“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 life.


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Most of modern Christianity considers the Old Testament (OT) as old, out of date and no longer applicable in their Christian lives.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 19: 21.


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?


A long 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 advances.


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 Rome


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 Messiah?