Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean We Must Submit to Abuse?
Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (39) 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.”
These kinds of biblical statements are often cited by people to support their argument that a Christian who is in an abusive marriage is required to remain in it and that, in fact, the suffering of continued abuse will be used by God as a great witness of Christ to the world, and for the personal spiritual growth of the victim.
And yet, the same Lord who spoke these words in Matthew 5 did not seem to practice them according to this kind of interpretation –
John 18:19-23, “The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. (20) Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. (21) Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” (22) When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” (23) Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?””
Jesus rebuked this injustice. He did not “turn the other cheek.” Listen to John Calvin’s commentary on this issue –
“But Christ appears not to observe, in the present instance [i.e., John 18], the rule which he elsewhere lays down to his followers; for he does not hold out the right cheek to him who had struck him on the left. I answer, in Christian patience it is not always the duty of him who has been struck to brook [permit] the injury done him, without saying a word…. It is a foolish exposition of Christ’s words, therefore, that is given by those who view them in such a light as if we were commanded to hold out fresh inducements to those who already are too much disposed to do mischief…”.
There are, as Steven Tracy has pointed out, numerous other instances in Scripture of Jesus and the Apostles refusing to submit themselves to evil. The Apostle Paul for instance appealed to Caesar –
Acts 25:11, “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Do these Christians who are authoritatively commanding victims of abuse that God requires them to stay in their marriage with their abuser, actually consistently live out that same principle in their own lives. You know the answer is obviously, no! They –
- Go to the doctor
- Protest when laws are past that they believe are unjust and discriminatory toward them
- Plead not guilty and go to court when they get a traffic ticket they don’t think they deserve
- Protest unfair treatment in their workplace
- Go ballistic when they think their church leaders are acting unbiblically
And yet, as many of you know by firsthand experience, they preach to abuse victims – you must remain married to your abuser. This abuse you are suffering is God’s calling to you and if you bail out of it, you are turning your back on the Lord.
I would invite any Christian who is telling an abused woman these things to comment on this blog post. Go ahead and state your case. We will post your words in a stand-alone blog post here and let our readers critique what you have to say, and also ask them to tell their personal stories of the abuse that you are saying God insists that they remain in. Anyone? Anyone at all?