Matt. 5:38-42 (Part 1)

5:38ff POLYCARP: Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the pledge of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree” “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case. Epistle to the Philippians, 1.35.

IRENAEUS: For no longer shall the law say, . . . “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” to him who counts no man his enemy, but all men his neighbors, and therefore cannot stretch out his hand at all for vengeance. The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching.

ATHENAGORAS: For when they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly; who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism? Who does not reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of gladiators and wild beasts, especially those which are given by you? But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have renounced such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? A Plea for the Christians, 2.147.

TATIAN: You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth:' but I say to you, do not stand in opposition to the evil; but whoever smites you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other. And he that would sue you, and take your tunic, leave to him also your wrapper. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. And he that asks you, give to him: and he that would borrow of you, do not prevent him. And do not prosecute him that takes your substance. And as you desire that men should do to you, so do also to them. The Diatessaron, 9.57.

TERTULLIAN: Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself of beating swords into plows demonstrates? For the custom of the old law was to avenge itself by the vengeance of the sword, and to pluck out “eye for eye,” and to inflict retaliatory revenge for injury. But the new law’s custom was to point to clemency, and to convert to tranquillity the pristine ferocity of “swords” and “lances,” and to remodel the pristine execution of “war” upon the rivals and foes of the law into the pacific actions of “plowing” and “tilling” the land. An Answer to the Jews, 3.154.

TERTULLIAN: Christ plainly teaches a new kind of patience, when He actually prohibits the reprisals which the Creator permitted in requiring “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” and bids us, on the contrary, “to him who strikes us on the one cheek, to offer the other also, and to give up our coat to him that takes away our cloak.” No doubt these are supplementary additions by Christ, but they are quite in keeping with the teaching of the Creator. And therefore this question must at once be determined: Whether the discipline of patience be enjoined by the Creator? When by Zechariah He commanded, “Let none of you imagine evil against his brother,” He did not expressly include his neighbor; but then in another passage He says, “Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor.” He who counseled that an injury should be forgotten, was still more likely to counsel the patient endurance of it. But then, when He said, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay,” He thereby teaches that patience calmly waits for the infliction of vengeance. Therefore, inasmuch as it is incredible that the same God should seem to require “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye,” in return for an injury, who forbids not only all reprisals, but even a revengeful thought or recollection of an injury, in so far does it become plain to us in what sense He required “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,”—not, indeed, for the purpose of permitting the repetition of the injury by retaliating it, which it virtually prohibited when it forbade vengeance; but for the purpose of restraining the injury in the first instance, which it had forbidden on pain of retaliation or reciprocity; so that every man, in view of the permission to inflict a second (or retaliatory) injury, might abstain from the commission of the first (or provocative) wrong. For He knows how much more easy it is to repress violence by the prospect of retaliation, than by the promise of indefinite vengeance. Both results, however, it was necessary to provide, in consideration of the nature and the faith of men, that the man who believed in God might expect vengeance from God, while he who had no faith (in order to restrain him) might fear the laws which prescribed retaliation. This purpose of the law, which it was difficult to understand, Christ, as the Lord of the Sabbath and of the law, and of all the dispensations of the Father, both revealed and made intelligible, when He commanded that “the other cheek should be offered (to the smiter),” in order that He might the more effectually extinguish all reprisals of an injury, which the law had wished to prevent by the method of retaliation, and which most certainly revelation had manifestly restricted, both by prohibiting the memory of the wrong, and referring the vengeance thereof to God. Against Marcion, 3.370.

TERTULLIAN: For men were of old accustomed to require “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”15 and to repay with usury “evil with evil;” for, as yet, patience was not on earth, because faith was not either. Of Patience, 3.711.

TERTULLIAN: So, too, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,”16 has now grown old, ever since “Let none render evil for evil” grew young.
On Exhortation to Chastity, 4.54.

ORIGEN: Celsus [a pagan critic] extracts from the Gospel the precept, “To him who strikes thee once, offer yourself to be struck again,” although without giving any passage from the Old Testament which he considers opposed to it. On the one hand, we know that “it was said to them in old time, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;'” and on the other, we have read, “I say unto you, 'Whoever shall smite you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” But as there is reason to believe that Celsus produces the objections which he has heard from those who wish to make a difference between the God of the Gospel and the God of the law, we must say in reply, that this precept, “Whoever shall strike you on the one cheek, turn to him the other,” is not unknown in the older Scriptures. For thus, in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, it is said, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth: he sits alone, and keeps silence, because he has borne it upon him. He gives his cheek to him that smites him; he is filled full with reproach.” There is no discrepancy, then, between the God of the Gospel and the God of the law, even when we take literally the precept regarding the blow on the face. So, then, we infer that neither “Jesus nor Moses has taught falsely.” The Father in sending Jesus did not “forget the commands which He had given to Moses.” He did not “change His mind, condemn His own laws, and send by His messenger counter instructions.” Against Celsus, 4.620-621.

ARCHELAUS: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,”—that is the expression of justice. And as to His injunction, that a man, when struck on the one cheek, should offer the other also, that is the expression of goodness. Well, then, are justice and goodness opposed to each other? Far from it! There has only been an advance from simple justice to positive goodness. Disputation of Archelaus and Manes, 6.216.

5:39ff THE DIDACHE: If one gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also; and you shall be perfect. If one compel you for one mile, go with him two. If one takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If one take from you what is your own, do not ask for it back,20 for indeed you are not able. Give to every one that asks you, and do not ask for it back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he that gives according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receives; for if one having need receive, he is guiltless; but he that receives not having need, shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what, and, coming into straits (confinement), he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last farthing. But also now concerning this, it has been said, “Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.” 7.377.

SECOND CLEMENT: Brethren, leaving willingly our sojourn in this present world, let us do the will of Him that called us, and not fear to depart out of this world. For the Lord says, “Be as lambs in the midst of wolves.” And Peter answered and said to Him, “What, then, if the wolves shall tear in pieces the lambs?” Jesus said to Peter, “The lambs have no cause after they are dead to fear the wolves; and in like manner, do not fear them that kill you, and can do nothing more to you; but fear Him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body to cast them into hell-fire.” And consider, brethren, that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come, and of life everlasting. By what course of conduct, then, shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life, and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us, and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness. 9.252.

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