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An Eye for an Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ {Exodus 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21}  39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.


I. In the OT

In the Hebrew Bible the chief word for “strike” is the hiphil of naµk_aÆ, which is also frequently rendered “smite” (see Smite). In eighty-seven instances the RSV has translated this term as “strike” (and so also in three occurrences in the hophal and one in the niphal). Its most common context is the scene of battle or of personal combat. Examples include Saul’s campaign against the Philistines (1 S. 14:31), his personal vendetta against David (19:10), David’s personal combat with Goliath (17:46, 49f), David’s arrangements to have Uriah slain in battle (niphal, 2 S. 11:15), Eleazar’s heroic exploits against the Philistines (23:10), Ahab’s fatal injury during the battle for Ramoth-gilead (1 K. 22:34 par 2 Ch. 18:33), the apocalyptic battle with Gog (the striking of the bow symbolizing defeat in battle, Ezk. 39:3), and the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem (Mic. 5:1 [MT 4:14]).

This term also appears frequently in contexts of succession struggles, coups, and political assassination attempts, e.g., the assassinations of Amnon (2 S. 13:28), Amasa (20:10), Nadab (1 K. 15:27), Elah (16:10), Ahab’s heirs (2 K. 9:7; 10:9), Joash (12:21 [MT 22]), Zechariah (15:10), Shallum (v 14), Pekah (v 30), and Gedaliah (Jer. 41:2); cf. also the assassination opportunity (against Saul) welcomed by Abishai but rejected by David (1 S. 26:8), Absalom’s attempted coup (2 S. 17:2), and the execution of Absalom (18:11, 15). (The RSV also uses “slay” to describe similar events and deeds; see Slay.)

The hiphil of n\a-bk_aÆ is also used to denote the administering of a beating or blow in non-combat contexts, e.g., the fighting of two Hebrews in Egypt (Ex. 2:13) and the beatings applied by Balaam to his ass (Nu. 22:23–32). It may refer to a slap in the face (1 K. 22:24 par 2 Ch. 18:23; Job 16:10) or simply to hitting someone (e.g., Prov. 19:25; 1 K. 20:35, 37); Prov. 23:35 refers humorously to the drunkard’s inability to realize when he has been struck. The term refets to a fatal blow in the case of the two contending brothers from Tekoah (2 S. 14:6f). The murder laws of Nu. 35:16–18, 21 prescribe the death penalty for fatal blows administered with implements of several kinds. Similarly, Ex. 21:12, 15, 18–20, 26 details the punishments for both fatal and non-fatal blows inflicted on other persons (cf. also the use of the hophal of naµk_aÆ in 22:2 [MT 1]). The hiphil of naµk_aÆ may also be used for symbolic gestures such as the clapping of hands as a sign of extreme displeasure (Ezk. 22:13), the striking of the ground with arrows in a ritual of sympathetic magic (2 K. 13:18f), and the chopping blows that Ezekiel applied to one-third of his hair round about Jerusalem to symbolize the slaughter of the city’s inhabitants (Ezk. 5:2).

The hiphil of naµk_aÆ is also used of various wonders, plagues, or judgments that “strike” from the hand of Yahweh. At Yahweh’s command Aaron struck the Nile with his rod, and the Nile turned to blood (Ex. 7:17, 20, 25); similarly, Aaron used his rod to strike the dust of the earth, and it produced gnats (8:16f [MT 12f]). Other examples include Moses’ striking of the rock at Horeb (Ex. 17:5f) and the rock at Meribah (Nu. 20:11) to produce water, Elijah’s and Elisha’s striking of the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle to part the waters (2 K. 2:8, 14), the angels’ striking of the men of Sodom with blindness (Gen. 19:11), Yahweh’s striking of Egypt with pestilence and hail (Ex. 9:15, 25), His striking down of the firstborn of Egypt (Nu. 33:4), His threat in the wilderness to strike His own people with pestilence (Nu. 14:12), His striking of the Philistines with tumors (hophal, 1 S. 5:12), His striking of the Syrian soldiers with blindness (2 K. 6:18), and His chastening strikes of judgment against Ephraim (Hos. 6:1; hophal, 9:16), Jerusalem’s leaders (Zec. 13:7), and Jerusalem’s foes (12:4).

In Hos. 14:5 (MT 6) the RSV and NEB render the phrase naµk_aÆ (hiphil) sûoµreµsû by “strike root.” This image symbolizes expartsion and recovery , the perdurability of Yahweh’s new creation.

Hebrew paµg_a< (“meet with, encounter”) is translated “strike down” by the RSV five times in 1 K. 2:25–46 (vv 25, 29, 31, 34, 46), referring to a series of executions carried out by Benaiah at King Solomon’s command. In each instance the verb is followed by boÆ (bƒÐpresonae), designating the person “struck” or hostilely encountered (Adonjah, Joab, and Shimei). In Job 36:32 the RSV emends the MT to read mip_gaµ< (“target, mark,” derived from paµg_a<; cf. 7:20) and supplies “strike” in a reference to God’s ordering the lightning to “strike the mark”; cf., however, M. H. Pope’s translation “with sure aim” for MT map_géÆ(a)< instead of the usual emendation to mip_gaµ< (Job [AB. 3rd ed 1983], p. 276).

The verb haµlam (“hit, strike, smash”) is translated “strike” by the RSV four times with a variety of nuances. In Ps. 141:5 it refers to a well-intended corrective blow. In Jgs. 5:26 it is one of the terms used to describe the smashing blow of the mallet (halmuÆt_, a word play on haµlam) wielded by Jael in crushing the head of Sisera (cf. the same verb in v 22, where it describes the “beating” of horses’ hooves). Isa. 16:8 depicts the devastation of Moab (renowned for its vineyards) under the figure of the “lords of the nations” striking down the great vine of Sibmah (the NEB has reordered the syntax so that it is the grapes of that vine that “once laid low [haµlam] the lords of the nations”). In Isa. 41:7 haµlam refers to the goldsmith’s beating of the anvil.

Hebrew naµg_a< (“touch, strike”) is in six instances translated “strike” by the RSV. Twice it refers to natural disaster: the striking of the fiercely hot east wind (Ezk. 17:10) and of the “whirlwind” (so NEB Job 1:19). In 1 S. 6:9 the Philistines endeavor to determine whether it was Yahweh who afflicted them with tumors. In Ps. 73 the psalmist struggles to understand the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent. The traditional theology taught that the righteous are not “stricken” (cf. v. 5; NEB “suffer torments”); yet the righteous psalmist finds himself constantly “stricken” (v 14). Naµg_a< appears most notably as “stricken” in the fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (53:4): “we esteemed him stricken [Heb naµg_uÆ(a)<], smitten by God [mukkeµh Õ‘loµhéÆm]”; this remarkable phrase expresses (in order to contradict) the nearly universal ancient view of suffering as divine punishment that one brought upon oneself through wicked deeds (see also Smite).

Hebrew naµg_ap_ (“smite, strike”) is in three instances translated “strike” by the RSV. In two of these Yahweh is represented as controlling the timing of certain persons’ death: the baby of Bathsheba in 2 S. 12:15, and the foes of the Davidic dynasty in Ps. 89:23 (MT 24). In Nu. 14:42 the niphal of naµg_ap_ is translated “be struck down” in reference to defeat in battle. See also Smite; Slay.

Eleven other Hebrew verbs are translated “strike” by the RSV. In Prov. 1:26f the common verb boÆ (lit “come”) is used twice with the subject pah\ad_ (“terror, dread”) to refer to the “panic” that will “strike” (AV “come”; NEB “come upon”) the fool or evildoer “like a storm.” In Dt. 19:5 the common verb maµs\aµ× (“find, meet”) is rendered “strike” because it refers to a “meeting” between a flying axe-head (that has slipped off the handle) and a bystander, resulting in an accidental death. In Job 15:29 the RSV and NEB follow the Vulgate in translating Heb naµt\aÆminlaµm as “strike root.” The verb naµt\aÆ. “extend, spread,” could connote the spreading of roots, but the object minlaµm is a hapax legomenon of uncertain meaning. (The LXX has skiaŒ, “shadow”). See M. H. Pope, Job (AB, 3rd ed 1983), pp. 118f, for a proposed revocalization of minlaµm based on Arab manaµl, “acquisition”, if this translation is correct, the phrase may mean that the wicked will not be able to extend their possessions beyond this earth.

In Job 20:24 the AV and RSV use “strike through” to translate the verb h\aµlap_ (“pierce”; cf. NEB). Heb saµp_aq (“clap, slap”) usually occurs in references to gestures such as clapping the hands (at someone in mockery, Lam. 2:15) or slapping the thigh (in distress, Ezk. 21:17). Twice the RSV translates it “strike”: in Nu. 24:10 Balak expresses his anger at Balaam by striking (AV “smite”; NEB “beat”) his hands together, and in Job 34:26 God is said to clap the evildoer with a stroke of justice. The same term, with an alternate sibilant orthography ( in place of s), occurs in the difficult final phrase of Isa. 2:6, which reads, literally, “with the children of foreigners they clap [hiphil of søaµp_aq]” The RSV takes the verb in the technical sense of “striking hands” to enter into a treaty or seal a bargain. The AV, however, has “please themselves with foreigners,” and the NEB (following the LXX) reads “with the children of foreigners everywhere” (see comms).

Hebrew h\aµlal (“wound, slay, be slain”) occurs in Ps. 109:22, where the psalmist complains of a heart that is “stricken” (NEB “distracted”; AV “wounded”). Lam. 4:9 uses the pual of daµqar (“be stabbed, pierced”) in a clever wordplay to suggest that those who died by the sword defending Jerusalem were much better off than those who were “stricken” (lit “stabbed”) by hunger.

In a few instances the RSV translates verbs as “strike” only because of the context. In Ps. 10:18 the common verb yaµsap_ (“increase”) combined with Ô‡aroÆs (“fear”), is rendered “strike terror.” Similarly, in 2 Ch. 32:21 the hiphil of naµp_al (“make fall”), used in combination with h\ereb_ (“sword”), is translated by the RSV “struck … down … with the sword” (AV “slew”). In two instances sûaµnaÆ (“do again, repeat”) is translated “strike,” the meaning being supplied from the prior use of the hiphil of naµk_aÆ (1 S. 26:8; 2 S. 20:10).

Three Hebrew substantives are each once rendered “striking” or “stricken” by the RSV H\abbuÆraÆ (“stripe, blow”; cf. “stripes” in Isa. 53:5) is rendered “striking” (NEB “blow” AV “hurt”) in the boastful song of Lamech (Gen. 4:23). In Isa. 16:7 the hapax legomenon naµk_aµ× is apparently related to the verb naµk_aµ× (a rare form of naµk_aÆ), “beat, scourge.” The noun neg_a<, usually rendered “blow” or “plague” (cognate to the verb naµg_a<; see above), is translated “stricken” in reference to the Servant of the Lord in Isa. 53:8.

In Dnl. 2:35 the RSV translates the Aramaic verb mƒh\aµÕ “strike” in reference to the smashing of a statue by a falling stone (but cf. the RSV’s use of “smite” in v 34 for the same verb).

II. In the NT

The RSV uses “strike” to render a variety of Greek terms with the general meaning of “hit,” “beat,” or “strike.” The verb pataŒssoµ appears more than four hundred times in the LXX, usually as the equivalent of Heb hiphil of naµk_aÆ. In seven of its ten NT occurrences the RSV translates it “strike” (for the other three, see Smite). Three of these are in quotations from the OT Acts 7:24 quotes Ex. 2:12 (where the RSV renders the Heb hiphil of naµk_aÆ by “kill”), and Mk. 14:27 par Mt. 26:31 quote Zec. 13:7. PataŒssoµ is also rendered “strike” in two passages referring to the cutting off of the ear of the high priest’s slave by one of Jesus’ disciples (Mt. 26:51 par Lk. 22:49f; cf. Mk. 14:47 and Jn. 18:10, which employ the synonymous vb paéŒoµ). In Acts 12:7 pataŒssoµ describes a jostling administered by the angel awakening Peter in jail.

PataŒssoµ also occurs with some frequency in the Apocrypha, and in eleven instances the RSV translates it “strike”; e.g., in references to the defeat of Shechem (Jth. 9:3; cf. Gen. 34:25–29), to Judith’s striking off the head of Holofernes (Jth. 13:8, 15; cf. 9:10), to military victories of Judas and Jonathan in the Maccabean revolt (1 Macc. 2:44; 5:7, 65; 9:47, 66), and to God’s role in the horrible death of the detested Antiochus & IV Epiphanes (2 Macc. 9:5; cf. vv 6–12),

The verb tyŒptoµ has the basic sense of “stupefy by a blow” its original sense was “stamp on a mark,” but it came to be used as a general term for “strike” or “beat” TDNT, VIII, 260). In the LXX it is much less common than pataŒssoµ, but it is used most often to translate the Heb hiphil of naµk_aÆ (occurring only twenty-six times). In six of its thirteen NT occurrences tyŒptoµ is translated “strike”by the RSV (AV “smite” elsewhere the RSV usually has “beat”) In Mt. 27:30 par Mk. 15:19 the reference is to Pilate’s soldiers’ mockingly hitting Jesus on the head with a reed. In Lk. 6:29 (cf. par Mt. 5:39, which has Gk rhapéŒzoµ) Jesus counsels offering the other cheek to someone who hits one on the cheek. TyŒptoµ is also translated “strike” by the RSV in 2 Macc. 3:39, which refers to God’s punishment of those who come to Jerusalem for ill purpose.

In four instances in the RSV NT “strike” represents paéŒoµ, “another general term for “hit” or “strike” Two of these occurrences (mentioned above) refer to the cutting off of the ear of the slave of the high priest (Mk. 14:47; Jn. 18:10). The other two instances refer to the behavior of the chief priests and members of the council who mockingly asked Jesus to identify who it was that “struck” Him (Mt. 26:68 par Lk. 22:64; AV “smite” NEB “hit”).

The verb kolaphéŒzoµ (“beat, ill-treat, harass”) is used to refer to the same incident of striking Jesus in Mt. 26:67 par Mk. 14:65; in Lk. 22:63 the generally synonymous verb deŒroµ is used for the same action but translated “beat” by the RSV and NEB DeŒroµ is twice translated “strike” by the RSV In Jn. 18:23 Jesus responds to an officer of Annas with the words: “… if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” In 2 Cor. 11:20 Paul lists striking in the face among the abuses that the Corinthians were tolerating from his opponents the false apostles; the reference is perhaps figurative for insult, but it more likely indicates actual physical assault (cf. Mt. 26:67 par Acts 23:2f).

Greek proskoŒptoµ with the preposition proŒs has the meaning “strike (something) against (something).” In the second wilderness temptation of Jesus (Mt. 4:6; par Lk. 4:11) the devil cites Ps. 91:11f to the effect that if Jesus threw Himself off the top of the temple, angels would bear Him up (“lest you strike your foot against a stone”); thus the crowds would be deeply impressed with His powers.

Greek péŒptoµ (“fall, collapse,” “strike”) is used of the sun’s relentless beating in Rev. 7:16, where this is listed among the hardships that those clothed in white robes will no longer face. Its cognate peripéŒptoµ (“fall into,” “encounter”) is translated “strike” in Acts 27:41, where it refers to a drifting ship’s hitting of a shoal or reef off the island of Malta (cf. AV “fall into” NEB “run aground”). ApokteéŒnoµ (“kill [someone], put to death”) is usually translated “kill” (e.g., Mt. 10:28), but in Rev. 2:23 the RSV and NEB translate the phrase apoktenoµ en thanaŒtoµ “strike dead” (AV “kill with death”). It is possible, however, that thaŒnatos (“death”) is here used in the sense of a particular kind of death, namely. “pestilence” (cf. Rev. 6:8; 18:8; see comms).

In Acts 27:14 the common verb baŒlloµ (“throw, cast”) with the preposition kataŒ is rendered “strike down” by the RSV in reference to the catastrophic impact of a tempestuous “northeaster” on the ship carrying Paul to Italy NEB “tear down” AV “arise”). The cognate katabaŒlloµ (“knock down”) is also once rendered “strike down” by the RSV, in a figurative reference to the impact of daily hardships (“struck down, but not destroyed,” 2 Cor. 4:9). The RSV also translates katabaŒllo “strike down” several times in the Apocrypha, referring to a blow from a hottempered person (Sir. 8:16), to David’s overthrow of Goliath’s boasting (47:4), to the defeat of Lysias (1 Macc. 4:33), and to God’s strong defense against the foes of the Maccabeans (2 Macc. 8:18).

The verb pleµsoµ, which occurs only once in the NT, refers in Rev. 8:12 to a cosmic blow that causes the sun to lose a third of its light. Its cognate katapleµsoµ (RSV “strike down”) is used in 2 Macc. 15:24 of blasphemers who will be struck by terror from God.

Greek rhapéŒzoµ (“hit, slap”) is translated “strike” by the RSV in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus advises turning the other cheek when someone “strikes you on the right cheek” (Mt. 5:39; AV “smite” NEB “slap” cf. tyŒptoµ in par Lk. 6:29). The cognate noun rhaŒpisma (a “blow” or “hit”) in combination with the verb déŒdoµmi (“give”) is translated “strike” by the RSV in two references to Jesus’ being hit or slapped during His trials before Annas (Jn. 18:22; cf. deŒroµ in v 23) and Pilate (19:3).

Bibliography.—TDNT, III, sv colayivzw (K. L. Schmidt); V, sv patavssw (H. Seesemann); VIII, sv tnvptw (G. Stahlin).[1]


[1]Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 2001, c1988.

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