Scripture’s Consistency

Because the Bible is inspired by one Person, its message is consistent throughout. That is why we can trust context to help us interpret God’s intended meaning in any given passage. God would not say something in one verse that contradicts another verse, and if it appears that He has, we need to keep studying until our interpretation of both verses harmonizes. For example, in several places in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, it may at first appear as if He was contradicting, even correcting, an Old Testament moral law. For example:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:38-39).

Jesus directly quoted from the Mosaic Law and then made a statement that seemed to contradict the very law He quoted. How are we to interpret what He said? Has God changed His mind on an issue of basic morality? Was taking revenge acceptable behavior under the old covenant but not the new? The context is what will help us.

Jesus was speaking primarily to His disciples (see Matt. 5:1-2), people whose only previous exposure to God’s Word was via the scribes and Pharisees who taught in their synagogues. There they had heard God’s law quoted, “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” a commandment whose meaning the scribes and Pharisees had twisted by ignoring its context. God did not intend for that commandment to be interpreted as a requirement for His people to always gain personal revenge for petty wrongs. He, in fact, said in the Mosaic Law that vengeance was His (see Deut. 32:35), and that His people should do good to their enemies (see Ex. 23:4-5). But the scribes and Pharisees ignored those commandments and invented their own interpretation of God’s “eye for an eye” law, one that gave them the convenient right of personal revenge.[1] They ignored context.

God’s commandment about “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is found within the context of His commandments that prescribe due justice in Israel’s courts (see Ex. 21:22-24; Deut. 19:15-21). Making provision for a court system is in itself a revelation of God’s disproval of personal revenge. Impartial judges who examine evidence are much more able to administer justice than are offended, biased individuals. God expects that courts and judges will impartially dole out punishments that fit the crimes. Thus, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

All this being so, we are able to harmonize what at first appears contradictory. Jesus was simply helping His audience, people who had sat under false teaching all their lives, understand God’s true will for them regarding personal revenge, what had already been revealed in the Law of Moses but had been twisted by the Pharisees. Jesus was not contradicting the Law He gave to Moses. He was only revealing its originally-intended meaning.

This also helps us rightly understand what Jesus expects of us in regard to major disputes, the kind of which might lead to a court case. God did not expect the Israelites to overlook any and every offense suffered from fellow Israelites, otherwise He would not have established a court system. Likewise, God does not expect Christians to overlook any and every offense suffered by means of fellow believers (or non-believers). The New Testament prescribes that irreconcilable Christians use the mediatory help of fellow believers (see 1 Cor. 6:1-6). And there is nothing wrong with a Christian taking a non-believer to secular courts regarding disputes of major offense. Major offenses are such things as having your eye or tooth knocked out! Minor offenses are the kinds of things Jesus spoke of, like being slapped on the cheek, or being sued for a small settlement (like your shirt), or being forced to go one mile. God wants His people to imitate Him and show extraordinary grace to thoughtless sinners and evil people.

Along these same lines, there have been some well-meaning believers who, thinking they were obeying Jesus, refused to press legal charges against those who had been caught stealing from them. They thought they were “turning the other cheek,” when it reality they were enabling a thief to steal again, teaching him that there are no consequences for crime. Such Christians are not walking in love towards everyone else who will have their goods stolen by that same thief! God wants thieves to suffer justice and repent. But when someone offends you in some minor way, such as slapping your cheek, don’t take him to court or slap him back. Show him mercy and love.


[1] It should also be noted that Jesus had said earlier in His sermon that unless His audience’s righteousness surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees, they would not enter heaven (see Matt. 5:20). Jesus then continued by revealing a number of specific ways in which the scribes and Pharisees were falling short.