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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Vengeance

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The word ‘vengeance’ (ἐκδίκησις), with its corresponding substantive ‘avenger’ (ἔκδικος, 1 Thessalonians 4:6, Romans 13:4), is an essentially NT word and never carries with it the suggestion of arbitrary or vindictive reprisals: it is always a just retribution, and a retribution inflicted by God Himself or His instruments (1 Peter 2:14). If the idea of wrath is associated with the use of the word, as in Romans 3:5; Romans 13:4, such ‘wrath’ (ὀργή) is the eternal righteousness or justice of God acting in harmony with His revealed will. In both Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30 the words’ Vengeance is mine; I will repay’ are quoted somewhat loosely from Deuteronomy 32:35 (ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω). The verb (ἐκδικέω) occurs in the parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:3; Luke 18:7-8) in the sense of affording protection from a wrong-doer and so vindicating the right of the injured person. It is then applied by our Lord to the Divine vindication of the ‘elect,’ the phrase used being ποιεῖν τὴν ἐκδίκησιν τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν, which suggests the protection of persevering saints as well as the just penalty inflicted on their aggressors.

In the ethics of Christianity the Golden Rule solves the problem of private and personal revenge. Revenge at the bidding of momentary passion or as the gratification of a selfish emotion is resolutely condemned by the teaching of Christ, and forgiveness takes the place of the old savage law of retaliation (see Matthew 5:38-48). Of the assertion ‘Vengeance is mine,’ W. H. Moberly (in Foundations, London, 1912, p. 280) writes: ‘This limits, but at the same time consecrates, the notion of retribution. The disinterested infliction of retribution is sometimes a moral necessity’; and he further quotes T. H. Green (Principles of Political Obligation, § 183): ‘Indignation against wrong done to another has nothing in common with a desire to revenge a wrong done to oneself. It borrows the language of private revenge just as the love of God borrows the language of sensuous affection.’

Punishment, if it is to carry any moral weight, must involve the vindication of law, and consequently the new ethic of Christianity which controlled the conduct of the Apostolic Church is based on love, which rules out of revenge the element of private and personal malevolence (see some cogent remarks by J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics4, London, 1900, p. 404 f.). The repetition of the quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35, in the form in which it comes to us in two such representative Christian writings as the Epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews, shows clearly that the Christian consciousness had grasped the idea of punishment as in effect a Divine prerogative. The private individual has not to assume judicial functions which properly belong to a recognized legal tribunal or ‘powers’ regarded as Divinely ordained (Romans 13:1-6).

On the relation of the subject to war, E. Will-more (J. Hibbert Journal xiii. [1915] 340) describes how the doubts of a friend-a Territorial soldier-as to the moral Tightness of war (based on ‘Vengeance is mine,’ etc.) were resolved by reading of the atrocities of Belgium and the nature of German atheism. ‘Vengeance belongs to God,’ he wrote; ‘then we are God’s instruments.’ War as a method of giving expression to the law of international righteousness is admittedly repugnant to the Christian conscience; but until the method is superseded as the result of a consensus gentium, a Christian nation is not absolved from the duty of vindicating either by offensive or by defensive warfare the eternal principles of right and justice.

R. Martin Pope.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Vengeance'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/v/vengeance.html. 1906-1918.

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