Matthew 5:39

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Matthew 5:39 is the thirty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the second verse of the antithesis on the command: "Eye for an eye". In one of the most famous verses in the New Testament, Jesus here rejects revenge and retaliation, instead telling his followers to turn the other cheek.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

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.

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil;
but whoever strikes you on your right
cheek, turn to him the other also.

For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 5:39

This verse opens with the standard "but I say unto you" phrase that heralds a reinterpretation of Mosaic Law. While the Old Testament quote in the previous verse was a reference to retributive punishment, here Jesus uses the word resist, which has been seen as far broader. Not only does it prohibit revenge but also self defence. This verse is often presented as advocating radical pacifism.

R. T. France rejects this view. He notes that the word translated as resist, anthistemi, has a far more restricted meaning in the original Greek. The word translates more accurately as "do not resist by legal means".[1] Schweizer notes that this is how the word is used in Deuteronomy 19:18 and Isaiah 50:8.[2] To France, and many other scholars, this verse is just one part of a discussion of legal principles, similar to the previous and subsequent verses. The interpretation as a general rule of non-violent resistance is a misunderstanding of the original.[3] For a full discussion of the debate and history of the phrase, see turn the other cheek.

Striking on the right cheek refers to a back-handed slap to the face. In Jesus' time, and still today in the Middle East, such a gesture is one of the highest forms of contempt. According to France, the gesture is a grave insult, not a physical attack, further distancing this verse from one espousing non-violence. Schweizer notes that this might be a reference to Isaiah 50:6, and that this verse might thus be referencing the cheek slap specifically as something used on blasphemers. Jesus' followers might have been subject to these affronts by those who saw them as heretics.[4]

This verse, as with Matthew 5:37, is vague on evil. It could be interpreted as a reference to the Evil One, i.e. Satan, the general evil of the world, as translated by the KJV, or the evil of specific individuals, as is translated by the WEB. The third interpretation is the one held by most modern scholars.[5]

This verse is partially paralleled in Luke 6:9.

References[edit]

  1. ^ France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  2. ^ Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
  3. ^ France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  4. ^ France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  5. ^ Albright, W. F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew". The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.


Preceded by
Matthew 5:38
Gospel of Matthew
Chapter 5
Succeeded by
Matthew 5:40