As a humble disclaimer, I would like to proclaim that my research has been troubling, and at best, convicting of my own personal conscience in the perceptions of this particular topic. When I first undertook this response and owned the burden of proof, I underestimated the task at hand, and saw very quickly that this is not an easy issue to explore. While I find that my opinion and proof for it is easily grounded in scripture, church history, and extra-biblical sources, I must admit that I find sympathetic and evident proof for the opposing argument. I would also like to further note that my “humanity” at most points of personal conflict was the antagonist of God’s revealed word. This opposition was due to my personal, fair, and humane sense of justice that should be dealt equally amongst all mankind. Most importantly, it was a matter of changing my feelings about such things and finding a better way. Let it be known my partiality will influence my opinion on this subject. Be it as it may, I will make the best attempt within my humanity to be neutral in the presentation and to address the subject matter I proposed in the initial post of Part I.
(Once again, all cited scripture comes from the NASB unless otherwise noted)
The first verse I would like discuss and address is Matthew 5:39 from the teaching of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. As Jesus ascended the Mount and took His seat from which our Master was to teach, He began to deliver His Beatitudes. These scriptures for many cite the peaceable and rewarded nature that Christ has taught the Christian to live and strive for daily. In this discourse of instruction for the believers life, Jesus says the blessed are those who are poor in spirit, mourn, are gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, and of course the high note, are peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.
Immediately after, Jesus reminds them of the result and consequence of exhibiting this type of behavior in the world. Because He has taught the believer to exhibit these traits and characteristics, the world’s response will obviously be the same as it was to our Master, as He endured the very persecution and insult as the prophets and foresaw that we too would receive the same treatment (vv11-12). The teachings of our Lord enter their fullness through the Beatitudes and He comforts His children as He gives warning of what is to come as a result.
Let’s take a look at the preceding verse in Matthew 5:38. This verse gives the reader a detailed description of what Jesus is about to proclaim. If the reader is not discerning or taking into consideration the whole of scripture, it is easy to read into the text an absolution of any kind of retribution. The basis of this proclamation, “You have heard that it was said” is in Exodus 21:24. The entire 21st chapter of Exodus gives ordinances to the people that clearly define the dealings of retribution and retaliation when it comes to personal offense. The issue at stake here is not the misunderstanding of the words our Lord is speaking, it’s a misreading of what our Lord is referring to and what He eventually addresses. The law of retaliation (Exo_21:23-25;Lev_24:19, Lev_24:20; Deu_19:21) gave a clear prescription of how to administer justice and provide an example to others of what God’s law required of the individual, and the punishment for violation. So now we ask the question, “What does that have to do with Jesus stating that you should turn the other cheek?” Well, quite simply, we must always remember the audience, and what kind of understanding they would have when being addressed by a Rabbi, leader, or specifically here, Jesus. The understanding they would have is the knowledge of the abuse of this law that was being carried out by current rabbinical tradition.
To understand the violation that was occurring under rabbinical tradition we must know what means were to be utilized to carry out these ordinances properly. As was cited above, the Old Testament ordinances provided direction, or inference of who was to make the decisions and appropriate the justice in regard to any given violation of the Law (Exo 21:22; Deu 19:18; Lev 24:14-16). This ordination of the magistrate (or governing body) to carry out justice is a clear and obvious illustration of scriptural governance and justified punishment. One obvious problem with this mandate being carried out personally by an individual is the obvious nature of the sinful human condition. The same condition which would cause the person to go above and beyond the outlined ordinances, and take more than he should, is the very condition that Christ is speaking of here in Matthew chapter five. What we have in the Lord’s words is a clear rebuke of what the Scribes and Pharisees had perverted with their own advocacy of personal revenge. Further evidence (Pro 20:22; Pro 24:29) in the scripture to prohibit personal revenge further proves the need of instruction by Jesus in this text and gives a solemn example and precedence of why He makes the statement, “Turn to him the other also…”
"Not to restrain evil is neither just nor kind. It fails to protect the innocent and has the effect of encouraging the wicked in their evil. Proper restraint of evil, however, not only is just but is beneficient as well. (MacArthur)
Arthur Pink said,
”Magistrates and judges were never ordained by God for the purpose of reforming reprobates or pampering degenerates, but to be His instruments for preserving law and order by being a terror to evil. As Romans chapter 13 says, they are to be “a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil.”… Conscience has become comatose. The requirements of justice are stifled; maudlin concepts now prevail. As eternal punishment was repudiated—either tacitly or in many cases openly—ecclesiastical punishments were shelved. Churches refuse to enforce sanctions and wink at flagrant offenses. The inevitable outcome has been the breakdown of discipline in the home and the creation of ‘public opinion,’ which is mawkish and spineless. School teachers are intimidated by foolish parents and children so that the rising generation are more and more allowed to have their own way without fear of consequences. And if some judge has the courage of his convictions, and sentences a brute for maiming and old woman, there is an outcry against the judge.” (An exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p.112-13)
So the question remains, what evil is to be resisted then? The word Anthistēmi (resist) means set against or oppose and in this verse obviously refers to harm done by someone who is evil. This would bring the understanding immediately back to a personal attack and specifically against the dignity of the person. The Jewish practice of striking one across the face was extremely demeaning and spiteful. Jesus endured such treatment without retaliation from such Jews (cf. Matt. 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; John 18:22). Turning the other cheek symbolizes the nonavenging, nonretaliatory, humble, and gentle spirit that is to characterize kingdom citizens (cf. vv. 3, 5). When evil was directed against others, especially His Father—as when He cleansed the Temple of those who defiled His Father’s house, Jesus strongly resisted it (Matthew 21:12). While this remains a sole event to illustrate non-resistance, there is also the resistance when it was personally against Him and His character or dignity (Matt. 26:67-68). (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7 [Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1985], p.332-33)
This brings us to the final entry in this post. In direct relation to the “resistance” of evil, or “resist an evil person” a definition is necessary. If one has a presupposed idea of this text, and it is in error, the error can only further misrepresentation in the teaching of Jesus, and a misconception of how to apply it to the Christian life. Because the above definition of what the commandment meant, how Jewish culture exercised it in life, we should see how Jesus’ sayings would influence the mind and hearts of those hearing His words that day. This post is not advocating any preference of physical retaliation or violence toward any one individual for any reason. What is being illustrated hear is that the command Jesus issued in the Scripture is not one that abrogates defense of one’s person upon attack (or in later posts war and Christian involvement in it.) As most would like to see here in this particular text, I disagree with it being a command to not defend one’s person, or initiate defense for someone who is unable to do so on behalf of them. These issues will be addressed in upcoming posts and until then I urge you to consider the rest of this passages context, the commands, and what they directly relate to. Ideally the legalities and ordinances given for Christian action when involved in civil suits or disputes (cf. vv 5:40-42)
(other sources include John Gill's Exposition of the whole Bible, Matthew Henry's Commentary, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown Commentary, and the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge)