But here comes Herb Titus in his "God, Man & Law" lecture series, Lecture #8: "Restitution." Titus says "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" has nothing to do with retaliation and everything to do with restitution.
Here are the verses in question:
Exodus 21:22-25: "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."Focused in like this, it sure sounds like retaliation! But look at the context of the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" verses, Titus says. When you do, you see something else.
Leviticus 24:17-20: "If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured."
Deuteronomy 19:19 & 21: "You must purge the evil from among you. . . . Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
In the case of Exodus 21, we find "If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he . . . is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow . . . must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed" (vv. 18-19).
And, "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows" (v. 22).
And, "If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth" (vv. 26-27).
"Clearly, from context, we are not to take the 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth' passage literally," says Titus. "It's a matter of proportionality. You must not let the courts assigned absolutely any judgment they can come up with. The punishment must be in proportion to the crime."
Same thing in the Deuteronomy passage. In verses 16 to 19 we read, "If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother."
"'Do to him as he intended to do to his brother'--that is the point of the 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth' command," Titus says.
The Leviticus passage, probably, is the hardest to see Titus's point. When we read, "If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured," it's pretty hard to see that as anything but retaliation. However, in the broader context of the Jewish law, as we have already seen, the proportionality of restitution idea--rather than retaliation--does come out.
He who kills a man must die. But, "Whoever kills an animal must make restitution" (v. 21). The Scripture does not say, "Whoever kills an animal must have one of his animals killed." Rather, he must make restitution--in proportion to the injury he caused.
In sum, Titus says, rather than mocking Scripture for its supposedly "backward" "retrograde" teachings, modern society could learn quite a bit from Scripture about wise jurisprudence and proportionality in judgment.
I think he may have a point!