What Does It Mean To
"TURN the OTHER CHEEK"?
self-defense biblical? Why did Stephen PRAY FOR his enemies
who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60)? Why didn't Paul or Christ RESIST
when both were slapped across the face (John 18:23; Acts 23:2)? Why should
servants (or employees) BE SUBJECT to overbearing masters
(or bosses) by enduring unjust punishment (1 Pet. 2:18-20)? Doesn't
a Christian become an ACCOMPLICE when he BLESSES those who
persecute him (Rom.12:14) and DOES GOOD to those who hate
him (Matt.5:44) and lets himself BE DEFRAUDED rather than
pressing charges in court (1 Cor.6:7)? Is "an eye for an eye"
These questions deserve answers. APPEASEMENT to evil men merely brings more aggression. It always has and always will. APPEASEMENT tends to reinforce the rewards of evil behavior as well as cause everyone to LOSE RESPECT for the one doing the APPEASING. If a Christian lets himself be TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF and ABUSED and becomes a WEAKLING and DOORMAT, he is contributing to crime. And yet Christ himself said "RESIST NOT EVIL, but whosoever shall SMITE THEE on thy right cheek, TURN TO HIM THE OTHER also."
What Did Christ Mean?
What did Christ actually mean? When we look beneath the surface, we find that Christ was actually speaking in a rather NARROW CONTEXT. He was reacting to the scribes and Pharisees who taught the people to TAKE THE LAW INTO THEIR OWN HANDS and AVENGE THEIR OWN WRONGS instead of confining it to the "JUDGES" as the Bible says (Deut.19:18-21). He was giving advice on how to "SAVE FACE" when being OPPRESSED by the GOVERNMENT or PERSECUTED by those IN AUTHORITY!
If resisting is UNLAWFUL and the enemy has a LEGAL RIGHT to take advantage of a Christian, the Christian should submit MORE than the enemy can LEGALLY REQUIRE in order to show that his submission is VOLUNTARY and not coerced through intimidation. The Christian puts himself in CONTROL of the situation and thereby TAKES AWAY the sweetness and satisfaction of SADISTIC REVENGE. He causes the one IN AUTHORITY to feel ASHAMED and REPENT!
Allow Yourself To Be Slapped?
A Christian is advised to submit to the KING (1 Pet.2:13) and to GOVERNORS (2:14) and to MASTERS (2:18) and to the GOVERNMENT as Christ did when persecuted (2:21) and to HUSBANDS in the case of wives (3:1). There is no command to submit to a spoiled brat, or to a common hoodlum or psychotic killer. Notice that the context of 1 Peter 2 and 3 is one of submitting to a LAWFUL COMMAND STRUCTURE. It is in this context that a Christian is to "Bless them who PERSECUTE you" (Rom.12:14) and "pray for them who DESPITEFULLY USE YOU and PERSECUTE YOU" (Matt.5:44).
Under normal circumstances, one man has no right to slap another. Paul said you SHOULDN'T "tolerate anyone who ORDERS YOU AROUND, or PREYS UPON YOU, or TAKES ADVANTAGE OF YOU, or PUTS ON AIRS OF SUPERIORITY, or STRIKES YOU IN THE FACE" (2 Cor.11:20; TEV, RSV, TCNT).
But Christ wasn't talking about a normal circumstance. He was talking about GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS who had the LEGAL RIGHT to slap, with the backs of their hands, the right cheeks of those subjects they deemed to be impertinent. This practice was sometimes used against innocent people. First Kings 22:24 states, "But Zedekiah (a religious leader) ... went near, and SMOTE MICAIAH (God's prophet) ON THE CHEEK, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the Eternal from me to speak unto thee?" John 18:22-23 states, "And when he (Jesus) had thus spoken, one of the OFFICERS who stood by STRUCK JESUS WITH THE PALM OF HIS HAND, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?" Acts 23:2-3 states, "And the high priest, Ananias, commanded them that stood by him (Paul) TO SMITE HIM ON THE MOUTH. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall (A white tomb with a dead man inside -- Matt.23:27. Sepulchers were whitened a month before the Passover, to warn off persons from contracting uncleanness -- Num.19:16); for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Even today we have POLICE BRUTALITY.
Letting the Bible interpret the Bible, the context is clearly GOVERNMENTAL OPPRESSION, not abuse from a backyard bully. If a Christian subject resists "the higher powers," he is resisting "the ordinance of God" (Rom.13:1-2). Besides, he would be overpowered and a worse punishment would befall him. If, on the other hand, he merely complies GRUDGINGLY as far as required, his persecutor will GLOAT at causing him pain. He hasn't overcome the evil with good (Rom.12:21).
With this as background, let's read Matthew 5:38-39 in its entirety and try to understand. Christ said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said,
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (The scribes and Pharisees taught the people to take the law into their OWN HANDS and AVENGE THEIR OWN WRONGS instead of confining it to the "JUDGES" as the Bible says (Deut.19:18-21). But I say unto you that ye resist not evil (when it means resisting the GOVERNMENT), but whosoever (in GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORITY) shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (submit MORE than he can LEGALLY REQUIRE).
Give Away Your Coat?
Christ gave several other examples of how to "SAVE FACE" and lead GOVERNMENT OPPRESSORS to repentance, but people misunderstand his teaching because they don't see the background or context of his remarks.
For instance, creditors had the RIGHT to take a debtor's shirt away during the business day as COLLATERAL for the debt, even if the debtor was conscientiously doing his best to repay the debt. This was to prevent the debtor from using his shirt as COLLATERAL for a SECOND loan, but it was returned after the shops closed. The law, which is found in Exodus 22:25-27, states, "If thou lend money to any of my people who is poor among you, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury (interest). If thou at all TAKE THY NEIGHBOR'S RAIMENT TO PLEDGE, thou shalt deliver it unto him by the time that the sun goeth down; for that is his covering only; it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? And it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious."
Christ said, "If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat (shirt), let him have thy cloak (coat) also" (submit MORE than he can LEGALLY REQUIRE). The court has ruled in his favor. Therefore, to resist by refusing to hand over one's shirt is disobeying "the ordinance of God" and such resistance will be met with stricter measures. But if the Christian merely submits as far as required, he hasn't shown that his submission was VOLUNTARY and FREELY GIVEN. He appears to be complying GRUDGINGLY and UNWILLINGLY.
Walk The Second Mile?
Another example of PERSECUTION involved GOVERNMENT couriers and soldiers who had the RIGHT to require help from civilians in carrying their baggage one mile along the road. This practice may have been abused in countless ways. Possibly the BUSIEST, or MOST HANDICAPPED Jews, were selected at the MOST INCONVENIENT times for this forced Roman labor. Notice an example of this practice in Luke 23:26: "And as they led him (Christ) away, they LAID HOLD UPON one Simon, of Cyrene, COMING FROM THE COUNTRY, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it AFTER JESUS." No doubt this was intended to humiliate Simon.
If a Christian subject RESISTS these "higher powers," he is RESISTING "the ordinance of God" (Rom.13:1-2) which requires him to carry the baggage. This is duly constituted authority. Furthermore, he would suffer further humiliation and punishment for his rebellion. But if he just submits as far as required, he hasn't shown that his submission was VOLUNTARY and FREELY GIVEN. The more UNWILLING he appears, the more SATISFACTION his persecutor gets. Thus Epictetus advised, "If there is a requisition and a soldier seizes it (your ass), let it go. Do not resist or complain, otherwise you will be first beaten, and lose the ass after all" (iv.1.79). And Christ said these words, "And whosoever (in GOVERNMENT service) shall compel (a word of Persian origin meaning "to be a courier." See Herod.8:98) thee to go a mile, go with him two" (submit MORE than he can LEGALLY REQUIRE). Mark 15:21 uses the same Persian-derived word in regard to Simon of Cyrene's forced labor, proving that this indeed is the meaning Christ intended. Christ spoke these words in Capernaum -- a Roman garrison town. Today we have JURY DUTY, LICENSING REQUIREMENTS, and many TAX LAWS which pertain to this example.
"Give To Him That Asketh Thee?"
In the next example, Christ was referring to NEEDY BEGGARS who had a RIGHT to ask for, and expect, help from the community of Palestine in Christ's day. Some of these beggars, moved by necessity, TOOK ADVANTAGE of this RIGHT. As if to confirm this, Luke 6:30-35 records, "and of him that TAKETH AWAY THY GOODS ask them not again.... And if ye lend to them of whom YE HOPE TO RECEIVE, what thanks have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But LOVE YOUR ENEMIES and do good, and lend, HOPING FOR NOTHING AGAIN; and your reward shallbe great." But what is the context of these remarks? How could beggars have a LEGAL RIGHT to CHARITY? Deuteronomy 15:7-9 explains:
If there be among you a POOR MAN of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Eternal thy God giveth thee, thou shalt NOT HARDEN thine heart, NOR SHUT thine hand from thy POOR BROTHER; But thou shalt OPEN THINE HAND WIDE unto him, and shalt surely LEND HIM SUFFICIENT for his NEED (not want), in that which he lacketh. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, THE SEVENTH YEAR, THE YEAR OF RELEASE, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy POOR BROTHER, and thou givest him nothing; and he cry unto the Eternal against thee, and it be SIN unto thee.
ALL DEBTS in Israel were CANCELLED OUT at the end of the SEVENTH YEAR (Deut.15:1-4). By using this welfare system of God, a BEGGAR could easily TAKE ADVANTAGE of his CREDITORS as the SEVENTH YEAR progressed. He could borrow money JUST BEFORE the Day of Atonement in the SEVENTH YEAR, letting on he intended to pay the money back BEFORE THE DEADLINE, then STALL till the deadline (Atonement) has passed. LEGALLY, the LENDER was at the MERCY of the BORROWER in this case.
If a Christian creditor RESISTS such THIEVERY by not lending anything, he DISOBEYS GOD'S LAW -- "the ordinance of God." He hasn't overcome evil with good (Rom.12:21). But because of the fact that BEGGARS were POWERLESS to enforce these welfare laws, many Israelites gave them nothing in spite of what God's law required. Thus, a Christian was NOT REQUIRED, in that sense, TO SUBMIT at all. To submit more than he is required, he only needs to give what the BEGGAR ASKS -- not TWICE AS MUCH as in the previous examples. This is Christ's advice: "Give to him that asketh thee (not to any "FOREIGNER" [unconverted man], but only to an Israelite brother (Christian), IN THE SEVENTH YEAR, to cover his NEED -- Deut.15:1-4), and from him that would borrow of thee (IN THE SEVENTH YEAR OUT OF NEED) turn not thou away (HE HAS NO POWER TO FORCE YOU)" (Matt.5:42). If the Christian is RELUCTANT to supply the need, the beggar can accuse him of ignoring God's law and GLOAT. But if the Christian WILLINGLY supplies the need, he "SAVES FACE" by denying the beggar any opportunity to GLOAT.
Of course, in different circumstances, we should HATE EVIL-DOERS (2 Chr.19:2; Jer.23:14;Ez.13:22; Matt.15:26; 2 John 11; Rev.2:2), follow "AN EYE FOR AN EYE" (Deut.19:21; Lev.24:20) and not give charity to the LAZY or IDLE (2 Thess.3:10).
"Endure Grief, Suffering Wrongfully"?
Another example of 'FACE-SAVING" submission can be found in the epistles. Notice especially the very important CONTEXT of this
First Peter 2:18-23 says, "Servants, BE SUBJECT to your masters WITH ALL FEAR (respect); not only to the good and gentle but also to the OVERBEARING. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God ENDURE GRIEF, SUFFERING WRONGFULLY. For what glory is it if, when ye are buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when YE DO WELL, AND SUFFER FOR IT, YE TAKE IT PATIENTLY (from your master), this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also SUFFERED for us, leaving us an EXAMPLE, that ye should FOLLOW HIS STEPS; Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; Who when he was reviled, REVILED NOT AGAIN ("made no retort" -- Moffatt); when he suffered, HE THREATENED NOT, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb ("SILENT" -- NASB) before his shearer, so OPENED HE NOT HIS MOUTH; In his humiliation JUSTICE WAS DENIED HIM" (KJV; RSV; Acts 8:32-33; Mark 15:3-5).
The law is not EQUAL RETALIATION when it comes to a MASTER-SLAVE relationship. Exodus 21:20-21 says, "if a man strikes his servant, or his maid with a staff, and he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. But if the victim is well after a day or two, HE SHALL NOT BE PUNISHED; FOR HE IS HIS PROPERTY" (Lamsa). If the injury is PERMANENT, the slave must be given his freedom as WORKER'S COMPENSATION (21:26-27). The slave is NOT allowed to injure his master to the same degree he himself was injured. We could extend this principle to EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE, PARENT-CHILD and even HUSBAND-WIFE relationships. Apparently God is telling us that RIGHTS are PROPORTIONAL to RESPONSIBILITIES. Along with greater RESPONSIBILITIES come greater RIGHTS. "Say not thou (no, not even in thine heart) I will recompense evil" (Pr.20:22).
The boss is the duly constituted authority even when he is unfair (Ex. 21:20-21, 26-27). If an employee ARGUES with his boss, he may end up being FIRED. If the employee merely SUBMITS RESENTFULLY, he hasn't gone above and beyond the required point of submission. But if he does as Peter said and takes abuse PATIENTLY and treats an unfair boss with RESPECT, he puts himself in CONTROL of the situation and thereby TAKES AWAY the sweetness and satisfaction of SADISTIC REVENGE. He causes the BOSS to feel ASHAMED and REPENT!
Of course, in different circumstances, it is right to OPEN OUR MOUTHS! The Bible teaches that "If your brother sins against you, REBUKE him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). "Thou shalt in any wise REBUKE thy neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him" (Lev.19:17; KJV; RSV). "ANSWER a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceits" (Pr.26:4). Jesus Christ was not always SILENT. In Matthew 23:13-33 he said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, HYPOCRITES ... Ye FOOLS ... Ye BLIND GUIDES ... For ye are like WHITED SEPULCHERS ... within ye are full of HYPOCRISY and INIQUITY ... Ye SERPENTS, ye GENERATION of VIPERS, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
"Lay Not This Sin To Their Charge"?
In the book of Acts we find another example of TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK. The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of Israel. Under Roman law, the Sanhedrin didn't have the right to carry out death sentences, even for such sins as blasphemy and idolatry. But under God's law, the Sanhedrin DID HAVE THE RIGHT to punish people with forty stripes (Deut.25:1-3). Felonies and major crimes, however, were originally Moses' jurisdiction (Ex.18:22; Deut.17:12). Later the Sanhedrin sat "in Moses' seat" (Matt.23:2) with power of life and death. Stephen was put to death by this body after false charges were laid against him.
Acts 16:11-13 says "they suborned men, who said, We have heard him (Stephen) speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council (Sanhedrin), And set up false witnesses, who said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law."
After Stephen gave a DEFENSE, they cast him out of the city " And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit. And he kneeled down, AND CRIED WITH A LOUD VOICE, LORD,LAY NOT THIS SIN TO THEIR CHARGE. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59-60).
Stephen's hands were undoubtedly TIED BEHIND HIS BACK and it would have been FUTILE for him to have tried to RESIST. If a Christian subject RESISTS these "higher powers," he is RESISTING "the ordinance of God" in the sense that "there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Rom.13:1-2). On the other hand, if Stephen had merely stood there SILENTLY as the rocks hit his head, he wouldn't have shown that his submission was VOLUNTARY, so he KNELT DOWN rather than STANDING or trying to RUN AWAY. Then he followed Christ's advice in Matthew 5:44: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies (when hating means fighting lawfully consistuted authority over you), bless them that curse you (when cursing means fighting lawfully consistuted authority over you), do good to them that hate you (when doing harm means fighting lawfully constituted authority over you) and PRAY FOR THEM WHO DESPITEFULLY USE YOU, AND PERSECUTE YOU (when praying against them means fighting lawfully constituted authority over you)." Anything less is merely REQUIRED submission.
Notice that Stephen didn't QUIETLY pray this "FACE-SAVING" prayer. That would have served no purpose. Instead he CRIED with a LOUD VOICE so his persecutors could hear and FEEL ASHAMED. Christ did the same thing in front of his executioners by saying OUT LOUD, "Father, FORGIVE THEM; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He didn't pray a SILENT prayer for his enemies as so many do today, who misunderstand the whole purpose of this kind of submission.
In different circumstances we find Christians DEFIANTLY praying AGAINST their ENEMIES just as David did in Psalm 35:1-6 where he said, "FIGHT AGAINST those who fight against me.... Let them BE CONFOUNDED and PUT TO SHAME ... let them BE TURNED BACK and BROUGHT TO CONFUSION ... Let them BE as CHAFF ... Let their way BE DARK and SLIPPERY" etcetera. "DESTROY thou them, O God" (Ps.5:10). "Let DEATH SEIZE upon them" (Ps.55:15; cp. 109:9). "BREAK thou the ARM of the wicked" (Ps.10:15). "SCATTER THEM ... BRING THEM DOWN ... CONSUME THEM IN WRATH" (Ps. 59; see also Ps.69, 79, 83, 94, & 140). "And David saith, Let their table be made a SNARE, and a TRAP, and a STUMBLING BLOCK, and a RECOMPENSE unto them" (Rom.11:9). Or as Zechariah said, "The Eternal look upon it (the evil), and REQUIRE it" (i.e. "avenge me") (2 Chr.24:22). We also read that Jeremiah was commanded by God to "PRAY NOT FOR this people" (Jer.7:16; 11:14; 14:11; cp.18:18-23) because their sins were so great. Or as Paul stated in 2 Timothy 4:14: "Alexander, the coppersmith, did me much evil; THE LORD REWARD HIM ACCORDING TO HIS WORKS," and in 1 Corinthians 16:22: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA MARANATHA (Literal Aramaic means "Let him be ACCURSED at Christ's coming")" (cp. Gal.1:8). Christian martyres in the middle ages are even pictured as praying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not JUDGE AND AVENGE OUR BLOOD ON THEM that dwell on the earth?" (Rev.6:10).
This is certainly NOT a BLESSING. The Old Testament, just like the New, forbids vengeance (Lev.19:17-18; Ps.7:4; Pr. 20:22) but prayers to God leave vengeance TO HIM and none of these saints retaliated themselves. David asks God for vindication (Ps.9:19; 83:16-17). When praying to God for vindication, a Christian should first make sure he is not just REAPING what he has SOWN by his own sins. Praying against another man when you are JUST AS GUILTY can have a boomerang effect. As you judge you shall be judged and God may do to you (a false witness) as you thought to do to your brother (Deut.19:19). Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Jeremiah asked God to defame his false accuser as he had thought to defame Jeremiah: "Let a wicked prosecutor bring him up on false charges and even let him be found guilty" (Ps.109:5-6). Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." But this doesn't mean that nobody can ever criticize or punish because "All have sinned" (Rom.3:23). On the contrary, some men have sinned much more than others. Coveting is not as serious as murder. Also, the sins of one man may have been compensated for while those of another man remain unpunished. When James and John wanted to "command fire to come down from heaven and consume" the Samaritans who had refused to rent them lodging for the night (Luke 9:52-56), Jesus rebuked his disciples because the Samaritans had the RIGHT to be selfish with THEIR OWN PROPERTY. But in the case of Elijah, 2 Kings 1:7-17, Elijah commanded fire to come down from heaven to PROTECT himself from harm. It was not the same kind of situation at all.
Allow Yourselves To Be Defrauded Rather Than Going To Court?
Many Christians REFUSE to GO TO COURT against evildoers, or to SUE FOR DAMAGES, thinking they are following Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. Paul says, "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? ... Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be
able to judge between his BRETHREN? But BROTHER goeth to law with BROTHER, and that before the unbelievers. Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another. Why do ye not rather TAKE WRONG? Why do ye not rather ALLOW YOURSELVES TO BE DEFRAUDED?"
The context is a disagreement between TWO CONVERTED CHRISTIANS. If they are both true believers in the Bible, the disagreement would not be very significant. Otherwise one of the parties is really NOT CONVERTED (Gal.5:10; Philip.3:15) because Christ's mind and spirit won't fight itself. Obviously MURDER, EXTORTION, KIDNAPPING and RAPE were not what Paul had in mind.
Christ said, "Agree with thine adversary quickly (SETTLE OUT OF COURT) ... lest at any time the adversary DELIVER thee to the judge, and the judge DELIVER thee to the officer, and THOU BE CAST INTO PRISON" (Matt.5:25). But Christ was talking about evildoers who have the LAW on their side, however UNFAIR the LAW may be. A Christian should TURN THE OTHER CHEEK rather than GO TO PRISON.
But in different circumstances Paul himself was brought to law "BEFORE THE UNJUST" on numerous occasions and DIDN'T HESITATE to DEFEND himself. He didn't "TAKE WRONG." Instead, he used the legal procedure of appealing 'UNTO CAESAR" -- the higher court at Rome which a Roman citizen had the RIGHT to appeal to (Acts 25:11). Paul didn't allow himself "TO BE DEFRAUDED" for a moment by Festus, but STOOD HIS GROUND legally, and WOULD NOT ALLOW himself to be tried in the Jerusalem courts (25:9-11). He DIVIDED HIS OPPOSITION on the supreme court of Israel by his SHREWD testimony in court (Acts 23:6). He exercised his RIGHTS of Roman citizenship to DEFEND himself before being bound and scourged (22:24-29) and thereby INTIMIDATED the officers who had bound him. On another occasion, he again REFUSED to "TAKE WRONG," but instead FORCED the magistrates to acknowledge his RIGHT as a Roman citizen to stay in their city of Philippi if he wanted to (Acts 16:35-40). Yes, Paul DEFENDED himself LEGALLY on many occasions (22:1; 23:1; 24:10-13; 25:8-12; Philip.1:7).
If Thine Enemy Hunger, Feed Him?
But "Christians" have been misled. They read statements like "Bless them who persecute you" and "if thine enemy hunger, feed him" (Rom.12:14,20) and don't realize that BOTH statements were made in the context of GOVERNMENT PERSECUTION. Both statements
prefixthe thirteenth chapter of Romans which concerns the subject of SUBMISSION TO LAWFUL GOVERNMENT. At the tail end of the twelfth chapter, Paul said, "Recompense to no man (in GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY OVER YOU) evil for evil ... So far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but, rather, give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy (in GOVERNMENT) hunger, feed him; if he (the GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL) thirst, give him drink; FOR IN SO DOING THOU SHALT HEAP COALS OF FIRE ("jealous love" -- Song 8:6; "purification" -- Isa.6:6-7) ON HIS HEAD. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (N. Sco. KJV; RSV). Then the thirteenth chapter begins with, "Let every soul be SUBJECTunto the HIGHER POWERS ... Whosoever, therefore, RESISTETH the POWER, RESISTETH the ORDINANCE of GOD" (Rom.13:1-2).
One of the little-known facts about Romans 12 is that it is quoted, in part, from Deuteronomy 32:35 which says "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense" and part from Proverbs 25:21-22 which
says, "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Eternal shall reward thee." (See also Lev.19:18). Therefore, this principle MUST NOT CONTRADICT other "Old Testament" principles teaching HATRED FOR EVIL-DOERS (2 Chr.19:2; Jer.23:14;Ez.13:22; Matt.15:26; 2 John 11; Rev.2:2) and "AN EYE FOR AN EYE" (Deut.19:21; Lev.24:20)! This is not some NEW teaching that Paul thought up for Christians. Other "Old Testament" principles must be COMPLEMENTARY! The admonitions to not pay back evil for evil are found throughout the Old Testament (Deut.32:35,43; Lev.19:18; 1 Sam.25:26,33; Ps.94:1-3; Pr.24:17-19,29; Ez.25:12; Na.1:2-3). This is proof they don't SUPERCEDE the principles of JUSTICE and SELF-DEFENSE and HATRED FOR EVIL which are also found throughout the Old Testament and even in the New Testament.
After all, the court judges and police ARE GOD'S MINISTERS (Rom.13:4) and so for a Christian to use the court system and police to obtain justice is actually GOD'S vengeance -- not MAN'S vengeance. They "do not carry swords for nothing" (Gspd) "for he is a MINISTER of GOD, an AVENGER for wrath to him that doeth evil" (ASV; Rom.13:4). As Deuteronomy 16:18 says, "Appoint yourselves JUDGES and POLICE for your tribes" (Living Torah; cp.1:15). If it is "EVIL" or "VENGEANCE" to use these officials, then the Bible contradicts itself. When earthly courts are so corrupt that a Christian cannot obtain justice, he should PRAY to God's COURT IN HEAVEN for JUSTICE! God is POWERFUL!
It is right to "love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy" (Matt.5:43) in certain circumstances since Abraham ARMED his trained servants and WENT TO WAR to liberate his nephew Lot (Gen.14:14-16). He didn't FEED these enemies or give them DRINKS. Joshua received from God specific instructions on how to make WAR against Jericho and exterminate "man, woman, and child" (Josh.5:13-6:27). David FOUGHT Goliath and CUT OFF HIS HEAD (1 Sam.17:1-54). Elijah "SLEW" the prophets of Baal (1 Ki.18:40). The Philistines even practiced a form of "GUN-CONTROL" by outlawing blacksmiths "Lest the Hebrews make themselves SWORDS or SPEARS" (1 Sam.13:19).
Christ DEFENDED his Father's house from "THIEVES" on at least two occasions by using "A SCOURGE OF SMALL CORDS" against them and forcefully overturning their tables and pouring out their money (Matt.21:12-13; John 2:14-16) and we should follow his example (1 Pet.2:21; 1 John 2:6). He didn't FEED these enemies or give them DRINKS either. As Tacitus said, "They (Jews) readily show compassion to their own countrymen, but they bear to all others the hatred of an enemy" (cp. 1 Thess.2:15-16).
Cheerfully Leaping Into Fire?
We find still more examples of "TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK" in the post-biblical time frame from the first century onward. Notice several examples:
Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, before he was beheaded by the government for not sacrificing to the gods of Rome, ordered his presbyters and deacons "To BESTOW FIVE AND TWENTY PIECES OF GOLD on the EXECUTIONER" (The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, vol.2, ch.16, p.109).
From the same chapter, pages 111 and 112, we read:
Some stories are related of the courage of martyres ... who EXASPERATED the fury of lions, PRESSED the executioner to HASTEN his office, CHEERFULLY LEAPED into fires which were kindled to con-
sume them, and discovered a SENSATION OF JOY AND PLEASURE in the midst of the most exquisite tortures.
From the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11thy edition, volume one, page 904, we read:
It was easier to burn Anabaptists than to refute their arguments, and contemporary writers were struck with the INTREPIDITY and NUMBER of their martyrs. Thus Stanislaus Hosius (1504-1579) ... wrote ... "They are FAR READIER than followers of Luther and Zwingli to MEET DEATH, and BEAR the HARSHEST TORTURES for their faith. For they RUN to SUFFER PUNISHMENTS, NO MATTER HOW HORRIBLE, AS IF TO A BANQUET."
These martyres knew that the more PERSECUTION they endured, the greater their REWARD would be. As Christ said, "Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad (when men persecute you -- v.11); for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt.5:12; Luke 6:23). These martyrs DEFEATED their enemies' attempts to hurt them by SUBMITTING MORE THAN REQUIRED.
But modern "Christians" have been misled. They are eager to help ALL their enemies rather than just those in authority over them. They love EVERY evil and wicked person they meet rather than just governmental officials. Then they think God is pleased. GOD IS NOT PLEASED! "Shouldest thou HELP the UNGODLY, and LOVE them who HATE THE ETERNAL? Therefore, there is WRATH UPON THEE from before the Eternal" (2 Chr. 19:2). God "HATEST all workers of iniquity" (Ps.5:5; 11:5). Only those who keep the commandments abide in his love (John 15:10; 14:21-23). Don't be a "partaker of his EVIL deeds" (2 John 11). As Tobit said, "Scatter your bread on the graves of the UPRIGHT, but do not give to SINNERS" (4:17). Or as Jeshua said, "Give to the GODLY man, and do not help the SINNER; Do kindness to the HUMBLE-MINDED, and do not give to the UNGODLY ... so that he may not come to control you with it" (Ecclesiasticus 12:5). We shouldn't "strengthen ... the hands of evildoers" (Jer.23:14; Ez.13:22). "It is not meet (right) to take the CHILDREN'S bread, and to cast it to the DOGS" (Matt.15:26).
Of course the Bible teaches that we must love our BROTHERS (1 John 2-4) and not be angry at them (Matt.5:22). The Bible also teaches thatwe must love our NEIGHBORS as ourselves (Matt.19:19). BUT WHO ARE OUR NEIGHBORS? WHO ARE OUR BROTHERS? Most "Christians" are deceived on these points. Christ said, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same is my BROTHER" (Matt.12:50). Nobody else. "Inasmuch as ye have done it (kindness)unto one of the least of these my BRETHREN, ye have done it unto me" (Matt.25:40). Even personal enemies can be BROTHERS if both obey the Bible (Ex.23:4-5; Pr.25:21). Luke 10:37 defines a "NEIGHBOR" as "He that showed mercy" (or "kindness" -- RSV) toward you. A neighbor doesn't have to be a Christian. Christ also defined a FRIEND! He said, "Ye are my FRIENDS, if ye do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). Not otherwise .
"Why do you wonder at my saying, that some rejoice in being burned, wounded, bound in chains, and slain; nay, that sometimes they have made it their choice?" (Seneca epist. 71)
Is "An Eye For An Eye" Abolished?
Did Jesus abolish Old Testament law? Did the Sermon on the Mount do away with "eye for eye"? No. "You have HEARD that it was SAID to the men of old" is not the same as "Moses WROTE" (Mark 10:3-5) or "Moses COMMANDED" (Matt.8:4) which we should expect if Jesus were discussing the WRITTEN law. "HEARD that it was SAID" points toward ORAL interpretation, not WRITTEN scripture. The interpretation is not itself discussed, but what Jesus presents as his own view is interpretation, not a new law. The rest of the terminology also points toward interpretation." "But I SAY to you" is similar to "Rabbi ELIEZER SAYS" this and "Rabbi JUDAH SAYS" that in the Mishnah. But Jesus "taught as ONE HAVING AUTHORITY and not as the scribes" (Matt.7:29). The verb "to say" in legal debate means "to interpret." "I" means Jesus is a worthy interpreter. The Sermon on the Mount doesn't do away with any laws, but instead concerns interpretation of those laws. "I have not come to abolish (the law and prophets) but to fulfill them" (5:17).
In none of the six examples Jesus gave did he abolish the older testament law. He endorsed all of them. Christ never ABOLISHED, but only MAGNIFIED, the Old Testament laws (Matt.5:17-20; Isa.42:21). The law said "Thou shalt not KILL" (Ex.20:13) and Christ added that "whosoever is ANGRY with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment" (Matt.5:22). The law said "Thou shalt not COMMIT ADULTERY" (Ex.20:14) and Christ added that "whosoever LOOKETH ON A WOMAN (or "wife") TO LUST AFTER HER hath committed adultery with her already" (Matt.5:28). The law said the husband must write his wife "a bill of divorcement" if he found SOME UNCLEANNESS IN HER (Deut.24:1) and Christ added that this uncleanness must be ONLY OF THE "PORNEA" VARIETY -- not any minor fault! The law said "ye shall not ... PROFANE THE NAME OF THY GOD" (Lev.19:12) and Christ added that a Christian should merely say "Yea" or "Nay" SO THERE ISN'T EVEN A CHANCE OF PROFANING GOD'S NAME.
In none of these four examples did Christ do away with the Old Testament law. ALL ARE STILL IN EFFECT! He merely added the full principle, spirit and intent to the letter of the law. So why do so many "Christians" think the fifth example of "An eye for an eye" (Ex.21:24) is somehow abolished? God is a God of JUSTICE (Job 34:12). WHY SHOULDN'T A CRIMINAL REAP WHAT HE SOWS? But just as Christ magnified the other four laws, so now he magnified this law too. Its purpose was to LIMIT REVENGE. But this law (like the others) didn't fulfill its purpose completely -- especially in cases of GOVERNMENTAL OPPRESSION where retaliation was impossible. So Christ addressed these special cases in order to destroy the root cause of REVENGE - - a victim's RESENTMENT. TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK works better than RETALIATION when dealing with the GOVERNMENT!
What Christ did abolish was the ORAL "tradition of the ELDERS" (Matt.15:2), the UNWRITTEN law. Christ is constrasting what has been "HEARD" and "SAID" by "them of OLD" (Matt.5:21,27.33, 38,43), with his own teaching -- the "JOT and TITTLE" WRITTEN by them of OLD (Matt.5:17-19). "But I say unto you" implies a CONTRAST, yet we know the older testament was CHRIST'S OWN WORDS and COULDN'T BE A CONTRAST. In Jewish writings the phrase "those of OLD" refers to the rabbis' comments about the law (the Halacha), not the law itself. For instance, Tanchuma 202a says, "A man should not say, I shall not keep the commandments of those of OLD because they do not belong to the Torah." In other words, scribal "TRADITION of the ELDERS" (Mark 7:5) (the Talmud), not the Torah! "Those of OLD" are "ELDERS" and things "SAID" are "TRADITION." The scribes and Pharisees" "bind HEAVY BURDENS and grievous to be borne" (Matt.23:2-4). They created a "YOKE of BONDAGE" (Gal.5:1) -- an UNBEARABLE "YOKE" (Acts 15:10) whereas Christ said "my YOKE is EASY and my BURDEN is LIGHT" (Matt.11:30). God's law is NOT "BURDENSOME" (1 John 5:3), but the hedge around God's law of RABBINIC ADDITIONS was. The talmud and Midrashim repeatedly appeal to the "WORDS of them of OLD." Scribes who propagated the ORAL traditions appealed for authority to what was SAID of OLD. What Jesus quotes as having been said does not correspond precisely with the older testament law -- but with some MISREPRESENTATION of it. This is proof Christ wasn't refuting Old Testament law.
Regarding murder, rabbinic tradition punished only the ACT of KILLING while Christ went to the root of being "ANGRY ... WITHOUT A CAUSE" (Matt.5:22) and abusive insulting language (Matt.5:22) without a cause This was the intent of the older testament law which said "do not devise evil in your hearts against one another" (Zech.7:10 & 8:17 NASV). But it is lawful to devise evil when there is a just cause (1 Ki.18:27; 22:15;2 Ki.6:19; Matt.23:17; Luke 24:25; 1 Cor.15:36; Gal.3:1). Christ got ANGRY against the scribes and Pharisees (Matt.23).
Regarding adultery, the scribes condemned only the overt ACT while Christ said that whosoever LOOKS at "a woman to lust after her hath committed ADULTERY with her in his heart" (Matt.5:28). The meaning of "WOMAN" here is "MARRIED WIFE" since that is the only way a man could commit "ADULTERY." If she were UNMARRIED it would be "SEX APPEAL." The Greek word "gune" can mean "woman" or "wife" depending on the context, and a man must necessarily "lust" after an UNMARRIED woman in order to be attracted to her. Only MARRIED women wore veils. Christ wasn't introducing a new standard of morality here. COVETING "thy neighbor's WIFE" had been in Exodus 20:17 all along. Proverbs 6:25 also said, "LUST NOT after her beauty."
Regarding divorce, the scribes and Pharisees alleged that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 taught PERMISSIVENESS concerning divorce. Christ corrected this liberal Hillel school of rabbinic interpretation by pointing out that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 refers only to "PORNEIA" The Pharisee Hillel permitted a man to divorce his wife for TALKING TOO LOUD, for POOR MEAL PREPARATION, or for NOT being AS BEAUTIFUL as another woman. Jesus didn't change the older testament teaching on divorce. He indicated in Matthew 19:3 that they should already know the proper ground for divorce. All of the following causes use the same Hebrew word for "UNCLEANNESS" as is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4: INCEST (Lev.18:6), RAPE (Gen.34:7), WHOREDOM (Ez.23:18), HOMOSEXUALITY (Gen.9:22), SEX DURING MENSTRUATION (Lev.18:19) or EXCREMENT (Deut.23:14), PUBLIC SEXUAL DISGRACE (Deut.25:3), PERVERSITY (1 Sam.20:30), and INSUBORDINATION (Ezra 4:14). In the LXX, "PORNEIA" is used for DISTRUST and MURMURING AGAINST GOD (Num.14:33), NO FEAR OF GOD (Isa.47:10), APOSTASY (Jer.2:20), IDOLATRY (Jer.3:9), and WITCHCRAFT (2 Ki.9:22). DESERTION also (1 Cor.7:15). Matthew 5:32 (cf.19:9) concerns the grounds for divorce, not punishment for adultery. "Fornication" being the only ground for divorce doesn't imply divorce is the only result of fornication. The death penalty is an option too.
Regarding swearing OATHS, the Pharisees taught that a SUBSTITUTION for God's name ("heaven," "head" or "earth") exempted one from the penalty of perjury. But Christ taught that YOUR WORD SHOULD BE SUFFICIENT by itself. The older testament nowhere commands oaths. Not for entrance into the armed services or government. Not during a marriage ceremony. Not before a judge in court. Not anywhere. But the Talmud Shebuoth mentions substitutes for God's name as alternatives when making an oath. Even casual conversation such as "By Jove," "By Giminy," "Dog Gonnit" and "Gee Whiz" have their origins in oaths and swearing and should be avoided. Christ didn't swear an oath in Matthew 26:63-64 and Paul didn't swear any oaths in Romans 1:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, Philippians 1:8 or 1 Thessalonians 2:5,10.
Regarding equal retaliation, the law of "tit for tat" is a good law! It deliberately LIMITS the amount of "vengeance" that can be taken, so the punishment fits the crime. This prevents "BLOOD FEUDS" and ESCALATING QUARRELS. The law also takes the power of punishing AWAY FROM THE PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL and puts it in the hands of an OBJECTIVE JUDGE. But the Pharisees appealed to the law of "an eye for an eye" (Lev.24:19-20) outside of its intended sphere. They taught taking justice into YOUR OWN HANDS rather than DEFERRING TO A JUDGE or POLICEMAN. In criminal law, there is still the principle of "an eye for an eye" except that when the GOVERNMENT is your persecutor, there is NO RECOURSE. A Christian is not to resist the JUDGE or POLICEMAN. As Paul makes clear in Romans 12:18, we are not to resist claims of those in LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY. Eye for eye is only for the judge to exercise. There is still the same need for justice as there was in the older testament, so Jesus didn't abolish justice and retaliation. By going to the cross for our sins, Jesus was confirming that "life for life" was still a valid concept since he took the punishment due us. Paul said to "Revenge not thyself" (Rom.12:19) against GOVERNMENT but appeal to the government to revenge you of your adversary (Luke 18:2). Punishment should fit the crime -- neither more nor less. " Adonibezek fled; and they ... caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adonibezek said three score and ten kings, having their thumbs and great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me" (Judges 1:6-7). The New Testament echoes this principle. "You reap what you sow" (Gal.6:7; Matt.7:2). The Jewish leaders had taught this precept as though God had given permission for each individual to TAKE THE LAW INTO HIS OWN HANDS and AVENGE HIS OWN WRONGS. Deuteronomy 19:18-21 teaches that it was the right of the "JUDGES" alone. The New Testament agrees. JUDGES are to be a "terror to the evil" (Rom.13:3). The MAGISTRATE is "the minister of God," not to encourage wickedness but to be an "avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Rom.13:4). Christ himself said of the JUDGE who refused to "avenge" the poor widow of her adversary that he was one "who feared not God neither regarded man" (Luke 18:2). Abigail told David to NOT TAKE VENGEANCE against Nabal with his OWN HAND but to let GOD do it because Nabal had NOT CONTRACTED with David to give him food in exchange for protection and it was Nabal's ranch and animals -- not David's. "Eye for eye" is only lawful if it was YOUR eye to begin with. Vengeance is lawful for any private individual against accidental homicide unless the killer flees to a city of refuge (Num.38) and in self-defense if a thief breaks into your house at night (Ex.22:2).
Regarding enemies, the Pharisees appealed to the law of not seeking "their peace nor their prosperity" (Deut.23:6) outside of its intended sphere. The implied Old Testament law was "Thou shalt LOVE thy NEIGHBOR and HATE thine ENEMY" (Lev.19:18; Deut.23:3-6; 2 Chr.19:2). Elijah "slew" the prophets of Baal (1 Ki.18:40). Elishah cursed his enemies (2 Kings 2:23-24). Certainly this is echoed in the New Testament (2 John 10-11; Acts 13:8-11). But in cases of GOVERNMENTAL OPPRESSION, LOVE works better than HATRED.
"You have HEARD that it was SAID by them Of Old"
(Matt.5:27-38) is not the same as "Moses WROTE" (Mark 10:3-5)
or "Moses COMMANDED" (Matt.8:4) which we should expect
if Jesus were discussing the WRITTEN law. "HEARD that
it was SAID" indicates ORAL interpretation, not WRITTEN scripture. "THEM of OLD" indicates the "TRADITION of the ELDERS" (Mark 7:5). The TALMUD not the TORAH!
The rest of the terminology also points toward interpretation. "But
I SAY unto you" (Matt.5:39) is similar to "Rabbi Eliezer
says" this and "Rabbi Judah says" that in the Mishnah. But
Jesus "taught as ONE HAVING AUTHORITY and not
as the scribes" (Matt.7:29). He quoted himself. He didn't abolish "an
eye for an eye." He just said it didn't apply to the situation the
rabbis were applying it to. But Paul said that under normal circumstances
you SHOULDN'T "tolerate anyone who ORDERS YOU AROUND, or PREYS UPON YOU, or TAKES ADVANTAGE OF YOU, or PUTS ON AIRS OF SUPERIORITY,
or STRIKES YOU IN THE FACE" (2 Cor.11:20).
In the Psalms, David PRAYED AGAINST his enemies (cp. 2 Tim.4:14;
Rev.6:10;1 Cor.16:22). Paul APPEALED "unto Caesar," the
high court (Acts 25:11) to defend himself. Christ used a SCOURGE against moneychangers. David CUT OFF Goliath's head (1 Sam.17:51)
and Elijah "SLEW" the prophets of Baal (1 Ki. 18:40).
Christ's words about turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, giving
away your cloak, loving, blessing and praying for your enemies must be understood
in the context of the GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS who had the LEGAL RIGHT to slap their subjects with the back of their hands (1 Ki.22:24;
John 18:22-23; Acts 23:2-3), CREDITORS who had the LEGAL RIGHT to take the debtor's shirt as pledge for a debt (Ex.22:25-27), GOVERNMENT COURIERS who had the LEGAL RIGHT to require civilian
help carrying burdens one mile (Luke 23:26) and POOR BEGGARS who had the LEGAL RIGHT to charity in the seventh year land
sabbath (Deut.15:7-9). Not criminals or hoodlums! A Christian should submit MORE than the enemy can LEGALLY REQUIRE in order to
show that his submission is VOLUNTARY and not COERCED through INTIMIDATION. The Christian thereby "SAVES FACE"
and puts himself in control of the situation. But God is not pleased when
Christians are KIND to CRIMINALS. "ShouIdest thou HELP the UNGODLY, and LOVE them who HATE THE ETERNAL?
Therefore, there is WRATH UPON THEE from before the
Eternal" (2 Chr.19:2).
"He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in."
-- Edwin Markham
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