WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TURN THE OTHER CHEEK?
Harold Hemenway, U.S.A.
IS self-defence biblical? Why did Stephen pray for his enemies who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60)? Why didn't Paul or Christ, resist when both were slapped across the face (John 18:23; Acts 23:2)? Why should servants (or employees) be subject to overbearing masters (or bosses) by enduring unjust punishment (I Peter 2:18-20)?
Doesn't a Christian become an accomplice when he blesses those who persecute him (Romans 12:14) and does good to those who hate him (Matthew 5:44) and lets himself be defrauded rather than pressing charges in court (I Corinthians 6:7)?
Is "an eye for an eye" abolished? No. "You have heard that it was said by them of old" (Matthew 5:27-38) is not the same as "Moses wrote" (Mark 10:3-5) or "Moses commanded"(Matthew 8:4) which we should expect if Jesus were discussing the written law. "Heard that it was said" indicates oral interpretation, not written scripture. "Them of old" indicates the "tradition of the elders" (Mark 7:5). The Talmud not the Torah!
The rest of the terminology also points toward interpretation. "But I say unto you" (Matthew 5:39) is similar to "Rabbi Eliezer says" this and "Rabbi Judah says" that in the Mishnah. But Jesus "taught as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29). He quoted himself. He didn't abolish "an eye for an eye." He just said it didn't apply to the situation the rabbis were applying it to.
But Paul said that under normal circumstances you shouldn't "tolerate anyone who orders you around, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs of superiority, or strikes you in the face" (2 Corinthians 11:20).
In the Psalms, David prayed against his enemies (cp.2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 6:10; I Corinthians 6:22). Paul appealed "unto Caesar," the high court (Acts 25:11) to defend himself. Christ used a scourge against moneychangers. David cut off Goliath's head (I Samuel 17:51) and Elijah "slew" the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:40).
Christ's words about turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, giving away your cloak, loving, blessing and praying for your enemies must be understood in
the context of the government officials, who had the legal right to slap their subjects with the back of their hands (I Kings 22:24; John 18:22-23; Acts 23:2-3), creditors who had the legal right to take the debtor's shirt as pledge for a debt (Exodus 22:25-27), government couriers who had the legal right to require civilian help carrying burdens one mile (Luke 23:26) and poor beggars who had the legal right to charity in the seventh year land Sabbath (Deuteronomy 15:7-9). Not criminals or hoodlums!
A Christian should submit more than the enemy can legally require in order to show that his submission is voluntary and not coerced through intimidation. The
Christian thereby "saves face" and puts himself in control of the situation.
But God is not pleased when Christians are kind to criminals. "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them who hate the eternal? Therefore, there is wrath upon thee from before the Eternal" (2 Chronicles 19:2). God "hatest all workers of iniquity" (Psalm 5:5; 11 :5).Only those who keep the commandments abide in his love (John 15:10; 14:21-23).Don't be a "partaker of ... evil deeds" (2 John 11). We shouldn't "strengthen ... the hands of evildoers" (Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 13: 22 )."It is not meet (right) to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs" (Matthew 5:26).
Of course the Bible teaches that we must love our brothers (I John 2-4) and not be angry at them (Matthew 5:22). The Bible also teaches that we must love
our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew19:19). But who are our neighbours? Who are our brothers? Most "Christians" are deceived on these points. Christ said, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same is my brother" (Matthew12:50). Nobody else.
"Inasmuch as ye have done it (kindness) unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).
Even personal enemies can be brothers if both obey the Bible (Exodus 23: 4-5; Proverbs 25:21). Luke 10:37 defines a "neighbour" as "He that showed mercy" (or "kindness" - RSV) toward you. A neighbour doesn't have to be a Christian. Christ also defined a friend! He said,
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). Not otherwise.
Harold Hemenway, Box 88401, Tukwila, WA 98138, U.S.A.