Saturday, January 5, 2008

Buying a Sword

Did Jesus command His disciples to go armed into the world? A prima facie reading of Luke 22:35-38 sure seems to indicate that He did:

And He said unto them, "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing?" And they said, "Nothing." Then said He unto them, "But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end." And they said, "Lord, behold, here are two swords." And He said unto them, "It is enough."

It is interesting -- though frustrating to Christian Martialists -- that commentators seem to agree that Jesus is not telling His disciples to go forth into the world armed. Matthew Henry furnishes a classic example:

They must now expect that their enemies would be more fierce upon them than they had been, and they would need magazines as well as stores: He that has no sword wherewith to defend himself against robbers and assassins (2Co 11:26) will find a great want of it, and will be ready to wish, some time or other, that he had sold his garment and bought one. This is intended only to show that the times would be very perilous, so that no man would think himself safe if he had not a sword by his side. But the sword of the Spirit is the sword which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves with. Christ having suffered for us, we must arm ourselves with the same mind (1Pe 4:1), arm ourselves with an expectation of trouble, that it may not be a surprise to us, and with a holy resignation to the will of God in it, that there may be no opposition in us to it: and then we are better prepared than if we had sold a coat to buy a sword.

If Henry is correct, when Jesus told His disciples to arm themselves with swords, He really meant for them to arm themselves"with an expectation of trouble" and "with a holy resignation to the will of God in it . . . ." It would mean that Jesus is using the concept of taking up a sword as a metaphor for the opposite of defending oneself. This is an odd use of language, at best.

Matthew Henry raises another possibility: that the sword Christ refers to is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). In this case the meaning would be for them to go armed with the Word of God. As a metaphor, this interpretation makes more sense, although it, too, has certain problems.

First, if purse and scrip are metaphors for economic provision, then the most sensible meaning for sword would be the use of potentially lethal force. This is the meaning of the word in Romans 13:4 in reference to the civil magistrate's authority backed up by lethal force:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Second, when the disciples showed Him that they had two swords, it would have provided the perfect opportunity to correct their literal misinterpretation of His words. That is exactly what He did after He warned the Twelve to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and they thought He was reproving them for not bringing along bread.

"How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?" Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11-12)

Far from correcting them, Jesus responded by saying, "It is enough," thereby implying that they had understood Him correctly, and that their provision of arms was sufficient. I do not see how to take Jesus' words other than as an admonition for disciples to arm themselves.

More on this in "Buying a Sword, 2".

Bookmark and Share

No comments: