I started reading the book “Zealot” by Reza Aslan yesterday. He quoted the Bible at Luke 22:36, saying that Jesus advocated violence. His quote was “If you do not have a sword, go sell your cloak and buy one.” I was shocked, and figured he must be translating it wrong. I looked at some other translations of the Bible and was shocked to see that they said essentially the same thing. I have read the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, dozens of times and never noticed this verse. What is Jesus saying in this passage? What does He mean?
Oh gosh, Reza Aslan. :rolleyes: The simple answer is that (1) Aslan had just cherry-picked a soundbyte out of context; and (2) while Jesus wasn’t some armed guerilla, He ain’t a hippie-type pacifist either.
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.”
…] While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 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.
(9:1-6) And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
When a Jewish man went traveling very far, or when he went down the notoriously bandit-infested road to Jericho, his essential equipment was:
Sandals for walking.
Sword for self-defense and defense of others, from road bandits. (And really, just to show the bandits that he had one. They were looking for unarmed people.)
If you weren’t traveling outside Israel or anticipated God sending you lots of friendly hospitality, you didn’t really need a moneybag. People might well share their food and water with you, and even their homes.
Your everyday clothing as a Jewish man was:
Tunic. (Your shirt and pants.)
Cloak. (For warmth at night, covering up from wind and sun, and protection from rain.
It was normal for the poor Jewish man to own just the loincloth and tunic.
You could live on the road without a cloak, or you could borrow a cloak if somebody was nice. But you needed a sword, unless you really really didn’t want to get more than two miles down the road before being stripped naked and/or killed.
Cornelius a Lapide says Christ did not mean this literally but was warning His Disciples about the gravity of the situation.
Christ, in these words, did not command them to take a purse and a scrip, and to sell their garment and buy a sword, for He soon after forbade Peter to draw his sword; but they were a warning of the fierce persecution which was about to fall upon Himself and the apostles, and which was so heavy to those that regarded the difficulty of the case with the eyes of mere human wisdom, that food and weapons would appear things absolutely necessary for the preservation of life. The meaning therefore is this, “Everything, so far, has happened to you, 0 my Apostles, well and prosperously; for when I sent you to preach the Gospel without purse, or scrip, or sword, you were kindly received by most, fed, and sheltered, and had no need of these things. But now so grievous a persecution is impending over you, and so great is the danger to your lives, that in human prudence it may seem necessary to each to think of the preservation of his life, and therefore to take a scrip and purse for provision, and a weapon for defence, and to sell his cloak, and buy a sword. But to Me, who weigh circumstances by the design and decree of God the Father, there is no need of such things; for I go voluntarily to the cross, and to death, and I offer Myself of My own free will, to those who will persecute Me and crucify Me, so that I may conform Myself to the will of My Father.” So S. Chrysostom (Hom. 85 on S. Matt.), and from him Theophylact on this passage, Jansen, Maldonatus, and others. S. Ambrose says well, “0 Lord, why commandest Thou me to buy a sword, and forbiddest me to strike, unless that I may be prepared for my defence, and that Thou mayest appear able to avenge though Thou wouldst not?”
Israel is not densely populated even now, when it has eight million people; at the time of our LORD, the country would have seemed almost empty.
While it is prudent to protect oneself (but unless you were trained in fencing, just owning a sword would not be enough), I doubt very much that every time someone walked from town to town they would face armed combat!
**Isaiah 53:11 ** - He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Luke 22:35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 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. ** 37 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.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Luke 22:36 - Then He said to them, but now the one having purse, let him pick it up, likewise also [the one having] begger’s bag; and the one not having XXX, let him sell the cloak of him and let him buy a sword!
The Interlinear suggests that a word has been omitted - and others have supplied that word as “sword”. However, “sword” is unlikely since none of them should rightly have swords anyway, as Jesus is their Protector and Prince of Peace. But Peter is different - in that he has the ‘female shadow’ (Petras (f) rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. - Interlinear Bible.) So, Jesus could have said “not having a beard/hair”? (just a guess)
The other interesting thing I found while digging into this verse is:
Psalm 55:21 - The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
Psalm 59:7 - Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear?
Judas - would be the money purse - thief/traitor
Lazarus (leper) - would be the begger’s bag (“Apostle whom Jesus loved”) - associating with the unclean (though now healed)
Peter - would be the lips of denial - the two swords
‘Jesus amongst sinners/transgressors’. And He was crucified with two thieves - cuz Lazarus was healed?
Matt. 10:8-10 - 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10 Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staffs: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
Because Jesus provided all for the Apostles, there was no need for each to have the other things - except to tell us something particular.
Of course, this is just the view from here at the moment - always subject to change when new information comes along.
Jim is absolutely, 100% correct. The sword is the word of God. It says so right in the Bible.
*And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:16)
From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations (Revelation 19:15)*
The sword of God’s word comes from the mouth of Jesus. The two edges of the sword are the law and the prophets.
If the protection of religious rights equals “advocating violence” then so be it. Remember, in the old days, Christians were slaughtered. Jesus knew this would happen, and gave us permission to protect ourselves from annihilation.
…but Jesus by no means gave us the notion to take unprovoked action against others. I’d take that book and throw it in the trash -after stabbing it with a knife.
Anyone who reads the Bible knows that the sword is not about self protection but about the word of God.
Peter used the sword of the word of God to cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Peter represents the Church. The high priest’s slave represents all who have placed themselves under the temple authorities. The ear represents their ability to hear God’s word. Their ear is cut off meaning they cannot hear God’s word. Jesus heals them.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are heavy of hearing,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should perceive with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.'
It isn’t about gun rights or the second amendment or self-protection from bandits. You can carry a weapon for self protection if you want but that is not what the Gospel is about. The Gospel is about SALVATION, not self protection. It is about Jesus, his word, and the ability to hear, understand and obey God’s word.
“Buy a sword” means “listen to the word of God.” That’s all. Carry a weapon if you want but anyone who thinks that the scripture is talking about weapons in modern times is twisting scripture to suit his own agenda.
In addressing Aslan’s claims, it’s important that we read the scripture with an even better historical-critical lens than he uses. This passage in Luke is notable for two themes. First, there’s the obvious theme Aslan selects of violence. Second is that of a transition in the life and ministry of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed with himself. To me, this latter theme, that of transition, is the key critical moment.
Jesus’ ministry began in the villages of Galilee. He avoided the large cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias, instead focusing on smaller communities. In Galilee, he drew crowds who flocked to see his healing miracles and hear his preaching. In Sunday’s Gospel, he was perceived as a prophet, and probably viewed himself in the line of prophets. According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus only made one journey to Jerusalem, his final journey. In contrast, the Gospel of John includes three journeys to Jerusalem, many of which expose Jesus to conflict and controversy. The gospels all make it clear that Jesus faced danger and opposition in large cities, and the execution of John the Baptist for his preaching against the wedding of Herod Agrippa to his brother’s wife reinforce the danger to prophetic voices who publicly challenged the morality or legitimacy of powerful figures in Palestine.
Jesus’ whole ministry, but especially his final journey to Jerusalem, is marked by increasingly apocalyptic language, with the parable of the tenants told right near the walls of the city. From the perspective of a historian, one can ask, why did Jesus venture from the relative safety of his ministry in Galilee to the hotbed of Jewish and Roman political and religious power and symbolism in Jerusalem?
Answering that question is bound up with his ultimate worldly fate: his execution by crucifixion under the mocking (yet true) accusation, “King of the Jews.” His accusers say that he claimed to be able to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Leading up to that trial and execution, violence is an undercurrent that follows Jesus through his final week. This violence must be viewed in context.
In Mark and Matthew, Jesus curses the fig tree outside Jerusalem, visits the temple, and returns to see that the fig tree has withered. His visit to the temple is marked by his visiting the Court of the Gentiles, the largest court in Herod the Great’s temple, and casting out the money changers, which allowed practicing Jews to purchase animals for sacrifice. In the image of the cursed, then withered fig tree, we see what type of movement Jesus led – an anti-temple movement, which he proclaimed as the Kingdom of God. His ministry began with John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptismal of atonement, in contrast with the temple sacrifice in Mosaic law. It’s clear that Jesus took aim at the temple’s cult of atonement. His single dialogue with Sadducees, that regarding the legitimacy of divorce, suggests a stark disagreement between Jesus and the Temple.
In three gospels (Mark, Matthew and John), the last scene in which we see Judas Iscariot is another scene that occurs just outside the walls of Jerusalem: his anointing for burial by a woman, who is either nameless (Mk and Mt) or identified as Mary of Bethany (in Jn).
In the garden of Gethemane, there is a literal appearance of a sword, when someone (a nameless person in the Synoptics and Simon Peter in John) draws one to defend Jesus from arrest. But Jesus rebukes them. This scene suggests a historical occurrence that is hard for us Christians to accept: the presence of arms among the followers of Jesus. Jesus rebukes them, showing his commitment to nonviolence. However, there is a strong suggested that people expected Jesus to be a messiah who delivered Israel from her temporal enemies. As the Son of David, they looked on him as military leader who would return the Unified Kingdom, and were willing to take up arms in support of Jesus.
How can we assert, therefore, that Jesus was committed to nonviolence when his followers were not?
Look at the action Romans took against Jesus: arrest and crucifixion, for all the Jews to see – in contravention of Jewish law. Yet there is no record of police actions against the followers of Jesus. As cited by the heterodox Bible scholar, John Dominic Crossan, the lack of police or military crackdown on Jesus’ followers is evidence that Jesus led a nonviolent movement.
Beyond that, there are the sayings of Jesus, common to Matthew 5 and Luke 6 (in the hypothetical “Q” source) on violence in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. Jesus explicitly teaches that when someone tries to take your cloak or press you into service for a mile, that you should reciprocate with even greater generosity (also handing over one’s tunic and going an extra mile). This statement is in the context of Roman law, which allowed soldiers to commandeer goods or labor from the occupied population. This highly-contextual saying is strong evidence that Jesus was not just teaching nonviolence to strategically avoid interception until he could launch a larger campaign of violence.
By saying, in reply to his disciples’ pointing out the existence of two real swords, Jesus proclaims, “it is enough!” In other words, when the people heard him, they got it wrong… not real swords, but conflict. Luke’s gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), when Jews were being attacked and Christians didn’t have a lot of friends. But all those issues agree… Jesus said that when he went to Jerusalem, he and his followers would face more problems.
10A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.d 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.e 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Yes, I know that there are different senses to Scripture, but at times I do feel as if we are looking too hard into it and missing the forest for the trees.
“I just ate a spaghetti,” Jack said.
“Have you ever noticed how a pasta is tangly and noodly? It symbolizes hardships, which gets you all tied up. So it means that Jack had just transcended - he had ‘eaten’ - all the difficulties of daily life.”
“You know, it kinda makes sense. Spaghetti are eaten with forks, right? Could it be that the forks symbolizes Jack’s defeat of life’s hardships?”
“But why would he use the word ‘eaten’? Could it be possible that he meant something like, ‘All the hardships I’ve faced proved beneficial to me’, since note - the spaghetti, which he just ate, is inside of him, nourishing his body.”
“Why not both? ‘I’ve matured and learned from my past experiences and so have finally transcended the difficulties of life?’”
“I’d like to give a different perspective. Noodles are in Asian cultures symbolic of long life, and so are eaten on special occasions. So perhaps he meant ‘I just found out I’m long lived’?”
“That’s ridiculous. Why not ‘I have attained eternal life’?”
“Wait, wait, wait. Pasta is a type of noodle, but not every noodle is a pasta. I don’t think you could apply the Asian symbolism of the noodle into an Italian dish.”
“But it’s not like spaghetti is just an Italian dish anymore, is it?”
“Perhaps he meant ‘I’m actually Italian?’ or ‘I’ve become interested in Italian culture’?”
“Taking into consideration the fact that spaghetti is now an international dish, I’m assuming Jack implies that he has also become ‘international’ in a way.”
“Please allow me to disagree with the above interpretations. Spaghetti is red, right? Red might symbolize blood - you get what I mean?”
“So you’re implying that Jack was a cannibal.”
“No, I think ‘I just ate a spaghetti’ means ‘I just discovered what the meaning of life - what is the most important thing in life - is.’ After all, isn’t blood important for the survival of living beings?”
“Hey! He doesn’t specify what type of spaghetti he had just eaten. For all we know, it could actually be a carbonara.”
“Not necessarily. IMO the lack of any specification here may simply mean that Jack ate a tomato-sauce spaghetti.”
Yes, indeed. We may be looking too hard into this that’s why we are not getting the right answer.
Let’s look at the relevant texts again (Luke 22:35-38).
35 When I sent you without purse and scrip, did you want anything? 36 But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip: and he that hath not, let him sell his coat and buy a sword. 37 For I say to you that this that is written must be fulfilled in me. And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. 38 But they said: Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said to them: It is enough.
Notice that in verse 37 Jesus told them why he wanted them to buy a sword. Could that be the answer we have all been looking for? He wanted a sword to fulfill a prophecy (Isa. 53:12). Jesus was not advocating violence. He wanted it to appear that He was advocating violence so that Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be “reputed with the wicked” will come true. This was the evening of His crucifixion, just before Jesus went out to be seized and taken to be crucified.
The sword could not have been for self defense as Jesus taught that, “to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also” (Luke 6:29).
Jesus’ way was love to all, even to our enemies; to do good even to those who hate us (Matt. 5:44). His followers taught to “Recompense to no man evil for evil… but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21).