Pearls of the Word

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An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist [anthistemi] an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:38-39).

Jesus refers to three passages from the Torah:

  • "If men fight and any harm follows, then you shall give eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Exodus 21:22-24),

  • "If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbour, as he has done, so shall it be done to him: eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Leviticus 24:19-20),

  • "If the witness is a false witness, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother. Your eye shall not pity: eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Deuteronomy 19:17-21).

In these three cases, there are voluntary acts. Inflicting the same injury as the one done to the neighbour, allowed to put away the evil from among the people (Deuteronomy 19:19). But Jesus goes further, he said not to resist [anthistemi] the wicked. The Greek verb anthistemi means 'to stand in front of', 'to oppose', 'to stand up', 'to resist'. So it is not "turning the other cheek" that disarms the wicked, but "not standing up to him".