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Exodus 21:22–23:13
Matthew 24:1-28
Psalm 29:1-11
Proverbs 7:6-23


Exodus 21:23-25 (CSB) “If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.”


As is the case with so many passages of Scripture, Exodus 21:23-25 is almost always taken out of context, misunderstood, and misapplied.

Mohandas Gandhi expressed his disdain for the principle in this verse when he said: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

Really? Someone who is supposedly so studious and such a deeper thinker came to such a shallow conclusion?

Let’s set the record straight. Let’s understand what God was really saying through Moses.

For starters, Exodus 21:23-25 isn’t the only time that “an eye for an eye” appears in Scripture. It also appears in Leviticus 24:19-20 and Deuteronomy 19:21.

If you will read those verses, and the chapter in which those verses appear, you will notice that they were not written to individuals. Those chapters were written for the Israelite judicial system. The “eye for an eye” principle was never intended for an individual to carry out. It was for the judicial system.

Further, we never have an instance in the Old Testament where this principle was literally carried out. Do you know why? Because it was never intended to be taken literally. Do you know what the principle of “an eye for an eye” was? It stated that the punishment inflicted upon a criminal should equal the crime.

If a man killed someone with malice and aforethought, he should not go free or be lightly punished. The “eye for an eye” principle stated that he should receive a fair punishment that is equal to his crime. Otherwise, citizens would see that crime is treated lightly and criminal behavior would grow.

On the other hand, if a man’s ox strayed into a neighbor’s field and caused minimal damage, the owner of the ox should be required, by the judicial system, to make amends. If the landowner, whose property was damaged, had anger management problems and wanted to kill the owner of the ox, the “eye for an eye” principle would protect the ox owner. This principle did not allow a life for minimal property damage. Instead, it insisted that the punishment should be equal to the crime.

So, we understand that the “eye for an eye” principle did not say that we should be about the business of poking each other’s eyes out. It was a principle that stated that a crime’s punishment needed to be proportional to the crime. It should not be less than or greater than the crime.

Fast-forward to the New Testament…

When Jesus walked the earth, it seems as if the Jews had come to think that the “eye for an eye” principle was not limited to the judicial system. Apparently, they came to understand that it could be carried out by individuals. Essentially, it was misunderstood and misapplied to excuse revenge.

Jesus would have not of it. In Matthew 5, He set the record straight. While we understand that government is necessary and must punish crime where it occurs (Romans 13:4), individual citizens do not have the right to inflict punishment. Just listen to how Jesus said His followers are to respond to injustice.

Matthew 5:38-42 (CSB) “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

How is a Christian to endure injustice? We are to do so because Jesus told us to. But, it also helps if we know that the judicial system will make things right. We forgo revenge and tolerate injustice because we know that the crime will not go unpunished. In fact, read Romans 12:18-21 to see where we can provide for the needs of our enemies because we know that God will administer justice upon them as He sees fit.

If you want to read something I wrote five years ago about how Christians are to balance turning the other check (the Jesus-followers’ response) while upholding an eye for an eye (the government’s job), click here.