Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus Rewrites Scripture

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 an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

//Five times in this chapter, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins a topic with the words “You have heard.” Curious that Jesus would use these words, because the punch line resides in where they heard the words. They heard them in the synagogue, for each one is a quote from scripture.

In other words, Jesus felt it was permissible to say, “The scripture says this … but I say this.” Espousing a higher standard than scripture, Jesus calls his followers to step up to the next level.

Yet, today, we find it so hard to take this advice! We find it so hard to continue growing as Christians, if that means lifting ourselves above our beloved scripture. But how else is Christianity to continue advancing? How else are we going to draw nearer to Jesus’ vision of a Kingdom of Heaven on earth?

There is much good in scripture, but there is also much good in following Jesus’ example of rising above some of our scriptural teachings. One trendy example is the current issue over acceptance of homosexuality; it seems to me that the Bible’s stance is clear, yet as Christians, we are called to overcome such prejudices. Will we be able take the next step?


  1. I read an article, and I can’t remember where at the moment, that what the Old Testament said and what it means is different.

    “An Eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

    But what it meant was. . .if you are wronged, you may seek damages up to what you lost. If you lost an eye, you *may* seek justice up to taking the offender’s eye. However, it was not intended to say, if you take my eye, you forfeit yours.

    I think Yeshua was saying, this is what you were told by the Pharisees, and I’ve warned you about them, but what I’m telling you now is the true meaning of the scripture. Forgive so that you may be forgiven. Our Father has given you justice and mercy. You may choose earthly justice, but in so doing, you will be held to the Law as well. If you choose mercy, then our Father will grant you mercy.

    I’m not a writer, so I hope the meaning is coming through my poor attempts at communicating it!

    • Lee Harmon

      Hi Jim, thanks for contributing!

      I think the article is at least partially correct. The idea is reciprocal justice, and while it was common in neighboring nations, Jews felt proud of living to a higher standard. Seldom is the victim to take responsibility for punishment upon himself. Instead,

      You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. –Leviticus 19:18

      It’s not clear, though, how and when the laws were enforced.

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