Christian reading

Issue N32

answers for a jew, valeriy sterkh

Answers for a Jew

Can you repay evil with evil?

Question: The New Testament says: «If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also». But Torah teaches that if you are assaulted by a man, you can attack him first. Jesus also says: «And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well». Whereas Torah commands the thief to pay double for the thing stolen. Isn't it a contradiction?

Answer: The passage in question is probably this one: «Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also» (Mt 5:38-40; compare Lk 6:29).

Here's a possible explanation: «The basic teaching of our Savior can be summarized as follows: whosoever offends a person, sins. If you resist an offender, you sin too, because you wish to offend him back. Whoever does not resist the offender, is free from sin and, therefore, is justified by God. It must be and always is of great practical importance – in such cases God Himself is the avenger against our offenders and the protector of the innocent. He conquers evil, which is for us impossible or very hard to overcome» (Explanatory Bible edited by A.P. Lopukhin, Mt 5:39).

Although the Old Testament says: «And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God» (Lev 24:19-22; compare Ex 21:22-25), this law, as you may see, has to do with the legal system of the ancient Jews, and is not meant to be applied personally.

The Old Testament does not encourage revenge. On the contrary the Lord commands: «To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste» (Deut 32:35; compare Rom 12:19). It is further supported by the writings of king Solomon: «Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee» (Prov 20:22) and «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 LORD shall reward thee» (Prov 25:21-22).

Evidently, the Jews had a distorted view of these commandments by the time of Jesus. That's why Jesus said: «Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven» (Mt 5:19-20).

(to be continued)