Evangelical leaders are asking whether Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump forgot, or entirely doesn't know about Jesus Christ's call to "turn the other cheek" in the Bible, following Trump's declaration last week that his favorite Bible verse is "an eye for an eye."
"My guess would be it would never be a gamble to overestimate Donald Trump's knowledge of Scripture. My guess is that he either does not know about Jesus' admonition to turn the other cheek, he has forgotten it, or just impulsively quoted the first thing that came to mind, which was the 'eye for and eye' quote. Much of what Trump says seems to be impulsive and spur of the moment sort of stream of consciousness rhetoric," Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, told The Christian Post in an email on Monday.
Last week Trump raised eyebrows when he said in a radio interview with WHAM 1180AM that his favorite Bible verse is "an eye for an eye," as found in Exodus 21:24.
"That's not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what's happening to our country, I mean, when you see what's going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us," Trump explained.
"And they laugh at our face, and they're taking our jobs, they're taking our money, they're taking the health of our country. And we have to be very firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you."
As CBS News and a host of other sources immediately pointed out, however, Jesus directly refers to that verse in Matthew 5:38-39 in the New Testament, where He says: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for 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 them the other cheek also."
As to why Trump seemed unaware of Jesus' comment on the earlier "eye for an eye" verse, Dr. Michael Brown, the host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire and the president of FIRE School of Ministry, separately told CP that the GOP frontrunner has shown in past comments that he is "almost completely ignorant of what's in the Bible."
"And so the best he could do when coming up with a 'favorite' verse was to make an incoherent, out of context statement about 'an eye for an eye.' And is this really his favorite verse in the Bible?" Brown asked.
"In context in the Law, this had to do with justice and not war, so Trump completely misapplied it. And he seemed ignorant of the higher ethic that Jesus taught, calling us renounce personal retaliation, thereby overcoming evil with good."
Land, who is also the executive editor of The Christian Post, said that he believes that Jesus' admonition to turn the other cheek supersedes the eye for an eye ethic, but added an important caveat:
"As individual Christians we should turn the other cheek and not exact retribution or revenge. However, in the New Testament, Romans 13 says God ordained the civil magistrate to punish evil and to reward those who do that which is right, which is the main reason God gave government in first place."
Land continued: "If someone murders my wife, as a Christian I do not have the right to take personal vengeance on that person. In fact the Bible says I am to forgive and love that person. God ordained government, and I do have the right to expect that the government will prosecute that person to the fullest extent of the law."
Other theologians, including Joe Rigney, an Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College & Seminary, also argued in an article for the National Review that while Jesus was not advocating for abandoning the principle of proportionate justice, He was "rejecting an ancient tradition that had distorted and warped the intention of God's law."
"Eye-for-an-eye was a law that was meant to be applied in judicial contexts, with judges rendering verdicts in public on the testimony of two or three witnesses. However, based on Jesus's correction, it seems that the principle of eye-for-an-eye had been extended. It had jumped the bounds of public justice and was now being used in private quarrels. If someone insulted you, insult them back. Are you reviled? Then you should revile in return," Rigney wrote.
He argued that the "misapplication and twisting of the original law" seems to actually be what Trump likes about it.
"People are taking advantage of us? We should take advantage of them. People scoff at the U.S.A.? Then unleash an army of our own scoffers. If we're mocked and laughed at, we ought to give them a taste of their own medicine," Rigney said of Trump's thinking.
"Jesus is not rejecting the Law of Moses wholesale, but he is showing us a more radical way to live," he added.