Jesus and the sword

June 25, 2009 — 6 Comments

I had an interesting Sunday Bible study recently where we covered Romans 13. Of course since this is probably the most debated text in the New Testament it was a lively discussion. I have to hand it to my pastor, he allow a free flow of diverse discussions. I will only cover one topic from our discussions and that is about the “sword”. Here is ther particular verse:

Rom 13:4-5

 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

 Of course these verses refer to how we are to submit to government authority. The particular words I want to discuss here are “for he does not bear the sword for nothing”. It seems that some take these words to mean that God gives permission for governments to kill people via capital punishment and war. Of course being a person who believes in total non-violence they do not mean that to me.   I take my clues from the red letters and Jesus only mentioned the sword twice in the Gospel accounts. Once was where is said he is not bringing peace but the sword and that brother would rise up against brother….   The other place was where Peter cut off the soldier’s ear as they were taking Jesus in for subsequent crucifixion. In that account Jesus made the all to familiar statement that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. This is a rather negative aspect of the sword! By these words did Jesus give governments the authority to execute people?  I think not.

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6 responses to Jesus and the sword

  1. 

    I’ve always taken that phrase to be the Pauline, first-century equivalent of “he’s got a sword, and he knows how to use it.” That phrase is perhaps rueful, but it’s an observation, not an imprimatur.

  2. 
    Michael Collins October 30, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    You forgot where Jesus commanded them to buy a sword if they didn’t own one.
    Also, I am sure that you have been told that the same authors who wrote the red letters also wrote the black letters. I personally sense a backhand to God’s sovereignty when someone thinks that the red letters somehow are more accurate than the black. If one is flawed or subject to mans manipulation, so too the others.
    Also, many of the red letters in Revelation speak of wiping out lots of folks rather violently then sending them to a fiery hell.
    I suggest the full counsel of the Word of God rather than the myopic reds only!

  3. 

    Thank you Michael for your comments. Yes, I did kind of forget that one in that I did’nt include it here. You are referring to Luke 22:36. Many believe that when Jesus used the symbolism of a sword here he was referring to being able to protect yourself. Isn’t is also ironic that soon after these words Jesus chastized Peter for using his sword. In viewing some of the study bibles on this verse, most agree that the sword is used very symbolically here.

    Yes I know that the same authors who wrote the red letters also wrote the black ones surrounding them. I don’t think that I have in any way inferred that the black letters are somehow flawed more than the red ones.Maybe that is a sensitive issue for you but not for me. It is not that the words are “more accurate” it is just that the red letters are attested to have come out of the living and breathing God who walked on this earth. To say that it is myopic to study the red letters more than the others is in my mind myopic. Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ and that means doing what he says. Being very familiar with his words is in my mind a very necessary step in being a Christian. Even Jesus as much as said so in the following verse: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:31-32 — Do I ignore the black letters? Certainly not. It is just that I take the red ones more to heart. You might certainly choose to do otherwise.

    I must admit that I have not spent much time on the book of Revelations so I really can’t address your issue that somehow Jesus is in that book condoning killing your enemies. I can only take the words of the Gospels where he tells us again and again to love our enemies. I rather doubt that he came to the Apostle John in his dreams to tell us that he changed his mind!

    Does all of the above mean that I disrespect your apparent opinion that Jesus condones killing. I don’t pretend to have it all correct over the 35,000 other church bodies opinions. I am sure there are Christian people who believe at I think you do. And in studying the early Christians it becomes apparent that those who studied at the feet of the Apostles did not believe that Jesus meant us to kill each other.

    Why should Christianiaty be any different in this respect than other religions. Bin Ladin’s version of Islam condoning suicide bombers and jihad is radically different than others in Islam who say it is a religion of peace not hate. It is true that Christians throughout many places in our history have tortured and killed people who have disagreed with them. But I, and many others, see this as a failure to live up to the Gospel not an obedience to it!

  4. 

    I can NOT believe you posted my comment! Most emergent conversationalists only converse with the far left, never a traditional conservative. Thanks for that, you are to be commended!
    First off, thank you for wishing obedience to the red letters. Would that the whole race of man would seek that! I am grateful for your return to Christianity. Keep sharing what you are learning.

    I do hope to convince you to fully understand the red words more in depth.

    “It is not that the words are “more accurate” it is just that the red letters are attested to have come out of the living and breathing God who walked on this earth.”

    This God quoted from scripture as an authority Deut 8:3, Matt “…Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” and reaffirmed the divine inspiration of the Old Testament by doing so (here and multiple other locations). The Old Testament established the ground rules for capital punishment, national identity, governance structure, military and warfare. All of it! 1 Samuel 15:1 Then Samuel said to Saul, “I was the one the Lord sent to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now listen to what the Lord says. 15:2 Here is what the Lord of hosts says: ‘I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. 15:3 So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death – man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.’”
    That was what the Lord said to do in a collection of scriptures Jesus defended as authoritative.

    “…he tells us again and again to love our enemies. I rather doubt that he came to the Apostle John in his dreams to tell us that he changed his mind!”

    Yet, being pacifistic infers that He changed His mind from the martial mindset of the Old Testament to the Gospels! If He did this, we would expect Him to say that He is changing the whole mindset, but in Matt 5:17 He says:
    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.”

    We must understand the red letters through the lenses that Jesus used to speak them, the entire scripture, Old Testament to Revelations.

    “To say that it is myopic to study the red letters more than the others is in my mind myopic.”
    O.K., that rings some truth. To perhaps rephrase: The red letters speak softly, the black letters amplify them to their fullest power?
    “I must admit that I have not spent much time on the book of Revelations”

    I have neglected the Old Testament as well.

    “…those who studied at the feet of the Apostles did not believe that Jesus meant us to take up the sword.”

    I didn’t mean to imply taking up the sword to share the gospel. I am talking about the main three arguments for the sword: self defense, capital punishment, and just warfare on behalf of the state. All were heavily employed in the Old Testament, and at least warfare is repeated in Revelations.

    “…Christians in many places in their history have tortured and killed people who have disagreed with them. But I, and many others, see this as a failure to live up to the Gospel!”
    I can agree with that, yet I will contend that the vast majority were not true Christians.

    Thanks again for allowing a conversation, something those who most boldly proclaim a desire to do rarely engage in.

    I am wanting to help you to amplify the red letters via a fuller understanding of the black. When you say that Jesus stands for something that directly contradicts or countermands the black letters, you inadvertently have “…inferred that the black letters are somehow flawed more than the red ones,” something I know you don’t believe. If Jesus is anti violence, then the Old Testament is flawed, and Revelations is suspect! Perhaps Jesus was strictly talking about interpersonal relationships, rather than political systems at this point?

  5. 

    A couple thoughts, Michael. One, the O.T. martial behavior that’s condoned is at (or at least purports to be at) God’s direct command. Generalizing this to an endorsement of modern warfare & the Christian’s participation in it is a substantial reach.

    Second, if you don’t see Jesus as clarifying–or even overriding–parts of the O.T. teaching, how do you deal with the “you have heard…but I say” statements Jesus made?

    Whether we conclude that Jesus instituted a new way, or merely straightened out errors in the old understanding, the fact remains that he changed the rules of the game…and not for the first time, either. See Isaiah & Jeremiah & compare them to the Levitical law to see what I mean.

    Peace,

    Dan

  6. 

    Thanks Dan for chiming in here. You are much more knowledgable on the OT than I am so your input will help this discussion.

    Michael, we are probably trying to cover too much ground here at one time but I did want to give you a little more input. I would advise you to try not put people in preconceived pigeonholes as you seem to do with your opening statement to my comments. I don’t know if I am an “emergent conversationalist” or not but you seem to think that I am. Anyway I, and I know Dan also, don’t limit our discussions to only those on the far left. We welcome input from anyone as long as it is done in a civil and respectful manner such as you have done. If our views are not open to discussion with others who might not agree with us the those positions are not worth holding. I don’t put all “traditional conservatives”, whatever that means, in a radical-right-meanspirited-Rush Limburgh-hate-mongering-mold. If they prove to be such it is on account of their words, not mine.

    I certainly welcome your input and I’m sure I will learn some things from you as I hope you do from me. But, I have not come to the RLL mindset as a whim. It has been developing over the last 25 years and somewhat solidified over the last 5 due to having time to do substantial studying and praying on biblical matters.

    In closing, I agree with what Dan has said. I believe Jesus DID come to change things and to give us a brand new covenent that is substantial different from the strictly law abiding OT one. In that regard I guess God did change his mind as he did with not destroying Sodom (or whichever town that was). If he didn’t come to change things then maybe we should all be going to synagoges instead of churches with crosses on top. I’m sure you don’t go that far 😉

    I welcome you to come back here often and give your input on my posts. Dan also has a good blog in this area at http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/
    I’m sure he would welcome you as well. You might be amazed how much we have in common 🙂

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