Why ‘An Eye for an Eye’ Does Not Work

After the hate crime in Chicago, moral denigration of many young adults is in question

Perpetrated by a quartet of black youths on a mentally disabled 18-year-old white man, the hate crime in Chicago last week was nothing short of evil. Yet rather than place the blame squarely where it belongs — on the individuals who committed the crime of their own free will — disgraceful Marxist history professor Gerald Horne blamed it on “the principle of this nation and other nations [that] is an eye-for-an-eye, and tooth-for-a-tooth.”

Horne, in an interview with RT, a Russian “publicly-funded autonomous nonprofit organization,” made the claim in reference to “a number of killings of black Americans captured on tape at the hands of the police authorities [in which] many of the police have not been convicted or jailed.”

The four black youths did not grow up in a family with any connection to God.

Horne’s comments regarding law enforcement are as equally uninformed as he is regarding the biblical reference to “an eye for an eye.” It is imperative we understand exactly what these words mean, in context, so that Scripture is not falsely indicted any more by Marxist history professors that it already has been — and to place blame for this incident where it belongs.

The phrase is normally, and also incorrectly, used to describe human vengeance that is taken out by an aggrieved party on perceived wrongdoers. That vengeance is equivalent in proportion to the original assault.

The phrase come from Exodus 21:22-25, and it is critical to understand that it occurs as part of God’s setting down rules for life in the Old Testament: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 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.”

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There are several significant interpretations regarding these verses, but none of them permit individuals to extract equivalent vengeance. Indeed, Jesus himself not only referenced Exodus 21 in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), but did so with one of His most famous instructions: “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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

That’s right. Jesus actually instructs that the aggrieved do the exact opposite of extracting vengeance. However, most scholars agree vengeance isn’t even what God meant in Exodus.

God’s laws can be broken into three parts. The first is the one many of us are familiar with — spiritual law — as laid down in the Ten Commandments. This instructs us how to behave with respect to our spiritual lives, as well as with each other. The inference regarding “an eye for an eye” is that God will repay those who do wrong, using principles of fairness — something more along the lines of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:2: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Thus, the most significant purview of punishment for such wrongdoers lies only with God. It is He who will determine how the wicked shall suffer.

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However, there is a second set of laws that concern running a civil society in which God effectively is atop that society while dwelling with the children of Israel. This is critical: We are a civic society, and it is the government that is assigned the responsibility of meting out punishment for criminals by following the principles that God lay down for us.

Societal justice is based on the civic interpretations of God’s commandments.

The civil interpretation is that judges must consider all the facts when determining punishment. The extent and quality of the wrong that has been done, as well as its nature and any expression of remorse, should be considered in context with God’s moral principles. Because judges are effectively society’s avengers, they must mete out appropriate justice.

So while this approach is something that judges must be mindful of in a general sense, it should be noted that these verses in Exodus are made in specific reference to the harming of a pregnant woman. Women carrying children are afforded special protection under God. The perpetuation of the Jewish people was essential and harming a pregnant woman ran counter to that necessity. Thus, it was essential that a deterrent be created against such harm.

Horne’s comments are thus inexcusable. He falsely identifies America as being a nation of vengeance, when in fact societal justice is based on the civic interpretations of God’s commandments. Worse, however, he falsely claims that it is society’s alleged culture of vengeance that helped foster this hate crime.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The crime was the result of four black youths who did not grow up in a family with any connection to God.

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