Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I would like to know how to best interpret "turning the other cheek".

I think that it is reasonable to assume that Jesus is using a rhetorical tactic, in much the same way as he does when he says you should "hate" your mother and father, "let the dead bury the dead" and so on. Is this the most common interpretation? Is Jesus merely saying that we shouldn't seek revenge, or is he advocating pacifism?

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Nathaniel, Mr. Bultitude, curiousdannii, bruised reed, Matt Gutting Jan 4 at 16:02

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I think this is a good quesiton, though it might be better answered on Hermeneutics :) – warren Dec 17 '13 at 13:58
@warren it's a good question here as well. On hermeneutics you will only get an interpretation of the text, Joebevo is asking for application. – 2pietjuh2 Dec 17 '13 at 14:53
@2pietjuh2 - I was more under the impression that BH.SE was the better place for application when interpretation is also needed .. but I haven't been over there recently :) – warren Dec 17 '13 at 15:54
It depends on who you ask. This should be an overview question, or it should ask for the teaching of a particular denomination/tradition. – Nathaniel Aug 6 '15 at 22:01

Assuming you are referring to Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV) :

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You could explain this rhetoric, but if we look at the examples He uses, it does not have to be rhetoric but can also be literally. Let's take a look:

If someone hits you on the right cheek, the attacker hopes he won with just one hit (this was usually a hit with the back of the right hand, not very hard, just to scare you off) . If you fight back, you are as low as your attacker, if you do nothing (which he aims for), he wins. However, Jesus tells here: "turn to him the other also". How would the attacker feel right now? He did not win, and he has to hit a second time (this time really on purpose, and if he hits he can now hit hard. (try it once, back of your right hand on someone's right cheek, if he turns his head so you can hit the left you can hit full power)

The second example Jesus gives, is similar. Back in the days of Jesus people wore most of the time only two pieces of clothing, your tunic and a cloak. If someone asks for your tunic, you know you are naked under your cloak. Which, again, hurts only you and will give you won. But if you do also give your cloak, how would the one requesting for the tunic feel now?

The third example Jesus gives, is similar as well. If you were forced to walk one mile (usually by the legal power), a soldier would go with you to check whether you walked the mile. (often you had to carry a burden as well, but anyways) When you walk just the mile, it hurts only you and you have accepted your punishment. However when you walk an extra mile the soldier checking you walked the mile had a problem, he was not allowed to punish you more than the he was ordered to.

Is Jesus merely saying that we shouldn't seek revenge, or is he advocating pacifism? I would say Jesus is indeed saying that we should not seek revenge. He challenges us to be smarter than your opponent(probably not the right word) and show them that you are not controlled by him, and therefore not do whatever they tell you, but live for the living God.

share|improve this answer
I think it likely that "if someone forces you to go with him one mile" was referring to the legal power soldiers were granted to compel a Jew to carry his baggage for one mile. – mojo Dec 18 '13 at 3:59
I don't see these statements of Jesus as telling us we should be shrewd and not let others master/beat us. It seems more likely that he's advocating self-denial, because there are more important things in the world than being on top. Submission is central to the Christian life, and our submission to God is to be something others see and wonder about. – mojo Dec 18 '13 at 4:02
@mojo what you say about the one mile is true about the one mile, I'll update my answer to make that more clear. – 2pietjuh2 Dec 18 '13 at 9:03
What would the inevitable outcome of continiously turning the other cheek, handing over cloaks and walking miles be? Was that Jesus' lesson? Where does revenge or pacifism come into being exausted, naked, and beaten up? – gideon marx Dec 18 '13 at 16:35

I see this simply as an example of loving your enemies as He goes on to describe in Matthew 5:44. Look at the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Most people when slapped would feel angry and wronged by the person slapping them. Jesus is saying that this is not the correct response. Do not be angry with them but instead pray for them, be compassionate and realize that they need help.

Is Jesus merely saying that we shouldn't seek revenge, or is he advocating pacifism? See above, when you love your enemies you won't seek revenge because you keep no record of wrong doing. Violence in response would be motivated by anger, again as we see above love is not easily angered.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.