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August 2, 2011 / Daniel

Turning the Other Cheek?

Last week in Sunday School, we looked at Matthew 5:38-42.  Jesus says,

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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

This is a difficult passage to understand.  It’s even harder to live.

The focus of the passage is the lex talionis laws given in Exodus 21:24 and Deut. 19:21.   “Eye for eye.”  “Tooth for tooth.”   Most OT scholars now argue that these laws were never carried out literally, but instead this was a proverbial way of saying that the punishment must fit the crime.  These laws were designed to put limits on revenge.  So if you chopped off my hand, I could not chopped off your head.

Therefore, Jesus’ interpretation of the lex talionis laws is in accordance with the Law’s original intent (Matthew 5:17-20).  However, the Pharisees read these laws as an endorsement of revenge.  Not a limitation.

Jesus commands his disciples to have a better righteousness.  His approach is non-resistance.  “Do not resist the evil-doer.”  He lists five ways to do this.

  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Give cloak and not just your tunic.
  • Walk the second mile.
  • Give to the one who asks you.
  • Do not refuse the borrower.

Here’s the key interpretive question.  Should we understand these statements as absolute laws which apply in all circumstances?  Or are these statements illustrations of a particular character trait (sacrificial love)?  I prefer this second option.   Martin Lloyd-Jones writes,

“[T]he Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not to be regarded as a law- a kind of new ‘Ten Commandments’ or set of rules and regulations which are to be carried out by us-but rather as a description of what we Christians are meant to be.” HT: Heritage and Destiny

Ultimately, Jesus is the one who exemplifies this character.  He practices what he preaches.  During passion week, he turns the other cheek.  He walks the second mile.  He gives both his cloak and his tunic.   Christ does not resist the evil-doer.  Instead he lets evil do its worse to him.   He exhausts its power and triumphs over evil.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Jordy Broberg / Aug 2 2011 1:56 am

    This was great Daniel!

  2. Daniel / Aug 2 2011 1:20 pm

    Thanks, Jordan. I noticed you’re starting a new blog. Are you going to keep doing your other blog?

  3. boris / Aug 3 2011 2:16 am

    i found my self today Turning the Other Cheek

  4. boris / Aug 3 2011 2:20 am

    peace be with me.

  5. Daniel / Aug 3 2011 3:22 am

    And? How did that work for you?


  1. Non-resistance in the NT epistles « Anchor for the Soul
  2. Turning the Other Cheek? A Rejoinder « Anchor for the Soul

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