Turning the other cheek

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Turning the other cheek is a phrase in Christian doctrine that refers to responding to an aggressor without violence. The phrase originates from the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament.

In the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:

This passage is viewed as promoting nonresistance, Christian pacifism or nonviolence on the part of the victim.


Historical origins

Some hold that Jesus, while rejecting "eye for an eye", built upon previous Jewish ethical teachings in the Tanakh, "You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your people, but will love your fellow as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18, also called the Great Commandment). See also Expounding of the Law. The idea of "offering one's cheek" to a smiter is also seen in Lamentations 3:30, where the context indicates a form of penitence or submission to oppressors, with the hope of being spared.

An analogous sentiment is spoken by Socrates in his conversation with Crito in 399 BC before his execution in Athens. “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” This moral guides Socrates in his argument to a conclusion that he should not attempt to escape from punishment despite being wrongfully imprisoned. From the Grube translation of Crito found in Plato's Five Dialogues revised by Cooper.


This phrase, as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, has been subjected to both literal and figurative interpretations. See also Sermon on the Mount#Interpretation.

Straightforward interpretation

In everyday speech, the phrase "turn the other cheek" is often used to mean something like "turn away from aggression and ignore it rather than retaliate." Morality lessons that teach turning the other cheek as a good or Christian value would typically emphasize nonviolence and non-confrontation.

The most straightforward reading of the passages in Matthew and Luke, however, suggests that the phrase has a more radical meaning: a command to respond to aggression by willingly exposing oneself to a further act of aggression rather than retaliating, retreating, or ignoring it.

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