An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth: origin and meaning


"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth": Examples

  • "And whoever hurts his neighbor should be done as he has done, pity for pity, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; how he hurt a person, one should do it again" (Luther Bible 1912, 3rd Mo 24, 19-20)
  • "But if you get a pity from it, he should let go soul for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, fire for fire, wound for wound, bump for bump" (Luther Bible 1912, 2. Mon 21, 23-25)

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth": meaning

  • The phrase "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", which admittedly reads pretty bestially, expresses that one treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
  • In the first place, at least in German, it refers to the negative case. According to this phrase, if someone harms you, you are entitled to take revenge and inflict damage of the same order of magnitude.

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth": origin

The phrase "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" comes from originally from the Bible and appears there in several places, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In doing so, their meaning or extent can be well understood interpret differently and discuss controversially.

In the Old Testament in the second book of Moses it says: "If further damage has occurred, then you must give: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, fire meal for fire meal, wound for wound, streak for streak." (Exodus 21, 24)


Here the idiom sounds very harsh and legitimizes the revenge of attacks. First and foremost, however, it also means a certain level of security. After all, only Pay the same with the same become. Including other people or causing disproportionate damage is not allowed.

In addition, the Old Testament primarily refers to the legal treatment of criminals. The point is not that vigilante justice should be practiced, but rather it creates a framework in which the judiciary can impose appropriate penalties in the form of judges. In addition, the sentence also serves to deter potential criminals, since they are sure to receive their fair punishment.

In the New Testament, Jesus mentions the sentence in his Sermon on the Mount when he speaks to Matthew: "You heard that the old people said: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you: do not resist anyone who does something wrong to you, but if someone hits you on the right cheek, then hold out the other one too. ”(Mt 5, 38f.)

Jesus is correcting the wrong views for retributionthat do not apply to Christians in particular. The basic idea of ​​God is love and never revenge. You have to differentiate between the way Christians deal with the laws of worldly life, which include criminal punishments by criminals.

Similar or related phrases:

  • Tit for tat
  • Anyone digging a pit for others falls into it themselves

Are you interested in idioms and sayings? "First come, first served" explains that in the past even princes had to stand in line at the mill if they were late. We also explain the wolf in sheep's clothing and ashes to my head Sayings.

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