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“You are to be perfect, just as your Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) seems like an impossible goal until we understand the meaning of the word translated as “perfect.” Luke’s parallel — “be merciful” (Luke 6:36) — helps us understand perfect and shows us a deep meaning under the Festival of (Re)Dedication of the Temple, or Chanukah. To be mature believers, to be righteous, we must dedicate all of ourselves — devotion and weakness — to God.
Yeshua pointed to the actions He was doing through His Father’s power as evidence that He and the Father were “one,” that His “temple” — his body — was whole dedicated to God’s purpose (John 10:22–30). Our “temples” should be wholly dedicated to God as well.
Retribution/retaliation vs. mercy/love?: “Eye for an eye” and “love your neighbor”
“ ‘You have heard that it was said, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” [Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21]. 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two,42 and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor [Lev. 19:18] and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ ” (Matt. 5:38–48)
“ ‘But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 ‘If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ ” (Luke 6:27–36)
Rather than an overturning of “Old Testament” retaliation with “New Testament” grace, Yeshua taught ultimate justice (“eye for eye”), followed by ultimate mercy (“love your neighbor”; “vengeance is Mine”) and resulting in ultimate dedication to God’s Way (“be perfect”; “be merciful”).
- “Eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38)
- This is a favorite target for Bible skeptics to show the God of Israel is barbaric and for some Jews and Christians to show that the tit-for-tat laws of the “Old Testament” thankfully are obsolete.
- This is often referred to by the Latin phrase lex talionis, or law of retribution or retaliation.
Let’s look at what the Torah says and doesn’t say about lex talionis.
- Retribution in English means “punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved” and comes from the Latin verb retribuere, from the prefix re for back and tribuere for assign (originally, divide between tribes).61
- Retaliation means “make an attack or assault in return for a similar attack” and comes from the Latin verb retaliare, made up of re and talis for such or in-kind.62
- Three primary passages in the Torah for עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן ’ayin takhat ’ayin (an eye in place of an eye) in Exodus 21 and Leviticus 24 as well as עַיִן בְּעַיִן ’ayin b’’ayin (an eye with an eye) in Deuteronomy 19.
- תחת = under, instead of (H8478)
- Exodus 21–22 contains a number of מִּשְׁפָּטִים mishpatim (H4941), or “judgments,” e.g.:
“ ‘If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. 26 If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. 27 And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.’ ” (Ex. 21:22–27)
In Leviticus 24, mishpatim from the mouth of the Lord came after the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian father “blasphemed the Name and cursed” during a fight (Lev 24:10–23).
“ ‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. 18 The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. 19 If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. 21 Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. 22 There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.’ ” (Lev. 24:17–22)
- treatment of Hebrews purchased as servants (עֶבֶד ʿeved, H5650)
- treatment of daughters sold as handmaids (אָמָה ʾama, H0519)
- prosecution of assault of freemen, servants and pregnant women, kidnapping, cursing one’s parents and neglecting safety with livestock and projects.
In Deuteronomy 19, the strong punishment against a perjurer is called for to protect the veracity of the testimony of the two witnesses.
“ ‘A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. 16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deut. 19:15–21)
- The context of this heavy punishment for blaspheming the Name is the Third Commandment, “carrying” or using God’s Name in a way that renders it meaningless or destroyed or deploys the Name as a tool of deceit (Ex. 20:7).
- This judgment in Exodus 23 seems to be linking blasphemy with effectively killing God in the minds of those who hear it.
- Deuteronomy 19 expands upon the basic meaning of, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Ex. 20:16).
The context of the second greatest commandment — “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) — is similar.
“ ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:15–18)
- It’s among commands about the proper treatment of one’s parents, spouse, staff, livestock and “neighbor.”
- This passage teaches that justice doesn’t include personal vengeance.
- In detailing what would happen to Israel after forsaking its covenant with God, He said, “ ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution’ ” (Deut. 32:35).
An injunction to not testify falsely in Exodus 23 is among commands to do good even for one’s enemies and outsiders.
“ ‘You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. 4 If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkeywandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. 6 You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. 9 You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt. 10 You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” (Ex. 23:1–12)
- Apostle Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews quoted this in reminding believers to not seek vengeance against those who persecute them (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30).
- The final judgment foretold by the prophets, Yeshua and apostles Yokhanan, Peter and Paul is the final fulfillment of God’s vengeance.
- Note that “enemy” is part of this injunction for justice applies also to one’s “enemy” and “your stranger,” an outsider.
Exodus 23 also brings up an important part of ceasing from regular work of the other six days of the week on Shabbat (the basic meaning of שבת shabbat is stop): Allow people and animals “within your gates” (i.e., under your direct control, e.g., employees, service providers, restaurant workers) to also stop regular service for you.
The Torah does include instructions for someone other than the court to bring vengeance to one guilty of negligent manslaughter, as seen in Num. 35:9–30 about cities of refuge.
- That seems to be what Yeshua was getting at in His “but I say to you” clarification in Matthew 5.
- In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Yeshua reminded the Torah scholars that neighbor in Lev. 19:18 included those considered enemies (Luke 10:25–37).
Precedent of “eye for eye” vengeance (נָקַם naqam, H5358) appears in Genesis:
- Yet the “redeemer of blood” effectively was an officer of the court.
- The guilty had to flee to a city of refuge, which provided mercy from the redeemer.
- Today, there are no such cities of refuge. Without them, a fundamental part of this system is missing, so the system can’t be used.
- Seven-fold naqam would come upon anyone who killed Cain (Gen. 4:13–15).
- One of the big changes after the Flood was (Gen. 9:1–7):
Ya’akov fled Esau because Rivkah thought he would avenge the loss of the birthright (Gen. 27:41–45).
Two notable examples of “eye for eye” outside the Torah include:
- mankind had permission to eat animals, which would be afraid of people.
- mankind couldn’t eat blood, because that’s the creature’s life.
- blood-for-blood punishment for killing a person, because God made mankind in Their image (cf. Gen. 1:26–27).
Certificate of ordinances that was against us nailed to His cross
“Give to him who asks of you” (Matt. 5:42; Luke 6:30, 34–35)
- During the conquest of the Land, the tribe of Yehuda after defeating Adoni-bezek of the Perizzites cut off his thumbs and large toes. He said “God has repaid me” for doing so to seventy kings and making them “gather up scraps under my table” (Judg. 1:4–7).
- After Saul’s victory against the Amalekites, prophet Samuel cut up the king of Amalek, Agag, telling him, “ ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women’ ” (1st Sam. 15:33).
- Deuteronomy 15 has instructions for the שְׁמִטָּה לַיהוָה sh’mitah la-YHWH (H8059, from שָׁמַט shamat H8058, to let go, release, throw down, upset), or year of release to the Lord.
- “ ‘If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. 9 Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.” ’ ” (Deut. 15:7–11)
- Israel was to remember the Land was to be a gift from God.
- Each seven years, the land was to rest from cultivation (Ex. 23:10–11), and debts were to be forgiven.
God gave the Land and its resources to each Israelite, so each Israelite was to give to any among them who needed.
- After each seven cycles of seven years was a יּוֹבֵל yobel (jubilee) year, in which open fields and Levite property returned to the original owners (Leviticus 25).
- Your eye is hostile in v. 9 is translated from רָעָה עֵינְךָ ra’ah ’ayinkha, literally your eye is bad. Because ra’ah can mean evil in context, the idiom is often referred to as “evil eye.”
- The idiom רַע עָיִן is used twice in Proverbs to mean stingy.
- “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, Or desire his delicacies; 7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But his heart is not with you.” (Prov. 23:6–7)
- “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.” (Prov. 28:22)
- Yeshua uses this idiom in expounding on Godly generosity/charity in Matthew 6.
- “ ‘The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!’ ” (Matt. 6:22–23)
- Clear comes from ἀπλοῦς haplous (G0573) and literally means sincere, single, plain.
The Didache, or “The Teaching,” is an early writing to believers in Messiah Yeshua dated to between a.d. 80 and 150. The content conveys that
“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great. 2 The way of life is this: first, you shall love the God who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you would not have done to you, do not do to another. 3 And the teaching of these maxims is this: bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast on behalf of those who persecute you; for what thanks is there, if you love them that love you? Do not even Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you will not have an enemy. 4 Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts. If anyone gives you a blow on your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you will be perfect [full-grown, fully-mature]. If anyone compels you to go a mile, go with him two; if anyone takes your cloak, give him your coat also; if anyone takes from you what is yours, do not ask for it back nor try to use force. 5 Give to everyone who asks of you, and do not demand it back; for the Father wants something from his own free gifts to be given to all. Blessed is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless; but woe to him who receives; for if one who receives is actually in need, he is guiltless; but whoever receives when not in need will have to explain why he received and for what purpose; in prison he will be interrogated concerning the things he has done, and he will not depart from there until he has paid the last penny. 6 Yes, truly it has been said about this: ‘Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give.’ ” (Didache 1)
“Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:43–47; Luke 6:27–29)
- The word derives from πλόος ploos (G4144) for voyage, which comes from πλέω pleo (G4126), a root verb for to sail.
- So, one who can “see the big picture,” i.e. God’s perspective on the source and permanence of wealth and the value of each person as one who bears God’s image, will share his wealth with the needy. Those who can’t “see” that, won’t share what God has provided and will “stumble” around for the correct direction in life.
- Philosophers throughout time have caught glimpses of this vision: the Bhudda, Confucious, etc. However, their “light” still was dimmed by not realizing where the blessings came from.
- Apostle Paul echoed Yeshua’s words and quoted from Proverbs.
- “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” [Deut. 32:35], says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” [Prov. 25:21–22] 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:14–21)
“Be perfect”; “be merciful” (Matt. 5:48; Luke 6:36)
- “Overcome bad with good” (Rom. 12:21) is an example of mercy: No tit for tat.
- Perfect is translated from τέλειος teleios (G5046), used in the Apostolic Writings to mean complete, perfect and mature.
- “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete [ὁλόκληρος holoklēros, G3648, sound, whole], lacking in nothing.” (Jas. 1:2–4)
- Like the parallelisms found throughout the TaNaKh, Ya’akov explains the meaning of God’s teleios ergon in us:
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jas. 1:17)
- Through losing things during trials and having to trust God, we grow up in to complete children of God, not lacking anything.
- What we need, we will get.
- What we get, we will share.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected [τελειόω teleioō, G5048] in love.” (1st John 4:18)
- Part of having a “clear eye” is seeing that all we have — spiritual and physical — ultimately comes from God.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1–2)
- For those who have matured in their understanding of God’s goal in the Torah, there is no fear of punishment under the penalties in the ordinances of Torah, because we know God’s love nailed those penalties against us to Yeshua’s cross.
“For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Heb. 5:13–14)
- After explaining the apostasy in Israel (Romans 10) and the mystery of God’s olive tree (Romans 11), with natural branches (born into Israel) pruned via a “partial hardening” (11:25) and wild branches (believers from the nations) grafted onto the tree, Paul marveled at the mercy/gift of God to wait to save “all Israel” until all the grafting is done.
τέλειος is used in the Septuagint to translate:
- After discussing Yeshua being a high priest in the order of Melchizedek, the writer uses symbols of milk and solid food to contrast infant beliefs of righteousness from mature training to discern good from bad.
- תָּמִים tamim (H8549), unblemished, blameless:
שָׁלֵם shalem (H8003), wholly: “ ‘Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day.’” (1st Kgs. 8:61)
- “Noah was a righteous [צַדִּיק tzaddiq, H6662] man, blameless in his time” (Gen 6:9).
- “Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old” (Ex. 12:5).
- “You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.” (Deut. 18:13)
בִּין bin (H0995), teacher: “the teacher as well as the pupil” (1st Chr. 25:8)
תֻּמִּים tummim (H8550), Thummim: “The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim.” (Ezra 2:63)
- The word is used in this way several times (1st Kgs. 8:61; 11:4; 15:3, 14; 1st Chr. 25:8; 28:9) about whether or not Solomon was following God with his whole heart.
- From תָּמַם tamam (H8552), to be complete or finished
- τέλειος translates תם tam several times in Song of Songs, as in “my perfect one.”