Thursday, June 6, 2013

Luke 22:36, Self-Defense, and Firearms

Luke 22:36 (ESV) He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
I've seen this verse quoted quite a bit recently in debates over self-defense and firearms. But does the verse really have anything to do with these things at all? First of all, there's a textual variant in the verse. Most Greek manuscripts actually would be translated as, "And the one who has no sword will sell his cloak and buy one." If this reading is accepted, Jesus' words in verse 36b are descriptive rather than prescriptive.But more importantly, the context of the verse must be considered.

Luke 22:35-38 (ESV) And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Jesus reminds the Apostles that while he remained with them, they had everything they needed. But the time is coming when they will be persecuted as depicted by the swords. Jesus knows that some of them are already carrying swords and do not trust him protect them. The presence of the swords also indicates that they are the transgressors that Jesus is numbered with. The Apostles are still hoping for some type of revolt. They produce two swords, but rather than saying, "But ten more," Jesus says, "That's enough." They don't understand what Jesus is saying and make the same mistake that some do today in thinking that Jesus is telling them to arm themselves. This is similar in some ways to the Matthew 16 passage where the disciples think Jesus is complaining that they didn't bring any bread. The fact that Jesus' Apostles misunderstood him is confirmed by what happens shortly after this. When Jesus is being arrested, Peter draws a sword and cuts off one of the servant's ears and in Matthew's account Jesus warns that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

The Apostolic confusion over many of Jesus' words are evident throughout the period prior to the resurrection. But especially after Pentecost, they seem to get what Jesus is saying. And we read of many examples of persecution, but none of the Apostles takes up arms against his persecutors. In order to interpret Jesus' words as being a lesson in self-defense we would have to conclude that Apostles actually did understand Jesus prior to the resurrection but misunderstood him after the resurrection. All but John were martyred and nobody takes up a sword to fight off the Romans or the Jews. This is also the case with the early Christians. During various periods the Christians suffered great persecution, but they didn't take up arms.

If someone breaks into a man's house to harm his family, it is well within the vocation of father to protect his family and stop the intruder by force, but there no Scriptural warrant for self-defense in the case of persecution. Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and the Book of Revelation shows us that the Lamb conquers through the blood of the martyrs not through the blood of the persecutors.

And the Scriptures simply are not interested in giving us a list of weapons we may or may not own. Societies can decide what restrictions should be placed on weapon ownership based upon what they believe will best protect human life. It is the vocation of the President of the United States to uphold the Constitution and to protect the right to bear arms but if laws are passed that prohibit this right it is the vocation of the citizen to obey these laws. The citizen must only disobey when they are commanded to disobey God and God has not commanded anyone to own any weapon.


glock magazine extension sale said...

Thanks for comparing the teaching from the bible and self defense.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is an older post, and you may not reply. Can you recommend any resources on the LCMS position on violence and the proper use of force by non-governmental or military (laymen). I've heard some troubling claims by fellow LCMSers about what is not just permitted but required to fulfill the duty of our vocations.

Chuck Wiese said...

I'm not aware of any official document showing the position of the LCMS on self-defense. However, this piece by Althaus does deal with that issue: What Althaus says agrees with my understanding of Luther and also with what I've heard guests on Issues Etc. say about what Luther taught concerning self-defense.

Anonymous said...

Page 13 and 14 are getting at the tension I am puzzling over. Some at my church want to allow for CCW in our building, including during services, to protect against the potential for violence against the congregation or our pastor (not a specific known threat but more a response to the growing instability in our society). The main argument presented to the congregation has been based on what the article identifies as the responsibility of the secular person - fathers and leaders of the church have the duty to protect their families and fellow members of the congregation respectively.

I wonder about the reality of the Christian person, in the situation at hand, who is in God's house and receiving His gifts in the sanctuary as one who has been called out of the secular world. Would suffering and violence experienced by Christians who have gathered because of their shared membership in the Body of Christ not be an occasion to rejoice rather than an opportunity to respond to evil by force? I know that this is straying from the original intent of your post, so I'll leave it at that. I've found these areas where the two Kingdoms intersect to be very challenging.

Chuck Wiese said...

It's a difficult issue but to my way of thinking, if somebody breaks into the church to attack you then they are most likely doing it because of your faith and you are called to suffer.

Anonymous said...

I agree on both counts. Thanks for the replies. Blessed and Holy Christmas.