An “Eye For Eye…”, What Does It Mean?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

When we read the Tanakh, we stumble over this seemingly barbaric phrase an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” and so forth.  This extreme statement is mentioned no fewer than three times in the Torah(Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:19-20, Deuteronomy 19:21).  It seems to speak of a rigid God that gives no quarter.  Even the Christian messiah tried to rewrite this maxim in his New Testament (Matthew 5:38-39). But; as we know, rewriting Torah is never a good answer.  So, although this statement might appear both intense and straightforward, we owe it to God to not take it out of context.  Let us delve into His Word and determine what this controversial phrase is truly saying.

Firstly, after we read the phrase “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24) two verses later (Exodus 21:26), we see an example of someone having their eye put out.  However, here the ruling was not for the offender to have his eye poked out in retaliation.  Instead the offender gave restitution to his victim.  In this case, which dealt with slavery, the injured slaves were given their freedom as a consequence to their misfortune. So, did God contradict Himself in just three verses?  No, it is that God’s justice is both perfect and complex, so it cannot be summed up in a single verse.

Torah evaluates the motives behind crimes when doling out the punishment. Just like in our own judicial system,  there is a difference between premeditated crimes verses accidental.  Even when it comes to crimes committed as a mistakes, we break it down even further.  We further ask “was the crime an innocent mistake or a crime of neglect”. The best modern day example would be vehicular homicide.  To grab an example, lets say you are driving along observing all the rules of the road, when somebody darts into traffic from a blind corner and you kill them.  This would be an innocent mistake or unintentional death.  Whereas, if you killed somebody because you were drunk or texting.  Granted you didn’t mean to kill them, but you did it from recklessness, thus this would be a crime of neglect.  Finally, let’s say you intentionally killed somebody with your car, maybe for revenge or money.  Regardless, the penalty for this premeditated killing would be higher than the previous two.

This is Torah inspired, because when we read Exodus 21 through 23 it gives a comprehensive series of laws that factor in the motives behind the crimes. In fact many of these concepts have even been turned into our own laws (The Torah Inspires America’s Laws). In these Torah laws like are own, offenders are classified into three categories.

Unintentional Crimes: Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 3

Neglect Crimes: Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 2

Intentional Crimes: Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 1

So, since crimes are evaluated from lens of motive to determine sentencing the same thing would stand for the crime of destroying an eye.  If the eye or a limb was maimed do to a honest mistake, the offender would have to compensate the victim.  Likewise, a penalty would be added if the injury was due to neglect. Thus, in the cases of intentional crime, the penalty was at its severest. For example, the Torah has first degree manslaughter as earning the death sentence (Exodus 21:12). Therefor, if somebody intentionally destroyed a limb or someone’s site, they would withstand the same consequences.

Another part that isn’t talked about is that the “an eye for an eye”, as severe as it sounds, puts a cap on a punishment.  Thus, if the judicial system exacts justice, it cannot go over the top, like we see in our own Country, i.e. is a hot cup of coffee burning someone worth $2.86 million?  Even when my wife Danielle and I worked prison ministry we saw prisoners who embezzled money receive longer sentences than murderers. Sometimes punishments can be too excessive being motivated more from vengeance than justice.

As should be noted, this “eye for an eye” maxim in Torah didn’t always mean the same thing in each passage.  In Deuteronomy 19:21 this expression (life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot) is used to express that no pity will be given to a false witness.  If we read on,   it explains that a false witness will receive the punishment of the man he is testifying against.  Wouldn’t that truly clear out our own court system?

This is why when the Christian messiah challenged God’s law, he shows his ignorance of the Torah.  In Matthew 5:38-39 he tells Christians, in response to the Torah’s “eye for an eye”, to “turn the other cheek”.  This certainly flies in the face of accountability that the Torah teaches.  Likewise, when we go down to verse 40 of Matthew 5 he says if you are sued to pay more than the penalty.  What sense does that make?  So when Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s over a cup of coffee McDonald’s should have rounded up the $2.86 million to an even $3 mil? This would contradict Torah’s need for justice and consequences. Likewise, it would inspire more people to challenge the system motivated by greed.

So after we ferreted it out, we now know what “an eye for an eye…” truly means.  In essence, it means to make sure the punishment fits the crime, especially if the crime was intentional. Likewise, it means that the punishment should not be in excess to the crime.  The New Testaments spin on this is problematic because by removing God’s ordinance one removes justice and accountability.  Let us remember “Do not add to the word which I command you, nor diminish from it, to observe the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you”Deuteronomy 4:2.

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Why God wants us to Remember: Part I “The Past”.

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

Introduction

In the Torah God tells us to remember a lot of things.  He tells us to remember…

… His name, Exodus 3:15

… His Sabbath, Exodus 20:8

…His Holy Holidays, Exodus 12:14, 13:3, Leviticus 23:24

… His Commandments, Numbers 15:40

Also at other time He has us doing things to remember, like…

…wearing Tzitzit to remember His Commandments; Numbers 15:39, 40.

…not eating yeast as a reminder of leaving Egypt; Deuteronomy 16:3.

…living in shelters as a reminder of the Israelites struggle; Lev. 23:42-43.

He even tells us to remember Him and He will save us (Numbers 10:9, Psalm 55:17, 73:28, 91:15).

In short, remembering appears to be very important for our God.

Yet, if we think God is demanding, we need to remember that it was Him that remembered us first.  Point in case, He has always remembered the covenant He made with His people which has gotten us out of trouble plenty of times; Genesis 9:15, 16, 19:29, 21:1 Exodus 32:13, Leviticus 26:42, 45, Psalm 105:8, 42.  Furthermore, in Israel’s bleakest moment, His remembrance rescued them from slavery (Exodus 2:24, 4:31, 6:5). It must be said that His remembering of “us” has certainly put us in His debt.  So, it should only be fitting that we would be willing to do the same for Him – our Creator.   

So since remembering is essential to the Creator, we need to ask ourselves “ what benefit or benefits does remembering offer”?  In knowing this, we might be able to “remember” not in our way, but in a way that glorifies Him.

It can be said “Remembering” has three benefits, one for each of its tenses; past, present and future:

 

  • Remember to Honor; Past
  • Remember to inspire life; Present
  • Remember for awareness; Future

 

Starting today and over the next three weeks, we will start a three part series on why God wants us to remember.  Today we will start with the past.    

Part I -Past; to Honor

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In Deuteronomy Moses gives a series of speeches as part of his farewell to his people.  In these speeches he recaps much of Exodus through Numbers.  In these narrative recollections, it seems important for the Israelites to remember their oppression as Moses tells them;

Remember you were a slave and God rescued you; Deut. 4:20, 5:15.

Remember what God did to Pharaoh; Deut. 7:18.

Remember God bringing you out of Egypt; Deut. 7:19, 16:3.

Remember God leading Israel through the desert; Deut. 8:2.

To break it down, the word Exodus means “going-out” or departing and the Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzraim”1 (מצרים). It stems from a Hebraic root which means to bind, shackle, imprison, and it can mean bondage, servitude, or slavery. In essence, remembering the Exodus is reflecting on God’s rescuing His people from oppression.

Figuratively, many of us have had lived in our own Egypt.  We have been shackled by adversity, whether it was addiction, abuse, poverty, complacency… or whatever else.  God has freed us from them all.  Yet, it is not enough to “be thankful” for what He did, one must express their gratitude, as King David did “ I give thanks to Adonai with all my heart. I will tell about all your wonderful deeds.” – Psalm 9:2 (also Psalm 86:12, 86:12, 111:1, 146:1-2).  Acknowledging our blessings should not just be a thought, it should be an action, like changing our behavior and being verbal with our appreciation. In Genesis 40 while Joseph was in prison he interpreted the dreams of the prisoners.  As we recall, Joseph predicted the release of the “cupbearer”.  His only requirement for his services was to have the cupbearer” remember him (Genesis 40:14).  Eventually, the cupbearer would remember his promise to Joseph (Genesis 41:12-14), which resulted in Joseph being freed.  Image if the cupbearer, instead of taking action, just quietly reflected on Joseph in his head. It would make remembering a worthless act.  Remembrance must have action behind it to count.

If we were to bring this understanding to our lives, we can look at our own interactions with people.  Image helping someone out of a bind (i.e. giving them a job or money) and that person forgetting that you helped, with them quickly falling prey to their same old situation.  I doubt seriously that you would be so eager to help them again – “why?”.  Because they didn’t remember two crucial components; You and themselves.

As for you, when someone gets you out of trouble they should value what you did enough to not find himself in the same old place. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto the author of the famous book “Path of the Just” says it best “It is a sin to help someone who does not show discernment”.  This is certainly not a Christian maxim, but makes complete sense.  Simply said, by helping those that do not possess the sincerity to change, you are preventing them from learning and growing.  One must have humility to be able to remember and this humility is essential to our human growth. Also, you (the giver) are just as culpable because you are an enabler to one who doesn’t show discernment.

Secondly, they do not value themselves enough to change their behavior.  Yes, it is hard to change, this is where sincerity comes in and one needs humility to allow sincerity to grow.

Remembering, reminds us of the obligation we have to…

  1. God and others for helping us through a tough situation.  The greatest dishonor we can show them is to repeat the same mistakes.  This would imply that we didn’t value their help.
  1. Self, because if we do not value ourselves, we will not improve.

As the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidic Judaism ) taught,

“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption,”

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Baal Shem Tov

Reference:

  1. “Egypt means bondage in Hebrew.” Learn Torah. Accessed August 12, 2017.

“To be” or “not to be” submissive to our Spiritual Leaders.

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

I found it amazing, when I was a Christian, how most didn’t read His Word.  For example, when I disagreed with a fellow believer, instead of them sitting down and studying it out with me, most defaulted to their Preachers.  Usually they would say things like “let me bring that up to my Pastor”.  It boggled my mind, the unwillingness to be able to interact with God’s word first hand.  Secondly, it concern me that a person would so easily surrender their responsibility to studying through God’s Word to another man.  Granted, though that “man” might be a religious teacher, it did not make his words flawless. Even now that I have left Christianity, and have become more Torah centric, I find the same mindset amongst Torah believers. Admittedly, it is understandable that one would consult someone more steeped in scripture than themselves, but to make them your authority equates to making them your God.  I had to dig into the Tanakh (Old Testament) to get a better understanding of where God is on this topic.  Are we allowed to freely survey His Holy Writ, or do we become subservient to our religious leaders conceding that they have divine understanding and knowledge?

As a Christian, it appeared that the church had authority over God’s Word, or at least had the sanctioned understanding of His Word. Since most people are lemmings, this authority is seldom challenged.  However, when it is challenged, Preachers can cherry pick verses like  Hebrews 13:17 “…obey your leaders and submit to them…” using this as the crux of their authority. Yet, to context this verse we need to realize that unlike the Tanakh, the New Testament insisted on submission to civil authority: Mark 12:17, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1,Hebrews 13:7,  1 Peter 2:13-14, 5:5 .  For example, if the precepts of the New Testament were taught in Moses’ time, the Israelites would still be in Egypt and happily serving Pharaoh. So why do the New Testament and Tanakh have such polar opposite teachings?  One reasons is that there may have been ulterior motives behind the New Testament and Christianity that benefitted the Roman Empire  (see, Why Did Christianity Make Rome Look So Good?).   For example, Roman leadership in the New Testament is painted in a positive light.  This is amazing, since, historically speaking, Rome and Israel relationship was toxic, especially in the first century.  Yet we have positive stories of the Roman Empire like the 3 separate tails of Roman Centurions mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7-10, 23:47, Acts 10).

Yes, the New Testament teachings can be both questionable and problematic.  Nonetheless, what does the Tanakh say about the relationship of a teacher and self when studying His Word? The Tanakh is pretty clear that you are to study His Word directly; Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Joshua 1:8, Job 23:12, Psalm 1:2, 119:10-11, 15, 18. Also, if we examine Deuteronomy 6:6-7,

“These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children…

We can deduce that you are to first know His words, and then we are to teach it to others.  Bare in mind, these are not special instructions for teachers but everyone’s responsibility.  It also makes sense that you must have some book knowledge before you are taught.  How else would you evaluate the credibility of the teacher?  Understandably, to consult a subject matter expert when you get into disagreements makes sense, but it should not be your “go-to” answer without even opening up the bible.

A good way of understanding our relationship with God in learning His Word is by examining the era of Israel’s Judges.  This was about 1375 BCE after the the death of Joshua.  As Judges 21:25 says “In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his eyes”. In this period Israel did not have a leader like Moses and Joshua or even a King.  Instead, God led Israel and Judges enforced God’s laws (1).  We should view our studying of the Tanakh the same way.  We have a direct responsibility in reading and studying God’s Word without putting a person between us and God.  Yet, there are people in our lives, like the Judges, that can guide us.  As we read on from the book of Judges, we see that the time of the Judges ended in 1 Samuel 8, after about 325 years.  In 1 Samuel 8:4-9 we see the Israelites wanting a King to rule over them.  This parallels to how many followers perceive their relationship with God.  They don’t want that “one-on-one” study with His Word. In truth, they want their religious leader to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to studying God’s Word, and then turn around and give their interpretation. In short, they want a King to tell them what to do instead of going to the source – God. Nevertheless, in 1 Samuel 8, when the people turned their backs on God wanting a king, God’s response was “…they have rejected Me from reigning over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).  This is very sad, but the lesson here is that those that do not want to process God’s Word first hand, are no better than these disengaged Israelites.

In summation, the Tanakh tells us to process God’s Word first hand.  If we do get to a “stuck-point” there should not be a problem getting an opinion from someone who may know more.  But; at no point are we allowed to surrender our autonomy of God’s Word to another man.  We must vet our teachers, not just for our own benefit, but for theirs (Leviticus 19:17).

Reference:

  1. Arnold, Bill T.; Williamson, H. G. M. (2005). Dictionary of the Old Testament. Intervarsity Press, USA. p. 590.

 

 

Myth Busted: Original Sin.

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

Many of us who walked away from Christianity and towards the Torah brought with us some questionable baggage.  Many of these Christian teachings have permeated our subconscious.  Mostly because some of the sermons and theology we were taught are supposedly from the Tanakh (Old Testament).  This may be why we give them credence, even though our belief has change. One of the stories that comes to mind is the serpent, or in Christianity, AKA “Satan” who tempted man and brought about death to all of humanity.  Although, on the surface this may appear plausible, after researching it, we will find out that it is inconsistent with God’s Word.  Remember, it is crucial when we cleanse ourselves of wrongful teachings that we use His Holy Word.  The Tanakh is our purging agent.

The New Testament lays out the case that because of Adam’s sin (eating the forbidden fruit) mankind is now doomed to death (Romans.5:12,19, 2 Corinthians 11:3). This concept is referred to as “Original Sin.  Websters tells us Original Sin is the state of sin that according to Christian theology characterizes all human beings as a result of Adam’s fall”.  It is like Adam poisoned all of humanity with his one rebelios bit.… “but wait”, we have the antidote – it is the Christian messiah (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 7:25). This is a huge motivator that has brought flocks of people to the church.  Yet, what if this whole theology that Adam caused the disease of death to mankind is a misdiagnoses.  We have to admit, as Christians, one of the reason JC was so important is because of our fear of the afterlife, especially if you add in a hell (a non-Tanakh belief).  Yet, what if you found out that JC was just a placebo ?  Many would stop going to church and hopefully would spend their time trying to find the true God.

So where did the theology of “Original Sin” start? It was actually Augustine of Hippo that taught it.  Augustine was an early Christian theologian and philosopher.  He lived between 354 – 430 CE, thus his teachings would have been in the 3rd or 4th century.  This would have been 800 years after the Tanakh was penned, but would have been about the same time that the Christian bible was canonized.  Interestingly, Augustine was very influential in the canonization process.  Another point to ponder is where did Augustine’s pick up this understanding.  Remember, Augustine came up with the “Original Sin” concept before the New Testament was accepted.  You see, before the New Testament, there were numerous books with diversified theologies that Christians followed. In Augustine’s case, his greatest influence would have been a gentleman known as Irenaeus.  Irenaeus was an early Church Father whose writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology.  He was also Augustine’s teacher.  In the early Christian church credibility was given to how close a person was to witnessing the events of the New Testament. So as the order goes; the Christian messiah taught the Apostles, who educated Polycarp (69 – 155 CE), who instructed Irenaeus (130 -202 CE) and it was Irenaeus who educated Augustine.  I guess they were looking for men closest to the source.  That being said, Augustine’s opinion about “original sin” differed from his teacher, Irenaeus.  Irenaeus interpreted that original sin was God’s necessary step for the education of mankind 2.  So it can be said within Christianity, the idea of “Original Sin” morphed as it went down the line of Christianity’s forefathers.

Now we know that the teaching of “Original Sin” was born more than 4 millenniums after Adam.  So, what does God Word say?  If we actually examine Genesis 3, blocking out the “Original Sin” sermons of the past, we might hear a clearer message.  For starters, the serpent, is just a serpent (Genesis 3:1).  Point and case, in the three other books of the Tanakh that mention Satan, God has no problem calling Satan, Satan (1 Chronicles x 1, Job x 11, Zechariah x2).  So why would He have to talk in code in Genesis?  As for sinning, Adam did sin, but he had “free will” which is going to result in sin eventually.  God knew this, we can tell this from His dialog with Adam before Adam eats the fruit.  As you recall, God gave Adam rules and consequences (Genesis 2:16-17).  You see, because of “free will” God knew man might choose evil.  So, He established repercussions well before the great produce incident and He would continue to do this throughout the Torah.

Another point to ponder is that by saying we, as all of humanity, suffered the consequences of Adam’s sin is to say that we are suffering for our forefather.  This is inconsistent with God’s Word. Children are not to suffer for their parent’s sins; Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezekiel 18:20.  Likewise, no one can intercede for us.  This is proven in Exodus 32:30-33 when Moses tried to Intercedes for Israel:

“The next day Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to Adonai ; maybe I will be able to atone for your sin.”  Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Now, if you will just forgive their sin! But if you won’t, then, I beg you, blot me out of your book which you have written!” Adonai answered Moshe, “Those who have sinned against me are the ones I will blot out of my book.” 

God established this intercession standard as far back as the Exodus, and He can’t go back on His Word (Numbers 23:19,  1 Samuel 15:29).  This means not even JC can intercede for us.  Additionally, if the antidote to death hadn’t showed up until JC, how did father Abraham make it into heaven (Luke 16:22)?

There is no doubt the “Original Sin” sermon makes an appealing and powerful message.  In truth, it could be considered a cornerstone to the Christian faith.  But, upon further examination one would have to go contrary to Torah to make it stick.  Remember, God already came up with a salvation plan.  So don’t look towards a human deity for an antidote when it already exists in the Tanakh; Isaiah 30:15, Malachi 3:16, Psalm 50:23, 51:19, 85:10, 103:17.

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References:

  1. Augustine of Hippo, Contra Julianum, V, 4.18; PL 44, 795
  2. “Evolution and the Sin in Eden.” Lifeissues.net,