Jesus knew “the law”—yet said “I say to you”

Posted Jan 21, 2021

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Daily Scripture

Exodus 21:18-25

18 When two people are fighting and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist so that he is in bed for a while but doesn’t die— 19 if he recovers and is able to walk around outside with a cane, then the one who hit him shouldn’t be punished, except to pay for the loss of time from work and to pay for his full recovery.

20 When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished. 21 But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn’t be punished because the slave is the owner’s property.

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. 23 If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, 24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, 25 a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.

Matthew 5:38-44

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:24, also Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

Reflection Questions

We saw yesterday that the apostles Peter, Paul and James boldly claimed that, in the light of Jesus, they should act differently than Genesis 17 said. They learned that approach from Jesus himself, who taught, “It was said… but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 (and Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19) made retribution proportional—“an eye for an eye”—and avoided massive retaliation. But Jesus said his kingdom went further, into a more radical domain: “Love your enemies.”

  • Students of ancient history see that, in a world in which revenge often went beyond the original injury (e.g., “you hurt me, I’ll kill your whole family”), Israel’s proportional revenge law was more merciful than most. Over and over the Bible’s stories are about God working with any willing human material available. Could it be that the law in Exodus was as far from the more vengeful ancient ideas as God could lead Israel at that stage in their spiritual life?
  • We think of ourselves as more enlightened than the ancient world. But we sell T-shirts and bumper stickers saying things like “I don’t get mad—I get even.” How does it alter human relationships to replace a wish for revenge with an ideal of mutual love and service? In what ways does Jesus' teaching speak to the spirit in which you deal with others?


Lord God, phrases like “massive retaliation” and “force is the only language they understand” still tempt me. Please keep leading me into the quality of love that Jesus taught. Amen.

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Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory serves on the Resurrection staff as Director of Staff Development and Benefits. Janelle finds that her heart is constantly wrestling with the truth that she needs a Savior, and the times when she's at her very best are when she's just too tired to put up a fight.

Let’s talk the birds and the bees, shall we? Specifically, let’s talk about the birds and the bees from the perspective of a parent communicating to their child. It’s always been important to me to have open and honest conversations with our son about bodies and intimacy, but the content of those conversations has changed greatly over time. When he was younger, we didn’t go into every detail of what the birds and bees do behind closed doors. What’s appropriate has changed over time as he has aged. It’s not contradicting information, it’s new information that is now appropriate and helpful.

In much the same way, I think God reveals himself to people of faith based on where we are in the timeline of history and our context. What was most helpful in the Old Testament may have expanded by the time Jesus was teaching. And what was understood at the time of the New Testament to be the most helpful may have expanded to now. Obviously, there are some constants to what God would hope for us such as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” In the same way, parents have conversations that are constant no matter how old the child is. It’s just as appropriate to tell a six-year-old boy to put the toilet seat down as it is to tell a sixteen-year-old. No real change in message there.

When it comes to scripture, it’s up to us to uncover what the overall and underlying message is that God would want us to know and apply to our lives. I wish it was just as simple as “Put the toilet seat down,” but it’s not. It’s much more nuanced and delicate than that. It’s a message that unveils over time, and we must be open to hearing what God would find to be most appropriate and helpful for the stage and time in which we currently are.

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