Pacifism: “If you don’t have a sword … buy one.”

pacifism

(Luke 22:35-38)  Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That is enough,” he replied.

Here’s another classic proof text in the pacifism debates, used by both sides. One side says, “See, Jesus told them to carry swords!” The other side says, “Yes, but he wouldn’t let Peter use his sword!” Both are true.

Why did Jesus tell them that, unlike the missionary journey he’d earlier sent them on, to grab up some money? I think plainly because they were about to suffer a time of persecution. They could no longer count on the generosity of many supporters when their leader was condemned as criminal.

Why sell a cloak to buy a sword? Why not use the money in the purse? Because they needed both — some money and a sword. The requirement for a sword was just as literal as the requirement for money.

But the sword wasn’t to be used to defend Jesus against the Romans. It was to defend the disciples.

Now, we learn quite plainly only a few verses later that swords were not to be used in defense of Jesus. After all, Jesus needed to surrender for his task to be accomplished. And the gospel, by its very nature, cannot be spread by force. But none of these truths prevent Jesus from telling his disciples to carry a sword to protect themselves during the times that were to come.

Why didn’t Jesus say, “You’re my disciples. God will protect you. Save your money!” or “Carry a sword but don’t use it”?

We, of course, later see disciples being arrested for their faith and being stoned or otherwise brutalized by the government. But they were in no position to use force in their own defense against the government and were prohibited from rebellion by the principles found in Rom 13.

And so, in Luke 22 Jesus didn’t mean to fight off Roman or the Jewish authorities with the sword. He did mean, I believe, for the disciples to protect themselves from the hysteria of the crowds that may well have sought to kill the disciples of Jesus for the same reason that many cried for the death of Jesus.

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  1. I have pondered this Luke passage and I think I agree with your take on it. I do wonder why Jesus was satisfied that the entire group had only two swords. If it was important enough for Jesus to address, seems that only two swords for the whole bunch might have been a bit underarmed.

  2. You wrote:
    "He did mean, I believe, for the disciples to protect themselves from the hysteria of the crowds that may well have sought to kill the disciples of Jesus for the same reason that many cried for the death of Jesus."

    You're saying that Jesus commanded His disciples to engage violently people who would see them martyred?

    –Guy

  3. Jay,
    I think Guy raises a good point. I grew up with a (theoretic) pacifist position. I have come to accept that there is a need for force in police and "just war" military. I do not see, however, that the Christian should defend himself against any but the random violence that comes our way. When people attack us because we are Christian, I'm not sure we should resist. Paul used government sources – soldiers and courts – to protect him from the Jewish mob.

    If someone invades my home looking to steal or rape, that is one thing. If someone invades my home shouting "Death to the Christians," that is another.

    Jerry

  4. Dave,
    Is it possible Jesus wanted at least one or two swords in the group so He could make the point that He in fact did make when Peter drew his sword? "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."
    Jerry

  5. The visible fact that some in the group were armed would be a deterrent to potential attacks by those in the crowd. As far as is recorded, it appears to have been sufficient.

    But if that's all Jesus meant, was he teaching them to be deceitful about their readiness to defend themselves? I doubt it.

  6. I understand what Jerry and Guy are trying to get across, but if the disciples had used Jerry's criteria of yielding to any attacker that shouted 'Death to Christians,' then none of us would be Christians because of their ministries, because they would never have been able to get the gospel message out of Jerusalem.

    Jesus would have been wasting His time training these men to only have them martyred a few days or weeks after His death. God would have had to accomplish the spread of His gospel message through lesser followers who lacked the close, revealing relationship He shared with the disciples.

    I'm leaning more and more towards a slightly pacificst side of this, though nowhere near completely so; just war sounds right to me, though I struggle with how to that's determined by even still-fallible Christians. Also, I don't think I rule out all violence completely. Someone invading my home is someone invading my home; I don't care what they shout, I'm going to defend myself and my family if placed in a situation where I have little choice.

    Also, Guy, I don't think Jay is saying that the disciples should just go out and attack any crowd they find that is hostile to their message. I think he's saying that if someone in those crowds randomly begins to attack them, they were to be able to defend themselves at this point.

    I've often pondered how the disciples, Paul and the myriad other martyrs for the cause of Christ KNEW the moment was right – the point in their lives/ministries where they knew they'd accomplished all that God had given them to do and willingly submitted to a martyr's death. Phil 1:21-26 clearly shows that Paul grappled with this. Obviously, Christ gave Paul a little 'inside information' throughout his ordeal as recorded in Acts; but what about the rest of us? (Not trying to give Paul any super-Christian attributes – I know we're all the same in God's eyes as Christians, but I think you know what I mean)

    Sorry for rambling. Thanks for the discussion, Jay (and everyone else). This has really caused me to stretch my thinking.

  7. Brad,

    "Jesus would have been wasting His time training these men to only have them martyred a few days or weeks after His death."

    God has shown that He is perfectly capable of intervening to ensure the fulfillment of His purposes if need be (Matt 26:53; Luke 4:28-30; Acts 12:1-11; Acts 16:6-7). Consider Paul's journey to Rome in the latter chapters of Acts. God meant for Paul to make his way to see the Caesar. That ensured that no amount of ship wrecks or snake bites would stop Paul from getting there. The apostles had nothing to fear from those who would had both the capacity and the motive to kill them, and Jesus taught them such (Matt 10:28). Telling them to take weapons with them for the purpose of defending the preservation of their early lives seems incompatible with His earlier instructions not to fear death when He sent them on the limited commission. In fact, Jesus' pointing out that there was a panoply of mighty angels at His beck and call makes it quite puzzling and confusing why He would tell them they needed swords to defend themselves.

    –Guy

  8. I agree, Guy. But you make the assumption that the only protection they had was supernatural. How do you know that their carrying weapons wasn't a part of his plan to keep them from harm (as Alan pointed out – whether they used them or not)? You assume that if I take action in regards to my own protection, it can never be God who is working through me to protect me.

    We would never use that reasoning in regards to most other things in the Kingdom. After all, when we share the gospel with someone so that they become Christians, we don't consider the actions we took to help them come to Christ to be in direct opposition to the working of God and His Holy Spirit, do we? After all, no matter what I said, it wasn't me or my words that they chose to trust in, but rather in the Word Himself.

    And I really feel I am comparing apples to apples here, because both situations involve life & death decisions for those involved.

  9. Brad,

    If by "only protection they had" you mean, they didn't have the capacity to protect themselves via natural means, then no i'm not making that assumption.

    You said that they needed swords to ensure they didn't get killed and then we all lose out on their subsequent missions and writings, as though their lives were at risk. Their lives were at risk in the sense that they faced perilous circumstances. But their lives were not at risk in the sense of lacking protection. They already had protection before and without the use of two swords; God meant for those men to succeed and thus they had supernatural, providential protection.

    God intervened on several occasions and Jesus made comments that make most sense when understood as assuming that protection. Can both occur simultaneously?–supernatural and natural protection? Yes. But i meant only to say that this is overdetermination, and thus the natural protection is *unnecessary.* Interpretting Jesus to mean that the apostles needed swords as a means of potential self-preservation suggests that they did not already have sufficient protection.

    Now i don't believe that providential protection extends to everyone; i think it only extends to those whom God has chosen to play special parts in redemptive history. But the original passage under discussion involves just such people.

    –Guy

  10. Dave,

    I think Jesus was satisfied with just 2 swords for the same reason I'd feel safe in a group of 12 men with just 2 guns just about anywhere short of a war zone.

    They weren't likely to run into a heavily armed, organized group of men in Jerusalem. Swords were expensive and likely not routinely worn in the city. They just needed to be concerned about being overrun by a mob or attacked by the occasional armed individual.

  11. Jerry,

    I don't think the swords were for the purpose of setting up the saying "He who lives by the sword will die by the sword." Here's why.

    First, Luke doesn't record that saying. Rather, he writes,

    (Luke 22:49-51) When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.

    Second, as Luke wouldn't have recorded the command to obtain swords for no purpose, he was at least setting up this passage, to explain why the apostles had swords — which evidently was not how Jews normally conducted themselves in Jerusalem. It wasn't the wild West. There were Roman soldiers about.

    Third, and most importantly, it's just not the reason Jesus gave. Jesus says they should carry swords because he was about to be counted as a criminal. I think we should take his word for it.

    (Luke 22:37) It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

    "Transgressors" translates anomos, meaning "lawless."

    And he also told them to have cash on hand. That hardly fits the theory that it was to make a pacifistic point at his arrest.

    I'm working on a follow up post.

  12. The main problem with this, of course, is that it does not mesh at all with the rest of the New Testament. At no time do we see Jesus' followers protecting themselves with swords. They were attacked numerous times in Acts by hysterical crowds like what you describe; if Jesus had truly told them to buy swords to protect themselves, shouldn't they have done just that?

    It's far better to understand "That is enough" as a rebuke, as a sign that the disciples had taken Jesus far too literally. The only times that Jesus' disciples tried to use violence, they received a rebuke. We have zero examples of them doing anything else.

    Shouldn't we have at least one example of a follower of Jesus defending himself with a weapon? Or with something besides his words? We have none. Speculation and conjecture are interesting, but I'd like to see some real evidence.

    Almost every post so far has referred to Romans 13; is that the passage above all passages on this topic, the one that trumps everything else? If your interpretation of Romans 13 is wrong, the whole house of cards comes down. Something to think about.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  13. You know Jesus often spoke in ways that were "cloaked" . . . the meaning wasn't real clear to his disciples at the time. They had a glimpse of the truth. It was later that their eyes were opened.

    Can it be that Jesus is speaking figuratively when he says, "If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." One clue the text gives us is that when they answer, "See Lord, here are two swords" Jesus answers, "That is enough." . . . as if saying, "I am exasperated with you for not getting my point over and over . . . you are still not clued in to the spiritual nature of the kingdom." Of course I don't blame the disciples for their lack of understanding. I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten it either.

    Maybe Jesus was telling them that they needed courage for what was ahead after he left them. That they needed to be ready for hardship and self sacrifice. It was going to be a hard life. They were embarking on a spiritual war.

    Where were the disciples with their swords when Steven needed them? They were not there, and Steven did not seek to preserve his life so he could continue bearing good works or aid in spreading the Gospel.

    If the early church had to use swords to defend themselves in order to preserve their lives so they could deliver the Gospel, I believe the New Testament writers would have written about it, and the stories of valor would have fallen from the lips of the Early Church Fathers. Instead, we have no such stories in our treasures, but we have received stories or martyrdom.

    Having said all this, I know that my reaction toward someone who threatened me or anyone else would be to preserve the life of the innocent. And of course, I am innocent.

  14. Tim wrote:

    The main problem with this, of course, is that it does not mesh at all with the rest of the New Testament.

    Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matt 5:39, mere moments after saying this:

    Mat 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

    And the Law includes the following:

    Exo 22:2 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed;
    Exo 22:3 but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.

    So there are circumstances where killing in self defense not sin, and circumstances where it is sin. Whatever Matt 5:39 means has to accommodate the OT law.

  15. Pingback: Pacifism: A Hypothesis and a Question « One In Jesus.info

  16. Jesus is about to be accused of leading a Zealot-type rebellion against the Roman occupation (and their Sadducee lackeys running the temple racket).

    No one would take the accusation seriously if the supposed attackers were unarmed. Thus, get swords.

    I don't think the figurative interpretation works — Jesus didn't expect them to put together figurative money. That's why I think the historical context gives the clue that explains the saying, and explains it without allowing it to be a proof-text for Christian violence.

  17. If you check commentaries like the NIGTC, you will see that the “enough” was most likely Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples for [again] not understanding him. Some translations carry that sense better than others.
    The first clue should be that he tells them that everyone who has no sword should buy one. Then ‘two’ is enough?
    And verse 37 gives the reason for the saying.
    See http://www.amazon.com/Oh-Holy-Night-Peace-1914/dp/1616230800/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2