Enough of the sword play—- Luke 22.38

In the recent brouhaha on this blog about Christians and weapons and violence, more than once Luke 22.38 came up as a supposed justification for disciples using swords.  This is in fact a bad misreading of this text, based in part on a bad mistranslation of it.   In the forthcoming commentary on Luke A.J. Levine and I are doing for Cambridge U. Press, here is what is said about this verse——

Vs. 38 is heavy laden with bitter irony in light of the previous verse.  Jesus’ own disciples are not to act like thugs or transgressors, and yet here they are gearing up for ‘battle’.  Jesus has just used dramatic language to warn them that hard and hostile times are about to happen (hence the remark about selling their cloak and buying a sword).[1] But the disciples misunderstand the thrust of what he is saying and in fact they are already packing weapons!  They produce two swords, and will go on to use one of them (22.50).  In total exasperation at their thick-headedness Jesus terminates this discussion with ‘enough’ (hikanon estin)[2] just as he will quickly stop their violence with a sword by ‘enough of that’ (eate eos toutou).   Jesus is not here an advocate of carrying weapons, even for self protection, but he is warning of violent times ahead.[3] As Fitzmyer puts it “the irony concerns not the number of weapons, but the mentality of the apostles. Jesus will have nothing to do with swords, even for defense.”[4] Even better Craddock says: “In the battles facing the Twelve, swords will be useless [against the Devil]: a sword would not help Judas, a sword would not help Simon, a sword would not help frightened and fleeing disciples.  But they thought so.  Jesus knew they did not understand, and so he said, “Enough of this talk: drop this subject.”[5] From a grammatical point, it seems clear that this is the right interpretation of vs. 38 which simply says in the Greek “he said to them ‘Enough’!”  It does not read “Two swords are enough”. What we have here is an idiomatic expression used to close off a discussion.[6]

[1] That this is dramatic hyperbole is clear enough since the disciples would always need their cloaks if they were planning on going on living. They couldn’t go around in their underclothes all the time, especially not in winter or spring in Israel, particularly in Judea. Jesus is not actually counseling the purchase of weapons here, only making clear that hard and dangerous times will soon be upon them. It is true that short swords were the regular part of the gear of a traveler in Roman times who passed through dangerous territory, and they were always just for protection, not for offensive purposes. But the reference to the selling of the cloak, a much more essential item for the traveler  shows the real  rhetorical character of this saying.

[2] Note that the Greek has ‘it is enough’, not ‘they are enough’ which is what would be required if Jesus was approving of  the two swords they had produced and shown. See rightly Evans, Luke, p. 322.  Two swords would hardly be enough if Jesus were actually urging armed combat with the considerable collection of Temple police they were about to face.

[3] See the discussion in Johnson, Luke, p. 347; Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, pp. 1432-34.  Cyril of Alexandria understood the Greek phrase to be sarcastic in its irony—‘you already have two swords?  Well that’s more than enough surely.’

[4] Fitzmyer, p. 1434.  Nolland, Luke 18.35-24.53, p. 1077 notes the interesting suggestion that what is meant here is—‘oh you have two swords already? Well that’s more than enough to make us look like bandits, and so fulfill the Scriptures.’ This too would be ironic or sarcastic, but it is less likely than the reading suggested above.

[5] Craddock, Luke, p. 260.

[6] See rightly Marshall,. Luke, p. 827;  Culy et al. Luke, p. 684.

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  • http://www.delvinginto.com drewe

    I think in regards to using this verse as justification for having weapons, you have shown well what was meant.

    I think also, by using the other words of Jesus, that he addressed this specifically in the discourse we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:38-39 –

    You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    So from the perspective of having a weapon for self defense, whilst I am sure there area other arguments out there, this is a strong reminder otherwise. We are to live Godly lives, and rely on God to guide our paths. Romans 8:28 –

    And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    Just my 2 bits, and I know someone will disagree, but again, that is where I am! (note: I am not talking about owning a weapon for the purpose of say hunting to feed a family, just about offence or ‘self defense’)


  • Dave

    Dr. Witherington,

    I’m glad you brought this back up on your new blog. I had one other thought that I didn’t have a chance to post on the previous comment chain.

    It seems as though there are two Christian “absolutes” at play here, in a sense. The absolute sanctity of human life being one, and the duty to defend the defenseless (the least of these) being the other. When issues of violence against innocent people come up, it seems as though these two butt heads. So, is the answer a lesser of two evils approach? This seems somewhat unpalatable since it would get into a situational ethic, of sorts.

    In a sense you seem to advocate the lesser of two evils approach a bit when you talk of using non-lethal force to subdue someone. You have appealed to the “turn the other cheek” saying as a reason to not use deadly force, but I’m not sure where interpreting this saying in the way you have allows even a non-lethal use of force.

    Any thoughts?

    PS, I like the new blog look!

  • http://www.canonglenn.com Glenn Davis

    I have ready your blog for a number of years in its various incarnations.

    1) Thank you for a blog that is strongly Wesleyan-Arminian in the midst of an internet saturated with Reformed blogs.

    2) Thank you for posting thoughts, sections, and quotes from your books and commentaries.

    3) Thank you for being Christ-centered and Christ-saturated in your writing and preaching.

    4) Thanks for your ministry.

  • Rick C

    I find it ironic that the God of history who is simultaneously God Incarnate respectively brought about the Pax Romana for the God Incarnate missional work of peace. The Roman transition to the Empire from the Republican form of government came about with at least a century or more of warfare. So the God Incarnate in the form of the God of History is using warfare to bring about the peace in which the God of Salvation could spread the Word of love and peace and salvation. Surely Romans 8:28 is not time bound to just to the NT period of history but was played out in the long eons of time before as well as after the Christ’s walk and work on earth. Essentially the transition from Republican to Empire was a civil war. Can it be construed from a wider perspective of history that this civil war might have been an announcement of things shortly to come in the works of Jesus. I mean in a sense, perhaps not militarily, Jesus brings us Civil War. But in another sense the God of History is using all of human activity for his greater purpose for good. So, how can you say military service isn’t acceptable?

    Then there is the old adage, if good men do nothing evil fills the container. I watched a documentary a few days ago on the WWII prison camps in Poland and the events that took place in them. If that wasn’t the hottest of evil hell burning among the actions that took place in these camps then I don’t know what hell or evil is. But what I do know is that it took a mighty military machine to put a stop to it all. And it that military were men of Christ.

    I’m pretty certain I’m not stating my case as clearly as I’d like but I think the jist and maybe even the jest of it is here.

    Of course and always, very respectfully!!

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Dave Jesus’ actions in the temple courts show that a non-lethal use of force, not to be confused with lethal violence is within the scope of Jesus’ teaching.


  • Pat Lynch

    If Jesus did, in fact, command that the disciples arm themselves, then they were most disobedient. Otherwise, Acts would be full of swashbuckling sword fights instead of beatings and imprisonment. Good grief! Paul gets shuffled out a window in a basket! The biblical message is that of the all-powerful God making strength out of our human weakness.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Amen to that Pat. And weakness turns out to be amazingly strong in God’s hands.


  • Steven

    That looks to be interesting reading! I just read a really interesting take on the saying in a great book on the “hard sayings” of Jesus called Taught by God (http://www.amazon.com/Taught-God-Making-Difficult-Sayings/dp/1933275502/ref=pd_cp_b_1).

    The author basically suggests that:

    1 the saying is in the context of Jesus’ words about not taking up the sword and otherwise negative attitude to violence
    2 in the context of selling the “necessary garment” – a marker of the coming tribulation
    3 “enough” as BW3 comments
    4 no disciple took the saying to mean actually taking up the sword

    I will add the commentary to Luke to my library

  • http://www.delvinginto.com drewe

    Rick (I know this is not my blog, but I thought to respond to your comments).

    I think there is a distinct difference between the single believer, and the function of Government, which is mentioned elsewhere.

    As a single believer, we are called to be peaceable. Much of the book of 1 Peter also covers this.

    As a nation however, governments and leaders are called to be ‘peaceable’, but also to enforce rule of law, and to decide what is ‘best’ for the people. There is no question that in that role, a believer needs to stand up for righteousness – in a national of governmental sense. There is no question that what Hitler was doing was wrong – and that the nations that stopped him did the right thing.

    So in the context of a Christian being in the army ‘serving’ his\her government as called, then if they are serving a government doing the right thing, I don’t see a problem!

    Also in the context of God using ‘swords’ for his own purpose – the old testament has this many times over. A specific example would be the prophesies, by name, of the role Cyrus would play in history – to be God’s sword of punishment on many nations, but also to restore Jerusalem. And yes, I believe this is a pre NT version of Romans 8:28!


  • Rick C

    Thanks Drewe, appreciate your feedback. Truly!

    In a critique of myself regarding my first post it is very obvious my post needs a huge amount of additional work for better clarification and reasoning! The door is wide open on a couple of points and it needs to be closed. And one of those concerns is the work of the God Of History versus the work of the God Incarnate. I think there are some discriminating differences for us humans in the work of these two.

    As always thanks to Doc W for allowing us to participate in these always interesting and salient life topics.

  • Jeffrey

    Now why would Jesus say (36) He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

    And then say “that’s enough I don’t want to hear about this”

    Silly interpretation and a very clever play on words. Lets look at the WHOLE Bible for a much broader discussion

    Lets start with this

    21″When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

    In verse 21 the persons motive for being armed is protection, liberty, security, safety, and retaining what is rightfully his… his motive is peace (and the sanctity of his home)

    In verse 22 this second person arms in offense to take away peace, sanctity, possessions and liberty (perhaps even the life of the first person) and to destroy his home. His motive is NOT peaceful

    There are 2 reasons to have a sword

    1) To protect peace

    2) To spoil, take or destroy peace

  • Jeffrey

    It should also be noted that the original interpretation of the Sixth Commandment is “Thou Shall Not MURDER” which has later been transcribed into “Thou Shall Not Kill”. There is a clear difference, even Biblically, between the definitions of “murder” and “kill”.

  • Jeffrey

    Luke 22:36-38 says

    (36) He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (37) It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[a]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (38)The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

    While this passage may be debated among various religious denominations, many religious scholars have interpreted this to mean “Jesus knew that His time on earth was at the end… while His Disciples traveled WITH Him, they were never in need of anything, they had safety while in His presence…. with Jesus to be physically out of the picture, things were now going to be different… they were going to need the means to protect themselves!” Also one should note that when Peter attempted to protect Jesus from his arrest, Jesus said to Peter “put away your sword” not “disarm yourself.” Jesus disciples were armed as were most persons traveling during the time, and not once did Jesus tell his Disciples “disarm yourselves if you wish to follow me”. It is also to be noted that if Jesus was not sacrificed, then there would be no fulfillment of the scriptures.

  • Jeffrey

    I guess it’s a matter of what perspective one wishes to believe from. I have heard from pastors that have PhD’s etc (and those without PhD’s) who disagree with this articles interpretation. So one pastor says A and another says B. Use the WHOLE Bible to interpret a passage

    I also find it very interesting that only ~5 Theological schools in the country teach pre-trib. Also I find it rather odd that MANY pastors will NOT teach the book of Revelation

    I also find it interesting that today there are pastors who refer to the Bible as “a collection of stories” that “may not really be true” or better yet “the Bible is old and out dated and is not applicable to modern life……… it needs to be updated”

    So what pastors have the real truth? Who is to believe who?

    I say read the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, go back to original Greek when/where necessary and find agreement of a group of reputable religious scholars. That will be really necessary if one is lacking in Greek language skills

  • Jeffrey

    And by the way for those who may need a refresher…………..
    There is not such thing as “collective salvation”
    Unless of course one re-writes Scripture

    Ecclesiastes 3
    A Time for Everything
    1 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    2 a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    6 a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    8 a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

    15 Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;
    and God will call the past to account.[b]

    16 And I saw something else under the sun:

    In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
    in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

    17 I said to myself,

    “God will bring into judgment
    both the righteous and the wicked,
    for there will be a time for every activity,
    a time to judge every deed.”

  • Dan

    You quoted Luke 11:21-22. However, Jesus isn’t making any statement on violence at all. He talks about driving out demons, and then compares it to a strong man guarding his house, and then being overpowered by someone stronger. He’s saying that the power of God is stronger than the power of Satan. When you start talking about the strong man’s right to guard his house, his motives, and analyzing the “stronger man” etc. you’ve completely missed the point of what Jesus was saying.

  • Jeffrey

    Respectfully I have read the “passive” arguments and I have spoken with and read a variety of pastors of various denominations. I’m sorry but I have missed nothing. See the passive argument breaks down when considering the Bible in it’s entirety and when the defense of innocence is involved. Jesus does not want violence. But remember that evil is still lurking about the planet. The cosmic battle of good vs evil is in play as well. If one does not accept that then how/why will there be a second coming of Christ? And WHY will He be coming with a vengeance?

    Pacifists have yet to explain the Holocaust and actions needed there and to stop and thwart evil. Note that I am referring to self defense and not vengeance. So once again lets look at the interpretations from the Quakers to the Pentecostals, and you will find differing views. Now the bottom line is this simply stated, if you wish to err on the side of pacifism, fine so be it. I ask that you do not regulate that or remove my ability to if God forbid that I must defend my wife or children. You see I read it as Biblical that if one stands by idly and allows that evil to take an innocent life that God will judge you the person who could have intervened. So from that perspective you would have blood on your hands either directly or indirectly. God knows ones heart. God will judge accordingly. And God will impart His grace if heartfelt repentance is real.

    I really wonder if the pacifist would REALLY stand by idly and watch their child being murdered?

    I also ask you if this is not permissible, then why does the law still exist? Why then can a law enforcement official take a life if necessary either in self defense or in protection of an innocent? Why can the law induce capital punishment? Why will a court find a person not guilty of murder if they can prove that their life or a life was in jeopardy?

    Are you telling me that our soldiers are all going to hell if they fought an enemy, esp something like WWII?

    I too am a pacifist, up and until a certian point. I have not been to that point and I pray that I am NEVER at that point.

    In the end beyond that point; I’m not convinced………… sorry. But if I’m wrong and God knows my motives, I will be forgiven as Christ has paid the way for my sin

    Love your brother even if he hates you………. I never heard it said “but go ahead and let him kill you”

    “Take heed that no one deceives you”
    For the record, I am not trying to deceive anyone, just reading the Scriptures for what they say. When all is said and done none of us are worthy…….. hence it is by Thy Grace that we even have any chance at salvation

  • Dan


    You said “I really wonder if the pacifist would REALLY stand by idly and watch their child being murdered?”

    Practicing non-violence is not “doing nothing.” If that’s the case, MLK did nothing for civil rights, and Gandhi did nothing for Indian Independence.

    As for what you should do if your child was being murdered, the answer is that you wouldn’t be loving your family if you stood by and did nothing while they were killed. If you wanted to truly show them love, you would lay down your life for them. I am under no pretense that those who practice nonviolence will not have violence done to them. It happened with Jesus, it happened to his disciples, and it has happened to many people over the years who have chosen against violence. Suffering and death will sometimes happen to those committed to nonviolence. A commitment to nonviolence could lead to our own death, the death of our family, and the eradication of our country. But again, so could a commitment to Just War and violence. Far more people have died while using violence to defend themselves than have died while being nonviolent.

    You said, “Are you telling me that our soldiers are all going to hell if they fought an enemy, esp something like WWII?”

    Nobody has said anything about salvation being tied to this. I have a number of friends serving in the military who love God and love others. We just have different views on the best way to represent Christ.

    Pacifists have yet to explain the Holocaust and actions needed there and to stop and thwart evil.

    Try reading “What About Hitler?” by Robert Brimlow. You can’t say that pacifists have yet to explain it when you obviously haven’t read entire books dedicated to that very question.

    I also ask you if this is not permissible, then why does the law still exist? Why then can a law enforcement official take a life if necessary either in self defense or in protection of an innocent? Why can the law induce capital punishment? Why will a court find a person not guilty of murder if they can prove that their life or a life was in jeopardy?

    What influences our moral decisions – scripture or the laws of our country? The law justifies abortion. The law also allows prostitution in some areas. The law allows for capital punishment, and it allows us to kill in self-defense. It provides us with all sorts of freedoms we can use to disobey the call of Christ. Simply because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s something we as Christians should do. “It’s legal” is hardly a moral defense for anything.

    Love your brother even if he hates you………. I never heard it said “but go ahead and let him kill you”

    Isn’t that what Jesus did? And the disciples? And the entire church for the first few centuries of Christianity? The early church was entirely non-violent. We can say that we’re supposed to love our enemies unless they try to hurt us – but isn’t that why their enemies in the first place? Exactly because they’re trying to hurt us? When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I think it’s assumed that they’re trying to harm us.

    I guess I just find it confusing that you continue to say that you’re trying to simply read scripture for what it’s worth. I think it’s darn near impossible to justify violence as a Christ-follower.

  • Jeffrey

    Justify violence…………… I guess I’m missing your point. I’m not suggesting violence until it is self defense. You seem to be mixing around a yes/no situation

    But by the time the self defense situation gets you to that point I guess the violence is going to hit you in the face like it or not

    Are you saying self defense is acceptable or not?

    Part of your conversation says “yes” and then the second part says “no”

    Self defense means that you are willing to lay down your life, but it does not mean that you must die

    If you choose not to defend yourself under such circumstances, there is a great likely hood that you will die

    Is self defense permissible?
    Is self defense a God given right?

    With regard to MLK


    This is amazing!
    Wriiten by a UCLA Professor and posted on the Huntington Post NO LESS!

    Check this out!!! “Most people think King would be the last person to own a gun. Yet in the mid-1950s, as the civil rights movement heated up, King kept firearms for self-protection…Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King’s home …as “an arsenal.”

    In fact, he even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon…after King’s house was bombed, King applied for a concealed carry permit in Alabama. The local police had discretion to determine who was a suitable person to carry firearms. King, a clergyman whose life was threatened daily, surely met the requirements of the law, but he was rejected nevertheless. At the time, the police used any wiggle room in the law to discriminate against African Americans.”

  • Jeffrey

    Conversely have you ever read Kopels essay on “Modern Christian Pacifist Philosophy”?

  • Jeffrey

    I am posting this for anyone interested, it is well worth the read

    Written by David Kopel


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