Matthew 5:38–42: “An Eye for an Eye”

by May 2, 20220 comments

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In the sixth section of Jesus’ teaching about the law in the Sermon on the Mount, he touches a spiritual nerve. When we are hurt, the most natural response in the world is to seek immediate retaliation. While Jesus does not repudiate the public implications of the “eye for an eye” laws, he shows that those laws were never meant to justify private vengeance or personal vendettas. While there is an important place for public justice, Jesus shines his pure light of righteousness into another one of the darkest—yet best hidden—corners of our hearts. While we long to gain justice for the ways that we suffer, Jesus came to suffer for sinners.

Discussion Questions

1. What did the lex talionis (“law of retaliation”) legislation require? Why does lex talionis bring wisdom and justice to the public system of justice? How had the Pharisees perverted lex talionis by turning the principle toward private grievances. What does the law say about private vengeance (Lev. 19:18; Prov. 20:22; 24:29)? On what basis, then, did the Pharisees expand the provisions of lex talionis into private grievances? How do we justify private vengeance?

2. What do we mean when we talk about “emotions”? What does the more precise category of “passions” teach us about the suffering of our soul in response to both injuries and insults? Why do our passions burn so hot when we are insulted—often far beyond what would be proportionate to the actual injury we suffered (e.g., a back-handed slap to the cheek)? Why does Jesus teach that the law forbids such passions toward retribution against the one who has wronged us?

3. Why is it such good news that God is “without…passions” (WCF 2.1)? What would change about God if he experienced the kinds of passions that we do? When the Son of God became incarnate as the man Jesus Christ, what kind of passions did he suffer: passive or active? What kinds of passions do we suffer? To what degree is our suffering passive and innocent, like Jesus’? To what degree is our suffering active, from the motions of our corruption of sin?

4. What is the difference between passions and affections? How are our affections related to our reason/understanding/wisdom and our wills? What does it mean for God to have affections, but not passions? Why are right affections central to understanding what Jesus means when he tells us to give our cloak with our tunic, to walk an extra mile, and to avoid refusing the one who would borrow from us? How do we gain these right affections?