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Did you know?

The phrase “an eye for an eye” indeed comes up in the Old Testament, but it doesn’t mean what most Christians think it does.

Was the Law of Moses Cruel?

Lots of Christians have misconceptions about the Law of Moses. Here’s the way it comes up in Sunday School:

The Law of Moses taught “an eye for an eye,” and then Jesus came and brought a new law of love.

The phrase “an eye for an eye” indeed comes up in the Old Testament, but it doesn’t mean what most Christians think it does.

Not RETRIBUTION, but RESTITUTION

Look at this verse from Leviticus: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18).

It sounds pretty New Testament-like, right? The Law of Moses was the Aaronic Priesthood law, that is, it was a lower, school-master law meant to prepare Israel to receive the higher laws of the Priesthood of Christ. The lower law focused on repentance and sacrifice, and it became the foundation of Christianity. It was as loving as it could be at the time.

Picture it this way. Christ is building a church. The foundation is the basic laws of the gospel (the Mosaic Law):

When Christ came, He didn’t replace or destroy the foundation, but He FULFILLED its purpose.

                                                                                    St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

The Law of Moses was very kind and advanced compared to the laws of the pagan empires of the day. It provided for the protection of children, women, servants, the poor, the accused, family property, and most of all, the protection of Israel as a righteous nation of priests.

In teaching repentance, the Mosaic Law was big on restitution. The Jews were very careful to restore that which they had taken or injured to the victim. They usually restored 4-fold. So let’s say I killed your ox. First of all, I would have to make sure anything that ox did was done in your behalf. Then, I’d have to restore to you 4 oxen. 

So when God says “an eye for an eye” it means a couple of things. It doesn’t mean that if you poke out someone’s eye he gets to poke out yours. That would be retribution. What it means is first of all, you can’t kill someone for stealing a loaf of bread, because it’s cruel and unusual punishment. Second, if you blind someone, you have to be his eyes. You will guide and care for that person for the rest of your life. That’s restitution and a step in your repentance process.

http://The Law of Moses also governed legal trials to make sure everything was fair. Read about how those laws were broken when Christ was tried. (link)