May 19, 2017

Horse 2273 - Christians And Arms: Or, Trying To Make 23 Greek Words Say More Than They Do

There is an incident described in all four gospels, which speaks of the moment when Judas comes with the servants of the chief priests of the temple, to arrest Jesus and put him on trial for blasphemy. Of the four gospels, only John records that the one who struck and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant Malchus was Peter, and both Matthew and John both record that Jesus rebuked Peter for lashing out in violence.

Of these four records though, only Luke records a small exchange which has apparently become the basis for the justification as to why Christians should be armed. I however don't think that this stands up to scrutiny and that people are trying to make 23 words in Greek do far more than they were ever intended to do.

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.
- Luke 22:36

For a start this comes in a far broader passage of scripture. As with reading any document, it is simply idiotic to read one line of something and then say that you've reached a conclusion. Context as always is everything.

Immediately before this, Peter expresses a hasty claim that he was ready to go with Jesus, both to prison and to death; Jesus then issues the fateful warning that by the end of the morning, Peter will have denied ever knowing him; thrice.
To put this back into context, the whole exchange is given below:

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Then 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. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
- Luke 22:33-38

An astute reader should recall a comparison back to chapter 9 when Jesus sent out the twelve to preach the good news of the impending kingdom and God and to heal the sick. Presumably the comparison is given to suggest that a future task is going to be more difficult and on the face of it, having weapons for one's defence seems prudent.


If you bother to read verse 38, two swords among eleven people, against an incoming mob of people armed with swords and clubs seems woefully inadequate. On the face of it, either Jesus is an absolute idiot or perhaps a more sensible reading of this would suggest that this is meant as a metaphor. That would make logical sense considering he's spent a great deal of his ministry speaking in parables and word pictures.

Also, Matthew's account records Jesus' rebuke of Peter:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 
- Matthew 26:52

Again, probably everyone in the ancient world would have been quite familiar with this pithy proverb, having remembered this as Agamemnon's closing words in Homer's Oddessy, after having returned from Troy as the victor and then being murdered by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife, Clytemnestra. If that's really how you'd like to be remembered, as someone who was interminably violent and finally murdered, then you might want to rethink your choices.
The Greek word μάχαιρα which is used for "sword" throughout the New Testament is a generic catch all word for swords and knives which might have included anything from basic kitchenware right up to a standard Roman gladius.

Go back and reread that passage. Verse 38 which contains those words "That's enough!" almost seems like a hint of exasperation or annoyance rather than an acknowledgment of pleasure. It's the sort of thing that someone's mum yells when she's finally fed up with her ankle biters getting out of hand.
At any rate, I just don't think that it makes sense to stretch out what could be a metaphor, to an instruction; in the light of the rest of the New Testament and especially what has been previously written as direct instructions by Jesus:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Luke 6:27-31

Unless someone can specifically make the case that Jesus actually instructed that his followers to come be armed, then I'm going to write it off as bunk.

When it comes to the issue of whether or not Christians are allowed to have arms, the New Testament is respectfully silent. Outside of the gospels, there are no instances of any followers of Christ actually bearing any arms and when it comes to actual directives on the matter, there are none.
Paul writes twice in his first letter to the Corinthians that "everything​ is permissible but not everything is beneficial" and although that's not a discussion either way, it certainly provides direction.

At the end of chapter 12 in his letter to the Romans he writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- Romans 12:17-21

And later in that same letter he goes on to write:
Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Romans 13:9-10

Now I don't know about you but I just don't see the ownership of arms as compatible with the aim either loving or doing good to one's enemies. I don't see how it is conducive to instilling a spirit of peace either.

Invariably someone will raise an objection that someone might want arms for the purposes of going hunting or perhaps in a sporting context. There might very well be justification here but those are very different grounds than what is usually postulated. Besides which, in an urban environment where the incidence of wild animals roaming around is minimal, the only thing which people are likely to be hunting is other people, and again, I just don't see that as compatible with the aim of either loving or doing good to one's enemies.
Either way, in most cases, the justification is still bunk.

1 comment:

76 PATRIOTS! said...

What part of "endowed by their Creator" do you not understand? We have a god given right to bear arms that shall not be infringed. SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.