An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth: Is it Biblical? Does it Still Apply?

There have been many quotes over the years that have been attributed to the Bible. The four most common are, "God helps those who help themselves", "When Adam and Eve ate the Apple", "treat others they way you want to be treated", and "An eye for eye a tooth for a tooth".

Of these four, only two are mentioned in the Bible. At the risk of being too technical, "Treat others the way you want to be treated" is not an exact biblical quote. Although throughout the New Testament, we have the teaching of how Jesus would have us treat others. It would seem natural that we would come up with the "Golden Rule" that applies to all of humanity and not only Christians. The closest we can get to this particular saying is, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).  I mention this because it is relevant to the main topic of this discussion.

The fourth quote "An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth" is the only word for word biblical quote – there is much to say about the history of this phrase. This saying comes from God himself as recorded in the Old Testament. It was given as a means of proper balance in punishment for crimes committed among the Israelite people. (For detailed information and context, read Exodus chapter 21-23.)

"If men fight and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no lasting harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any lasting harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" Exodus 21:22-25

In context, what God is saying to his people is that the punishment should fit the crime.

As we move into the New Testament, we find Jesus teaching on this very subject. He not only quotes Exodus, He incorporates grace and adds a new dimension to the entire Law of Moses – taking it from sins of external actions, to the internal thoughts of man. He in effect, raises the standard to a place where no one is free from guilt. (For detailed information and context, read Matthew chapter 5 – 6, where Jesus is teaching the multitudes.) 

"For I [Jesus] say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard it said that it was said to those of old [Israelites during the time of Moses] ‘You shall not murder,' and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment [death]. But I say to you, that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the Judgment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raca!' [A mean-spirited phrase the Jews used during the time of Jesus, meaning senseless man] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire…You have heard it that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…" Matthew 5:20-22

"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for 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." Matthew 5:38 -40

Indeed Jesus raised the standard of righteousness.  It is no longer about what we do; it is also about what we think. He is asking us to go the extra mile to extend grace. Sure, we can go by the Law of Moses (As long as it is the law of the land) but Jesus made it clear we are to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees – and the Pharisees were more concerned with outward appearance and the letter of the law, instead of their hearts and the Spirit of law. (Read Matthew chapter 23.)

In answer to the question is "an eye for an eye" biblical, we can clearly see that it is.  As far as it still being applicable, you decide. Remember the ‘Golden Rule", would you want Law or Grace?

My personal opinion is in some cases, Law is necessary. There is a place where Law and Grace can work together – this is altogether another lesson.

(By the way, who decided it was an Apple that Adam and Eve ate? The Bible only says it was "fruit" not which kind... not that we can't speculate, but some have made it Gospel.)

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 3:23, 6:23 

Call on Him today, repent, and be blessed.  May God bless you as you desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(I recently read another perspective on "An eye for an eye" I encourage you to read it here for additional thoughts on this subject.)

© Teresa Ortiz 2009 World Wide Bible Studies – All rights reserved.


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