Why did Jesus tell the disciples to buy a sword in Luke 22:36?

Why did Jesus tell the disciples to buy a sword in Luke 22:36?                   By Jack Kettler

“Then 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.” (Luke 22:36)

Why did Jesus instruct the disciple to do this? What purpose would one use a sword?

Strong’s Concordance on the word sword:

machaira: a short sword or dagger

Original Word: μάχαιρα, ας, ἡ

Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine

Transliteration: machaira

Phonetic Spelling: (makh’-ahee-rah)

Definition: a short sword or dagger

Usage: a sword.

According to the Strong’s Lexicon, a knife could be translated from machaira.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Luke 22:36 provides an answer:

“But now – The Saviour says the times are changed. “Before,” he sent them out only for a little time. They were in their own country. Their journeys would be short, and there was no need that they should make preparation for a long absence, or for encountering great dangers. But “now” they were to go into the wide world, among strangers, trials, dangers, and wants. And as the time was near; as he was about to die; as these dangers pressed on, it was proper that they should make provision for what was before them.

And he that hath no sword – There has been much difficulty in understanding why Jesus directed his disciples to arm themselves, as if it was his purpose to make a defense. It is certain that the spirit of his religion is against the use of the sword, and that it was not his purpose to defend himself against Judas. But it should be remembered that these directions about the purse, the scrip, and the sword were not made with reference to his “being taken” in the garden, but with reference “to their future life.” The time of the trial in Gethsemane was just at hand; nor was there “time” then, if no other reason existed, to go and make the purchase. It altogether refers to their future life. They were going into the midst of dangers. The country was infested with robbers and wild beasts. It was customary to go armed. He tells them of those dangers – of the necessity of being prepared in the usual way to meet them. This, then, is not to be considered as a specific, positive “command” to procure a sword, but an intimation that great dangers were before them; that their manner of life would be changed, and that they would need the provisions “appropriate to that kind of life.” The “common” preparation for that manner of life consisted in money, provisions, and arms; and he foretells them of that manner of life by giving them directions commonly understood to be appropriate to it. It amounts, then, to a “prediction” that they would soon leave the places which they had been accustomed to, and go into scenes of poverty, want, and danger, where they would feel the necessity of money, provisions, and the means of defense. All, therefore, that the passage justifies is:

1. That it is proper for people to provide beforehand for their wants, and for ministers and missionaries as well as any others.

2. That self-defense is lawful.”

Men encompassed with danger may lawfully “defend” their lives.” (1)

According to Barnes, self-defense is the reason Jesus said to buy a sword. If this is the correct interpretation, are there other passages in Scripture that support the idea of self-defense?

The following passages teach directly or by implication, self-defense:

“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he dies, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (Exodus 22:2-3)

“And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.” (Nehemiah 4:16-18)

“But thus, saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.” (Isaiah 49:25)

“When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” (Luke 11:21)

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” (John 18:10)

Moreover, Jesus, far from rebuking Peter, said:

“Then said Jesus unto Peter, put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11)

In principle, Jesus would not be against his servants fighting to protect him:

“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36 ESV)

In Israel, it was not unusual for Jesus to direct the disciples to buy a sword.

For example: 

The Bible Gateway lists 406 places in the Bible that contain the word “sword.” Of these, 373 are in the Old Testament, and 33 in the New Testament.

Not all instances of a sword involve warfare. Sometimes sword is used figuratively, as in the next two passages:

“So, He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24)

“In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:16)

In the following two passages, sword in used symbolically:

“So, He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24)

“In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:16)

There are many examples of a sword being used illustratively, as in the following passage:

“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

Even with these examples, the use of a sword for warfare, which God commanded and blessed, was common, as seen in the subsequent two instances:

“I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Leviticus 26:6-8)

“They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21)

Self-defense in Old Testament Israel was not unusual at all. It is taken for granted even to this day. For example:

From the Jerusalem Post, in Ask the Rabbi: The right to self-defense:

“The right to self-defense is well established within Jewish law as manifested by the law of rodef (the pursuer). The sages contended that the verse “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16) not only demands saving a friend from drowning or other dangerous situations but further dictates that one stop an assailant from committing murder (Sanhedrin 73a). This right was extended to both onlookers and threatened victims alike and was also applied in cases of sexual assault. The status of rodef was further applied to a fetus whose mother is endangered by the pregnancy, thereby mandating an abortion, even as the fetus certainly has no malicious intent (CM 425:2-3).” (2)

 In closing:

 “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” (Psalm 18:34 ESV)

 The case for passivism is unable to be proven from Scripture, even if trying to make the case alone from the New Testament. Jesus did not teach a total passivism, as illustrated by the text from Luke 22:36.

 “Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defense of the country, the overthrow of tyranny, or private self-defense.” – John Adams

 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

 “To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

 Notes:

 1.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Luke, Vol. 1, p. 975-976.2.      SHLOMO BRODY, Jerusalem Post, Ask the Rabbi: The right to self-defense, December 3, 2010, https://www.jpost.com/jewish-world/judaism/ask-the-rabbi-the-right-to-self-defense

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s