John Larrysson's Column: “eye for eye”

The expression “eye for eye” is from the Bible. Many people think that it means the government is very harsh or that it is a call for revenge. Signs have been held up in Hong Kong protests with this quotation. What it actually means is that everyone should be treated the same by the law no matter what class or ethnicity they are. 

Leviticus is the set of laws for ancient Israel and one of the older parts of the Bible. In part of chapter 24 the law reads:

[audio 1]

Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution - life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

[audio 2]

The Bible was and in many ways is radical. In ancient times upper class and lower class people received different punishments. Foreigners were treated differently from the native born. This unusual law code asked for everyone to be treated the same. In Hong Kong, do upper class people get punished the same as working class people? Do people here treat Putonghua speakers with the same respect used for Cantonese or British English speakers? 

[audio 3]

Anyone who is angry that a rioter's eye was injured, but has never said anything against police officers' eyes being hurt by lasers, or a thrown brick, is not following the Bible or Christ. Going to church, praying and singing songs, but to hold such hate in your heart is an insult to the God of the Bible.

[audio 4]

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by John Larrysson

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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