Earlier today I was involved in a discussion about gun policy and then it happened: Someone said, “Jesus would be in favor of guns, he told his followers to buy a sword! SEE! LOOK!” They then quoted Luke 22:36: “‘But now,’ he said, ‘take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!'” This was something I expected, as many Christians have used this one verse to try and state that Jesus would be against gun control. There’s just one problem with this line of thinking: That is not what Jesus meant. As Dr. Ben Witherington III is fond of saying:
A text without a context is merely a pretext for a proof text and it can be whatever you want it to be.
The problem with employing an ultra-literal interpretation of scripture and a hermeneutic of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is that such interpretations ignore important items such as context, cultural considerations, and good old-fashioned common sense. Using so-called “gotcha” texts to make a point that goes beyond any reasonable context for scripture is a poor witness for Christ. Further, while scholars believe that literal interpretation of scripture is considered a high view of scripture, I believe that such is actually a low view because an ultra-literal interpretation does a great disservice to the authors and intended ultimate message of scripture: The story of God’s love for us.
Simply stated: Jesus is not telling his followers to arm themselves. He is not calling for any sort of armed insurrection, revolution, or otherwise telling Christians that employing violent tactics is the way of a disciple. Here is what noted new testament theologian – and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary – Craig Keener said about this passage in the IVP Bible Background: New Testament.
By mentioning the “sword” here Jesus is not inviting revolution like the Zealots did (cf. Pseudo-Phocylides 32–34). Instead, Jesus calls for a temporary and symbolic act—two are sufficient (v. 38)—so he may be charged as a revolutionary and hence “reckoned among transgressors” in accordance with Isaiah 53:12… To be without one’s outer cloak at night would leave one cold; yet Jesus suggests that it is better than being unprepared for the conflict these disciples are about to face.
So, no, Luke 22:36 is not a call for Christians to arm themselves. It’s about the fulfillment of prophecy, specifically a prophecy that said that the messiah must be charged as a criminal. More proof of this comes from verse 37: “For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” Being with people who were armed with swords would certainly give the Romans cause to allege that Jesus was planning an armed revolution against the Roman Empire, therefore fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 55.
To think that Luke 22 calls Christians to arm themselves is just plain wrong. Such a notion also flies in the face of the other teachings of Jesus where he encourages peace, non-violence, and to put down their weapons (remember the scene where Jesus stops a stoning?). Further, one taking scripture completely out of context in order to fit their own belief is tantamount to re-constructing God into their own image. Let us remember that the will of God is not violence, but peace. I close with the words of the prophet Isaiah, and also long for the day when this prophecy is fulfilled. May it be during our lifetime.
“They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”