Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pacifists Up In Arms

He who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. (Luke 22:36) 

As the national debate over gun control rages, there is another “in house” conversation taking place between Christians: Are Christians permitted to engage in self-defense? As you can imagine, such discussions are often quite passionate.  

(It is astounding how vicious pacifists can be! If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, these raging peacemakers, in their quest for non-violence, leave mind-numbing carnage in their wake.) 

But are the pacifists biblically correct in assaulting those who believe in self-defense? Did Jesus advocate pacifism? Clearly, He didn’t. God is no pacifist. 

In fact, in the scripture above we read Jesus commanding His apostles to arm themselves. “He who has no sword let him . . . buy one.” If Jesus was pacifistic why would He instruct His follower to purchase a sword? And of what does Jesus speak if not self-defense? 

Did Jesus desire His follower to arm himself so that he may attack others—an offensive weapon? Hardly! This is no “call to arms.” Were the apostles in need of an instrument to clear away the dense jungle vegetation around Judea? How silly.  

No, Christ desired His follower to arm himself so that he could protect himself against criminal violence. This is the unambiguous import of the text. Jesus wants His follower to live in preparedness. Part of the preparedness of which He speaks is a weapon sufficient for the preservation of life. 

Some, because of their pre commitment to the principles of pacifism, interpret “sword” in Luke 22:36 metaphorically. That is, they hold that Jesus intends “sword” in a non-literal, non-physical way.  

But please understand, such an interpretation rests not on textual grounds, but on philosophical grounds. Nothing in the text itself suggests Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Notice, in addition to a sword, Jesus also speaks of a “money bag,” a “knapsack,” and a “garment.” Are we to understand these things symbolically? No. 

Jesus is speaking of literal, physical objects. How can one sell a physical garment for literal money in effort to purchase a symbolic sword? Such hermeneutical gymnastics defy logic.  

The Apostles certainly understood Jesus to be speaking of a physical sword. (Yes, it can be argued that the Apostles often misunderstood Jesus. But there’s absolutely no basis to say that they always misunderstood Him; much less that they were misunderstanding Him here.)  

They respond to Christ’s command thus: “Lord, look, here are two swords” (Luke 22:38). To be sure, these were two physical weapons. Jesus didn’t say, “Come on, guys! I’m not talking about that kind of sword.” What did He say? Jesus said, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38). 

Some offer that Jesus’ “It is enough,” is a gentle rebuke. Again, there is no textual reason to suggest this. And we mustn’t overlook this one important fact: Our Lord and His Apostles were traveling armed. Does anyone honestly believe that Jesus was unaware of these two weapons? 

Recognizing the illegitimacy of interpreting “sword” symbolically, other pacifists leave Luke 22 and run to Matthew 26:52. “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” 

In combining Luke 22 with Matthew 26, the pacifist leaves us with this: “If you don’t have a sword and you lack the funds to purchase one, sell your garment in order to buy a weapon. Now, having bought the weapon, sheathe it and never use it for any reason.” 

Such Bible interpretation is at best untenable. Was Jesus’ very specific instruction to Peter—to put away his sword (a physical weapon)—meant to be universalized? Of course not. But Peter will be killed if he doesn’t immediately cease and desist fighting.  

Furthermore, Jesus does not require Peter or his sword to defend Himself. Jesus has more formidable weapons at His disposal (Matthew 26:53)! But it’s not the will of the Father for Jesus to defend His person at this time. 

At this particular time, it is the will of the Father that Jesus purposefully lay down His life for His people. This is why He came. 

It is highly inappropriate for the pacifist to allege that because Jesus did not resist the Cross Christians today should not resist the criminal. Jesus’ mission, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, was the redemption of God’s people.  

You and I are not called to such a mission. If an intruder invades our home and seeks to rape and murder our family, we are not called by God to passively allow him to do so. Rather, because our life and our family’s lives are sacred, we are called by God to protect and defend our life and theirs. 

Make no mistake, dear reader: being murdered for no good reason is not at all the same thing as dying for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.  

There are men who wouldn’t lift a finger to protect themselves or their wife and children. Should their wife be molested their attitude seems to be: “Well, honey, this is your cross to bear.” 

Others take a more “spiritual” approach: “God is our protector. I have no need of weapons or violence.” It’s true. God is our protector. He is also our provider and our healer. Do we therefore have no need of jobs or doctors and medicines?  

In the final analysis, we should not, in the “name of Christ,” passively allow aggression against our family and person. We must not confuse passivity with piety, cowardice with virtue. 

However, if your conscience disallows you to defend yourself and your loved ones, then by all means follow your conscience; but do not conflate your conscience with scripture.


  1. Good stuff. Here's an article which discusses more Scriptures:

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing, Chris.

  2. Steve....keep on thinking and keep on writing....I really appreciate what you say, since it's always grounded in the Word!

    1. Thank you for reading and for your kind words of encouragement! Blessings to you and yours.