Eye for an Eye

Eye for an Eye

Written on 03/27/2018
Reverend Rose Cross Horton


I was having a conversation with a young woman recently and we began to discuss the verse in the Bible about an eye for eye. We were talking about needing to understand the Bible from a Hebraic understanding. I was doing my best to explain that Jesus did not do away with Torah, He fulfilled Torah. She said that Jesus “changed” the idea of an eye for an eye and that He “did away” with the thought that eye for an eye because it was not right. Jesus was love and wanted love, so her thought was that Jesus “changed” Torah. 

The question must arise, if Jesus is God, and God gave Torah to His people, than why would Jesus “change” what God said? He can’t. He couldn’t. This would go against the nature of God. 

I pulled out the Complete Jewish Study Bible. I looked up the verse in Exodus 21. This is what it said:

But if any harm follows, then you are to give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.

When Jesus spoke about these verses He said (Matthew 5):

38 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! 40 If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well! 41 And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two! 42 When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him.

The word, “but” throws us because it sounds like Jesus is saying, “I am changing this idea.”

I began to study what the Jewish idiom, “eye for eye” meant. I learned that if someone poked someone else’s eye out, he/she was responsible for payment to the other person. The person who injured the other person had to pay for wages lost, projected wages lost, and wages for the pain inflicted. The person literally had to “pay for the eye.” The words “eye for an eye” did not mean a person could poke out the eye of a person who inflicted them. It meant that the person could require the other person to pay him for the wound that was inflicted. 

This would make sense with the heart of God. We wouldn’t think that God would tell us to poke out the eye of someone who poked our eye out. It does make sense that the person who sinned would be required to have a payment for his sin. It would make sense that God would hold the person responsible for what he/she did. 

Fast forward to what Jesus said. He said, “But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too!”

Jesus is not changing the “law” that was given to the Children of Israel. Jesus was saying that instead of requiring the person to pay, tell them that the payment required was forgiven. He never said that they no longer had to require payment. He told His followers that they should go above and beyond what Torah taught and bless the person with the gift of not requiring payment. To “turn the other cheek” would mean that you will bless the accuser/inflictor of pain with going above and beyond what the law requires. You will give grace.

Think about it this way: You are driving down the road in a hurry to meet someone. You are speeding and you know it, but you must get where you are going. There is the policeman beside the road and he stops you. He is doing what the “law” requires. The law requires him to give you a ticket for speeding. After speaking with you, the policeman decides that he will reduce the fine, or maybe he will not give you a ticket at all. He has chosen to go above and beyond what the law requires and he blesses you. The policeman has shown you grace.

Jesus never said that the Torah went away. He fulfilled the plan by showing us the ultimate grace. He fulfilled Torah and the plan that God gave. We must go back to the Hebraic roots of our faith to understand that the Bible is not contradicting itself. When we understand the Jewish idioms it brings clarity to the Word of God.