“Turn the Other Cheek” means “Resist Them Non-Violently”

I. THE PROBLEM

[See a summary of this post.]

Matthew 5:38-42

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Is it ever appropriate for Christians to resist authority? Many of us feel there is much in the behavior of our national leaders that cries out for criticism and resistance. Are Christians permitted to do that? Does “turn the other cheek” mean we should be doormats?

“Doormat” was not Jesus’ style, nor the style of his followers in New Testament times. He and they were compassionate, and they were non-violent, but they were not doormat quality. In fact, “turn the other cheek,” thoughtfully understood, actually encourages subversive, even dangerously subversive behavior.

II. FOUR KEY POINTS:

I have four arguments.

Summary:

  • First, when Jesus uttered those words his topic was the avoidance of violence; so we should expect the instruction that follows to deal with ways to avoid violence, which is a different focus than instruction about submission.
  • Second, Jesus and his disciples did not behave in subservient or unjustly cooperative ways toward secular or religious authorities.
  • Third, the phrase “do not resist” is a poor English choice for the Greek wording Matthew used.
  • Fourth, the physical event of being struck on the right cheek presents an interesting problem.

More explanation:

First,
the subject at hand was violent retaliation. “It was said, an eye for an eye.” That’s violence for violence. But Jesus would apparently have agreed with Gandhi, “An eye for an eye, and we all go blind.” So he says, “BUT I say unto you”, and then encourages a non-violent response. What we do not often notice, however, is that the non-violent response he suggests is not a passive response, and could in fact lead to more abuse.

Second,
Jesus himself was not submissive to the unjust or irrational use of authority. He set a very different example. He often publicly pointed out injustice or hypocrisy, and frequently irritated or even enraged “the powers that be.” It is not possible to imagine the real Jesus of history coaching other people in door-mat-ness. That was just not his way of thinking or operating.

Third,
the phrase “do not resist” sends a message very different from what the underlying Greek conveys. I dislike fussing about Greek words and translation problems, since the translations we have are extremely reliable. But there are a few places, and this is one, where we understand better if we translate better. This really should be rendered more like “do not retaliate violently,” or “do not get violent against”. Jesus was a resistant kind of person. He did not practice nor counsel non-resistance. He did, however, counsel non-violence.

Fourth,
imagine being struck on your right cheek. You probably get hit by the striker’s right hand, which means you get backhanded. Backhanding does not happen in a fair face-off. Backhanding is an insult, punishment, or just plain abuse. Back then it represented a clear situation of oppression or dominance. So you could 1) fight back (not smart), or 2) meekly take it, maybe with “Yes, Sir”.

An alternative “third way”:

Now Jesus suggests a third approach. Offer the other cheek. You are not fighting back, but neither are you meekly taking it. You are asking for more. You may get it or you may not, but either way you’ve made a point or two. You are not exactly what they think you are, and you know it; you are a person, and deserve more equal treatment and respect as a person; you are aware of the truth behind the fraud. You are amplifying awareness of, and insulting, their bullying behavior and the system that allows it.

III. CONCLUSION:

SO if my take is accurate:

1. Jesus insists on integrity and justice, and the pursuit of those values often precipitates conflict with powers and customs, and often requires deliberate resistance.

2. But Jesus also insists on non-violence.

The point is, we can often (always?) be both a) non-violent and b) resistant, cheeky, or openly subversive. We can be non-violent and still act and speak in ways that resist and undermine falsehood and unjust power. And that, I believe, is a good part of what Jesus is after in this short teaching. Christians clearly have a role to play in exposing and resisting evil.

__________

Walter Wink treats most of these issues in his excellent little book, Jesus and Nonviolence, Fortress Press, 2003. It’s a very easy read, but a substantial survey of the issues both historically and theologically – quite an achievement in such a small space. I highly recommend it.

___________
Other posts on non-violence:
Algeria and India – A Comparison of Violent and Non-Violent Resistance.
MLK Jr. On Ends vs Means
Was Jesus Violent? The Temple Money-Changers Incident
Jesus and Evil People – Strong Resistance with Non-Violence (A summary version of today’s post.)


Comments

“Turn the Other Cheek” means “Resist Them Non-Violently” — 45 Comments

  1. I have always understood “turn the other cheek” as to not feel you need to get back at one who has hurt you by word, particularly, since today the average person does not engage in wars. Shouldn’t we raise ourselves to the higher level of seeing the anger and pain, insecurity and lack of self-love that is behind the actions of one striking at us? If we are practicing Christians, aren’t we to forgive without conditions? There are no conditions given in the Bible telling us when we aren’t to forgive, such as, “How can I forgive you if you won’t say you’re sorry.” Are we not holding that same hate in our hearts by our pride, which is preventing us from forgiving the offender. It doesn’t mean we can’t walk away, even sever ties if that person is consistently aggressive, so as to avoid further confrontation, but it is ourselves we are hurting if we won’t ask God for the forgiveness we need to forgive that person.

    • Jesus WAS violent, sometimes even against people who hadn’t even hurt him or his feelings, like the pig herders whose food source he decimated with demons. And yet he said, that if Satan’s kingdom was divided against itself, it could not stand? News Flash peoples; Christianity is thoroughly divided and infighting has occurred even within single denominations; so what good is this thing i found on Google+ saying “it is better to be divided by truth than united in sin”? In addition to insulting innocent non-Jews, which could also be seen as violent, and he even tried to abolish laws he claimed he was fulfilling. He is a hypocrite and a liar and i will not discount the poßibility of him being a ruthleß hater.

  2. Thanks for adding some clarification to this topic. The Branch President at my Church was also helpful. I just wanted some more examples. Thanks again. May God bless you.

  3. interesting information – I have and use several translations and I like the idea of Jesus, being angry and physically aggressive turning out the money changers, calling liars well liars…..

    I also like to take all of scripture in context not only in the verse chatper and book but all of the bible to gain real understanding of what seemingly might seem to confuse or conflict with the mind at first read…..

    No parent worth their salt will allow their child to turn the other cheek if assaulted before your very eyes in fact a decent parent will stand in front and protect at any cost if need be – certainly I would be just one of those kinds of parents…..

    Like Jesus would out the liars and not yield if called to do so by God…..

    we have to remember in context there was a specific practice that was happending that Jesus wished to address…….

    Christ himself will not be passive about throwing sinners into a pit of fire on judgment day……so should I be like Jesus….the answer is both yes and no……I am not Jesus nor called to the things that Jesus was called to submit to in dying upon the cross and subjecting himself to the law of the land…..

    as a christian I will resist evil physically if need be, either for myself or those I love or extend grace and love to…..and am glad so many people were prepared to even lie to authorities to hide Jews and even now persecuted Christians……

    So yes as a christian there will be a righteous reason for me to lie, and a righteous reason to resist evil physically….however there is noever a righteous reason for to exact vegance or even judgment upon another…..hence I am not Jesus and cannot judge…but am certainly called to discern….

    one can heap coals upon the head of an offending person…..by praying for them, showing them kindness when they harm you but again in context…..

    the series boundaries by Townsend gives a good biblical perspective to this topic…..

  4. Most of you people who responded, responded with illness of mind and spirit, not knowing true history or anything beyond your near-sighted “knowledge” or “faith” if you could call it that.

    The truth is, the writer did well in talking about this subject. Jesus didn’t ask us to be doormats. I sense so much ignorance in people’s remarks here, it prompted me to speak this way. As an x-military man, I know what all these teachings imply, regarding law, or in the Jewish time, “an eye for any eye, a tooth for a tooth” and how it was modified by this “self-proclaimed” King, Jesus Christ.

    What I suffered, when I was tortured, beaten, robbed, and having all my possessions stolen, my life tattered and left “naked”, having been stripped bare, and thrown on the street — was to my benefit. My suffering in this way, ended up showing all the liars, the unjust, and the evil-hearted morons of this age, that I, being a man of excellence and integrity, was not being a submissive “doormat”.

    What men intended in their “law” to do harm to me and my family, in a horrendous way (historically, this happens to many people all the time, is ubiquitous, commonplace, and happening to more than you would like to think)–turned out for good though. What men meant for evil, worked out in my favor and put them to open shame.

    Jesus taught me this, and I listened and obeyed, even to the point of injury and near-death. Since I feel qualified to at the very least, respond to this topic, if not write on it — then I feel equally qualified to repeat the true meaning of what Jesus taught here, because I have living proof of what this all means.

    Anyway, most who responded haven’t even been sued, or dragged to court — as I have. Most who responded, perhaps even the writer, has never been beaten by comrades or other soldiers or other men of corrupt intentions; I have been beaten. I have been hurt. I didn’t just stand there and take the beating, but “turning the other cheek” certainly meant exposing them publicly, whereas I had the upper-hand when they lost their commission or rank to authority, but I kept mine.

    I don’t feel like commenting any further, but I just don’t think people who lack experience in things, should talk about those things they have no experience in. It would be comparable to an ancient Jew teaching you how to write HTML, or you teaching an ancient Jew to write HTML — and you are a hatter, who makes hats, never having touched a computer — savvy?

    I hope this was enlightening to someone. Thank you to the author, for writing though. Most of these comments, however, should be burned up.

  5. @YetAgain
    So let me get this straight, you are saying Jesus, the guy who drove the money changers from the temple with a whip, said to be a doormat? Huh, that does not seem to fit at all.
    FYI, Jews of the era wore only two garments. Therefore, if you had been sued for one of them and gave also the second, what would you be wearing? In other words, Jesus was saying to strip naked, an insult more to the one causing the nakedness than the person being naked.
    Romans were allowed to force civilians to carry their gear when on the march, but only for one mile. Forcing the same civilian to carry the gear any further would result in disciplinary action. So how do you think the Roman would feel when at the end of one mile he goes to retrieve his pack and this Jew pleasantly offers to get him in trouble by carrying it another mile. That would be completely not what he was expecting, and it breaks the oppressor-victim paradigm.
    It sounds to me like the author of this post was more trying to keep it short rather than just focusing on only one of the three items. Hope this explains how the other two instructions are also passively defiant. If not, there are others far more eloquent than I who have written on it elsewhere.
    Good luck finding the Truth, whatever it may be.

  6. The problem with this is you avoid the rest of the verse.

    “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
    —Matthew 5:38-42, NIV

    “He did not practice nor counsel non-resistance”-OP

    I’m afraid he did and it’s quite clear.

    This is yet another example of Christians re-writing the Bible to suit their own needs. Or, “The Bible tells me to ignore my enemies and even invite them to my table…but I don’t like that type of thinking so I’m going to change it up a bit”

    Like so many others before you, you ignore the rest and only focus on the aspect of being hit. Much like how people who are wealthy ignore Jesus’s thoughts on the rich. It doesn’t appeal to you to be struck..so you seek to find a answer that fits your dislike.

  7. governors of countrys in no wise turn the other cheeks just look at all the wars thats been fought and will be fought. hitler germany and japans war on the free world was they were going to divide the spoils america could not turn the other cheek neither could england are russia either it was fight are die to germany and japan. The gangansters of the thritys gave no quarter baby face nelson was a cold bloody killer so was al capone and dillinger and bonnie and clyde barrow killing was nothing to them. the romans lived for war to destroy and kill the only law the barabarians had was kill others and take the spoils. GOVTS never nave never will live jesus teachings wars will continue as long as theres evil people in this world the devil has not been did away with that war is coming between good and evil. so thats the human race fot you. o yes jesus aint coming with tip toe threw the tulips he is coming as a lion with a sword to divide the good and evil o yes there is a hell that burns with fire and sulphur and brimstone evil people will find that out when they get to hell.

  8. Great post. The point may have been lost, at least from my perspective, in the ensuing discussion.

    Too many I believe have taken this passage as an excuse not to do anything. Often they will not confront what is in front of them because they are a Christian (sic). Really an excuse.

    Case in point. I live across the street from the high school I attended 40 years ago, when I also lived across the street on the same block.

    Back in the day, acting out consisted of sneaking cigarettes and holding hands while walking down the hall.

    True delinquency was minimal and was treated as a serious issue. When people would complain every one would respond with “they are just kids” (turning the other cheek) and just let it go.

    At the time suspension was serious and expulsion was unheard of. A trip to the vice-principle was serious business.

    Today the school has a nursery for students’ children, some mothers are 14 and are on their second child. Fathers get to school on skateboards.

    There are clinics in the schools and frequently students leave school to deal drugs, use drugs or fight. On the way home hoards form, fights ensue and one gang member or another is knifed and needs to be hospitalized.

    Most people respond with different language, but it is the same “they are just kids” (turning the other cheek). Now instead of vice-principles we have school resource officers (police) stationed at schools and, as well, perhaps a full complement of security guards.

    Turning the other cheek can be appropriate but I think the more we turn the other cheek the further we can move away from what the true meaning and purpose of Christianity is. Being a Christian is not passive it is active. But that requires effort and ongoing belief in Jesus and the Father. We need to actively pursue a relationship with Christ and work on it everyday until the time of our physical dealths.

    If that is not practiced, belief as well as faith will fall to the wayside. We end up worshiping what is easy, often the culture imposed upon us by the media. God falls further and further from our minds and memories as we are indoctrinated to an ever increasing narcissistic culture (the realm of the enemy).

    Freedom is found in pursuing an active relationship with Jesus in order to develop one with God. There is a price to freedom, as Thomas Jefferson said, and that price is constant vigilance.

    So the next time you think you need to turn the other cheek think about it. It might be time to stand up take a stand and make a commitment. Practicing Christianity is not all about a feel good reward for behaving in the right manner, sometimes it can be outright painful.

    In my case I grew tired of the deteriorating school issues. I ran for and was elected to the school board. I am guided primarily in the decisions I make by my relationship with God. I have been challenged in ways I never could have imagined. I think God for it.

  9. It’s well known that at this time in history, both the Roman and Arabic world were very caste-based societies, where members of the upper classes could do pretty much whatever they wanted to members of the lower classes, largely with impunity. It’s also interesting to note that this caste system was reinforced by teaching civic responsibility and etiquette to children in school. In fact, there was a widely used and well-known teaching manual for this. One of the examples in this manual is of an upper-casteman and a lower-casteman meeting in a busy public roadway. According to the manual, the lower-casteman is required to get out of the upper-casteman’s way, even if it means falling into the gutter and becoming covered with filth and sewage. If the lower-casteman fails to yield the right-of-way, or doesn’t do so quickly enough, it is both the right and the duty of the upper-casteman to strike the lower-casteman and throw him aside, if need be, as an example to all onlookers of the consequences for failure to fulfill caste responsibility. This manual is full of similar lessons.

    Many, if not most, of Jesus’s followers – both devoted and casual – were likely taught civics and proper social behavior from this manual, or one very similar to it. When Jesus specifically mentions one man striking another, using the particular phrasing that he does, we can be confident that many, if not most, of the people hearing this teaching were recalling their childhood lessons. This adds another level of meaning to it. Given that many of Jesus’s followers were lower-castemen, Jesus’s criticism of this socially-allowed-and-required behavior was probably very popular.

  10. jesus told us that the world would hate us!!! so, we are to expect conflict…. paul went on to become a further example of a persecuted christian,when he was attaked and beaten he didnt call on angels from heaven to step in and rescue him ,he didnt have chance to turn the other cheek the mob was so violent he was near to death.but what he did do in one incident was to call upon his roman citizanship… it was unlawfull, him being a roman citizan,even though he was a jew ,for him to be treated in such a way…so our help as a christian can come from the law of the land, we can be non violent… and let the law thats been put there by gods grace so that we may have a good life,be put into action,god is a just god and the law of the land is to bring about justice.. and punish the oppressor.paul called upon his rights , he himself turned the other cheek didnt retaliate,but let the benefit of the roman law protect him.it wasnt spiritualised in any way,his help came from the law of the land.

  11. I think this is a talk of forgiving those who offend you in any way. The whole point of Jesus was to show us love and forgiveness. Jesus wanted us to allways be at peace. Getting smacked across the face is no different than lets say………..getting hung on the cross. Jesus still cried out forgiveness on the cross. He wants us to allways be at peace. Forgiveness provides that peace.

  12. Sheila is exactly right. God is love. That’s all we really gotta know. Sometimes it seems as if we are always looking for new perspectives on something, a new way to view something Jesus said. Too often sermons are wasted by concentrating on an opinion that isn’t very important. We get too caught up in this stuff, that we miss the basic truth. God loves us more than anything else, and He wants us to love Him in return. This is the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself”(Matthew 22:37-38) That right there is the essence of life. Believe me.
    I recommend this book I read, it’s called “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. His website is “crazylovebook.com” and it puts everything into perspective perfectly.

  13. New to all of this folks – I don’t go to bible classes or anything. Not been to church in 30+ years. Just looking for a nice speech for my Mothers funeral tomorrow. Came across this site by accident, and I don’t get with the hostility. How can anyone be hostile with the words of God? Hey- Im not religous but I am saying this.

    I am not theologian (bad spelling I suspect) yet I understand the point of this post. It is so so simple – God Loves. Duh….

    Now you guys- chill out. You need not to know anything more. Heck- I don’t even “do” the bible and I can see the truth in all this…… God loves so just trust in that. Jesus was clever. Cool guy. I get the other “turn the cheek stuff”. If I can get that, why can;t you. Maybe I sould go to church ah???????

  14. I’m not going to obey when I’m asked to endanger children! Would you obey Hitler or the Sanhedrin? Would you have sided with those who were responsible for the death of Jesus. The governing body during that day was responsible for Christ death, would you have participated in that! For doing the right thing my family and I have been blacklisted. All because of some clown in a high place is domineering, tyrannical, prideful and perceive himself as God. This person feel like they are so important that they can order a non-violent person, who has never placed anyone in danger in their life to, murder, hurt or harm even the innocent. God have much much mercy on this sick sick world! Someone has surly dumbmanized people who think like you and that is a lot.

  15. A lot of the anonymous older comments had names attached until I changed software and lost the connection of names to comments. That was sad.

    People are free to comment anonymously or with their real names. I reserve the right to edit comments (and will indicate it when I do so) or to not publish trashy comments.

  16. This is a test.
    This looks like a place I might like to visit and engage with other seekers, but I HATE “anonymous” postings. If people want to hide, they can use ficticious names, but I find it impossible to have a conversation with a group of “anonymous”‘s and won’t bother to come here if that is what it is going to be.

  17. I hear what everyone is saying (although I did not read eveyone’s comments) but I am troubled a little bit by what these verses are implying. To submit to the government makes sense at times yet, what about, say, the Nazi governemnt? You cannot honestly say that as Christians we should have let Hitler continue on his merry way to committing mass slaughter of the Jews?!? What were we supposed to do? Talk/reason with him and try to negotiate peace? I’m sorry, but that would never have worked! We had to take VIOLENT action in order to stop him from getting away with total genicide. I know I am right..there is just no other way around it, though I must admit I have failed to find Biblical support. I just cannot see how God could support His pepole standing by and letting this evil man murder all of those innocent people. God just wouln’t do that.

  18. An important note is the specification of the right cheek as being struck. In the class structure of the time, being struck on the right cheek meant the back of the hand which proclaimed your position to be inferior to your antagonist. Presenting your left cheek is a demand of equality by striking with the open palm. It is not demanding a second strike, but demanding a dignified strike if it is at all deserved. This is clarified further with the next line which invokes Jewish law. It is not legal under the Jewish law of the time to take the last clothing from a poor man and leave him unprotected for the night. In addition, public nudity was considered a shame against the viewer not the one undressed. You should not allow your brother to reach such a state that he doesn’t have clothing for his back and to protect himself in the cold of night. The final line in the passage is directed at Roman Law, which allows for a Roman soldier to demand anyone in the Roman controlled territories to carry a soldiers pack for one mile, but the soldier must not make them go further than one mile. By offering to go further you are in effect causing the soldier to break Roman law and put himself at risk of punishment.

    In this way, Jesus is providing three separate examples to clarify his point and show how it applies no matter whose laws you must live under, be they Jewish or Roman.

  19. Of course, there are plenty of characteristics like these. Like you say though, we disagree on the specific application, which is where that grayness comes in, and the difficulty in “moral” being an absolute description.

    You mention caring about the powerless. Our president probably genuinely cares about the powerless. He just believes it’s not moral for the government to actually help them.

    He was elected because people found him to be a moral person. Saying he was “moral” was a way to avoid telling us where his compassion truly lay. Had they rejected that relative term and instead asked him how his government would help the poor, the outcome might have been different.

  20. Hmm. Good issues.

    But aren’t there things that are widely respected moral characteristics – even if we strongly disagree about some of the specific applications of the characteristic? e.g. integrity, representing whom you claim to represent, not selling your decisions for ‘considerations’, caring about the relatively powerless, general integrity, doing your homework, being sober while making crucial judgments, a generous spirit … ?

    Larry

  21. “Morality” is not a specific concept that can be considered any kind of a qualification. It is a very relative thing that each individual sees according to his or her own beliefs. Some like to believe in a “universal morality” that everyone should follow, but these individuals are usually more interested in forcing their beliefs on others than actually seeking anything “universal”. A few beliefs may be common enough to be considered “universal”, but even with those there are gray areas.

    Murder, “Thou shall not kill”, is a good example. We all agree that killing other people is wrong, but may support it as a necessity in preventing crime, or in war. What about euthanasia? The whole abortion debate also centers on this. Killing children is generally considered bad, but is a fetus a child? Some believe it is, others don’t. There is a lot of gray in this issue, which would at first glance appear very black and white.

    Individual issues can be discussed, but morality, as a general concept, means whatever an individual believes it does, and his morality may differ from yours.

  22. Yes, I like that story. It shows where the moral commitment of the Danish people really was, and just how effective that kind of mass activity – with wide-ranging unity of commitment – can be. I’d call that one “non-violent resistance.”

    Passivism -> being passive?

    Pacifism -> (peace-ism?) being against war, even to the point of refusing to fight or to support war efforts

    Non-violence -> commitment to not use violence

    Non-violent resistance -> deliberate actions to resist unjust actions by the government or other entities, but with a commitment not to use violence even when it is used against you. This was the mode of operation of Gandhi and of Martin Luther King and many others around the world in the last couple of decades.

    Some very important and interesting ideas!

  23. We don’t often think of passivism as active. I read an essay in college that has always stayed with me. It was about Denmark and the Jews in WWII. The nazis invaded and demanded that all Jews wear yellow stars (to make them easier to identify and isolate them from the rest of the citizens). This was their modus operandi everywhere they went.

    King Christian of Denmark stumped them, however. He issued an edict that *all* of Denmark’s citizens (the royal family included) would wear yellow stars. The nazis knew the king was not a Jew. They were thrown into confusion as to who the actual Jews were. Every time they attempted to isolate the Jews, the king took up their cause. The nazis eventually gave up and pulled out of Denmark. Nary a shot was fired.

    Being a passivist requires a person be very clever sometimes.

  24. A few things not illegal in Christ’s law, or US law:

    It is lawful to not be a Republican;

    It is lawful to identify liars for what they are;

    It is lawful to entertain other opinions than the government party line, and to express them respectfully (not reviling);

    and as with the example of Daniel, it is lawful to refuse to do evil when bidden by the government to violate God’s law (and this does and will happen).

    These are obvious as daylight, but when some fundamentalists twist that “submit” word around, you would think all of the above was illegal. Especially if you happen to be a married woman in circumstances which mirror our present democratic crisis with our government.

  25. My translation of choice is the “Complete Jewish Bible” which uses Hebrew in some verses instead of the Greek, which provides new meaning based on the Jewish culture at the writting of the “New Covenant”.

    Paul

  26. hey to all u people out there. I believe pretty much what all of u have already said. So, to summarize for those of you who dont feel like reading them all. Jesus is telling us to avoid violence but when it comes along dont simply be put in to submission without a fight.

  27. Barb said, “However, the truth is that whatever version someone uses, they will misinterpret or misapply it if that is their intention.” Ah, yes. And usually by just ignoring large chunks and vigorously emphasizing small excerpts. And those excerpts are usually used in selective disregard of literary context or of historical or contemporary realities.

  28. jweathers:

    “By saying that we are to submit as Christ did, I did not mean to imply submitting to the law but rather submitting to God and submitting to the consequences of our following God when it conflicts with the law. In other words, if some ruler makes a law that is unjust and in our walk with God we break said law, we are not to violently resist the government when it tries to punish us for that law, but rather we submit to the consequences and witness to the injustice of the law. ”

    I thought that might be what you meant and I didn’t mean to offend. I only wanted to make sure it wasn’t misinterpreted. I imagine that looking at it as if the powers were to be obeyed because they were placed there by God might have been a rationale for following Hitler in his time, an obviously dangerous interpretation, and my reason for wanting it to be perfectly clear.

    To be perfectly honest I have read in several places that the NIV is popular with the politically-conservative Christians. As I mentioned somewhere else, I once had a bible study teacher who quoted Hitler (I believe it was inadvertent but it was based in a very conservative issue), and she always made reference to “your NIV” as if it were the only interpretation. So at least my personal experience appears to support what I had read. However, the truth is that whatever version someone uses, they will misinterpret or misapply it if that is their intention.

  29. Wow. Good input in this thread!

    As to me: I used the NASB for 12 or 15 years, and loved it much. Growing up with the King James I memorized hundreds of verses in it, and even yet get my “memorized Bible” gets mixed up. NASB was so freeing to me in letting the Bible speak contemporary English in a quite reliable translation. I ate it up.

    I switched to NIV 20 years ago, because it seems to me to achieve high standards of reliability while speaking English much more elegantly, that is in a more directly accesible way, and ways more in line with good contemporary writing in American English. Now the NASB seems stilted to me. My Greek New Testament and lexicons get visited on occasion. I preach (when afforded the privelege) from the NIV (putting excerpts in the bulletin) because the pew Bible is NLT, which is, as noted by others, significantly less reliable. I read NIV regularly and enjoy it very much. Also, it is quite widely used, so being familiar with it is sometimes a plus in teaching or writing.

    I appreciate gender neutral language for contemporary purposes, and in fact think it is a significant testimony to Christian attitudes toward culture, but I don’t like it in Bible translations, partly for reasons of honesty about history, and partly because it does sometimes confuse the meaning. I like to imagine that if I were a woman I would feel the same.

    We use NIV in my “Life and Teachings of Jesus” class at the college, and semester-long immersion in the words of the Gospels, mostly of Luke, does change people — last semester every person who took the class showed behavior and attitude changes that Connie and I could see. Change happens because, I believe, they really do come into contact with the Living Christ. That, after all, is crucial! And it’s a joy to see.

  30. WilliamBollinger,

    I’m glad that you found my comments useful.

    I cannot claim to be familiar on a first-hand basis with that many different translations.

    Recently, I read the NIV from cover to cover over a year of study and reflection during 2003 through which the Lord used the thoughts and writings of many wonderful folks in conjunction with my Bible reading to radically opened my eyes to a great many things that resulted in a major paradigm shift for me. I am most comfortable with the NIV and have found it to be the most theologically neutral of the translations that I have first hand experience reading.

    While growing up, I attended a Christian private school (Bob Jones Elementary School) where we used the KJV version, but I find it much harder to read with understanding because of its archaic language although it is sometimes prettier to read. I’m not that familiar with how neutral the translation is in regards to theological biases.

    My wife has a NLT that I’ve read on many occasions for study and while its wording can sometimes be clearer than the NIV, I have found several occasions where its “clarification” actually inserts a concept that came from the translators’ theological baggage and that is not actually in the text. I don’t recall the exact verse, but it was somewhere near the beginning of Luke where the NLT explicitly mentions a second coming of Christ while the NIV text is not explicit and one would need to read a second coming into the text. This is not to make any claims about eschatology one way or another – I’m simply noting whether the idea is explicit in the text or not. Thus, I tend to always be alert for such things when reading NLT and often compare it to NIV.

    Not that I’m claiming the NIV is pure either.

    I’ve read other people pointing out theological biases in the NIV as well.

    I’ve found BibleGateway.com to be a true blessing in that it allows you to compare verse renderings from all the popular Bibles that are available today.

    I suppose we just have to always be reading with a wary eye, consideration of the historical and cultural context, and a heart open to the Lord’s leading into further understanding.

    I’ve been amazed time and again how different so many passages of the Bible read under the proper lighting when the Lord blesses you by scraping away cultural and traditional baggage and allows you to read the text for itself.

  31. Hi Barb,

    By saying that we are to submit as Christ did, I did not mean to imply submitting to the law but rather submitting to God and submitting to the consequences of our following God when it conflicts with the law. In other words, if some ruler makes a law that is unjust and in our walk with God we break said law, we are not to violently resist the government when it tries to punish us for that law, but rather we submit to the consequences and witness to the injustice of the law.
    While ‘obey’ and ‘submit’ are synonyms according to the thesaurus, an examination of their dictionary entries does reveal a subtle but important difference. ‘obey’ means ‘to carry out, or fulfill or comply with a command or instruction’ while ‘submit’ means ‘to surrender to the authority of another’ or more importantly ‘to allow oneself to be subjected to something’. I have also read several scholars emphasize that the Greek does use ‘submit’ and that Paul had other words to use for ‘obey’ and indeed did use them in another different context. This difference between ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ is also vital in understanding the controversial passages a wife is told to submit to a husband. When we recognize the difference between ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ and see that Paul also commands Christians to submit to one another, then we see a symmetry in the Christian marriage of loving submission rather than a one sided rule of the man over the woman. Submission means that we will willing endure suffering or injustice upon ourselves for the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, and love for others. Submission also suggests an attitude that does not project defiance while allowing us to witness powerfully against injustice.
    By Christian conservative, what do you mean? I am theologically conservative and politically liberal. I like the NIV mainly because out of the few translations that I have used, it seems most theologically neutral without the translators explicitly inserting their own theological take into passages. Also, it is easier for me to read and comprehend than the archaic KJV. That doesn’t mean that I endorse the NIV or find it pure or The One True Translation (TM). Indeed, I’m interested in looking at other translations like the NASB that you mentioned and the NKJV.
    I might upset a few people here, but I don’t like the idea of gender neutral language for quite a few reasons so I am not thrilled with the TNIV. For one thing, from what I understand, many of the passages that have been gender neutralized do not actually have any warrant for gender neutralization in the original Greek or Hebrew. While granted that in many cases, this is harmless because Paul was actually refering to general principles that apply to both men and women, in some cases that I have seen, it actually obscures important details. Finally, I don’t like the neutral gender movement as a whole because playing with language to make it politically correct is a pet peeve of mine. I especially dislike the trend to alternate between using he/his/him for a general person in one paragraph and she/her/her for a general person in the next. Yes, I understand that perhaps there are sexist roots in the evolution of the rules of English grammar that make masculine parts of speech the gender neutral ones as well, but I have no sexist intent today when I refer to a general person as him. Similarly, you can find class biased roots in the origin of grammar rules themselves, but I think that they have grown passed their tainted origin and are quite useful for today therefore I don’t advocate abolishing the rules of proper grammar.

  32. There are just one or two points that concern me. One is that saying “We are not to resist unjust laws with violence but are to submit ourselves as Christ submitted Himself even to the point of the cross” might give someone the impression that Jesus submitted to the law, when it might be more accurate to say that he submitted to the will of the Father. Jesus did not hide his opposition to the legalistic practices of the Pharisees, and never submitted to them or the Romans. Consequently, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that we are to respond to our enemies with love AND submission. I think it might be more accurate to say that we are to respond with love (without submission). Whether on a personal or institutional level, we are still to love the sinner but hate the sin. Although, as Larry pointed out in one of his points, it may be a matter of the wording in Greek. In an english thesaurus ‘obey’ and ‘submit’ are synonymous – they both signal an acquiesence that may not have been intented in the original Greek texts.

    I have also read recently about questions about the NIV. It has historically been an interpretation that appeals to Christian conservatives (the Message by Eugene Peterson is another conservative interpretation); however, Zondervan is issuing a new NIV that is gender neutral to appeal to a younger audience, like JesusNerd, that ironically is now being criticized by prominent Christian conservatives like James Dobson. I have read that the New Oxford NASB version is a more scholarly interpretation. I was going to buy that version because I believe it does have references to the original Greek and Hebrew.

  33. jweathers,

    In a lot of blogs, I don’t usually borher with long reply’s, they are usually rants that are best ignored or whole articles that should have been summarized and linked to, but I’m glad I took the time with yours. Very informative and thought provoking.

    When JesusNerd posted those verses, they did trouble me. They seemed out of place in the Bible that I remember. Your explanation helps, and although I have read the NIV, and am familiar with why it was written, It never occured to me to cross check the meaning of particular verses in that way. I usually just use the KJ, since it seems to be the most read and quoted, but will rely on other interpretations in the future. I’ve heard about the problems with NIV, are there others you reccommend?

  34. Hello ‘JesusNerd’. We are all learning, and you haven’t said anything to suggest you are dumb. Also, being a teenager simply has nothing to do with your maturity, wisdom, or understanding despite what some older people might like to think. Living longer simply gives one more opportunities to grow – it does not guarantee that we take them. Looking down on younger people’s ideas simply because of their age has been a pet-peeve of mine for a long time! :)

    I’m sure Larry can respond to your questions, but I’d also like to offer the conclusions that I believe that God has led me to draw concerning the Romans and Titus passages that you mention as well as a few others commonly sited such as 1 Peter 2 v. 13.

    For starters, we should really examine these scriptures in a better translation than TLB which is more of a paraphrase. TLB has definitely rephrased these verses to make them line up with the translators’ own standard theology rather than merely translating them faithfully.

    Let’s look at them in the NIV which although not perfect is still a translation that tries to maintain translation faithfulness without losing readability.

    Romans 13:1-4, NIV
    “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

    Titus 3:1, NIV
    “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good”

    So we see that things are a little different here. Notice that we are told to ‘submit’ to government authorities which is not the same thing as being told to ‘obey’ them. This becomes the key to understanding the verses when in addition you read Romans 12 and notice that Romans 13:1-4 is a continuation of the thought process in Romans 12. Remember that the chapter breaks were not originally there and were later added somewhat arbitrarily by monks who copied and preserved the scriptures during the Middle Ages. To preserve space, I refrain from pasting in all of Romans 12, but notice that it essentially describes how Christians are called to interact with the world, i.e. in ways that are sacrificial to God (v. 1), that avoid conformity to the world (v. 2), that are humble (v. 3), and with love and affection (v. 9-13). Specifically, we are told to bless those that wish to harm us and to ‘overcome evil with good’.

    Paul then moves smoothly into the Romans 13 passages as an example of the general teachings on loving our enemies that he discusses at the end of Romans 12. It is important to consider the historical context here. Paul is writing to the church at a time when Christians are being persecuted at the hands of the law. Paul’s words are a caution against using revolutionary violence against the state. Christians are not to return evil for evil, but are to live according to God’s law and submit themselves to the persecution of the governing authorities when their faithful lives lead them into conflict with the laws of men. We are not to resist unjust laws with violence but are to submit ourselves as Christ submitted Himself even to the point of the cross. Loving submission is the rule of Christian relationships be they between husband and wife, brother and brother, friend and friend, enemy and enemy, ruled and ruler.

    Now let’s consider the parts about the authorities being established by God and how they are God’s servants to do us good. This is all true as all things are established by God. Nothing in the world is given power without God’s allowing it. Even Satan’s authority has been established by God. The key realization here is that just because someone or something has been given authority by God does not mean that said person or institution has His approval. God gives authority so that he might bring about His Kingdom purposes. It is a tool in His hands. God often uses evil to destroy or punish other evil. A good example is Isaiah 10, where God sends Assyria against Israel to punish her for her sins. God refers to Assyria as the rod of His anger and to the Assyrians as they who hold the club of His wrath in their hands, and yet He then judges them for these very actions that he makes use for punishing Israel. What Satan and men and nations intend for evil God uses for good while not justifying their evil.

    So again the Roman authorities and by extension any State authorities are in power because God has placed them there for His purposes, but that does not mean that God approves of them. As Christians, we are called to live a life that obeys God’s laws with no regard to the institutions of man. Our lives should witness against injustice including that in our governments, but we are not to violently rebel against the State – rather as with all enemies we must respond with love and submission.

    So how does this apply in modern day America? I’m still learning and working that out for myself in fear and trembling before the Lord. Of what I am certain is that we must witness against evils and injustices committed by our government and not remain silent. At the same time, we must not give into the temptation to violently rebel against the government or demonize our leaders. We should always strive to be respectful of them as fellow fallen human beings whom God loves just as much as ourselves and who need Christ’s Light just as much as we do. That part can be really trying when you get emotionally caught up in the evils that men do to one another as I often do. But I think it is important to realize that even people like Hitler, Bush, Kissinger, Stalin, and Hussein are still humans with good qualities, bad qualities, loves, hopes, dreams, etc. who see or saw themselves as doing the right thing. The human mind is very good at justifying its own actions. Keeping this in mind helps us to realize the potential for evil within ourselves and allows us to keep things in perspective.

    As for Larry’s fourth point, I don’t think he is suggesting that the ‘third approach’ is to taunt one’s enemies. Rather, it is an approach that refuses to remain silent in the face of injustice while also refusing to sink to the level of that injustice in return. Also, you are correct that the verse isn’t directly aimed at governmental authority, but the state is merely an abstract extension of the personal. If you are to ‘turn the other cheek’ when someone wrongs you, then you should ‘turn the other cheek’ when a government figure wrongs you as well. The fact that a person is part of the government doesn’t make him special.

  35. First of all, we’re not dumb teenagers – we’re all works in progress.

    All kidding aside, I was reading something about this not too long ago. This is from Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and hopefully I can convey this accurately. Basically, what he says is that when we obey government it is not because that government is necessarily good, but because our hope is tied to Jesus and not to that government. A revolution against that government would mean that we are putting our hopes in that government rather than in God. So I don’t agree with the Bush administration on many things but I make my voice known by my vote, by my words, and by the things I support, rather than by any violent or illegal activity. There are of course many other ways for people to accomplish the same thing. Another thing that Paul states in Romans 13 is that we are supposed to overcome evil with good, regardless of whether the powers are evil or good. The way we do this is by the examples that Jesus set for us and that Larry outlined here.

  36. Thanks for your coments. (I’ve been a dumb teenager for over 40 years now, so I’m getting familiar with it.)

    Have others of you had problems with this comments system? Frankly I haven’t played with it much. Maybe I need to get a little “how-to” up to make it easier to use. We do need to hear from each other!

    We’re leaving town in a few minutes. Maybe I (or others) can write about Romans 13 and Titus 3 within the next week.

  37. I’d just like to say that I officially hate your new comment system, as it just ate my gigantic reply to this post. *takes deep breath* Take two…

    First off, I’d like to say that in all my years in the church, I’ve not once heard a sermon reference Mat. 5:38-48 in reference to submission to authority. I also believe most conservative Christians already know that this peice of Scripture is talking about avoiding violence. If you can read, you can tell it’s blatantly obvious.

    However, I have heard verses used such as:

    Romans 13:1-4, TLB
    “Obey the government , for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the policeman does not frighten people who are doing right; but those doing evil will always fear him. So if you don’t want to be afraid, keep the laws and you will get along well. The policeman is sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for he will have you punished. He is sent by God for that very purpose.”

    And Titus 3:1, TLB
    “Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and always to be obedient and ready for any honest work.”

    I think I would be more interested in your take on THESE scriptures in reference to criticizing and resisting governmental authority.

    Also, I think I disagree with your fourth point. I don’t believe that Jesus suggests a third approach. And the way you put it, it seems as though your “third approach” insinuates that turning the other cheek is a means of taunting your offender. That sort of teaching isn’t consistant in Scripture or in Christ’s character. It just appears to me that you are giving added meaning to this peice of Scripture that doesn’t belong there, esspecially considering this verse isn’t speaking about resisting govermental authority in the first place.

    Then again, I’m just a dumb teenager. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>