What Christians Get Wrong about ‘Turn the Other Cheek’

Most of us have heard the phrase “turn the other cheek” at some point in our lives. Often, we are advised of this after a mishap with someone. Personally, I would always think about what that phrase meant and why it was so important to obey it.

There are two places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. The first occurrence is in the book of Matthew. Here we read these words. “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” The second occurrence of this verse is found in Luke 6:29. It states, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” So what do these verses mean, both for Jesus’ biblical audience, and for us today?

What Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean?

At first glance, we might think this verse teaches that no matter what someone does to us, we are to look the other way. We are not to take any actions against our aggressors. This could not be farther from the truth. This verse is not saying that we are to let people do whatever they want to us. Rather, it is saying that God will handle it.

Looking deeper into Scripture, we find many examples of what Christians are to do when someone wrongs them. In John 18, Jesus is struck in the face by an official of the high priest. His response was to question why he was struck in the face. He asked the official to tell him what he said that was an untruth. John 19:3 states that Jesus was struck in the face again when he was sentenced to be crucified.


Looking back into the Old Testament, we see David sparing Saul’s life again and again. 1 Samuel 26:9-11 tells us that David left the punishment of Saul to the Lord.

As Christians, we are going to face persecution. We may even get a slap in the face. What this verse tells us is that we are not to get revenge. We are not appointed to punish the people who wrong us. We are to love them and let God do with them what He will. God has the sole power to punish people who sin, not us.

Who Is Saying This?

The life of Jesus up to this point in Scripture has been rather eventful. He had been tested by the devil himself, learned that John the Baptist had been imprisoned, and made his new home in Capernaum. Jesus began to preach throughout Galilee and called his twelve disciples.

When Jesus told the people they should turn the other cheek, he was preaching at the famous Sermon on the Mount. This portion of Scripture is what Christians today label the Beatitudes. This is referring to the declarations of blessedness. It is a call to moral living for all that hear him. People from all over Syria, Judea, Galilee, the Decapolis, and areas beyond the Jordan River came to hear Jesus speak.

What Do Christians Get Wrong about This Verse?

Christians often are looked upon as wimps because they use this verse as the justification for their actions. Most give Jesus’ words a literal translation and interpretation. That is where we miss the point Jesus was trying to make. There are a few thoughts that we need to consider to better understand what Jesus is telling us.

1. What We Think:

Christians should not retaliate in any way when someone wrongs them.

The Truth:

We are not to practice complete non-resistance. Jesus is not telling us to let people do whatever they please to us. He is not saying couples should stay together in a violent relationship. He is not saying we are to stand by and do nothing when ourselves or others are being hurt.

2. What We Think:

Christians should not react in any way when they or another person is hurting.

The Truth:

We are called to respond when we ourselves or others are hurting. That response should not be to retaliate or “get back” at someone. But neither should our reaction be to stand back and watch the show. We are to be a part of the cast list. Christians are called to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This cannot be done when we stand back and do nothing.

This verse is not addressing what Christians should do when we are wronged. It is addressing the act of revenge that our sinful nature will want. Christians are to stand up for what we believe in. We are to continue to share God’s Word and question those that try to twist it. We are not to plan an act of revenge. Revenge is set aside for God. Proverbs 20:22 says “Do not say, I’ll pay you back for this wrong! Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”


The answer to this question is a resounding YES! There will be times when we must retaliate for wrongdoing, but Christian retaliation will look different than worldly retaliation. To retaliate against someone is to fight back or repay someone in a likewise manner. This is not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus has called us to retaliate with a response. In Genesis 37 we began to read the account of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers. They were jealous of him and wanted him gone. Joseph spent many years in Egypt where he was enslaved and imprisoned, but also experienced God’s favor. When a famine hit the land, Joseph was reunited with his brothers. He could have had them imprisoned or killed, but his response was neither. Genesis 50:21 says “So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”  

In 1 and 2 Samuel, we read the account of David as he experiences the wrath of Saul. David’s life was in danger and he could have killed Saul, but he chose not to. The experiences of Joseph and David tell us that there is a time to fight and there is a time to turn the other cheek. Joseph’s retaliation took the form of forgiveness while David’s retaliation was becoming king of Israel.

We are to stand up for ourselves. We should stand up for others that are hurting. Retaliation is needed at times, but our retaliation should not take the form of revenge. Christians can question those who wrong them. We should practice self-protection without a desire for personal revenge.

How Should Christians Respond When We Are Wronged?

You will inevitably be wronged at some point in your Christian walk. Someone may physically hurt you, lie to you, steal from you, or insult your God. When this happens, you will want retribution. It is a part of our sinful nature. Our thoughts automatically go to paying them back for what they have done to us.  God’s word tells us something different.

Romans 12:19 says “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge: I will repay, says the Lord.’” This is clear instruction that we are not to take revenge into our own hands. We may not like what has been done to us, but we do not have the power to settle the score. God further instructs us in Romans 12:20 when he says “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

As Christians, we must be careful that when we confront evil, we do not harbor a desire for personal vengeance. In Acts 23:1-3, Paul gives us a perfect example of how we should act when we are wronged. Paul is before the Sanhedrin exclaiming his duty to God when the high priest Ananias strikes him on the mouth. Paul’s response was to inform Ananias that God would strike him. He then goes on to call out the fact that the Sanhedrin is judging him according to the law that they are also violating when they slap Paul.

When we are wronged, we are to use the word of God to retaliate. In a gracious rebuke, we are to confront evil. Jesus did not say we were to stand aside and do nothing. He said that we were to confront the evils of the world by sharing the Gospel and praying for our enemies. We are to put on the armor of God and fight evil, not for personal gain but for the glory of God.

Revenge Is God’s

Matthew 5:39 says that we are to turn the other cheek. This is extremely difficult for most of us because we want revenge. We want others to pay for what they have done to us. Even as a Christian we desire vengeance at times.

God has explicitly told us that vengeance is His. We are to correct and rebuke evil with His word. We are to love our enemies and pray for them daily. We are to stand up to evil and confront in love those that wrong not only us, but all of God’s people.

Bible References

18 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.

And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.

Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.

Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?

They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.

As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.

Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:

That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.

10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

12 Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,

13 And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.

14 Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.

16 But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.

17 Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not.

18 And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.

19 The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.

20 Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.

21 Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.

22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?

23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?

24 Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.

25 And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.

26 One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?

27 Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.

28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.

29 Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?

30 They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.

31 Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:

32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.

33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?

35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?

36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord‘s anointed, and be guiltless?

10 David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish.

11 The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord‘s anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.

22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee.

37 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

12 And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.

13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?

16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.

17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

31 And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

32 And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no.

33 And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.

36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.

21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

23 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

39 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.

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