“Then he said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a moneybag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn’t have a sword should sell his robe and buy one.” – Luke 22:36
There’s been a lot of talk about guns as of late.
And this blog entry isn’t really going to add anything productive to the political side of those conversations. My aim in writing this isn’t to argue for or against gun control efforts, or to side with one polarity over another. Instead, I merely hope to address the problem of using one particular scripture passage in the fight against gun restrictions.
Luke 22:36 is often used to claim that Jesus would be pro-gun. For example, David French, a popular Conservative commentator and senior editor of the Dispatch, argued this case within an article in the National Review. You can also purchase a t-shirt on Amazon that displays this verse cropped around a silhouette of an AR-15. But does Luke 22:36 really say what certain individuals claim it does? Are Jesus’ words to his disciples here meant to be understood as a timeless call-to-arms?
I’m not convinced that they are.
Jesus, Swords, & Fulfilled Prophecy
We find Luke 22:36 nestled within the account of Luke’s upper room discourse.
Jesus’ disciples had gathered together to share a Passover meal on the day of Unleavened Bread. But after Jesus’ broke the bread and poured cups of wine, he and his disciples have varied conversation. There’s an argument about which disciple is the greatest among them (22:24-30). Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (22:31-34). And then, right on the heels of that prediction, Jesus challenges the twelve with these words:
I have purposely structured the above verses to highlight the grammatical chiasm that Luke employs within this short conversation. Chiastic structures are used in several places in the Gospels. They’re utilized by biblical authors to help guide readers towards a particular point within a narrative that holds primary importance. In Luke 22:35-38, that focal point is Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 53:12. This means that, within this short narrative, Jesus’ comment about his disciples arming themselves shouldn’t be the primary focus. Luke 22:36 cannot be read divorced from Jesus’ words in 22:37 as verse 37 is the key to interpreting this entire conversation.
But why was Jesus so concerned about being counted among the lawless?
It seems that Jesus was very aware of the Old Testament scriptures that alluded toward God’s Messiah. Jesus fulfilling particular passages of scripture is featured heavily in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:33, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54-56, 27:9). But Luke also depicts Jesus as one who was concerned with the people of Israel correctly seeing him as complying with or satisfying the Hebrew scriptures (Luke 4:21, 24:44). Luke 22:37 is another instance of this.
Jesus needed to be counted among the lawless. And in many ways, this was already beginning to happen because of Jesus’ insistence on dining with sinners. His actions were in violation of the tradition of the elders, and because of that, in the minds of many first century Jews, Jesus was breaking Torah-law. However, Jesus knew that he needed to be confronted by Roman authorities in order to be captured and crucified (Matthew 26:50-56). And what better way was there to assure that he would be arrested by Rome than by making sure that some of his followers were armed with the weapons of zealous Jewish insurgents?
Yet, again, what about those swords?
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ disciples already had a few swords hidden away before Jesus even makes his statement about needing some. What’s more interesting, however, is Jesus’ exasperation when his followers produce the two blades. Was he frustrated that they had produced them so quicky? Was he making a comment about two swords being adequate for a defense against an attack? Two swords for 13 men seems inadequate to me if their aim was to defend themselves against a violent mob or trained Roman soldiers.
But more than even this, when Jesus is confronted in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter brandishes one of those two swords against the mob gathered to arrest his Master. And Peter is successful in cutting off the ear of one of the High Priest’s servants. If Luke 22:36 was written as a universal comment encouraging believers to use violent force or to bear arms, Peter surely would have been applauded for his efforts here. But he wasn’t.
Instead, Jesus intervenes. Jesus cries out: “no more of this!” (Luke 22:51). Then, Jesus picks up the severed ear of the High Priest’s servant and proceeds to heal the man’s wound.
Beware of “Soundbite” Scripture Readings
Passages of scripture like Luke 22:36 are often pulled out of context and plastered on t-shirts or used in Twitter posts. But there is a danger of reading the Bible as a string of soundbites instead of as a story. When we isolate individual passages and divorce them of their context, we can practically make God’s word say anything we’d like it to.
But this, obviously, is not the way scripture is meant to be read.
When we read the surrounding context of Luke 22:36, it becomes clear that Jesus is not advocating for the right to bear arms. He’s commenting about the need to fulfill the Hebrew scriptures and a way that might make sure he’s arrested and crucified. Those are two very different readings, but that second reading is only made possible when you observe the entire chapter of Luke 22.
Again, this isn’t meant to be a political post but a challenge to those who might want to misread this passage of scripture for a particular political agenda.
Beware! The Jesus of the Bible is much more interested in healing enemies than hurting them.
 There is a chiasm of sort taking place within these three verses. Jesus first speaks to his disciples in the first half of 22:35 (a). They respond in the second half of the verse (b). Jesus quotes scripture (c) in 22:36-37. And then the structure reverses. The disciples speak (b’) in the first half of 22:38, and Jesus concludes in the final half of 22:38 (a’).