A Tooth for a Tooth

The phrase, “a tooth for a tooth” is one of those well-known sayings found in the Bible. It is a law found in the covenant God made with Israel. It did not give individuals the right to exact revenge or to retaliate, but it was part of the instructions given to judges in order to guide them in sentencing and meeting out punishment. It is often referred to using the Latin phrase, Lex Talionis – “the law of retribution” meaning the punishment must fit the crime. If a man struck another and knocked out a tooth, the judge could order one (only one) of his teeth be knocked out.
However, Jesus teaches us in this fifth antithesis “not to resist an evil person” (Mat.5:38-42). In the context, we must be willing to forgo our right to take this person to court in order to get a tooth for our tooth. Peter writes this of Christ, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). As followers of Christ, we must also be willing to suffer the loss of possessions, to go the extra mile, and to give and lend to those who ask.