Church of Christ
Locks Cross Roads
12) Matthew 5 - Communication, Turning the Other Cheek
Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time: Apparently, Jesus uses this formula to
indicate that what He is about to say is not an exact quotation of any one law, but rather a correct summation of
several laws. Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. The basic principle to
which Jesus refers in this summary of the Mosaic legislation is the use of God's name to guarantee the inviolability
of some promise made to Him, or to attest the truth of one's word by appeal to Him to witness. This principle
responds to a psychological need of man for such guarantees:
1) The inner truthfulness of the speaker cannot be verified on other grounds (except by his generally-known
2) The assumption that no one would have the temerity to back a false statement by so solemn an appeal to the
Deity as an oath.
3) The prevalence of falsehood in common speech creates suspicion concerning all words not thus guarantee by an
For a fuller understanding of the use of oaths in actual practice, the following Scriptures may help: Genesis
14:22-24, Genesis 24:2-9 and 37, Genesis 32:50 and 53, Genesis 47:29-31, Genesis 50:5 and 25, Judges 8:19,
Judges 21:5, Ruth 1:17, Ruth 3:13, 1st Samuel 1:26, 1st Samuel 17:55, 1st Samuel 19:6, 1st Samuel 20:3 and 17,
1st Samuel 25:26, 2nd Samuel 2:27, 2nd Samuel 3:9 and 35, 2nd Samuel 11:11, 2nd Samuel 15:21, 2nd Samuel
19:23, 1st Kings 2:23-24, 1st Kings 18:10, 2nd Kings 22, Ezra 10:3-5, Jeremiah 4:2, Jeremiah 12:16, Jeremiah
29:22-23, Jeremiah 38:16, Jeremiah 42:5, Amos 8:14.
Jesus' general purpose, running through tis whole discourse on the nature of true righteousness, as opposed to
legal righteousness, is to reveal a heart rectitude which is unconditionally and consistently observable in the
simplest, outward acts.
Why should one not swear?
1) Because of what human swearing does to God:
A) It calls upon Him to be witness to, to justify, or to guarantee the truthfulness of relatively unimportant
declarations. This borders on presumption.
B) It often profanes His holy Name to the level that it becomes unworthy of respect, since it calls upon God to
witness what is later discovered to be false. Those who call a curse upon themselves if what they say is not
true are daring God to act in a way dictated by their whim.
2) Because of what swearing does to the one who swears:
A) The necessity to guarantee the veracity of the declaration by means of an oath puts in question the
truthfulness of all other statements not made under oath.
B) Swearing tacitly justifies lying when not under oath, since it destroys the sanctity of every word. We must not
weaken the obligation for speaking the truth, by rendering our simple affirmation somehow less sacred than
What are some modern examples which represent the same evasive reasoning of the scribes? The list could be as
long and spiced as human history itself. "Lord 'a' mercy!" or simply "Lord..." "Mercy!" "Merciful heavens!" or simply
Yea, yea; nay, nay. Let your speech be exactly what it pretends to be. A "yes" should mean "yes;" "no" should
mean exactly that.
The Law's Way - Matthew 5:38 Ye have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This is
not the language of human scribal interpretations of God's legislation, but the very punitive muscle of Mosaic Law
itself. Jesus is not quoting any popularization of this law, which degrades it to justify personal revenge, as so many
commentators assume. He cites the Law itself.
Study various applications of this precept in Exodus 21:24-25, Leviticus 24:17-21, Deuteronomy 2 - 21. The
purpose of the legal precept was threefold:
1) To protect the rights of persons and property by an equitable judicial settlement. It meant the end to the
excesses involved in blood-bath vengeance to clear personal or family honor.
2) To discourage personal revenge by providing a rule intended to govern the decisions of the judges
(Deuteronomy 19:18). The Law was a real limitation of vengeance and the beginning of mercy, for to the
vindicator it said, you may retaliate thus far and no farther!
3) To create a mentality of fear to lose a member because of one's own heedless passion, which could strike
out the eye of another? Thus, in effect, both men's eyes are saved.
Jesus does not criticize the rule itself as used by magistrates. Rather, He sets out to eliminate completely the need
for it. The rule is not an ethical principle for personal conduct, since it is a mere punitive rule expressing quite
another ethical principle which motivates it and gives it meaning.
Luke (Luke 6:27-31) and Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18) connect, by contrast, the desire to take vengeance on the one
hand, and on the other, love for one's neighbor even if he be an enemy: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy
heart...Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love
thy neighbor as thyself; I am Jehovah."
Only God can make it possible to act like Jesus when we are under fire! Jesus' rule is painful and there may be that
second blow! But we must rather risk that second injury than sin by revenging the first.
When applying Jesus' exhortation, remember that Jesus Himself did not literally turn the other cheek (John
18:22-23), but rebuked His smiters, challenging their right to do so. Paul (Acts 23:3) rebounded in fiery indignation,
challenging the mockery of justice that ordered him slapped. But never once did they retaliate with that terrifying,
destructive power within their grasp (Matthew 26:52-53, James 1:19-20, Luke 9:51-55, Acts 13:6-12).