Jesus and an "EYE for an EYE"
Many Christians have wondered,
“Did Jesus overrule, change or cancel the
Old Testament "eye for an eye" law?”
In Leviticus 24:19-20, it is written:
“Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured
in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury
must suffer the same injury.”
This law specified how the court was supposed to punish violent criminals who seriously or permanently injured their victims. This public courtyard punishment was God’s optimal method to deter violent crime.
But according to Jesus in Matthew 23:23, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law neglected enforcing God’s justice. So, rather than publically enforce God’s “eye for an eye” law as an official judicial punishment in the courtyard, the Pharisees most likely taught the people to enforce their own “eye for an eye law” in the streets. As a result, the very “eye for an eye” law that was supposed to deter violence and revenge when publically enforced by the courts in the courtyard, instead became a mob cry to motivate violence and revenge in the streets as if violence and revenge was now sanctioned by God himself.
Obviously, this terrible situation (once again caused by the Pharisees) had to be corrected by Christ. So, in Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and
tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the
other cheek also."
Because of this statement, most people conclude Jesus overruled the Old Testament “eye for an eye” law. But notice Jehovah’s Old Testament Law referred to an actual serious or permanent injury (like a fractured nose or fractured jaw, a blinded eye or a missing tooth), whereas Jesus merely referred to someone being slapped or struck on the face with no mention of any serious injury at all. Notice also that Jesus did not say,
“If someone breaks your jaw on the left side, turn to
him the right side of your jaw; and if someone blinds
your right eye, turn to him the left eye; and if
someone knocks out a tooth on the right, turn to
him a tooth on the left.”
So, Jesus was not referring to serious injury at all, but was instead suggesting that those who are having a fist fight (or worse) but who have not yet caused any permanent or serious injury to each other, that they not escalate the fight but instead turn the other cheek. This is like saying to your opponent,
“You better stop the fight now, because if you
continue the fight and seriously injure me, then all
these witnesses will see to it that you yourself will be
injured in the identical fashion by a court-appointed
enforcer in the public courtyard.”
Notice also that Jesus never said,
“It is written…but I say unto you…”
Yet in Matthew 5, Jesus declared six times,
“You’ve heard that it was said...but I say unto you…”
You see, Jesus always exalted (and never corrected) the written word of God—the Holy Scriptures. On the other hand, Jesus often condemned what was mistakenly said and taught by the Pharisees about the written word of God. So six times in Matthew, Jesus never corrected the written word, but instead Jesus corrected what was said about the written word of God. So obviously, Jesus was neither correcting nor overruling the "eye for an eye" law in the Old Testament.
AN "EYE FOR AN EYE" AS A BIBLICAL ALTERNATIVE TO IMPRISONMENT FOR
VIOLENT CRIMINALS WHO SERIOUSLY
INJURE THEIR VICTIMS
The courtroom legal principle of an "eye-for-an-eye" is a quick, simple, effective, and inexpensive method to administer justice to the violent criminal who causes serious injury to his victim, and represents the second Biblical alternative to expensive tax-sponsored prisons! This principle was designed by God to be the most cost effective means of stopping violent assault and battery! For it is written:
"If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done
must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth. As he injured the other, so he is to be
injured." (Leviticus. 24:19-20 NIV)
Christianity's misunderstanding of this one particular Mosaic civil law, has done more to deter Christians from embracing the advantages of God's other civil laws, than any other single line of reasoning. Specifically, it has caused us to totally ignore the best possible deterrent for violent crime-related injury. And as a result of our deliberate unwillingness to obey God, God has again given us over to "statutes that are not good and laws we cannot live by" (Ezekiel. 20:25), by allowing us to spend billions of dollars in taxes on ineffective imprisonment, when instead we should be punishing violent criminals according to God's principles of civil law, creating the perfect deterrent to violent crime, and saving hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes at the same time!
Now one of the main reasons why Christians disapprove of this particular principle of civil law is because we have largely misunderstood Christ's teaching concerning "turning the other cheek". You see, most Christians have mistakenly concluded that Christ was correcting the written Laws of God, when in reality, Christ was merely correcting what was said and mistakenly taught about the Laws of God by the Pharisees and clarifying the intent of the Law so the Jews could understand it better!
You see, the concept of "an eye for an eye" is one of God's principles of "Fair and Just Punishment" which was to be implemented only by a judge (Exodus 21:22-25 & Deuteronomy 19:16-21 NIV) (or the judge's designated enforcer) and implemented immediately after a trial, and only inside a courtroom, inside a courtyard, or outside in a public place near where the violent criminal lived, so the violent criminal's gang members, family, friends and neighbors would all witness God's prescribed punishment for violent crime as enforced by a God-fearing government. God's "eye for an eye" punishment was NOT to be enforced by the local citizens upon each other, but was only to be enforced by the State upon the violent criminal, and only after the violent criminal had been convicted in a fair trial in a courtroom.
Unfortunately however, rebellious man has a natural tendency to use this same principle outside the courtroom as a justification for revenge. This was not what God wanted, and Jesus condemns this practice! But just because Jesus condemns the practice of an "eye for an eye" in back alleys by violent citizens bent on retaliation (because this form of an "eye for an eye" actually motivates further violence and revenge), does not disqualify the principle of an "eye for an eye" for use inside the courtroom (or courtyard) for administering God's justice (according to the guidelines given to us in Leviticus 24:19-20 (NIV) to deter violence and revenge!
With this in mind, let us examine the words of Christ in Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV). Jesus declared ...
"You have heard that it was SAID, 'Eye for eye, and
tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil
person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)
Please notice that Jesus did NOT say, "You have heard that it was WRITTEN...." but instead declared, "You have heard that it was SAID...." (Jesus repeated this same expression six times in chapter five of Matthew.)
Now is there a difference between "what was WRITTEN" and "what was SAID"? Of course there is!
For when Jesus uses the expression...
"It is WRITTEN....",
he is referring to the written Holy scriptures of God.
But when Jesus uses the expression,
"You have heard that it was SAID.....",
he is referring to the oral traditions of men and specifically to the mistaken oral teachings of the Pharisees!
For Jesus never disagreed with what was written in the scriptures, but he often disagreed with what was said about the scriptures! Likewise, Jesus never corrected what was written in the scriptures, but he often corrected what was said about the scriptures!
In fact, Jesus always exalted the written Word of God. For example, when making a point about God's perfect truth, Jesus often declared,
1. "It is written.........." Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
2. "It is written.........." Matthew 4:7
3. "It is written.........." Matthew 4:10
4 "It is written.........." Mark 14:27
5. "It is written.........." Luke 4:4
6. "It is written.........." Luke 4:8
7. "It is written.........." Luke 4:12
8. "It is written.........." Luke 19:46
9. "It is written.........." Luke 22:37
10. "It is written.........." Luke 24:46
11. "Haven't you read......?" Matthew 12:3
12. "Haven't you read......?" Matthew 12:5
13. "Haven't you read......?" Matthew 21:42
14. "Haven't you read......?" Matthew 22:31
15. "Haven't you read......?" Mark 2:25
16. "Haven't you read......?" Mark 12:10
17. "Haven't you read......?" Mark 12:26
18. "Haven't you read......?" Luke 6:3
19. "Is is not written.........?" Mark 11:17
20. "Is it not written..........?" John 10:34
21. "What is written..........?" Luke 10:26
22. "You know not the scriptures...." Matthew 22:29
23. "You know not the scriptures...." Mark 12:24
24. "You know the commandments......" Mark 10:19
25. "You know the commandments......" Luke 18:20
26. "What did Moses command you?" Mark 10:3
27. "What is the meaning of that which is written....? Lk 20:7
You see, Jesus insisted that what was already written in the scriptures was an infallible source of God's eternal truth! For Jesus was always exalting the scriptures, the commandments, and "that which was WRITTEN!"
So Jesus was not correcting the written Law, he was only clarifying the Law and correcting what was said about the Law by the Pharisees and others who were unrighteous.
For the written law of "an eye for an eye", was supposed to discourage violence and revenge OUTSIDE the courtroom, not encourage violence and revenge. However, what was said about the law, perverted the Law's intent, to motivate violence and revenge OUTSIDE the courtroom and to justify a "slap for a slap", and a "punch for a punch."
So Jesus was not changing the Law, but only clarifying the Law and correcting the perverted oral tradition of the Pharisees!
Notice also that Jesus did NOT say,
"If someone puts out your right eye, turn to him your
left eye also! And if someone cuts off your right hand,
offer him the left hand as well!"
Jesus only said,
"If someone merely slaps or strikes you on the cheek,
turn the other cheek,"
because a slap is not a form of serious or permanent injury!
Remember, the law was "an eye for an eye", not "a slap for a slap"! And the principle of an "eye for an eye" referred to serious injury, like putting out an eye, knocking out a tooth, or giving someone a serious wound, burn, or scar. For this law was designed by God to be used only as a courtroom punishment (or court-ordered punishment) to discourage violence and revenge, by making people fear that if they hurt another person seriously that they too would be restrained in the courtroom while the court-appointed strong-man would legally do the same thing to them that they did to the other person!
Therefore, the law of "an eye for an eye" was not supposed to negate "turning the other cheek", but was supposed to encourage "turning the other cheek"! And Jesus is merely reminding people that the true meaning of "an eye for an eye" (inside the courtroom), is to "turn the other cheek" (outside the courtroom)! You see, offering the other cheek to your enemy was supposed to be a gentle, but firm reminder that if the violent person continues the fight and seriously injures you, that the violent offender himself will likely receive the identical injury in the courtroom, the courtyard, or in the offender's own neighborhood, as ordered by the judge and administered by the designated court enforcer.
Besides, turning the other cheek was supposed to be a non-violent response to aggression which gave your enemy time (and a reason) to calm down and consider making amends. Furthermore, this law was also supposed to turn the fear of being mugged while walking the streets, into a bold confidence that whatever serious injury a mugger did to you, would now be done back to him in the courtroom! In fact, some people might even defiantly "turn the other cheek", as if to say...
"I dare you to hit me again in front of this crowd
of witnesses. Because if you seriously hurt me,
you're gonna get the same injury in the courtroom tomorrow that you are about to give to me now!
So go ahead! Make my day!"
In summary, God designed the principle of an "eye for an eye" to....
1. provide a quick, simple, effective, and inexpensive
method to administer justice to the violent criminal
who seriously injures his victim,
2. provide the perfect method for deterring violent crime,
violent wife abuse, and violent child abuse,
3. encourage a gentle, non-violent response to aggression,
4. replace fear of walking the streets with confidence and
5. provide another Biblical alternative to expensive,
tax-sponsored prisons, and,
6. save society billions of dollars in taxes!