Thursday, May 31, 2012

Luke 22:38 - Jesus and the Sword

Just listened to the Please Convince Me podcast for this week about Jesus and the sword, and thought it was a good enough time to repost my thoughts on this issue below. I genuinely respect and enjoy Jim Wallace and his apologetics podcast, but I think he's totally off Scripturally in his analysis of what the Bible says about the sword. The Christian should never wield the sword.

I've been meditating lately on Jesus' words in the beatitudes, particularly in Matt. 5, on the subject of loving one's enemies, and how this applies to the idea of Christians in the military. No doubt (like most of my posts) this will ruffle some feathers, but studying history, particularly that of the non-resistant groups such as the Mennonites, that I've become more and more convinced that Christians should NEVER wield the sword, and that includes overseers, deacons, as well as laity. In the new covenant of Christ - in this new dispensation - I cannot see from Scripture the justification for Christians to ever wield the sword in the military branches. I just don't see how a Christian man who feels directed to serve in the military can, at the same time, stay true to the teaching of Jesus Christ:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
(Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)

The consistent message of Christ, and the epistles of the New Testament, is that of loving your enemies and forgiving those who do wrong to you. The Davidic dispensation, that involved endless wars with the enemies of Israel, is now gone, and under the new covenant, under Christ, we follow a new instruction:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
(John 13:34 ESV)

How does one comply with this while serving in the military and potentially killing someone else? How can the Lord "make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all..." (1 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV) while serving in a role that, by its very nature, could require that you bring death to others?

I'm not questioning the importance of the military, and I've got immense respect for all men who serve and defend our country (I've posted about that frequently in the past.) what I'm questioning, perhaps more for myself than anything else is, should the Christian specifically serve in the military, and I'm not so sure I agree with this, because this seems to stand in stark contradiction with Christ's commandments to love one another. Sure, there's Cornelius the Centurian (Acts 10) but even then, who can say if he stayed in his military post, or if he left it to be a part of the apostolic ministry? Not much is said about his role, but in light of the rest of the weight of Scripture, I just have a hard time balancing a military role and Christ's instruction to love one another.

Recently I was in a friendly debate with a gun-toting friend, and we talked about the situation of someone breaking into our home, and what, if any actions, should be taken in self defense. My open-carry friend insisted on being able to shoot and kill any intruder (citing some oblique theonomistic justification) but I argued that, as a Christian, that every other option should be pursued first (even if it's just something like incapacitating the intruder until the authorities arrive) but that a Christian is never to take human life. Needless to say, we never saw eye to eye on this, but I'm fairly certain that my friend was wrong in his stance: a believer should never take life (and as an aside, although I'm somewhat right of center, I don't believe in using capital punishment to take life either. I think there's an inconsistency in being pro-life and also pro-death penalty. But that's just me, and that's a post for another day.)

In Acts 22, I think that the Apostle Paul establishes a precedent of appealing to the authority of the magistrate to protect its citizens. Just as the Bible instructs us to honor our government, by the same token, we are also able to appeal to it when we need protection. Should we take self-defense into our own hands, or is the better way to instead call upon those in authority to protect us? If someone breaks in, do we kill them, or do we hastily call the police? Aren't there non-lethal options? Home security alarms? Dogs? And what if you take a life: as a Christian, haven't you permanently eliminated the possibility of someone repenting and turning to Christ for salvation? From what I know about prison ministry, there are many men in prisons who regret what they've done and see incredible life changes in prison. Doesn't killing eliminate that possibility of repentance forever?

Now, Luke 22:38 is a text which I've heard mangled by believers and skeptics all over the place, and I wanted to offer some exegesis here of that text, as it drives me bonkers to see Scripture get mangled (I once hear it said that if you torture the Bible enough, you can get it to confess to anything you want.)

Here's all of Luke 22, to set the context:

Luke 22

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

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.”

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

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. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”

So to context is, Jesus has just celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, and has gone off to pray, shortly thereafter to be betrayed in the hands of the mob via Judas Iscariot. Before his betrayal, Jesus tells his followers to be prepared, because the time of their safety and protection has passed. He is not speaking about carrying a literal sword, but rather is illustrating that the time has come for Jesus to be betrayed into the hands of the people, and the safety that his followers had been during his time with them would now be gone. He's not saying that his followers should arm themselves and be prepared to fight. Not only would that be ridiculous, but it would make no sense in the context: how could twelve men, with only TWO swords, fend off an armed mob? Additionally, why would Jesus bother to correct Peter for lopping off the ear of the servant of the high priest? Jesus tells him off for this and proceeds to heal the man. The swords at this point were unnecessary and the disciples misunderstood what Jesus was saying. In verse 38, when the disciples mention the two swords, Jesus replies with, "It is enough", or the equivalent of rolling the eyes and saying "Drop it! You don't get it!" They didn't understand what he was saying. His divine protection would from that point on be gone, and all twelve of the disciples (save John who was exiled) would see death. Notice how the disciples didn't keep their swords and fight and rebel, but unarmed they went to their deaths as martyrs of the Lord.

Here's a couple notes from the commentaries. Wesley notes the following:

Luke 22:38 Here are two swords - Many of Galilee carried them when they travelled, to defend themselves against robbers and assassins, who much infested their roads. But did the apostles need to seek such defence? And he said; It is enough - I did not mean literally, that every one of you must have a sword.

Wesley here hints at the dangers the disciples could expect ahead, without literally telling them to get weapons. Matthew Henry's commentary also offers a good explanation of this text as well.

Our Lord gave notice of a very great change of circumstances now approaching. The disciples must not expect that their friends would be kind to them as they had been. Therefore, he that has a purse, let him take it, for he may need it. They must now expect that their enemies would be more fierce than they had been, and they would need weapons. At the time the apostles understood Christ to mean real weapons, but he spake only of the weapons of the spiritual warfare. The sword of the Spirit is the sword with which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves.

Also, as an interesting aside, is the fact that the Greek used for sword in this text could also be translated as knife, which could speak to a more utilitarian purpose of gather supplies and living in the wilderness and in the wild, and not necessarily to be used as a killing weapon.

Regardless, the text in context is clear: Jesus is NOT telling his followers to arm themselves as if they will be going off to fight, but rather, the message is that the time of Christ's divine protection is gone, and that persecution is immediately ahead. There's a message for all Christians here as well: we can arm ourselves with earthly guns and weapons, but the true weapons of the enemy are spiritual ones, not fleshly,of which physical weapons are worthless. The sword of the spirit is the true weapon that all Christians should equip themselves with.

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