Dan Popp
Did Jesus repudiate "an eye for an eye"?
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By Dan Popp
April 18, 2016

Donald Trump knows as much about the Bible as he does about economics, the Constitution, military strategy or history – which is to say, nothing. But in attempting to criticize him, Washington Times writer Victor Morton shows us that there is something less than nothing. In an article highlighted on the Renew America site, Morton writes: "Donald Trump was asked about his favorite Bible verse in a Thursday radio interview, and he responded by citing an Old Testament law that Jesus specifically repudiated."

That's an interesting proposition, isn't it: that the Word incarnate "repudiated" parts of the Old Testament? It's an idea that catapulted Marcion and Valentinus to prominence in the early days of Christianity. These so-called "Gnostics" preached that Christ had come to bounce that cranky old Hebrew god off his throne, and free us from his defective laws. Contrary to what you may have heard on TV, the Gnostics were not Christians; they were polytheists – pagans.

Though Marcion and Valentinus have been in hell for almost 2 millennia now, their doctrines live on.

But what did Trump say this time? From the Times article:
    In the interview on news radio WHAM-1180 in Rochester, New York, host Bob Lonsberry asked Mr. Trump whether there was "a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?" ...

    Trump responded with a Mosaic law rule an "eye for an eye," mentioned in several books, most prominently Exodus 21, Buzzfeed reported. ...

    Unfortunately, an "eye for an eye" is one of the few Mosaic Law verses that Jesus singled out in the Sermon on the Mount as overcome, by the New Covenant that His death and resurrection would seal.

    "You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other," Jesus says in the famous sermon [in] Matthew 5.

    This is not the first time, Mr. Trump, who has suggested the IRS has been auditing him because he is such a strong Christian, has fallen on his face in efforts to appeal to Christians in the Republican Party base.
Obviously, The Donald had thousands of more-appropriate verses he could have picked. He seemed "unprepared" for this question, at best. But did Jesus really "single out" some Old Testament verses "as overcome by the New Covenant?" What does that mean, anyway? How are verses "overcome?" Verses are not "overcome," but they could be cancelled out. This is the rule of interpreting the Qur'an, I'm told – where there is a contradiction, the later verse essentially overwrites the earlier one.

Except Jesus made it quite clear He was not doing that.
    Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19, NAS95)
This is the same chapter, and part of the same Sermon, in which Jesus supposedly "repudiated" something.

Tragically, Mr. Morton reads the Sermon on the Mount the same way that many poorly-taught Christians read it: as a set of new laws, superseding the old laws given on Mount Sinai. But Jesus didn't bring us any new laws. There are no new Commandments, just a new application of the old command to "love your neighbor." (See John 13:34, 1 John 2:7-8, 2 John 5) The Sermon on the Mount is not a prescription, but a description of what the new Kingdom looks like.

If we study Matthew 5, we'll find the phrase "you have heard...but I say," or something like it, six times. In each instance, far from repealing an Old Testament law, Jesus shows us that the ancient code applies more deeply than we had imagined. The Exodus injunction against murder doesn't just pertain to our hands; it applies to our hearts as well. Sexual purity isn't just about bodies; it's about minds. The ordinance regarding divorce wasn't repealed or even relaxed; it was tightened. And so on. It would be strange indeed if, in the middle of all these examples of Jesus confirming and deepening the Commandments, he picked out one to "overcome."

The purpose of the "eye for an eye" law was to protect against over-retaliation. If someone put out your eye, you were forbidden to cut off his head, or to take both his eyes plus his best ox, or to kill him. The penalty was to be proportional to the injury. Jesus was saying that, in the new Kingdom, you don't have to "press charges," as we say. We still need civil laws and punishments. The old limit doesn't go away. But because of grace, we don't have to take things to the limit. This is not a new law repealing an old law, but an illustration of a new spiritual principle operating where the Law could never go.

I don't favor Donald Trump as a candidate, and I don't believe he's an authentic Christian. But he's not a Gnostic. That's better than less-than-nothing.

© Dan Popp

 

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