What does an "EYE for an EYE" mean?
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Question: What does the phrase "eye for an eye" MEAN?
Answer: Does the Biblical phrase "eye for an eye" mean that we can punish, or even take revenge upon, someone in the exact same manner they used to cause harm? Although some feel this reciprocity is justified, is that what the Bible teaches? This phrase, like others, is often misunderstood and misapplied by those who know little if anything about God's law.
The place where this phrase is used is in the book of Exodus. Leading up to it, the Bible discusses in verse 22 of chapter 21 the compensation a woman who was pregnant was to receive if she accidently lost her baby due to men fighting (but she herself was not otherwise harmed). If a woman who is pregnant, however, not only miscarries but is also injured then God states what the punishment should be.
the punishment shall be life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . . (verses 23 - 24)
Let us assume for a moment that the literal meaning of the above verses is applied when YOU are the one responsible for someone harming themselves. What should you do if the neighbor's child climbs your fence around your backyard and accidently drowns in your pool? Would or should you allow your neighbor to take one of YOUR children and drown him or her? What would you do if some financial advice you gave someone (whether as a professional or just a friend) was wrong and caused them to lose money? Would you allow them to withdraw the same amount of the loss from your bank account?
In context, Exodus 21:23 and 24 are NOT laying out a rule that individuals should personally use when they either cause or suffer loss. They delineate a principle on how the nation of Israel (or any government) should administer justice for its people as a whole. In the same chapter, just before the phrase "eye for an eye" is used, the Bible states the following.
15 Whoever hits his father or his mother is to be put to death.