Whether in Old or New Testaments, the Bible teaches that people are not to take personal revenge for what they consider to be wrong done to them. They should forgive the offender and allow God to deal with the person as he sees fit (Lev 19:18; Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Rev 5:9-11; see WRATH). In the law of Moses, as in the teachings of Jesus, God’s people are taught not even to bear a grudge against their enemies. Far from returning evil for evil, they must positively do good to those who do evil to them (Exod 23:4-5; Lev 19:17-18; Matt 5:44-48; 18:35; see FORGIVENESS). Although individuals have no God-given right to pay back wrongdoers, civil governments have.

They are to execute judgments fairly, and not give a light punishment for a serious offence or a heavy punishment for a minor offence. The punishment must be in proportion to the crime – ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a bruise for a bruise, a scratch for a scratch’ (Exod 21:22-24; Rom 13:4; see GOVERNMENT; CITY OF REFUGE; JUDGE). When Jesus rebuked people for living according to this rule, he was not criticizing the law of Moses. Jesus supported the law of Moses (Matt 5:17), but he opposed people who used the principle of civil justice (‘an eye for an eye’, etc.) as an excuse for personal revenge. The spirit that rules in the hearts of God’s people is not the same as that which rules in the code of legal justice (Matt 5:38-42).

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