What does the Bible say?
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What does it mean to turn the other cheek?
JESUS CHRIST said in his famous Sermon on the Mount: "Resist not him who is evil, but if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek to him also" (Matthew 5:39).
What did he mean by this? Should Christians only be passive victims? Are they expected to silently accept everything and never take legal action?
What Jesus meant
In order to understand what Jesus wanted to say, we need to see his statement in context and keep in mind to whom he was addressing. He preceded his advice with something that his Jewish listeners already knew from the Scriptures: "You have heard that it was said 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'". (Matthew 5:38).
Jesus was referring to Exodus 21:24 and Exodus 24:20. It is interesting to note how the "eye for an eye" principle of retribution mentioned here was to be applied precisely under the law of God: the accused had to answer in a trial before the priests and the judges, who examined the circumstances of the act and the degree of premeditation (Genesis 19:15-21).
In time, the Jews then straightened this out. In a 19th century Bible commentary by Adam Clarke, it says: "The Jews saw in this law . . . [an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth] apparently the right to private hostilities-with all the excesses of a vengeful spirit. Revenge was often carried to the extreme, and one evil was rewarded with an even greater evil. However, the Scriptures do not provide any justification for private feuds.
What Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek shows what the law that God had given to the people of Israel was actually about. He did not mean to say that Christians who had been beaten on one side should offer the other side to the attacker. In biblical times, when someone punched someone in the face, it was not done - as is often the case today - not to literally hurt them, but it was an insult intended to provoke a counter-reaction, a confrontation.
So Jesus obviously meant that someone who is provoked by a literal slap in the face - or by biting words - should not get carried away to get back at the other person. (Romans 12:17) He should rather try to prevent things from escalating and ending in a vicious circle of evil.
Jesus' words are very reminiscent of what King Solomon once said: "Do not speak: ,As he has done to me, so will I do to him. I will repay each one according to his actions' " (Proverbs 24:29). Those who take Jesus as their role model would turn the other cheek inasmuch as they do not allow themselves to be provoked in such a way that they virtually engage in a "trial of strength" with others (Galatians 5:26, footnote).
To defend oneself: Yes or no?
Turning the other cheek does not mean that Christians would not defend themselves at all against physical assault. Jesus did not mean to say we should never defend ourselves, but we should never attack anyone, not let ourselves be tempted to get back at others. It is indeed wise to retreat as far as possible in order to avoid physical violence. But if you are the victim of a criminal act, it is okay to protect yourself and to involve the police.
Jesus' first disciples also followed this principle when it came to defending their rights. The apostle Paul, for example, used the legal possibilities of his time to ensure that he could fulfill the commission that Jesus had given to his disciples (Matthew 28:19, 2. When he once came to Philippi on a mission trip, he and his companion Silas were arrested and accused of breaking the law.
Without trial, the two were then publicly flogged and thrown into prison. As soon as Paul had the opportunity, he invoked his Roman citizenship. When the magistrates heard this, they were terrified. They asked Paul and Silas to leave the city without a fuss. Paul thus set a precedent "in the defense and legal reinforcement of the good news" (Acts 16:19-24, 35-40; Philippians 1:7).
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)