Where Is An Eye For An Eye In The Bible

Responding with ‘An eye for an eye’ has been a popular phrase for centuries, but it is a misquotation from the Bible. According to Christian theology, ‘An eye for an eye’ is an instruction for justice rather than for revenge, with Jesus advocating for a cycle of grace instead of a cycle of violence.

The actual phrase ‘An eye for an eye’ is from the Old Testament — specifically from Exodus 21. It states, “If anyone injures his neighbour, Whatever he has done, must be done to him. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye”

The original context of this passage was to limit the punishment of an offender to make sure it did not exceed the severity of the offence. The intention was that each penalty would fit the crime, so there would be no disproportionate retribution. The scholar Samuel Thayer explains that this command of the Bible was “a law of moderation and mercy”, setting the boundaries so that the punishment did not exceed the offence. Therefore, it was seen as an act of mercy rather than a call for revenge.

For Christians, the New Testament brings a new understanding to the Exodus statement of ‘An eye for an eye’ Jesus encourages a different way of responding in Matthew 5. He states, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them also the other cheek.” This is a radical departure from the Old Testament law of retribution and represents a merciful response.

We have a choice to make when facing difficult situations. We can respond in anger or vengeance, or we can seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus’ example of mercy, rather than retaliation, reveals a new way of understanding ‘An eye for an eye’. The biblical understanding of ‘An eye for an eye’ is to move away from the desire for revenge, and to provide justice — not more suffering.

God’s Forgiveness

Christians believe that God’s ultimate plan for justice is to forgive. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a difficult concept to comprehend, but it is what Jesus asks of us. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus tells us to forgive an offender up to 77 times. This means that Christian believers should seek to forgive rather than retaliate.

The biblical idea of ‘An eye for an eye’ is not a call to seek vengeance, but rather to show mercy. Through Jesus’ radical example, we are encouraged to be people of grace and to respond to offences, not with anger or revenge, but with forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean that justice does not exist, it means that justice is reserved for God. In 1 Samuel 24:12, we read that it is human nature to deal kindly with those who have wronged us, and understand that we are all made in God’s image. In this way we draw on God’s mercy and reflect His magnanimous love and grace.

Institutional and Reciprocal Forgiveness

The Church calls us to a higher standard of peace-making and encourages us to forgive. This can be applied to both institutional and reciprocal forgiveness. Institutional forgiveness is when a Church or community provides an apology or reparation to those it has wronged. This can be seen in the recent Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the reparation payments made to those affected by the Stolen Generations.

Reciprocal forgiveness is the forgiving of an offender by someone who has been wronged directly. It acknowledges the wrong committed and allows the offender and victim to move towards reconciliation. In order to lead a life of forgiveness, we must actively seek restitution, repentance, and reconciliation for the wrongs of others.

Calling for Justice

Ultimately, ‘An eye for an eye’ is a call for justice — not revenge — but a call for justice tempered by mercy and forgiveness. Jesus reframes justice to calls us away from revenge and encourages us to consider the implications of our actions and seek forgiveness for those who have wronged us and for those whom we have wronged.

God does not seek revenge, he seeks justice. Vengeance belongs in the hands of God and Holy Scripture reassures us that justice will be served. We are urged to forgive, not to seeking vengeance, and to display the same grace that God has shown to us.

The Power of Forgiveness

In our broken world, forgiveness is essential. We need to practice and perpetuate the power of forgiveness. We must seek to cultivate relationships of compassion and mercy. As Christians, our call is to love and to forgive, just as Jesus has done for us. In this way, we extend grace to one another and embody the meaning of ‘An eye for an eye’.

Living with an Attitude of Forgiveness

We are called by Christ to show an immense degree of forgiveness to those who wrong us. Likewise, it is important that we forgive ourselves for our faults and missteps. We should not let our sins define us, but instead seek forgiveness and become new creations in Christ.

Sometimes it can be difficult to forgive those who have wronged us, and we can become consumed by feelings of betrayal and hurt. But when we reflect on the immense love that Christ has for us, it can make it easier to forgive. Jesus commands us to forgive, and so we must seek to extend that grace to one another.

God’s Mercy

Ultimately, ‘An eye for an eye’ is an instruction for justice, not revenge. Through Jesus, we are shown a new way of responding to those who have wronged us. Embodying Jesus’ instruction, we seek to move away from the desire for revenge and instead call on God’s mercy. The power of forgiveness is immense and when we forgive, we move towards reconciling broken relationships and healing our world.

Hilda Scott is an avid explorer of the Bible and inteprator of its gospel. She is passionate about researching and uncovering the mysteries that lie in this sacred book. She hopes to use her knowledge and expertise to bring faith and God closer to people all around the world.

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