A Biblical Misunderstanding

I recently read an article on gun ownership among Christians by an evangelical pastor who quoted Luke 22:38 as an argument for limiting the number of guns a Christian should possess. In isolation, the verse would seem to support this view. It reads: “They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough'” (NRSV). The problem is that such an interpretation ignores the context. Let’s take a look at the whole passage which occurs just before Jesus is arrested and taken away by the religious authorities:

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38, NRSV).

I’m afraid that in the most plausible interpretation of this passage, Jesus is going much further than the previously mentioned pastor. In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire did not go around crucifying people willy-nilly. It was a punishment reserved for special cases, the most prominent of which was insurrection. In order for Jesus to be charged and convicted of insurrection, he or his followers would need to be armed. Two swords were not enough for an insurrection, but they were enough for trumped-up charges of insurrection. This is why Jesus said, “It is enough.” He wasn’t urging his disciples (then or now) to arm themselves.

Evidence in support of this interpretation (that Jesus did not intend for the swords to actually be used) can be found when one of the disciples actually used one to strike “the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear” (Luke 22:50, NRSV). Jesus responded by saying “No more of this!” and then healing the man.

Please don’t misunderstand or misconstrue me. There are people who need guns. Not as many as our sinful nature might incline us to think, but there are people who need guns. Clear examples would include those in law enforcement and the military. There are pastimes, like hunting, for which owning a firearm is perfectly reasonable. But the difficult, unavoidable conclusion we must reach as followers of Jesus is that there is very little (if any) room for weapons in our relationships and interactions with one another. Jesus did not overcome the Roman Empire with brute force (though he could have called down legions of angels), he overcame sin and death by going to the cross and giving his life for many.