Jesus did not say we should be doormats for every bully that comes along.
When He said, “Turn the other cheek”, he was using a common rabbinical teaching tool known as ‘hyperbole’ in order to accentuate an important point. Other examples of hyperbole from the Sermon on the Mount include:
- “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away” (Matt 5:29).
- “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matt 5:30).
To correctly interpret Jesus’ words, we must consider everything we know about what He said and did. Consider John 18:22-23 for example, where Jesus does not meekly turn the other cheek when someone smacks Him.
One of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
And far from condemning military service, Jesus praised the faith of the Roman centurion (Matt 8:8ff) and told the apostles to “take up a sword” for self-defense (Luke 22:36-38).
To correctly interpret Jesus’ words, we also need to ensure we have them translated properly.
Ecclesiastes 3:1,3,7,8 says,“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Jesus whipped the money changers, then rebuked Peter for using violence to try and stop His arrest. He talked back to the temple guard, then quietly submitted to His undeserved torture and death. Given such conflicting examples, the only way we can be sure we are making good choices in our daily lives is to be in constant communication with the One who knows everything.
In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7