What the Bible Says About an Eye for an Eye

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The principle of “an eye for an eye” is first found in the Old Testament. It means that one should seek retribution in proportion to the injury suffered rather than exceeding it.

However, in the New Testament, Jesus provides Christians with a new message about an eye for an eye.

In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus says, You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

In other words, Jesus is teaching that we should not seek revenge when we are harmed, but we should forgive those who wrong us.

This message is echoed throughout the New Testament, with Christians being instructed to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

While the world may tell us that getting even is the best way to deal with our problems, the Bible teaches us that forgiveness is always the better path. Here are some verses from the Old and New Testaments about an eye for an eye.

Exodus 21:23-25

But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Deuteronomy 19:16-21

If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.

The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother.

So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Exodus 21:23-25

But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Leviticus 24:19-20

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 

Proverbs 20:22

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.

1 Thessalonians 5:15

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Luke 6:29

To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Luke 23:34

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Romans 12:10-21

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Final Words on An Eye for An Eye

The Bible’s take on an eye for an eye is pretty clear; we are not to take vengeance into our own hands. We are to leave that to God. This can be a hard thing to do, but it is what God commands us to do. It is a way of showing them that we are different from them and following God’s commands. It is also a way of hopefully leading them to repentance and salvation.

So the next time someone does something evil to you, don’t think about getting even. Instead, think about how you can show them God’s love by doing good to them. It might just be the thing that turns their life around.

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