So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! Do the same thing to the other person that he or she first did to you. It’s in the Bible, right?” If you are saying the right to extract vengeance or to inflict on someone the same injury they inflicted upon you is biblical, I have to say, “No, that’s not in the Bible.”
“Just a minute,” you may be saying, “isn’t there something in the Bible about “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?” In response to that question, I would answer, “Yes, there is!” But it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
OK, let’s look at it. In the book of Exodus Moses gave instruction regarding the compensation which could be demanded when someone injured or killed your animals or servants. He said, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23-25). You say, “It sounds like, ‘Sock it to ‘em the same way they gave it to you.’” At first, that’s what it looks like, but those who heard interpreted this in an entirely different context. Their frame of reference was the pagan laws of their day, which included what was done in Egypt, where they had lived for 430 years, as well as the laws of the lands bordering Israel through whose lands they were marching to go to the Promised Land.
The laws of the day often allowed far greater compensation than the crime actually merited. For example, if someone stole a loaf of bread, the law could exact the dismembering of a hand, or a finger or two, which forever maimed the individual. Suppose a man stole a loaf of bread to feed his family and lost a hand—something that can still be done in Arab countries under the laws of the Koran. The harshness of the penalty was far greater than the crime, so Moses was saying, “Look, the price exacted can be no greater than the crime or wrong itself.”
It was never intended to be an endorsement of vengeance or violence, and subsequently has become one of the most misunderstood and violated passages of the Bible. Suppose somebody inadvertently backs into your car. You would like payment, right? But you aren’t entitled to the guy’s retirement funds. Does that make sense?
Recognizing that our sinful human nature makes us quote Scripture to make us feel comfortable and then go far, far beyond that which God had in mind, Jesus put things in a different perspective. He said things which brought people up short, very short. For example, He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:38-41).
Does Jesus mean that you are to lie down and let anyone walk over you? I don’t think so. But I do believe He is saying, “Make peace with your enemy.” Roman soldiers could force civilians to carry their gear, so Jesus is saying that if a soldier demands you carry his gear one mile, go the second mile. Pay your debts and don’t live with violence and anger in your heart.
Mao Tse Tung used to say that power comes out of a gun barrel. It was all that He knew. But Jesus is saying that real power—the kind that conquers all kinds of evil—comes from a heart of love. And that makes the difference. I like a paraphrase of Romans 12:19 which says, “Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. `I'll do the judging,’ says God. `I'll take care of it’” (The Message). Yes, and He can do a better job of it than I can.
Resource reading: Matthew 5:21-42.