Turning the other cheek

Turning the other cheek is a phrase in Christian doctrine from the Sermon on the Mount that refers to responding to injury without revenge and allowing more injury. This passage is variously interpreted as commanding nonresistance, Christian pacifism, or nonviolence on the part of the victim.

Jesus taught turning the other cheek during the Sermon on the Mount.

Scriptural referencesEdit

The phrase originates from the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, an alternative for "an eye for an eye" is given by Jesus:

³⁸You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." ³⁹But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. ⁴⁰And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. ⁴¹And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. ⁴²Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

— Jesus Christ, English Standard Version (Matthew 5:3842)

In the Sermon on the Plain[1] in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6, as part of his command to "love your enemies", Jesus says:

²⁷But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, ²⁸bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ²⁹To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. ³⁰Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. ³¹And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

— Jesus Christ, English Standard Version (Luke 6:27–31)


This phrase, as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, has been subject to both literal and figurative interpretations.

Christian anarchist interpretationEdit

According to this interpretation the passages call for total nonresistance to the point of facilitating aggression against oneself, and since human governments defend themselves by military force, some have advocated Christian anarchism, including Leo Tolstoy who elucidated his reasoning in his 1894 book The Kingdom of God Is Within You.

Nonviolent resistance interpretationEdit

The scholar Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, interprets the passage as ways to subvert the power structures of the time.[2]

At the time of Jesus, says Wink, striking backhand a person deemed to be of lower socioeconomic class was a means of asserting authority and dominance. If the persecuted person "turned the other cheek," the discipliner was faced with a dilemma: The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. An alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek, the persecuted was demanding equality.

Wink continues with an interpretation of handing over one's cloak in addition to one's tunic. The debtor has given the shirt off his back, a situation forbidden by Hebrew law as stated in Deuteronomy (24:10–13). By giving the lender the cloak as well, the debtor was reduced to nakedness. Wink notes that public nudity was viewed as bringing shame on the viewer, and not just the naked, as seen in Noah's case (Genesis 9:20–23).

Wink interprets the succeeding verse from the Sermon on the Mount as a method for making the oppressor break the law. The commonly invoked Roman law of Angaria allowed the Roman authorities to demand that inhabitants of occupied territories carry messages and equipment the distance of one mile post, but prohibited forcing an individual to go further than a single mile, at the risk of suffering disciplinary actions.[3] 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.[4]

Righteous personal conduct interpretationEdit

Another interpretation is that Jesus was not changing the meaning of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", but restoring it to the original context. Jesus starts his statement with "you have heard it said," which could mean that he was clarifying a misconception, as opposed to "it is written", which could be a reference to scripture. The common misconception seems to be that people were using Exodus 21:24–25 (the guidelines for a magistrate to punish convicted offenders) as a justification for personal vengeance. However, the command to "turn the other cheek" would be not a command to allow someone to beat or rob a person but a command not to take vengeance.

Metaphysical interpretationEdit

In the New Thought community popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, many spiritual teachers such as Emmet Fox viewed Jesus Christ as the greatest teacher of metaphysics that ever lived; that in his teachings he was attempting to explain to the individuals of the day how to improve their lot in life through practical teachings. The Sermon on the Mount records the details of one such seminar. Despite losing much in translation, as well as using ancient metaphors which are easily misinterpreted in the modern age, the tenets of Jesus's teachings, phrases such as 'resist evil' and 'turn the other cheek' are pure Godly instructions.

Rather than taking 'an eye for an eye', Jesus encourages us to resist evil, because giving our attention to evil just invites more evil into our lives. Likewise, if someone should strike us, rather than retaliating and therefore becoming embroiled in a battle, Jesus encourages us to 'turn the other cheek'. This is not (as some may have interpreted) so that the assailant may strike the other, but indicates that turning and walking away from the potential altercation is the only way to get a positive and Christ-like outcome. Violence begets more violence.

If we focus on any selfish, sinful thought, word or deed, it only increases its power and presence in our lives. By asking us to turn the other cheek, Jesus is suggesting we focus on forgiveness and loving others, rather than just the things we want.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Luke 6:17– – This is a different location than the sermon on the mount of Matthew.
  2. ^ Wink, Walter (1992). Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press. pp. 175–82. ISBN 978-0-80062646-4. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  3. ^ Th. Mommsen. Codex Theodosianus 8:5:1.
  4. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael. The Jews Under Roman and Byzantine Rule: A Political History of Palestine from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest.

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