Sooner or later, when the discussion about Jesus and his possible advocacy of guns comes up, someone will bring up the swords verse.
Recently, I shared on Facebook what I considered to be a very good post from John Pavlovitz, a pastor in North Carolina, about owning guns. I said that I knew some of my friends would like the piece a great deal while others would likely hate it, but I asked everyone to read it with an open mind and at least consider the perspective.
That can be a healthy thing, regardless of the subject matter.
The piece included this:
There is so much suffering and injustice in this world, and with all of the things one who follows Jesus could fight for, lobby for, slap on a bumper sticker for, I could think of a million things that seem to make more sense as a follower of Jesus than guns; poverty eradication, racial equality, abolishing human trafficking, gender equality, sobriety, cancer research, life, education, marriage, prayer, puppies, and on and on and on—but guns? How have they become a flaunted and foundational part of our American Christian tradition?
He raises excellent points. It’s rare that you’ll see Christians lobbying as hard for the majority of those other options as for their rights to their small armories and the zeal with which they’re willing to defend their stuff.
In response to my Facebook post, someone asked about a specific verse:
What about Luke 22:36 where Jesus says .. If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. In today’s setting he might say … If you don’t have a gun, sell your coat and buy one. I also think when things people value are being taken away, we tend to hold onto them tighter.
For the record, I asked him exactly where guns are being taken away, but not surprisingly, never got an answer to that one.
In Luke 22:36, Jesus does indeed tell his disciples to buy a sword. It’s a seemingly strange thing for Jesus Christ to say.
Christians have this unfortunate habit of grabbing a single verse and running with it, completely ignoring the context of the verse or the reason for the quotation it contains.
So let me set the scene.
Christ was on a mission. He was focused on fulfilling the will of His Father, not on fulfilling a passage about gun rights in the Constitution of the United States that would be written nearly 17 centuries later.
Christ was determined to live out His own destiny to be able to then offer the gift of salvation to everyone else.
If you read Chapter 22, this determination becomes clear. In the very next verse, Luke 22:37, he reminds his disciples that Scriptures say He will be “numbered with the transgressors.” He wants there to be no chance that they wouldn’t appear to be transgressors; knowing what it to come and the reason behind it, He doesn’t want any detail to cause failure of the mission.
His disciples respond in verse 38, telling Him they have two swords. He says, “It is enough.”
Two swords would never be enough to mount a true defense and save Christ from those who would want Him crucified. If you believe Christ was who He said He was, you have to agree that He knew this would be the case.
Using Luke 22:36 as Jesus’s permission to arm oneself becomes even more difficult after what happens when one of the disciples actually uses the sword to protect Christ from those who are there to arrest Him. The man draws his sword and strikes the servant of the high priest, cutting off the servant’s ear.
Jesus’s reaction was not one of congratulations. It was admonishment:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus asks if the disciple doesn’t think that Jesus could have called upon God to rescue Him if that was what He wanted? Jesus then asks him, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Luke 22:52 tells us that Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Even when His own life was on the line, the use of the sword was not welcomed by Jesus.
While the Bible does not prohibit the notion of self-defense, one cannot reasonably use the swords verse as an advocation of deadly force when that verse is placed in context of the entire narrative.