Turn the other cheek
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Turn the other cheek and "Do not resist one who is evil" are famous phrases from the Christian New Testament, Matthew 5:39-40. They are sometimes interpreted as promoting absolute non-resistance and/or pacifism.
New Testament Origins
In the New Testament, Jesus admonishes his followers:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV) But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
"Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (Luke 6:28-31. King James Version)
This phrase, as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, has been subjected to both literal and figurative interpretations.
Non-resistance literal interpretation
This passage has been interpreted by some as a literal injunction that if a person has been slapped in the face by another as an insult or provocation to a quarrel, a Christian ought not to respond by hitting back or otherwise responding hurtfully. Rather, he ought to move in the other direction, presenting the other cheek (the one that has not been slapped yet) and offer to let that cheek also be slapped. While literalist supporters argue there is a truly radical breakthrough contained in this teaching that can only be appreciated by understanding it literally, the shocking and often considered foolish import of the passage has spawned many non-literal interpretations and justifications. Commentator Joseph Telushkin has noted that "every nation with a large Christian population has at times chosen to disregard or reinterpret Jesus' words [about turning the other cheek]." One justification argues that the reason for turning the other cheek is the hope that the other person's conscience would be pricked and he would not slap the other cheek, thus preventing a quarrel from really getting started.
Non-violence figurative interpretation
Those interpreting this passage figuratively have cited historical and other factors in support. They note that at the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance. Thus, they argue, by turning the other cheek the persecuted is in effect demanding equality. Further, it is argued, by handing over one's cloak in addition to one's tunic, the debtor has essentially given the shirt off their back, a situation directly forbidden by Jewish Law as stated in Deuteronomy 24: 10-13: "When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God." By giving the lender the cloak as well the debtor was reduced to nakedness. Public nudity was viewed as bringing shame on the viewer, not the naked, as evidenced in Genesis 9: 20-27: "Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness."
Promoters of the nonviolent interpretation further argue that the succeeding verse from the Sermon on the Mount can similarly be seen as a method for making the oppressor break the law: commonly invoked Roman law allowed a Roman soldier to demand that citizens of occupied territories carry the soldier's military gear for one mile, but prohibited the soldier from forcing an individual to go further than one mile, at the risk of suffering disciplinary actions. In this example, the nonviolent interpretation sees Jesus as placing criticism on an unjust and hated Roman law as well as clarifying the teaching to extend beyond Jewish law.
Non-Christians have criticised this teaching as unworkable in practice, and potentially immoral, as it rewards those who commit acts of violence, without countering them with self-defense or acts of justice. Some have defended against this criticism by emphasizing the less strenuous doctrine of pacifisim rather than the more strenuous doctrine of non-resistance, arguing that this teaching can serve justice when used as the philosophy behind passive resistance as practiced by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, in which the practitioner of this tactic turns the other cheek in an effort to turn the aggressors' violence against himself.
- The Limits of "Turn The Other Cheek" (http://www.beliefnet.com/frameset.asp?pageLoc=/story/6/story_671_1.html&boardID=1107)