Biblical Principle #254: Israel’s Justice for Injuries

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The Law of Moses specified how Israel was to provide justice to an Israelite who was injured by a neighbor.


Under the Law of Moses, GOD prescribed the measure of justice for cases where an Israelite was injured by a neighbor. In essence, whatever happened was to be done back to the other person by the court.

19 And whenever someone may give some kind of injury to another person, just as he did to him, likewise it will be done to him. 20 Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, just as a person gives some kind of injury, just so it will be given to him.

Leviticus 24:19-20 LES

The word that is translated “injury” in the Lexham English Septuagint above is μῶμον, and it means “blame; disgrace; a blemish.”

Thus, it would seem that the injury GOD was referring to was inclusive of, but not limited to physical harm. However, the immediate context of those verses is discussing physical injuries.

Here’s the surrounding context from the Orthodox Study Bible translation of the Septuagint:

15 Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Whoever curses God shall bear his guilt. 16 Let him who pronounces the Lord’s name be surely put to death. Let all the congregation of Israel stone him with stones, the resident alien as well as the native. Let him die when he pronounces the Lord’s name. 17 Whoever strikes a man and he dies, let him surely be put to death. 18 Whoever strikes an animal and it dies, let him compensate life for life. 19 If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. 21 Whoever strikes a man and he dies, let him surely be put to death. 22 You shall have the same judgment for what is right both for the resident alien and the native; for I am the Lord your God.’” 23 Then Moses spoke to the children of Israel; and they took outside the camp him who had cursed, and stoned him with stones. So the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 24:15-23 OSB

The OSB uses the English word “disfigurement,” taking the position that this is a physical injury situation. Brenton Revised Third Edition and the Apostolic Polyglot use “blemish.”

Who Administered Justice

I feel compelled to include in this Principle a clarification about the administration of justice relative to “an eye for an eye.”

In my experience, today the phrase “an eye for an eye” is typically spoken with a negative connotation, as thought something to be avoided. (And, to be clear, I’m merely advocating for an accurate perception of the biblical concept here.)

Yes, Jesus later rebuked the Jews’ misapplication of the concept in the first century. But even that teaching of Jesus supports the point I’m making.

Under the Law of Moses, with the possible exception of murder (which involved the avenger of blood relative), Israelites weren’t out in the streets breaking one another’s bones and stoning each other at will because “an eye for an eye.”

Rather, “an eye for an eye” was GOD’s system of measurement for the penalty of a crime which the appointed judges were to render to a guilty Israelite upon conviction in court.

Individual Israelites weren’t to strike back at one another basing their attacks upon this “eye for an eye” justice system. It wasn’t meant for that.

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2 responses to “Biblical Principle #254: Israel’s Justice for Injuries”

  1. Matt Gause Avatar
    Matt Gause

    Vigilantism was not the purpose of the Law, but rather a fair system of justice, that answers the evil done in the first place

    Very good

    1. Tim Harris Avatar

      Thanks for the encouragement, Matt!

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