Jesus Never Taught Self Defense

A few years ago, my wife and daughter took a self-defense class taught by the local police department. If anyone ever tries to hurt them I hope they can get away from the attacker. Same goes for my son.

Even more so, if anyone ever hurts my family you can bet that my first inclination will be to find that person and take care of things myself. That would also be my second inclination, my third, fourth and fifth. Maybe my sixth too. Hurt my family bad enough and my plans might involve firearms as well.

As Ellen Painter Dollar wrote recently:

… violent retaliation, “an eye for an eye”, is, let’s face it, … a very human ideal, in that most of us nurture revenge fantasies regularly, even if not of a violent nature.

Ellen goes on, though, to talk of Jesus’ new way of handling our enemies, of turning the other cheek and treating our enemies as friends. And when it comes to bearing arms, Ellen makes a telling observation:

Jesus told his friends that two swords would be plenty for a dozen people as they went out to preach the Gospel.

Where did that come from? It’s in the Bible:

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 22:35-38.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles and blog comments where people rely on that part about swords as justification for carrying loaded firearms. But I can tell you that anyone who does so is ripping the words completely out of context and using them for their own purposes and not the purposes of God.

Remember that Jesus spoke these words shortly before his arrest, that he knew he was about to be taken, tried and crucified, and even so he was ready to go to a remote place where there would be no adoring crowds around to dissuade the officials from finally carrying out their plans against him.

So on that remote mountainside there will be Jesus, eleven close friends, and perhaps a few others who might have tagged along, most of whom will be falling asleep as the night wears on. Jesus knows he will be arrested, and he tells them two swords are enough?

Nonsense, utter nonsense!

How can Jesus expect his few followers and friends to hold off the soldiers coming to take him away? They need more than a couple swords. How about everyone gets a sword? And they should carry knives too, because there might be some up close hand to hand combat going on. Spears would be handy too; you could set up a flanking maneuver with the spear carriers waiting in reserve and then they could rush in from the sides after the attackers commit themselves to the center.

If Jesus meant the two swords were enough for the confrontation to come, he was mistaken. So he must have meant something else, because one thing we know for sure is that Jesus was never mistaken.

What else could he have meant? I have two ideas.

Two More Likely Meanings

First, Jesus almost certainly had thought of the armed force coming to arrest him later that night – he obviously knew that the Cross was coming the next day. When the disciples told him they had two whole swords, his reply “That’s enough!” might just have been a statement of exasperation, a comment along the lines of “Yeah, like  that’s plenty of weaponry for what we’re going to face later tonight.” Sure that would be a bit snarky, but Jesus wasn’t above a little sarcasm now and then.

And there’s no way to take this scenario of fighting off the arresting forces as a general call to carry concealed weapons for self-defense as you face the day to day business of life. At most this would be about rescuing Jesus from capture. Obviously, though, this is not what Jesus meant either, because when someone did pull out their sword and hit an arresting officer with it Jesus rebuked his friend and healed the officer. Then he submitted quietly to the arrest.

A second – and I think more likely – possibility is that Jesus might have said “That’s enough!” not as an approval of their armament but as a way to stop their foolish talk. In that conversation, remember, he was comparing their earlier ministry with that to come. He had sent them out to preach the kingdom of God without extra clothes and food, but now they would be going to preach the gospel unrestricted in their preparations and supplies. In context, their announcement of having two swords already shows they just didn’t get what he was talking about.

Same goes for those who rely on this passage as their basis for a Christian doctrine of self-defense; they just don’t get what Jesus was talking about.

To them I echo Jesus’ words, “That’s enough!”

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22 Responses to Jesus Never Taught Self Defense

  1. “That’s enough!” not as an approval of their armament but as a way to stop their foolish talk. In that conversation, remember, he was comparing their earlier ministry with that to come. He had sent them out to preach the kingdom of God without extra clothes and food, but now they would be going to preach the gospel unrestricted in their preparations and supplies. In context, their announcement of having two swords already shows they just didn’t get what he was talking about.”

    Tim I would tend to agree with you here. When we look at Jesus’s relationship with the diciples he was not beyond either expressing his frustration with them or publicilly dressing them down. We see this earlier in the garden when he says “Could you not stay awake even for a little bit” We also see it in the boat as he calmed the storms, “Where’s Your Faith” Then we see him publically dressing down the disciples in Luke 9:37-41.

    So I think you make some great points. Now that is not to say as you pointed out at the beginning self-defense is wrong, As someone who worked as a bouncer or what they call cooler I surely believe in self-defense. However I am appalled when I hear of armed security and guns being brought into churches. Also being from the South I come from a gun culture, my father was a military man but as you said we often use scripture to justify all kind of things, much like being taught in that same southern cuture that being “unequally yoked” was a good justification for racial intolerance.

    Thanks Tim!

    • Tim says:

      Great insights, Pat. Thanks for adding the bit about armed security at churches. A few days ago Aimee Byrd wrote Pastor’s Got a Gun, about a pastor who was armed and had openly stated that he was going to defy the police regarding following the law. I don’t recall that witness from Jesus or the NT writers.

  2. Ellen says:

    Yes yes and yes. Thank you Tim. It drives me nuts when this passage is used to defend concealed carry laws or argue against any limits on gun ownership whatsoever. I doubt it had anything to do with the righteousness of using weapons in self-defense. Jesus being exasperated that once again, THEY DON’T GET IT makes much more sense.

  3. Bronwyn Lea says:

    This is the first explanation of the two swords which makes sense to me. Thanks, Tim. Great food for thought.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this; the “Now that’s enough!” interpretation really makes a lot of sense. I read some discussion of this passage on Ellen Painter Dollar’s blog too and it helped my understanding. This made me think of your post on embezzlement too.

    • Tim says:

      I agree Jeannie, reading Scripture for our own purposes (e.g., “I want the Bible to tell me I should carry a gun”) is as bad as using Jesus’ name for our own purposes as well.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Tim, I’ve thought that Jesus was rebuking his disciples with “That’s enough” too. Like a dad who asserts from the front seat when his kids are getting out of control- “Knock it off” A statement that stuns to silence and makes one think about what is really going on instead of self preservation or self exaltation. The disciples seemed always ready to fight: “Lord, do You want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”… I think in rebuking them Jesus said: Knock it off-That’s enough! then too. They probably heard it alot. I hear it alot as well, though less and less the more I stay close to Him.

    • Tim says:

      Kathleen, that’s a great tie-in with the Sons of Zebedee and their desire to wipe out that inhospitable village. I’m glad God didn’t wipe me out for being inhospitable to him!

  6. In the Hebrew translations, Jesus said to them, “No more of this!” after Peter went and attacked the one man who was attacking Jesus, as in “No more need for swords and violence” from the words they used in their translation (Rob has a Messianic Bible translation and they often use the actual words in Hebrew and Greek and explain the meaning). Jesus was preparing and I believe getting them ready for a whole lesson and change in life. The reason is that after Jesus died and after he returned and ascended, the disciples were known for speaking against all weapons, as well as those they discipled. They were all very against the use of weapons and all very into non-resistance, which is why so many were imprisoned and killed as well, because they wanted to live as Jesus did as a way to show others how different they were and how much Christ changed them. He used that experience to see how they’d react to him being taken away. When he saw how they acted and he healed the man, he showed that his heart was for all people and that He was God and could have taken them all down in a second anyway, but this was the gospel being lived out.

  7. michellevl says:

    I recently heard a speaker mention that the only way we can live the seemingly-impossible lifestyle Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount was if we are armed to the gills with courage. Fear is usually why we carry weapons. Jesus called us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile and attempt to make peace with our opponent on the way to court. All of these actions are “offensive” weapons that require a great deal of courage to wield.

  8. Aimee Byrd says:

    Interesting post. I agree, Tim, that the disciples wouldn’t be encouraged to arm themselves with weapons while preaching the gospel. After all, Christ is a redemptive ruler in this kingdom. How do you go preaching the gospel with guns? They weren’t to militarily impose Christ’s kingdom on the government. Jesus’s Kingship was something they didn’t understand yet. And yet, we see in other passages that Christ rules in the civil kingdom through justice (Rom.13). So I do believe that self defense is okay for a Christian in the secular world, however, in dealing with one another, and in proclaiming God’s Word, we are called to something much higher. Tricky stuff.

    • Tim says:

      It is tricky, Aimee, and I agree that it’s OK for Christians to defend themselves since in Christ we are free from legalistic restrictions on this issue. It’s the reliance on that one passage for a self-defense doctrine that chaps my britches!

  9. I’ve always been believed that if I needed to justify something, then it can be left undone/unsaid/un____. If someone needs to justify their open or conceal carry….leave it at home. Why must we justify everything??? Guns aren’t used only in human self-defense. Where my son lives in a Western state, they carry to protect against wild predatory animals…so many sides to gun ownership than simply self-defense against humans!

  10. Ruth says:

    Think you have given a very clear interpretation of that event. My sons have sporting rifles, details escape me, but they use them at a gun club target range, or on Crown land where shooting is legal. They buy watermelons or a ham leg and target shoot at those! Neither of them could shoot at anything that was alive, even a rabbit! Australia has very strict gun laws, which I think are wisely strict, and I think maybe Jesus was being wisely strict with his gung- ho disciples….
    Our minister is a returned missionary from the Middle East where they worked for many years. He told us about the turn the other cheek comment.
    If a man wants a fight, or is angry with another, he slaps the RIGHT cheek of the other man. If the slapped one wants to retaliate, he indicates by slapping the RIGHT cheek in return. If the man does not want to respond in kind, he presents his LEFT cheek, and does nothing physical. That should end the situation, it doesn’t mean let the aggressor slap both cheeks! Fascinating look into cultural ways that make such sense in context…
    Not getting into an argument or being aggressive , but showing self control and acting in a Christ-like manner, without being a doormat, I think.

    • Tim says:

      That cultural context is awesome, Ruth.

      • Ruth says:

        I really enjoy learning cultural context, it makes so much sense when we read a verse that is interpreted differently because we don’t study history so much. We had a group of young people that husband and I took for ‘kids church’ during the sermon.
        He make up an historical time-line, to show where, and when different Biblical events took place, culturally and geographically and how they related to the overall story of salvation.
        Maps and geography are his favourite light- reading…Thankyou Google-earth! The kids were fascinated by the unfolding part he would explain each week, and we both knew a lot more at the end too!
        I have applied many things I have read on your blog to different situations, and find they fit context very well. Thankyou foot your faithful, honest, and wide-ranging blogs!

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