Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jesus' Call To Self-Defense? A Look At Luke 22:35-38

It has happened a few times as I’ve written various things about violence – someone convinced of their right to bear arms, arm bears, and defend themselves from a Biblical perspective will bring up Luke 22:35-38. In fact, this seems to happen quite a bit, so let's look at the passage and talk about it. 

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors. ’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough”

Usually I deal with a topic, this time I’m going to deal with a specific text. I do this because recently I have seen this text misused heavily, mainly in support of gun ownership and the right to defend one’s self using such means. I have even seen some people saying “this is Jesus’ call for self-defense” and that simply is not true on any level.

Firstly, such an interpretation would be pretty contrary to Christ’s command of enemy love in Matthew 5. If something is that different, it behooves one to look deeper into things and see what is really going on. Furthermore, what this shows is that when it comes to Jesus’s commands, we like to pick and choose which one’s we follow based on our own desires.

Now, like I said, you don’t have to pick and choose, Jesus is not inconsistent here with what He has said previously.

Look at verse 37 – “I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ This comes from Isaiah. So, this command to His disciples is so that He will fulfill prophecy and be considered an outlaw by Roman government (Sprinkle, 2013). Also, some even think that the two swords allude to Deuteronomic law which said that it takes two witnesses to testify against someone, and in this case, the two swords are those witnesses (Willimon, 2008). It is not for defense. How do we know this? Two things: Firstly, two of the disciples (likely Peter and Simon the Zealot) already have swords and so they say “Look, Lord, here are two swords” and Jesus replies to this with the phrase “it is enough.” Enough for what? This verse cannot be about self-defense, because two swords cannot defend 11 disciples, especially if they go out two by two as they did just before this passage.

In fact, there are opinions out there on what "it is enough" would have actually meant when Jesus said it. For Luke Timothy Johnson (1991), "it is enough" essentially carries the same meaning as "enough of this nonsense" and he comes to that conclusion by matching it grammatically and in its original language to something Jesus says later surrounding this same issue, which we'll now get into.

Scroll down a few verses to 49-51.

And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 

Jesus rebukes Peter for using the sword, because that was not the purpose of the sword. He in fact uses the phrase "no more of this!" (or as Luke Timothy Johnson writes - "enough of this" and thus reading the first time Jesus uses the phrase as matching the second time). While we are busy making our enemies bleed, Jesus is healing them and making them whole. Nothing in the teachings of Jesus allows for violence, but the disciples still can’t get their minds around it.

The disciples almost constantly misunderstood what Jesus being the Messiah truly meant for the Kingdom of God. They expected an earthly kingdom to come about, like the glory days of the Maccabees. There were many “messiahs” in that time who tried to set up the Kingdom of God, but did so through violence and always failed. That is why Jesus actually orders them in Mark 8:27-38 to tell no one that He was the Messiah when Peter identifies Him as such. Jesus wanted to differentiate Himself from the other “messiahs” out there (Sprinkle, 2013). RIGHT after that section when Jesus instructs them to not tell others that He is the Messiah, He begins to talk about how He is going to have to suffer and die. Peter actually rebukes Jesus for this (8:32) because that would totally jack up the violent political uprising that would help install the Kingdom of God. Jesus then tells Peter that he does not have his mind on the things of God but the things of men.

With their minds still on “the things of men” and not “the things of God,” the two disciples with swords get excited when Jesus commands them to go and buy them. They, like many who misinterpret this verse to talk about self-defense, had earthly kingdom thinking and not heavenly kingdom thinking.

At the end of the day, I understand that we may possess a different view on self-defense. However, I think we can agree that scripture has been used for terrible reasons before and a little look at the context of a verse can truly help us steer clear of poor interpretations. So, I hope that you have gotten something out of this discussion. Grace and peace to you all!

Works Cited:

Johnson, Luke T., and Daniel J. Harrington. The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1991. Print

Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013. Print.

Willimon, Will. Duke Chapel Service, February 21, 2008, #160. Link –

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