At what line do Christians stop at self defense? Take a look here: Matthew 5:39

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

So where do we draw the line to defend ourselves? Or are we supposed to let them go as far to seriously hurt us or even to kill us?

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    possible duplicate of Christian response(s) to disaster survival, or Christian self-defense
    – warren
    Oct 3, 2011 at 1:42
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    @warren: I would suggest that while there is overlap between these questions, your question has a confusing mix of "disaster survival" and "self-defense". That might be why it didn't get many good answers. Perhaps you could edit your question to focus on the disaster survival aspect and remove the overlap with the self-defense issue brought up here.
    – Caleb
    Oct 3, 2011 at 9:53

2 Answers 2


This verse is easy to misunderstand without an understanding of the culture that produced it. It helps to read it very literally: If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Why is that significant? Think back to the Old Testament, where it would explicitly point out anytime someone was left-handed, because that was thought to be really weird. Being right-handed was the norm, and that's an important part of this verse.

It would be very awkward for a right-handed person bent on doing harm to attack someone standing in front of them by striking them on the right side of their face. The only convenient strike that works this way is a backhanded slap, which is very different in nature: an insult, not an assault. Understanding this changes the meaning of the verse greatly:

Do not let evil men provoke you. If someone insults you with a backhanded slap, do not respond to the provocation, but turn your other cheek instead.

This is in the same character as the other verses around it, particularly the one about being forced to go a mile with someone (which a Roman citizen could legally force a Jew to do). There were Jews at that time who thought their religious duty was to resist Roman occupation in any way they could, including by killing Romans. If the followers of Christ got mixed up in that, they would have ended up sharing his fate, execution at Roman hands, which would have seriously impeded the church's ability to grow. So the message is, make it absolutely clear that you're going along with the law, so no one has any excuse to try to use the law to make even more trouble for you.

Also, keep in mind that when they were actually in real danger from people who were determined not to let the law get in the way of what they wanted:

Luke 22: 35-36

35 he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.

36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

Two different directives for two different points in time, but both with the same objective: to keep his disciples safe from harm. These two principles should provide a firm foundation for a Christian to base his understanding of self-defense on.

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    I recently heard a minister/prof of religion go a little further with this and say that by offering the back-hander your left cheek, you were showing a brazen defiance, since only backhanding was the way a superior would insult a "lesser" person, and one cannot backhand with the right hand on the left cheek (unless you turn your arm upside down, which is far too awkward). According to him, Jesus was advocating a kind of non-violent way to say back to the offender, "Oh yeah? Try to hit me now, buddy!".
    – Chelonian
    Oct 2, 2011 at 15:37
  • Hmmmm... very interesting. I always thought that that quote meant to literally turn the other cheak so that you could be backhanded. But this only solves part of my question.
    – Nick122
    Oct 2, 2011 at 19:10
  • @Nick: All right. What's the other part, then?
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 2, 2011 at 19:12
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    @Nick: In my experience, God doesn't seem to draw very many "hard lines" of the type you seem to be looking for. Instead, he gives us principles, and we have prayer and the guidance of the Holy Ghost for specific cases. The meaning I see in these examples is that God sees no harm in defending oneself, even with force, when you are legitimately in danger, but not to use that as an excuse to lash out violently when you're provoked but not truly threatened, or to take acts of vengeance against someone in the name of "self-defense." (Remember, God is not mocked.)
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 2, 2011 at 19:48
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    @MasonWheeler I like this explanation a lot. Just took 30 min to discuss it with my girlfriend - and none of us is really religious :)
    – Eugene
    Sep 6, 2012 at 12:05

Do not break the command to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love yourself and the other one needs to want and strive towards what is best for you and for you assailant.

Christian ethics is difficult. Only Christians tend to interpret Jesus as not wanting pacifism. Sometimes these gray matters are strenuous to think on. But I really like augustine's interpretation of Pauline ethics: love and do what you will. Just love others as best as you can and live your life without trying to get too mixed up in all the ethical red tape.

After all, what would Jesus do? He would forgive you for not always doing what he would do.

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