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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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49 Comments

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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