Lex Talionis (Part 2)

So how are we to understand the Law and the related question how are we to think bout the relationship between the Old and New Covenant? On the one hand we find Jesus telling us that He (in effect) did not come to change The Law but to fulfill it yet then we hear Him say things that seem to contradict. For example this passage from Matthew seems to change the “Lex Talionis” or what is called the law of retubution

” You haver heard it said and eye for an eye and tooth for tooth but I tell you do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the last on also.”
So whats going on here? Is Jesus acting as a new law giver and changing the Law? Not likely since in the the verses prior to this He warns against those who might seek to. Its perplexing but we can get to an answer if we think about the nature of the Old Covenant or, to put it another way , ask the question “what was the Law supposed to do” and by this I mean” Law” in its expansive sense , dietary, sacrificial, moral etc.

What was the Law for?

Simply put the Law was meant to deal with sin. And it did, yet it did so in a sort of imperfect way for as the writer to the Hebrews tells us it could never deal with guilt and in fact in the very act of forgiveness there was a constant reminder of sin. The smoke from the sacrifices ascended daily and over and over the Old Testament people of God were reminded “something is wrong”. We see this also in the law of retribution. The remedy always carried a reminder. There was always the burden of guilt.

That is until the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant with its infinitely superior sacrifice sin is not only dealt with once and for all, the guilt of sin is too. Sin is dealt with and there is not longer a reminder. Which is why Jesus says what He. Our reaction to being sinned against cannot continue the sin. So when we are slapped we don’t respond by slapping back. We take it. Just like Jesus did. Sin and its effects stopped with Him and as His people it stops with us as well.

This does not mean however that we become pacafist ( in our current environment this is important to note) however it does mean that our response to evil (say on the national level) is intentionally done in a way that does not perpetrate the very thing it is intending to stop.

Published by Fr. Rogers Meredith

I am an Anglican Priest Canonically Resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth , Anglican Church of North America. .

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