Eye for an eye --> turn the other cheek

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
Can someone please elaborate on this transition

Does this mean that some parts of the old testament are void?
what would this mean now(eye for an eye)? how is it applicable?

Also, could you elaborate on just the whole transition of ideals from the old to the new testament


  • Hey jfarag,

    I can give St. John Chrysostom's opinion. This is from pg 246-7 in his homilies on Matthew.

    For let us suppose that this law had been altogether done away, and that
    no one feared the punishment ensuing thereupon, but that license had been
    given to all the wicked to follow their own disposition in all security, to
    adulterers, and to murderers, to perjured persons, and to parricides; would
    not all things have been turned upside down? would not cities,
    market-places, and houses, sea and land, and the whole world, have been
    filled with unnumbered pollutions and murders? Every one sees it. For if,
    when there are laws, and fear, and threatening, our evil dispositions are
    hardly checked; were even this security taken away, what is there to
    prevent men’s choosing vice? and what degree of mischief would not then
    come reveling upon the whole of human life?
    The rather, since cruelty lies not only in allowing the bad to do what they
    will, but in another thing too quite as much; to overlook, and leave uncared
    for, him who hath done no wrong, but who is without cause or reason
    suffering ill. For tell me; were any one to gather together wicked men from
    all quarters, and arm them with swords, and bid them go about the whole
    city, and massacre all that came in their way, could there be anything more
    like a wild beast than he? And what if some other should bind, and confine
    with the utmost strictness those whom that man had armed, and should
    snatch from those lawless hands them, who were on the point of being
    butchered; could anything be greater humanity than this? Now then, I
    bid thee transfer these examples to the law likewise; for He that commands
    to pluck out “an eye for an eye,” hath laid the fear as a
    kind of strong chain upon the souls of the bad, and so resembles him, who
    detains those assassins in prison; whereas he who appoints no punishment
    for them, doth all but arm them by such security, and acts the part of that
    other, who was putting the swords in their hands, and letting them loose
    over the whole city.
    Seest thou not, how the commandments, so far from coming of cruelty,
    come rather of abounding mercy? And if on account of these thou callest
    the Lawgiver grievous, and hard to bear with; tell me which sort of
    command is the more toilsome and grievous, “Do no murder,” or, “Be not
    even angry”? Which is more in extreme, he who exacts a penalty for
    murder, or for mere anger? He who subjects the adulterer to vengeance
    after the fact, or he who enjoins a penalty even for the very desire, and
    that penalty everlasting? See ye not how their reasoning comes round to
    the very contrary? how the God of the old covenant, whom they call cruel,
    will be found mild and meek: and He of the new, whom they acknowledged
    to be good, will be hard and grievous, according to their madness? Whereas
    we say, that there is but one and the same Legislator of either covenant,
    who dispensed all meetly, and adapted to the difference of the times the
    difference between the two systems of law. Therefore neither are the first
    commandments cruel, nor the second hard and grievous, but all of one and
    the same providential care.
    For that He Himself gave the old covenant also, hear the affirmation of the
    prophet, or rather (so we must speak), of Him who is both the one and the
    other: “I will make a covenant with you, not according to the covenant
    which I made with your fathers.”
    But if he receive not this, who is diseased with the Manichaean doctrines,
    let him hear Paul saying the very same in another place, “For Abraham
    had two sons, one by the bondmaid, and another by the freewoman; and
    these are two covenants.” As therefore in that case the wives are different,
    the husband the same; so here too the covenants are two, the Lawgiver
    And to prove to thee that it was of one and the same mildness; in the one
    He saith, “An eye for an eye,” but in this other,
    “If one smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
    For as in that case He checks him that cloth the wrong with the fear of this
    suffering, even so also in this. “How so,” it may be said, “when He bids
    turn to him the other cheek also?” Nay, what of that? Since not to take
    away his fear did He enjoin this, but as charging yourself to allow him to
    take his fill entirely. Neither did He say, that the other continues
    unpunished, but, “do not thou punish;” at once both enhancing the fear of
    him that smiteth, if he persist, and comforting him who is smitten.

    I know it’s a long read, but it is very helpful.

    I’ve also heard a different interpretation which says that by setting the law of “An eye for an eye” in the Old Testament, God prevented people to attack two fold as is often human nature. Therefore it was out of mercy and love rather than cruelty, that God set this law. However we, who should have the love of Christ, should turn the other cheek.

    Please pray for me
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