Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two Swords?

A few weeks ago I asked if anyone had any issues/scriptures they would like discussed on this blog. One of the responses came from my friend Jeff. He asked about Luke 22:35-38.

In that passage we read the following:

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."

In particular, the difficulty lies with what Jesus says in verse 38. What does He mean by, "It is enough"?

Below are six translations of the Jesus' response:

ESV - And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough."

KJV - And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

NASB - They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."

NKJV - So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."

NLT - "Lord," they replied, "we have two swords among us." "That's enough," he said.

YLT - And they said, "Sir, lo, here are two swords;" and he said to them, "It is sufficient."

What is going on here? What does Jesus mean? I've heard/read three common interpretations:

1. Jesus is speaking metaphorically. He desires that His disciples be spiritually armed and ready to fight spiritual foes. Ephesians six would be a related passage to this line of thinking.

2. Jesus is speaking literally. He is rebuking the disciples' desire to take swords for violent purposes. Jesus never condones the use of violence, even for self-defense. He says, in essence, "Enough of such nonsense!"

3. Jesus is speaking literally. He is approving the disciples' taking of swords. Swords at that time were often used for many tasks other than violence. They could, for example, have been used as tools. Jesus basically says, "That will be enough for what you need."

As I think through the above interpretations, I can see that all have some merit. However, number one seems problematic to me because the context of the entire passage is a literal one. Jesus is clearly telling his disciples that circumstances have now changed and they will, therefore, need to provide more for themselves as they journey around proclaiming the gospel. The disciples' response about the swords is clearly literal. Why would Jesus all of the sudden start speaking metaphorically? I don't think he would.

As for options two and three, I really don't know what the answer is. The reason for this is that I can't tell in reading this short paragraph what the disciples' intent was. If it is to have the swords for self-defense, then I think Jesus is rebuking them (second option). If, on the other hand, they are focused on the swords as tools, then Jesus is likely telling them that two is all they'll need (third option).

Jesus is concerned for the welfare of His followers after He departs. He is instructing them in what they will need to carry out His mission. His message is one of hope, but is always presented free of charge and without coercion. They would never need swords for violence of any kind. They might, however, need them for digging holes, cutting branches for fires, etc.

In conclusion, the meaning of this passage hinges first on what the disciples meant, and then on Jesus' related response.

What do you think? Do you agree with one of these interpretations or is there another, better one?


Arthur Sido said...

I certainly don't see this as cover for those who would take up the sword in violence since He rebukes Peter just a few verses later. I think it has to do with the "numbered among the transgressors" idea that Jesus references.

Alan Knox said...


3rd-4th century Catholics and 16th-17th century Reformers interpreted the "two swords" as the "Sword of the Word" (for spiritual offense/defense) and "the sword of the state" (for physical offense/defense). Both groups concluded that the church could and should wield both swords, one directly through the priests/ministers and the other indirectly by directing the arm of the government.


Aussie John said...


I think the passage relates to 22:49ff, especially in the light of Matthews account of the incident in Matt.26:52ff.

Eric said...


I agree as far as Jesus not promoting any sort of violent behavior on the disciples' part.

What exactly do you think it has to do with the "numbered among the transgressors" idea? Can you elaborate?

Eric said...


Wow. That certainly seems like people reading into a text what they want to see.

What do you think it means?

Eric said...


I can see that they must be related somehow. But how specifically? What do you think Jesus means when he says, "It is enough."?

Alan Knox said...

I don't know. We were actually just talking about that passage in the office a few days ago.


James said...

Two swords against the multitudes of enemies that the Apostles would face in their ardent proclamation of Christ's Gospel, seem hardly enough.

In the immediate context, it seems they would be not even enough for the "multitude" (Luke 22:47) that came to seize Jesus.

It would seem to me, from the present and active tenses in Luke 22:37, that the fulfillment of Isa 53:12 bears down on what was to occur as Christ is enumerated amongst the other 'transgressors' but also amongst the disciples.

"And he was reckoned among the transgressors:" ...even before the arrival of the multitude. Seems to me the presence of weapons and the accusation of an insurrectionist/rebel make it clear.

Just as Arthur noted, a few verses later we see a swift reprimand of Peter's usage of violence, and we have an obvious dilemma when rectifying this passage with Jesus' teaching regarding "resistance". It either matches, or it doesn't.

Aussie John said...


And they said, "Lord, behold, here are two swords." And He said unto them, "It is enough." Jesus is getting a little impatient with them, and said; "Enough of this." Enough of this nonsense.

Jesus much time preparing the disciples for the rough times that were bound to come after His death, but they still reveal that they are not understanding what He had been teaching them during the past three years. They are still set on using swords for Jesus’ and their own protection.

They had been taught, and been shown, how to deal with opposition and were still not understanding, thinking that they must fight with swords like men of war. When they remark about having two swords, they can’t mean that they are well prepared against their enemies, for they obviously were not. If they were complaining that they are ill provided with arms with only two swords, they would still be revealing their ignorance of what Jesus has revealed to them since they were with Him. They were certainly not yet mindful that they were going out against spiritual enemy, not one of flesh and blood.

I have met so many Christians who have the same confused mindset and prepared to fight the fight of faith by physical battle, and the disciples are an example of that same mind set. Satan is seldom remembered as the foe, and that the battle field is in the mind of those who are outside of Christ or deceived in some way.

Eric said...


I agree with you that the meaning has to be tied in with the fulfillment of the OT quote.

Thanks for the response.

Eric said...


Thanks for explaining. This passage seems to me to be one of the clearest examples of Jesus' non-violent nature and mission (at a physical level). You are right that so many today fail to understand this. It has taken me years to come to this conclusion. Ah tradition.

Jeffrey said...

Hmmm interesting. Is there anywhere else in scripture where a sword is used as a tool to cut firewood?

Eric said...


Good question. I can't think of any.

Jeffrey said...

It seems pretty straightforward to me: a sword is a weapon. He didn't say they COULD have one. He said they SHOULD sell their cloak and buy one.

I think of this like His healings. He never seemed to do it the same way twice. I think He sent them out defenseless and without provision one time, and told them to be prepared another time, so we wouldn't assume that He MUST work through us in the sane way every time.

He says God will provide for us, yet we're told to work; same deal

Eric said...


Why do you think Jesus would tell them to obtain swords if He did not want them to use them for any sort of violent purposes?

Jeffrey said...

I think the phrase "violent purpose" has too broad a scope. The voluntary, offensive violence is demonstrably wrong. Violence in defense of one's self or a defenseless innocent is arguably not. I know of no instance where defense of one's self or a defenseless innocent is prohibited in the scriptures.

I'm enjoying this conversation. Thanks for putting it up. It illustrates to me the preconceived notions we all (myself included) bring to the scriptures. I like seeing what y'all bring to the issue.

Eric said...


Those are interesting issues. I've wondered about them quite a bit. Is it acceptable to use violence if it is the only way to defend an innocent person? I'd like to think so but I don't have scripture to support that conclusion.

As for self-defense, that one seems less likely to me. The "turn the other cheek" passage certainly comes into play here. However, it may be too broad to say that Jesus is saying we should simply take a beating and not defend ourselves at all.

Jesus certainly had some pacifistic tendencies. I think we must lean that way in our decision making unless there is reason to think otherwise.

As for the disciples, when would it have been acceptable to use swords? To defend themselves? I'm not so sure.

Arthur Sido said...


I know of no instance where defense of one's self or a defenseless innocent is prohibited in the scriptures.

What about 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.

and what about Romans 12: 17-21?

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There are several places where the use of violence is prohibited in the New Testament and nowhere that it is permitted or commanded. Our default position is that we trust God and do not take matters into our own hands, especially when that leads to violence, i.e. overcoming evil with evil.

Jeffrey said...


Thanks for the reply. I thought of those passages specifically, but they seem to be speaking to vengeance, not defense. As I read it, turning the other cheek is in response to public insult (albeit physical). Repaying evil for evil is addressing a premeditated retaliation. Neither speaks to self defense or defending an innocent.

Let me put it this way: if you have a daughter, would you want her husband to pray about how to provide for and defend her, and then sit on the couch waiting for the heavens to send forth manna and allow her to be mugged while standing self righteously by, careful not to interfere, lest he harm the attacker, or would you want him to pray about how to provide for and defend her, then get a job and intervene when she is attacked?

This is again, similar to so many other issues in the scriptures. Grace is provide to all, but we must actively accept it.

Again, I am fascinated by our ability to see different things in reading the same passage. Thanks for your insight.


Jeannie said...

Why did they work on the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah with swords? Neh 4:13, 17, 18. God because of their prayer thwarted the enemies' plans...but, they were still stationed in the breaches and work with their "weapon"... they still worked and carried. I believe the point of what Christ was saying is that HE is enough... and we are to be ready.

Some will shed blood (David) and some will not (Solomon). Both were dearly LOVED by God and both were sinners.