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Matthew Verse 5:38-42 – “Turn the Other Cheek”
I. Matthew 5:38-42 – "Turn The Other Cheek"
The Path of Non-Resistance
Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter what the circumstances. And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance–the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong. This view is usually on the exemplary life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
According to Christian pacifist John Yoder, Jesus rejected the existing political state of affairs and taught a form of radical nonviolence. Central to Christ’s teaching, Yoder says, is His biblical mandate to "turn the other cheek" when encountering violence (Matthew 5:38-48).
In Yoder’s view, the way to victorious living is to refrain from the game of sociopolitical control. Jesus exposed the futility of the violence engrafted in the present world system by resisting its inclinations even to the point of death. Hence, Christians are to refuse the world’s violent methods and follow their Savior to the cross (Matthew 26:47-52). When Jesus told the disciples to buy a sword (Luke 22:36), pacifists suggest He was only speaking figuratively.
"TURN THE OTHER CHEEK" ALWAYS? It is true that Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-42. However, many scholars do not believe pacifism (or nonresistance) is the essential point of His teaching in this passage. These scholars do not believe Jesus was teaching to "turn the other cheek" in virtually all circumstances. Even Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (see John 18:22-23).
The backdrop to this teaching is that the Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face, much in the same way that we would interpret someone spitting in our face. Bible scholar R. C. Sproul comments: "What’s interesting in the expression is that Jesus specifically mentions the right side of the face [Matthew 5:39]….If I hit you on your right cheek, the most normal way would be if I did it with the back of my right hand….To the best of our knowledge of the Hebrew language, that expression is a Jewish idiom that describes an insult, similar to the way challenges to duels in the days of King Arthur were made by a backhand slap to the right cheek of your opponent."
The principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-42 would thus seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered (see also Romans 12:17-21). Such insults do not threaten a Christian’s personal safety. The question of rendering insult for insult, however, is a far cry from defending oneself against a mugger or a rapist.
In terms of following Christ’s example, one must remember that His personal nonresistance at the cross was intertwined with His unique calling. He did not evade His arrest because it was God’s will for Him to fulfill His prophetic role as the redemptive Lamb of God (Matthew 26:52-56). During His ministry, however, He refused to be arrested because God’s timing for His death had not yet come (John 8:59). Thus, Christ’s unique nonresistance during the Passion does not mandate against self-protection.
II. Here is another article on Matthew 5:38-42:
By George Crocker
There seems to be a lot of confusion in Christian circles regarding our Lord’s statement in Matthew 5:39: "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." (New King James Version. Emphasis mine). Many take this verse and claim that it is not right nor lawful for a Christian to defend himself or herself but rather one ought to be passive. At first appearance it seems that they may be right. This sure seems like Christ is teaching pacifism. Yet, is this really so?.
Its the Context
The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount where our Lord is teaching proper Christian conduct amidst an unbelieving world and hypocritical religious leaders. The scribes and the Pharisees were taking passages of Scripture in the Old Testament (that was all the Scriptures they had at the time) out of context That is why Christ constantly began His words with: "You have heard that it was said…". He was correcting the errors of their teaching and thinking. The scribes and Pharisees were famous for saying "do and do not" (Matt. 23:3).
In the context of Matthew 5:38-39 (as well as Luke 6:29) our Lord is correcting yet another error by these religious leaders. In verse 38 He says: "You have heard that it was said: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’." The religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, were taking what God had instructed in His law (Ex. 21:24; Deut. 19:21; Lev. 24:20) for the civil government and made it a private and inpidual matter. The Lord God had instructed the judges and magistrates to punish those who had done injuries by making them suffer the way they made their victims suffer. The scribes and Pharisees taught that this meant private or inpidual revenge. This was not correct. The inpidual has not been given the right for revenge. That is in the hands of God (see Deut. 32:35; Romans 12:19) and His "means" of punishment through the civil magistrates (Rom. 13:4). Christ challenges this contrary teaching by saying "But I tell you…"
In verse 39 Christ now instructs them that it is the duty of every man to bear patiently the injuries that he receives (Calvin) and not to seek revenge. It is my conviction that the Lord is NOT referring to the matter of "self defense" in this context. He is NOT saying here that it is sinful for one to defend himself and/or his family when being threatened. If He were then this would be a contradiction to what Scripture says elsewhere (see below and also Pratt’s article: "What Does the Bible Say about Gun Control?"). This is where I part with some conservative and Reformed commentators (such as Ridderbos) who imply that one must resist "even defending himself" . If they mean that in all instances this ought to be the case then they are wrong. Again, the Lord does not allow for "revengence" by the inpidual. However, defending himself or his family is certainly not forbidden.
If this text is not speaking about self defense, what does the Lord mean when He says "not to resist an evil person" and then adds "But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also"? Admittedly this appears to be a pacifist text. H.N. Ridderbos does help us out in this area when he says:
At a closer look this passage deals with how one must respond after being insulted. This is not a passage dealing with what one must do when being physically attacked and having one’s life being threatened. It is, however, one that reinforces the idea that "revenge" is not to be left in the hands of the inpidual victim. Personal revenge and even "lynch-law" is certainly out of the question. The Lord has already set up the means to deal with punishing the offender by the sword of the state. It is a passage that teaches one must have patience when wronged. As the great Reformer John Calvin says:
Do these passages forbid self-defense? They do not deal with it nor do they forbid it.
III. Below are what several commentaries say about "Turning The Other Cheek."
The College Press NIV Commentary States:
Matthew: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition
JESUS AND RETALIATION 5:38–42
The New American Commentary: Matthew
© 2010 – 2011, Matt. All rights reserved.
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