It appears that the eye for an eye Law (Levitcus 24:20) is punishing, by taking away something that we need. Whereas the Law to bless our enemy (Matthew 5:38-5:34) is like giving something good to make them happy. Like being kind to the evil one and lending to our enemies without expecting repayment (Luke 6:35). In (Matthew 5:17) Jesus said he came to fullfill the eye for an eye Law, right down to the smallest detail.

  • That law was about blemishing another person. Balanced punishment required the same blemish to be done; it was not to be vindictive punishment, going beyond the damage done. It goes on to say that if a beast was killed, one beast must be given back. If a person was killed, the killer had to be killed. Even the unintentional manslayer had to flee to a city of refuge to avoid the next of kin taking his life. This is not about "taking away something we need". Blessing an enemy is an entirely different matter; not sinking to their level.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 15:49
  • Yes and also see Exodus 24:22 where it specifies the judges shall determine the necessary compensation based on the plaintiffs demand and v.26 shows that "eye for eye" is not literal. The judge may award the plaintiff an eye or a tooth... but he is not required to do so.,, especially if the plaintiff want a monetary equivalent. Sure this was the usual case. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 1:24
  • @ Anne, If we are sued to the point where we can't afford our basic needs, then that is like taking away something we need. As we bless our enemy we would not demand payment of any kind, according to Luke 6:30. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


The OP speaks of fulfilling the "eye for an eye Law, right down to the smallest detail." That isn't quite right however. Jesus said "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." He is speaking very generally here. The law of an "eye for an eye" needs to be seen in its context: In Exodus, it is an instruction to judges to award plaintiffs reasonable damages, no less and no more.

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Ex. 21)

Indeed the very next verse shows that the law of "eye for eye" is NOT to be taken literally:

26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.

Admittedly other iterations of the "eye for an eye" rule seem to imply a more literal sense of the matter (Dt 19:21, Lev 24:19). But they come on the foundation of Exodus' version and do not intend to supersede Exodus' insistence than monetary compensation ('paying as much as the judges determine') is an acceptable alternative to physical harm. There were lively debates in Jesus' time about how the Law was to be applied in many areas, and when Jesus said he came to "fulfill the law" it does not mean that he necessarily that the harshest interpretation of the law was correct.

Now that we understand that "eye for eye" need not be taken literally, here is an example of how seeking "eye-for-eye" compensation and loving one's enemy are compatible. Let's say a man runs a stop sign and causes a serious injury to the diver of the other car. The injured party sues for damages equal to the pain and loss from his injury, plus damages to the car. But spiritually, he also forgives the person who caused the injury and they become friends. His enemy in the realm of law has become his brother in spirit.

  • +1. Very good answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 21:12
  • @ Dan Fefferman, Would the injured party forgive and become friends if the person who caused the injury could not pay for injuries? Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 16:10

Twice in that passage Jesus says "But I say to you..." He definitely sees a difference between the law quoted in v38 and the advice given in vv39-42, and between the law quoted in v43 and the advice given in vv 44-48.

But in Matthew ch22 v39, Jesus declares that that "the law and the prophets" depend upon the two greatest commandments. So I suggest that those two commandments in themselves are "the law and the prophets" which he promises to keep in ch5 v17. Not the full detail of the laws of Moses.

That is how we may solve these "contradictions" about whether the N.T. does or does not support the law. By understanding that the word "law" has more than one meaning.

  • Up-voted +1 . The rule of the Spirit . . . . of Life in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:2. Nomos has a broad meaning : 'law' or 'rule' or even 'authority' ('come under law').
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 16:49
  • the downvote was not mine, but I do not see Jesus "but" as in any way contradicting the OT laws, Rather Jesus is commanding his disciples to go beyond them. Not just "no adultery" but no adulterous thoughts, not just "no false swearing" but always tell the truth, not just "no killing" but no hating, not just "love your neighbor" but love your enemy etc. This must be what he meant by saying our righteousness must be greater than the strictest of the Pharisees. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 1:36

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