Turn the Other Cheek – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

To turn the other cheek means to avoid seeking retaliation or revenge for a purposeful injury or insult. The idea is to be the bigger person, avoid an escalation of the problem, and to perhaps make the perpetrator look bad in the process due to their own bad behaviors.

For example, if a colleague gloats and makes you feel bad over getting a position you wanted, you might turn the other cheek and congratulate them rather than calling them out on their rudeness.

The expression is an idiom with origins in the Bible and has been used figuratively for thousands of years to express forgiveness and avoid conflict. Even though this idiom is well-known around the world, figurative uses of phrases are important to the English language to create connections with an author’s message.

Keep reading to understand the full meaning behind the term and how to use it through various sentence examples.

What is the Meaning of Turn the Other Cheek?

Turn the Other Cheek – Idiom Meaning and Origin

To turn the other cheek is an idiom that infers you will not retaliate or take action against someone when you have been wronged or injured by them. It is generally considered a Christian doctrine that promotes nonviolence and forgiveness.

However, one may choose to turn the other cheek simply because an altercation is not worth the effort and may escalate. Others argue that it is actually meant to maintain honor and is a way to shame the wrongdoer through resistance to humiliation.

For example,

  • Despite being insulted, Jane decided to turn the other cheek and respond with kindness.
  • The politician faced harsh criticism but decided to turn the other cheek and focus on her agenda.
  • The teacher advised the students to turn the other cheek and avoid arguments or conflicts.

Turn the Other Cheek Origins

Turn the Other Cheek Ngram
Turn the other cheek usage trend.

The expression turn the other cheek is taken from the Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament in the Bible in which Jesus exhorts his followers on how to live.

The origin of the idiom and philosophy behind the expression is found in Matthew 5:39 and again in Luke 6:29:

  • But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
  • And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.

Let’s Review

Despite its long and illustrious use, the meaning behind turning the other cheek has long been debated by various social scientists and those seeking to interpret the Bible for their own uses.

The term’s initial use suggests forgiveness, but it also strongly supports the idea that ensuing violence isn’t worth it; by being the bigger person, you are showing that you will not be shamed or humiliated by the perpetrator. Often, in these scenarios, the person speaking or acting in a harmful manner ends up looking poorly.