I’m not a Christian; I need to say that right up front. I’m not a Christian, but I’ve read the Bible — both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not a Christian, but I respect the teachings of Jesus. So I was more than a little bit surprised when I was sent a link to this article in the National Review Online: The Biblical and Natural Right of Self-Defense.
The author, David French, makes this the the basic premise of his argument:
Simply put, self defense is a biblical and natural right of man.
He then cites passages in the Old and New Testaments that he suggests supports his argument. I won’t debate his Old Testament arguments because the Old Testament is full of behaviors we no longer tolerate in modern society (like animal sacrifices and slavery). But I can’t help but wonder about his use of the New Testament to support his notion that Jesus would support the Second Amendment.
French mentions that the disciples of Jesus carried weapons, and that they did it on his command. And hey, he’s right. In Luke 22 Jesus does, in fact, tell his followers to purchase some swords.
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.
Let’s put aside the argument that in the original Attic Greek (the language in which the Gospel of Luke was written) there’s some dispute whether there’s actually any mention of a ‘sword’ at all. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word μάχαιρα is the term under discussion. That apparently translates into machaira, which leads to the question: just what the hell is a machaira? Homer (yes, that Homer — the guy who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey) described a machaira as a knife; Xenophon (another ancient Greek) indicated it was a long knife or short sword useful for cavalry. Both of those men lived a few centuries before Jesus was born, and nobody seems really sure what was considered to be a machaira at the time Luke was written (which was around a century after Jesus died). But for the sake of this discussion, let’s agree to assume it’s a sword.
So the question you have to ask is why? Why did Jesus want his followers to have swords? French would have you believe the answer is self-defense. But if that was the case, why would Jesus think two swords was enough to defend thirteen people?
And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
Jesus may not have been a great military commander, but he wasn’t stupid. He had to know two swords in the hands of his untrained followers would be useless against Roman legionnaires. So why would he think two swords were enough for his purpose?
It would depend on what his actual purpose was. If you’re a Christian, I’d suggest the answer lies in the passage that lies immediately between the two I just quoted:
For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
In other words, in order to fulfill the scriptures Jesus had to be viewed as a transgressor and arrested. It seems likely he intended to provoke the authorities into arresting him. He’d done something similar a few days earlier; that fuss with the money-changers in the Temple was clearly a provocation. Wandering around with some armed followers could be an effective way of getting the Romans to act.
If Jesus had intended the swords to be used in self-defense, then he wouldn’t have prevented them from actually being used for self-defense — which is exactly what he did later that evening. When the Romans came to arrest him, one of his disciples drew his weapon and separated a slave from his ear.
And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
Again, Jesus is saying he has to be arrested and punished in order for the scriptures to be fulfilled. The swords weren’t for fighting; they weren’t for self-defense; they weren’t for personal protection. If he needed personal protection, he says he could hit up God for a dozen legions of angels. That’s a LOT of angels. So it seems probable the swords were intended to incite the authorities to act. A lot of non-violent religious leaders have used similar tactics — Gandhi forced the British to arrest him, Martin Luther King forced the police to arrest him.
It’s also worth recalling that after his disciple smote off the slave’s ear, Jesus re-attached it. Still later, when he’s presented to Pontius Pilate to answer for his ‘crimes,’ Jesus specifically says his followers are not fighting and defending themselves. Pilate asks him if he’s the King of the Jews. And what did Jesus say?
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight. That seems pretty clear. At no point in the Bible does Jesus ever advocate violence; not in self-defense and certainly not in defense of property.
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
Nonviolence, even in the face of monstrous brutality, was the hallmark of early Christianity. All those early Christian martyrs didn’t inspire their followers by going all Bruce Willis on the Romans. They did it by courageously applying their faith even when it meant their certain death; even when it meant the deaths of their loved ones.
David French, in his article, says:
The idea that one is required to surrender his life — or the lives of his family, neighbors, or even strangers — in the face of armed attack is alien to scripture.
Sorry dude, it’s not only NOT alien to scripture, it’s essential to scripture. It’s fundamental to Christianity. If French wants to ignore the New Testament in favor of the much harsher Old Testament, I’m okay with that — so long, of course, as he’s consistent and is willing to exact appropriate punishment for folks who refuse to leave grapes in their vineyard for the poor to gather (Leviticus 19:10) and makes immigrants as welcome as natives (Leviticus 19:34).
But if he’s going to bring Jesus into it, I think he’d do well to actually read what Jesus is supposed to have said and believed:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love [his] neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And there it is. It’s pretty pathetic that a non-Christian should have to remind David French of that.