“An Eye For An Eye”
By Arthur Suckling
© November 2103
The Millennia's, those born in the last three decades, are also
known as “digital natives.” They
grew up in the digital age and this is their norm. Whereas, for a great number of the older population, these
things called computers, I phones, Tablets, Kindles, Facebook, Twitter and
Tweeting give the older generations conniptions. Social media is the new communication methodology. The Millennia's use multiple
devices to seek information of every sort and that includes their religious
The digital divide is influencing the Millennia's approach in
their spiritual lives. They seek
out information about religion, churches and check up on what pastor’s are
saying on line or from the pulpit.
Not so long ago I was sitting in church, the speaker was giving
a good presentation and I heard a chuckle from alongside me. The Millennial had “Googled” the topic
and found an article that was the entire basis of the speakers
information. The problem was, he
never cited his source and the result in the Millennial’s mind was a
credibility problem. Of course, we
should always cite our sources in sermons. In one way of looking at it not doing so is taking away the
credit for the work someone else is did. Not a good, fair or Christian thing to do.
Sometimes, we don’t know the source of some “original thinking,”
way back in past history. For
example, we use the terms old and new when describing the two
testaments in the Bible. Where did
this notion come from? We accept
it simply because that’s what is and what most people accept today. However, do we know who came up with
that idea in the first place?
Most of modern Christianity considers the Old Testament (OT) as
old, out of date and no longer applicable in their Christian lives. If asked why, they probably would not
know the reason. Perhaps someone
might say, “because the God of the Old Testament was harsh and cruel.” Recently, a talk show host claimed it
was because of the cruel eye for an eye concept.
I would have to agree with that sentiment...if it was
right. However, is it?
To find the answer it is necessary to delve into some
history. Using the Millennial’s
tools I just Googled the phrase eye for an eye and selected
. Here I found several sources that were
useful in about five seconds! The
results may be surprising to the older generations but not the millennials. To them, such ease of information is
normal. To the older generations
this instantly accessible cornucopia, this treasure trove was never dreamt of.
This is what I found: “This phrase, along with the idea of written laws, goes back
to ancient Mesopotamian culture that prospered long before the Bible was
written or the civilizations of the Greeks or Romans flowered”
Hammurabi was King of the ancient Babylonian Empire from 1792 -
50 B.C.E. According to the
article, Hammurabi recognized the need for a set of universal laws in order to
rule the people he conquered. His
advisors came up with 282 of them long before the Bible.
I went back to the list of sources and selected
. Here three Scriptural sources were
available for “an eye for an eye”: Exodus 21: 24; Leviticus 24: 20; Deuteronomy
All three repeat the phrase in question. We could assume that Moses knew about
Hammurabi’s code but we will never know as there is no way to prove it. Additionally, Scripture credits this
principle as being spoken by the LORD directly to Moses. The background context of this
discourse goes back to Exodus 20 and stops at the end of chapter 23.
Following this I went to the New Testament sources in biblegateway. Matthew 5: 38 where Jesus says, “You
have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”
My next step was YAHOO Answers: What does eye for eye, a tooth
for tooth mean?
time ago, revenge was big, and often over the top. e.g., if a man stole 1
sheep, you would steal 5 of his. If he broke your arm, you would break his
arms, and legs. This was normal, and even put into law. Hammurabi changed that to make payment equal
to the damage done. So, if a man puts out your eye, he only loses one of
his, and so on. This "Hammurabi Code"
was revolutionary at the time. Of
course, Christians are taught to forgive others their "debts against
us," but, at the time of Hammurabi, this was pretty controversial” (emphasis mine).
After just a few minutes I found enough information to get a
good basis on which to reach a conclusion behind the intention of the law. There are two choices, literal or
equitable. Justice was the
motivation according to the first article. One would hate to live in a society that some form of
dismemberment was administered.
Modern commentaries describe the concept to be equitable
compensation for injury and in todays terms,” Bumper for bumper and fender for
fender” (Exodus 21:24 Expositor’s Bible Commentary).
The point here is not to discuss this topic comprehensively but
to illustrate that there are ample sources at our finger tips to find out what
we want in moments that were totally unavailable until recent technological
Assuming that just compensation in Exodus 21 was the attitude,
let us enquire how harsh and old came into being.
The Historic Roots From Greece
This dualistic idea of harsh and loving we inherited from the
Greek culture and in particular Plato, which he called “demiurge.”
Biblical scholar Bradford Scott describes it this way.
"The demiurge was the
dualistic god that created the world. He was the cruel god of battles and
bloody sacrifices. The world was cruel, and could not have been created
by a "good" god, since all matter is evil. So this cruel
demiurge sent a son called the logos, who is the "good" god.
The Tanakh [Torah "Ta" Nebi'im "Ta" and Kethubim
"Ka" and put together = Tanakh.] was a cruel book of laws, judgment
and death. The New Testament was the result of the incarnation of the
gods, the mind of the gods, called the logos... This demiurge, literally
worker of the people, was whimsical, and could change his mind or desires at
any time" (Let This Mind Be In You, Bradford Scott p13).
Scott is describing the
thoughts of Plato (428 - 348 B.C.) the disciple of Socrates (469 - 399
B.C.). Plato was a brilliant
student. HIs conclusions are based
in the extension of Socrate’s human reasoning without the influence of God and
HIs revelation in Scripture. We
clearly see dualism based in metaphysical speculation and Greek philosophical
thinking. The word philosophical comes from two words:
Philo or phileos is “love of” and a sophist is, “a paid teacher of
philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece, associated in popular thought with
moral skepticism and specious reasoning; a person who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments (New Oxford American Dictionary).
The world has been deeply
influenced by this dualistic philosophical approach ever since, and it is still deeply embedded in our society today,
just as it was in the ancient Roman and Greek Empires.
The Historic Roots From
The fledgling Roman Church
early in the second century had to deal with this same dualistic
philosophy. Marcion taught
the thinking of Plato. Marcion
founded a church circa A.D. 144 and taught that the God of the OT was harsh and
cruel. Jesus Christ was the loving
God of the NT. Therefore, Marcion
rejected the OT whose God was so different from the loving Christian God. Does this sound familiar? This was contrary, at this period in
time, to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and he was eventually branded a heretic. Despite this Marcion’s teachings lasted
for some 300 years and became
imbedded in Catholic teaching. However, as we have seen, its influence is alive and well even today,
for that is the position and teaching of so much of modern Christianity.
To their credit, many modern
Christian organizations teach that Jesus was the LORD God of the OT and as such
He spoke the laws contained in it. Does it really make sense to think that what He spoke then He intended
do away with in the role of Messiah? Did He teach the abrogation of law in lieu of a message of the
crucifixion and love? (Matthew 5:17-20).
So, the simple answer to
whether or not “an eye for an eye” was meant to be literal, cruel or harsh is
interesting. To use this case as
evidence of it leading to the abandonment of the laws of the OT is a very weak
basis. Humanity functions on
laws. Justice is a process of
administering those laws. Equal
and fair compensation for damage done to another is the gaol. Judgment should be administered
according to the laws recognized by both man and as stated by God.
The conclusion to the matter
is simply this. Do we fundamentally accept the reasoning of man’s mind about
the “spiritual” world and gods of his imagination or do we accept the divine
words spoken to Israel by the LORD GOD of ancient Israel who became the