Monday, April 17, 2006

"Turn the other cheek?"

The "good news" exhorts us to not resist evil:

(Mat 5:39) ".....do not resist the evil; but whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also."
This passage has been interpreted by some as a literal injunction that if a person has been slapped in the face by another, he ought not to respond by hitting back. Rather, he ought to move in the other direction, presenting the other cheek (the one that has not been slapped yet) and offer to let that cheek also be slapped.

Another interpretation cites the common conception that people were using Exodus 21:24-25 (the guidelines for a magistrate to punish convicted offenders) as a justification for personal vengeance. In this context, the command to "turn the other cheek" would not be a command to allow someone to beat or rob a person, but a command not to take vengeance.

Both, interpretations above fail to comprehend the subtleties of semitic idiom. The phrases, "strike the cheek," and "turn the cheek" are, in fact, idiomatic phrases which have rich meaning to the native speakers, but which is beyond the English speaker to readily comprehend.

To "strike the cheek," means to insult or offend in a mocking manner. Compare the verses below:
(Mic 5:1) Now gather yourself together, daughter of a troop; one sets a siege against us. They shall strike the Judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.

(Job 16:10) They have gaped at me with their mouth, and scornfully struck my cheek; they gather themselves together against me.
To "turn the cheek," means to ignore, "turn your head." Note the opposite meaning used in the below verses as "give the cheek" vs "turn the cheek":
(Lam 3:30) He gives his cheek to Him who strikes him; he is filled with reproach.

(Isa 50:6) I gave My back to slayers, and My cheeks to those who would gall; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.
The Semitic sense of what Yeshua is saying is this:

"You have heard it said, 'repay wrong for wrong,' yet, I say, do not rise against wrong, but rather whoever would insult you, turn from him indifferently."

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