When I look across the Atlantic at right wing American Christians, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I despair. From their head in the sand approach to global warming through their vehement opposition to any effort to provide adequate healthcare, to their equally vehement opposition to any form of gun control, they appear to have lost any sense of balance when reading the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus.
One frequently quoted text regarding gun law is Luke 22:36 where Jesus, just before His arrest and crucifixion, warned the disciples of coming persecution and said, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Some who support the gun lobby have even been suggesting that the sword referred to was a weapon of war and this is used to justify the freedom to carry assault rifles and other weapons normally associated with warfare. Most conservative Bible commentators are puzzled by this statement in Luke by Jesus as it seems inconsistent with most of His teachings. Some believe Jesus is speaking metaphorically and the New Bible Commentary suggests He is using irony although this seems unlikely. Most commentators agree that He is advising the disciples, in view of the fact that they will meet dangers in the form of wild animals and robbers, that carrying a sword will act as a deterrent and provide a means of defending themselves. All are agreed that, to be consistent with Jesus’ teaching in general, the sword should only be used as a last resort and only defensively, never offensively and never for the advancement of the gospel. Sadly there are right wing Americans who believe that in Luke 22:36 Jesus is commanding his disciples to arm themselves with weapons of war.
If we are Bible believing Christians, we must have a balanced view of Scripture and this one verse must be read alongside other statements of Jesus. For example his instruction to turn the other cheek in Matt 5:39, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” These are the words of Jesus and they present a balance which the US gun lobby seems to miss. Similarly in Matt 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Reading Luke 22:36 in context we find that, just a few moments later, in Luke 22:51, Jesus rebuked Peter for using his sword to cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, “But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And He touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
Following Jesus’ advice to them to buy a sword the disciples said they had two swords. Jesus said in Luke 22:38 “That is enough.” Two swords between eleven of them is hardly consistent with the unfettered carrying of arms, including assault rifles, demanded by many right wing American Christians. In Matthew’s account of the cutting off of the high priest’s servant’s ear Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matt 26:52.
This surely is a fitting picture of America today. People live by the gun and so many innocent people are dying by the gun. Given this violent state of present day American society it would be unrealistic to expect the kind of strict gun control enforced in other first world societies such as European countries, including the United Kingdom. The limited carrying of defensive weapons allowed by Jesus is appropriate in such a violent society but if Christians are true to the teaching of the Lord Jesus, surely they should be in the forefront of working towards a gradual reduction in weapons instead of supporting the escalation of offensive weapons and therefore increasing the killing and maiming of innocent men, women and children.
Instead of supporting the gun law espoused by the National Rifle Association, American Christians should be supporting their president and working towards the situation where the legally appointed law enforcement agencies are able to handle evil doers in line with Paul’s teaching in Rom 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Right wing Christians may not like their current president but he is there by God’s appointment and as a result of the democratic process. So Paul says, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”
My plea to my American brothers and sisters in Christ is, “Start working towards a situation where gun law is no longer required and God’s appointed authorities can maintain law and order in line with Biblical teaching. This will take many generations but surely American Christians have a duty to help their president to make a start.”
Dr James Graham