A new manhood

Peter Leithart looks at Jesus’ exhortation to “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39 ESV). Returning to a theme expressed in a previous article, Leithart argues that following Jesus’ commands displays a transforming righteousness.

In this case, Leithart focuses on notions of masculine honor. The slap, he notes, is an insult rather than an assault, and he also contends that “verse 39 should be translated ‘Do not resist by evil means‘ rather than ‘Do not resist evil.’ ” I’d like to see a further analysis of this claim, but the main thrust of Leithart’s article is interesting:

Ultimately, Jesus is not teaching us to turn the cheek because it works. It does work, because it advances the kingdom by undoing cycles of violence and anger and revenge and honor, and opening up a way of reconciliation and restoration. But Jesus ultimately teaches us to turn the cheek because by doing so we follow Him and His example. Jesus teaches us to follow His own example, the way of the Suffering Servant: “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:6-7). Jesus – God Incarnate – took the second slap, endured both sides of the lex talionis, and He calls us to do the same.

Ecce homo. In fact, Behold Manhood, not the pseudo-strong manhood that retaliates against dishonor to return slap for slap, but the stronger manhood that absorbs the second slap and so embodies the righteousness of God.



  1. Leithart is somehow overlooking that Jesus regularly insulted the Pharisees which did perpetuate a cycle of insults culminating in his death! It seems to me that, except for his unique choices leading up to his death, Jesus fought back.

    But let’s suppose I’m wrong and take them all on balance to determine the way of Jesus. Where are the examples of Jesus turning the other cheek? Are there any?

    Leithart’s translation “do not resist by evil means” does fit the rest of the Bible a bit better, but like you, I don’t quite see what linguistic analysis he’s using to get there. He essentially flips “do not oppose evil” to “do not do evil”, and translates a hit as an insult and then as evil.

    But despite our politically correct culture, offending someone is not categorically wrong. Indeed, it can even serve a useful purpose, as Jesus used it to expose and enlighten, prompting change and even division. A more recent example that comes to mind is publishing cartoons of Muhammed. While it was insulting, it also represented a truth and actually exposed evil in response to it.

  2. I don’t think that Leithart is forgetting Jesus’ insults of the Pharisees. He would almost certainly agree with your last paragraph that offending someone is not always wrong. To draw from Doug Wilson, those who are right (like Jesus and those doing as he commands) are not wrong to criticize the hypocrisy of those who do not. Thus, Jesus’ criticisms are just and fair and the Pharisees’ criticisms of him were wrong. Leithart is not assuming a level playing field.

    In the context of that part of the Sermon on the Mount, I think Jesus is talking to his disciples (Matt. 5:1-2) about the marks of their life as Christ’s disciples, some of which will be persecution, insults, etc. I think that’s the context to understand the insults, not just general insults.

  3. You may be right but it would have been helpful if Leithart at least acknowledged Jesus’ insults. I think it’s also hard for me to integrate your qualifications into Leithart and even Matthew because it seems to obviate the entire discussion.

    Why say “if someone insults you, you shouldn’t insult them back” if it needs to be externally qualified with “unless you *should* insult them back”? It negates the meaning of the sentence and doesn’t help us answer the essential question of how we determine when a hit or insult is justified.

    Leithart does make it clear that the intent is to shame the (presumably unjustified) first insulter. Unfortunately, he does not address the common case where the first insulter does not feel ashamed and believes their insult to be justified.

    But I agree with your second paragraph that Jesus was probably not referring to such common cases. Although Jesus seems to be speaking in generalities, the sermon is in the context of being persecuted for his sake, implicitly by Pharisees. In fact, the entire sermon seems intended to expose and shame (and even insult!) the Pharisees, which it does well. Perhaps the sermon served its purpose and actually turning the other cheek was not necessary.

  4. I don’t think that it obviates the discussion to have those qualifications. As you said in your last paragraph, there is the context of persecution and suffering, most clearly at the beginning of it with the Beatitudes that ends with a blessing for the persecuted.

    I think that your point about the point of the sermon being meant to expose and shame the Pharisees makes a lot of sense. It is a really relentless challenge to their interpretation of the law and morality. It seems from what I’ve read that the Pharisees were popular with 1st-century Jews, and so it would make sense to challenge their teachings.

    I’m not sure that the sermon worked in the immediate context, though. Jesus and the disciples were treated roughly by the religious authorities and had a lot of persecution and insults to deal with.

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