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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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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