3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords

Whenever we talk of Jesus being nonviolent there are always those who protest that Jesus was indeed violent. Often they embrace violence and use Jesus for justification. We have discussed other inadequate ‘proofs’ of Jesus’ ‘violent’ side, such as his cleansing the temple and saying that he brings, not peace, but a sword.

Today we discuss the claim that Jesus promoted violence in telling his disciples to carry swords.


Peter cutting off the servant’s ear by Anonymous (Photograph by Rama) [CeCILL or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons

If You Don’t Have a Sword Sell Your Cloak and Buy One

Jesus’ only mention of carrying swords was on his last day with his disciples. Knowing he was about to be arrested and executed, Jesus shared with them a variety of last-minute things before going with them to Gethsemane—where his arrest would take place.

Luke 22 says:

Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

Only Luke mentions this, but Mark 6 tells us of Jesus’ earlier instruction to the twelve when he first sent them out two-by-two:

Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.

Jesus wanted them to be entirely dependent. Being so unprepared must have been frightening to his disciples but, as Luke indicates, they lacked nothing. However, now Jesus tells them that from now on they should go prepared—and that includes swords.

Luke 22 continues:

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

And then they left for Gethsemane.

Why Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to Carry Swords?

Some believers think Jesus instructs his followers to carry swords to fight off attackers. While this is possible it seems to go against all Jesus’ taught about how to treat people. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.

He also talks in various places about his followers being arrested and killed, but he never tells them to resist with violence. It is contrary to the purpose of the kingdom of God.

If this is so, then why would he tell his followers to carry swords?

1. Protection against wild animals

Traveling through the area during the time of Jesus sometimes involved encounters with dangerous animals. Swords were necessary as protection against them.

2. Defense against robbers

For the disciples, having a sword might also deter a robbery; but I cannot imagine an agent of the good news of the kingdom killing someone, as it completely contradicts the message of the kingdom itself.

3. Blades are used for utilitarian purposes

When I was in elementary school, I carried a pocket knife everywhere—even to school. I carried it all the time, as most guys did, but I never remember a knife being used as a weapon. I used a knife to clean my fingernails, sharpen a pencil, or peel a delicious orange. Even machetes are primarily used for cutting brush, chopping wood, opening coconuts, and such.

I admit swords are most known for their military use, but the disciples needed swords for common utilitarian purposes that did not imply violent use.

What did Jesus mean by ‘That’s enough!’ in regard to the two swords? There are two common suggestions. The first is ‘two swords are sufficient.’ If so, how could two swords be sufficient against the guards arresting Jesus? The second thought is that Jesus meant ‘that is enough about swords’.

Jesus Talks about Using Violent Force

I think Jesus reveals his attitude about violence on three occasions related to his arrest and trial. In the same chapter Luke says:

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

When Peter attacked the man, Jesus corrected him and healed the man’s ear. Peter had the wrong idea about the kingdom—violent defense, even of of Jesus, is inappropriate.

Then John 18 reports that Jesus makes a very revealing statement during his interrogation:

Pilate…summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.”

The kingdom of God is not like other kingdoms. Political kingdoms use force and violence to gain and maintain power, but this is not the way of the kingdom of God—it spreads within all political kingdoms from one person to another without using violence.

Finally, in his last words Jesus demonstrates personally how to respond to violence: Father forgive them. Our task as followers of Jesus is to spread the good news of the kingdom with love, peace, and reconciliation. We cannot do that with violence.

Articles in this series: Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?
Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?
Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So
Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree?
What does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?
3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords
Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment?
Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion


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51 Responses to 3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords

  1. Perry says:

    Tim, have you written before about tithing? Curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Perry, I have mentioned tithing on occasion but have not written an article on tithing. The topic is included in my possible series that I will likely never write: 7 Habits of Highly Evangelical People.

      I think the common teaching on tithing among many believers is outright legalism and is also contrived. Tithing was an OT institution for support of the central temple and its sacrificial priests; it was never applied to believers because we have no temple or priests.

      Most mentions on giving in the NT were from Paul, and that wasn’t for the support of the local churches but for the relief of the povert church in Jerusalem by the gentile churches. And the giving was entirely voluntary.

      The way some people preach tithing as binding is crass legalism and often self-serving. We are never told in the NT to build buildings or have a paid staff. Now if we want such things we must pay for them, but I think preaching tithing as an obligation is really unconscionable and a heavy burden–particularly on the poor.

      I would very much like to hear your thoughts.


      • Perry says:

        Thanks, Tim.

        My thoughts? I think much of organized religion is about $ & power, as are most secular things. Intimidate people into figuratively or literally saluting and / or pledging to a book, a flag, a denomination, country, a political party, etc. with blind, unquestioning allegiance, and you’ve achieved the power that lets you ask for their $ by making them fear angry god (little “G” intended) will make something bad happen if they don’t. They have the built in safety that something bad happens to us all from time to time, and the guilt they have programmed into us says, “See, told you!!” One of my great regrets: Dad died, leaving Mom in tough circumstances. But I could have helped more if I’d given her what I was giving the church, vice versa. I’ve seen so many instances of 6 & 7 figure preachers browbeat ordinary folk into tightening their belt a little more for the kingdom of god. They just forget to tell you they’re the little g! Wow! Didn’t know I had that much to say.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Wow Perry! I am not sure where to start. You have taken so many of the problems I see in forced tithing and tied them up in one single paragraph!

          Power. Money. Intimidation. Fear (of angry god). These should never be issues among believers–especially spiritual ‘leaders’. And yet they are very prevalent. This is not the plan for the kingdom of God.

          As people of the kingdom, our primary allegiance should always be to the kingdom and the kingdom ethic. We are also to be good citizens of our various nations, but we cannot give our allegiance to a book, a flag, a denomination, a country, a political party, or anything else in place of the kingdom.

          However, I do not think this is the spirit of all ministers. Some really struggle financially; my suggestion is get a job, yet we expect so much out of our ministers that it is difficult for them to do that. We also must maintain our buildings; my suggestion, especially for smaller congregations, is to rent meeting space and don’t be so quick to build.

          Congregations do need a certain amount of money for operations, but I think we have put far too much money into operations, building, and staff and not enough into reaching out to others. I will also say that the legalistic tithing requirement (usually followed by additional ‘offerings’) often puts an extreme burden on many folks, as you mention from your personal experience, who could use that money much better elsewhere.

          Another harmful aspect of pitching tithing and offerings is the implication, sometimes clearly stated, that it is an investment: give and God will give back to you. Giving might be an investment in the lives of the poor and otherwise needy, but it is not a divine financial investment.

          Perry, I am afraid that you have gotten me all worked up too!


      • Alan C says:

        The way I read what Jesus says about tithing, he sounds a bit dismissive of the practice.
        “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Mt. 23:23) Tithing is not as important as “justice and mercy and faith.” In Luke’s version of this passage (11:42) he says, ““But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.” This is Jesus’ only teaching on tithing, although you might also cite the widow’s mites as an example of the oppressiveness of demanding tithes of the poor.


        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Alan, I agree! Jesus certainly did not promote tithing, and I think you are right that his comments to the scribes and Pharisees did not praise them for their meticulous practice of tithing. Like most legalists, they were focusing hard on the wrong things at the expense of people: justice and the love of God.

          I see justice and the love of God playing out in terms of empathy, compassion, and care. Or we could say that our mission in the kingdom of God is to spread peace, acceptance, and reconciliation. Pursuing these principles might well involve giving money, but it would not be motivated by legalistic considerations.

          We should not approach the giving of our resources in the same way the scribes and Pharisees did.

          Thanks for your excellent comment.


  2. Pingback: 3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords — Jesus Without Baggage | Talmidimblogging

  3. I have always considered this to be more of a lesson or some form of symbolic gesture rather than merely practical/safety advice …. I just don’t know what that is yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Andrew, I have seen many references to this as somehow symbolic–even in scholarly commentaries. But I have no idea how this is symbolic; what would the symbolism symbolize?

      I’m not opposed to the idea, but to me the text doesn’t seem to suggest it. If you ever determine what that might be, please let me know!

      Liked by 1 person

    • newtonfinn says:

      In Jesus’ words about swords, I too think there may be symbolic meaning connected to the law and the prophets. Ezekiel 21 and Nehemiah 4, for example, provide intriguing possibilities for such speculation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Newton, I am open to a symbolic sword reference in this passage, but I just don’t see how it fits. The instruction of Jesus seems very practical and straightforward. If the sword is symbolic, then what about the money and the bag? Would one aspect out of the three be symbolic and the other two not symbolic?

        If the sword had any indication of being symbolic, then I would consider that possibility, but I cannot read symbolism into it without cause. The other thing I wonder is WHY some people think this is symbolic; what is their reason for even thinking so? I would love to hear your insight on this.


        • newtonfinn says:

          I think you make a good point in questioning the symbolism of the sword demand when there are also demands for money and a bag. Obviously, I’m speculating here and could be making more of these verses than is warranted. But while I’m at this speculation business, for what it’s worth (if anything), let me call attention to the following piece of Pseudepigrapha.


          I’m also including a link to the document itself, in which TWO SWORDS are specifically referenced in Chapter 23, verses 14-17.


          We don’t really know whether someone like Jesus, in the context of his time, would have been aware of this Joseph and Aseneth document, or whether it was even in existence. The scholarship appears to be diverse in its conclusions. But it’s kind of fun to play with the possibilities.

          Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, I was not familiar with this work or its background. I am not sure it has anything to do with the ‘two swords’ in Luke but it was a fun read and interesting to consider the possibilities of a connection.



          • newtonfinn says:

            I should have added that we also don’t know whether the author of Luke would have had access to Joseph and Aseneth, or whether that document might contain other material which was perhaps woven into Luke or other gospels. I would hope that there has been some serious scholarship concerning possible linkages between the gospels and not only the Old Testament but also “the pseudo-stuff” that may have been floating around in Jesus’ day or in the following decades.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, I think scholarship has considered the relationship of New Testament books to other books. Perhaps the most prominent example is the letter of Jude. Jude makes reference to the book of Enoch in regard to fallen angels and their punishment: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”

            He also cites Enoch by name, assuming it is the Enoch of Genesis: “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: ‘See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’”

            Doesn’t sound like the message of Jesus at all.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Tim. Nice series you are doing here. I think we always have to take a step back when old testament fulfillment is attributed directly to the lips of Jesus. The earliest gospels had nothing of the sort, and It tends (IMO) to signal that the writers are getting creative about making their case for who Jesus was. In this case I don’t think Jesus actually said that, but rather I think it was a way for the writer to inject another fulfilled prophecy into the story. I think the point here was that it was urgent to have swords asap in order to appear as “transgressors” to fit the description in Isaiah because that is the type of folks that the authorities would be looking for. I wouldn’t bet my life on that meaning in the story, but I find it among the plausible explanations. I definitely don’t think Jesus was telling them to throw out his entire catalog of teachings and all of a sudden become violent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Eric. I understand the issue of the gospel writers reflecting issues from their own time into the text, but this passage seems pretty practical and straightforward: when you travel, be normally equipped.

      I also think it likely that it was his followers, not Jesus, who saw Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the death of Jesus. It appears to me though that the two items–the instruction to the disciples and the Isaiah reference–have been joined together, and that the instruction stands alone.


      • Tim, the text says that Jesus said to sell their cloaks for swords, and the next sentence has Jesus saying: “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me ‘And he was counted among the lawless’ and this scripture is being fulfilled in me”… and then right after that the disciples say that they have two swords, and Jesus says that is enough. My point is that especially by the time Luke rolled around many decades later, the embellishments were stacking up. Early on, Jesus did not refer to himself in such grandiose ways of scripture being fulfilled about him. In the earliest Gospel of Mark he seemed to hide or dismiss any talk like that about him being God or a Messiah, but the grand claims increase as time goes by, which is really highlighted in the Gospel of John which even some conservatives don’t think is a literal historical biography. In Matthew I know lots of people who believe in a literal resurrection, but very few who believe the graves of many dead saints also opened up and walked around town (think of how many more empty tombs we’d be able to visit?). I think these verses were injected by the evangelists in order to illustrate prophecy fulfilled in order to share their case that Jesus was the messiah. Anywhere they could they took historical events, or made them up in some cases, to connect them to prophecy. I realize it requires an open paradigm to see that, and it requires an ancient mindset to understand why they would write like this, but I have become much more accepting of this view through my own personal study of the Bible. The writers were not always (or even often) writing historical biographies dedicated to literal accuracy, they were doing the equivalent of writing movies “based on true events” in order to transfer a moral. Who knows though, I could be wrong about all that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Thanks Eric. Let me say that I don’t believe that, during Jesus’ resurrection, saints rose up and walked around; but the embellishment was attached to what I take to be the genuine event of Jesus’ resurrection.

          I think something similar probably occurred here: the prophecy of Isaiah was (for whatever reason) attached to a possibly genuine saying of Jesus. One difficulty with this, of course, is that it is a singular attestation. Neither Mark, Matthew, nor John mention such a conversation.

          I have a bit more respect than some for the core oral traditions that became the gospels. Some people talk as thought the stories of Jesus were passed from mouth to mouth to mouth for decades before they were written down. Instead, I see in the gospels the results of the decades-long preaching of some of Jesus’ earliest followers. ‘Mark’ might well be written from the preaching of Peter as some ancients suspected, and ‘John’ from the preaching of John in his community (with his particular interpretations and presentation). The unique material in Matthew, along with certain embellishments, likely came from the Matthean community.

          Each of these early followers would have reported Jesus words and actions from the way they were impacted by them personally. And together they give a very adequate portrait of the general character of Jesus and his teachings.

          Now as to this passage on buying swords for travel, it doesn’t matter for the sake of the argument in this article whether the passage is genuine at all. The point of the article is that some believers use this passage to claim that Jesus had a violent side, and I have tried to counter that argument taking the text as it is. To dismiss the text as genuine would not at all be an acceptable answer to those people.

          The entire reference to Isaiah is impertinent to the argument, in my opinion.

          I really enjoy discussing these sorts of things with you, and I am glad you are engaging and questioning the assumptions and conclusion of the article.


          • I don’t say this stuff in these comments to convince you of anything Tim, because we have hashed through this before, but I say it to offer your readers another way to see the story for those who are open to an alternate explanation.

            I definitely find it interesting though that you are able to delineate the fabrications from the actual events within a particular story.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Yes, Eric. I realize you are not trying to convince me, just as I am not trying to convince you. And I am glad you are presenting an alternative perspective for the readers. This is healthy.

            I don’t claim to have delineated the elements of the story (I am not Bultmann). It is just my best guess based on the reading.

            You are always welcome to offer other perspectives here. In fact, I enjoy it.


          • Steve says:

            Earl Ellis’ old book has a nice take on the use of OT by early Jewish Christians…

            See his Conclusion – p. 121

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Hi Steve, thanks for the link; it sounds like a good book. However, I could not bring up the conclusion on page 121 as the preview only goes through page 78. I also checked Amazon but they have no information on the content of the book.

            Can you share the main thing you got from the book? Thanks!


          • Steve says:

            FWIW, I’ll just quote it here:

            “Biblical interpretation in the New Testament church shows in a remarkable way the Jewishness of earliest Christianity. It followed exegetical methods common to Judaism and drew its perspective and presuppositions from Jewish backgrounds. However, in one fundamental respect the early Christian hermeneutic differed from that of other religious parties and theologies in Judaism, that is, in the christological exposition of the Scripture totally focused upon Jesus as the Messiah. This different focus decisively influences both the perspective from which they expound the Old Testament and the way in which their presuppositions are brought to bear upon the specific biblical texts. Their perspective and presuppositions provide, in turn, the theological framework for the development of their exegetical themes and for the whole of New Testament theology.

            First-century Judaism was a highly diverse phenomenon, as becomes apparent from a comparison of the writings of Philo, Josephus, Qumran, the (traditions of the) rabbis and the early Christians. The New Testament, which as far as I can see was written altogether by Jews, is a part of that diversity but also a part of that Judaism. Its writers were Jews, but Jews who differed from the majority of the nation and who in time found the greater number of their company of faith not among their own people but among the Gentiles.”

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Thanks for the quote, Steve. I think it is a very insightful passage, and I think it is useful for believers to be aware of these things. So many people read the NT without understanding or considering the context of its background. And this leads to a number of errors in interpretation such as literalism and a disregard for how the NT writers used the OT.


  5. LorenHaas says:

    John Yoder, amongst others present the idea the Jesus said this to fulfill a perceived prophecy in Isaiah 53. Whether Jesus actually said this or was added by others to justify Jesus, this explanation seems most consistent with the regular message of non-violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Loren, thanks for sharing this link. I very much agree with what it said about the two swords, but I think resistance to the idea that Jesus told his disciples to carry swords is overdone.

      I am also a pacifist, but I notice that some pacifists seem to think of swords only in terms of violence against other people and feel that they MUST find a way to explain why Jesus didn’t really tell them to carry swords when they traveled. The sword is parallel to the money and the bag; why explain away the one and not the others.

      It seems likely to me that Luke inserts the reference to Isaiah. It is a shame that neither Mark nor John mention this episode so that we can get better perspective on the instruction.


      • Tim, to what I said on my original comment thread, and in addition to your response here to Loren. Neither Mark, Matthew, or John mention this event because it very likely didn’t happen historically. After-all, what could Luke have found out in his research about the last supper 50 years later that the earliest writers didn’t already know or hear? Would not Jesus making a direct reference to himself fulfilling prophecy have registered to the earliest writers?

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Good questions, Eric.

          As I responded to Loren, it seems to me that Luke inserted this Isaiah reference into what was otherwise an intact scenario. It is true that the ‘new instruction scenario was not mentioned by other gospel writers, but none of the writers would have mentioned everything they knew or had heard about Jesus. Luke probably used Mark, who does not mention this incident. Luke also probably used a collection of Jesus’ sayings the Matthew also used; but Matthew did not mention this one.

          Luke also uses additional tradition that he does not identify, which would not necessarily have preserved the same elements of Jesus’ life. And I am perhaps as open as you in seeing the Isaiah prophetic reference as been a later addition by a follower rather than a statement by Jesus.


  6. Call me Dave says:

    I always assumed that the sword was metaphorical. When Jesus said “I come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), he was NOT talking about murdering families. He was talking about the division which would come about in families between those who would embrace The Way and those who would cling to the old ways.

    The apostles would be sowing division in the same way, effectively cutting certain people out of society with their message. The sword was in fact the Word of Jesus, a symbol we see in The Revelation (19:15). Its worth noting that the sword from Jesus’ mouth is the only weapon which the Followers of Light are said to wield in the last battle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Dave, you raise some good points! I agree with you that when Jesus said “I come not to bring peace, but a sword”, he was speaking metaphorically about the divisive impact of his message. Following Jesus and the kingdom of God often results in conflict in families that see it as a rejection of old beliefs and traditions.

      And the book of Revelation does include a tremendous amount of symbolism, including the sword from the mouth of Jesus.

      But I don’t think the word ‘sword’ used in one place necessarily informs us of its use in another. While we might draw an invented lesson about the Jesus telling the disciples that they will also create division with their preaching of the good news, this doesn’t seem to me to be the intent of his instruction. In my opinion, the point is simply that, when they travel, they should go prepared with money, a bag, and a sword–all normal equipment for travelers. A less straightforward explanation does not seem to be called for in this case.

      You mention that you had always assumed the sword was metaphorical. May I ask why you assumed that? Was it from Sunday school, a sermon, or something? Thanks for your thoughts, and I am happy to hear more elaboration of it if you wish. My mind is always open!


  7. William Burnette says:

    Hi Tim, we are told to turn the other cheek if someone strikes us- but what about protecting others? Are we to stand by while a murderer or rapist attacks an innocent? Should we do nothing to prevent such evil? I’ve always thought of the protection of my family to be part of my duty as a father, son, and husband…

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Excellent question, William! As one who believes that violence is opposed to Jesus’ teaching and example, I am frequently asked questions similar to this. I cannot speak for others, but in an extreme situation where a hostile person is about to murder or rape someone I would intervene to whatever extent I could.

      However, to possibly kill someone is absolutely a last resort measure for me. A few years ago I interrupted a burglary at my home; I blocked the burglar while my wife called 911. Afterward, two different neighbors told me that were they aware of the situation they would have shot him for me. What! Shoot someone for taking a TV? I think most people are too quick to use violence.

      I am not sure if I answered your question satisfactorily. What is your opinion on the question?

      Liked by 1 person

      • William Burnette says:

        Thanks for your reply Tim. I appreciate your thoughts, and I agree that shooting someone for taking a TV would be too harsh a response. I’ve always said that someone could take my stuff- it’s just “stuff” and can be replaced. However, my wife and children are much more than stuff, and while I hope and pray it never comes to it, I would do whatever was within my power to protect them from someone seeking to do them harm. I abhor violence and agree that it is opposed to Jesus teaching. As a teen, on two different occasions I turned the other cheek when, during a disagreement, the other party resorted to a violent slap. But, I do feel I would be justified in protecting the lives of others- whether friend or family or innocent bystander. If I am mistaken, and this is against the teachings of Jesus, I will have to answer for it, which I will be prepared to do.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. cmgatlin53 says:

    I think throughout this series you’ve made a mistake in labeling violence as an inherent evil. I’m reminded of something Chesterton once said: “You may come to believe murder wrong, because it is violent, and not because it is unjust.”
    Sometimes violence is exercised on behalf of Justice, and the cleansing of the Temple (whether one occasion or two) might be such an occasion. I’ve seen it argued that the teaching about turning the other cheek is about not resorting prematurely to violence in escalating interactions. For me, none of this is a settled point in my own understanding–or perhaps settling the question would be premature.
    However, even accepting the premises and conclusions of this series, there’s another possible reason for Jesus’ instruction to buy swords on that one, particular occasion: the teaching effect on the aggressors of the non-violence of Jesus and the disciples is lost if the aggressors don’t realize Jesus and company could have resisted if they wanted to. The presence of two unused swords is sufficient to make that point. One of the gospels mentions something that looks like Jesus causing the arresting party to fall down without touching them–I’ve seen that interpreted similarly to this take on the swords: you couldn’t arrest me if I didn’t consent and refrain from resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chuck, I really like your thought that Jesus used the swords in Gethsemane to demonstrate that he was only being captured because he allowed it. That, in itself, is quite a lesson. And I can see how that could also extend to his reasons, among others, for have his disciples carrying swords during travel.

      Your Chesterton quote brings up an aspect regarding violence that I don’t think I have made in this series: believers live in two kingdoms. We live in a political kingdom–a nation; in our case the United States. And the nation has the responsibility to keep the peace and oppose behaviors that disrupt civilized society.

      When we identify with the kingdom of God we become part of an alternate kingdom–one with different objectives and which operates under different principle. Our first allegiance, however, is to the kingdom of God if there is a conflict of interests. So while I recognize the right of the government to use force to control crime, for instance, I cannot be part of that force. While the government might have to go to war, as part of the kingdom of God I cannot participate in that war. I live in two kingdoms, and one takes precedence over the other even if I am killed for it as so many early believers were.

      However, I think you were speaking of violence by believers for the sake of justice. I am not sure to what extent I agree with that. As I said in a comment yesterday, in an extreme case where someone was imminently threatened with murder or rape, I would do whatever I could to intervene. But otherwise I cannot think of a justice-oriented use of violence that would be acceptable for me. Can you suggest some possible examples?

      Another thing I think is not always clear in discussions of violence is what violence is. You are right that the cleansing of the temple could be classified as violence of a sort–a significant disruption and a violation of property. But I do not think Jesus harmed anyone in the process–not even the livestock. If Jesus had been truly violent, I would think that the temple guard would have responded to the situation.


      • newtonfinn says:

        It would have been interesting if the Good Samaritan parable had involved coming upon the scene of the robbery when the robbers were still in the act. What do you suppose Jesus would have taught was the proper response required by neighbor-love? Verbally confronting the robbers and hoping they would flee? Certainly. Summoning help from others or the authorities to stop the robbery? Probably would have taken too long. Physically attempting to protect the victim and drive off the robbers? Would seem to be appropriate behavior, but then what about Jesus’ insistence that we eschew violence?

        As I’ve said before on this blog, I tend to draw a distinction between what is appropriate in defending oneself and in defending others. Is there any indication anywhere in the teachings of Jesus that it is wrong to use physical force, in the last resort, in the latter situation? Jesus’ command that Peter put down his sword, when they came to make the arrest, would seem to be special case where the victim (Jesus) himself refused the proxy use of violence (by Peter) in self-defense.

        Did Jesus leave this question (about the proper limits involved in defending others) open for us to grapple with in general, and also on a case by case basis? And to push it further, are there things in life that are not necessarily right or wrong in God’s eyes, but just are–grey areas where we must act essentially on our own, without God’s clear direction and approval/disapproval? For example, is any war really endorsed by God, however compelling the humanitarian reasons for waging it? Or do we undertake such “righteous” violence without either His blessing OR His condemnation? Much fertile ground here to plow, at least for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Newton, you raise some excellent and important ethical questions, and I think they should be carefully considered. Is there a limit to nonviolence, depending on the situation? I suspect most believers never even ask this question, as they assume that we should use violence routinely for self-preservation and even the preservation of property–despite what Jesus might have taught.

          While I embrace nonviolence, I am not a classic pacifist of the historical Mennonite sort. I do not approach nonviolence as a packaged tradition handed down from generations of classic pacifistic purists. I think it is its own legalism to embrace nonviolent principles handed to us in this way without our doing our own searching.

          When I was in college, I took martial arts in order to defend myself and others while doing as little damage as possible. A Mennonite professor challenged on how I could do such a thing as a pacifist; but I was a pacifist–not necessarily a passivist. I think we have to internalize what Jesus teaches us about the principles of the kingdom such as peace, acceptance, and reconciliation, and treating people with empathy, compassion, and care.

          If we internalize these principles, I think we are better prepared to make decisions in such cases as imminent murder or rape. In my opinion, Jesus doesn’t give us the ‘rules’ to go by–but the heart in which to make our response to the situations.

          On the other hand, it seems to me that Jesus does ask us to be nonresistant to those who threaten us for our essential religious beliefs and practices. After all, though we are part of the kingdom, we all live at the same time in someone else’s world–a world of power and force to which we cannot act in kind while at the same time maintaining the kingdom objectives and ethic.

          I guess this is a bit longwinded. So to address some of your other observations, I really like your use of the good Samaritan as a case study; and I don’t think God takes sides in war.

          Your further thoughts? I am very interested.

          Liked by 1 person

          • newtonfinn says:

            Being engrossed these days with Albert Schweitzer’s thought, let me offer his take on violence in its largest, most general manifestation–that of predation itself as an integral part of the natural world, including, of course, us. Schweitzer had to grapple seriously with this issue in developing his elemental ethic of “reverence for life, ” which he believed to be a universal extension of the teaching of Jesus.

            A concrete example frames the issue better than abstract reasoning. Schweitzer was given an injured pelican by some of his African neighbors. It could be healed and enabled to fly again, but only at the cost of catching fish and feeding it. Schweitzer thus faced what he called the problem of “necessity,” which, in this case, meant that he was forced to make the decision whether or not to sacrifice the lives of fishes for the life of a pelican.

            Long story short, he chose (with great pain and difficulty) to catch fish for the pelican, which healed and thrived and later became an abiding sentinel at Schweitzer’s jungle hospital, bringing many smiles for many years to medical staff and patients alike. But his decision to kill fish to feed the pelican left Schweitzer with a feeling of arbitrariness and guilt that he refused to rationalize, justify, or explain away.

            Many will not be willing to embrace “reverence for life” in this broadest and deepest sense, which would inevitably make all of us “killers” of life forms–each with inherently sacred value–simply by breathing microorganisms, eating plants or animals, or inadvertently stepping on insects as we walk. But for Schweitzer, guilt was bound up with joy in the very edifice of our existence as conscious and self-conscious beings.

            Thus Schweitzer noted, as more than hyperbole, that an entirely clean conscience is the work of the devil.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, you bring up a new twist: violence toward animals. I have considered this a lot over the years. I was a vegetarian for a few years until my young son became ill because I did not know how to provide a balanced diet for him.

            I think predation is part of our evolutionary heritage, but I also think that how we treat animals says something about our general orientation toward empathy and kindness. I don’t fish or hunt, though I don’t judge people who do; I do wonder though about those who hunt big game for trophies–I just can’t fathom that.

            We don’t bother the snakes on our property, but we would capture or kill any poisonous snake that might take up residence. I harbor spiders in the house, though I do not tolerate roaches or silverfish (silverfish destroy books). A question I think would go to the heart of the situation about animals is: If you are walking down a sidewalk and there are ants on it, do you change your step to avoid stepping on them, or do you change you steps to step on as many as possible, or do you maintain your pace and ignore them.

            These are important issues for us to work out individually regarding reverence for life, but I really like Schweitzer’s statement that an entirely clean conscience is the work of the devil.

            These are my personal thoughts only, and I do not apply them to anyone else. I am not sure they make sense to you or not.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Steve says:

    Do words attributed to Jesus in one gospel which are absent in the other gospels necessarily indicate towards literary embellishment? Should the text of Luke be constantly balanced on a razors edge between embellishing and telling lies?

    The author of Luke says flat out, right at the start, that he had watched what was going on for a long time, had written a lot of stuff down, had gotten information from some of the first evangelists and had checked things out with eyewitnesses.

    So it would seem the writer was saying that although he wasn’t an eyewitness, he was sourcing already vetted eyewitness accounts – oral and written (including Mark, Q Matthew?) and vetted this information again as he compiled it into his account

    I think Richard Bauckham makes a valid point in his book when he draws a parallel between our eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust and the ancient testimonies of those who experienced the events surrounding Jesus. Here we are, 70-or-so years down the road, and the overall testimonies of survivors and witnesses to that 5-year event are given great credulity by scholars, even after close vetting.

    Anyways, I agree with Tim; as to this passage on buying swords for travel, it doesn’t matter for the sake of the argument in this article whether the passage is genuine at all. What may be telling though, is when Jesus’ says “Enough”. The Greek has it as “it is enough”, not “those are enough” or “they are enough”. Discerning intent here may be they key.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “Do words attributed to Jesus in one gospel which are absent in the other gospels necessarily indicate towards literary embellishment? Should the text of Luke be constantly balanced on a razors edge between embellishing and telling lies?”

      Steve, I don’t think so. I agree that Luke probably used both Mark and Q as sources, which actually produces a certain amount of harmony with Mark and with Matthew (who likely also used Mark and Q). I assume that Luke also had other good sources as well.

      I have a higher regard for the gospel material than some do; I don’t think the mouth-to-mouth-to mouth theory (the telephone game) is as much of a factor as many people think. Though the oral tradition was written down decades after the events, rather than being passed down by word of mouth I think the oral tradition was relatively stable as the earliest followers of Jesus preached about Jesus throughout those decades as eye witnesses.

      Therefore, to a great extent, the gospels were written from eye-witness testimony. Now I think it true that the presentations of the story of Jesus do reflect later situations of the churches of the eyewitnesses in the preaching as Jesus’ words and actions were applied to those situations.

      However, in the case of Luke and Matthew, who each used a least three sources, there is a problem of coordination of those source materials. While I cannot be certain in the case of the swords, since there is no second witness to the incident, it seems to me that the passage combines two elements: the discussion on swords and the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Apparently Luke felt they were connected somehow, though the prophecy interrupts the discussion on swords; but I think they are likely combined from two sources.

      The thing that impresses me is that all these sources present a quite consistent and compelling portrait of Jesus’ character, like the witnesses of the holocaust present a generally consistent and compelling picture of what happened there.

      Good question, by the way.


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  15. michaeleeast says:

    I agree with your analysis of the stories.
    Jesus practiced non-violence.
    He returned good for evil.
    Even in death.
    This is his great virtue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I am glad you brought up returning good for evil. This is not natural for us, but I believe it is central to Jesus’ teachings.


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