Lex Talionis and Christs Law of Love



Lex talionis and Christ’s law of Love

Richard Hollerman

Most people who have read the Bible for any length of time know that one of the basic regulations of the Law of Moses refers to lex talionis, Latin for the“law of retaliation.”

There are several references to this stipulation in the Mosaic commands (actually, God’s commands through Moses). In Exodus 21:24-25 we have reference to “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for would, bruise for bruise.” In this way, God limited the punishment to the nature of the crime. Often, in human behavior, if one has suffered loss (perhaps had their hand cut off by a criminal), the tendency is to cut off the criminal’s two hands in retribution. God limits it to punishment for the particular crime.

Notice the rendition in Leviticus 24:19-20: “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him; fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.”  A later form of the command is similar: “Thus you shall not show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 29:21).

Although the law seems unequivocal, “a number of scholars now hold that, as the surrounding context makes clear, the principle is not applied literally in every case, but the application of the principle takes into account differing circumstances” (ESV Study Bible, Exodus 21:23-25).  The principle enunciated here “was meant to guide judges in assessing damages” and “was never intended as the rule for ordinary interpersonal relationships” (Ibid.). This seems verified by the fact that the law wasn’t practiced by Jews in New Testament times, as far as we are aware.

Recently we have noticed that Islam’s Sharia Law has a similar provision. The provision is not identical but there are similarities.

An example of this has been found in Iran, which most of us know as a conservative Islamic nation. Ameneh Bahrami, is an Iranian woman who was blinded in an acid attack by a man she had refused to marry.

(msn.com/en-us/news/world/ iran-carries-out-an- %e2%80%98eye-for-an- eye%e2%80%99- punishment-%e2%80% 94-literally/ar-AA9twtx? ocid=U141DHP ).

The article describes the current practice in this way:

A man convicted of attacking someone with acid five years ago was punished at an Iranian prison by having his left eye gouged out, according to reports.

The practice of carrying out a literal “eye for an eye” punishment, based on the principle “qisas” in Sharia law, is exceptionally rare in Iran.

The man, who was not named, was partly blinded by medics at the demand of his victim, who has the ability to make a final decision, the Guardian reported, citing the Iranian state newspaper Hamshahri.

The punishment was carried out at the Rajai-Shahr prison in the city of Karaj on Tuesday. The man was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison — and to having both of his eyes gouged out. But his victim postponed the gouging of his right eye for another six months.

Retributive justice of this kind is highly controversial in Iran. And among human right activists, it is considered akin to torture.

It would appear that although some conservative Islamic countries do kill people who leave their religion and come to salvation in Christ, and some do practice lex talionis laws more explicitly, Iran is backing off from this practice.

What about the practice of men defacing a woman with acid if she refuses to marry?  “Alarm has been growing recently in Iran over the increasing frequency of vicious acid attacks — many of them targeting women who are perceived to be in violation of the country’s conservative dress and behavior restrictions.” We can see that this is not even adhering to the strict interpretation of lex taliois.

While the more fundamentalist Muslim men seem to promote a strict adherence to Islamic law or koranic law, there has been a mellowing of this among some religionists. Thus we read:

This latest revival of qisas comes several years after the high-profile case of Ameneh Bahrami, an Iranian woman who was blinded in an acid attack by a man who she had refused to marry.

Bahrami controversially lobbied for her attacker to be punished in the same way that she was attacked. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Iran’s former judiciary head, urged Bahrami at the time to accept a payment instead.

“Shahroudi really pressed me to demand blood money instead of retribution. He explained that such a sentence would cause lots of bad publicity for Iran. But I refused,” she told The Post in 2008. Ultimately, Bahrami changed her mind. “It is best to pardon when you are in a position of power,” Bahrami said in 2011.

What do you think of this example of one being blinded and then calling for the blindness of the perpetrator? What would you have done?

Some professing Christians would want to lead us back to the laws of Moses and seem frustrated that governments of the world would put up a roadblock to this purpose. But what was Christ’s attitude toward the Mosaic laws and in what ways did He change them?

In His discussion about the righteousness of the kingdom in Matthew 5-7, the Lord declared, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whosoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42; cf. Luke 6:29-33).

This shows that the Lord Jesus is changing the lex talionis law (an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth), and saying that love for the other person—the enemy—should characterize all of our attitudes and actions toward him or her. While refusing to take the person’s tooth, eye, foot, or hand, Jesus says that we should respond to these people with outgoing love, a love that is demonstrated in the most unusual ways.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

The civil government does take responsibility to “bear the sword” when punishment is needed (Romans 13:1-7), but the follower of Christ responds with non-resistant love and outgoing concern. He doesn’t seek to inflict blindness on another when his own eye has been blinded. He loves his enemy, he does good to those who hate him, he blesses those who curse him, and he prays for those who mistreat him.

When the world looks at “radical Islam” (actually, real Islam that is following the Quaran), and condemns it, we need to remember the background of lex talionis. This was a valid principle in the Law of God given through Moses. While we may not understand all of it, still it was God’s will at one time for His nation of Israel. When Christ came, He took this law away and lived a life of non-resistance toward His enemies, regardless of what they did. We follow Him in outgoing love and concern for those who harm us. Let’s be willing to follow Christ—neither Moses nor Muhammad.










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