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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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48 Comments

  • 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…..

  • 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.

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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