luke 22:36 & self-defence: did jesus teach us to buy swords?

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 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. 37 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.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Recently I conversed with a friend who, speaking about violence, defended their acceptance of violent self-defence by referencing Luke 22:36. Here Jesus seems to tell his disciples to buy swords for the purpose of protection.

The problem with this kind of interpretation is that it perpetuates an all-too-common method of Bible reading whereby verses are unapologetically ripped from their narrative context. The understanding of Luke 22:36 as a text that advocates any form of violence is a good example. Let’s look at the text…

In Luke’s story 22:35-38 appears immediately after;

1) We are told that the priests are planning to murder Jesus
2) Judas agrees to betray Jesus
3) Jesus has predicted his death, and has stated it must occur
4) Jesus predicts the failure of the disciples, especially Peter

In 22:35 Jesus reaches back even further in the story asking his disciples if they lacked anything when he had sent them out on their mission. He is referring back to the episodes in 9:2-3 and 10:3-4 where he had previously sent out the Twelve and then the seventy-two, telling them not to take anything; no money, food, spare clothes or bag.

Immediately after Luke 22:35-38 we find that Jesus goes to Gethsemane and is arrested. In 22:35-38 Jesus is preparing his disciples for this coming event, a fact made clear in 22:37 when he quotes Isaiah 53:12, which refers to the Suffering Servant figure. Jesus tells his disciples to take things he banned in the previous missions – a moneybag and knapsack – and a new item, namely a sword. It sounds like Jesus is preparing his disciples to act violently at his arrest!

Did Jesus completely contradict himself in Luke 22? Did he simply come to his senses and realise violence was necessary for self-defence? If this is the case he seems to have changed his mind again in 22:49-51 when he scolds one of his disciples who takes a sword to the ear of one of the arresters. Is the only way to read this passage to see Jesus as wildly inconsistent?

Let’s draw some of the threads together.

Jesus declares in 22:31-34 that despite his prayers Satan will “have” Peter, since his faith will fail and he will deny his master. Jesus’ comments about buying a sword must be read as following such a declaration. Jesus has recognised the coming failure of Peter and the other disciples.

Is it not probable that Jesus puts forth a new and ironic instruction to the disciples precisely because he knows they will fail? Perhaps he is subtly pointing out the willingness of his disciples to abandon his previous teachings regarding nonviolence in favour of buying swords for self-defence.

Jesus’ subtle irony is not unfruitful, since his disciples will not have to buy a sword – they already have two! Jesus’ new “instruction” has exposed what they have already planned to do. Upon having these weapons of violence presented to him Jesus responds with, “It is enough,” perhaps an expression of frustration (Enough of this conversation!), perhaps an indication that the swords will be sufficient to fulfil the prophecy from Isaiah 53:12.[1]

The implication of the quotation from Isaiah is that Jesus has told his disciples to obtain swords knowing they will inevitably use them, thus becoming “transgressors”, thus fulfilling the Isaianic prophecy in 22:27.

This brief episode is not at all about condoning violent self-defence – it is about the fulfilment of prophecy and the failure of the disciples to understand that Jesus must die!

That Jesus later reprimands his disciples for the use of one of the swords seems to confirm this interpretation. I may be very wrong here, but at this point I find this reading much more consistent with the Lukan narrative, and with Jesus’ nonviolent ethic across the Gospels.

It seems, at least from Luke 22:36, that Jesus did not teach us to purchase weapons for self-defence; in fact he was critical of doing so!


[1] Robert C. Tannehill, Luke, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 323.

Posted on July 20, 2011, in Conflict and Nonviolence, New Testament and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. ive been looking for a clear understanding for this verse and i think i know what it means now thankyou

  2. I’m sorry, I disagree.

    Throughout His ministry, the disciples had the protection of God in the flesh. And, as such, He knew that some of the disciples carried swords throughout their travels with (and without) Him.

    When He taught to “turn the other cheek”… it was the right cheek and offer the left, this indicates a backhand slap, considered a grave insult at the time.

    Jesus himself prepared a scourge ( a whip similar to one that was later used on Him) from ropes. And he used that scourge on the moneychangers in the temple yard.

    It is my belief that Christ was preparing his disciples for a world in which they would not have His direct (physical) protection. He knew that they were coming to arrest him… He knew that his followers had swords with them… He knew there was no time for them to go and sell their cloaks to purchase swords, as His arrest was imminent. But He also knew there was a time coming soon for them when they would be in the world, a cruel and violent world.

    • Hi Charlie,

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate you taking the time to offer a counterargument.

      I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote point-for-point, since your argument offers brand new points. Not that this is bad, it’s just that we now have different frameworks for answering the question coming up head-to-head but not really connecting.

      It may be helpful for me to respond to you point-for-point.

      In regards to ‘God in the flesh’ offering protection for the disciples, the Gospel stories never actually say this, this is merely an assumption you are making. I did imply that Jesus knew the disciples had swords and that his “‘new “instruction’ has exposed what they have already planned to do,” that is, he has exposed their violent intentions.

      I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say by referencing Matthew 5:39. I completely agree with you, to strike someone on the right cheek (implying a back-handed slap) was an insult. This was a way to punish an inferior, that is, it is a slap that a social superior gives to a social inferior (like a slave, a wife or a child in the first century) in order to correct them. The normal response to such a strike was submission. Jesus teaches something different. A strike to the left cheek (implying a punch with a close-fisted right hand) was a strike between equals, not designed to shame a person but to harm them. The whole point is that Jesus is telling people to creatively assert their equality with those who slap them, as if to say “Go on, hit me again, your first slap did not do what you intended it to do. You cannot demean me.” It is precisely a nonviolent form of resistance, putting oneself in harm’s way to defy an unjust system.

      Regarding Jesus creating a whip – this story appears not in Luke but in John. In any case I have written on it elsewhere ( and so I won’t go over it here. In short, my view is that Jesus uses the whip to drive out some of the animals, not the people (this is clear in the NIV translation, as well as others). If he used it to drive the people out of the temple, why are they still standing there at the end of the episode?

      In regards to your last point, you are making another assumption. Indeed, the text never says what you assert. Actually I would argue it says the opposite in a way. In the book of Acts (the sequel to Luke), we find that the disciples never use violence for self-defence, but rather are willing to be martyred (some are). One explanation is that they disobeyed Jesus’ supposed command to use swords. The other is that following Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit they finally “got” what Jesus was on about. With this understanding they realised that Jesus was never telling them to use violence, but in fact the very opposite! From then on they walked in the way of nonviolence taught by Jesus, even unto martyrdom (traditionally the church has upheld that most of the early apostles died as martyrs). Out of these two choices it is obvious which I prefer.

      Hope this is helpful. Peace,


      • Okay Matt… point by point… With the Bible as reference.

        You spoke of a friend who accepted violent self-defense by referencing Luke 22:36. I agree with your friend.

        You say that this type of interpretation is essentially taking Biblical passages out of context. I understand that, and also don’t like using one sentence or portion of the Bible to defend something that is not the intent of the document… (A broad example would be using the Bible to justify slavery.)

        Your next statement is confusing. Your friend (my opinion, I wasn’t there) wasn’t using Luke 22:36 to defend ANY type of violence… But to say (or defend the notion) that it is acceptable to use a weapon for self defense.

        Now to the context:
        I agree that in Luke, after all the parables (which for the most part, he explained to the disciples or at least the “few”); He foretells His detractors, says that one of His disciples will betray Him, presages His earthly demise, and predicts the weaknesses of the disciples.

        He also asks if when He sent them out before if they lacked anything, and they answered that they did not. He did make clear that He was going to be arrested and taken to be killed (through the reference to Isaiah).

        It is here where we part agreement…

        Jesus (in my estimation) is preparing his disciples for “life in the real world.” He expected them to go out and spread The Gospel throughout the nations. He is God in the flesh… He knows all things… He knows that some of them will martyr themselves FOR THEIR FAITH, but does not expect them to die needlessly at the hand of some highwaymen (In 2 Corinthians 11.26 Paul lists these highwaymen as one of the dangers on his apostolic mission paths.)

        Does Jesus prepare his disciples to act violently at his arrest? NO (my opinion).

        He KNOWS that Peter will take up the sword (at the arrest), and He KNOWS He will fix the result. And after Peter uses his sword, Jesus heals the man, and tells Peter to put his sword back in its scabbard. Further, Jesus makes the statement that those who draw the sword shall die by the sword. (there are many interpretations of the meaning of the “die by the sword” statement: it could be prophetic of the wars to come between the Jewish and Roman states, it could be the states that were taking up swords against Jesus himself (again, the Jewish and Roman states who “took up the sword” against our Lord)).

        Or, it could mean “Put that away, this is supposed to happen!” as confirmed by other scriptures. In the long view it can also mean that those who use the sword ILLEGALLY will die violent deaths. (Peter was using the sword illegally, against those in (earthly) authority to arrest Jesus).

        Is Jesus being ironic in his suggestion that they go buy swords? I don’t think so… Jesus KNOWS what is going to happen, He KNOWS when it’s going to happen. He KNOWS there is no time for them to sell cloaks and buy swords BEFORE he is arrested. He KNOWS they already have a couple of swords amongst them to fulfill the prophesy of his being “among transgressors,” and He KNOWS Peter will be the main “transgressor” by using a sword against the authorities.

        Does he reprimand them? NO, He simply tells Peter to put it away. He doesn’t tell him to never use it… He just says ‘put that thing in it’s sheath… I have to do the will of the Father.’

        As to Jesus’ non violence throughout the gospels… I used John 2:15 to illustrate that He was not necessarily so.

        NIV offers: “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” Even NIV says “he drove them ALL from the temple area.”

        Other translations say he drove them all AND the sheep and oxen or WITH the sheep and oxen. Whether Jesus actually used the whip ON anybody or the livestock is unclear and unsaid, He may have just used it as a “prop” to show He meant business (in a human sort of way; I mean, He could have used Divine Means to “clear the area”).

        In the end, my thoughts are this: Would I die for my Savior? Without a doubt. If someone wants my earthly life just because of my belief in Christ, so be it. I would give it gladly.


        Does my Savior want me to discard my life at the whim of some other (ahem) “transgressor?” I don’t think so. The life He gave me is a precious gift, I will protect it until HE deems that it is time for me to join Him… and that will be determined by Him whether or not I attempt to defend myself as I believe He expects.

        Thanks for the reply, Matt.


        • Hi Charlie,

          I apologise for the time i’ve taken to respond, it had been a busy couple of weeks as is evidenced by my lack of posts recently.

          At the very least we agree that one cannot take Bible passages as single units out of context, and that’s a great place to meet.

          In the case of the conversation I referred to in the original post above, yes the person used Luke 22:36 as a defence of violent self-defence (I’m not sure many would justify other types of violence morally, even if their behaviour were to suggest otherwise). But that is precisely what I’m addressing in the post – my conclusion reads “Jesus did not teach us to purchase weapons for self-defence; in fact he was critical of doing so!” I’m not sure where the confusion lies.

          You say we part agreement because you think Jesus was preparing his disciples for the “real world”. I still don’t see how this fits into the Lukan narrative, which never actually suggests this, either explicitly or even implicitly. My sense is that your assertion is built on a number of assumptions, some of which you have made clear, others that are implied.

          For one you seem to believe that nonviolent actions do not work in the “real world”, or at least that violence is necessary. As I have suggested in numerous posts elsewhere on this blog, nonviolence has been a very effective means of resistance. This does not mean no one loses their life, of course, but in saying that acting violently does not guarantee one’s survival either. On a collective note wars always lead to the deaths of combatants and innocents alike, often without discrimination (certainly in modern warfare that is true). On an individual note who is to say that by violently defending yourself against an attacker, a person typically prepared for such retaliation, that you will win? Indeed, why should a bandit on the road to Jericho attack you if they think they will be killed by the sword you may carry? They will attack you only if they are confident of overpowering you, and by bringing a sword in to the fight you are greatly increasing the likelihood of your death since they are prepared for this.

          My problem with simplistic statements about the necessity of violence in the “real world” is that they do not actually understand nonviolence. They caricature it as doing nothing, as flat pacifism, or something equally inaccurate. We cannot have a good discussion about nonviolence unless you understand what its adherents mean by it.

          You distinguish between martyr deaths and “needless” deaths. This distinction is not without merit, since this may be the case. But you will need to give at least one example from early Church and early post-apostolic history where Christians defended themselves with violence. As far as I know Christians did not take up violence for any reason in the earliest Church. As I said, this either means they disobeyed Jesus’ commands to take up swords, or else he means something different. Indeed, you refer to 2 Corinthians 11:26 to argue that Paul experienced robbers on his travels, yet there is no indication whatsoever that Paul used violence. On the contrary, Paul lists these occurrences amongst his sufferings, and while we cannot know for sure, this would more probably refer to suffering without retaliating violently.

          You also assume Christ’s knowing of all things. While this is a conviction that cannot be completely proved or disproved, I would disagree with it. Christ became human, and in becoming human my sense would be that he did not know everything, even if he was divine. (Again this statement cannot be proved or disproved beyond doubt). In Luke we are told in chapter 2 that Jesus grows in wisdom – why would that be necessary if he knew everything? Luke 7:9 suggests he did not know all things, as does Matthew 24:23-37 (an example not from Luke, I know… tsk tsk). While we cannot really know, there are enough question marks for me to highly doubt this contentious claim, and I would suggest that it is problematic for you to build your case on it. After all, the Gospels never make this claim.

          The claim that those who wield the sword will die by the sword (not from Luke, but Matthew) is interesting, since you take it to refer to the states involved in the Jewish war of 66-70CE. I have no doubt that you are in one sense correct, but I wonder where there is any indication that, as you seem to imply, the proverb ends there, that it has no further meaning. In my view the proverb only makes sense in relation to the Jewish war inasmuch as it also has universal application – those who wield violence will invite violent retaliation. There is no indication that Jesus means it only in relation to the Jewish war. On the contrary, those (anyone) who takes up the sword will die by the sword.

          I guess in the end I’m not sure how you get around this obvious meaning of the saying. It seems your way of dealing with this problem is to draw a distinction between legal and illegal uses of the sword. However Jesus makes no such distinction, and indeed such a distinction may be more anachronistic than anything else. Indeed, the passage does not suggest Peter is using the sword “illegally”. In fact, if anything, it is the authorities who are acting illegally since the setup and trial of Jesus is, as they say, under the table.

          In regards to John 2:15, I have already set out the problem of the Greek in the post linked earlier, though this is quite difficult to explain in simple language. I do wonder whether you know Greek and comprehend the problem in Greek, because it is not enough to appeal to “other translations” in English to make your point. When it comes to biblical theology, we cannot base our views on major issues, such as violence, by preferring one English translation over another if the Greek itself is unclear. In the case of this episode, things are made even more unclear by the fact that the other Gospels do not in any way suggest Jesus acted violently. If Jesus were violent the burden of proof is on the person to point to another episode in the Gospels to suggest this were true. You cannot base the assertion that Jesus acted violently on one verse in John, particularly when it is so unclear. Even so, your reading of the NIV is incorrect – it says he drove ALL from the temple; both sheep and oxen. The second part of the sentence qualifies the “all” in the first part.

          The reason I find your points unconvincing is that they are built on questionable assumptions. That Jesus knew everything, that he distinguished between illegal and legal violence, that he distinguished between martyr and “needless” deaths are all assumptions not expressed anywhere in the biblical text. Moreover that violence is necessary in the “real world” is an ideological commitment, not a theological one. This does not make it automatically wrong, but when Jesus states we need to love our enemies, apparently even those who try to murder us on the highway, we have to at least admit we are ignoring him in order to make such an ideological commitment to violent self-defence.

          Most of all I really appreciate your expressing your willingness to die for Christ. I do wonder, however, why you are also willing to be violent apart from him. Yes, life is a precious gift, but so is the life of even a murderer, our enemy. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, a call that shocks even Christians today, and is completely counter-cultural. My prayer is that we embody this counter-cultural Way, even if it means our death, so that even the most evil things in our world might be redeemed.


  3. Matt,

    Thank you for the response.

    I’ll start with this… And honestly, I’m being a bit argumentative… No I don’t read Greek, nor have I read the Gospels in Greek, nor the Old Testament in Hebrew. I must rely on translations. If you have read both in the original languages and understand them in those languages, more power to you… But you indicate that my appealing to other translations into English is not enough… Am I then to take YOUR translation into English as the final word? And, knowing that the original Greek, and the nuances and understanding of the language have changed dramatically over the intervening centuries, I can not be certain that your translation, or any other, is correct.

    I find it convenient that those who quote scripture, you and me included, want to “narrow” the discussion at hand to the scriptures quoted, rather than the broader text as a whole.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit as well. And so, I believe that when we are called to read scripture, that the Holy Spirit guides us through that reading… If we question the meaning of a particular passage, the Spirit may move us to look to other translations for clarification. It (the Spirit) may even move some of us to try to go back to the original language.

    I try to live under what has been called the Great Commandment (and the second, like it) as given in Matthew 22:36-40. I DO love God with all I have, and TRY to love my neighbor.

    That said, were I to stumble upon someone (let’s assume a fellow Christian, but it’s not necessary) being brutally beaten, assaulted, perhaps raped by a thug, I would not drop to my knees and start praying aloud, explaining in the prayer (to the victim and anyone else in earshot) that The Lord wants us to turn the other cheek and accept this violence without retaliation.

    I would instead, love my brother or sister enough to do all in my power to stop the violent act. Conversely, If I love my brother (or sister) enough to physically intervene on their behalf… Should I not love myself as much if I were in a similar situation?

    Matt, I am afraid that we will have to agree to disagree. Having both accepted Christ, we can discuss it further long after we are no longer here…

    • Hi Charlie,

      Apologies again for my delayed response.

      In regard to translation, you have made the point that I was making – the translations are not always clear. I never argued that you should take my translation for granted; I simply pointed out how unclear the passage from John 2 really is. I’m not sure what you mean by the Greek changing dramatically over the centuries. Nonetheless, part of my point was to say that indeed we cannot know for sure which English translation is correct, and for this reason we must be hesitant to claim, as you have, that Jesus acted violently based on this single questionable verse.

      The “narrowing” of Scripture is never an attempt to deny the validity of the “whole of Scripture”. it is simply a way to let each book speak for itself, and to allow it to have its own unique voice in the canon. That is to say, the author of Luke (for example) did not write his Gospel thinking that people would use John as a comparative text. I am simply calling for the appropriate care to be taken.

      In terms of intervening in the beating of another person – I agree, you should intervene. But it would be wrong to assume that intervention necessitated violence or harm to the perpetrator. Can it really be called love of enemy to do such harm? Surely a more Christ-like response is to put your own self in harm’s way if necessary.

      I am happy to finish the discussion, but I don’t think the sentiment of leaving it until we are “no longer here” is helpful since at that point there is no longer any real need for the discussion. This is an issue that has huge implications for how we live our lives, and to put it aside because it is difficult is to turn our face away from modern violence and all those it harms. Our world is in desperate need of people who will embody the nonviolence of Christ and call others into that life in the face of a world filled with warfare.

      In short, this issue is not just some meaningless squabble over a Bible text, a form of theological masturbation.



      • Matt,

        Jesus “drove” the money changers from the temple on two occasions… the first recorded in John 2:15… the second at Matt 21:12, Mark11:15,Luke 19:45

        “Drove” indicates, to some degree, force. In the first instance, upon beginning his ministry, Jesus made a scourge from small rushes or ropes or thongs… It may have been that he made it simply to demonstrate his seriousness, or it may have been used on the people and/or livestock. In the second instance, no mention of a tool or weapon is made.

        In the first case he overturned the tables dumped the coins, etc. Not a “nonviolent act.” I mean, he could have asked them to leave nicely, no?

        What you seem to suggest is that we put ourselves in harms way… unarmed.

        To wit:
        “In terms of intervening in the beating of another person – I agree, you should intervene. But it would be wrong to assume that intervention necessitated violence or harm to the perpetrator. Can it really be called love of enemy to do such harm? Surely a more Christ-like response is to put your own self in harm’s way if necessary.”

        So, let’s set aside the bible for a moment… and ask this question about “Christian non-violence” as you seem to portray it.

        I’m not a war monger or a hawk, by any stretch of the imagination… but let’s take a look at WWII…

        Should we have intervened in WWII by sending our men overseas unarmed to throw themselves in front of the tanks, machine guns, and other weapons of war, in the hopes that Hitler (and the German soldiery) would tire of killing..? Or should we have actively fought the evil? Should we “love our enemy” so much that we sacrifice ourselves on HIS (the enemy’s) altar? I cannot imagine that is what you suggest.

        To deal with it more personally: If you saw a woman being raped at knife or gunpoint, you are saying that you would put yourself between the woman and the rapist. The end result of that would likely be your death and the continued rape and possibly murder of the woman… And surely no good would have been served. And the evil would continue with the next victim(s).

        To tie that into what Jesus did in the temple in the first instance… he saw His temple being desecrated (raped) by the actions of the money changers… Christ did not merely stand in the way of individual transactions, he evicted ALL the moneychangers and merchants, overturned their tables, and FORCED them to stop their activity. And, he used a weapon or tool to accomplish the feat.

        The world is a violent place… It is no longer The Garden…

        All for now…


  4. Charlie,

    In short I completely disagree with your view on the cleansing of the temple. There were not two occurrences of this action – John simply places it in a different part of his narrative than the Synoptics. I would suggest reading the academic discourse on this issue.

    In regards to the rest of your response, my concern is that it demonstrates a lack of understanding about Christian nonviolence. Caricaturing, or perhaps strawmanning, nonviolence does not help anyone. Nonviolence does not mean acting weakly. To turn over a table is not in any way to contravene a nonviolent lifestyle, provided no person is harmed in the process. My suggestion is to do some reading on what nonviolence actually teaches before debating its adherents using rather misplaced points.

    The WWII scenario is old and tired, and usually unrealistic – people rarely ask the question in a way that accurately reflects the historical realities of what happened. Your suggested nonviolent response, as you point out, is quite ridiculous – why would you think adherents of nonviolence would have no alternative? Loving your enemies doesn’t mean allowing your enemy to destroy you, but according to the theology of the cross this is preferable to doing harm to them.

    The “what would you do if someone was going to rape/kill/harm your wife/mother/daughter/whatever etc. etc. etc.?” question is also well-trodden ground. There are lots of problems with this question, none of which I have the time to deal with right now. I have written about this in brief at different points (see my “conflict and nonviolence” category). More importantly, there are many fine works that deal with these and other related questions, not least the work of John Howard Yoder, who has a whole book on this one question.

    Ultimately my biggest issue is that Christian acceptance of violence dispenses with the cross. You have implied (strongly) that to place oneself in harm’s way unarmed is foolish. But friend, that is the way of the cross. There is a reason the message of the cross is foolishness, and that it makes no sense to the world. Nonviolence, as an aspect of taking up one’s cross, is certainly foolishness to those, including Christians, who are enamoured by the dominant imperial narrative of the world.

    If you are so opposed to being open to putting ourselves in harm’s way if necessary, what exactly does it mean to take up one’s cross?

    The world is no longer the garden, correct. But Jesus did not call us to a life of peace and nonviolence while we were still in the garden…


    • Matt,

      Tired, old, arguments hang around because they tend to be accurate… Disproved arguments fall away like so much chaff.

      You suggest I should know more about WWII and the historical realities of what happened. I’ve read most sides of that story and have come to my own determinations about it. But the fact remains, nonviolent acts wouldn’t have worked (Britain tried the ultimate laissez faire non-violent attitude with Hitler’s Germany, they were still attacked)… In fact, it could be said that the “nonviolent” Treaty of Versailles may have been an indirect cause of Germany going to war a second time…

      And, to a degree, we see a repeat of the same history with “non-violent” “Sanctions” against war prone countries.. like Iran. And “Warnings, Condemnations, and criticisms,,” to countries in the midst of civil war like Syria. But I am not interested in a war, pardon me, another war/police action/what have you in the middle east.

      As to whether John’s account of Jesus’ clearing the temple, there are some commentaries that warn not to confuse this incident with the other… But, I suppose only the commentaries you read are the correct ones…

      It may well be that the way of the cross is to place one’s self in harms way unarmed. I am not that perfected in Him, apparently. Yet, I remain a saint who struggles with sin; made righteous by the blood of Christ, and my acceptance of it.

      And, the gift of my life is too precious to allow evil to destroy it for a few bucks. Likewise, my loved one’s lives. So, we men must differ on this INTERPRETATION of what the scripture means, and let the holy spirit guide us to the truth.

      May God bless your endeavors.



      • Charlie,

        By tired old arguments I mean they have been answered thoroughly, but no one who asks the questions seems to be interested in the answers.

        What you describe in regard to WWII is not nonviolence. Britain’s laissez faire approach to the invasion of Czechoslovakia etc. is not nonviolence. The Treaty of Versailles was not nonviolence. You seem to believe that nonviolence is about doing nothing, or about enacting an exploitative treaty/weak sanction. (By the way, why is Iran war prone? Their foreign policy is purely defensive. The U.S. seems to be a far greater example of a war prone nation…)

        My sense is that perhaps you do not understand what nonviolence actually entails. There is a difference between nonviolence and pacifism, for example. Nonviolence is not inaction, but nonviolent action. Again you have caricatured nonviolence, and I would echo my suggestion that you look into it.

        I apologise if I gave the sense that there was no debate in the academic literature on John 2 etc. My point was meant to be the exact opposite – there is a debate! In reality the only reason for taking John’s temple cleansing account as a distinct story from the Synoptic accounts is a need to uphold some kind of inerrant chronology in the Gospels.

        I am happy to conclude the conversation (that’s the signal I got from you, perhaps I’m mistaken?). At the very least we agree that the way of the cross is nonviolent – the challenge for us is to follow Christ, and call others to do the same. My faith in the Resurrection leads me to place my hope in the way of Christ. I would hope that in a possible situation of needing to make the choice to place my own life on the line for another (whether a loved one or an enemy), that I would be able to be faithful, knowing that in Christ there is Resurrection life beyond even death.



        • Matt,

          You’re correct, I guess I’m done arguing the point.

          But, out of curiosity…. please tell me exactly what you would do to non-violently (but non-passively) stop an armed sexual assault in progress. If you won’t answer that old argument directly, please provide a link to something that does… and is proven to work… and stops the sexual assault.

          • Charlie,

            Glad to have chatted.

            In answer to your final question – I don’t know. I say this for a number of reasons, but not least because I don’t have enough information about the situation. Just as importantly, I am not at all confident that I will always act in ways consistent to my convictions (I am daily inconsistent!).

            I would contest your request for some nonviolent approach that is “proven” to work. You say this as if violence is proven to “work”.

            Anyway, I have written a very brief summary of some the ideas in Yoder’s book, What Would You Do? at This is only a short and simply introduction to the concepts. Yoder’s book is a short collection of essays on that one question (“what would you do if…?) and is worth a read as a further introduction.

            It is also worth reading essays and works by MLK, Gandhi, Gene Sharp, Yoder, Walter Wink.



  5. You are way off here, Jesus did indeed tell them to arm themselves, so they could protect themselves and others, His admonition was because He had to die to redeem mankind and they should have understood that after He, Jesus, had been with them so long and had talked about His death so often and that fact that He had to go through with it for salvation to be possible.

  6. isn’t defense how it should be spelled? misspelling the use of it, when it’s all through out the article really bugs me.

  7. This is a very helpful discussion, thank you all.

    My question: I grew up in a very racist Southern Amerikkkan area and pro civil rights/anti-racist Christians had to carry guns, it was literally a matter of life or death. That’s why I can’t assume that the historical situation the Jews faced with the Roman Empire was anywhere near the historical situation Black Christians (and a few anti-racist white ones) faced. Thousands of Black Christians died fighting for Civil Rights during the entire era, whereas during Jesus’ time hundreds died per day (As an example of crucifying rebellious foreigners, Josephus tells us that when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Roman general Titus, at one point, crucified five hundred or more Jews a day).

    I think the scripture teaches that the disciples sometimes carried swords and also were often ordered not to. Therefore it seems to be both absolute/strategic/moral and relative/tactical. The disciples proselytizing a new religion in direct contradiction to Roman Empire and their national bourgeois collaborators (Jewish officials)–and with swords–unthinkable they would not all be all killed immediately! I think this was obviously a tactic, I don’t see this necessarily being a moral/ethical command. That a few could save themselves through self-defense while unleashing the destruction of an entire people group–that was not viable in Jesus’s time.

    Of course Dr. King and other leaders relied on the Disciples of Defense and other discrete armed self-defense groups or the civil rights movement would not have seen the light of day, (read We Will Shoot Back and other accounts of Civil Rights movement). But Jesus’s disciples were in a very different time, much more outgunned by the Roman Empire, and historically towards the end of their semi-nation’s existence. That is, they were losing badly and soon to be scattered across the globe.

    (I’m not even bringing up the down-the-wormhole questions of why would God empower Moses to kill thousands of innocent Egyptian children while remaining silent to Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey, etc. Or were Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey lying, or worse… to Whose Spirit were they filled with?)

    I know God and Jesus through the same eyes that have seen cops point guns at my head (and fellow believers), charged at us with horses, and shoot and imprison many innocent believers. And so many remain STILL imprisoned over 40 years later. This isn’t just an academic argument, but with every Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal and MOVE member, Biblical questions that confronts us every day.

  8. i am a nigerian and i have witnessed first hand what violence can do to a Christian’s faith, i know the church is God’s responsibility to defend but i also believe that if we can defend our self’s and others against aggressors who have the intention to take our lives at the slittest oppotunity we should do so.
    please Matt tell me why people tend to fill Luke 22:36 is figurative when there are no evidences to that in the pericope

    • Hi Kenny,

      Thanks for your comment. It is of course important for us all to remember that these issues have real life consequences.

      However, I find your statement odd when you say,

      i know the church is God’s responsibility to defend but i also believe that if we can defend our self’s and others against aggressors who have the intention to take our lives…

      This is effectively acknowledging God’s role and then rejecting it, is it not?

      Just to clarify, I’m not at all arguing that Luke 22:36 is figurative. I’m arguing for a literal reading of the text that is contextual.

      I’m also taking seriously Jesus’ teaching about not violently resisting evil and loving our enemies. I do not think it’s a legitimate theological exercise to allow violent self-defense on the basis of debatable texts such as these while ignoring comparatively straightforward texts such as those in Matthew 5:38–48.

      Our task as Christians is not to be effective, but to be faithful to Christ. To violently defend ourselves would be to deny the way of the cross in order to seek safety at the expense of another person (even an attacker). But the way of the cross implies the willingness to give up our lives for another, even those that intend to kill us. That is the witness to God’s new world, where we make for peace by taking suffering upon ourselves. I appeal to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at this point:

      This community of strangers [the disciple-community] possesses no inherent right of its own to protect its members in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ. When reproached, they hold their peace; when treated with violence they endure it patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they yield their ground. They will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice, nor do they insist on their legal rights. They are determined to leave their rights to God alone—non cupidi vindictae, as the ancient Church paraphrased it. Their right is in the will of their Lord—that and no more.



  9. Meh, you are shoving your own biases into the verse. The plain meaning is far clearer and doesn’t require you assuming that jesus was being sarcastic or annoyed.

  10. Reading on some accounts of the customs of the Jews, they did carry arms to ward off wild animals and deter robbers when traveling dangerous roads such as roads leading to and from Jericho. Not surprising that the disciples of Jesus not only have one sword but two. In Luke 22:49 revealed that the disciples did carry swords and intended to use them to defend. So if Jesus was against carrying swords, He would have stopped His disciples from carrying ALL ALONG. When Jesus told his disciples that they lacked nothing when they were with Him, they would need such preparation when He had ascended to heaven. When the disciples were with Jesus, they had no need for any such protection. When the severe persecution came in the first 3 centuries, most Christians in Asia had to live underground. If you have visited such underground places, you would notice that there were holes in the tunnels to enable the armed defenders to use their lance to kill the intruders. Though our Lord clearly stated the kingdom of God will not be achieved through political means but through transformation of individual hearts, that does not nullify the fact that self defence was not necessary. Besides, corporate response is diametrically opposite of individual response. For example, we take arms to protect our communities and nation yet we do not murder. Or Scripture told us not to gloat over someone’s misfortune and yet corporately we are to rejoice when God judges the nations. Rev 18:20.

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