Matthew 5:40 is the fortieth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the third verse of the antithesis on the commandment: "Eye for an eye".
- And if any man will sue thee at the law, and
- take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- If anyone sues you to take away your
- coat, let him have your cloak also.
This is often interpreted as an example of the non-resistance Jesus advocated in the previous verse " France, however, disagrees with this view. He sees this verse as far more closely linked to Jesus renunciation of property and the material. If one has faith in God one should not be afraid to lose all materials possessions, for even if it leads to great hardship on Earth, they will be properly rewarded by God.
Nolland interprets this verse as referring to a specific case of someone extremely poor, who has nothing but his clothing to be sued for. The demand of the creditor is thus unreasonable and is a possible violation of Jewish law. To Nolland the surrendering of the cloak and the last vestiges of decency will serve to shame the creditor, and show his immorality.
Difficulty is added to the interpretation of this verse due to the mistranslation and one's understanding of the previous verse (YLT): "But I say unto you, That ye resist not the evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." The adjective ponero is often translated as “not evil” (KJV) or other variants such as "the evil person." Examining the Greek to English Interlinear, the brackets show ‘person’ was being inferred by the translators while the adjective ponero simply means evil. Additionally, Exodus 21:24-27 shows that an "eye for an eye" was not to be taken literally as a servant who lost an eye or tooth due to their master striking them was to be let go as a freeman. One related instruction the nation of Israel was giving on the topic of judicial prosecution is seen in Leviticus 19:18 which states: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
In verse 39, neither was Jesus referring to what the judges should do regarding an eye for an eye but rather how his disciples should respond when they are the offended. And because an eye for an eye was being addressed the focus here revolved around retaliation through legal means. As to why an oral teaching regarding this was being addressed, the Mishnah, a collection of books written around 200 A.D that essentially recorded debates between Rabbinic sages regarding Jewish oral traditions, gives us a closer view to the time period and clues. In m. B. K. 8:6, we read that a slap on the cheek had been declared as a low form of insult that resulted in a payment of 200 zuz, but 400 if it was done with the backhand. Other low forms of insults, such as shouting at a fellow was punishable for 20 zuz, while spitting on one was punishable for 400. Knowing this, the content of the offenses Jesus addresses in this passage are minor, thus turning the other cheek means to take the high road on petty matters. Relatedly, within Judaism, for the clause “if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him,” (Leviticus 24:19-20) the majority stance is that “as” is to be taken as conveying that the punishment should fit the crime, just as “eye for an eye” is not to be taken as a literal expression.
All the uses of an eye for an eye are related to mostly severe bodily or monetary crimes (Deuteronomy 19:16-21; Exodus 21:22-24): here in Matthew 5:40, Jesus likely follows his line of thinking on the evil being addressing, instructing his disciples not to resist a quarrel where they’re being sued for something small in value (a cloak), rather just give it to them and return their evil with good. The spirit of this teaching is also seen in Proverbs 25:21 and Romans 12:19-21 where an enemy is to be given food to eat. Exodus 22:25-27 is an unrelated law, regarding giving back a garment that was a pledge for a loan to the poor (with no relation to legally prosecuting someone). And not heeding to Israel's judges could even bring the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:9-12). In conclusion, the rabbinic sages seem to have been using it wrongly for petty matters.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Nolland, 2005 p. 253
| Gospel of Matthew