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‘Eye for an Eye’ – Bible Meaning

What does “an Eye for an Eye” mean in the Bible?


One of the Bible’s most controversial quotes or laws is an ‘eye for an eye.’

This rule suggests that the punishment for wrongdoing should be proportionate to the damage done.

It is confusing because the Bible preaches forgiveness and love.

So why would the Bible have a record of rules suggesting that we take revenge or pay evil for evil?

If you want to discover the meaning of the phrase, eye for eye, parts of the Bible it was mentioned, what Jesus said about it, and what it means to believers in this modern times, then keep reading. 

Meaning of an eye for an eyeeye for an eye meaning

The phrase eye for an eye can be found in various verses of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments: Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:19-22, Deuteronomy 19:21, and Matthew 5:38.

It is first mentioned in the book of Exodus as one of the Mosaic Laws for Israelites as the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. 

“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:22-24) 

A typical curious person would have searched through the pages of the Bible, looking for any story that correlates with the eye for an eye rule.

They would have considered people’s offenses, and the punishment meted out. However, they would be disappointed because there is no part of the Bible where anyone lost an eye or both eyes as a result of hurting another person’s eye.  

What does this mean?

This verse has been misunderstood and heavily misinterpreted, just like other verses of the Bible. So what does it mean?

Eye for an eye is a rule adopted by appointed judges or the justice system to help them impose appropriate punishment for a crime against people so no one would feel cheated or under-compensated.

The rule is also employed to create fear or deter people from intentionally hurting others.

Deuteronomy 19:20 says, “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” 

Purpose of the eye for an eye rulean eye for an eye meaning

The eye for an eye rule existed, but not as many think.

An offender’s eye was not plucked out in the case of an accident or fight that resulted in a person losing an eye.

Instead, the judges ensure the hurt is adequately compensated and the offender punished. Therefore, it was mainly for retribution. 

One misconception people have about this rule is that the injured, his family, or members of the community have the right to take matters into their own hands. However, there were systems in place that handled criminal cases.

They investigate the case, have a public hearing between the offender and the complainant, and pass judgment to the best of their knowledge and ability. So, it is not a case of jungle justice or the like. 

What the Bible says about taking laws into our handswhat does eye for an eye mean

Eye for an eye gives a sense of vengeance. It sounds like we are permitted to avenge ourselves when we are hurt, cheated, or injured. But that is not what God’s Word teaches us. 

God understands that humans will always feel the need to retaliate.

That is why the Bible warns against it.

Allowing people to avenge themselves or practice the eye for an eye rule literally will only leave the world with blind people. But that does not mean that the offender will go unpunished. 

Romans 12:17 & 19 says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” 

God will avenge us.

We must allow Him to fight our battles for us.

In the famous story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land in Exodus 14, we see an example of God avenging His eye for an eye bible meaning

The Bible records that the children of Israel’s journey came to a halt because the Red Sea was in front of them. But what made it worse was that their enslavers, the Egyptians, were rushing down to recapture them. Therefore, they were in a horrible situation.

They couldn’t match forward or turn back. No alternative route. Only a miracle could deliver them. 

However, Moses told them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).eye for an eye bible verse

This statement was not only because of what the Israelites were facing at the Red Sea.

Moses was affirming that God would not only deliver them now but avenge them for all they had experienced in their over four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. 

They had toiled for hundreds of years without rebelling.

Moses, who wanted to act as a messiah when he was younger and still under Pharaoh’s roof, killed an Egyptian and had to flee to escape arrest and punishment.

So, the Egyptians’ cups were full, and the Red Sea experience was a perfect time for God to avenge His people.

He fought for them indeed. The Egyptians drowned while the Israelites crossed to the other side.

God only fights for or avenges one who holds his peace.

To hold your peace is to remain calm in the face of provocation.

It means not rewarding evil for evil but acknowledging God fights His people’s enemy. 

Taking the law into your own hands makes you a sinner and going against God’s rule.

And the bad thing about this is that you risk facing God’s judgment. You and the one who hurts or offends you might face the consequences of your actions.

It doesn’t matter who does it first. So, would you rather fight or hold your peace?

Believers must avoid fighting their battles or fighting on God’s behalf.what does an eye for an eye mean

His judgment might be slow, but it never fails.

Sometimes, He might not avenge us as we expect because His ways differ from ours. Saul now Paul persecuted Christians. He supervised the killing of Stephen.

He went from city to city, capturing and imprisoning Christians.

When the time came for God to avenge His disciples and faithful, He did not kill Paul.

Instead, He struck him with blindness, opened his eyes, offered him salvation, and called him to serve Him.

Therefore, God’s vengeance might not be what we think. After all, God says, “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8).

What did Jesus say about an eye for an eye?eye for an eye meaning bible

Eye for an eye is a Mosaic Law.

It is one of those laws Jesus came to abolish.

Jesus addressed this law in one of His teachings in Matthew 5:38-43.

From Jesus’ point of view, eye for an eye rule stirs enmity among people.

It leaves no room for forgiveness and love. But vengeance and hate.

Jesus knew that the religious people, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, misinterpreted the quote and used it as a weapon to do evil and fan the fire of strife among people. 

However, Jesus proposed an opposite rule. A rule built on love and tolerance.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Here, Jesus encourages believers on how to respond to hostility and mistreatment.who said an eye for an eye

We must learn not to pay evil with evil but to practice love, respect, and tolerance.

We must be willing to show our offenders love and grace just as God always does by ignoring our sins and misdeeds and forgiving us daily. 

If God were to pay us according to our deeds, no one would experience forgiveness and restoration. Therefore, we are expected to extend this grace to our offenders.

We must love them unconditionally by going the extra mile to ensure they experience forgiveness and love through our actions.

Turning the left cheek after you have been slapped on the right is not a sign of weakness but strength.

It proves that though you have what it takes to retaliate, you have decided to embrace peace, not violence. However, Jesus is not encouraging us to allow ourselves to be cheated and abused.

Instead, He is teaching us to know that a bit of patience and tolerance, even in uncomfortable situations and provocations, can be a tool that will transform others.eye for an eye origin

Those you treat with love instead of hate can introspect and change their ways.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus further states that showing love to our enemies proves we are God’s children.

What is the benefit of showing love to those already full of love? What is the benefit of light in a bright room? Nothing.

We are loved to heal and transform hearts full of hate and pain.

We are the light of the world, so we can shine in the darkness and show the lost the way to Jesus.

Therefore, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Should Christians practice ‘eye for an eye’ today?

As earlier stated, the eye for an eye rule is a form of retribution employed by judges to pass the right judgments in court.judgments in court

Since Jesus has admonished us to repay evil with love, is going to court as a Christian right during conflicts?

In his letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, the Apostle Paul discusses taking matters to court as Christians.

According to him, it is somewhat shameful for Christians, who are supposed to be filled with God’s wisdom and Spirit, to handle issues among themselves to seek justice from a system most likely run by the unrighteous. 

He believes that mature Christians should be able to resolve issues without escalating them to the court.

Paul feels it is shameful for believers not to have people wise enough to resolve problems. In fact, he terms it an utter failure to go the law against one another.

Does it mean we should not seek justice from the court? No. However, we must be able to apply discretion.

There are crimes we must not ignore but involve the court to get justice. For example, murder, abduction, and other violent crimes.

In a case of murder, the law typically takes over the case. It is left for the members of the family of the victim not to press charges. 

But in cases such as disputes over money or payment of debts, we should have elders within the church fit to resolve it.reconciliation

Matthew 18:15-17 gives us a template for resolving disputes as Christians.

The offended should first seek reconciliation or recompense from the offender.

If the offender refuses, the offended two or more other Christians should be involved, so there should be witnesses.

If he refuses to make amends, the case should be taken to the church.

Still, if he refuses, the Bible says he should be treated like a heathen and a tax collector. In other words, a sinner. 

Such an unrepentant fellow can be dragged to the court of law to be judged and punished according to the weight of his offense.

Therefore, believers must avoid the eye for an eye rule. But pursue peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14).

We must not be driven by rage and revenge. Instead, we should allow God to avenge us as He feels is right.

We must forgive just as God has forgiven and extended grace toward us.


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