What Does The Bible Say About Revenge? A Christian Topical Study

by Derek Hill on April 26, 2013 · Print Print · Email Email

The following verse has been used thousands and thousands of times for people to justify their actions when acting on revenge:

“If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.” (Leviticus 24:19-20)

Is this okay, or is it wrong?  After all, this was part of the Law of the Old Testament.  However, if you understand how Christ came to fulfill the Law and listen to His teaching, you will see that in no way is revenge acceptable.  Let us see what Jesus and other men of the Bible say on this issue.

Teachings from Jesus In Matthew 5

Matthew 5:17 says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Jesus did fulfill the Law and He went even farther with it.  Let me show you what I mean.  Here are two verses that Jesus quotes from the Law of the Old Testament and His response to them.

Murder

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21)

Jesus’ response to this is, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22a)  Clearly being dead is a bigger consequence than having someone mad at you; yet, Jesus equates the two because He wants us to see that anger is just as bad because unless it is a righteous anger than you are in sin.  Unholy anger has led many people to commit actual murder.  The solution is a simple one but sometimes difficult, “be reconciled to your brother.”   (Matthew 5:24)

Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Matthew 5:38)

Jesus responds with, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41)  What’s the point of this?  The answer is found at the end of the chapter. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44,45a and 48)  If we are to be sons and daughters of God, then we must strive to be perfect as God is perfect.  Think about it.  How will you or I win someone to Christ by slapping them in the face or repaying them evil for evil?  Did Christ crucify the human race because He was?  Certainly not!  The crucifixion was the greatest act of love ever!  We can learn a LOT about love when we focus on Christ’s complete willingness and obedience that gave us redemption through His blood.

Paul’s Writings on Revenge

Revenge is not a topic of the Bible that is up for debate.

Revenge is not a topic of the Bible that is up for debate.

The book of Romans is a wonderful book of the Bible and it covers a multitude of topics.  Revenge is one of those topics.  Paul gives a great explanation on it in Romans 12:14-21 which says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.   Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  It doesn’t get much clearer than this.  We are called to love our enemies and not to retaliate against them.  If God says, “Vengeance is Mine,” (Deuteronomy 32:35a) then we need to follow in obedience.

Other Passages From Different Authors

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) – Peter

“Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’” (Proverbs 24:29) – Solomon

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13) – James

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31) – Jesus

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!” (Psalm 37:8a) – David

Conclusion

Revenge is not a topic of the Bible that is up for debate.  The answers are crystal clear.  We should never show revenge to anyone.  We are called to love one another, including our enemies and persecutors.  Jesus “came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and we should model the same attitude.  God bless you as you live a life worthy of the calling!

Want to study more about how we can love one another? Take a look at this article:

Love One Another

Resource – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry Jackson April 26, 2013 at 6:48 am

The government is set up by God to enact earthly justice. Police are appointed by government to keep the laws of the land. We are to obey them as set up by God. If someone is or is about to harm my family, then they will be met with force.
The context you are stating is that people are oppressing you because you are Christian, then be a witness. Many crimes today are not because we are Christians but because we can be taken advantage of and our material possessions. We should never do anything from the offensive but we are not refrained from protecting our families from bodily harm.

Reply

Derek Hill April 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Hello Jerry, let me first state that revenge is an “after thought”. It is something that you dwell on to get back at someone. If someone breaks into your home, of course defend your family. That is completely different from revenge. Good points though. Defending your home is definitely something that we should all do. God bless!

Reply

Troy April 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

Revenge and defending yourself are two different things. The Bible is not telling us to be doormats. Exodus 22:2. Turn the other cheek was in reference to insults.

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Derek Hill April 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Hello Troy. As I said to Jerry, revenge is an “after thought”. Revenge is a mindset of “I’m gonna make them pay” type of attitude. Defending yourself because you are backed into a corner is a completely different issue which has nothing to do with revenge and all to do with survival. Does that make sense? No where in this article do I express that we should be door mats. Jesus wasn’t and we shouldn’t either. God bless!

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Annette Hughes April 26, 2013 at 10:26 am

Derek,
We don’t need to seek revenge.
That is God’s job.
Vengence is mine says the Lord.

Reply

Derek Hill April 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Amen Annette! God is the only one that should seek vengeance. God bless!

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Jack Wellman April 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

Outstanding work here brother. This is so different from the way the world thinks. We even pray for those who despite us. By the way, Mrs. Hughes, I believe Derek is saying the same thing…that we don’t seek revenge…yes, vengeance is Gods.

And to Troy…Derek never indicates that we are to be doormats and I don’t see Derek saying that in this fine work. To “turn the other cheek,” does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in mortal danger. Like the principle of the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth in Matthew 5:38, turning the other cheek refers to personal retaliation, not criminal offenses or acts of military aggression. Clearly, Jesus did not mean to negate all God’s laws and injunctions protecting us against violent crime or invading armies. Rather, Jesus is speaking here of the principle of non-retaliation to affronts against our own dignity, as well as lawsuits to gain one’s personal assets (v. 40), infringements on one’s liberty (v. 41), and violations of property rights (v. 42). He was calling for a full surrender of all personal rights.

Turning the other cheek means not to return insult for insult in retaliation, which is what most people expect and how worldly people act. Responding to hatred with love just might grab someone’s attention and afford us a chance to share the gospel. When we respond in a manner that is unnatural, it displays the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus was the perfect example because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him.

Just saying….

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Derek Hill April 26, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you Jack! I am glad to call you brother! You are always an encourager! As I told the two gentlemen above, revenge is an “after thought”. It is where you decide for yourself that you are gonna make someone pay. I like how you responded in your comments above. It is much better than what I did! LOL! God bless you!

Reply

Troy April 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Agreed and understood. I apologize for my previous remark. I was in no way trying to call out or condemn another brother in Christ. TO much of that going on in the body. I appreciate you guys and this website that answers
many questions christians have, or that unbelievers often ask christians. The comment he made in the article after he quoted Matthew 5:44 is mainly what drove my comment. I may have reacted without thinking. The article answered a lot of questions of my own. Again I apologize if i sounded condescending. Keep doing what you are doing and God bless
you all.

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Derek Hill April 26, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Hello again Troy. I really appreciate how you responded in such a Christ-like way. It is encouraging to see men like you trying to keep unity in the body. You are so right. There is way too much condemnation in the body with gossip and other things. Although, I am still not sure where I might have given off a door mat mentality, it is reassuring to hear such humbleness in another brother’s words! God bless you Troy!

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