Does Luke 22:36 support Christians owning guns for self-defence?
The verse in question has a long history, of being cited, not just to support Christians using force (then literally swords) for self-defence, but also to support Christians serving in armies, and even to support the use of military violence by nominally Christian states.
Luke 22:36, where Jesus tells his disciples, “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”
Clearly it’s an odd instruction – most obviously at odds with the following after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus:
Matthew 26:52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
There’s no way to square those two statements and say that Christians should buy swords (Luke 22:36) but then never use them (Matthew 26:52).
One of the things that is often not read is reaction of Jesus when his disciples take the first statement literally. The full context is this:
35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 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. 37 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.”38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (ESV)
Jesus’ response “it is enough” (ESV) is not something we would say in modern English. Eugene Petersen captures a more colloquial reading his The Message translation:
38 They said, “Look, Master, two swords!” But he said, “Enough of that; no more sword talk!”
Although a paraphrase, that is an accurate capture of the Greek expression which really does mean “Okay, that’s enough” – whether it means enough talk about swords, or enough swords or both. We might also render that reply as “That’s plenty!”.
Whichever way we render it, the meaning is clear; Jesus did not intend them to literally go and buy swords, because that is exactly how they took it, and he had to correct them. They misunderstood him. A literal reading is a misreading.
A symbolic meaning?
The key to Jesus’ meaning is probably related to the Old Testament reference immediately following the moneybag, knapsack and sword imagery:
36 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. 37 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.”
This is a quote from Isaiah 53, the famous messianic suffering servant prophecy:
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
How then is a quote from Isaiah 53 a reply to Peter’s statement?
33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death. (Luke 22:33)
The key event here is not about swords, but about identification with the Servant Messiah who poured out himself unto death. And what Jesus is asking from Peter is the opposite of denying the Servant Messiah three times before the cock crows, nor of denying the Servant Messiah by taking up the sword, but being willing to be numbered with Jesus, as Jesus himself was numbered with the transgressors.
“No more of this!”
Shortly after Jesus “It is enough!” reply to the misunderstanding of the metaphor of buying swords (Luke 22:36) he had to say “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51) when the disciples attempted to use their swords. This again shows that Luke 22 should be read as a whole to get the context. Jesus twice in Luke 22:38 “It is enough!”, and again in Luke 22:51 “No more of this”, makes it clear that he is teaching against violent resistance, not promoting it.
Then a third time Jesus makes it clear that he does not teaching armed resistance: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?” (Luke 22:52).
Peter Watkins ‘War and Politics, the Christian’s Duty‘