Updated: Dec 14, 2019
In Matthew 5:38-39, Yeshua says, "You have heard that it was said, 'eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
Many people use this verse to claim that Yeshua was a pacifist. Hence, there are those who hold to the believe that it is wrong to enter into war or even to protect one's self or family from violence or the threat of violence. Is this what Yeshua was saying?
First, let's examine the context of the quote that He made, "eye for eye, and tooth for tooth". As always, the basis for understanding the New Testament is found in the Old Testament for this was the governing body of Scripture for Yeshua and His disciples, as it should be for us. This verse can be found in Exodus 21:24 and it was the principle for the judges to follow when they judged the people. It does not denote a literal "taking of an eye" of one person because they caused harm to another's "eye" but it denotes punishment rendered according to the crime or harm committed. It was about justice. It was about "judgment" according to the Torah. For example: stealing (although one of the 10 commandments) did not bring the death penalty, but Torah outlines specific instructions on how to deal with a person who has stolen something. Hence, an "unjust" punishment would be to give the death penalty to someone who stole something. God is all about justice in the proper form.
Anciently, God's laws of justice, as in modern times, had been corrupted.
In Matthew, Yeshua takes it to the personal level. A slap in the face was a personal insult just as the Middle Eastern world still considers the "throwing of a shoe" a personal insult. Yeshua was telling us to suffer being wronged as much as possible for the sake of peace. As followers of Yeshua we should desire peace and avoid disputes, striving, and conflict as much as possible. Yeshua taught here that we should simply forgo personal retaliation as much as possible for personal insults to character.
Throughout history man (especially the male species) has found it necessary to defend his honor against someone who has slandered his name or character. A "gentlemans duel" is a classic example from the past. These duels of death were fought over the smallest things because someone was trying to overcome a personal insult.
Yeshua was in no way implying pacifism or the inability to defend one's self or another from harm. Likewise, He was not trying to bring down a civil justice system for both of these things: a civil justice system, and the right to defend one's self or others, are allowed in Torah. Not only are they allowed but instructions are given for the proper means.
I hope this lesson added insight into the Jewishness of Messiah, His first disciples and the writings of the New Testament.