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Luke 6:

29a If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

Matthew 5:

39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also;

What is the significance of Matthew specifying the right cheek?

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  • Three possibilities come to mind: it's random; it's because right is your better side in biblical cliché; it's because the left hand is the dishonourable one on biblical cliché and hence more offensive to slap with :) Oct 7, 2021 at 13:44
  • This is something I heard years ago, so no references. An open-handed slap is awkward, large, slow, and easier to avoid. So slaps are usually back-handed, meaning that the right cheek would have been hit by the right hand. Offering the left cheek invites a slap with the left (unclean) hand. That would make the public assault even worse, or the person might back down to avoid appearing so awful, or they might think about what they are doing and feel shame. Oct 7, 2021 at 20:33
  • @Tony Chan It is the same difference as to say: a) "If a tossed coin falls on one side, then you should immediately flip it to another side!" and b) "If a tossed coin falls on obverse side, you should immediately flip it to reverse side and vice-versa", for of course the Lord's commandment does not imply that if somebody hits your left cheek before the right one, you should knock him down by a good powerful punch on his countenance. Oct 8, 2021 at 6:38
  • “Turn the other cheek” and then if needed back off. (Backing off is to turn what would have been the third cheek). Like: “you may have misunderstood the situation so give her/him one more chance to prove her/him-self before exiting”. May 7, 2022 at 23:38

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Left vs Right

This is the Biblical pattern:

  • The left-hand is symbolic of flesh/curse/destruction.

  • The right-hand of Spirit/blessing/authority.

Psalm 110:1,5 (KJV):

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

Eccesiates 10:2 (KJV):

A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left.

Heb 8:1 (KJV):

Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

Matt 25:33 (KJV):

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

John 21:3c,6 (KJV):

...They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

Interpretation

This is actually about thinking from the persecutor's perspective in order to win him over, not the disciple thinking of his own loss/reward.

By yielding the left cheek, the disciple yields his flesh in order to fulfill the law of love. This creates an invitation to switch "sides". Will the slapper use his hand of blessing/authority in order to inflict harm on someone who is not defending himself?

This reveals to the persecutor his own character, and thus challenges him.

Counterexample 1

"But wait, didn't Jesus say to pluck out right eye and cut off the right hand? Doesn't that mean the right side has the negative association?"

No. That context is: If it causes you to sin/offend, i.e. abuse of your resources is occurring. In the case that you are using your blessing/authority to fulfill the flesh, you are in grave spiritually danger and should immediately and dramatically self-correct.

Matthew 5:29 (KJV):

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Matthew 5:30 (KJV):

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Counterexample 2

"Doesn't lady wisdom have riches in her left hand?"

Proverbs 3:16 (KJV):

Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.

Wisdom owns both, and is offering you the choice of either spiritual or fleshly gain.

If we consider the Law of First Mention, the left-hand vs right occurs for the first time Genesis 13:9 (KJV). It denotes a choice:

Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.

Consider that Lot chose to live near wicked Sodom (flesh), whereas Abraham received the promised land of Caanan (Spirit).

Genesis 13:12 (KJV):

Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.

I first noticed this in the footnotes of Gensis in the Passion Translation, which has some exciting commentary.

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In Luke 6:29 & Matthew 5:39, Jesus seems to apply [Lamentations 3:30-35] out of context stating if your [Right] "Cheek" gets slapped, then offer the other cheek. - to remove vengeful behavior (Matthew 5:38) in an effort to stop humans executing physical abuse in the form of Reciprocal Justice - yet forgets to mention the monetary reward available when an innocent person is [detrimentally] slapped in Exodus 21:18-19.

  • Turn the other Cheek : [Lamentations 3:30] "Let him offer his cheek to his smiter; let him be filled with reproach." (יִתֵּ֧ן לְמַכֵּ֛הוּ לֶ֖חִי יִשְׂבַּ֥ע בְּחֶרְפָּֽה)

  • The Right cheek : [Lamentations 3:35] "turn aside the [Right] of a man in the presence of the Most High." (לְהַטּוֹת֙ מִשְׁפַּט־גָּ֔בֶר נֶ֖גֶד פְּנֵ֥י עֶלְיֽוֹן)

  • Except! Lamentations 3:30-35 is about Israel accepting Elohim's wrath as discipline. Exodus 21:24-27 was not about Elohim's wrath, but Reciprocal Justice through vengeful punishments against criminals.

To apply [Lamentations 3:30-35] in response to violent Reciprocal Justice of [Matthew 5:39] is misleading - when Jesus could have reminded physically abused Israelites about their legal right to sue their slappers for monetary damages related to the wounds caused by harmful fists as יֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָֹה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה YHVH said to Moshe in Exodus 21:18-19.

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The appendix below shows the various ways that "right" as opposed to "left" is used in the NT. BDAG provides a little more detail where we find the following helpful remarks (excepts)

  • the right eye (Matt 5:29) was especially valuable because its loss would be a handicap to the warrior
  • it is better to suffer the loss of the right eye than to [be destroyed] in possession of all the other members
  • in 2 Cor 6:7 we have an allusion to weapons on spiritual warfare: sword and shield, offense and defense

As to why Matthew names the "right" cheek vs Mark's non-identification, Mayer offers this useful insight:

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.

Thus, there appears to be only a literary device with no deeper meaning.

APPENDIX - W E Vine on δεξιός (dexios = "right")

δεξιός RIGHT (as opposed to left) an adjective, used

(a) of "the right" as opposite to the left, e.g., Matthew 5:29,30; Revelation 10:5 , RV, "right hand;" in connection with armor (figuratively), 2 Corinthians 6:7; with en, followed by the dative plural, Mark 16:5; with ek, and the genitive plural, e.g., Matthew 25:33,34; Luke 1:11;

(b) of giving the "right hand" of fellowship, Galatians 2:9 , betokening the public expression of approval by leaders at Jerusalem of the course pursued by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles; the act was often the sign of a pledge, e.g. 2 Kings 10:15; 1 Chronicles 29:24 , marg.; Ezra 10:19; Ezekiel 17:18; figuratively, Lamentations 5:6; it is often so used in the papyri;

(c) metaphorically of "power" or "authority," Acts 2:33; with ek, signifying "on," followed by the genitive plural, Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Hebrews 1:13;

(d) similarly of "a place of honor in the messianic kingdom," Matthew 20:21; Mark 10:37 .

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It is very difficult in Western societies where English is spoken mostly with you either referring to you singular or you all plural to detect contextual flows. This is exacerbated by another difficulty in figuring out when a speaker or author such as Jesus, Paul, or James as examples was implicitly inferring to a person in that group as something like a mouth, tongue, cheek or head as examples that affect context. There is however a context to the classic Matthew 5:39 text where a singular person is speaking for a mutually agreed point of view for their group. Note the switch from the but I say unto you all to the if someone smites you singular. There is a blatantly obvious theme that a person is speaking for the group and that is the context of the speaker or author's enemy. This isn't a punch me in the gut I'll let you beat the wife and kids if you want to also text as it is often preached.

Granted, the failures of groups that call themselves Christian to appropriately discern when they are to agree and appoint a spokesperson to speak or write for them makes contextual flows difficult to perceive but the meaning of these texts were not at all unclear to the apostles if not then certainly later. The only way to properly discern the context of this verse is I posit where a group agrees about something very important regarding interpreting Scripture in conflict and appoints a person or group of people to speak for them. We see this happen a lot in Acts. To discern in the group if it's actually the speaker or author being referred to as the other cheek is not necessarily true. It might be a potential reference to another person or it might not be. It is however a conflict over the meaning of Scripture that necessitates separating from those that refuse to submit to the meaning of Scripture that is the focus where a group has agreed and someone is speaking or writing for them as things are progressing. They then encounter an enemy and if the speaker stays inline with the group's position and doesn't take it personally they then have a clear potential enemy even speaking for the other side. This isn't a you are by yourself mad at someone for taking your parking spot and when they see you are upset they flip you off so you continue to interact attempting to get them to use the finger on their other hand so you can claim you are a marty of Christ type situation unless that causes a group of Christians submitting to the authority of Scripture to order themselves to meet and agree it is a very important issue and appoint someone to explain their position.

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