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Vine & Fig Tree is a non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 4:
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation
And never again will they train for war.
And each of them will sit under his
Vine and under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid

Did Jesus advocate the use of a sword for self-defense purposes (Luke 22:36-38)?

Jesus is well known for His continued emphasis on love, forgiveness, and "turning the other cheek." It is therefore surprising to find Jesus advising the disciples to buy a sword in Luke 22:36: "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." Did Jesus in this verse advocate the use of a sword for self-defense purposes?

Let's look at the passage in context:

31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.”
34 Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

Tough times area coming, Jesus says, but the disciples will not be up to it.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”
So they said, “Nothing.”
36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”

Again, the past was easier going than it will be in the future.
The overwhelming majority of commentators on this passage agree that Jesus was using hyperbole to make the point that persecution was imminent. He was not literally commanding them to buy swords.

There is no evidence that any of Christ's followers used swords against the hostile forces that were arrayed against them. The testimony of Scripture is that they followed in Christ's steps and became "martyrs."

On another page I have excoriated John Calvin for his use of the sword against fellow Christians. Calvin was no pacifist; he was as much a murderer as Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul). But Calvin agrees that this passage in Luke does not support the use of the sword:

In metaphorical language He threatens that they will soon meet with great troubles and fierce attacks; just as when a general, intending to lead the soldiers into the field of battle, calls them to arms, and orders them to lay aside every other care, and think of nothing else than fighting, not even to take any thought about procuring food. For He shows them -- as is usually done in cases of extreme danger -- that every thing must be sold, even to the scrip and the purse, in order to supply them with arms. And yet He does not call them to an outward conflict, but only, under the comparison of fighting, He warns them of the sever struggles of temptations which they must undergo, and of the fierce attacks which they must sustain in spiritual contests.

More discussion here.

38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”
And He said to them, “It is enough.”

Here's Calvin again:

It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron. When they say that they have two swords, it is uncertain whether they mean that they are well prepared against their enemies, or complain that they are ill provided with arms. It is evident, at least, that they were so stupid as not to think of a spiritual enemy.

The disciples never did (prior to His resurrection) understand or believe that persecution and execution were in Jesus' future, not a glorious military overthrow of the Roman occupation.

39 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. 40 When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Temptation to do what? Temptation to use the ways of the world and kill their persecutors?

41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.

Sleeping on the job. Pathetic disciples.
And again, a warning comes:

46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
47 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.

So if Jesus was literally commanding His disciples to get swords, why did He not want them using them at precisely the time when they might have used them -- to protect the Innocent One from false arrest? What would swords be used for, if not this? Is there any evidence in the rest of the New Testament of the disciples using swords? Isn't it rather the case that the followers of Jesus became martyrs rather than swordsmen?

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

 Although Jesus eluded his opponents when they sought to kill Him before His time, he never modeled violence against them.

This is an issue over which Christians have vehemently disagreed for many centuries. Following is a summary of the two basic views of how Christians have interpreted Jesus on this issue.  

Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter what the circumstances. And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance--the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong. This view is usually based on the exemplary life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

It is simply incorrect to say that "pacifism" teaches that "any form of self-defense is wrong." Nobody believes that. No pacifist ever said that it was wrong to
• Lock your door
• Run from an attacker
• Use camouflage
• Use a shield when being attacked by a sword.
• etc.

These are all methods of "self-defense," that is, defending your life against an attack.

Vine & Fig Tree defends "pacifism" (from the Latin word for "peace") but not necessarily "nonresistance." A lot depends on how you define terms. The Bible says "Thou shalt not kill." So V&FT opposes all intentional or negligent killing. That includes suicide. The exposition of the Ten Commandments in the Westminster Standards says "Thou shalt not kill" includes this:

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves.... Acts 16:28

We have an affirmative duty to protect our own life.
We also have a duty to protect the lives of others:

Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are ... all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of others 1 Kings 18:4


The duties required in the sixth commandment are ... all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of others ... by just defence of others against violence, Ps. 82:4; Prov. 24:11-12; 1 Sam. 14:45

But there is a high moral standard for Christians, and that includes not taking the life of an attacker. There are plenty of ways to defend your life or the life of another from an attacker without killing the attacker.

It turns out just about everyone is a "pacifist" when the word is defined this way.

Here's a simple question that will prove you are a pacifist.

Imagine you are "Star Trek" Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. You are walking down the street of a planet in the Deltoid Galaxy with one of your never-ending stream of beautiful women at your arm, when a large burly alien with the tattoo "I AM A RAPIST" across his forehead jumps out from a dark alley, grabs your female companion and says "I'm going to rape this woman!" You pull out your Phaser gun and . . . here's the question:

Do you set the Phaser to "stun" and quickly put the rapist to sleep and call the proper authorities, or do you set your Phaser to "maximum molecular disruption" and utterly obliterate the rapist, ending his life?

When given such a choice, only a sociopath would choose annihilation or lethal force rather than a simple stun. Everyone else is a "pacifist." It's that simple.

What happens if you're consistent with this innate, conscientious pacifism?

Answer: you will begin to change the world.

According to Christian pacifist John Yoder, Jesus rejected the existing political state of affairs and taught a form of radical nonviolence. Central to Christ's teaching, Yoder says, is His biblical mandate to "turn the other cheek" when encountering violence (Matthew 5:38-48). I don't know exactly what "the existing political state of affairs" means in Yoder's mind. But a less-than-thoughtful understanding of pacifism tends to allow one to justify or cheer one's "nation" or "government" in acts of mass murder called "war."
In Yoder's view, the way to victorious living is to refrain from the game of sociopolitical control. Jesus exposed the futility of the violence engrafted in the present world system by resisting its inclinations even to the point of death. Hence, Christians are to refuse the world's violent methods and follow their Savior to the cross (Matthew 26:47-52). When Jesus told the disciples to buy a sword (Luke 22:36), pacifists suggest He was only speaking figuratively. Since I was born, the U.S. Federal Government has killed, crippled, or made homeless TENS OF MILLIONS of innocent non-combatant civilians around the world. We accept mass murder because we've been taught that questioning the government's foreign policy is "pacifism" and that's no good. It's just not "realistic."
"TURN THE OTHER CHEEK" ALWAYS? It is true that Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-42. However, many scholars do not believe pacifism (or nonresistance) is the essential point of His teaching in this passage. These scholars do not believe Jesus was teaching to "turn the other cheek" in virtually all circumstances. Even Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (see John 18:22-23). Jesus said "sell your clothes and buy a sword." He said "poke your eye out." He said "turn the other cheek." None of these commands are to be taken with a wooden fundamentalist literalism, but they still convey an important truth. When a member of the Sanhedrin slapped Jesus, He did not attempt to "deter" a future attack by kicking his opponent in a sensitive area of the male body. Some would call that "self-defense." We are allowed to preach, evangelize, persuade, rebuke, or stimulate a conversation with our attacker. We are allowed to "witness" to our attacker. The word "witness" is a KJV translation of a Greek word from which we get the English word martyr.
The backdrop to this teaching is that the Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face, much in the same way that we would interpret someone spitting in our face. Bible scholar R. C. Sproul comments: "What's interesting in the expression is that Jesus specifically mentions the right side of the face [Matthew 5:39]....If I hit you on your right cheek, the most normal way would be if I did it with the back of my right hand....To the best of our knowledge of the Hebrew language, that expression is a Jewish idiom that describes an insult, similar to the way challenges to duels in the days of King Arthur were made by a backhand slap to the right cheek of your opponent." So why does Dr. Rhodes bring up Jesus and the Sanhedrin in John 18 (above)?

John 18:22 (KJV)
22 And when He had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?

The principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-42 would thus seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered (see also Romans 12:17-21). Such insults do not threaten a Christian's personal safety. But if you allow your "insulter" to strike you on the other (left) cheek, it will be with the palm, and doesn't that constitute a non-insulting attack which warrants self-defense? So what does Jesus accomplish by telling us to turn the other cheek? The whole argument about palms/back of hand and left/right cheek is the kind of "wooden fundamentalist literalism" mentioned above. The point is not to retaliate, as seen in the previous verse: "eye for an eye," which represented "the conventional wisdom."
The question of rendering insult for insult, however, is a far cry from defending oneself against a mugger or a rapist. This, too, is "the conventional wisdom." Jesus calls us to a higher standard. It is better to be killed than to kill.
In terms of following Christ's example, one must remember that His personal nonresistance at the cross was intertwined with His unique calling. He did not evade His arrest because it was God's will for Him to fulfill His prophetic role as the redemptive Lamb of God (Matthew 26:52-56). During His ministry, however, He refused to be arrested because God's timing for His death had not yet come (John 8:59). Jesus was not "unique." 1 Peter 2:21-25 says we are to follow in Christ's steps at precisely this point, even though we are not a "redemptive lamb of God":

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth:
23 Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously:
24 Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by Whose stripes ye were healed.
25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Thus, Christ's unique nonresistance during the Passion does not mandate against self-protection. Again, nobody denies the right to "self-protection." But if you fail to protect yourself against an attack, you have no right to retaliate (take vengeance) or kill your attacker.
It is noteworthy that the Bible records many accounts of fighting and warfare. The providence of God in war is exemplified by His name YHWH Sabaoth ("The LORD of hosts"--Exodus 12:41). God is portrayed as the omnipotent Warrior-Leader of the Israelites. God, the LORD of hosts, raised up warriors among the Israelites called the shophetim (savior-deliverers). Samson, Deborah, Gideon, and others were anointed by the Spirit of God to conduct war. The New Testament commends Old Testament warriors for their military acts of faith (Hebrews 11:30-40).
The whole argument from "Holy War" in the Old Covenant is illegitimate. See here for more on "warfare" in the Old Testament.
Moreover, it is significant that although given the opportunity to do so, none of the New Testament saints--nor even Jesus--are ever seen informing a military convert that he needed to resign from his line of work (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 3:14). In Luke 3:14, John the Baptist tells the soldiers to "do no violence." What does a Roman soldier do if not "violence?" A main role of the soldiers was extortion, that is, backing up the "tax farmers." If they "resigned," they probably would have been tracked down and killed. Military service in the ancient Roman Empire was much like slavery. You don't just take a vacation.

Besides, in Matthew 8:5-13, this is an argument from silence, a classic logical fallacy. After praising the centurion's faith -- which was as much a message to the religious leaders of Israel as to the centurion himself (he was a despised pagan Roman, after all) -- Jesus might have instructed him on how to leave the unlawful Roman occupation of Israel. Who knows?

If your son said to you, "Hey pops, I've decided to join ISIS and participate in their upcoming invasion and military occupation of Israel," would you say, "That's nice, son." Or would you encourage your son to get into another line of work? Rome was the ISIS of its day. According to Daniel 2, Jesus the Rock crushed Rome into powder, perhaps in part because Rome invaded countries like Israel and sent soldiers to occupy them by force. Even if he couldn't voluntarily leave if he became a Christian while bound to serve Caesar, no follower of Christ could voluntarily enlist in the pagan Roman Army.

Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus revealed to His disciples the future hostility they would face and encouraged them to sell their outer garments in order to buy a sword (Luke 22:36-38; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26-27). Here the "sword" (Greek: maxairan) is a dagger or short sword that belonged to the Jewish traveler's equipment as protection against robbers and wild animals. A plain reading of the passage indicates that Jesus approved of self-defense. A "plain reading of the passage" indicates that Jesus was using hyperbole to emphasize the "future hostility." At no point, when Christians encountered this hostility, did they respond with violence. They became martyrs.

(Self-defense against wild animals is not an issue.)

Self-defense may actually result in one of the greatest examples of human love. Christ Himself said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:14). When protecting one's family or neighbor, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others. No pacifist has any problem with risking your life to save another. But you have no right to risk the life of the attacker. "Self-defense" turns out to be taking someone else's life to eliminate risk to self. How is that like Christ?
Theologians J. P. Moreland and Norman Geisler say that "to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally." 

The Complete Book of Bible Answers, by Ron Rhodes, answers over 350 common questions. It is available for purchase at a discount price. Click here to order it:

Complete Book of Bible Answers: Answers to the Tough Questions

Nobody denies this. But it has to be done without intentionally killing the attacker. "Thou shalt not kill" is the operative rule. It is only in a time of diminished Christian maturity that no imagination, creativity, thoughtful planning, or shrewd strategizing takes place beyond "I'd blow his brains out!" Yoder's book What Would You Do? gives numerous real-life examples of Christians who responded to life-threatening attacks with life-affirming responses.             

For Further Reading