Jesus Use of Hyperbole in the Sermon on the Mount & Anabaptist Pacifism

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

A few years ago (2015) the popular Baptist minister, John Piper wrote an article titled;

Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?

It was a typical Anabaptist pacifistic kind of examination considering the issue of self-defense. This passage in Matthew was featured predominantly. I was reminded of all this, this week, when I came in contact with another Anabaptist online discussing the same type of thing.

This online chap, in the course of the conversation rebuked me for suggesting that Christians had the God given duty to oppose wickedness, even if by force if necessary. This chap said to me with a pious flourish, “I trust God to protect me,” of course meaning I wasn’t trusting God to protect me since I advocated that it is a God honoring thing to protect the innocent even by deadly force if needs be.

Of course my answer here was, “And I trust God to provide for me, but I still plant a garden every year.”

This non-violence is typical of Anabaptist thinking. This insistence on turning the other cheek always and all the time is their motto. I even have seen it when Reformed clergy get together for their twice annual meetings (Classis) and I earned a great deal of enmity several years ago when I stood on the floor of Classis and communicated my shock that the whole room had embraced Anabaptist pacifism.

So, this is an issue I’ve logged some miles on. And it has been an issue you find in history. For example in the early American colonies the Quakers refused to defend themselves against Indian raids but they thought it perfectly acceptable to hire mercenaries to rout out the Indians who were raiding them.

Returning to Dr. Piper at one point in his article writes that the matter reduces to

“Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?”

He then proceeded to write,

“My answer is sevenfold.”

Now, when the question comes up as to whether or not I can shoot my wife’s assailant I hope I can simply say “yes,” as opposed to going into a long dialogue about the nuances of whether or not I can shoot someone who is intending to do my wife bodily harm.

But that is consistent Anabaptist pacifistic type thinking.

Dr. Piper went on to write in his 7 fold explanation,

“5) I live in the inner city of Minneapolis, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm available for such circumstances.”

Topping it off with

“6) I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors.”

I’m sure his wife found that very comforting.

This issue of pacifism is coming to the fore once again. Rev. Andrew Isker in his book on “The Boniface Option,” took all kinds of flack from the Anabaptist crowd for being “so militant” … so “in your face”… “so needlessly provocative.”

Indeed there are times when one wonders if Christianity has become some kind of ethnocide/suicide cult with the message being that “Christianity means you lie down and die.”

That this pacifistic kind of message is in the air accounts for a recent testimony from a 20something young man who told me;

“I grew up in a church that thought we had to be totally passive. When I became a fireman and had seen violence and defended innocents against it, and I used my aggression to be an effective first responder my church had zero answer to this and accused me of impiety and sin. It got so bad to the point they excommunicated me for refusing to be effeminate.

The glory of young men is their strength. Part of strength is the ability, desire and courage to stop violence and to rescue people.

A young man incapable of this is a terrible man.”

Christopher Eade

So, do the Anabaptist have this right with their invoking of the Sermon on the mount? Are we always and at all times to turn the other cheek to violence done against us and/or our loved ones. Does Christianity require Pacifism in order to be Christian?

And if we answer that question “yes,” what do we do with many of our Christian heroes through the centuries? Do we consign to disgust and maybe even hell people like Charles Martel who drove the Muslims back over the western Pyrenees lest all of Europe become Muslim, or Charlemagne who was familiar in the usage of violence against pagan tribes, or Alfred the Great, or the Godly Crusaders, of Oliver Cromwell or the Christians who followed Don Juan in turning back the Muslims at the battle of Lepanto, or Jean Val Jean who with a handful of Christian Knights against swarms of Muslims secured Malta against all odds for Christ or the black robed regiment who put the fire of the God of battle into their parishioners so as to war against the British?

Were the Anabaptist’s right and all these Christian heroes in sin for not turning the other cheek?

Well, of course you know I’m going to answer this question in the negative. Indeed it is my conviction that one reason the Church in the West has languished is because she has lost her militancy has being led by effeminate clergy who are sickened with the disease of Anabaptism.

So, lets take up the text this morning and ask if holiness is defined by pacifism in the face of those who would assail the judicially innocent. Must we teach our children that Christianity is a suicide cult?

When we come to the Sermon on the Mt. we find all kinds of extreme statements. Many of them we don’t take literally. We are going to look at some of these and then ask if we should take “turn the other cheek” literally all the time in every situation. I will tell you at the outset that what we are going to learn here is that Jesus was using a common rabbinical teaching tool known as “hyperbole” in order to accentuate an important point.

Hyperbole is “a figure of speech in which exceptional exaggeration is deliberately used for emphasis rather than deception.

We see hyperbole used in the OT, Isaiah 11

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

Clearly, this is not to be taken literally. Rather the use of hyperbole is teaching that the Messianic age would be characterized by incredible peace and stability but no one thought that lions would begin eating straw like an ox or that infants would literally play near cobra dens.

We find hyperbole used likewise in the New Testament;

And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.  Rev. 14:20

The point here is that the violence is going to be extreme. Everyone understands that we are not looking for literal rivers of blood running for sixteen hundred furlongs (200 miles).

In the same way Jesus is using this rabbinic technique to hammer home important points. Jesus is using hyperbole throughout the Sermon on the Mount.

The best known examples of this hyperbole that is slung around mindlessly from the Sermon on the Mount by many, including Christians, is the “judge not, lest ye be judged” and “turn the other cheek” passages. These get an inordinate amount of air-time. Even though the “judge not, lest ye be judged” passage is seen as hyperbole when Jesus elsewhere says in John’s Gospel,

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” 7:24

And St. Paul likewise can say on the matter of judging; I Corinthians 6:1f

 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

Clearly Christians are to judge in this life. Indeed it is not possible to not judge but the point of the “judge not” passage is that we are not to be a people who are overly censorious and critical in our analysis and evaluating of others.

The same kind of reality is presented to us in Jesus Sermon on the Mount;

Here are some examples;

1. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away… (5:29)

Do we really think Jesus wants us to pluck out our eyes and throw them away? No! He is speaking hyperbole to emphasize the fact that we must eliminate all obstacles to serving God.

Besides, if we think about it we all realize that it is never the eye that causes one to sin as if we only got rid of our eyes then we would not longer lust.

2. … if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away… (5:30)

Obviously Jesus isn’t expecting to have a flock missing their right hands. The point here is that sin is to be taken seriously.

3. But I say to you, Do not swear at all… Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”… (5:34-37)

Jesus himself honored the oath the High Priest placed him under in Matt. 26:63: “I adjure thee by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (in Leviticus 5:1, we have a reference to the “oath of adjuration” where the High Priest is revealed to have the authority to place someone under an oath to testify). If Jesus taught oaths to be unlawful or immoral, he would not have responded or he would have protested and made clear that he did not agree with the concept of oaths.

St. Paul swore oaths, or at least did not present everything as a simple “yes” or “no” as Jesus said in Matt. 5:37, in multiple places in the New Testament (see Phil. 1:8; II Cor. 1:23; 11:31; 12:19; Gal. 1:20). Jesus’ actual meaning was that oaths should not be necessary among the faithful because we should be known for our honesty; however, because of the evil that exists in the world oaths are very necessary. But you don’t get this from the actual words of Matt. 5.

4. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you (5:42).

Do we really believe Jesus meant we have to loan or give money to anyone and everyone who asks us? All Christians would be broke and unable to raise families! No! He uses hyperbole in teaching Christians should be known for their generosity.

No, the point here is that we are to be a people known for our generosity.

5. … when you give alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret… (6:3-4)

Did Jesus really mean no one should ever know what we give? Then why would Jesus have commended the poor widow who gave the now famous “widow’s mite” in Mark 12:42-43? Or, why would the apostles have had a very public display of giving in Acts 5 when Ananias and Saphira were condemned for lying about how much they actually gave? This implies that everyone knew what each was giving!

The truth is, Christ was emphasizing that we should give for love of God and neighbor’s sake, not to be seen of men as a matter of pride.

6. … when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret… (6:6)

Did Jesus really condemn praying in public here? If so, he would have been condemning himself! He prayed publicly in the Garden of Gethsemane (See Mark 14:36); he prayed publicly when he raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11:41-43. The apostles often prayed in public (see Acts 1:24; 4:31; 6:6; 20:36, etc.).

Jesus was here using hyperbole to emphasize that prayer should never be a performance to be seen by men.

7. Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven… (6:19-20)

Do we really believe that Jesus condemned banks and bank accounts here? This would hardly square with Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents,” in Matt. 25:27: “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

8. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these… will [God] not much more clothe you, O you of little faith (6:28-30)?

If we are going to argue that “turn the other cheek” must be taken in a strict, literal, and absolute sense, then it would seem we would also have to say Jesus is condemning farms, farming, or even planting seeds to grow food in these verses. After all, the birds don’t do that and God takes care of them!

Jesus would also be condemning the making of clothing. I suppose we should all remain naked and wait for God to clothe us, right?

Now, this last may seem really ridiculous. We all know God is condemning forgetting about our Lord and his providence in all of these affairs. But if we are going to take some of the Sermon on the Mount in a strict, literal sense, why not all of it?


The entire Sermon on the Mount can be summed up in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” The idea here is God must come first in every aspect of our lives.

So when it comes to turn the other cheek, Jesus is not saying we should be doormats and pacifists. In fact, Jesus himself makes this clear in Luke 22:36-38 when he tells the apostles to “take up a sword” for self-defense. And while it is true that Jesus tells St. Peter to put away his sword later in verses 50-51, this was only after Peter lashed out offensively and against Jesus’ will. Jesus had already told the apostles that it was God’s will that he suffer and die (see Luke 9:44; 18:32, etc.). Peter was acting contrary to Jesus’ revealed will. But this does not negate the fact that it was Jesus himself that told Peter and the apostles to take up a sword to begin with. This implies the necessity of legitimate self-defense.

Jesus also praises the faith of the Roman centurion in Matt. 8:8ff. Never does he say that serving in the military is wrong, which it would be if he was teaching pacifism. The truth is: Jesus was using hyperbole once again in order to tell us that we are to be peace-makers. We should always seek peace even though sometimes self-defense or even war becomes necessary (cf. Eccl. 3:3, 8).

When we condemn the warriors in our midst for their lack of pacifism we are at that moment making Scripture contradict Scripture.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2     a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3     a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6     a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7     a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8     a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Jesus was not a pacifist as seen in His crafting a whip that doubtless left painful welts and bleeding cuts as He harried the Jewish Bankers out of the Temple. Further, the Bible does not teach Pacifism. That is a Anabaptist shameful twisting of Scripture and it is one more reason why we detest the errors of the Anabaptists. This Anabaptist reasoning has turned Christianity into a death cult inasmuch we are being told from countless ministers like John Piper that the issue of whether or not a Christian can shoot someone who is assailing their wife is complicated.

Then there is the reality that the Anabaptist seek to weigh down with false guilt anyone who would dare disagree with their pacifism. The Church in the West has to get its mind right on this issue and that right soon lest those who are teaching that Christianity is a suicide cult end up winning the day.

Now, having said all that it is not my understanding that Scripture teaches we need to go looking for fights nor is it my understanding that we should twist the sermon on the Mt. so that it means the opposite of what it says. Christians should be known for doing all they can to live peaceable lives and to be the bringers of peace to volatile situations.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Rmns 12:18

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. Psalm 34:14

But there are times, and I fear we are living in such times, when,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

In short Pacifism is stupid and more importantly it is not the mind of God

Oh…. and unlike John Piper … if you seek to assail my wife or my children … I’m coming after you.

And God will be fully pleased with that.


Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

4 thoughts on “Jesus Use of Hyperbole in the Sermon on the Mount & Anabaptist Pacifism”

  1. I feel that they are about the non-exercising power rather than anabaptist non-violence.

    A more interesting question for piper is should Christians have 10 kids to rise to power. Piper would say no because Christian’s should accept being powerless.

    Struggle is heresy, acceptance of the fate inaction gives you is the real faith.

  2. Quick OT – while reading your post, it struck me that the plucking of an eye passage, or cutting off one’s hand, should be discussed more due to the transgender delusion that also gets believers confused, or makes parental believers go wobbly.
    After all, isn’t my authentic self a holy man, cleansed by God? Therefore, shouldn’t I remove my eye and hands, even Jesus says so?
    No, I die to self, but don’t kill myself. Yet we don’t protest the schools around us who promulgate kids cutting off body parts. I hope to add more about the actual post later. My church’s prayer in response to the Hamas attacks already had me thinking about how we are pacifist but don’t see it.

  3. “Do we consign to disgust and maybe even hell people like Charles Martel who drove the Muslims back over the western Pyrenees lest all of Europe become Muslim”

    As a matter of fact, some medieval churchians DID condemn Charles Martel to Hell, although not for martial exploits but rather because he had dared to lay his hands on the church property (in order to finance his wars).

    Charles Kingsley explains this clerical spirit of the Middle Ages:

    “But woe to the prince, however useful or virtuous in other respects, who laid sacrilegious hands on the goods of the Church. He might, like Charles Martel, have delivered France from the Pagans on the east, and from the Mussulmen on the south, and have saved Christendom once and for all from the dominion of the Crescent, in that great battle on the plains of Poitiers, where the Arab cavalry (says Isidore of Beja) broke against the immoveable line of Franks, like ‘waves against a wall of ice.’

    But if, like Charles Martel, he had dared to demand of the Church taxes and contributions toward the support of his troops, and the salvation both of Church and commonweal, then all his prowess was in vain. Some monk would surely see him in a vision, as St. Eucherius, Bishop of Orleans, saw Charles Martel (according to the Council of Kiersy), ‘with Cain, Judas, and Caiaphas, thrust into the Stygian whirlpools and Acherontic combustion of the sempiternal Tartarus.’”

  4. I think the heresy of pacificism derives significantly from the heresy of Marcion. In the Old Testament God clearly directed armies to wage war, while honoring the men who led those armies. Marcion maintained that this “cruel” Old Testament God was replaced with the New Testament God of love. This view is totally opposed to orthodox Christianity which affirms that the God of both Testaments is one and the same.

    Nevertheless, Marcon’s influence has lingered through the ages and has manifested itself in the image of the passive and gentle Jesus. Christ, however, affirmed that He was the God of the Old Testament. “Before Abraham was I Am.” Christ sanctioned warfare, and His nature, character, and moral standards have not changed. “I am the Lord. I change not.”

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