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Kevin wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • I know the Bible teaches us tolerance, acceptance, love, and forgiveness, but why do some people assume that it also teaches:
    • "an eye for an eye", and
    • getting back at someone who wronged a person?

A straight answer would be nice please.

Thank you for your time.


  { If the Bible teaches us these virtues, why do people assume it also teaches an "eye for an eye"? }

John replied:

Hi Kevin,

It teaches both but you have to understand the context.

It comes from Exodus Chapter 21:

12 He that strikes a man, so that he dies, shall be surely put to death. 13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God delivers him into his hand; then I will appoint you a place where he shall flee. 14 But if a man comes presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. 15 And he that strikes his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. 16 And he that steals a man, and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. 17 And he that curses his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. 18 And if men strive together, and one strikes another with a stone, or with his fist, and he dies not, but keeps his bed: 19 If he rises again, and walks about upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be clear: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. 20 And if a man strikes his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he dies under his hand; he shall be surely punished. 21 But, if he continues a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his property. 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no mischief follows: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:12-24

Now we must understand the context here. This was a system of justice not personal vengeance. It was to be enforced by the community, but most importantly, it placed limits on punishment. Don't get caught up in the specific actions described above. They must be understood in their historical context. The point is, this is an early code of law that sets forth specific sentences; what they considered crimes. They didn't have jails at the time of Exodus. They were wondering in the desert. If someone punched someone in the mouth and knocked out his front tooth, they couldn't sentence him to jail for assault and battery so the guilty person would have to suffer what he did to the victim whether it was a tooth of tooth, eye for eye, or whatever. That actually protects the perpetrator from vengeance by victim. It prevented or restrained the victim from killing the guy.

Now the New Testament talks about personal forgiveness. We are called to love and forgive. It doesn't tell us that we are to accept crime. Today if someone commits a crime, they do time in a penitentiary. The victim should forgive them but that doesn't mean the criminal doesn't get punished. When the criminal gets out, it is said that he's paid his debt to society.

Finally, I'd be careful about the use of the words tolerance and acceptance. Nowhere does the Bible use these terms. These are buzz terms used by people who want to live immoral lifestyles and expect society to say it's OK. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is merciful. He accepts as we are but He doesn't accept our sin. He loves us too much to let us remain in our sin. Love is a very misunderstood word. It's not an emotion. It is a total self giving and if we love God, we cannot love our sin. Just as He gives Himself to us, we must give ourselves entirely to Him. He'll do the work in us to reform and transform us.

We don't need to focus on our sin. We just need to draw near to Him. He'll convict our Spirit and give us the desire, the will, grace, and power to overcome our sins and temptations. It's a process that lasts a life time and longer, but we should never confuse mercy with leniency.

  • Mercy means we need to be forgiven.
  • Leniency means God lets us get away with it and won't hold us accountable for our actions.

Love requires much of us in our actions towards our fellow man and that includes justice.

I hope this helps.

Happy Thanksgiving

Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

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