Lex Talionis

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Lex Talionis

Today’s message is called. “Lex Talionis”.


Lex Talionis is Latin for the Law of Retaliation.

Retaliation is a big deal - in the sense that most humans have a sense of Justice that requires for bad people to pay for their crimes. 

I think we would all agree with that. 

But whenever the crime is personal - or whenever we personally feel a portion of the injustice - our desire for Retaliation goes way up.

Just the other day Naomi and I were watching something on TV and an evil person committed a terrible act. I wanted this fictitious criminal to suffer a terrible fate in punishment for his crime. 

What’s funny is - most of the time when it comes to fictional stories bad people do suffer terrible fates because we the readers and watchers of these stories want it that way. Right?

Biblical Prinicple

Lex Talionis - is a biblical principle that means punishment must be in proportion to the crime.

Leviticus 24:17–20 (ESV)

Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.

This feels right.

Most people think that doing right - means just not doing wrong.

That is honestly our biggest deciding factor in whether or not a person is a good person or not. If they don’t do wrong - then they are good. Or at least good enough. 

Challenging the Norm...

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is challenging they way people think. 

He does it with the 

  • Beatitudes 
  • Salt and light 
  • The Law
  • Anger
  • Lust
  • Divorce 
  • The value of Yes & No - Your WORD…

He is challenging the accepted norms. And we all get that. 

Even people who don’t like Jesus, or believe in him - get that is what is happening in this movement. But Why? To what end?

If we jump to the very end of the sermon on the mount Jesus says this:

Matthew 7:24 (ESV)

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…

That is the point of everything we are hearing in this message from Jesus. We are building something. And understanding this message that Jesus gives - is our foundation. 

Then he says in verse 26 that those who do not do them are like foolish people who build on sand. Our building not last. 

Don’t worry I am not skipping to the end - But I want you to see that there is an end in mind with everything that Jesus is saying to those sitting on the mountain that day.

And everything up to this point is obviously counter intuitive. But it goes to another level here. Jesus is about unravel Lex Talionis. He is about to violate the Law of Retaliation.

Turn the other Cheek

Now you have to understand this. Because you might make the massive mistake of assuming that this was easier to hear for them than is it for us. But the opposite is true. The people on the mountain that day were an oppressed people. They were an occupied nation. And they were waiting for a messiah to come and retaliate against their enemies. 

And here he is - the Messiah - but he is not giving them what they want. Just like with everything else he has talked about - he is challenging the norm. So let’s keep reading.

Matthew 5:38–42 (ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 

Title Screen

This is what you thought - An eye for an eye. Seems fair, seems just.

But this is what I say - turn the other cheek - go the extra mile.

Do you know what most of do when we hear this passage - we lie to ourselves. We pretend we are capable of agreeing with this. 

And that only works until we get our cheek slapped. Until injustice is done to us. Then we like all other humans - we want revenge. We want others to suffer as much or more than they have made us suffer. 

Lex Talionis. To most of us - Lex Talionis is EQUAL to Justice.

Lex Talionis is like a beautiful house built on a flawed foundation

No matter how strong or beautiful a house is - if it is built on a flawed foundation it will not last. 

Our form of justice, our version of Honesty, marriage, anger, lust, law, action and blessing - are like a nice houses built on sand. No matter how right these seem in our eyes or according to our culture - they are built on a flawed foundation. 

That foundation is self centered. Meaning that the world most of us build, is built on our desires, feelings, dreams, opinions and thoughts. That is a flawed and weak foundation. 

Jesus is saying we need a different foundation - one that is centered on Him. A Christ centered foundation. 

Lex Fidei

Jesus was giving them a new law - instead of Lex Talionis he was giving them Lex Fidei - Law of Faith.

That is the difference. If we look back over this entire list of everything Jesus has talked about so far - Faith in Jesus is the differentiator. 

And all seemed doable right up to this point - but now he goes too far. He says we need to love those who hate us.

Matthew 5:43–47 (ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And notice what he says here - 

Matthew 5:45 (ESV)

…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Sons of a father means we are like our father. We need to love our enemies because we were once enemies of God and he loved us.

Romans 5:10 (ESV) 

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son

Lex Perfectionis

Lex Talionis - Law of Retaliation 

Lex Fidei - Law of Faith

Then look at this last verse in chapter 5

Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 


Lex Perfectionis - Law of Perfection

What does that mean to be perfect?

Greek word - teleios

Mature, complete, fully developed.

We think perfection is never making a mistake. That is not what God is asking for from us. That kind of perfection leads to SELF Righteousness. 

Your version of justice - Lex Talionis - an eye for an eye…

Jesus says my version of faith is you turn the other cheek, you go the extra mile… My version of perfection that you would not only love those who love you. You would love your enemies.

Matthew 7:24 (ESV)

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…

Watch this message here