Matthew 5: 38-40 and today's "Conservative Christians"

Today’s “conservative Christians” are generally big on law and order, the right of private citizens to shoot burglars, etc. How exactly does that jibe with Matthew 5: 38-40?
“You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away.”

I can understand using force when you are physically assaulted. But possessions are not supposed to be so important to Christians, right?

To quote the philosophers Simon and Garfunkel:

Good point!

I recall when I was around ten, I had a Sunday-school teacher say that he was glad that he had never been in a physical fight, because the “turn-the-other-cheek” thing would be very difficult to follow if someone had come up to him and slapped him.

There is a difference between “law of the land” and what is “morally right”. Just because you have “the right to shoot a burglar” does not mean it is the “right thing to do”.
Not everyone in the “US” is a “conservative Christian” so making everyone abide by the rules of what is expected for us is not fair to the “people who disagree”.

Yet the religious right seem to have no problem doing that with regard to anything else they read in the bible (homsexuality abortion etc.) so I doubt that that is their reasoning.

The question, if I’m not mistaken, is not about why our laws don’t more closely match the Bible. The question is to those Christians who put “God, guns, and money” neener-neener bumper stickers on their vehicles, and how they manage to not feel like huge hypocrites.

This is not true at all. There are ten commandments and only three are US laws. No one in the religous right is seeking to make it illegal to covet your neighbor’s wife or your neighbor’s ass, or your neigbor’s ass’s wife. It is a parody of what we really believe to say that the religious right wants to impose their religion on others. Certain religous laws( murder, theft, perjury) make good secular laws, and certain other ones don’t. There is no contradiction for non-theocrats.

In my experience peope who are in to guns for self defense are more into protecting the family rather than property. It can be very difficult to differentiate between a burglar who wants to take your stuff and one who wants to tie you up and kill you. I know that when the knife wielding man came up the stairs in our house, my parents did not take the time to ask what he was there for before retrieving a gun. And if he had stuck around long enough to tell us his intentions, I am not sure my parents would have believed him.

Leaving aside whether “conservative Christians” are big on the right to shoot burglars – which is an assumption in your OP that’s lacking some evidence – I think you’re misconstruing that Bible verse.

IMO, Matthew 5:38-40 does not instruct Christians to be pacifists. It instructs them not to avenge wrongdoing. More practically, it’s a verse that says that if you’ve been insulted, don’t insult someone back. If you’ve been hurt, you don’t get to hurt someone back in anger.

Here’s Matthew Henry’s Biblical concordance on these verses (emphasis added):

Another Biblical concordance here:

Notably, Jesus doesn’t say, “An eye for an eye is wrong, and I’m telling you not to follow it anymore.” He’s instructing his followers that “an eye for an eye” is not a justification for revenge.

So the verse doesn’t say, “You don’t get to defend yourself from robbers and murderers.” After all, Jesus also instructed his followers to buy a sword. Luke 22:36: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” That sword wasn’t purely for decoration. It was for self defense.

Finally, a quick tip – it’s usually not a good idea to tell people what their faith commands of them, especially if you don’t share that faith. Christians tend to have a pretty good idea what their Christianity is all about. And if you’re not a Christian, you probably don’t know as much about the Bible as Christians do. Quoting one Bible verse – without any context – is probably not going to convince many Christians that they’re wrong about Christianity.

Statistically speaking, this has been shown in studies to be on the balance untrue.

Granted, as someone who was a Christian for two decades before I abandoned it, I think John Gill’s writing is just about fit to wipe my ass with in terms of understanding what Jesus meant. If you want a document that tells you what you want to hear, sure, it’s great. (Henry’s got some similar problems, but isn’t quite as terribad.)

Jesus was (choose one):
__magically, exactly in line with mainstream Democratic Party values (see verses which support this and ignore contradictory ones)
__magically, exactly in line with mainstream Republican Party values (see verses which support this, and ignore contradictory ones)
__a millienialist Jewish prophet whose words can only be understood in the context of someone who was urging his followers to get right with the Jewish conception of God in line with the end of the world, which he clearly expected to happen within a few decades of his lifetime, and not particularly interested in starting a new movement based on ethics, who has been discredited as a charlatan since the world has not, in fact, ended (see: huge number of versus supporting this in perhaps the most clear reading of the New Testament for people not trying to find support for whatever they wanted to do anyway)

Very good point! That must have been a frightening experience.

I have, however, overheard conversations between religious conservatives who believed that it was their right to shoot at someone who was absconding with their property. It was just this sort of attitude that led me to start the thread.

I am familiar with Luke 22:36, and I do realize that Jesus did not advocate absolute pacifism. (He got physical with the money-changers in the Temple, for instance.) I was mainly concerned about the use of deadly force against somebody that was running off with one of your possessions. I may not have made that as clear as I intended.

I had overheard a conversation between two guys the other day, and one of them – a definite “Bible-thumper” if there ever was one – was advocating shooting someone if they tried to steal “his stuff”. I really don’t see how that is condoned in the teachings of Jesus.

And I apologize if I wasn’t clear. I’m not talking only about defense of your person. I’m also talking about defense of your property. So my point is that I don’t see how it is condemned in the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus never told his disciples that they should only use their swords when they’re threatened with death. Presumably, they could defend themselves against robbers.

In fact, there are explicit Biblical provisions on this. For example, Exodus 22:2-3:

Obviously, I don’t think thieves should be sold into slavery to pay for their theft. But that pretty clear indicates that God is not going to hold you responsible for killing a thief who breaks into your house. Not also that the word there is “thief,” not murderer. So it’s not talking about defense of your person, but of your property.

Similarly, Luke 11:21 (larger portion quoted for context):

Again, Jesus is talking in parables. But he says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.” That seems to indicate that arming yourself to guard your possessions is a good thing.

A lesser example is, as you said, when Jesus went after the money changers in the Temple. Those money changers weren’t threatening anyone’s life. They had converted the Temple into a “den of thieves.” Jesus apparently thought that was sufficient to use physical force.

I could go on, but hopefully that’s sufficient. I don’t agree that it’s inconsistent with the Bible to use force to defend yourself or your property.

I don’t want to hijack the debate, but I would be curious to see those studies. Can you link them, or give me some suggestions on how I could find them? Thanks.

I’m not sure what you mean about Gill. How can a document know what I want to hear? At the very least, Gill doesn’t seem to have told the OP what he wants to hear. Are you suggesting that he’s vague?

Regardless, I agree that neither Gill nor Henry are a definitive source for what the Bible means. Nor am I (definitely not me). I just quoted them because Gill and Henry are independent sources – and presumably more authoritative – on what those verses mean, and that the OP’s interpretation does not seem to be the most common one.

I also agree that sometimes, non-Christians might have a lot to offer on what the Bible says. Some Christians are dumb, and many non-Christians are really smart. Many Biblical scholars aren’t even persons of faith. But at least since Luther, individual Christians get to make up their own minds about what the Bible means, and what their faith requires. And it’s probably a fool’s errand for non-Christians to think they can convince Christians that they’re interpreting their own faith incorrectly.

As if there is some sort of consensus among Christians when it comes to the Bible. When you guys get your shit together you can criticize how outsiders misunderstand your Bible-until then, our interpretation is just as good as yours.

So there has to be a consensus among Christians when it comes to the Bible before we can criticize other people’s interpretations? :dubious:

My point wasn’t that non-Christians have nothing to offer on what the Bible means. You must have missed the part where I explicitly said that:

Your interpretation may be as good as mine. But then again, it might not be as good as mine.

The point I was trying to make is that it probably doesn’t matter. Even if your opinion is on solid ground, you’re probably not going to convince Christians that they’re wrong about their faith. It’s their faith.

If “an eye for an eye” is not a justification for revenge, what is it? If I poke you in the eye, is there some higher ethical purpose underlying a reciprocal eye-poking than revenge?

A conception of just punishment to be handed down by society. It’s about proscribing a punishment that fits the crime, and neither exceeds nor undervalues it.

The “eye for an eye” comes from Exodus 21. (Well, it probably comes from the Code of Hammurabi, but the Biblical version is from Exodus 21.) The idea is that Moses still up on Mount Sinai. God gives Moses a system of laws that are to be handed down to the Israelites. Exodus 21:1: ““These are the laws you are to set before them:”. So these are less individual commandments and more a system of laws for the society.

Exodus 21:22-25:

Note that it talks about what “the court allows.” So this isn’t about revenge, it’s about how a judicial system should punish offenders.

Here’s Adam Clarke’s concordance (emphasis added):

And back to Matthew Henry (I’ll avoid Gill, so I don’t get on Zeriel’s bad side :slight_smile: ):

They already have, though I could never understand why we needed separate commandments for coveting your neighbor’s wife and following through on it.