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Eye for an Eye

Posted by Jim Henley on June 28, 2001

The origin and meaning of "Eye for an eye..." are both wrong.

It comes from Exodus 21:23-25 - "But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."

It is a limit on punishment, not a call for vengence.
The Jews may have used it as an excuse for vengence, but in Matthew 5:38-42, Christ was correcting their misapplication by urging them to forgive *personal* injustices.
It is the foundation of our "modern" prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment - the punishment should fit the crime, e.g. you don't execute someone for stealing a loaf of bread.