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!”