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Turn the Other Cheek MEANS Resist Them Non-Violently

Turn the Other Cheek Means Resist Them, NonViolentlyI. THE PROBLEM: Jesus says to turn the other cheek.

[See a summary of this post.]

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.

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.

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 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.
“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.

Jesus and NonViolent Resistance - Walter WinkHe 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.

“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.Click To Tweet

Fourth,
– turn the other cheek.

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.

__________

See Jesus and Nonviolence, by Walter Wink.

Walter Wink treats most of these issues in this excellent little book 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.

___________
From Jan, 2005. Edited, 2016.


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Leave a Reply to H.T. Welling X

49 Comments

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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