Enough of the sword play—- Luke 22.38

Enough of the sword play—- Luke 22.38 January 20, 2011

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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