer quickly spreading through the body of God’s people.
5.40 And to the one wishing to sue you and take your shirt, give him also your coat.
Jesus continues with the first of three examples and how to deal with each. Within each example lie basic human characteristics that can be applied on many levels. But here Jesus is speaking in terms of the law and what it provides.
At first glance, it seems like there would not be anything remarkable about the first sentence. If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, give him your coat as well. However, this is a little confusing without some historical background on Jewish dress. First of all, our idea of shirt is actually the Israelite’s coat and our coat is their cloak. The Israelites wore a coat (shirt) up against their skin and a cloak as their outer garment. Israelite law did not permit a cloak to be kept from its owner overnight. Therefore, a legal opponent could be awarded the shirt as just compensation.
Jesus is saying that if someone wants to sue you and takes your shirt; give him also your coat. Your coat is more valuable and is required for your survival. While doing this may make your opponent look bad in the eyes of the public, satisfaction in that would be a form of revenge. So, I think the purpose here is to realize that our survival does not depend on what we have or what is taken away from us but on God. That becomes the witness for others who attempt to destroy us.
But, there is another metaphorical meaning to Imation, coat, which is interesting. It means forgiveness, promised righteousness and belonging to the community of the redeemed. The character of God is that Jesus embraces all of humankind. Again, I think Jesus wants us to go one step further than required by the old law. We are to allow our opponent to take what he wishes and can by law. We are to forgive him, and accept him as God does for the promised righteousness and the belonging to the community of the redeemed. This is clearly not simply a reference to our own promised righteousness and belonging to the community of the redeemed for our works of forgiveness. It is for the righteousness of our opponent.
It is important here to remind ourselves of a few things. First, what we consider evil is not always God’s idea of evil. Sometimes our concept of evil is based on our own cultures, experiences and emotions. The second is that whether we believe that we have been justly or unjustly treated makes no difference. Once there has been a ruling by a court against us, we are to accept that ruling by paying the consequences and by actually going beyond that payment. Third, note that Jesus says we are to do this when someone wants to sue. This would show that Jesus wants us to attempt to reconcile problems as they arrive. This prevents matters from escalating to the point of desiring revenge in the first place, which is what happens when disputes are not quickly resolved. Basically, Jesus is telling us to practice preventative medicine.
Finally, note that Jesus makes no distinction between whether we are right or wrong in the situation when it comes to revenge. However, this passage does not imply that we should not stand for principals of righteousness; but when we must stand, we are to do so without the intent of revenge. We must decide what to stand for and never lose sight of that reason.
5.41 And whoever will force you to go one mile, go also a second mile.
The second example Jesus uses to make his point is when Jesus says that “whoever will force you to go one mile, go also a second”. “Force you to go” or aggarusei is the third person singular future tense of aggareoō, meaning a courier or messenger who has authority to press into his servicemen, horses, etc., and is applied as in to press or compel another to go somewhere or carry some burden. One mile was as far as a Roman soldier could by law force a Jew to carry his equipment. God is requiring that we go twice as far as we are forced to go. We are to go the extra mile and carry the burdens of others, even those who force us to do so. By doing this, others will see the unselfishness of our acts, our resilience and will realize our knowledge that our survival is not dependent upon ourselves or others but upon God.
I must add here that we do not know the heart of our oppressor and what makes him oppress. But carrying his burden may have affects that we are not aware of but God is.
5.42 Do not turn away from the one asking you to give and the one wishing to borrow from you.
Finally, Jesus gives the example, stating “do not turn away from the one asking you to give and the one wishing to borrow from you”.
“Asking” aitunti is the dative singular masculine present active participle of aiteō and means to ask, request, demand, desire, and petition for one’s self. The active form has no special nuances except in Matthew 5:42 and implies demanding or asking for something unpleasant or which makes the other feel unpleasant and a possible translation is accost. We are to be like God and do as He does. God loves us and our requests do not go unanswered. We get what we need. We are to give what is needed. To give as God gives suggests a certainty, a faith in God’s goodness and care for us. Refusing to do so would suggest doubt and unfaith in God.
The meaning of aitunti in its active form means request. In its middle form it is a demand, typically of religious application or financial, ethical or account of someone. In the active form of this verse, there is a possible wavering of meaning between it and Luke 6:30, though there is no striking distinction between the two. Many distinctions outlined by older grammarians as well as recent exegetes are not supported by any source. However, it appears that the middle form seems to be of commercial or official relationships in the New Testament, noting that this was also the case in the LXX regarding dowries, inheritance, conditions of alliances and gifts of hosts.
In its religious use, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the active and middle forms of aitunti. The one exception is James 4:2, where there is a distinction between praying with lips and praying with the heart, but the balance of the New Testament does not support this distinction.
Jesus used aiteō only for the prayers of others, not his own. Yet Martha in John 11:22 applies aitein to Jesus. Aiteō is not a humble demand and is presupposed as a lesser degree of intimacy than erōtaō. Jesus never demanded.Jesus used erōtaō in his prayers to God as did the disciples to Jesus. But the disciples use erōtaō when asking of Jesus and aiteō when asking of God, except in Mark 10:35 where aiteō is used as a request of the disciples to Jesus. This also occurs in John 14:13 wherein there a real prayer to Jesus in analogy of a prayer to God. So, it seems like these words of request are based on relationship as well as the depth of the request, Aiteō for a more formal relationship and erōtaō for a more intimate one.
This indicates that Jesus is not speaking of “the ones asking and borrowing” as only applying to those you are intimate with but also to those on a formal basis. This formality can be either a business or a nonpersonal formality of asking, i.e., strangers and enemies. It does not require trust in God or people to lend to those you are intimate with. Whether they pay you back or not, makes little difference because it was done out of the love of those people. It does take trust in God to lend to those on a formal basis. It is about building relationships. Making formal ones more intimate. This must be done without judgment on them. Examples of judgment include trying to make sure their business will succeed so that you get your return or giving to the man on the street but only if he will buy food and not alcohol. Jesus is not stating that we are to determine the worth of giving before we give. Rather we are to “not turn away” and give regardless of our judgment of the worth of our giving or the worth of the recipient. God is the judge and he knows the hearts of those asking. If anyone asks us to give or if anyone asks to borrow, we are not to turn them away. If we turn them away, we do not know what plan of God’s we have thwarted. It is that simple.
5.43-44 You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy”. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for the ones persecuting you,
This passage is extraordinarily important in that “you shall love” Agapeseis is an imperative. This means that when it was originally told by God to the Jewish ancestors, it was an implied command. But now, Jesus says that they should love their enemies and pray for the ones persecuting them. This change on such a command shows the importance of what Jesus is saying. The phrase “But I say to you” first appears in Matthew 5.21. The “I” stands in an emphatic position and places the authority of Jesus parallel with the hidden name of God in the phrase “you have heard that it was said”. This gives Jesus the authority to expand the intent of this command.
But what is interesting is that “hate your enemy” cannot be found as a quotation and is not an interpretation of Jewish ethics. The command is not specific in the Old Testament but there are several passages that permit and encourage hatred and revenge towards an enemy. This could also indicate that the words of Jesus reflected the culture of that day. Later manuscripts enrich the text by adding clauses from the parallel account in Luke 6:27-28. There are clauses such as “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” but these are not in early manuscripts of Alexandrian (codex B), Western (it (k) Irenaeus Latin Cyprian and Eastern (Egyptian Coptic (sa, bo). The additions come in different places in different manuscripts and do not agree in wording so suggests that they are in later scribal additions.
The verb “to pray” proseuchesthe must be taken in the context of the passage. In this case, it means to “ask God to bless” or “pray to God to help”. Both of which are dependent upon each other in this context.
The use of the word “persecuting” diōkontōn leads some scholars to believe that Matthew was thinking of the disciples going through persecution. It is generally referred to as religious persecution. It means to expel, and privilege. Interestingly, it also means to the one hunted or feeling hunted. This opens the door to a new level of understanding that perhaps at times we persecute ourselves and feel hunted when we do not accept God’s love and who we are in Christ. In this passage, it could mean “those who cause you to suffer”, “who harm you” or “who mistreat you”.
There are two key words that form this passage, “neighbor” plēsion, and “enemy” echthrus. To fully understand the intent of Jesus, we have to examine the meanings of each of those words.
Plēsion as the adverb form of pelas and in this case refers to friendly neighbor. It adapts the wider meaning of the Old Testament and the LXX, every form of near (close) relationship. Also in the Old Testament pelas means fellow humans, a covenant community.
Echthrus is the accusative of echthros, meaning the hated, hateful, opponent, original opponent in trial. The root antidikos in the LXX meant regarding both the opposition in war and on a personal level. In the New Testament, echthrus takes first the personal meaning. See Matthew 22:44, 5:25. Another definition is hostility, irrespective of the underlying disposition or of its manifestations of an otherwise visible form.
The emphasis of each of these words is not the distinction between neighbor and enemy but on relationships. It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament, gentiles are referred to as polemos during war and polemioi during peace. In addition the word for “enemy” echthron means hostility, irrespective of the underlying disposition or of its manifestation to an otherwise visible form”. Neighbors and enemies come and go. Peace and war comes and goes. These are changeable in world. Josephus reports that the Essenes swear to hate the unrighteous and support the just. But that is not the intent of this passage. God is saying that even your enemies, the ones hating you or that you hate; those who persecute you; yourself; and your friendly neighbors, the ones near you, should be given the same consideration of love and prayer. This would confirm the above, where Jesus is teaching there are no evil ones, but evil acts.
5.45 so that you may become sons of your father in heaven, for he makes his sun to rise upon evil and good and rains upon the just and unjust.
This passage confirms Jesus’ message to this point. That is, to be sons of our father in heaven, we must be like Him. His character of love is passed down as our inheritance and as such, we should accept our inheritance by reflecting his love. To do so will show to all that we are children of God. Opōs genesthe, “so that you may become” does not mean that that we may become sons of God by doing these actions. We do not gain salvation by our deeds. Again, it means that we accept our inheritance and claim full rights to live by his character. And by doing so, we stay completely dependent on God as his children for survival. As the father, he makes his sun rise upon both evil and good and He rains upon the just and unjust
The word just, dikaiys (sp) is the accusative of dikē, meaning innocent, upright, and pious. This implies that God as the father treats the innocent and the guilty the same. He uses the same standards of measure and judgments for both. In other words, we are no better than the ones doing evil against us. The righteousness is determined by God not by our actions. This is because he knows the hearts of his children. He loves his children the same and we are all his children even if we haven’t accepted that yet.
5.46 For if you love the ones loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
Telōnai, tax collectors, were considered greedy, unfair, hated and considered unclean because they had contact with gentiles and broke the Sabbath. They were linked with sinners, pagans, prostitutes, extortioners, imposters and adulterers.
In later manuscripts followed by textus receptus, telōnai (tax collectors) appears to have been substituted for ethnichoi (gentiles/pagans) in order to bring the statement parallel with preceding sentence. The Armenian version combines the reading telōnai with form in Luke 6:32-34 to read telōnai kai oi amartōloi (tax collectors and sinners)
Regardless, the one thing that these groups all have in common is the desire to love out of selfishness. They love what benefits them and only who will benefit them. The example here is that they love only those who love them. The act of loving only those who love you is something that you can do without God. Jesus is calling us into a familial relationship with God.
The rhetorical question of “what reward do you have” can also be read as “why should God give you a reward”. The reward Jesus speaks of does not come from our actions or deeds but as a gift from God. He chooses who he will reward and who he will not. While rewards are given according to God’s grace, Jesus is saying that we should not expect a reward from God for loving those who love us. Loving only those who love us is a self-centered act and therefore, we have received our own reward, which is not as grand as the one God would wish to give us. If we cannot recognize that his rewards are greater than the ones we create ourselves and act accordingly, then we are not truly faithful and have not accepted our inheritance. And, quite frankly, we get what we deserve.
5.47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Do not even the gentiles do the same?
Ethnikoi in the Old Testament referenced to a nation of people, heathens, pagans, gentiles. In essence, anyone not of the chosen people. Note that though gentiles were actual neighbors, laos “people” was not used. This word is clear in the Old Testament to mean the ones opposite to those who fulfill the law. This is clearly not directed at gentiles as a people but at those who do not fulfill the law. If the law is love, as I have shown above, Jesus is stating that even those who do not love will greet their brothers and sisters.
This is effective because the Jews understood the relationships of brother and neighbor and that the love of both were equal and synonymous, having no limits by their nature. The LXX. It is interesting that there is little difference then in plesion and Adelphoi in covenant relationship and disposition in lists of virtues.
It is not by coincidence that Jesus uses both tax collectors and gentiles in these two 5.46 and 5.47. Tax collectors and gentiles (sinners in this context) do not belong to the community. They have separated themselves from God’s people. Yet, they are able to accomplish the basics for personal gratification. Remember that the ultimate teaching Jesus has in verses 38-48 is love through sacrifice.
5.48 Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Perfect” teleioi means to be in some form of character, without shortcoming in respect of a certain character. The immediate use does not imply that we can obtain the perfection of God in the omnipotent sense. The word perfect here means that we should be without shortcoming in respect to the standard that God has set regarding this particular aspect of our character. In other words, by sacrificing ourselves through forgiving, loving, and giving we are doing exactly what God wants us to do and therefore, we are in his perfect will.
As a verb, “perfect” is expressing action completed prior to a fixed point of reference of time. We have the essential elements to be perfect. We have the skills and talents and heart necessary to show God’s perfection. We just have to use them and do it. As an adjective, “perfect” means to be whole and without blemish. This means we are to do these things God requires of us all the time, without thought, without question, in the character of God.
Finally, “Perfect” means to end, conclusion, close, goal, and complete the turning point of one stage to another. To be perfect means that we are no longer imperfect. It means sacrifices to bring people nearer to God. Pluto equates perfect with “good” agathos. We are not to struggle for perfection but receive the wholeness of God by staying in his will. We should sacrifice without thought. It should be our nature.
Revenge is the main example of unacceptable behavior in 5.38-48. But is it the symptom, not the disease. Revenge leads you and others to sin and separates each from God. It destroys our faith in God. Revenge confuses the acts of people with the people themselves, misleading our behavior even further. It removes us from our place as God’s children and attempts to satisfy our need to be God. Yet, it satisfies no other needs for ourselves or others.
No one is our true enemy. They are our brothers and sisters through God and we should pray for them. It does not matter who is right or who is wrong, but we should seek righteousness.
Finally, to sacrifice ourselves and our own desires in order to love unconditionally is to accept our inheritance as children of God, and then we will lack for nothing.
 Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 134;  Matthew 5.17; Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 152;  Ibid.; Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980) VI, 561;  Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2000) 484; Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 153;  Ibid. 154;  Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2000) 270;  Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 154;  Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2000) 23;  Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980)1, 191; Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2000) 484; Ibid.; Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 135; Ibid. 156;Roger L. Omanson, A Textual guide To The Greek New Testament, An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2006) 6; Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980) II, 229; Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 157; Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International dictionary of New Testament Theology, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2000) 472; Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980) II, 811;Ibid.;Ibid.;  Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980) VIII, 101; Roger L. Omanson, A Textual guide To The Greek New Testament, An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2006) 6; Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Translator’s Handbook On The Gospel of Matthew, (London, New York, Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1988) 159;Gerhard Kittle; Gerhard Friedrich; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980) II, 369; Ibid. 145; Ibid. VIII, 73.