Re: Matthew 5:39

On Sat, 5 Nov 1994, Travis Bauer wrote:

> Maybe there is something in our use of terminology that I'm not 
> understanding, but I still can't understand our questioning whether or 
> not this verse should be taken "figuratively."  Is there anyone out there 
> who believes that this verse is meant to be taken literally, that is, 
> only applying to being struck in the face?  I haven't heard anyone say so.

Sterling Bjorndahl cited some interesting secondary sources that made 
the point that the passage was suggesting literal courses of action.  
(If you don't have the post I can forward it to you.)  Obviously, any 
literal command can be generalized, but what was questioned was whether 
it could even be particular, in the literal sense.

> It seems to me that the question we are discussion revolves 
> around what we mean by "figuratively."  By figuratively, one could mean 
> that the meaning of the verse is vague.  This allows us to sweep the text 
> under the text and not worry about its meaning.

The text is not really vague or ambiguous.  A figurative reading would 
mean that the significance of "turn the other cheek" has nothing to do 
with literal cheeks and slaps, or how one should actually behave in such 
a real-life situation.  A figurative reading would mean that we must look 
for what other signification the command could have, not that we should 
think the text is intractable or useless.  So far it's been suggested 
that it could mean the same thing as "resist not evil", which I find 
difficult to support - it would be pleonastic, it would be comparing a 
positive to a negative command, encouraging evil is different from resisting 
evil, etc.  I suggested "return good for evil" or "give people a second 
chance" and some other suggestions have been made by other people.

> That is not what I see going in in this discussion.  By figuratively, it 
> seems that Jesus was using a simple example to show a larger point, 
> that somehow, when one sins against us, we should respond by enabling that 
> action again. 

That is what I would consider a literal reading: enable others to sin 
against you time and again.  If someone robs you of your wallet, give 
them your car keys and home address, too.  If someone stabs you in the 
arm, offer them your leg, too.  If someone kidnaps you, offer to stay 
with them forever.  Translated to the Gospel, Jesus's passion would have 
involved him asking to be beaten up more, to carry the cross around the 
city and not just to Golgotha, to have more nails put in him, etc.  
    Obviously, in none of the gospels is Jesus portrayed as proactively 
enabling others to sin against him, only as passively and silently bearing 
their attacks, with the occasional rebuke.  That is some small evidence that, 
if one is looking for consistency, this "turn the other cheek" is 
figurative.  Obviously, some Christians would like to consider even 
"resist not evil" as figurative, although I wouldn't.  But it is crucial 
to see that these are two distinct points: (1) resist not evil, 
(2) turn the other cheek.

  If so, and I this seems to be what we are wrestling with, 
> we neet to find out where the limits of this policy goes.  The gospel 
> writers did not themselves portray Jesus as using this as the only policy 
> with which he interacts with sin.  Consider the cleaning of the temple.

This would be a poor example, since it was an offense against "his 
father's house" rather than against himself.

Greg Jordan