Did people really do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth to people?


"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" -- does that really mean that? Did they really do that in the Bible days?


The phrase "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is a part of the law that was given to judges who were deciding cases. It was not for people in their personal relationships. If a person was judged guilty of harming another person, then the punishment was to be the same harm to the abuser.

  • Case 1: If two men are fighting and accidentally harm a pregnant woman so that her child is born prematurely, the punishment is to be equal to the amount of permanent damage done to the child or the mother. If no permanent harm resulted, then a fine would be imposed  (Exodus 21:22-25).
  • Case 2: A person making a false accusation is to receive whatever punishment the accused would have received had the judge believed the accuser. No pity was to be given because of the seriousness of the offense (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).
  • Case 3: A man guilty of injuring another would receive the same injury he caused as punishment (Leviticus 24:17-22).

None of these cases allow for a person to retaliate against someone else. Only a judge was to determine the guilt of the accused. Once the guilt was established, these laws determined the punishment for these particular crimes. God never intended these laws to be used as an excuse to take the law into your own hands (Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 20:22; 24:29).

The goal is to make people stop and think before they hurt another person because they may end up hurting themselves in the end. It also kept the judges from dealing out unequal justice. See An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth for more details.

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