Who Would Jesus Punch?

Perhaps the title is a little overly dramatic, but the theological consequences are none-the-less important. Recently I have been in discussion with a friend and fellow Christ-follower over what the New Testement says about “turning the other cheek” and whether or not a Christian can rightly defend themselves.

I would be very interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this matter, especially other Christ-followers.

Here are some edited excerpts of my thoughts on the matter:

In “No More Christian Nice Guy” Paul Coughlin talks about how Jesus suffered for us because that was his plan… that was the Gospel… and his Resurrection concurred evil, literally. We are called to suffer in his name, but the four-year-old who punches a three-year-old doesn’t do it because the three-year-old was serving Christ… he did it because a four-year-old can bully a three-year-old. He did it because he’s a little bigger and is of a fouler temper. Kids don’t get picked on because they are Christians… they get picked on because they look different or talk different or are smaller. Taking that abuse doesn’t bring any honor to Christ or his kingdom.

The old school Christianity (1950′s-ish) teaches the walk away response… they teach that Jesus would never fight back, but that is the feminist influence talking (the same that declared alcohol a sin) and it is a lie. Would Jesus really never fight back? We know that he had to be crucified, but apart from the passion (including having to restrain Peter) what other examples do we have that he accepted blatent abuse? The Bible has mostly occasions of verbal sparring, and Jesus was great at it. And when he saw someone abusing his father’s house he took action with words and with a whip! :-) He even shouted at people. His righteous anger was not to be ignored, nor should ours. My body is a temple, and if someone abuses it it is my duty to Christ to defend what is rightly Christ’s body, too… and that may mean that if a bigger boys pushes me on the ground for no reason I may have to get up and punch him in the mouth as hard and fast as I can.

Studies show that the “ignore it” doctrine shoved into kids’ heads in school does not deter bullies… they aren’t bullying (most of the time) for the reaction they get from you, but from the reaction they get from their laughing friends. Bullies don’t like to have their macho-ness challenged so they specifically target the least likely person to fight back. That’s the reality of bullies. Our mothers would be happy to see us boys simply walk away from fights… of course they aren’t the ones that have to face those same bullies the next day in school or on the playground. They are speaking as a female, and in the end we aren’t commanded to please our mothers, only our Heavenly Father.

I personally think the sermon on the mount has been misconstrued to allow Christians to be pushovers and not stand up for what is right. We wouldn’t let anyone abuse our wives (indeed the poor fool who tries to abuse my wife will quickly be laying fetal in a puddle of his own blood and excrement)… and we wouldn’t let someone come and take our property from right under our nose… so why would let someone take our dignity and/or harm our physical being? Do we literally stand there and let them hit the other cheek? Is that a literal command to us? If that’s the case then even walking away becomes an un-Biblical response. But I don’t think that’s what was meant, anyway.

Now, everything in moderation. We need to know there’s balance involved and that the other extreme is just as wrong. Going out looking for a fight is not going to draw anyone to the cross (at least that I can resonably surmise in the few seconds it takes me to type this). Once you’ve physically deterred a bully pursuing him for more “deterrence” is probably wrong. Also, if someone steals from your home and you didn’t catch the thief in the act of stealing, finding him at a later time and THEN stabbing him in the leg with your kitchen knife is probably a bad idea.

[...]

And everything in moderation again… I’m sure it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re not living in a foreigner friendly place and the rules can sometimes morph into an enemy. That needs to be taken into account. We’re called to be wise as serpeants… and Christ showed us that when he was in a tricky situation and people were trying to stumble him with trick questions. He didn’t walk away… instead he answered deftly and with a subtle sting that left his enemies speechless and the crowds amazed.

[...]

It’s been demonstrated that young males need to be taught by their dads how to be a man because the nature that God put in us men He (in his infinite wisdom) did not put in moms. They don’t understand, but that’s ok. I would get worried when our response, as males, to physical conflict resonates well with our mothers… for the same reason that I don’t take marital advice from bachelors.

Here’s some excerpts of my thoughts with regard to the allowance of defending your wife, kids, the weak… but not your SELF:

Here’s a thought. If you are the protector of your wife and children would it not be your responsibility to keep the “protector” in good working order? In that sense self-defense becomes a required requisite for protecting your family. And not even just for protection but for provision. I think if a crazy person wants to cut my arm off I have a right to pull it away… let alone not be required by the sermon on the mount to provide the other arm as well.

Even more so… if there’s a group of four males attacking me and my wife is with me I need to do my best to get out of the situation for her safety. This may mean I need to fight them as long as I can so she can get away… because I would greatly fear what they’ll do to her when I’m incapacitated by them. If we can’t get away then I need to take them out… for the same reason, my wife’s safety.

I think there’s also a difference if you’re suffering at the hands of local authorities (like Christ, Paul, and the disciples) or if you’re suffering because a drunk on the street decided he didn’t like you.

I didn’t mean to make my thoughts sound like weak vs manly. I see godly as BOTH meek and manly. I do think that feminism during the late 1800’s to present has reduced Christ’s character to a gentle bearded lady… concentrating on all his gentle and meek responses and glossing over his angry and forceful (violent?) responses. Therefore “godly” has taken on connotations of pacifism in disproportion to Christ’s example. Godly can mean meek or manly, depending on the situation.

This just came to me: would we teach our wives that the godly response to an attacker is to let them beat them or rape them or whatever? I just cannot resolve that with Christ’s character… therefore, for me, I need to understand turning the other cheek in a context that does not contradict what I understand of Christ. because I’m really, really sure that Christian females aren’t required to allow themselves to be raped as a way of suffering for the kingdom.

You are right, it does take courage to not respond in kind… and if your continued well-being is not in danger (i.e. the attack was a one-blow wonder) then not responding is probably the better response (and a difficult one). But remember, a literal interpretation of turning the other cheek doesn’t allow for walking away but for standing there until they’re done abusing you. I just can’t imagine how that’s correct.

And then after greatly scouring the internet I came up with some links that had seemingly Scriptural lines of reasoning for self-defense. Most of it seemed to speak of the fact that we are under the authority of the government, and so if someone is attacking us illegally, in defiance of that authority, then we are to respond in self-defense as permitted by that same authority and law.

Many have wondered just how far the famous “turn the other cheek” instruction from Jesus Christ should go in everyday Christian Living. Does it mean that we must allow ourselves to be defenseless victims of every thief or attacker that may come along?

It’s very important to realize the context in which Jesus Christ was speaking. In essence, He was telling those gathered there before Him, as well as us today, that Christians are not to respond to religious persecutors as though they were common criminals. He went on to say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 RSV).

Jesus Christ was not prohibiting self defense by Christians in a manner permitted by law. He also said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” (Luke 11:21 RSV). No “turn the other cheek” for burglars or looters, and by extension, every other sort of common criminal.

-www.keyway.ca/htm2002/cheek.htm

The New Testament says not to defend yourself when someone takes legitimate legal action against you requiring you to do what the law requires, or simply asking to borrow from you. You also are not to defend yourself against actions by the government; this issue is dealt with in greater detail in the author’s article on civil disobedience. This is different from someone who breaks the law trying to do you harm, because it is appropriate to defend yourself against illegal actions. However, you must pray for those who persecute you, and bless those who intend you harm.

-www.foxven.com/s-self.html

I recommend reading the entire articles of both of the above quotes. The second one is wicked long… just to warn you.

u comment i follow 27 Comments

  1. Posted June 5, 2006 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Simply put, there are those who believe violence doesn’t solve anything. I disagree. Given its time and place, sometimes, violence is the answer.

  2. Posted June 5, 2006 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I also studied this topic thread not for self-defense but rather to answer another question posed by an agnostic – “Would Jesus Pull the Switch?” – my nutshell conclusion – capital punishment for capital crimes is vindicated for a Christian society & Jesus took that person’s place on the chair on the cross so the question is not correctly grounded. What I found interesting was the whole “turn the cheek” thing. Interesting because of the specificity of right cheek and the subsequent implications. The Right Cheek – leads to the backward slap of the “right” hand since the prevailing handedness would be right — it may be stretch in this conclusion but it seems to follow if someone insults you, do not up the ante and return the insult — it reminds me more of the old glove slap to the face in the ol’ gentlemen days… so the turn the right cheek thing is not analogous to cower under physical punishment.

  3. Posted June 5, 2006 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I had read some accounts of the specificity of the right cheek as well. What I read seemed to indicate that scholars believe as you say… that a slap on the right cheek was culturally an insult rather than a physical assault.

  4. Posted June 7, 2006 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Good topic, Mathew, Mark and Luke all tell us to love thy neighbour as thyself, but what if thy neighbour is not very neighbourly?

    I think Paul tells us and indeed shows us that some times sacrifices need to be made in order to further the kingdom. However, sometimes just taking a beating, whether verbally or physically is not doing anything to further the kingdom.

    I think there are time to walk away and times to stand your ground…

  5. Union71
    Posted June 8, 2006 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Another interesting thought found in Luke 22:35-36, 38: Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

    Did the concept of ‘turn the other cheek’ just get reversed? I don’t think so. Is it possible that a ‘theology’ of pacificism is being built on a verse taken out of context, without understanding the culture in which it was said and as a result becomes a ‘text without a context, resulting in a pretext’? We must always look to Scripture as a finely woven, whole tapestry whose threads do not turn in conflicting ways. Our Father (an infinite sinless being) is trying to communicate who He is and His plan for us, the finite creatures with sinful natures that we are. As Mark (and the Preacher) have told us, there are times to walk away and times to defend ourselves and others.

  6. Posted June 11, 2006 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I think in Paul’s day there were definitely instances where he could take a beating for Christ and everyone knew what it was for.

    It makes me wonder if that’s even possible in today’s cynical world. If I saw a cult member… let’s say of a peace cult… letting some government riot soldier hit them with riot sticks because they believed this beating would placate their goddess of peace… I don’t think I’d think any more highly of them or their blessed peace goddess. Rather I’d think they were even more whacked than I already thought (pardon the pun).

  7. Posted June 13, 2006 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    i like the argument that we should defend ourselves to protect God’s temple. if we follow Christ we give up our rights to subjucate ourselves to him. as loyal subjects we must protect the King’s property. as for the argument that we need to take a beating sometimes to advance the kingdom, i find it weak. there are a number of undesirable things that we will be called upon to do. if we are missionaries to a primitive culture we may need to eat bugs. does this mean we should cannonize the practice? i don’t think te issue ias effectiveness. sometimes God calls us to do something and doesn’t allow us to see the results. it’s about calling. called to take a punch? it’s possible but more likely i’ll be swinging back.

  8. gortza
    Posted September 24, 2006 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Matthew 5:44 (King James Version) says:
    But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    I’m no pacifist and i’m certainly not a feminist, in fact, i love seeing a bit of biff. BUT, when is violence EVER an outworking of love, blessing, goodness or prayer. Violence is NOT a fruit of the spirit, and hence should not be used by those who are spirit filled, that is, those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

  9. Posted September 25, 2006 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    gortza :: You are are only half right… which is the downfall of the “flight” Christians. Violence may not be a fruit of the spirit, but that doesn’t mean that someone spirit-filled cannot throw a punch or otherwise lay a whoppin’ down when they need to. Humor is not a fruit of the spirit either… nor is laughter. How do you explain that?

    Jesus used what the Pharisees would call violence to drive the tax collectors and shopkeepers out of the temple. That is an example for you… of when “violence” (although I wouldn’t exactly call it that) is an outpouring of love. Jesus showed love to His Father’s house which was holy. When you come to your wife’s aid as she’s being raped (which you better do!) you are indeed using counter-violence in a show of love for your wife. I mean… this is common friggin’ sense.

    There are dozens of practical examples. When the police come and tackle that robber holding a knife… that is an outworking of blessing. When the enemy sniper pinning down a squad of US Rangers is blown to pieces by a US gunship… that is an outworking of goodness, and probably an answer to prayer.

    But really, I didn’t have to go any farther than when your take on the use of force excluded Christ to know that it’s flawed. Did you even read the post? You gave a position already refuted?

  10. Max
    Posted September 25, 2006 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    In John 2:14-15, it is written: “And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.”

    Sounds kind of violent to me.

  11. Posted September 25, 2006 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Max :: Hey, how’d you sneak that in there? :-) We must have each been commenting at the same time. That scripture reference you included is the “other half” of the issue that’s often omitted. Thanks for putting it up.

  12. Posted October 2, 2006 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…

    Dude… how can you possibly say it’s ok to respond to violence with violence? Christ speaks pretty directly regarding the whole ‘eye for an eye’ business…

    Christ was the original advocate of non-violence.

    Better a martyr in heaven than a murderer in hell. Besides, this world isn’t your home, anyway.

  13. Posted October 4, 2006 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    “Dude… how can you possibly say it’s ok to respond to violence with violence?”

    Dude, how can you ask me that after reading the post? Umm… you did READ it, right? I would expect a seminary graduate student to at least try and address one of my many, many points if they sought to disagree with my conclusion. I would point out how I actually did not give patent license to respond to violence with “violence”… but since you didn’t read my post I figure you surely won’t see this comment. Therefore this comment is for those who are merely reading the one after yours. ;-)

  14. Posted November 8, 2006 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    I wonder about this in the context of war. The pilot flies over the city and drops his bombs on a military target. Sadly there is collateral damage and a number of civilians are killed. Would the same pilot armed with a knife kill those people, I doubt it. Distance killing is much more prevalent in our world today that it was in the time of Jesus. How about the person who makes the guidance system for the bomb? Violence takes place on many levels not just defending the wife in the street, that is the easy one

  15. BUZ
    Posted December 10, 2006 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Everything that I have is only placed in my care by God. I “own” nothing. Therefore, I am a steward of everything including my very life. God expects me to be a good steward. For me to stand like a dumb sheep and let an assassin destroy my life is, at best, very poor stewardship. It would in fact be tantamount to suicide. God expects me to utilize everything He has placed within my sphere of responsibility. To allow these thing to deteriorate and be destroyed by anything or anyone is to denigrate God’s gifts and presume upon His grace.

  16. james
    Posted January 5, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m a christian and I do martial arts. In my spirit and conscience and do not feel guilty for learning how to defend myself. If a person attacked me I would have to hesitation to be violent if it meant protecting my body from harm. I think people have the wrong impression of God. Many see him as humble servant. It is true that he was like this while he was on Earth. However, he is also a warrior and a conqueror and a King. He is no pushover. And on his Second Coming he certainly won’t be a pushover.
    With regard to verbal abuse though- people can be snide, dismissive, rude, highly insulting….. How are christians supposed to respond to this? Verbal insults aren’t actually a threat to my body. But they do affect my soul and my wellbeing. I know if I went back in time to when I wasn’t a christian I would stand up for myself and be twice as insulting as them. And I would feel good for defending myself and not letting people walk over me. I’ve been perfectly pleasant to people and they can be plain ignorant and worse. What is achieved by letting these people walk over me? I know it is not right to be like them, but surely you have to fight fire with fire. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to respond!

  17. Posted January 8, 2007 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    james :: You bring up some good points. I think the physical side of self-defense is obvious (except by the most obstinate and illogical of femChrist-followers), but what about emotional assaults? This is a great question. I’m still learning what I think the answer is on this so I can’t say for sure… and I usually prefer to say for sure.

    Perhaps I will say that how we respect ourself should be an example… so erring on the cautionary side is more Christ-like… but still has limits, but those limits would be much more lax compared with what we’d tolerate if someone was berating a loved one.

  18. Cypher
    Posted April 16, 2007 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    About the turn your other cheek vs self defense. When people were slapped back in bible times, they were slapped with the back of the hand showing that the person being slapped was inferior. when turning the other cheek, your forcing the person to slap you with the palm of the hand, thereby showing that you two were equals… and then fighting could begin. if he did not slaped after the cheek was turned and walked away, then he was shown to be inferior for not taking the chance to equal the battleground so to speak. in the end the turning of the cheek is not about being a pacifist but defending your honor.

  19. Native
    Posted September 2, 2007 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    all this over the most obvious answer….he said turn the “other cheek”….”other”….he meant moon the sob. :) jesus was cool.

  20. Native
    Posted September 3, 2007 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    First to apologize in advance for the moon comment….it did strike me (no pun intended) as to funny to let go by….I did not mean to offend the more gental of your readers.
    A question or questions really, about all of this and in its way an answer.
    Do you really KNOW the Love that Jesus is talking about, do you trust the Spirit to guide you? When conviction comes to you, to stand your ground or walk away, do you trust your God enough to listen…to obey. Have you been trusting Him enough, conversing enough to even hear the message when it comes to you? Are any of these decisions we speak of really ours, or are the Love and Trust Jesus spoke of not yet real enough so one would know in these moments that he is not alone with the violence or the decisions. In that moment all of the academics and scholars cannot help you, the translations and debate….only the depth of your relationship to Love and the strenght to hear the Spirit forged through hours of prayer. The most beautiful essence of scripture (to me) is not its harmonious consistancy (sarcasm…just a touch) but its conflict of messages. Love, defend and protect, be peaceful and trust or jump blindly (have faith…)….for all questions come back to one simple theme which may take a life time to realize. Your Creator Loves you…will you trust that Love in return…with all that Love means.

    P.S. Through years of reading I do not have a romance novel’s idea of Love. To me it is fiece and powerful, so much so that its gentalness is genuine and pure. I only add this because I once had a Priest belittle me for using Love as my word for God and since you really don’t know me I wanted to be sure to be clear.

  21. John III Sobieski
    Posted December 7, 2007 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    There is one function of justifiable violence that i’m surprised nobody touched up on. Function #1: to protect God’s property. since everyting is His, you can’t really say your body or your property. Function #2: ending the violence and/or endangerment to God’s property by putting the perpetrator in his proper place, like Jesus putting the merchants and tax collectors in the streets after they invaded His temple. I have a story to tell. It might not have performed the first function, but I know it performed the second.

    I was in middle school, kicking a soccer ball around with some friends. Another kid comes and take the ball, then he decides to play keep away with a friend of his against my friends. We chase him around the playground, of course, trying to get the ball back. Eventually, I’m able to line him up in my figurative crosshairs (I love to play hockey, and I was the roughest kid on the team). I come up, lower my shoulder, and lay him out flat. He looked up at me with the most amazed look on his face. I laugh every time I remember it. You see, he was one of the worst bullies in the school, and I was probably the first kid to stand up to him so effectively. Afterwards, he would still mess with me some, but when he was done messing around he would always ask “you know i’m just joking around with you, right _________ (insert last name)?” If he was thinking of another game of keepaway, i’d give him a dirty look and he’d give the item right back. I was the only kid he ever respected. I ended his reign of bullying over me. FYI: He never came back to school after Christmas break. Rumor has it he went to Juvie hall. Might still be there. But he never wronged me without making up after I body checked him into the dust

  22. Posted December 12, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    There are many good arguments against passive Christian behavior here. Today on the radio, I heard the security guard in Colorado basically say that God told her to shoot the mass-murderer that entered her church. She credited the Holy Spirit with helping her end the situation! I’ve never heard someone say that God directed them to shoot somebody, but I can’t say He wouldn’t. Also, the image of a woman armed with a single handgun taking down a man with a semi-automatic rifle, two other guns and a backpack full of ammo seemed delightfully reminiscent of David & Goliath!

  23. rachel
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

  24. T.J. Mock
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    And one man tearing out the eyes of many also leaves the world blind.

    Everything in all these posts boils down to one thing.

    BALANCE

    We must decide if we should turn the other cheek and take another blow. Or fight back and stop further abuse and suffering.

    Ask yourself a series of questions.

    If you could have stopped the holocaust by putting a bullet in Hitler’s head, would you? Or is that too violent.

    If Hitler had survived could you ask the MILLIONS of men, women, or children he slaughtered to forgive him without any form of punishment? What about if you knew he would try to finish what he started?

    Should you forgive a vehemently unrepentent mass murderer?

    Should you turn the other side of your head to a pistol?

    I might be able to if i had left a note to my family or friends.

    Should we take a bullet for someone or let them “turn the other cheek”? What if it was a stranger? What if it was your mother? What if it was your child?

    Total pacifism is not the answer….nor is aggresive violence.

    The only question is…..

    Who decides?

  25. Randy Holmes
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    No matter how Jesus tries to explain the way to his Kingdom people try and make it fit in this world. Luke 22 explains this if read in proper context. Jesus say’s his servents will not fight, for his kingdom is not of this world John 18:36, You can try and change the meaning of his words all you want but his mesg. will come through. Vengenge is mine say’s the lord. Our job here is not for self, but to serve him and to serv. him we are to pray for the ones that are to do harm to us so that they may be saved. Become more christlike how much more do you need. Leave the flesh world and join him, for we’ll never be happy here no matter how many we kill just to save our own hide. It take a bigger man to go to his death for love. Who are the true followers of Christ?, 200 people in a church, 2 masked men enter with guns they say who will take a bullet for Christ 180 ran out of building, now the 2 masked men turn to preacher and said you can preach now all non believers have left the room. It all boils down to do you believe, if so pick up your cross and follow me.

  26. Posted May 29, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    @Randy Holmes
    So you wouldn’t fight off an intruder who wants to rape your wife and steal your children? You think that’s Christlike? You think saying to yourself “Vengeance is mine says the Lord” and praying for the intruder while your family is pleading your help is Christlike? Ha!

    There was no sense of balance in your little rant, and your larger worldview appears to lack coherence. I could topple you with one well-placed question. Time to study your Bible a little more (and get an ESV while you’re at it).

  27. joesherman
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    jesus would punch so many people you would probaly lose count.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] My last post, Playground Ethics evolved into a helpful discussion about self-defense and the Christian, with Steve Mooradian, from Negative99, offering some superb thoughts on the matter, as well as some useful web links. You can read those thoughts on the comment section of the post, or at Steve’s own post (entitled Who Would Jesus Punch?), where he reprinted them. I am interested to see what opinions his blog will generate among his much broader and diverse readership. [...]

  2. By Rambo » Negative99 on June 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    [...] to say that third-world plight, pacifism and the use of deadly force, militant fascism, and “who would Jesus punch” were all addressed in some way. Oh yeah, and they showed what living in some non-free [...]

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