God’s original and enduring intent for every civil government is to protect the innocent and punish evildoers (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:14). The principle of lex talionis—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life—is precisely what just punishment of an evildoer looks like.
Consider two ways in which the consistent practice of this practical principle would provide justice for all.
- It discourages abuse by the powerful of the powerless. If a master mistreats his slave, such mistreatment provided instant freedom to the slave. “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth” (Exodus 21:26-27). When the powerful cannot legally abuse the powerless, there will be justice for all.
- It recognizes the superiority and sanctity of human life. Sandwiched between the statement of the lex talionis in Leviticus 24:19-20, the Lord told Moses, “Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal…And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17-18, 21). The superiority and sanctity of human life—uniquely made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6)—is foundational to justice for all.