Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's Not About the Swords: A Warning About the Changing Conditions for Discipleship in Luke 22:35-38

A guest post by Garrett East

Luke 22:35-38 is not a dialogue about swords. The problem is that the disciples think it is about swords. Although frequently mislabeled as “The Two Swords,”[1] this passage is primarily a warning from Jesus to the disciples about the hostility they will face hereafter, in connection with the rejection and suffering Jesus himself is about to undergo.

Written in the form of Jewish apologetic historiography, Luke-Acts is primarily concerned with the fulfillment of God’s promise and plan to restore Israel.[2] In the prologue (Luke 1:1-4), prehistory (Luke 1:5-2:52), and preparation for Jesus’ ministry (Luke 3:1-4:13), the author repeatedly announces that God has remembered Israel, is fulfilling his promises to the Patriarchs, and is raising up a savior, Israel’s Messiah.[3] In 4:14-9:50, Luke narrates Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, then in 9:51-19:48 writes about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Throughout these two sections, Luke continually emphasizes the coming trials that will result from discipleship, the provision of God in the midst of these trials, and the requirement that disciples be peaceful in the midst of rejection.[4] The end of the book of Luke concludes with Jesus in Jerusalem (19:28-24:53), reaching its climax with his crucifixion and resurrection (23-24).[5]

In Acts, Luke continues the story of God fulfilling his promises and restoring Israel. As the gospel spreads out from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Caesarea, and to Rome, reaching Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free-persons, Luke makes absolutely clear that God’s plan is reaching its fulfillment.[6] And yet, as the salvation of God goes out to all people, there is great opposition to the disciples. And just as Luke emphasizes the coming dangers, the provision of God, and the requirement of peacefulness for the disciples, so Acts emphasizes the experience of those dangers, the actual provision of God in times of trial, and the peacefulness and joy of the disciples in all situations.[7]

Luke wrote Jesus’ speech and dialogue with his disciples in Luke 22:14-38 in the form of an ancient farewell address, specifically using farewell speeches from the Old Testament as its primary models.[8] The main function of this genre is to explain and give guidance for new situations that will arise after a founder’s death.[9] In particular, farewell addresses in the biblical tradition include a revelation of the speaker’s coming death, final orders to disciples or servants, the naming of a successor, a reflection on the speaker’s life, and warnings for the future.[10]

Shaped by these elements, the farewell speech in Luke begins with Jesus referring to his coming death, interpreting its meaning in the context of a covenant meal, and asks his disciples to remember him through their participation in it (22:15-20). Following Jesus’ reflections on his coming death, Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of his disciples (22:21-23). An argument among his disciples then arises about which of them is the greatest, which leads to Jesus teaching them to imitate him by serving others (22:24-27). Next, Jesus names the 12 disciples as his successors and specifically gives Peter the responsibility of strengthening the other disciples, despite predicting his imminent denial (22:28-34). Finally, Jesus uses a metaphor to urge his disciples to be ready for the coming trials that will result from his death, saying that they will now need purses, bags, and swords in their travels (22:35-37). Misunderstanding Jesus, the disciples interpret his words literally and reveal they have two swords and are ready to fight. Out of frustration, Jesus ends the dialogue (2:38)[11]

Although biblical farewell discourses had several functions,[12] the most significant one for interpreting Luke 22:35-38 is historiographical. Farewell discourses were written in the context of ancient historiographies to justify or illustrate the divine plan in history.[13] This function fits well with the Gospel of Luke, which seeks to argue that God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is being fulfilled, specifically in the life of Jesus.[14] Furthermore, in these discourses future predictions are made in order to demonstrate “there were no surprises in what happened.”[15] As Luke’s readers knew, the church was frequently persecuted for its faith.[16] In light of these persecutions, Luke seeks to demonstrate that Jesus knew and warned the 12 disciples about what was to come.

It is also important that following this farewell speech Luke records the arrest of Jesus in the garden, the only time when the disciples are known to have used swords (22:47-53).[17] In response to one of his disciples drawing a sword—presumably one of the two swords the disciples had presented to Jesus in 22:38—and cutting off an ear of the slave of the high priest, Jesus rebukes his disciples, reverses the effect of the violent act by healing the slave, and submits himself to arrest.[18] Contrary to belief that the one disciple’s use of the sword is a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 quoted in Luke 22:37, it is in fact a result of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words in 22:35-38.[19]

Addressing all 12 disciples, Jesus reminds them about the time he sent them out “without a purse, bag, or sandals,” and asks them if they lacked anything (Luke 22:35).[20] The disciples respond by claiming they did not lack a thing. The purpose of verse 35 is to recall specifically the way disciples had been treated as a result of their proclamation of the kingdom of God. Namely, they had been treated with hospitality and were entirely without need.

After reminding the disciples of his previous instructions when he sent them out into Galilee, Jesus now reverses his earlier instructions, telling them to take their purse, bag, and even a sword (verse 36). He begins this striking reversal with the phrase alla nyn. Some scholars claim this phrase signals a strong contrast between the eschatological age of Jesus and the new age of the church and others claim it draws a contrast between the “apostle’s previous freedom and what is required by their present fear.”[21] Contrary to both of these claims, it is best to understand alla nyn as referring to the changing conditions for the disciples in the world.[22] Although the world had been relatively hospitable to them up to this point in their discipleship to Jesus, from this point forward the world would become a hostile place for them. And this new period in the life of discipleship is not limited to the garden or the passion narrative.[23] Instead, this time of hostility toward the disciples continues throughout Acts and is expected to continue in the life of the church.[24]

Jesus’ reversal of his earlier instructions should not be taken literally. He is not telling his disciples that from now on they need to carry travel bags, purses, and swords. On the contrary, he is using this language metaphorically to indicate the dramatic shift that is about to take place in how the world treats them.[25] To make it absolutely clear that these words should not be taken literally, never in all of Acts do the disciples carry a bag, purse, or sword. Furthermore, both times the disciples use or talk about a machaira,[26] Jesus rebukes them (22:38; 22:51).[27] The image Jesus creates in 22:36 paints a clear picture: Although there was a time when Jesus’ disciples were welcomed everywhere, now they must be prepared for rejection and violence.[28]

Many scholars believe verse 37 is only an explanation of why Jesus wants the disciples to buy swords: so they can become the lawless ones with whom Jesus is numbered.[29] By limiting this explanation to that purpose, scholars misunderstand the entire passage and make the same mistake as the disciples: they think Jesus’ words are primarily about swords. This misunderstanding leads many to see the disciple’s use of the sword in the garden as a fulfillment of the prophecy, rather than a misunderstanding of everything Jesus has said. In context, this passage is not about swords: it is about a transformation of the world’s relationship to the disciples from hospitality to hostility.

One of the greatest challenges in interpreting Luke’s use of Isaiah 53 is discovering who the anomoi are, with whom Jesus will be counted. As shown above, many scholars wrongly understand the anomoi to be the disciples. Better suggestions read the anomoi as the two kakourgoi who are crucified with Jesus[30] or as those sinners with whom Jesus is numbered throughout the Gospel.[31] Although these suggestions could fit within the book’s context, the point of the quotation is that Jesus’ opponents, Roman and Jewish, will come to a point where they consider him to be a lawless man, grouping him with lawless people and therefore giving him what lawless people deserve: death on a cross.[32] And connecting this fulfillment of scripture with the previous two verses by the phrase legō gar hymin, Jesus makes clear it is because of his coming rejection that the disciples will experience hostility from the world. Jesus’ point, then, in claiming this scripture must be and is being fulfilled in him is obvious: “The disciples must be ready for the worst because their Master also faces the worst.”[33]

Instead of understanding Jesus’ instructions metaphorically (as intended), in verse 38 the disciples take Jesus’ words literally, pulling out two swords and presenting them to Jesus.[34] This misunderstanding is connected with their failure to comprehend that Jesus must be rejected and crucified, for the use of one of the swords in the garden is clearly an attempt to keep Jesus’ death from happening.[35] As most scholars agree, Jesus’ last words, hikanon estin, are an abrupt ending to his farewell dialogue, expressing his frustration and rebuking his disciples.[36]

In the immediate context of Jesus’ farewell address and the broader context of Luke-Acts, Jesus’ message in Luke 22:35-38 is that, in light of his coming rejection and death, there will be new conditions for his disciples. The basic stance of the world towards the disciples will no longer be hospitality, but hostility. As Jesus is counted among the lawless, so will the disciples. As we have seen, Jesus’ reversal of his previous instructions should not be taken literally. The disciples will still be required to trust in God for provision and they are certainly not supposed to use their swords. For the reader of Luke’s Gospel, this passage seeks to demonstrate that Jesus had warned the disciples of his coming rejection and had warned them of the trials that awaited them. The persecutions the church faces in Acts are not surprises, but fulfillments of what Jesus had already warned his disciples they would face.

Throughout the church’s history, Christians have repeatedly taken up arms to fight.[37] Christians have been joining armies, executing heretics and criminals, commanding wars, defending their homes with weapons, and bearing arms during worship for hundreds of years.[38] They have thought that as long as violence is for self-defense, righteous causes, or to help others that their weapons are justified. Although many of these Christians have spent their entire lives attempting to follow Jesus, they end up like the disciples, thinking Jesus approves of their swords. In light of this long history of violence in the church, we must understand that Jesus’ words in Luke 22:35-38 are not a command to take up arms, but a warning that arms may be used against us. Jesus’ last words in verse 38 are not an approval of our use of weapons, but a strong rebuke and condemnation for even thinking Jesus might want us to use them. And Jesus’ words should serve as a warning to Christians in power, many of whom have never once experienced the trials Jesus warns about, that perhaps they need to lay down their arms, give up their power, and join those in the church and in the world who are suffering. And when persecution and trials come to disciples, as they surely will to those following the way of Jesus, Christians should respond like Jesus (in Luke) and the disciples (in Acts): without surprise, but with courage, faithfulness, and peace.

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[1] See G. Lampe, “The Two Swords (Luke 22:35-38),” (Jesus and the Politics of His Day; eds. E. Bammel and C.F.D. Moule; Cambridge: University, 1984), 335-51. Another common title is “The Enigma of the Swords.” For example, see T. Napier, “The Enigma of the Swords,” ExpTim 49 (1937-38): 467-70.
[2] For an extended discussion of the different possible genres for Luke-Acts, see Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 1-6. Green concludes his survey with the conclusion that Luke-Acts is ancient historiography strongly influenced by Jewish apologetic historiography. Also, see the discussion in Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1991), 4-10. For the purposes of this essay, Luke-Acts is assumed to be a narrative unity. For support of this conclusion, see Green, 6-10.
[3] See Luke 1:1, 19-20, 54-55, 68-79; 2:10-11, 25-26, 30-32, 38; 3:4-6; and 4:18-19. From this point forward the author of Luke-Acts will be referred to as Luke. The actual identity of the author is insignificant for the interpretation of Luke-Acts.
[4] See Luke 6:22-23, 27-36; 9:1-6, 21-27, 51-54; 10:1-12; 11:2-4, 5-13; 12:4-12, 22-34, 49-53; 14:26-33; 17:33; and 21:12-19. Also note that Jesus’ sending of the 12 disciples (9:1-6) and sending of the other 70 disciples (10:1-12) are located in these two sections.
[5] This basic outline is primarily taken and adapted from Werner Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament (rev. and enl. ed.; Nashiville: Abingdon, 1970), 125, and Darrell Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” DJG 500-502. Kümmel also argues that Luke-Acts is a political apologetic aimed at proving the political innocence of Jesus in the eyes of the Romans. However, this view neglects the subversive characteristics of Luke’s narrative, specifically Luke’s attitude towards wealth and greatness. See Luke 6:20-26 or 9:46-48. For a thorough analysis of the subversive politics of Jesus in Luke, see John Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 21-59.
[6] See Acts 1:6-8, 16-17; 2:14-36, 39; 3:13-18, 21, 25-26; 5:30-31; 7:2-53; 8:4-17; 10:34-48; 26:6-7; 28:23-31.
[7] See Acts 4:1-4; 5:17-21, 40-42; 6:11-13, 7:54-60; 14:19, 22; 16:19-34; 17:5-8; and 21:27-36.
[8] This has been argued persuasively in William Kurz, “Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman and Biblical Farewell Addresses,” JBL 104 (1985): 251-268.
[9] Ibid., 249.
[10] Ibid., 256. Operating under the assumption that Luke used the Septuagint, which Kurz believes contained the Apocrypha, Kurz argues that Luke borrows particularly from the farewell speeches in 1 Kings 2:1-10 and 1 Macc 2:49-70 in his formation of Jesus’ farewell speech. Other biblical farewell speeches he references are Deut. 31-34; Joshua 23-24; 1 Sam. 12:1-25; 1 Chronicles 28-29; and Tob. 14:3-11.
[11] According to Kurz, the misunderstanding of listeners is common to farewell dialogues. See Kurz, 268. Note how this genre of ancient farewell addresses brings unity to seemingly disjointed passages. Also, note the similar themes and structure of Paul’s farewell speech in Acts 20:17-38, which was likely written in parallel with Jesus’ farewell speech.
[12] For example, see Ibid., 264-268.
[13] Ibid., 265.
[14] This will be important for interpreting Jesus’ quotation of scripture predicting his rejection and death in Luke 22:37.
[15] Kurz, 267.
[16] See Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40-41; 6:11-13; 7:54-60; 14:19, 22; 16:19-24; 17:5-8; and 21:27-36.
[17] This story can also be found in Matthew 26:47-56 and John 18:1-11. Also, see Luke 22:39-46 and Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to “pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” This may be referring to the future trials they will have to endure, or it may serve in the immediate context as a prayer for them to not be tempted to use their swords in the garden. All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
[18] Note Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples in Matthew: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52).
[19] “On any reading it is clear from Luke 22:49-51 that Jesus did not endorse his disciples’ use of their swords.” Timothy Geddert, “Peace,” DJG 604-5. For an alternative view, see Lampe, 341-42.
[20] Many commentators note that the vocabulary Jesus uses in 22:35 corresponds more with Luke 10:4, the sending of the 70, than with Luke 9:3, the sending of the 12. As a result, many question if Luke made a mistake by using the vocabulary from 10:4, if he intentionally was referring to the sending of the 70 in 10:4, or if he was borrowing from a source that connected this saying with the sending of the 70. For examples, see R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” (NIB 9; Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 429, and John Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53 (WBC 35c; Dallas: Wordbooks, 1993), 1075. However one understands this, the interpretation is unaffected. The point is that when Jesus sent the apostles out with no purse, bag, or sandals, they did not lack a thing.
[21] For two representative scholars on these views, see Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke (trans. Geoffrey Buswell; New York: Harper, 1961), 16, 80-82, and 233, and Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 1: 267.
[22] See similar interpretations in Lampe, 337-338, and I. Howard Marshall, 824.
[23] Two scholars who believe this period is limited to the garden or the passion narrative are Paul Minear, “A Note on Luke 22:36,” NovT 7 (1964): 133, and Tannehill, 268.
[24] See references for note 18. Also, note that throughout these passages in Acts, neither Luke nor his characters expect that the world’s hostility will lessen until the return of Christ.
[25] See Fred Craddock, Luke (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1990), 260. It is important that opposition to Jesus has been growing throughout the gospel of Luke leading to this dialogue. This growing opposition, soon to reach its climax in the crucifixion of Jesus, should serve as the background for understanding Jesus’ instructions in Luke 22:35-38. See Luke 6:11; 11:53-54; 19:47; 20:19; 22:2. Gillman makes the interesting suggestion that Jesus’ words in 22:35-38 should all be taken literally as a momentary temptation in Jesus’ life, commanding his disciples to take up arms and fight. Gillman argues that Jesus overcomes this temptation in the garden with his prayer for God’s will to be done. The main problem with his argument is that for these words to be taken literally as a command to take up arms, Jesus is not just tempted, he gives in. Furthermore, if taken literally, this would contradict everything Jesus has previously said in the gospel of Luke, as Gillman admits. See John Gillman, “A Temptation to Violence: The Two Swords in Lk 22:35-38,” LS 9 (1982): 142-153.
[26] Because machaira is here understood as metaphorical, it is insignificant whether it is an offensive or defensive weapon. Regardless of which type of weapon it is, it represents hostility and enmity in the passage at hand. For a discussion of its use in the LXX and the rest of the New Testament, see W. Michaelis, “μαχαιρα,” TDNT 4: 524-527.
[27] The only two times in Acts that someone uses a machaira are in Acts 12:2 and 16:27, the execution of James and the potential suicide by the jailer. The execution of James is obviously not approved of, and Paul stops the jailer from killing himself in Acts 16:28.
[28] Lampe, 338. Also see Craig Evans, Luke (NIBC 3; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), 319. This interpretation easily answers the common question posed about this chapter: do these new instructions invalidate the earlier instructions to the disciples in Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12? The answer is absolutely not! This reversal of the earlier instructions is ironic. The disciples are still to practice reliance on God and others. The difference in this new situation is that now people may reject them and they will have to depend solely on God to provide for them and save them, which occurs throughout the book of Acts. See the references listed in note 9. Furthermore, several times in Acts the disciples “shook the dust off their feet,” fulfilling instructions Jesus gave in Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12. See Acts 13:50-52 and 18:6. For a survey of other possible interpretations of verse 36, see Tannehill, 266-67.
[29] For example, see Lampe, 351; Minear, 131; and Tannehill, 267-68.
[30] Marshall, 826.
[31] Green, 775-76.
[32] See Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (Anchor Bible 28A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 1430.
[33] Nolland, 1078.
[34] Their response here is similar to their responses in Luke 17:37; 18:28; and 22:23, 33.
[35] See Tannehill, 268.
[36] See Green, 774-75; Marshall, 827; and Nolland, 1077. Also see the similar expression in Deuteronomy 3:26: “Enough from you!” Some commentators see Jesus’ words here as literal and therefore believe Jesus thinks the swords are enough for the disciples to become lawless. For example, see Lampe, 347, and Minear, 132-133. Assuming the swords are fishermen’s knives, Western believes Jesus is ironically saying that the swords are “large enough” for all the fighting the disciples will need to do. See Western, “The Enigma of the Swords, St. Luke 20:38,” ExpT 52 (1941): 357.
[37] Examples are limitless: the crusades, the Inquisition, German Soldiers in World War I, and American soldiers in World War II.
[38] See this recent argument for the need to bear arms during worship: Doug Giles, “God and Glocks: Why Churches Should Not Be Gun Free Zones,” n.p. [cited 2 Nov 2008]. Online: http://townhall.com/columnists/DougGiles/2007/12/15/god_and_glocks_why_churches_should_not_be_gun_free_zones.

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