What is the Law of Retribution?


By BibleAsk Team

The Law of retribution

The “Law of Retribution” is a concept rooted in theories of justice and moral philosophy. It suggests that individuals should receive punishment or consequences for their actions, particularly if those actions involve wrongdoing or harm to others. The essence of retribution is the idea of “an eye for an eye,” meaning that punishment should be proportionate to the offense committed. While the term “Law of Retribution” is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible as a specific doctrine or principle, the concept of retribution or justice is a fundamental theme throughout the Bible.

The Old Testament

One of the foundational verses that encapsulates the essence of the civil Law of Retribution, in the theocratic government of Israel, is found in the book of Exodus. “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). This passage establishes the principle of proportional justice, emphasizing the idea that the punishment should be equivalent to the harm inflicted.

The Law of Retribution, as presented in the Old Testament, serves only as a legal guideline for God’s sense of justice and righteousness. The Law of retribution is a civil statute, and the punishment was to be carried out by the courts. It did not justify personal revenge.

In the book of Leviticus, the importance of adhering to divine laws is reiterated. Leviticus 24:17-22 states, “And whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal. If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him—fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.”

This repetition emphasizes the consistency of the Law of Retribution throughout various legal situations. It underscores the principle that justice should prevail, and the consequences of one’s actions should align with the harm caused.

The New Testament

In the New Testament, when the nation of Israel was no longer under the theocratic rule of God but was under the Roman civil rule, Jesus refers to the “eye for eye” phrase not as a civil law but to teach His followers not to seek revenge for personal wrongs suffered.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

By presenting the idea to not seek revenge for wrongs suffered, Jesus is referring to active hostility rather than to passive resistance. The Christian will not meet violence with violence. He will “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) and “heap coals of fire” upon the head of one who wrongs him (Proverbs 25:21, 22).

The child of God will not fight for what he considers to be his rights. He will submit to injury rather than find an opportunity to cause it. Jesus Himself fully kept the spirit of this command (John 18:22, 23; Isaiah 50:6; 53:7). On the cross, the Savior manifested the spirit of which He here spoke when He called upon the Father to forgive those who tormented Him (Luke 23:34).

Paul also observed the spirit of this command (Acts 25:9, 10). He writes, “Repay no one evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).


The Law of Retribution is a legal law for civil penalties carried out by governmental authorities. The law of Retribution should not to be administered for personal revenge. The Lord declares, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Personal retaliations place the avenger in God’s position, who is the ultimate Judge of right and wrong actions. “The Lord will judge His people” (Hebrews 10:30). As the Creator and Lord of the universe, Jehovah is its Judge.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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