Monday, May 4, 2009

What would Jesus say about MMA: turn the other cheek?

When we ask the question, “what would Jesus say about MMA?” I would imagine that the thoughts of most people, who have some basic knowledge of the Bible, would quickly range toward one of Jesus’ most well known and oft quoted statements, “turn the other cheek.” (Matthew 5:39) On the face of it, it seems that this verse is a reasonable place to begin in assessing what Jesus would say about sport fighting. MMA is about applying maximum force against an opponent, within the bounds of agreed upon rules, in order to physically harm an opponent to the point that they either willingly submit or the referee calls a stop to the action. In that case, the application seems ready made: if Jesus said turn the other cheek, instead of returning a strike for a strike, then Jesus would certainly not approve of the intentional effort to stalk an opponent in a cage and try to knock him out with strikes and knees as in MMA.

In figuring out the application of any given statement, the first place to begin is to correctly interpret it. It is incorrect to seek to determine how a statement applies, without first establishing what the statement means. The best way to establish the correct interpretation of Jesus words in Matthew 5:39 is context. In Matthew 5:38 Jesus refers to the legal principle known as the lex taliones, literally, the law of retaliation. The principle in question is found in Exodus 21:24 which is concerned with codifying statutes of revenge in cases of personal injury or insult. Basically, OT law says that if you gouge out my right eye, accidentally or not, I have the legal right to gouge out your right eye.

Jesus takes up that legal statute here and applies to the Jewish courtroom. We know he is referring to the courtroom because he says, “do not resist.” The word “resist,” in view of the following legal illustrations in verses 40-42, should be interpreted to mean “don’t insist on your rights in a court of law.” You see, it was well agreed upon in the ancient world, that slapping someone with the back of the hand constituted a serious public insult which made one subject to a court fine. So what Jesus is referring to is the situation of being publicly insulted. The point he makes to his disciples is that they should be willing to bear the insult and to not take the offenders to a court of law in order to secure from them financial compensation for public insult. The bottom line is that Jesus is saying don't retaliate in court when publicly insulted.

With the correct interpretation in view, let’s come back to our question, “what would Jesus say about MMA?” It is apparent from the brief exposition given of Jesus’ famous saying, “turn the other cheek,” that Matthew 5:39 does not in any way bear upon what Jesus would say about cage fighting. “Turn the other cheek” is about prohibiting a disciple of Christ from seeking to retaliate against someone in a court of law, by securing a financial settlement from them for obvious public insult. It has nothing to do with fighting in general. These words in no way prohibit a follower of Christ from defending themselves, family, or neighbor in the face of bodily assault, and furthermore, it says nothing about engaging in contact sport fighting that is governed by rules which protect the contestants.

If we want to know what Jesus would say about MMA, it is clear that we must turn to other passages or broader Biblical principles to see if he would oppose it or condone it under certain conditions; “turn the other cheek” simply does not give us the information we need.

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