Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Friday, March 03, 2017

An Eye for an Eye

“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 someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:38-42)

Justice or Vengeance? Jesus quoted “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” as it was “said.” It was “said” as vengeance, retaliation, and revenge. It was this saying that Jesus is countermanding.

But isn’t this a quotation from the Old Testament? Yes, it was, but it is not the Old Testament reference that Jesus was speaking to. If it were, He would not have said, “You have heard that it was said.” He would have said, “It is written” and He would not have disagreed with the Scripture. Jesus was disavowing the misquotation of this Scripture by people who wanted to justify vengeance.

Here is the full paragraph from Exodus 21:22-25: “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

This passage covers two kinds of premature birth caused by injury to a pregnant woman. The first kind is where the baby (or the woman) is not seriously injured. In that case, the man who caused the injury which resulted in the premature birth is to be fined by two standards: 1) what the husband demands, and 2) what the court allows. The court might not allow what the husband demands. This is a civil suit with a court decision, not personal vengeance.

The second kind is where there is serious injury to the baby or the woman. This is a criminal offense, not a case for a civil suit. The court is given specific, exact penalties to assign to the guilty party. What are they? “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” This was assigned by God through Moses at the same time that He gave the Ten Commandments. This is just law. It does not require a life for a hand or a life for a tooth or life for a bruise. It requires a life for a life, a tooth for a tooth. It also does not allow the guilty party to get off without a penalty for the injury he inflicted. It is neither too severe nor too lenient; it is just.

However, Jesus was not speaking to this law. He was speaking to the quotation of the law out of context.

Other Scriptures verify that the Bible does not allow vengeance:

• God provided six cities of refuge for the Israelites to protect people from avengers until they received a fair trial or until the high priest died.
• “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17).
• “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19).

This preamble is to assure you that Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (which I will address tomorrow) is not a change of God’s mind.

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