Q: We are told to turn the other cheek and forgive those who wrong us 70 x 7. Does this mean we cannot/should not defend ourselves if physically attacked?

A: Turn the other cheek is in the context of going the Second Mile (Matthew 5:38-48). We are to love our enemies and be as good to them as God has been to us. There is a point, however, where even divine patience is worn out.

Consider the following: (1) God has placed civil government as His minister of vengeance. In the days of the cities of Refuge, this was done by a near relative, but today it is done by the civil government (Romans 13:1-7);

(2) Soldiers baptized by John were not told to surrender their arms or quit their careers. When they asked John what to do, he told them: “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). In other words, act honorably as a soldier. One would assume this carries over today in the realms of the military and law enforcement;

(3) A thief found breaking in at night, and struck so that he dies, that individual defending his family and property would not be held guilty (Exodus 22:1-2). Before someone says this is an Old Testament matter only, consider these words from Jesus: “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43);

(4) Paul told Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8). Providing for one’s family is not just limited to food, shelter, and clothing, but also protection;

(5) Jesus even told His own disciples to buy a sword, even if that disciple had to sell his garment to buy one (Luke 22:35-36). The implication of this is the obvious right to be armed;

(6) Wisdom must be used when a Christians arms himself/herself. Peter is rebuked by our Lord for an unwise use of his sword in this context (Luke. 22:49-53; John 19:10-11 ). “Permit even this” (Luke 22:51) indicates Peter was not to interfere with the divine plan, but under normal circumstances, his actions were not unreasonable. Our Lord’s rebuke was that they were treating Him like a common criminal, against which they could reasonably arm themselves, but this instance was absurd against the sinless Son of God (Luke 22:52-53). The sense of the Greek participle here would say: “Permit this much,” or “Permit this far.” This is in the face of these extraordinary circumstances, and the miracle of our Lord healing the ear of Malchus. To forgive 70 x 7 (Matthew 18:21-22) is not to be interpreted literally, but a grand way of saying forgive as often as needed. Have the heart of God who is faithful to forgive those who confess their sins to Him (1 John. 1:9).

This forgiveness is extended even seven times in a day (Luke. 17:1-3). Forgiving and turning the other cheek are not a pointless surrender of rights. Jesus rightly challenged the officer that struck Him at the home of Annas (Luke 18:19-24). Paul rebuked Ananias for unlawfully commanding those who stood by Paul to strike him on the mouth (Acts 23:1-6).

In really understanding what Jesus meant by 70 X 7, we should take a look at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). In the parable, we find the following:

  1. A king has a servant that owed him an unbelievable sum of 10,000 talents. A talent was a measure of weight, about 75.5 pounds! Just a pound of gold at $1300 an ounce would be $20,800! 75.5 times this would be $1,560,000! Now, times this by 10,000! This would be an unbelievable $15,600,000,000! The man couldn’t repay this in a 1000 lifetimes!

  2. The pitiful pleas for mercy by the man touched the king. He forgave him completely of this monumental debt (Matt. 18:23-27)!

  3. The forgiven servant had a fellow servant that owed him 100 denarii, a relatively minor amount equal to under $20. He had no mercy even when the man begged him for time, and had him thrown into debtor’s prison (Matthew 18:18:28-30).

  4. The fellow servants were grieved when they saw this lack of mercy, and told the king about it (Matthew 18:31).

  5. The king called the unmerciful servant in for an accounting. He rebuked him for his lack of pity, and delivered him to the torturers until he could repay his debt (Matthew 18:32-34). But, he could never repay it!

  6. The spiritual application is that we must forgive those who trespass against us if we want God to forgive us (Matthew 18:35; 6:14-15). This is why the merciful shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).

  7. This is not just the quantity of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:1-3), but the quality of forgiveness. We must forgive like our Master, who will not bring it up again (Acts 3:19) unless we breach faith with Him.

Self-defense against an evil person is expected, and is particularly acute when it involves one’s family. While we are willing to suffer persecution because we are Christians, this doesn’t mean we purposely stick our heads in a noose. Paul was restrained by officials and friends from doing this (Acts 19:30-31). God is a God of mercy and love, but also justice. Part of His promise is that He will ultimately bring about vengeance (Rom. 12:19-21).

By Steven Hale