"I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" (Matthew 10:34) is one of the controversial statements reported of Jesus in the Bible. The saying has been interpreted in several ways, by Christians and non-Christians, to support several mutually-incompatible conclusions. Its main significance in that context is that it is often offered as evidence that Jesus advocated violence—a view that is repugnant to some Christians, such as the peace churches, and some other Christian denominations. Many Christians believe that the sword is a metaphor for ideological conflict and that Jesus is not advocating violence.
- "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)
- " 49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism* to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father* against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53)
- King James Version
- "49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53)
- Verse comparison
- "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)
And in Luke 22:35-38
- "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one." (Luke 22:36 NASB)
The first step of Biblical exegesis is usually to review the immediate context (surrounding text) of the passage in question. In the case of the first quote above (from the Gospel of Matthew), the tenth chapter may be considered sufficient context. (See here for the text; KJV.)
This chapter tells of Jesus sending his disciples out to minister to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." ("Lost sheep" is a common Biblical metaphor for people who have "gone astray" in some way. "House of Israel" refers to the descendants of Israel, the Israelites). Specifically, he commanded his disciples to "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give." These were all considered good acts, and according to Christians this exemplifies Jesus's message of peace, love, health, and life.
Starting in verse 13, Jesus then goes on to inform his disciples that they will not always be warmly received. He instructs them to depart from homes and cities that will not receive them. He then adds in verse 15, "Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city." According to Abrahamic tradition, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had earlier been destroyed by God. As context for the "I bring a sword" quote, many Christians see this as an indication that God, rather than Christians, will be responsible for any punishment due those who reject Jesus's message. See also Olivet discourse.
Jesus then warned his disciples that they would encounter violent resistance on their ministry. In verse 16 he is quoted as saying (RSV), "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Here, doves may be invocative of peace, although in the context of first-century Judaic culture it may have had a different meaning. In verse 21 Jesus is quoted as saying (KJV), "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death." This is clearly an apocalyptic prediction, and related to the Septuagint, Micah 7:6, but Jesus does not express his views on the matter, other than saying "All men will hate you because of me" in verse 22. He then instructs his followers to flee to a different city when they are persecuted.
He then exhorts his disciples not to fear. He assures them that faithful proclamation of his message will have its rewards.
- "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32-33, KJV)
Immediately thereafter Jesus makes the comment in question, verse 34, saying that he came not to bring peace, but the sword, followed by a direct quote of Septuagint Micah 7:6 in verse 35-36.
Violence as a metaphor Edit
The sword of the gospel cuts and divides, as the word of God does (Hebrews 4:12), "between eternally hostile principles, penetrating into and rending asunder the dearest ties" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown). Though the ultimate end of the gospel is peace with God and with those who love Him, the immediate result of the gospel is frequently ideological and moral conflict with the world, whether 30 AD or the current day. Faith in Jesus requires total commitment from those who choose to follow Him (Mark 10:27), and love and allegiance toward Him and His word is contrary to the "natural man" and the world system (1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7; 1 John 2:15-16, "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (see 2 Corinthians 2:16-18). Therefore conversion to Christ can result in strained or broken family relationships, persecution, and even martyrdom, due to rejection of the gospel. Truly confessing Jesus as Lord as in Romans 10:9 is to the exclusion of other supreme lords, which usually primarily meant Caesar in New Testament times, and thus early believers realized varying degrees of societal exclusion and often execution. Following Christ presupposes a willingness to endure such hardships, and the sword is a metaphor of the spiritual division due to opposition to Jesus being Lord and that which it entails. This type of metaphorical view has been the majority view of major evangelical commentators such as Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill, etc.
The quote is understood by some to mean that because people are possessed and needing deliverance and are even ignorant of such matters then Jesus will help by bringing Holy Fire that cleanses and a sword that destroys the inner fortresses inside people. This fire and sword that "He bringeth" feels very good to a live person (so they say) and is part of the process that develops the Holy Spirit in a human. The shock of seeing the kingdom of heaven and knowing what they in it are doing could be upsetting and controversial as to stir argument and disturb the acceptable comforts. Persecution (from other possessed people) most likely will ensue. But Jesus said "He that endureth until the end shall know my Glory." The sword that "He bringeth" is a tool of deliverance.
Alternatively, some see Paul as clarifying what was meant by a sword when he says in Ephesians 6:17, "And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you." Therefore, by this interpretation, the sword is seen as a weapon of spiritual warfare rather than physical warfare.
Advocating violence Edit
Some believe[who?] that in these passages Jesus was advocating the use of violence. Applying a literal interpretation, they take the word "sword" to mean a literal weapon and, by extension, warfare. In that case "division", as used in the verse from the Book of Luke, would tend to mean strife and war. For Christians accepting this interpretation, these passages may be seen as part of a justification for just wars and capital punishment. However, the just use of the sword by established civil powers (the State) is dealt with elsewhere Romans 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-14.
Predicting violence Edit
Other Christians hold that Jesus is using the word "sword" as a metaphor to describe the division that his message would bring between those who accept it and those who reject it. Indeed, the Aramaic word for "large knife" has the same meaning as "a tool for dividing, division". A further and more mystical interpretation represents a personal conflict, or evolution, as in a rebirth. In the context of the passage, Jesus was warning his disciples. Whether internal or external, conflict will come for Christians.
They[who?] conclude that this division between righteous and unrighteous is the "sword" which Jesus brought. And as a result of this division:
- Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death," indicating that the message would divide families between those who accepted the message and those who rejected it.
Rather than advocating violence, Jesus was warning his disciples that they would encounter violence from those unwilling to accept the Truth. Nowhere in the passage does he instruct them to harm anyone. On the contrary, he instructs them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, and explicitly tells them to be "as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." These are all instructions consistent with his message of love and grace. He does not command them to resort to violence with those who reject the message. On the contrary, he tells them to leave the homes of those who reject them, because God alone will be the judge of those who reject the Truth, see also Last judgment.
- "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God."
See also Rejection of Jesus.
- "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened."
In the above passage, Paul (the author of Romans) does not advocate violence against the wicked. On the contrary, he indicates that the worst punishment for the sins of wicked is to turn them over to their own desires, because the wicked are perfectly capable of destroying themselves.
In the Matthew account of his arrest, when one of his disciples cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest, Jesus warned not to use violence as a solution for everything:
- 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.
While the account in Luke 22:38 (KJV) records Jesus saying, "It is enough" in response to the sufficiency of two swords by Peter, any implied use of violence derived from this would be limited to personal self defense, perhaps only in that instance, and is countered by the words of Jesus in John 18:36. In addition, this was before the establishment of the New Covenant, which institution required the death of the testator (Hebrews 9:16), and in which Christian non resistance is further exhorted (1 Peter 2:19-24.
Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus heals the ear of the servant. For many Christians, these passages confirm that Jesus was only predicting violence but advocating non-violence, although they debate whether Jesus meant never to use violence, such as to defend one's family against harm, or only not to use it while evangelizing, in a pacifist stance of turning the other cheek and willing martyrdom.
Opposing non-violence arguments is the case of Jesus actions at temple when dealing with money changers, using a whip of cords to drive them out, yet this use of force can be seen as an exercise of a unique Divine prerogative of Jesus in purging His own father's house, rather than a precedent for using the sword of men to universally subdue evil doers, especially in an era when the temple is spiritual.
Sapiential interpretation Edit
The sword is a cross-cultural symbol for Wisdom and discernment -- something that cuts through the veils of ignorance, illusion, and distorted thinking. Therefore the verse could be interpreted[original research?] as meaning, "I come to bring discerning Wisdom to the world." This would fit with[original research?] Matthew 26:52 ("for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword"), which could be understood as "those who live by the sword of violence will perish by the sword of conscience."
- "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17 KJV)
and Hebrews 4:12
- "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12 KJV).
The Book of Kells, a Celtic illuminated manuscript copy of the Gospels, uses the word “gaudium” meaning “joy” rather than “gladium,” which means “sword” -- rendering the verse in translation: “I came not [only] to bring peace, but joy”. It is unknown whether this was an intentional or accidental change.
In support of the 'advocacy of violence' interpretation, Christian
- Should Christians Fight?. Article by Keith Stump, The Plain Truth Online. Discusses whether war is acceptable to Christian doctrine. Contains references and recommends further reading.
In support of the 'advocacy of violence' interpretation, non-Christian
- Matthew 10:34, from the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Classifies Matthew 10:34 as being anti-family, unjust, violent, intolerant, and contradictory.
In support of the 'prediction of violence' interpretation
- Good question…"Jesus looks pretty violent to me, Glenn…!". By Glenn M. Miller, from A Christian Thinktank. Provides many citations to published works, especially commentaries.
- Not Peace but a Sword NYT op-ed by William Safire, March 1, 2004
- Moscow Defense Brief: Not Peace, but a Sword?
- Not Peace, But a Sword in book 6, chapter 4 of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in the Ante-Nicene Fathers
- LDS: War and Peace
- DailyCatholic.org: The Symbol of the Sword in Today's Defense of the Church
- Luther's Bondage of the Will Section 19
- Robertson' Word Pictures of the New Testament: Matthew 10:34
- Reformed Theology: The Jesus Nobody Wants To Know: Matthew 10:34-39
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