The God & Gun Conundrum
Caleb earned a B.A. in Religion from Luther Rice College as well as an M.Ed. in English and Literature at Carolina University. Currently, he is working toward a Ph.D. in Humanities at Faulkner University.
Jesus would never tell someone to take up a sword against another person. Indeed, he teaches in the famous Sermon on the Mount to “not resist the one who is evil” [but] to “turn the other cheek.”
Few topics are as polarizing in America as guns. Here in the American South, guns are a staple: Any mention of gun control leads citizens to feel like their fundamental, “God-given” rights are being threatened. The roads are full of “Pro-Life, Pro-God, Pro-Gun” bumper stickers.
What follows is not an attack on guns or gun rights; I own guns and have been around them my entire life. The gun control debate and interpreting the Second Amendment are topics that can be debated with integrity from all sides. But it’s one thing to defend gun rights from a constitutional standpoint; it’s another thing entirely to defend gun rights using the Bible and Christian faith.
Although one will find no mention of guns in the Bible (for obvious reasons), the idea of weaponry in relation to contemporary interpretations of the Second Amendment is a topic that is found in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. And pro-gun Christians are quick to use these biblical references. If you ask pro-gun Christians why the Second Amendment exists, most will say that (1) it ensures Americans the right to personally defend themselves and (2) enables them to adequately resist a government if it becomes tyrannical. Scripture shows that Christians cannot defend these viewpoints with the Bible.
Luke 22:36: Christians and Self-Defense
Luke 22:36 is one of the most grossly misinterpreted verses in the Bible. As soon as someone — anyone — says anything negative about gun ownership or even mentions a piece of gun control legislation, Christian gun rights activists are quick to quote Jesus here: “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’” (Luke 22:36, ESV).
At first glance, it may seem like Jesus is telling his disciples that they should be armed. And most arguments from pro-gun Christians embrace this interpretation, even affixing the idea of the disciples using these swords for self-defense while on the road fulfilling the Great Commission. This interpretation is seriously flawed. If one reads the rest of the passage’s context — which is what is required in order to understand a biblical passage — it is evident that Jesus’ purpose here is not remotely related to either self-defense — or using a sword in any way.
The greater context of chapter 22 takes place during Jesus’ final moments as a free man. The following events occur: The chief priests plot to kill Jesus (vv. 1-2); Judas agrees to betray Jesus (vv. 3-6); Jesus celebrates the Passover and the Last Supper with his disciples (vv. 7-20); Jesus predicts the betrayal by one of his disciples and settles a dispute among them about who is the greatest (vv. 21-30); Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34). Readers then arrive at the verse in question, and one must remember that it exists within the context of what has transpired: Jesus is making predictions in relation to his arrest, which happens shortly after the above events occur.
In verse 35 Jesus reminds his disciples that he always provided for them before making the statement that is so often used by gun rights activists. Luke 22:36, again. Verse 37 is nothing but an extension — a reason why Jesus wanted his disciples to go buy a sword: “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.” There is the answer: Jesus wanted his disciples to go buy a sword so that a prophecy in relation to his arrest would be fulfilled.
How the swords fulfill prophecy is explained in events later in the passage. However, the connection of this verse to the self-defense interpretation of the Second Amendment becomes suspect with the next verse: “And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough’” (Luke 22:37). So if Jesus asked his disciples to go buy a sword so that they could defend themselves on the road, it is odd that Jesus would say that two “is enough.” Enough to defend 11 or 12 men? I don’t think so. It is all part of the prophecy, and once one reads down to the ending of this passage, it becomes clear what Jesus meant by being “numbered with the transgressors.”
In verses 39-46 Jesus prays to the father about the suffering that is about to befall him, and he catches his disciples sleeping when they should be praying to “not enter into temptation” (v. 46). The next verse tells of a crowd coming to arrest Jesus, and his disciples ask him a question: “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Before Jesus can answer, “one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear” (v. 50). It seems evident from the context that the sword used to strike the guard is one of the two swords from verse 37. Did Jesus want his disciples to use these swords to defend him at his arrest? Absolutely not! Verse 51 says, “But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” Indeed, the parallel account in Matthew adds this statement by Jesus: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matthew 26:52).
Jesus makes it clear that these swords were for a specific purpose: to fulfill prophecy and give the guards a reason to arrest Jesus. When they arrived and saw these swords, they had all the evidence they needed to declare Jesus as a criminal — to number him “with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37). In fact, Jesus told the disciples to put the swords back in their place — out of their hands — as soon as they served their purpose.
The Jesus known from Scripture would never tell someone to take up a sword against another person. Indeed, he teaches in the famous Sermon on the Mount to “not resist the one who is evil” [but] to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). Luke 22:36 is directly related to self-defense, and Jesus says to “not resist.” As hard as that is to comprehend, especially for modern American Christians who have been taught that deadly force is sometimes necessary and often “Christian,” it is what Jesus said.
In the account of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus gives his disciples an opportunity to apply his teaching — they fail. Jesus corrects them and tells them that swords do not belong in their hands to be used for deadly force. The two swords he commanded them to possess were for a specific purpose — to give the impression of violent resistance or revolution — in order to fulfill prophecy and lead to his arrest. Luke 22:36 in no way supports the idea that Jesus commands his followers to defend themselves using deadly force, nor does the passage offer biblical support to the self-defense interpretation of the Second Amendment.