“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye…”

An eye for an eye is a phrase you can find throughout Scripture. It’s a phrase often used to define justice today, but there are two ways to interpret it. We, in the West, tend to interpret the phrase punitively—through the lens of a God who punishes.

It goes like this: If I take your eye, my eye will be taken from me as punishment. Unfortunately, as the adage goes, this makes the whole world blind.

This interpretation is not justice—it’s revenge. There is no eternal life in it, just more blindness, violence, cruelty, punishment, and concrete dead ends down the road of lack.

In this interpretation, no opportunity exists for repentance, transformation, restoration, or reconciliation for the person who took the eye. Nor does it help the one whose eye has been taken. There is no opportunity to forgive or experience true healing and wholeness.

But this statement can be interpreted another way. Many Jewish and early church fathers understood an eye for an eye as restorative. It goes like this: If I take your eye, I become your eye. Essentially, I endeavor to restore what I took from you. This is the nature of reconciliation.

In this interpretation, there is both consequence and opportunity to repent and be transformed—to be restored to the community and to be reconciled to our true selves. In this interpretation of justice, there is an opportunity for forgiveness, healing, and wholeness.

Jesus described this brand of justice in Matthew 5: “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…you have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” 2

Jesus corrected their interpretation of Scripture, even going so far as to provide Himself as the hermeneutic—“You have heard the law that says…but I say.” Then Jesus displayed this brand of justice on a cross—the justice that saves the world.

Jesus’ death and resurrection were the foundation of everything He said and did. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do,” was His starting line. God, reconciling all humanity to Himself, not counting our sins against us, was the beginning and end—the greater love authority from which Jesus lived, moved, and had His being. All was said and done from and toward one end—reconciliation and restoration.

Reconciliation and restoration are God’s plans for justice.

Salvation for everyone.

1 Matthew 5:38a
2 Matthew 5:38-39 & 43-44 NAS

This article is excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus


Jason Clark is a bestselling storyteller who writes to reveal the transforming kindness of the love of God. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children, Madeleine, Ethan, and Eva.


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