“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
It is probably the most famous "contradiction" in the Bible, and one that I have been asked about on several occasions. It also touches on one of the most important issues of life - how do we react when someone does us wrong?
So which is it? Turn the other cheek or an eye for an eye? And if it is one why does the bible contradict itself by also mentioning the other?
As with so many matters of biblical interpretation it is very important to understand the context. If the context of these two passages were the same it would indeed be a profound contradiction. But they are not the same and so we are not comparing apples with apples but apples with oranges.
In the Leviticus passage the context is social justice. God is giving the people the laws of the land which they are to live by and which the courts and judges among them are to apply. The principle of "an eye for an eye" is a very important one here. It basically means this: Justice should be just! The punishment should fit the crime. Most people have inbuilt sense of justice and understand the moral outrage when a vicious criminal who has inflicted callous hurt to his victims is allowed to walk out of the courtroom with a smirk on his face. Equally we know the pain we feel when we hear of travesties of justice where people are imprisoned or executed by the courts of the land for "crimes" that are trivial or in most people's view no crimes at all!
This sense of justice comes from God. He feels the same.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)