Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries is a teaching and resource ministry that specializes in defending Christianity against atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the cults, world religions, and any group teaching false doctrine.
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?
look at the passage in context:
Tough times area coming, Jesus says, but the disciples will not be up to it.
Again, the past was easier going than
it will be in the future.
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:
Here's Calvin again:
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.
Temptation to do what? Temptation to use the ways of the world and kill their persecutors?
on the job. Pathetic disciples.
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?
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.|
PATH OF NONRESISTANCE.
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.
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:
We have an affirmative duty to protect
our own life.
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:
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)?
|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
|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.|
BIBLICAL CASE FOR SELF-DEFENSE.
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
(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."||
For Further Reading