By now most of us are quite well acquainted with the Dr. Jerry Falwell Jr.’s comments concluding a convocation service at Liberty University last week. Seth Richardson first wrote about these comments here at Missio Alliance in his article, “How Jerry Falwell Jr. Helps Me Repent.” Pastor Rich Villodas also offered some Advent-oriented reflections on this episode in his article, “Advent, Herod, and Liberty University.” Yet there is another angle from which it’s important to consider these comments, given how Falwell and others have sought to defend them. This has to do with biblical interpretation, and the relevant lines from his address are these:
“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits we could end those Muslims before they walked in… Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
And what lesson would that be? And is that lesson a Jesus-lesson? This takes us back to WWJD, what would Jesus do, or better yet, what would Jesus carry – would Jesus pack heat and/or encourage others to do so? What would Jesus carry – would Jesus pack heat and/or encourage others to do so? Click To Tweet
While I was processing this on social media, the text of Luke 22 came up in a comment – Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come, and offers this command: “And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one” (22:36). Later his disciples collect two swords and show them to Jesus, and he replies “That’s enough.”
Does this imply that Jesus not only approved of the disciples carrying weapons, but that he actually commanded them to do so? On the surface it might seem so, and thus this text has sometimes been used to justify carrying weapons. When we dig a bit deeper into the text, though, things are not so straightforward. Actually, Jesus is not endorsing the use of a physical weapon at all – in fact, he is doing quite the opposite. Here is how we know:
First, it would seem that his command to sell your robe and buy a sword is not meant to be taken literally. Luke is the most “peace-friendly” gospel, and it goes a long way to emphasizing the innocence of Jesus. Also, the same word for “sword” in Luke 22 is used earlier in Luke for the “sword” that pierces the soul of Mary (2:35), obviously not a metal sword. It is highly unlikely Jesus would have encouraged his disciples to arm themselves. So, when they come up with two swords to show him, why would he say “that’s enough”? Translators nowadays are becoming more convinced that either Jesus was (a) being sarcastic (that will do…*eyeroll*) or, more likely, (b) he meant it this way – enough of this [nonsense].
Second, his command for them to acquire swords is linked to the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12, “He was counted among the outlaws” (Luke 22:37). Paradoxically, (a) Jesus calls them to be equipped with spiritual weapons, (b) they take him literally, and (c) Jesus knows they will take him literally and their appearing as vigilantes at the arrest scene leads to Jesus being lumped together with apparent “outlaws.” Just as Jesus knew what Judas must do to betray him and set the Passion in motion (John 13:27), so similarly he allows the disciples’ misunderstanding of sword-carrying to play out to facilitate his arrest. However difficult the theological issues involved, Luke is crystal clear that carrying swords makes the disciples “outlaws,” not sensible citizens – again, we can be fairly certain Jesus himself was not carrying a sword, hence his innocent statement “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?” (Luke 22:52). Luke is crystal clear that carrying swords makes the disciples “outlaws,” not sensible citizens. Click To Tweet
Third – and this is most important for interpreting Luke 22 – Jesus stops the disciples at his arrest from using the sword (22:49-51). Jesus interrupts their violence and he heals the enemy who was attacked. Why would he tell them to carry weapons, and then stop them from using them? Jesus interrupts their violence and he heals the enemy who was attacked. Click To Tweet
If we take into consideration Matthew’s report of the arrest, Jesus commands his disciple to put away his sword because “those who take up the sword will die by the sword” (26:52). Note that he does not say those who use the sword or even those who draw the sword. Literally, he says those who take the sword will be destroyed by the sword. This is Jesus, and we know he is not always focusing on the literal meaning. I think he is saying something about carrying swords, how they become a part of you, and how they mark your very soul. To “perish” by the sword is to let a kill-or-be-killed worldview consume you. The sword comes to define your existence.
So – what would Jesus conceal and carry? Well, he didn’t conceal anything, and he didn’t seem to carry any material things, for that matter, either. If he were accosted by violent enemies, I know what he would draw from his back pocket – hope, love, and good news for the worst of sinners like me and you.
I am a husband and a father of three young children. A few years ago, my youngest daughter was severely ill and I pleaded with God daily for her life (and thankfully she is well now). Nothing is more precious to us than the well-being of our children (and hopefully our neighbor’s children). I have been asked several times in discussions about gun control and self-defense, should we not do everything we can to protect the life of our children? Yes, of course we want to keep our children safe. No question. But I am deeply afraid that in the process of protecting human bodies by “taking up the sword” (or gun), we may sacrifice the soul of the gospel itself.
Fear not those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matt 10:28a); perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
For further reading, check out these books
Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperOne, 1996). [Chapter 14]
Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (IVP, 2003). [Chapter 7]
Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006).