Turn the Other Cheek – Matthew 5:33-42

Jesus gives four examples of how his principle of non-retaliation may be applied.

If anyone slaps your face. This is likely a backhanded slap and would have been considered an insult to one’s honor. According to the Mishnah, the penalty for slapping someone with the open hand was 200 zuz, if it was a backhanded slap, the penalty was 400 zuz (b.Kam 8:6, cited by Quarles, Sermon, 149. A zuz refers to “non-Jewish small silver coinage” according to David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament, 201). A dinar and a zuz are used interchangeably in the Talmud. The Luke parallel uses a more violent verb (τύπτω) which can have the sense of an assault (Luke 6:29).

Turn the Other CheekJesus commands his disciples to “turn the other cheek,” meaning let them hit you again! For example, Jesus is repeatedly slapped and struck, be he did not retaliate (John 18:22-23) but he also escaped violence on a number of occasions (Mark 9:30-31, for example). This prohibition of retaliation is directed at an angry and violent response to attacks and does not imply the Christ-follower cannot defend themselves.

If anyone sues you and takes your tunic. Both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world were plagued with frivolous lawsuits. Jewish practice allowed someone to take a person’s chiton (χιτών), “a garment worn next to the skin” (BDAG) and were valuable enough to be used for bartering or making payments. The tunic (ἱμάτιον) was refers to one’s outer apparel. If the person was poor, this cloak served as a blanket. The Torah specifically forbids taking a person’s cloak as a security (Exod 22:26-27; Deut 24:12-13).

If this were to be followed literally, then the disciples would leave the courtroom naked! Keener says this is a “shockingly graphic, almost humorous, illustration” (Keener, Matthew, 198). But Quarles does not think this is hyperbole, pointing out it is unlikely a person only has one set of clothes (Quarles, Sermon, 153). He argues this saying urges the disciples are to pay what is fair and offer more in compensation when they are sued.

If anyone asks you to go a mile. The idea of going the “extra mile” is often applied to doing more than is required. In the context of the first century, Roman soldiers had the right to force people to do menial tasks, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, for example. There is sufficient evidence to show that Roman soldiers sometimes forced Jewish people to carry burdens normally carried by pack animals, and sometimes this happened on the Sabbath (NewDocs 7, 85-87).

This kind of de-humanizing oppression is in the background of the Jewish rebellion only 30-35 years after Jesus was crucified. Jesus is reversing the typical response to an oppressive authority, do more than is required!

If anyone asks you for something.  Leviticus 25:35-38 requires people to take care of a person who is in desperate need and there are many texts in the Hebrew Bible and the literature of the Second Temple Period to show that alms giving was a standard practice of a righteous person. This goes beyond alms since a person may ask for a loan. To turn away from someone (ἀποστρέφω).

It is possible Jesus refers to giving of gifts to the extreme poor and loaning without the expectation of returns as counter to the practice of giving gifts in order to gain favor with wealthy and elite people. Quarles suggests this as a way to connect the example to the principle of non-retaliation (Sermon, 157). If someone elite person is oppressing a disciple, perhaps a gift would change their attitude.

In Sirach, gifts and loans are to be given only to people who deserve them, and not to the “sinner.” Although this text does not define the sinner, Jesus’s practice of eating with “sinners” shows his ministry targeted those people Sirach would not have given any gift or loan.

Sirach 12:1–7 (NRSV) If you do good, know to whom you do it, and you will be thanked for your good deeds. 2 Do good to the devout, and you will be repaid— if not by them, certainly by the Most High. 3 No good comes to one who persists in evil or to one who does not give alms. 4 Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner. 5 Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back their bread, and do not give it to them, for by means of it they might subdue you; then you will receive twice as much evil for all the good you have done to them. 6 For the Most High also hates sinners and will inflict punishment on the ungodly. 7 Give to the one who is good, but do not help the sinner.

Is Jesus saying his followers ought to give away all their possessions to the poor and live a life of voluntary poverty? This is exactly what they did in Acts 24:32-35 (and illustrated in Acts 4:36-37, Barnabas sells property to give to the disciples; Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira; Acts 11:27-30, the gift from Antioch to Jerusalem, and the Pauline Collection contributed to these Christ followers, Gal 2:10).

As he did with murder and adultery, Jesus sharpens the Mosaic Law by saying that the follower of Jesus ought practice meekness and not always demand his legal rights. Under the “eye for an eye” principle, if someone slapped you, you were legally able to slap them back, and under Roman law you were required to carry the pack for a mile, no more.

Jesus says: “do not retaliate.” Let them hit your other cheek as well, and do not stop at one mile, go two miles. This has caused problems for centuries because people want to equate this to a literal command, Jesus is employing a metaphor here as he has in the earlier sections. The essence of the teaching is do not retaliate or harbor a grudge. If someone harms you, do not harm them. Jesus has already said “blessed are the peace-makers.” It is impossible for a peacemaker to seek revenge.

Jesus is not making a new legal ruling or re-interpreting the old legal principle in a new and radical way. He is contrasting the legal principle with an ethical principle. He wants his followers to be different from the world. The true disciple is to be light in the darkness, they are to be the peacemakers, the righteousness seekers.

The fact that the courts are to defend the rights of widows and orphans indicates not everyone ought to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus is not saying, “Sorry old widow lady, people have oppressed you, but you are supposed to turn the other cheek.” No one would recommend an abused child “turn the other cheek,” the abuser ought to be held accountable for their crimes. Nor would anyone think every Christian ought to sell all their property to give to the poor so that we like naked under a bridge.

If we read this principle in the context of Jesus’s followers, they have been told they will be persecuted on account of their association with Jesus. They will be slapped and have their property confiscated because they stand with Jesus. They are not to retaliate against this persecution.

By way of contemporary application, how does the individual Christian set aside a “right of retaliation” in contemporary western culture?

21 thoughts on “Turn the Other Cheek – Matthew 5:33-42

  1. If someone hurts you physically or emotionally, you must be the bigger person and turn away and show that you will walk away from such sinful and angry desires and actions. We should all go the extra mile for one another, pushing each other and pushing each other to be the person we need to be. But also we should go the extra mile for a person and we should go out of our own way to be where they are. We should also give to the poor and needy and we should also try to poor into the ones who need it the most. When we provide, we will be blessed! When your actions show Christ, you will live with Christ. “Make effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Hendrick, 259).

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  2. We are on this earth to live a life for Christ and as Christ would live. Revenge and retaliation are not a Christlike action. It says to go the extra mile, we can do this in every area of our lives. We can go the extra mile in our workplaces, school, at the store, this shows a Christ like behavior. Jesus has created something new for his followers so that we can stand out.” In other words Jesus’ followers dwell in an alternative society that protests systematic injustice and embodies an alternative love-shaped justice” (McKnight, pg.125). We also can take care of the poor. Jesus did so much for the people when he was here on earth, if we have the opportunity or feel called to give to the poor we should jump right on that.

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    • Maddie I really like the points you made in this post. As humans with flaws, it is easy to seek revenge and retaliation against people who wrong us. It is easy to want to get back at someone for whatever they had done that has upset us. And yet, God calls us to do the opposite. He calls us to live a life like Christ and to turn the other cheek. We can do this with people all around us in every aspect of our lives. We can practice this at school, work, home, sports, at the store, and when driving. I really like the quote you used from McKnight that talks about how Jesus is calling us to be different from the world and to stand out in it. We are called to be a light in the world and one way that we can do this is by turning the other cheek and forgiving those that wrong us. Our world is full of people holding grudges and we need to work to do the opposite of the world. We need to forgive and love others so that others see God within us.

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  3. There is never going to be a “right” way to respond to violence and revenge. We will always be sinners who have an urge to retaliate when someone or something hurts us. What is unique for believers is once we are born again in Christ we are blessed with the Holy Spirit which guides us, gives us hope, and gives us help. In Galatians 2:20, Paul reminds us that when we are crucified with Christ we no longer live for ourselves, but we live by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf – when we are feeling that urge of revenge, instead of acting on it we can ask for the Holy Spirit to give us patience and a different perspective. Romans 12:2 says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I believe the more we invest in our spiritual health the greater opportunity we have to watch as God turns down our tendency for anger and our rate of retaliate. When we choose to live like Jesus we will look different than culture. Jesus shows us time and time again that living a life for God is different. We are called to put on mercy and to show grace to others, just as God showed grace to us. This is an aspect that I think we often miss. We so quickly want to put on a hat of retaliation when a situation pokes at us the wrong way, especially when it is something we are passionate about. The first example to pop into my head is how people parent their children differently. We can easily put ourselves in the shoes of judgment if we think someone is disciplining their children “bad” or “wrong.” As I think in a bigger sense, I become angry when I hear stories on the news about sex-trafficking and all of these innocent girls being stolen away from their families. It will never make sense on this side of heaven – our culture screams retaliation because life will never be fair nor will we ever find satisfaction outside of Christ. McKnight reminds us that “the cross reveals how God himself deals with injustice and violence” (132). It is not our burden to judge or retaliate, but it is our duty to show the grace of God and to share the hope of the gospel. This is how we set aside of “right of retaliation” in our culture, by trusting in the Lord, letting Him defend, and opening ourselves up to be used as His vessels.

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  4. After reading through the post of this week, I can say I’ve been all for turning the cheek. At the same time, this very action doesn’t work quite often for me personally, and I will suggest that we should not follow this method at all. I would like to explore why Jesus suggest this method to our life. Confrontation is like a snowball rolling down a mountain, it has the potential to get a lot bigger than the way it started. With these type of problems on our plate, it might be hard to swallow, therefore what should be done? At time, if we turn the other cheek, it leaves the other cheek to become strike as well. As the look into the book of Matthew further, you will come across chapter six and Jesus engage the idea of praying and fasting. We must take those action seriously in the walk, because at times when we find ourselves in dangerous situation, God is telling us to get out of it, and prayer and fasting is the ideal ways God, speaks to us. God knows what we need in life, he just wants to see if we are willing to come to him with our problems. In the Sermon on the Mount, you’ll see that McKnight mentions “the cross reveals how God himself deals with injustice and violence” (McKnight, p.132). At times it may seem like God is taking his time but God is never late, his always on time. He allows these problems to help us grow as believers and have faith in his love and holiness.

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    • After reading this I made it a goal to really work on not retaliating. I know for me, especially in soccer, when someone pushes me my immediate thought is to push back harder. But to think about how Jesus was treated and to know that he did not retaliate is so important to keep in mind. To think that he was beaten, spit one, called numerous names, etc.. and we want to retaliate after one little push. Says a lot about our character sometimes!

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  5. Applying this idea of forfeiting our right to retaliation in western culture, I think it is important to remember that if someone has has a problem with us for because of our faith, we should not argue with them because souls are not won through fighting. In Mathew 16:24-26 Jesus tells his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him…. whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus tells us that we are going to be looked down on and suffer for following Him, however the eternal rewards are greater. Keeping our mind on this when people hurt us is a good way to stay accountable to turning the other cheek as we remember that God is their judge, not us.

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  6. I feel through reading this, I sort of started feeling guilty in this area because as people do mean thing to me that have hurt me, I instantly want to get them back some way or somehow I want to hurt them back. when that is really not the right approach. in the end, if I do that it will only hurt them and me more. I know that the Bible is wright so I need to take its word as truth and not hurt the ones that hurt me.

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  7. It is human nature to want to retaliate against someone and get them back for what they have done to you. It goes against our natural sinful tendencies to retaliate. Our culture is all about getting people back for what they did and coming out on top. As Christians, we are told to do the complete opposite. If someone hurts you, we must forgive them and put it behind us. This does not mean that we cannot defend ourselves against an intruder, but it more so is about the act of revenge. McKnight refers to this as pacifism. He describes pacifism as actively seeking out peace and making an effort to not have violence. This does not mean that we cannot resist another person, however, we must resist them in a nonviolent way. This is what we should strive to do when we are wronged by another individual, rather than looking for retaliation.

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  8. “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39).” I can’t speak for everybody but it is human nature to fight back, when attacked or provoked. Growing up my Dad always told me if someone ever hit me, hit back and make it hurt, but my Dad was a boxer. As I’ve gotten older I try a little bit more to turn the other cheek, but I still struggle with not retaliating.

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    • Charlie,
      I really liked your insight and your background. As I mentioned in my post, that is something that I struggled with as well. It may not have been in a physical way, but in a verbal way. It was a way that I could get that last laugh. I still struggle with that a little bit, but it has definitely gotten better. Matthew 5:39 is a perfect verse that could be used for this situation. I’m really glad you put it in your post. This verse shows what it means to show self-control, love, kindness, and peace.
      McKnight mentions that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you (McKnight, 2013). This exemplifies the love of Christ through our actions. This could possibly silence the other person. As you mentioned, it is tough to “turn the other cheek,” but what shows the God’s love more than our actions and words?
      Growing up playing sports I had my fair share of opportunities to fight, but luckily my parents instilled self-control in me. My parents also taught me to stand up for myself to though. So, backing down wasn’t an option. It is interesting to see how much we think alike in this topic. I think the older we get, we realize that there are more important things than trying to be the big guy. We realize that people need God’s love and mercy. We are the people who can be that light.
      Very interesting post Charlie!

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  9. There is plenty of application to the modern world as we as Americans are constantly told that we should seek justice for every little thing that someone has done to us. I myself think of all the times I want to yell or honk at anyone who cuts me off without a turn signal or pulls out in front of me without warning. Most would say I am justified in expressing my anger. Or I think about examples where some people attempt the socially saboteurs who attempt to spread rumors about those they don’t like. Society teaches that those who were wronged by others, have a right to ‘get even’ or get revenge. Some of my favorite movies involve people on a mission to get revenge. I enjoy the sense of justice of bad people getting what we think they had coming. But we are called to be above the emotional retaliation by Christ. By all means defend yourself, your family, or anyone else you can, but do not seek revenge.

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  10. Turning the other cheek is harder than it sounds. As humans, we were built to defend and respond to an offense, humility is not where we look first. Often it’s quite the opposite. We are called to be kind to others but instead we are violent or rude with our actions and or words. Keeping ourselves in check is important when facing accusations or mockery. Jesus tells us that when we are thrown persecution we must turn the other cheek and this means to not retaliate because that isn’t how God would have us to respond but instead with love and a testimony that would reflect His own so that He can be glorified through it. People will constantly pick on us for being a Christian yes, but because some people are plain mean. The phrase “turn the other cheek” doesn’t literally mean to turn so they can hit your other cheek, but rather to let them keep heaping insults and accusations on you because retaliating or fighting back is not the answer. Were are called to also be meek and mild, and to hold from arguing or violence and this is a test of obedience as is anything God calls us to do. This one however, I find hard. It’s so easy to say something back but it doesn’t solve anything. We have to do our best to let God be our avenger, (because the Bible tells us that it is the Lord who takes revenge, not us. He is in control, not us, He will defend us, Psalm 119:114.

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  11. “Blessed are the peace-makers”. Turning the other cheek and avoiding retaliation can be challenging. If we get pushed or shoved our natural reaction (maybe not everyone, and maybe not always) is to push or shove back. When someone does us wrong we want to get even and we eagerly wait for karma to do its thing, but Jesus encourages us to love even those who dish out injustices. As Christians we need to avoid retaliation and respond to the injustice with compassion, mercy, and actions that reverses injustice. My favorite quote from McKnight summarizes how to respond when faced with injustice. It reads, “Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered. Evil meets an opponent for which it is not a match” (pg. 125).

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  12. I think that we as humans are always in a constant battle against that retaliating side in us that Jesus tells us to not let it take us over. If someone hits us, our natural inclination is to hit them back. Just like you said, Jesus is not asking us to get walked on and beat up. So how to do we resist that retaiation? 1) It sounds cheesy but get in the word and read about stuff like THIS! 2) Have the humility to step down and not the pride to fight back for yourself. Just as it has been said before, “Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered. Evil meets an opponent for which it is not a match” (McKnight, pg. 125). Jesus is our example to turn the other cheek.

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  13. To turn the other cheek in today’s society is almost unheard of. If we are not able to defend ourselves in the moment we often look for chances of revenge on the other person. Jesus calls us to do quite the opposite. He teaches of love and compassion and often silence ourselves to others complete opposition. I think people get confused because speaking up and being an advocate for ourselves and the people we are close to is not meant to turn into a fight but we also cannot choose to turn out cheek in that situation. Their is a line to and on one side we must let those people “harm” us and move on or forgive them “forgive them for they do not know” (Luke 23) and on the other side we need to speak up for our own needs.

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  14. Turning ones cheek is something that is easier said than done. If someone comes up to you and either hurts you physically, or emotionally our first reaction 9/10 times is to fight back in some way. However, in a Christianity point of view, I believe there are times where turning your cheek go right out the door and become irrelevant. When we are facing an issue where like I had said above, that someone is personally attacking you. Then, we obviously need to turn our cheek. When someone is attacking your faith, and or Jesus to you individually. We still turn our cheeks; however, we have a sense of wanting to fight back in a Holy way. When I say this, we obviously don’t want to do this in a negative way. In the article, it was written about going an extra mile. When someone is attacking you or your faith, go the extra mile and explain to them what the gospel means. There can be a way of turning your cheek in the positive ways.

    McKnight writes some small steps in our reading:
    1. Away from conflict, toward empathy
    2. Away from confrontation, toward cooperation
    3. Away from dogmatic monologue, toward a dialogue of equals. (130)

    This takes me back to the blog post we had a few weeks ago where it was about anger. And how I think there is a difference between earthly anger and righteous anger. When we retaliate with an earthly desire, we can easily sin, when we have a righteous retaliation where we take the situation, and turn our cheek, then turn the conversation towards Christ. This will take it from a confrontation, to a cooperation.

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  15. Turning the other cheek is something that I do struggle with. I will admit that. I am not a fighter, but I do like to have the last word. I want people to know what I think. Definitely not a good thing. McKnight touched on Pacifism in these sections of readings. I think that this applies to turning the other cheek. McKnight says, “Pacifism isn’t quietism or withdrawal or inactivity, and it isn’t simple submission. Pacifism’s root is connected to the peacemaking beatitude, rooted in love and expressed when the follower of Jesus actively seeks peace (McKnight, 2013).” McKnight says that it is non-violent resistance. I think that pacifism can be mistaken.
    This is not how I thought of pacifism. I thought of it as being someone who was afraid to fight or someone who would back down from someone. I look at this in a totally different way now. Pacifism is a way to silence the other person and make peace with them. You making peace with them is what you are taught to do through the beatitudes. Other than that, the choice is theirs. Will they forgive you or not? On the other hand, the choice is yours. Will you make peace or will you be a fighter? This could be physical or even with just your words.
    Although I believe pacifism is good, I do not believe that one should be silent. They do need to stand up for what they believe in. There is a way to go about that in a peaceful way and not offending people. It is all about love and kindness.

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    • I really liked your post Chris! I enjoyed what you said about pacifism. I believe often times it is looked at as weakness. But it is cool the the most powerful creature in the Universe sees pacifism as the answer to conflict. I also believe there is a difference between Pacifism and standing up for what we believe as christians. However, God did give us all different personalities, and even though some people might be more open to stand up for what they believe, others will be better at being passive.

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