Thursday, September 02, 2010

Why Did Jesus Instruct His Apostles to Buy a Sword? Luke 22:36

When seeking Biblical support for their notion of a militaristic Jesus, Neocon warmongers sometimes quote Luke 22:36.

First, some context. This scene from the Gospel According to Luke occurs during the Last Supper. Jesus is addressing his apostles, shortly before he is arrested and crucified.

Luke 22:36 states: He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.

Is Jesus telling his apostles to prepare for combat? Perhaps to overthrow the Roman Empire? Or maybe just a defensive battle against the Jewish religious leaders (soon to arrest him) or the Roman governor (soon to convict him)?

Neocons have used this verse to justify our current wars. But is this verse even about war?

Let's examine this quote in context, reading what comes before and after this verse. Here is what Luke 22:35-38 states:

And he said to them, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "Nothing." He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was reckoned with transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfilment." And they said to him, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough."

That's odd. Two swords? Among twelve apostles? Two swords hardly seem enough to battle an empire, or even a garrison of guards.

Seems this context changes things. It's a key to understanding this verse. Seeking a Catholic understanding, I look to the commentary in the Navarre Bible. Its commentary for Luke 22:35-38 states:

Jesus announces his passion by applying to himself the Isaiah prophecy about the Servant of Yahweh (Is 53:12) -- "he was numbered with the transgressors" -- and by pointing out that all the other prophecies about the sufferings the Redeemer would undergo will find fulfilment in him.

The testing-time is imminent and our Lord is speaking symbolically when he talks about making provision and buying weapons to put up a fight. The apostles take him literally, and this leads him to express a certain indulgent understanding: "It is enough."

"Just in the same way as we," Theophylact says, "when we are speaking to someone and see that he does not understand, say: 'Very well, leave it.' " (Enarratio in Evangelium Lucae, in loc.).

So it seems Jesus spoke symbolically of swords, not literally. This interpretation is also consistent with one of the Gospels' recurring themes: the apostles' repeated misunderstanding of Christ prior to his resurrection.

If you're curious, my edition of the Navarre Bible is "the Revised Standard Version with a commentary by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre." A great source for a Catholic interpretation.

According to its Preface: "The commentaries contained in the notes are the result of looking up thousands of sources (sometimes reflected in explicit references given in the commentary text) -- documents of the Magisterium, exegesis by Fathers and Doctors of the Church, works by important spiritual writers (usually saints, of every period) ... The editors felt that it would have been impertinent to comment on the Bible using their own expertise along;

If anyone ever throws Luke 22:36 at you in support of war, saying that it's time to buy a sword, ask him why Jesus said that only two swords were "enough."


Kboy said...

*** w68 6/1 p. 349 The Christian’s View of Self-Defense ***
Such persecutions of Jehovah’s servants cause some to wonder whether they should consider arming themselves with weapons such as revolvers and rifles to protect themselves and their loved ones.
True, in ancient Israel carnal weapons were used at times. But as noted previously, Christians are not under the Law covenant. They are under the superior Christian system of things, particularly the law of love. (John 13:34, 35) They have beaten “their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.” (Isa. 2:4) How, then, could they reverse this process and take up arms and still consider themselves Christians?
If a Christian armed himself for protection, might he not kill some innocent person and incur bloodguilt before Jehovah? Additionally, in some cases the sight of a gun has caused robbers to fire their own weapons, taking the life of the victim. If the victim had not pulled out a weapon he might have been merely robbed, not killed. Also, in many cases having a gun in the house has resulted, not in protection for the family, but in death when the gun was accidentally fired, such as by young children.
Did Jesus arm himself in anticipation of attack? Did his followers? It is evident from 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 that the apostle Paul was often in dangerous territory. Yet, did he feel the obligation to carry a deadly weapon to protect himself or young Timothy, who traveled with him? Can we imagine the apostles, or Jesus, preaching the superior law of love and at the same time carrying on their activity armed with swords and lances?
The only reported occasion when Jesus’ followers had weapons was before receiving the holy spirit at Pentecost. This was on the Mount of Olives. Why did they have weapons here? Because Jesus had told them to! (Luke 22:36-38) Why? So Jesus could demonstrate powerfully that, had he desired to resort to carnal weapons for self-defense, he could have. But he did not! Rather, he reprimanded the one who used his weapon, saying: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:51, 52) Thus, among other things, Jesus showed he would not seek protection by means of such deadly weapons. It is as Paul later said: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.”—2 Cor. 10:4.
This principle of not bearing carnal weapons for self-defense really serves as a protection in many instances. How so? Because resorting to deadly weapons to defend persecuted Christians would likely result in far greater hurt than by not using them. If God’s servants were to carry arms, and fire at their assailants when persecuted, it is very likely that the full wrath of the police, or even government troops, would descend upon them. Many more Christians would probably be killed than if they had not carried arms.

Unknown said...

So I guess you are ok with Christians around the world slaughtered daily with no means of self defense and I hate to break it to you but the gun free paradise of Chicago had 435 gun homicides last year. The point of this verse is not aggressiveness but preparation, most criminals would rather choose an unarmed victim then an armed one and your line about most self defense weapons going off and killing children is ridiculous if the homeowners have an ounce of sense. Police are also 12% more likely to kill an innocent bystander then armed civilians. Mark 26 51- 52 is more of a caution against an armed and militarized christian church as a whole. I have no idea what world you live in but in the real world I will carry my sword and while I may die I won't die helpless and in slavery to someone else with a weapon.

Tim Curtiss said...

Let Christians who have no swords (or guns) be slaughtered by Muslims.