The rule of thumb when comparing the Old versus to the New Testament is to remember we are now currently living in the New Testament, meaning, we are living after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our rules and regulations as followers of Christ are to mimic the teachings and covenants Jesus commanded in the New Testament.
The Old Testament “Eye for an Eye” verse in Exodus 21 is one of the most widely misinterpreted and taken out of contest verses in the bible. The easiest way to understand this meaning is to ask yourself, “does the punishment fit the crime?” Meaning, was the crime or affliction on purpose, or by accident? Each verse in Exodus 21 details examples of planned or unplanned affliction, or rather, did the person do it on purpose or not? Once that fact is determined, the punishment or lack of punishment is determined.
Here’s 3 examples of “Does the punishment fit the crime?” in Exodus 21:
In verse 12 and 13, it says if a man kills another on purpose, then that man will be put to death, but, if it was by accident, he may go free.
Verse 18 says, if two men fight, and one injures the other, the man who did the injuring must pay for the losses of the injured man’s time and bills.
Now in the “Eye for an Eye” example of verses 22-24, it says if two men fight, and one accidentally hits a pregnant woman and causes her to go into labor, and the child is unharmed, the man who caused the labor must pay a fine chosen by the pregnant woman’s husband. BUT, if the baby is harmed, whatever happened to that baby must be done to the person who caused the labor. Meaning, if the baby lost an eye, the man would lose an eye; if the baby lost a foot, the man would lose a foot. If the baby died, then that man would be put to death.
Notice: Nowhere in this does it say, “You hit my wife, so I hit your wife.” Or, “you hurt my baby so I hurt your baby.”
Even so, Jesus completely rids this covenant in the New Testament in Matthew 5:38-45, while specifically mentioning the eye for an eye statement. He says “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.(KJV)”
Jesus is essentially saying that he’s about to forgive all sins, therefore, there is no need to seek “a punishment that fit’s the crime,” since Jesus was about to take our punishment for sin on the cross. What Jesus is NOT saying is, if someone hits you, let them hit you again. What Jesus is actually saying is, if someone hits you, don’t seek retaliation, forgive them. Later, Jesus gives his new commandment to love one another as he loves us. Which means, forgive one another as he forgave us. Forgiveness without retaliation is part of Jesus’ new covenant.
-The Christian Realist