Where are the Swords?
Would You Expect to Find 'Swords' in the Gospels of the Bible? In the New Testament?
Why are there weapons of violence in the 'Good News' 'New Testament' gospels?
We shall see that some references may have been quite innocent ~ but others are certainly questionable!
Why did Jesus order swords?
Why did the apostles get involved in a sword-fight?
Were swords even legal?
The Canonical Gospels
It is interesting to discover references to 'swords' in the canonical gospels, and to consider their importance.
Where and why might we find 'swords' mentioned in the New Testament gospels?
Luckily, with the help of Biblegateway.org, it has become relatively easy to search the Bible online ~ and, indeed, to search a variety of translations.
Another website, which provides helpful information, is ReligiousTolerance.org
There are only a few occasions, where swords are discussed in the canonical gospels, so we should be able to check them out with relative ease.
However, we need to know a little more about these gospels, before we can investigate the swords mentioned within them ...
Sword: Roman Gladius - 4th century BC - 3rd century AD
The canonical gospels ~ ie. the ones that have found their way into the Bible ~ are those referred to as 'Matthew', 'Mark', 'Luke' and 'John'.
Some conservative Christians believe that these are eye-witness accounts of the life of 'Christ', by three of Jesus's apostles ~ 'Matthew', 'Mark' and 'John' ~ plus one of St. Paul's supporters ~ 'Luke'.
I understand that most theologians and historians do not believe that the gospels were written by apostles, and acknowledge that the authors of these works are unknown.
They also suggest later dates for them than do conservative Christians.
Christians believe that the gospels tell a true story, about Jesus, the son of God.
Others have different views ~ including that Jesus was a mythical being, or that Jesus existed, but was not divine.
The New King James Bible
Dating the Gospels
The dates of the gospels are relevant. In 1977, Don Cupitt and Peter Armstrong, in their book, 'Who Was Jesus?', gave these approximate dates for the canonical gospels:
Mark ~ 65 AD
Matthew and Luke ~ 75 AD
John ~ 85 AD
James Tabor, in his 2006 book, 'The Jesus Dynasty' gives:
Mark ~ c70 AD
Matthew ~ 80s AD
Luke ~ 90s AD
John ~ c100 AD
This is what the 'Religious Tolerance' website states, regarding dates:
Mark: 'From 57 to 75 CE'. Conservative theologians ..estimate a much earlier date than do liberals .... R. Shorto (author of "Gospel Truth): "Scholars believe that Mark was written about 70 CE."
Matthew: 'Conservative Christians' date it 'from 45 CE or earlier'. 'The Scofield Bible' give the dates as '37 CE'. 'Liberals' date it 'after .... 70 CE'. 'Various authorities date [it to] about 85 CE.'
Luke: 'Estimates .. date .. from the late 50's to the 90's' ~ nearer 'to 90 CE is likely'.
John: 'Probably .. between 85 and 100 CE'.
Simeon's Song of Praise - Aert de Gelder
Alternative Translations for Comparison
Luke 2:34-35 (King James Version)
Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child
is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign
which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy
own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34-35 (New International Version, ©2011)
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke 2:34-35 (English Standard Version)
34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
The First Sword of Luke - When Jesus is New-Born:
The Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon or Canticle of Simeon
In Luke chapter 2, verse 35, a story is told of Simeon, a righteous man from Jerusalem.
Apparently, as he holds the new baby Jesus, Simeon says to his mother, Mary;
".. the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Here is a fuller version of what occurs in Luke 2: 25-35
In Jerusalem, there was a righteous and devout man named Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the the Lord’s Messiah.
He arrived at the Jerusalem Temple just as Mary and Joseph brought their new baby in for the usual rituals.
When Simeon saw the baby, he took him in his arms, blessed God and said;
"Lord, now you can allow your servant to die peacefully, as you promised, for my eyes have seen your salvation, prepared before all people ~ a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel".
Joseph and Mary marvelled at this.
Simeon then blessed them, and said to Mary; "This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against ~ yes, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed".
Why would a sword pierce Mary's soul?
Is this, perhaps, a description of the pain that Mary will feel, when her son is executed?
The First Sword of 'Matthew' - When Jesus is Preaching:
In the Gospel of Matthew ~ Chapter 10, verse 34 ~ Jesus is quoted as saying;
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
The previous verse ~ verse 33 ~ states;
"Whoever may deny me before others; I will deny him before my Father in heaven."
Although some ministers will use this is their sermons to illustrate the battle between good and evil, many people would find it quite shocking, I think, that the 'Prince of Peace' proclaims that he is going to wield a divisive sword.
The Ten Commandments - Rembrandt
And it is not so much a sword between good and evil, as between follower and non-follower ~ even if this results in a division within families. The quote continues with verse 35:
"I have come to set a man against his father; daughter against mother; daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Compare these verses from 'Luke':
~ Luke 12:49+51 (King James Version):
"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?"
"Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division."
~ Luke 14:26 (King James Version):
"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Yet this attitude seems to contravene one of the commandments ~ Exodus 20:12:
'Honour your father and mother'.
And Jesus is specifically quoted as saying, in Matthew 5:17;
"Do not think that I have come to destroy the law ...: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
And he continues:
"Anyone who breaks any of these commandments, and encourages people to do so, he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven ....."
'Annunciation to the Shepherds' - Master of the Houghton Miniatures
And, in Luke chapter two, didn't the angels imply that Jesus had come to bring peace on Earth?
It was night and shepherds were watching over their flock. The angel of the Lord visited them and told the frightened shepherds not to be afraid;
~ "Fear not! I bring good and joyful news. In the City of David the Lord Messiah has been born". Then a heavenly host appeared, praising God, and saying; "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men".
This seemed to be an announcement of the arrival of a 'Prince of Peace', which is, indeed, a title used for Jesus.
Yet it seems incongruent with;
"I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Second Jewish Temple Jerusalem - Model
Herod's Temple - Model
The Jesus Dynasty
Swords in Luke 21 - Jesus in his Last Days Warns of the 'Days of Vengeance' and a Destroyed Temple
Jesus had been teaching in the Temple ~ only a few days before his death ~ and his disciples commented upon the beauty of the building. Jesus replied; "As for these things which you behold, the day will come when there shall not be left one stone upon another".
He then went on to warn them about the horrors that were to come.
This included Luke 21:24:
"They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
In Luke 21:27, he continues;
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory".
Since the gospels appear to have been written after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple ~ an occurance dated in 70 CE / AD ~ then the gospel authors could have had first hand, or even second hand, knowledge of the events.
They could easily have included the descriptions in their writing.
No doubt swords were used by both Romans and rebels.
'Sword of St. Peter', Poznań Archdioecesial Museum
Copy of 'Saint Peter's Sword'
The Capture of Christ - 1674 - St Peter
Swords Before the Passion of Jesus
After the 'Last Supper':
Jesus said to his disciples; "If you do not have a sword, sell a garment, so that you can buy one."
The disciples replied; “Lord, we have two swords.”
Jesus answered “That is enough!”
After this, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. with his disciples. He prayed and then he spoke to his apostles.
While he was speaking, Judas the apostle (the betrayer) arrived with a large number of armed men ~ 'a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.' [Matthew 26:47 and Mark 14:43 ]
The men stepped forward to arrest Jesus.
When Jesus’s followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” [Luke 22:49]
Simon Peter then drew his sword and cut off the right ear of high priest’s servant. [John 18:10 + Luke 22:50 + Matthew 26:51 + Mark 14:47]
Jesus said; “No more of this!” [Luke 22:51] “Put your sword away! [John 18:11] “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword, will die by the sword". [Matthew 26:52]
Jesus then challenged those who were arresting him: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me." [Matthew 26:55 + Mark 14:48 + Luke 22:52]
Then they led him away. [Luke 22:54]
According to the gospels, Jesus was then interrogated, beaten. mocked and, finally, executed by crucifixion.
Thoughts and Conclusions
This is a fairly random set of incidents, from the Gospels of the New Testament, brought together only by the fact that 'swords' are mentioned, and that they concern Jesus, known as the Christ, or Messiah.
The words, and behaviour, attributed to Jesus, the Christ, by the Gospel writers, are a little disconcerting, at times, to say the least!
On The First Sword of 'Luke' - Simeon's Story
Regarding the ‘Song of Simeon’, the reference to a sword piercing Mary’s soul, at that stage, is difficult to fathom, but, once we bear in mind that the writer knew about the crucifixion, when he wrote this story, the matter becomes clearer.
We can then see that one explanation is that this is a poignant foreshadowing of the suffering that Mary will endure, when her baby reaches manhood, and is crucified.
On The First Sword of 'Matthew' - Not Peace but a Sword
With regard to the apparent announcement by Jesus that he ‘did not come to bring peace, but a sword’, it is made clear in the ‘Wikipedia’ article, on the subject, that this can be, and has been, interpreted in two different ways.
Some see it as evidence that Jesus was not the peaceful Rabbi that most people envisage, but was, in fact, a man with some violent tendencies.
This idea is, however, anathema to many Christians, who see the sword as symbolic, rather than real. To them, this concerns division between those who choose to accept Jesus and those who do not.
On Swords in Luke 21 - Jesus' Temple Warning
Did Jesus actually say "As for these things which you behold, the day will come when there shall not be left one stone upon another"?
Apparently, when Jesus’s enemies were seeking evidence against him, some people came forward and claimed that they had heard Jesus say; “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.”
Is it true that the destruction of the Temple was mentioned, at this time, or did the gospel author make use of hindsight, knowing that the Temple had been destroyed in 70 AD?
Either way, he knew about the violence that had occurred at the time, and in the years leading up to the destruction, and would have heard about sword fights and deaths by the sword, so Jesus’s apparent prophecy that "They will fall by the sword” may not have been prophecy at all ~ but may have been history, by the time the writer inserted it.
DVDs of the Gospels
The Political Jesus
On Swords Before the Passion of Jesus
Even more disturbing ~ and controversial ~ than Jesus’ comment “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” is his command to the disciples, shortly after the ‘Last Supper’: "If you do not have a sword, sell a garment, so that you can buy one."
Equally disturbing ~ his disciples were already armed!
When Jesus is arrested, a little later, the disciples ask if they might smite the soldiers and officers who come for him, and the fisherman, Simon Peter ~ he who supposedly holds the keys to the gates of Heaven ~ actually raises his sword and chops off a man’s ear!
The disciples are not the only armed men, of course ~ the Roman soldiers, and perhaps an accompanying mob, also have swords ~ plus clubs. Maybe Jesus thought that his men might need to use weapons in self-defence?
Certainly, the story indicates that Jesus was against Peter’s behaviour ~ and told him to put away his weapon, as he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.
Perhaps there was a good reason for the swords, but there is still something unsettling about Jesus and his disciples being armed.
It is as if Jesus is described with two personalities ~ both peaceful and violent. Maybe there is a reason for this. I think that many would find it disturbing.
Related HubPages articles from Trish_M:
- Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar ~ Who is More Likely to Have Been a Real Person?
- The Jesus Dynasty by James D Tabor
- A Story of Palm Sunday, Easter Week, Jesus and Insurrection!
I apologise, if I have made any factual errors ~ I am an interested historian, but not a Bible student, so I may have inadvertently misunderstood some of the information.
Please let me know if you see any errors, Thank you.
Comments and questions very welcome!
Copyright Tricia Mason. All Rights Reserved.
- BibleGateway.com: A searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages.
- ReligiousTolerance.org by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on May 10, 2011:
Thank you, Peanutroaster :)
Thanks for reading and commenting!
peanutroaster from New England on May 09, 2011: