“Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal” Leviticus 24:18
Our world society has many conflicting views and opinions on almost every matter. One of these is the appropriateness of sentences being handed down by our courts. On the one hand people are claiming the sentences do not match the crime and on the other there are those that claim that sentences are for the purpose of revenge and are therefore wrong. The latter frequently misuse the phrase from Moses’ writings, “an eye for an eye.”
This phrase appears three times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament spoken by Jesus to correct the misunderstanding that people had in His time. Many people still have a wrong understanding. On the three occasions the phrase is used in the Old Testament it is used:
- in regard to justice and punishment – i.e. the sentence matching the crime (Exodus 21:24);
- in regard to restitution when a person causes loss to another – i.e. if a man kills his neighbour’s dog, he will give him another dog (Leviticus 24:20); and
- in regard to those who give false testimony in court – i.e. if a person gives false testimony of a theft, then he should receive the same penalty as the accused would have received had he been guilty of theft (Deuteronomy 19:21).
It would appear that Jesus picked up on the false understanding which was that this phrase meant revenge. The original meaning of the phrase in the Old Testament still stands but the Jews’ application of it was wrong in Jesus’ day – just as it is in the general population’s understanding these days – that it means revenge. It never meant that and still doesn’t.
In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus said that revenge is always, and was always, wrong. He says that we should not be concerned with receiving justice but in ensuring that those we have wronged receive, as a minimum even compensation. If someone wants to justifiably sue us then we should give beyond what justice and the law demands (v 40).
“An eye for an eye” is one of many Bible phrases that have been abused by people to try and give credibility to the concept of revenge or to discredit the Bible by revealing what they believe is an inconsistency.
The world is not afraid to interpret the Bible but we would do well not to accept that interpretation. Only one who is spiritual is able to understand that which is spiritual. So being born of God is a prerequisite. It is a sad thing when a Christian accepts an interpretation of God’s Word that comes from the world who, “professing to be wise, became fools” (Romans 1:22).