Matthew 5:39
But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
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(39) Resist not evil.—The Greek, as before in Matthew 5:37, may be either masculine or neuter, and followed as it is by “whosoever,” the former seems preferable; only here it is not “the evil one,” with the emphasis of pre-eminence, but, as in 1Corinthians 5:13, the human evil-doer. Of that mightier “evil one” we are emphatically told that it is our duty to resist him (James 4:7).

Shall smite.—The word was used of blows with the hand or with a stick, and for such blows fines from a shekel upwards were imposed by Jewish courts.

Turn to him the other also.—We all quote and admire the words as painting an ideal meekness. But most men feel also that they cannot act on them literally; that to make the attempt, as has been done by some whom the world calls dreamers or fanatics, would throw society into confusion and make the meek the victims. The question meets us, therefore, Were they meant to be obeyed in the letter; and if not, what do they command? And the answer is found (l) in remembering that our Lord Himself, when smitten by the servant of the high priest, protested, though He did not resist (John 18:22-23), and that St. Paul, under like outrage, was vehement in his rebuke (Acts 23:3); and (2) in the fact that the whole context shows that the Sermon on the Mount is not a code of laws, but the assertion of principles. And the principle in this matter is clearly and simply this, that the disciple of Christ, when he has suffered wrong, is to eliminate altogether from his motives the natural desire to retaliate or accuse. As far as he himself is concerned, he must be prepared, in language which, because it is above our common human strain, has stamped itself on the hearts and memories of men, to turn the left cheek when the right has been smitten. But the man who has been wronged has other duties which he cannot rightly ignore. The law of the Eternal has to be asserted, society to be protected, the offender to be reclaimed, and these may well justify—though personal animosity does not—protest, prosecution, punishment.

5:38-42 The plain instruction is, Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord's keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.An eye for an eye ... - This command is found in Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. In these places it was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. They were to take eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and to inflict burning for burning. As a judicial rule it is not unjust. Christ finds no fault with the rule as applied to magistrates, and does not take upon himself to repeal it. But instead of confining it to magistrates, the Jews had extended it to private conduct, and made it the rule by which to take revenge. They considered themselves justified by this rule to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. Our Saviour remonstrates against this. He declares that the law had no reference to private revenge, that it was given only to regulate the magistrate, and that their private conduct was to be governed by different principles.

The general principle which he laid down was, that we are not to resist evil; that is, as it is in the Greek, nor to set ourselves against an evil person who is injuring us. But even this general direction is not to be pressed too strictly. Christ did not intend to teach that we are to see our families murdered, or be murdered ourselves; rather than to make resistance. The law of nature, and all laws, human and divine, justify self-defense when life is in danger. It cannot surely be the intention to teach that a father should sit by coolly and see his family butchered by savages, and not be allowed to defend them. Neither natural nor revealed religion ever did, or ever can, inculcate this doctrine. Our Saviour immediately explains what he means by it. Had he intended to refer it to a case where life is in danger, he would most surely have mentioned it. Such a case was far more worthy of statement than those which he did mention.

A doctrine so unusual, so unlike all that the world had believed. and that the best people had acted on, deserved to be formally stated. Instead of doing this, however, he confines himself to smaller matters, to things of comparatively trivial interest, and says that in these we had better take wrong than to enter into strife and lawsuits. The first case is where we are smitten on the cheek. Rather than contend and fight, we should take it patiently, and turn the other cheek. This does not, however, prevent our remonstrating firmly yet mildly on the injustice of the thing, and insisting that justice should be done us, as is evident from the example of the Saviour himself. See John 18:23. The second evil mentioned is where a man is litigious and determined to take all the advantage the law can give him, following us with vexatious and expensive lawsuits. Our Saviour directs us, rather than to imitate him rather than to contend with a revengeful spirit in courts of justice to take a trifling injury, and yield to him. This is merely a question about property, and not about conscience and life.

Coat - The Jews wore two principal garments, an interior and an exterior. The interior, here called the "coat," or the tunic, was made commonly of linen, and encircled the whole body, extending down to the knees. Sometimes beneath this garment, as in the case of the priests, there was another garment corresponding to pantaloons. The coat, or tunic, was extended to the neck. and had long or short sleeves. Over this was commonly worn an upper garment, here called "cloak," or mantle. It was made commonly nearly square, of different sizes, 5 or 6 cubits long and as many broad, and was wrapped around the body, and was thrown off when labor was performed. If, said Christ, an adversary wished to obtain, at law, one of these garments, rather than contend with him let him have the other also. A reference to various articles of apparel occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is desirable to have a correct view of the ancient mode of dress. in order to a proper understanding of the Bible. The Asiatic modes of dress are nearly the same from age to age, and hence it is not difficult to illustrate the passages where such a reference occurs. The ordinary dress consisted of the inner garment, the outer garment, the girdle (belt), and the sandals. In regard to the sandals, see the notes at Matthew 3:11.

In the girdle (belt) was the place of the pouch Matthew 10:9, and to it the sword and dirk were commonly attached. Compare 2 Samuel 20:8. In modern times the pistols are also fastened to the belt. It is the usual place for the handkerchief, smoking materials, inkhorn, and, in general, the implements of one's profession. The belt served to confine the loose-flowing robe or outer garment to the body. It held the garment when it was tucked up, as it was usually in walking or in labor. Hence, "to gird up the loins" became a significant figurative expression, denoting readiness for service, activity, labor, and watchfulness; and "to loosen the loins" denoted the giving way to repose and indolence, 2 Kings 4:29; Job 38:3; Isaiah 5:27; Luke 12:35; John 21:7.

Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile - The word translated "shall compel" is of Persian origin. Post-offices were then unknown. In order that the royal commands might be delivered with safety and despatch in different parts of the empire, Cyrus stationed horsemen at proper intervals on all the great public highways. One of those delivered the message to another, and intelligence was thus rapidly and safely communicated. These heralds were permitted to compel any person, or to press any horse, boat, ship, or other vehicle that they might need for the quick transmission of the king's commandments. It was to this custom that our Saviour refers. Rather, says he, than resist a public authority requiring your attendance and aid for a certain distance, go peaceably twice the distance.

A mile - A Roman mile was 1,000 paces.

Twain - Two.

39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other also—Our Lord's own meek, yet dignified bearing, when smitten rudely on the cheek (Joh 18:22, 23), and not literally presenting the other, is the best comment on these words. It is the preparedness, after one indignity, not to invite but to submit meekly to another, without retaliation, which this strong language is meant to convey. See Poole on "Matthew 5:41". But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil,.... This is not to be understood of any sort of evil, not of the evil of sin, of bad actions, and false doctrines, which are to be opposed; nor of the evil one, Satan, who is to be resisted; but of an evil man, an injurious one, who has done us an injury. We must not render evil for evil, or repay him in the same way; see James 5:6. Not but that a man may lawfully defend himself, and endeavour to secure himself from injuries; and may appear to the civil magistrate for redress of grievances; but he is not to make use of private revenge. As if a man should pluck out one of his eyes, he must not in revenge pluck out one of his; or should he strike out one of his teeth, he must not use him in the same manner; but patiently bear the affront, or seek for satisfaction in another way.

But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also: which is to be understood comparatively, rather than seek revenge, and is directly contrary to the Jewish canons, which require, in such a case, a pecuniary fine (g).

"He that strikes his neighbour (which Maimonides explains, he that strikes his neighbour with his hand shut, about the neck) he shall give him a "sela", or "shekel": R. Judah says, in the name of R. Jose the Galilean, one pound: if he smite him (i.e. as Maimonides says, if he smite him with his double fist upon the face; or, as Bartenora, with the palm of his hand, "on the cheek", which is a greater reproach) he shall give him two hundred "zuzim"; and if he does it with the back of his hand, four hundred "zuzim".''

R. Isaac Sangari (h) manifestly refers to this passage of Christ's, when he says to the king he is conversing with,

"I perceive that thou up braidest us with poverty and want; but in them the great men of other nations glory: for they do not glory but in him, who said, "Whosoever smiteth thee thy right cheek, turn to him the left; and whosoever taketh away thy coat, give him thy cloak".''

(g) Misn. Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6. Vid. Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (h) Sepher Cosri, Orat. 1. Sign. 113. fol. 56. 1.

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.
Matthew 5:39-40. Τῷ πονηρῷ] is neither to be understood of the devil (Chrysostom, Theophylact), nor, as neuter (Augustine, Luther, Castalio, Calvin, Ewald, and others), of injustice; but, in accordance with the antithesis ἀλλʼ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει, etc., and with Matthew 5:40-41 : homini maligno.

Christ names first the right cheek, although the blow most naturally strikes first the left, but after the common fashion of naming the left after the right.

κριθῆναι] to go to law. Vulgate well renders: in judicio contendere. Comp. on 1 Corinthians 6:1; Romans 3:4; and see Wetstein, Nägelsbach on the Iliad, p. 305, ed. 3. It refers to legal controversy, not to the extra-judicial beginnings of contention (de Wette; also Beza, Grotius, Kuinoel, and others), by which the distinction between the two cases, Matthew 5:39-40, is quite overlooked.

χιτῶνα] כְּחֹנֶת, the shirt-like under-garment, tunica; on the other hand, ἱμάτιον] שִׂמְלָה, בֶּגֶד, the mantle-like over-garment, toga, which also served for a covering by night, and might not therefore be retained as a pledge over night; Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:13. The ἱμάτιον was more valuable and more indispensable than the χιτών; that is the point which, according to Matthew, Jesus has in view. It is different in Luke 6:29 (according to the order of succession in covering the body).

λαβεῖν] by the lawsuit, which follows from κριθῆναι; whilst the pettiness of the object is not opposed to this, seeing that the method of illustration is by way of concrete example.Matthew 5:39. μὴ ἀντιστῆναι: resist not, either by endeavouring to prevent injury or by seeking redress for it.—τῷ πονηρῷ, not the devil, as Chrys. and Theophy. thought; either the evil doer or the evil doing or done. Opinion is much divided between the last two meanings. The sense is the same in either case. The A. V[28] takes πονηρῷ as neuter, the R. V[29] as masculine. The former is on the whole to be preferred. Instances of injury in various forms are next specified to illustrate the general precept. These injuries have been variously distinguished—to body, and property, and freedom, Tholuck; exemplum citatur injuriae, privatae, forensis, curialis, Bengel; injuries connected with honour, material good, waste of time, Achelis, who points out that the relation of the three, Ex. in Matthew 5:39-41, is that of an anti-climax, injuries to honour being felt most, and those involving waste of time least.—ὅστιςἄλλην. In the following instances there is a climax: injury proceeds from bad to worse. It is natural to expect the same in this one. But when the right cheek has been struck, is it an aggravation to strike the left? Tholuck, Bleek, and Meyer suggest that the right cheek is only named first according to common custom, not supposed to be struck first. Achelis conceives the right cheek to be struck first with the back of the hand, then the left with a return stroke with the palm, harder than the first, and expressing in a higher measure intention to insult.—ῥαπίζω in class. Greek = to beat with rods; later, and in N. T., to smite with the palm of the hand; vide Lobeck, Phryn., p. 175.

[28] Authorised Version.

[29] Revised Version.39. resist not evil] i. e. do not seek to retaliate evil.

turn to him the other also] To be understood with the limitation imposed on the words by our Lord’s personal example, John 18:22-23.

The gradation of the examples given is from the greater to the less provocation.Matthew 5:39. Μὴ ἀντιστῆναι, not to resist) The infinitive is governed by λέγω, I say, as in Revelation 13:14. To resist evil is to return injury for injury.—ἀλλʼ, but) Our Lord gives examples of private, legal, and political wrong, Matthew 5:39-41.—ῥαπίσει, shall smite) elsewhere ῥαπίζειν is to strike with rods, but in this passage as the cheek is mentioned, it means to smite with the open hand.—τὴν δεξιάν σου σιαγόνα, the right cheek) or the left either. See Luke 6:29. An instance of Synedoche.[223]—στρέψον, turn) It is sometimes advisable to do so literally.[224] The world says, on the other hand, Assert thy courage by a duel. Those who are able ought ere this to have made a stand against this evil, this disgrace of the Christian name, and to have given all diligence that they might do so effectually. One man who becomes a murderer by a duel involves a whole camp in his guilt. Many, so far dilute and extenuate the lessons here given by the Saviour, that they slide down to a level with the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or even below it.

[223] See Explanation of Technical Terms in Appendix.—(I. B.)

[224] Spiritual prudence will teach the children of GOD, when they ought to do so. The words of Christ are not words belonging to the mere human and natural life, but to the eternal life. What seems folly to the world, appears in a quite different light in the eternal Life.—Vers. Germ.Verse 39. - But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee, etc. The first clause comes here only; the second is found also in Luke 6:29 (for the principle, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:7). We may notice that, while our Lord most perfectly observed the spirit of this command, he did not slavishly follow the letter of it (cf. John 18:22, 23). Nor did St. Paul (cf. Acts 16:35ff; Acts 22:25; 23:3; 25:9,10). We must remember that, while he clothes his teaching with the form of concrete examples, these are only parabolic representations of principles eternal in themselves, but in practice to be modified according to each separate occasion. "This offering of the other cheek may be done outwardly; but only inwardly can it be always right" (Trench, 'Sermon on the Mount'). We must further remember the distinction brought out here by Luther between what the Christian has to do as a Christian, and what he has to do as, perhaps an official, member of the state. The Lord leaves to the state its own jurisdiction (Matthew 22:21: vide Meyer). That ye resist not; Revised Version, resist not, thus avoiding all possibility of the English reader taking the words as a statement of fact. Evil. So the Revised Version margin; but Revised Version, him that is evil (cf. ver. 37; Matthew 6:13, note). The masculine here, in the sense of the wicked man who does the wrong, is clearly preferable; Wickliffe, "a yuel man." (For a very careful defence of Chrysostom's opinion that even here τῷ πονηρῷ refers to the devil and not to man. see Chase, 'The Lord's Prayer in the Early Church'). Shall smite; Revised Version, smiteth, The right reading gives the more vivid present. Ῥαπίζω comes in the New Testament here and Matthew 26:67 only. It is properly used of a stroke with a rod. (For "smiting on the cheeks," cf. the curious rendering of Hosea 11:4 in the LXX; cf. also Isaiah 50:6.) Thee on thy right. Matthew only. Although it is more natural that the left cheek would be hit first (Meyer), the right is named, since it is in common parle, nee held to be the worthier (cf. ver. 29). Cheek. Σιαγών, though properly jaw, is here equivalent to" cheek," as certainly in Song of Solomon 1:10; Song of Solomon 5:13. Turn. The action seen; Luke's "offer" regards the mental condition necessary for the action.
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