An eye for an eye

An “eye for an eye” was a guide for the judges, but the Pharisees distorted it

      Many who read the New Testament, when they read Matthew 5:38 assume from what is written there that at some point God said in the Old Testament that we should abhor our fellow beings and collect an eye for an eye in whatever they do to us. But now Christ disapproved what was said by God and amended the Father's words. Absurd!!


Ye have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

                                                                                                            (Matthew 5:38)

      The first thing we should notice is that Christ did not say “God said”; but that “it was said”, without saying who said it. The commandment God established and used to guide the judges, was probably twisted by the people to justify their personal hatreds; converting it into a popular saying.

      God does not mandate such a thing in any place in the Old Testament. What is most similar to this is in Leviticus 24:15-20, Exodus 21:24 and Deuteronomy 19:21. In these three passages, the judges are ordered that at the time of justice (not for their own conflicts), they should use the standard of an eye for an eye, if there is no divine law in respect.

      If we read the first passage, beginning with verse 15, we will see that it is instructing them about the punishment they should impose for the diverse crimes: blasphemy, homicide, damages and injury. When it came to injuries is where, as a generalization, He tells them “...Breach for breach, eye for eye,....”, and continues to do so to the end in verse 20.


   15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him, as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death. 17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. 18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. 19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour, as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; 20 breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”     (Lev 24:15-20)

      As we can see, what this is talking about is a rule for the judges to follow; but it seems that the Jews twisted this and began to justify themselves in their hatred by alleging this passage.

      The second passage that could have had an origin to that popular saying refers to what the judges needed to do. Let's see.


  22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow, he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”      (Ex 21:22-25)

      In the previous passage we once again see that the mandate of an eye for an eye was not given to the believers for them to use with respect to their personal hatred and quarrels, but so that the judges would have a guide to act upon. We see the same in the following passage of Deuteronomy 19:21.


   16 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong, 17 then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days. 18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition, and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother, 19 then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother, so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. 20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. 21 And thine eye shall not pity, but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”                       (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)

      As we have seen in all of these passages, every time an eye for an eye is mentioned, it is referring to the way a judge has to punish a criminal, it was not a norm used to stir up personal hatred. When a person had been wronged, he had the right to not accuse, and forgive if he so desired. But when that same person was a judge and someone brought the case to him, the judge had to act according to that which was established in this passage: an eye for an eye.

      We are not going to think that Christ abolished the judges, the courts and the police when he said the statement an eye for an eye that was said among the ancients ones should not be the rule of personal conduct; nothing further from the truth.

      If we only read the New Testament, we would think that what was said to the ancient ones was in reality a mandate of God for the behavior of believers. However, if we also read the Old Testament, we learn that this is the standard for the judges to do justice. We have to read the entire Bible as it is, if we don't, we will not know how to properly interpret Scripture. That is why there is so much nonsense presented as Christian doctrine.

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