An eye for an eye: How Trump's got the Bible wrong AGAIN and what it says about his campaign
Donald Trump has been asked – again – about his favourite Bible verse, and this time he managed to come up with an answer that can actually be found in Scripture.
Asked by a US radio station whether he has "a favourite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life?", Trump responded, after his usual rambling: "an eye for an eye".
"That's not a particularly nice thing," he continued. "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. 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 firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you."
Trump's inability to string a few sentences together has become a hallmark of his speechgiving, and yet it's been largely glossed over. As Jonathan Bernstein recently put it for the Bloomberg View: "Journalists are quick to accuse him of bullying and bigotry (and rightly so), but he's rarely called grossly incompetent for his basic factual understanding of the world, or even called out on his inability to speak coherently."
Trump's latest interview is a classic example of his incoherence; jumping from one thought to the next and never quite finishing a sentence. But if you sift through it, you land on something quite revealing – and disturbing.
At the heart of Trump's campaign, is revenge.
Anyone who's read the New Testament can tell you that Jesus shuts down the verse from Leviticus that Trump's referring to here pretty swiftly.
"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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also," he says in Matthew 5.
While Jesus preached forgiveness over retaliation, generosity over revenge, and peace over violence, Trump seems to have missed that message.
The Old Testament has much to teach us – and we shouldn't dismiss it. Trump and I, remarkably, agree on at least this one thing. The Bible is a rich tapestry; weaving prophesy and poetry, history and law. It is living, breathing and active. But it should also always be read through the lens of Jesus: the living Word who "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14). Jesus has the final say.
And Jesus made it clear that we are not to 'get even' when we feel that we've been wronged. The verse in Leviticus has been taken wildly out of context anyway – 'an eye for an eye' was only ever meant to be a punishment in the context of a fair judicial system, not an instruction for vigilantes or individuals to take matters into their own hands. It was a guiding principle meant for lawmakers to prevent overly-harsh sentences.
So Trump's got it wrong either way, but that's hardly surprising from a man who's built his campaign on false premises and marginalising the 'other' – whether that's Mexicans, women, Muslims, the disabled, or other groups he's made demeaning and offensive remarks about. In his latest interview, he refers repeatedly to "they" – the people who are "taking advantage" of America, "taking our jobs... our money... the health of our country".
He doesn't, however, expand on who he's referring to – preferring to leave it up to his audience to fill in the blanks with whichever group they want to blame. It's a clever technique, and one that has seen the Republican frontrunner's ratings soar across the US as the world looks on in horror.
He's evidently trying to hedge his bets here; attempting to appeal to his evangelical audience and also right-wingers more widely. But that Trump's response to these people – "they" – who are supposedly to blame for America's demise, is to seek revenge is entirely counter to the gospel. It says nothing of God's kindness, or his call for Christians to respond to all people with mercy. Not to mention the fact that to implicitly blame immigrants and those of other faiths for the US' failures is nonsense – it's a country built on immigration, and made richer for its mix of cultures.
Trump says "we have to be firm and have to be very strong" – by which he presumably means responding with violence, or at least aggressive policies. This is, after all, the man who has said we should kill the families of ISIS militants (a war crime under international law), in fact who's entire military strategy when it comes to the Middle East is to "bomb the s**t out of ISIS", and who has called for all Muslims – including those fleeing war and persecution at the hands of Islamic State – to be banned from entering the US. His version of 'strength' is to be combative. Threatening. Power hungry.
And yet Jesus offers another way. When he urges his followers to "turn the other cheek", he isn't suggesting they simply give in to violence or wrongdoing. Instead, he presents a third way – one which requires incredible strength, but a different kind to that which Trump is advocating. Jesus calls us to be generous, kind and loving to those who wrong us, or who we perceive to be our enemies. To welcome the stranger and share what we have with the poor. To have mercy triumph over judgement. To renounce evil, yes, but also to renounce revenge.