Luke 22: Was Jesus Literally Telling His Disciples to Take Up Arms?


Luke 22:35-38

New King James Version (NKJV)

35 And He said to them, When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”
So they said, “Nothing.”
36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”
38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”
And He said to them, “It is enough.”
Commentator  
Clarke's Commentary No.
Barnes' Notes "This, then, is not to be considered as a specific, positive “command” to procure a sword, but an intimation that great dangers were before them; that their manner of life would be changed...."
Coffman's Commentaries Yes, although "Most commentators view the passage as figurative"
Gill's Exposition "These words of Christ are not to be understood literally"
Geneva Study Bible "He says all this using an allegory"
Lightfoot's Commentary "Not so much exhorting them to repel force with force, as to give them such an apprehension of the common rage of their enemies against them, that might suppress all private animosities amongst themselves"
People's NT Not to be taken literally, but a striking way of saying that enemies upon every side will assail them.
Robertson's Word Pictures They are to expect persecution and bitter hostility (John 15:18-21). Jesus does not mean that his disciples are to repel force by force, but that they are to be ready to defend his cause against attack. Changed conditions bring changed needs. This language can be misunderstood as it was then.
Vincent's Word Studies Unclear
Wesley's Notes "It is plain, this is not to be taken literally. It only means, This will be a time of extreme danger."
The Fourfold Gospel Unclear. "In this passage our Lord draws a contrast between the favor with which his messengers had been received on their "former" mission and the trials and persecutions which awaited them in their "future" course. If they had prepared then to be received with joy, they were to prepare now to be opposed with bitterness; for the utter rejection of the Master would be followed by the violent persecution of the servants."
Calvin's Commentaries "In metaphorical language he threatens that they will soon meet with great troubles and fierce attack."

Verse 38: Calvin's Complete Commentary on the Bible: "It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron. "

Nisbet's Commentary "It must evidently be taken figuratively. The sword is only an emblem."
Trapp's Commentary under the name and notion of corporal weapons he intends all manner of spiritual preparations

Ver. 38. It is enough] q.d. You speak absurdly: I mean not such kind of swords; let me hear no more of them.

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Luke 22:38. Lord, behold, here are two swords. Our Lord's disciples, mistaking his meaning about the swords, replied, they had two: the reason why they had any at all, probably, was, that they might defend themselves against robbers in their journey from Galilee and Perea, and from the beasts of prey which in those parts were very frequent and dangerous in the night time: it afterwards appears, that one of these swords was Peter's. See John 18:10. Our Lord replies to the disciples, "It is enough for weapons of this sort; my chief intent is, to direct you to another kind of defence; even that which arises from piety and faith." This is strongly intimated by our Lord's saying that two swords were sufficient; which, it is evident, they could not have been for so many men, had our Lord meant what he said in a literal sense.
Sermon Bible Commentary Apparently takes it literally.
Henry Alford's Greek Testament Commentary Yes. "The saying is both a description to them of their altered situation with reference to the world without, and a declaration that self-defence and self-provision would henceforward be necessary. It forms a decisive testimony, from the mouth of the Lord Himself, against the views of the Quakers and some other sects on these points. But it does not warrant aggression by Christians, nor, as some R. Catholics (see the bull “Unam sanctam” of Boniface VIII., cited in Wordsw. ad loc.), spreading the gospel by the sword."
Bengel's Gnomon Apparently takes it literally.
Poole's Annotations Those who interpret Luke 22:35,36, as a precept of our Saviour’s imposing a duty upon his disciples, or a counsel concerning the providing arms which they might use for the protection and defence of themselves, will not only find a difficulty to reconcile their notion of it to several other precepts, and the will of God declared by the apostles’ practice, who never went about by force and arms to defend themselves in the first plantation and propagation of the gospel; but also to reconcile it to the last words of our Saviour, who said, when his disciples told him they had two swords, It is enough; which he would never have said, if he had intended any such thing; for two swords was much too little to have conquered that multitude of adversaries which the disciples of Christ were to meet with. Our Saviour doth doubtless speak in a figure, and all that he intends amounts but to this: Hitherto I have been with you, and you have had my special protection; though you went out without a purse or a scrip, yet you have wanted nothing; though you went without a sword, yet none did you any harm. But the time is now come, when the posture of your affairs will be much altered; your friends will be few, your enemies many, therefore you stand concerned to make as good preparation as you can do in those things that are consistent with the general precepts that I have given you.
Edwards' Notes No comment made.
Cambridge Greek Testament verse 37: "Hence the sword could not be for His defence, as they carelessly assumed."

Verse 38: It was a last instance of the stolid literalism by which they had so often vexed our Lord (Matthew 16:6-12). As though He could have been thinking of two miserable swords, such as poor Galilaean pilgrims took to defend themselves from wild beasts or robbers; and as though two would be of any use against a world in arms!       ἱκανόν ἐστιν. Not of course meaning that two swords were enough, but sadly declining to enter into the matter any further, and leaving them to meditate on His words. The formula was one sometimes used to waive a subject; comp. 1 Maccabees 2:33, and ἱκανούσθω ὑμῖν, Deuteronomy 3:26. See p. 384. “It is a sigh of the God-man over all violent measures meant to further His cause.”

Whedon's Commentary  

Verse 38: "At the mention of a sword some of the disciples, taking him literally, bring him forth double his demand, two swords! It is enough—To illustrate my metaphor, quite enough; and too much, if it is real bloodshed you contemplate. The words gently rebuke the apostles’ mistake. They had these swords evidently concealed from our Lord. They may have provided them for defence against assailants, as even the priests did in the passage (Luke 10:31) from Jericho to Jerusalem. But they may have been knives for slaying the Passover lamb. See note on Matthew 26:51."

Pett's Commentary verse 38: "So Jesus, saddened by their inability to understand, and to appreciate the true situation, replied, ‘That is enough’. He was not saying that that was enough swords. Rather it was now clear to Him that they did not, and would not, comprehend what was happening, and that in the little time remaining there was no way in which He could shake them out of their apathy." 
"Later when an attempt will be made to use their swords Jesus will actually tell them to desist, which demonstrates that His real intention was that His words should be interpreted spiritually. For as the future would demonstrate the battle that was to be fought would be fought with other swords than this, with swords provided by God such as the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21)."
Constable's Expository Notes Some take the command to sell one's outer garment to purchase a sword literally as well. However, Jesus later rebuked Peter for using a sword to defend himself (Matthew 26:52). Furthermore Jesus never taught His disciples to arm themselves so they could defend themselves much less take active aggression against those who might oppose them (cf. Luke 6:35-36; Luke 22:52; et al.).

verse 38: "It is enough" = "I've had enough"
"Probably Jesus meant that He wished to pursue the discussion no further. [Note: Manson, p. 342; Morris, p. 310; M. Bailey, p. 148; et al.] The disciples had misunderstood Him. "

Schaff's Commentary "This is not to be taken literally, nor yet allegorically, as though the purse, wallet, and sword had each a spiritual signification; but the whole is a figurative setting forth of the fact that henceforth self-defence would be their chief necessity, in view of the outward perils which would come upon them. This opposes the non-resistant theory of the Quakers, and also the view, that force can be used aggressively in the cause of Christ; self-defence alone is in question."
Expositor's Greek Testament No direct comment on the question
Haydocks' Catholic Commentary v. 38: "But if he had wished them to rely upon human aid, not even a hundred swords would have sufficed;"
Commentary Critical Unabridged v.38 "But His answer shows that He meant something else."
Bible Textbook Commentary "This is symbolic, "
Ellicott's Commentary v. 38: Jesus "did not mean them to use the swords at all."

For further study:


What has struck me over the years is how New Testament scholarship is almost unanimous in its support of Yoder's understanding of this text. This applies both to the critical commentariat (e.g., Marshall, Fitzmyer, Stein, Nolland, Bock, Johnson, Green; of those in my library, only Ellis demurs) and to others who have written on the passage (e.g., Brown, Hays, Moo, Bruce). It is not simply a matter of "some" scholars disputing the literal force of the text, as some have presented the matter (for an example from a sermon by an OPC pastor, see here). It is a virtual consensus (though, as I have learned, such does not guarantee the correctness of the consensus). And in this case, I am convinced the consensus has gotten it right.
James McGahey
McGahey's McMusings: Jesus and the Two Swords: A Biblical Justification for Bearing Arms?
McGahey's McMusings: Search results for sword