Eye for an Eye

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Eye for an Eye

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Exodus 21:24 Exodus 21:24Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
American King James Version×
: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Leviticus 24:20 Leviticus 24:20Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he has caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
American King James Version×
: “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.” Deuteronomy 19:21 Deuteronomy 19:21And your eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
American King James Version×
: “Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Christ was teaching us to not seek vengeance on our own, and to rise above it to the point of loving our enemies.

Critics of the Bible have used these verses to derisively imply God is a harsh God who would leave everyone blind and toothless. Some also call it vigilante justice. But elsewhere in the Bible you find warnings against seeking vengeance: “Vengeance is mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35 Deuteronomy 32:35To me belongs vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come on them make haste.
American King James Version×
). The apostle Paul repeated this in the New Testament: ”Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 Romans 12:19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
American King James Version×
).

These verses were part of a rule of law that specified everybody would have the same measure of justice, regardless of status or wealth. “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19 Deuteronomy 16:19You shall not wrest judgment; you shall not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift does blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
American King James Version×
).

This concept was also found in the code of Hammurabi. In modern legal parlance, we might say “let the punishment fit the crime.”

You do not find in the Bible where it says the injured party was to inflict these injuries on the offender.

Jesus, who came to magnify the law, said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matthew 5:38-42 Matthew 5:38-42 38 You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away.
American King James Version×
).

Christ was teaching us to not seek vengeance on our own, and to rise above it to the point of loving our enemies.

“Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’” (Romans 12:20 Romans 12:20Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head.
American King James Version×
).

This was a direct quote from the Old Testament: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink: For you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21 Proverbs 25:21If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
American King James Version×
).

The implication is that by returning good for evil, it should cause the other person to feel remorse for the way they have treated you, and God takes care of you for not sinking to their level.

It would have been left up to the judges to decide punishment and carry out the sentence for a crime like this. Since the law also required someone to care for another and their family if they caused injury that prevented them from being able to, it would not make sense to inflict the same injury on the one who caused the original harm. The punishment of having to work in their stead certainly fit the crime if their hand now had to work to provide for the one who had lost theirs.