Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Sword of the Lord

Like the leaven of the Pharisees, the sword of Luke 22:36 was figurative.

εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς, Ἀλλὰ νῦν ὁ ἔχων βαλάντιον ἀράτω ὁμοίως καὶ πήραν, καὶ ὁ μὴ ἔχων πωλησάτω τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀγορασάτω μάχαιραν.
Luke 22:36

Last March, I argued against Christians joining the military in a long post called A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ. There was one statement I made in that blog that I’ve been meaning to reexamine because, since making it, I’ve come across some compelling arguments to the contrary. The point wasn’t critical to my central argument, but it did concern Biblical interpretation, so, if there’s any chance that I was wrong, I wanted to find out and set the record straight.

Well, I’ve done the requisite analysis and I’m now fully convinced that I was indeed wrong. And today’s blog post is the record being set straight.

The statement I made was about the sword mentioned in Luke 22:36. Here are verses 35-36 from the KJV:
35And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 36Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
Now here’s the incorrect statement I made then:
As well, it is disingenuous to suggest that the sword is figurative. After all, no one thinks the “purse” and “scrip” of the same verse are figurative, so why would the “sword” be? The purpose for the sword might be figurative, but a real sword is clearly meant.
I now believe that both the sword and its purpose are figurative—and so are the purse and scrip, for that matter.

The first thing that indicates that the sword is figurative is the Lord’s response to the disciples in verse 38:
And they said, Lord, behold, here [are] two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
The Greek word that Jesus uses for “enough” is ἱκανός [hikanos]. This word does mean “sufficient” or “enough”, but, as we see in the following screenshot from Thayer’s Lexicon, the phrase “it is enough” was a Hebrew idiom that one said when “a companion uttered anything absurd”. Jesus used it to “break off the conversation” because the disciples weren’t able to understand the deeper meaning of His words.

Regarding this idiom, Peter Misselbrook, in his Greek New Testament Notes on Luke 22:36 (scroll down to Week 8), paraphrases Howard Marshall's Commentary on the Gospel of Luke:
Marshall says that the meaning is “That's enough (of this conversation)” and that it is meant as a rebuke. Jesus gives up on any further attempt to get through the misunderstandings of the disciples who, this side of Pentecost, seem to have no real understanding of the nature of his kingdom.
If you think about it, the phrase “it is enough” has to be idiomatic, because the disciples only showed the Lord two swords. He had just finished saying that any disciple who didn’t have a sword should get one, and there were more than two disciples, therefore two swords would have been decidedly not enough; which is what Jesus would’ve said if He had actually meant for them to literally sell their garments and buy real swords.

Misselbrook also thinks that the sword is figurative and again goes to Marshall’s commentary:
The saying brings out the extreme plight of the disciples. A garment for wear at night was an utter necessity: to give it up for a sword implies that dire circumstances are at hand...the saying is a call to be ready for hardship and self-sacrifice.
The command to get purse, scrip and sword is about the disciples provisioning themselves, but not literally. It is about them provisioning themselves as spiritual shepherds. Yes, the sword is for defensive purposes, but it is for a spiritual shepherd to defend the spiritual sheepfold against a spiritual enemy. The disciples are the spiritual shepherds; believers, the church, are the spiritual sheepfold (cf John 10:11 & Eph 5:25); false teachers, like the Pharisees, are the wolves; and the Word of God is the spiritual sword (Eph 6:17).

As we see in the parallel verses of Matthew and Mark (Matt 26:31; Mark 14:27), Jesus was telling the disciples that the shepherd (Him) was to be struck and the sheep (believers) scattered; a fulfillment of the prophesy of Zechariah 13:7.
Awake, O sword1, against my shepherd, and against the man [that is] my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.
However, the 11 disciples were only going to be the scattered sheep for a short time. Later, after they were converted—as the Lord put it to Peter a few verses before (Luke 22:32), speaking about their receiving the Holy Spirit after His resurrection (John 20:21-23)—they were to become the shepherds and feed the sheep2 (see John 21:15-17).

We get a hint of this differentiation between these disciples and the Lord’s other followers earlier, in Luke 9:1-6, when He sends them out first on what is sometimes called the “Lesser Commission”—the event the Lord is referring to when He asks them if they “lacked anything”. He then sends 70 others out at the beginning of Chapter 10. These 70 others He calls “lambs among wolves” (v.3) and “babes” (v.21). Lambs are baby believers and, again, wolves are false teachers.

As for protecting the sheep, in the 1st Century, shepherds defended their flocks against wolves (and thieves) with swords and staves (called “rods” elsewhere in the NT).

The Greek word for staff is ῥάβδος [rabdos]. As well as a walking-stick and weapon, the staff was used to keep the sheep in line. As we see in Rev 19:15, the Lord will rule with a rabdos of iron. The Greek word translated “rule” is ποιμαίνω [poimainō]. It means to shepherd, protect and care for, a flock of sheep. The noun form of this word is ποιμήν [poimēn], the Greek word for shepherd.

In John 4:32-34, the Lord, speaking about doing the will of the Father, tells the disciples that He has food that they know nothing about. They wondered who gave Him something to eat. In Matthew 16:6-12, He warns them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. They thought He was talking about bread. In the same way, in Luke 22:36-38, when the Lord tells them to provision themselves and buy swords, the disciples, missing the deeper, figurative meaning of His words, immediately pulled out a couple of swords and waited for the pat on the back.

It never came.


1. This sword is not the same sword. This sword is the wicked of the world, as defined by David in Psalm 17:13. As well, the hand He will “turn upon the little ones” is defined as (ungodly) “men” in the next verse, Psalm 17:14.

2. Christians feed on the Word, the Law of God. The Greek word for law is νόμος, nomos, which comes from a word that means “to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals”.

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