Many ancient cultures followed The Law of Retaliation and allowed punishment that was greatly out of proportion to the crime committed. This Law was limited in Israel. The Law was merciful in that it was to prevent retaliation. God gave to the Mosaic Law a judgement of punishment that was to correspond to the nature of the injury, caused by the offender. The idea was to make equal justice humane. The rectification was to match and not exceed the damage done, to limit the punishment to fit the crime. Exodus 21:24,25, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21.

An eye for eye, tooth for tooth is not a law of retaliation but a formula for compensation. A literal interpretation was a danger of transferring to the private sector what was assigned solely to Judges and also a tendency to fail to apply the principle under restitution, that the reimbursement was to fit the injury, no more and no less. The Law actually was to stop all personal vengeance and retaliation amongst citizens.

The Bible teaches revenge is forbidden. The law was not a rule for personal vengeance, but to ensure judicial punishments were not unjust. Ungodly vengeance is malicious and each circumstance is to be considered by merit and all claims of equal justice to be taken into account.

It was a guide to Judges who had to allocate compensations in damage cases.
The Bible does not condone physical mutilation. There is rejection of an eye for eye, tooth for tooth in the next verse, Exodus 21: 26,27. The expression meant that the compensation was to match the damages and no more.

The basic fact was that the penalty to be given by the right authorities was to fit the crime. An actual eye or tooth was not to be required. The principle is still widely misunderstood. It is to be recognised that far from encouraging vengeance, it limits it and stands as a direction for a Judge to fix the appropriate penalty. The principle of this Law is not a license to carry out personal retaliation. Civil authorities and Judges were responsible for the action of the obligations or penalties given.

Judaism interpreted this law to govern personal relationships, rather than a law to guide Judges to decisions of justice.

NIV Matthew 5:38-40 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Christ rejected the Judaism interpretation by the scribes and teachers of this principle of Law. Jesus clearly brought out what is implied in the Mosaic Laws, in opposition to the strictly literal or legal interpretations of them by the scribes and the teachers of The Law. Jesus opposed their justification of unlimited personal feuds, for personal vengeance belongs to God alone.

Jesus has the authority to draw out true principles and to disclaim the false deductions that have been made by individuals.

Jesus went beyond man's custom of returning evil for evil and re-introduced the response of love towards each other, for the scribes had adjusted the scriptures and added 'to hate your enemies'. Both Jesus and Paul insisted in their teachings, it is better to suffer loss rather than resort to personal vindictiveness.

Jesus pointed to the damages this sin caused, of bitterness and hardness, which should be dealt with drastically and quickly by spiritual surgery, of repentance, love and forgiveness. He commanded no harbouring of resentment and not to take retribution, and gave examples such as 'turn the other cheek', a lesson in no personal retaliation, clearly teaching not to take vengeance against others, that is what the expression is meant by 'turn the other check'. People are not to take the law into their own hands.

The Christian attitude is to forgive and not plan private revengeful acts; it is a 'die to self' standard.

The Law of retaliation was not meant for the people to practice private vengeance every time they were personally wronged or injured. It was never intended to allow individuals to avenge others. These Laws were for civil and criminal magistrates in administrating justice. It was not to be applied in a literalistic way, even though many individuals did and extremists used this law to execute private vendettas, which was a sin against God.

Some Biblical examples of those who carried out the Will of God regarding non retaliation are Jesus, David, Joseph, Job, Stephen, including all the people of God both of Old Testament and New Testament times who suffered persecution.

The law of retaliation was not to enter the personal domain, for then the Law of God would be destroyed, without Supremacy. Recompense and restitution for evil is the prerogative of God, and justice is to be carried out by the authorities that are ordained by Him. It was never intended for personal individuals. Scripture insists that personal human revenge is unacceptable and is forbidden, for God has promised to avenge His people.

A punishment too harsh is unfair, yet a correction that is too lenient is powerless to teach the wrong doer not to re-offend. This law ensured that those who violated the criminal rules had an even handed discipline and justice, and was not to suffer cruel and barbaric punishments. Ancient Israel was the first nation to limit punishment and compensation laws of equality.

The eye for eye, tooth for tooth law was imposed for limitation of families claiming vengeance against each other, to stop members of tribes making retaliation against a different tribe. The acceptation of this principle made it easier for compensation of equal, reasonable, replacement and opposite injury.

Justice must be done and God who is both Just and Fair insists upon an adequate punishment,
but not excessive punishment.

Usually compensation to fit the crime was monetary as it is today. Yet a life is sacred without material equivalent. In cases, where life was required as a punishment, a substitution was available, except for first degree murder.

The initial provision to react to violence becomes a choice, of not voicing senses of grievance. It belongs to personal behaviour as a Christian in obedience to the teaching of Christ and being Christ-like. The Early Church taught non-retaliation.

A Christian magistrate today should compensate a victim of violence or injury of equal restitution, no more and no less, even though some victims sue for more than the actual damage done.

SCRIPTURES Exodus 21:26,27, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21, Matthew 5:38-40.
QUESTIONS 1] Does the Bible condone mutilation? 2] Was this law for personal retaliation? 3] Are people to take vengeance themselves? 4] Is God just and fair?

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