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Q: What does it mean to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)?
A: Jesus’ complete statement is “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Of course, any striking is a painful blow, but the striking in this case is meant as a gross insult (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:20). If a right-handed person strikes someone’s right cheek, presumably it is a slap by the back of the hand. A fist striking you would be on the left cheek. So this teaching by Jesus is not about self-defense, but about an attack on your dignity.
In the eastern culture slapping someone is considered an insult of the highest order. But Jesus says that His disciples should gladly be willing to endure the insult again.
Christians are permitted to defend themselves and their families (Exodus 22:2; Numbers 1:2-3; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Luke 22:36; Acts 22:1; 25:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:16) and to use God-ordained authority to keep evil from harming them or others (Proverbs 28:8; Acts 16:37-39; 22:23-29). (See Assertive Behavior page.)
However, what is forbidden is the taking of vengeance (Romans 12:17-21), bitterness (Ephesians 4:31), and retaliation (1 Peter 2:23). These are absolutely forbidden by Jesus and the apostles.