I mentioned earlier that I needed to respond more fully to Preston Sprinkle’s comment at Q Denver that the commentaries were “against me” in my understanding of Luke 22:35-38. After he made that comment, the commentaries I looked at were all over the road, but my part of the road was certainly included. Allow me to explain why I think my part of the road is the correct lane, heading in the right direction.
Preston was kind enough to continue our conservation here, and I would like to respond in kind.
First, what are we to say about the second portion of the passage from Exodus, the part that I did not cite? If a thief breaks in during the night and is killed, the homeowner is not to be charged, but if it happens during the day, the situation is different (Ex. 22:2-3). Surely the solution is obvious? Those who defend gun ownership are not trying to maximize the opportunities for lethal violence. During the day a property owner has opportunities for restraining the thief short of using lethal violence, and whenever that is possible, that is what should be done. He can see what is going on, and how much of a threat the thief actually presents. But in the middle of the night, everything is much more uncertain. (Night time is dark.) This is comparable to the law that distinguished between a rape in the country, where the victim could not cry out for help, and a rape in the city, where she presumably could. If she could call for help, she was responsible to do so. If a property owner could stop a thief without violence, he is responsible to do so. So Preston and I agree partially here — “Intentional killing, yes even of a thief, is a sin.” But killing a thief under other circumstances, when your own life or the lives of your family is endangered, is not a sin. And if that is the case, then Preston’s advocacy of a pure non-violence approach necessarily fails.
But the other half of Preston’s handling of the text is far more problematic. He points out that this section of Exodus contains the death penalty for sorcery, for Sabbath breaking, and contains instructions on slave management. I would ask a question here of Preston, and then go on to answer his question of me. Here is my question. Were these laws, in their place and in their time, inspired commandments from God, and were they holy, righteous, and good?
Now to answer his question to me.
“The continuity of Exodus 22:2 (and 22:3!) must be argued for, not assumed. If argued for, then I need to know: if I catch a thief, do I still sell him into slavery as Exod 22:3b commands me to?“
The answer is yes, of course. What do you think prison is? Now I would also want to go on to argue that the Mosaic form of slavery for theft was far more humane than what we do, because an Israelite enslaved for a property crime could work his way to freedom. We the enlightened, looking down our noses at the Mosaic code, currently keep over 2 million people locked up in glorified dog kennels. What would happen to that population if we treated property crimes as crimes against the victim (instead of against the state), and allowed such crimes to be satisfied by restitution, paid directly or by means of enforced labor? When the restitution is paid, the criminal walks.
Second, I want to make some comments on the text of Luke, and then after that include a few citations from commentaries that hold that the swords in question were actual swords, and that Jesus said to buy that kind of actual sword.
The context of this passage is the Last Supper. Just before this, Christ had instituted the Supper (Luke 22:19-20), predicted His own betrayal (Luke 22:21-23), settled a quarrel among the disciples about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24-30). Then He predicts Peter’s collapse (Luke 22:31-34). Then comes our text:
“And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”” (Luke 22:35–38, ESV).
I believe that what Jesus is doing here is transparently clear, and it is equally clear that the disciples mistook His point entirely, and He has to tell them to drop it.
Jesus reminds them of the previous times they had been sent out on preaching missions, and how He had sent them out without any reserves, without any ordinary supplies. An example of Him doing this is found in Luke 9:1-6. Jesus is here reversing that pattern, teaching His disciples that this was a temporary measure while He was with them, and that now they must not forget to take their basic supplies. He mentions purse, knapsack, sandals, and swords. He says that the sword is important enough that they should sell their cloak if they need to. Better chilly than dead. This part of it is about their missions in the future (He is not talking about taking wallets, packs, sandals, etc. when they leave in a few minutes for Gethsemane). He is instructing them that they must learn to provide for themselves, unlike what He had told them to do on earlier missions. Things were different now. Among those ordinary provisions were swords for self-defense.
The reference to Is 53:12 is admittedly cryptic, but Mark 15:28 applies it to the fact that Jesus was crucified between two thieves, two brigands — two men of the kind that traveling missionaries would have to deal with. Preston’s view, that they needed a couple of swords in their midst to make it plausible to the Romans that they were dealing with revolutionaries seems to me to miss entirely — no reference to the swords or to Peter’s assault on Malchus was made during any of the trials Christ went through.
Christ was speaking about being prepared for that bad stretch of road north of Antioch, but the disciples interpreted Him as giving an immediate call to arms, a call to arm themselves against the powers coming against them that very night. This was not what He was talking about at all. Remember that they are going from this room, where they had produced the two swords, straight to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Peter was to use one of those two swords to chop off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10). Jesus, just a matter of hours after this, put the ear back on, and He did not say “Peter, non-violence is the way.” He rebuked Peter for yet again being the Satan that was trying to keep Him from finishing His appointed mission. That is what He says is the basis of the rebuke.
“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10–11).
Notice that Peter is one of the two men carrying — and notice also that he is not armed with a small pig sticker. Jesus tells him to put his sword back in the sheath — not to throw the scabbard and sword away. Not only was Peter carrying, it was apparently open carry. Peter’s problem was not that he had a sword. The problem was that he did not understand the mission of Christ, meaning that he had no way of understanding when violence in self-defense was appropriate, and when it was entirely inappropriate. To urge that use of a gun is lawful in principle is not to argue that it is lawful anywhere, anytime, for any reason.
This conversation may continue, as I hope it does, but for the time being, I have included below some citations from commentaries in my Logos Bible software. These turned up in just a few minutes of searching.
“They will need even protection and at times so badly that a sword will be worth more to them than their outer robe, the latter being a great necessity, especially as a covering at night when they were camping cut in the open. So Jesus tells the apostles to buy a Roman short sword, if necessary, even at the price of their outer robe. It is better to freeze at night than to be killed. After “he not having” we supply μάχαιραν as the object; not, as some do, “purse and wallet” from the preceding sentence. The latter would lead to the idea that the apostles were to demand food and lodging at the point of the sword when it was otherwise not forthcoming.
This matter of having a sword even at the price of a cloak becomes plain when we look at the map and at 2 Cor. 11:26, 27. Paul, for instance, travelled extensively, the other apostles did likewise. We find Peter in Rome, and tradition reports to what far countries some of the others went. On foot, over mountain roads and passes, through uninhabited, desert regions their way would take them. Paul experienced hunger, thirst, fasting, nakedness (not enough cover), freezing. And worse than this: robbers, brigands, some of his own countrymen (Jews), some heathen. Yes, a sword would be needed for protection.
This injunction means that the apostles are to use ordinary prudence in their labors. The language is not figurative. Purse, wallet, sword are not to be allegorized into something spiritual as the ancient fathers thought they must be. The injunctions are concrete and simply use specific examples to indicate a complete course of conduct. Jesus will, indeed, be with his apostles, but he will be with them amid many hardships and dangers, amid the care and the prudence which he himself bids them exercise.” [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 1068–1069.]
“22:36. The present situation was quite different. Take whatever supplies and resources you have, Jesus told them. You will especially need a weapon for self-defense. Go sell whatever is necessary to get one. Satan had come after Jesus and his followers in full force. The persecution and arrests were about to begin. They must be ready to protect themselves.” [Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 371.]
“36. He that hath no sword, etc. But sword is not governed by hath. It is too far off in the sentence. The meaning is, he that hath not a purse or scrip (and is therefore penniless), let him sell his garment and buy a sword.” [Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 424.]
“Jesus pointed out to His disciples that they had never lacked anything while they were with Him and were sent out to minister for Him (cf. 9:3). However, now that He was to be taken away from them, they would have to make preparations for their ministries including a purse … a bag, and … a sword for personal protection.” [John A. Martin, “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 260.]