Seeking revenge or Offering forgiveness?

In the Old Testament, the Jews were taught to take revenge on those who had wronged them. Among numerous laws about injuries, the Book of Exodus cites the case of miscarriage caused by fighting:

“Suppose two men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, causing the baby to come out. If there is no further injury, the man who caused the accident must pay money – whatever amount the woman’s husband says and the court allows. But if there is further injury, then the punishment that must be paid is life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:22-25)

This principle of ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ was applied as a more general principle in the Book of Leviticus:

“Whoever kills an animal that belongs to another person must give that person another animal to take its place. And whoever causes an injury to a neighbour must receive the same kind of injury in return: broken bone for broken bone, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Anyone who injures another person must be injured in the same way in return.” (Leviticus 24:18-20)


This principle of retribution adopted by the Jewish people in the Old Testament is summarised in the Book of Deuteronomy:

“Show no mercy. A life must be paid for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (Deuteronomy 19:21)


Judaism - Torah case & scroll (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme)














A Torah case & scroll
(Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme)


Jesus teaches us to forgive our enemies

In contrast, in the New Testament, Jesus teaches his followers not to seek revenge, but to forgive others for the wrongs they have done:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek as well.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Jesus continues by quoting Leviticus 19:18:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven… If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward… And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people.” (Matthew 5:43-47)


On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his fellow believer: “Should I forgive him as many as seven times?” “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he does wrong to you 77 times.” (Matthew 18:21)

This principle of forgiveness is a key element of Jesus’s teaching, and is enshrined in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.” (Matthew 6:12)  After saying these words, Jesus concluded, “If you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

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