Let's Go Back to the Bible

Turning the Other Cheek

There are not many things that disturb me more than passages taken out of context and taught incorrectly (#PHIL4:13, #MATT18:20). Another one of those passages is when Jesus is preaching the sermon on the mount. “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39). I have heard this taught to defend passivism, to teach kids not to fight back against bullies and other unsafe practices. While one might have an opinion on those subjects, please don’t twist the scriptures to teach it (2 Pet. 3:16).

In the immediate context, Jesus was teaching about the law of retaliation. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth’” (Matt. 5:38). This was an Old Testament law (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20). If one was to seek retaliation for a wrong done, these were the laws that governed and moderated so that retaliation did not escalate. How many times have we seen retaliation escalate into something way beyond the initial infraction? The Jews at the time had retaliation down to a science. Everything had been measured and quantified. Most offenses had a monetary amount attached to them so you could fine them for the offense. A slap in the face was an offense. Jesus is not teaching against violence but rather the petty retaliation. You could get recompence according to Old Testament law. However, Jesus is trying to teach them to rise above the hard-hearted approach to the law. He is ushering in a great flood of forgiveness and mercy, and He wants His people to reflect that.

When we read this passage, we sometimes think of a person getting punched in the face then having to turn the other cheek. That is not what Jesus was talking about. In those times, a slap in the face was an insult. In some cases, depending on the cheek it could mean different things. Similarly, there are times when people will throw a slap to draw us into confrontation. When we can see that people are trying to start a fight, we need to do everything in our power to walk away and deescalate the situation, wisely and safely (Rom. 12:18). When we are talking about people who seek to do us or our loved ones bodily harm, that is another matter.

While many Christians did suffer death for the cause of Christ (Acts 7:59-8:3; Rom. 8:35-36), He did not call us to be victims and surrender to random acts of violence. I am not suggesting that He called us to be our own militia either. We need to be careful how we use the Scriptures. In this case, it could be very dangerous for someone to understand this incorrectly. Don’t get caught up in trading insults. Be wise and avoid confrontation, protect yourself and your family.