What does Matthew 5:39 mean?
ESV: But 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.
NIV: 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.
NASB: But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also.
CSB: But I tell you, don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
NLT: But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.
KJV: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Verse Commentary:
The Sermon on the Mount, which began early in chapter 5, contains difficult concepts for human nature to accept. Jesus is setting a seemingly impossible standard for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). Refusing to murder is not enough: don't even insult another in anger (Matthew 5:21–22). Not committing adultery is not enough: don't even intentionally lust (Matthew 5:27–28). His larger point is that none are righteous enough to enter heaven, based on their own good deeds (Matthew 5:48). Everyone, no matter how "holy" they may seem, must receive forgiveness of sins and righteousness through faith in Christ.

This verse is often badly misunderstood, due to two ideas that are less common today: lex talionis and the idea of being slapped on the cheek.

In the prior verse (Matthew 5:38), Jesus referred to a rule in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:21) called the lex talionis, often summarized as "eye for an eye." After thousands of years of Christian influence, and in fact because of that influence, modern people often think this as a cruel standard. In truth, God established this to limit violence and revenge. The point of "eye for an eye" was that punishment is to be proportional to the crime, rather than an ever-escalating cycle of revenge.

Jesus does not dispute the legal aspects of "eye for an eye," so far as they apply to a courtroom or the government. But in personal terms, He sets a much more challenging standard. Limiting revenge is not God's intent for the hearts of His people. Refusing revenge is God's will and Jesus' command to His followers (Romans 12:19). This does not mean Christians cannot flee, nor does it mean that blatant violence and evil should be met with total pacifism (Luke 22:36). It does mean that so far as we're able, Christians are not to "return evil for evil" (Romans 12:20–21).

This is consistent with Jesus' comments about turning the other cheek. In the ancient world, the right hand was always assumed to be dominant. Jesus specifically refers to the "right cheek," here." That implies a backhanded movement: to slap someone on the right cheek, with the right hand, is more intimidation and abuse than mayhem. Even in the modern world, the term "slap in the face" is used in reference to insults and slights. To "turn the other cheek" implies taking that insult and accepting that another might be on the way.

In short, Christ's command here does not mean "you must do nothing while someone beats you into a bloody pulp." He is speaking to believers who will experience persecution and hate from the world (Matthew 5:11–12). The proper Christian response to discrimination, mocking, or insults is to simply let it go: "don't resist the evil person." Instead, prove that such acts are not worth a response. Even better, as the following verses show, is to turn abuse upside down through love (Matthew 5:40–42).
Verse Context:
Matthew 5:38–42 is part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches about how to respond to insults and persecution. Old Testament law established a legal principle of ''eye for an eye,'' intended to prevent excessive revenge—punishments were meant to be proportional to the crime. In personal matters, however, Jesus sets a very different standard. In response to insults and unfair treatment, Christians are to endure, not retaliate. The following passage, speaking on loving one's enemies, adds an active component to this concept.
Chapter Summary:
The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus' most challenging teaching. It begins with the unlikely blessings of the Beatitudes. Jesus' disciples must do good works in order to be a powerful influence: as the salt of the earth and light of the world. The superficial righteousness of the Pharisees is not good enough to earn heaven. Sins of the heart, such as angry insults and intentional lust, are worthy of hell just as much as adultery and murder. Easy divorce and deceptive oaths are forbidden. Believers should not seek revenge. Instead, God intends us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. In short, we should strive to be perfect, as God is perfect.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 5 follows Matthew's description of the enormous crowds that were following Jesus (Matthew 4:25). One day, Jesus sits down on a hill to teach them, in an address we now call the Sermon on the Mount. He describes as blessed those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are persecuted. Christ also explains how God's standards of righteousness go far beyond behaviors and speech; they also include our thoughts and attitudes. Meeting God's standards means perfection. Chapter 6 continues this sermon, with more examples of Jesus clarifying God's intent for godly living.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
Accessed 4/17/2024 9:23:33 PM
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