Since I wrote the last post in the series, there have been a handful of school shootings take place in the U.S., not to mention a pastor whose son killed him, his wife, and his siblings with the guns they had in their home. A study was also released which showed that more than nearly 60% of the time, having guns in the home leads to someone in the home shooting another person living in the home, not an intruder. Just as well, the presidential administration rolled out some more laws on guns and gun control.
In my view, it is high time that Christians be talking about guns and and violence in the United States (and across the world for that matter) and working toward a well-reasoned and scritpurally-based theology of guns. That's precisely what I've been aiming to do here.
In this series I have been systematically dealing with passages from the New Testament that are often used by pro-gun advocates in an attempt to bolster their pro-gun agenda. I have shown, however, that these are gross misinterpretations and misuses of the New Testament. The fact is, if you want to argue for guns, go ahead and do so, but you seriously need to refrain from making Jesus your posterboy and putting false words in his mouth. That really needs to stop! Anyway, for anyone interested in those early posts click the following links: Pt. 1 (Lk 22:35-36); Pt. 2 (Mt 26:52; Lk 19:42, 22:35-36); Pt. 3 (Jn 2:15-16); and Pt. 4 (Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:2-10).
In this post, I want to deal with a few more passages in the New Testament that folks erroneously appeal to try to paint a portrait of a violent Jesus namely, Rev 19:15 and Mt 10:34/Lk 12:51. I will deal with the former first and then move on to the latter. In Rev 19:15 we read what, on the surface, appear to be quite chilling words. The text says καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ ἐκπορεύεται ῥομφαία ὀξεῖα, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ πατάξῃ τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ αὐτὸς ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, καὶ αὐτὸς πατεῖ τὴν ληνὸν τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος (And coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword so that by it the nations might be struck down, and he will shepherd them with an iron rod. And he is treading the winepress of the grapes of the wrath of God Almighty.). Now, what we must keep in mind here is context. The first bit of context that we need to remember is that this verse is set within the larger drama of a battle that takes place in the sky (or the heavens). In short, this is not a battle on earth. Further, the sword is a "sword from out of the mouth," not a sword worn on Jesus' hip. The significance of this cannot be underestimated for it forces us to reckon with the fact that the sword represents something else, namely, as Revelation already told us two verses earlier, God's Word (19:13). Also in Rev 19:13 this "Word" is affiliated with blood. What is interesting here, however, is the fact that this is not blood that Jesus has shed by the sword nor blood avenged by Jesus defending himself. Instead, this blood is none other than Jesus' own blood, his martyr blood, his savior blood.
In short, it is not by the shedding of blood or the wielding of a physical sword that Jesus reigns but rather, by being willing to lay down his life and by the Word of God. What we have here then is Jesus subverting the violent and militaristic norms of his day. Whereas others did use physical swords to conquer, Jesus did/will not. Whereas others did use force and violence to achieve their victorious ends, Jesus did/will not, instead, he lays down his life without violence or retaliation. This is also made quite clear by the "lion becoming the lamb" imagery used in this portion of Revelation. In the end, what seems violent on the surface, what seems like an image of a military king or warrior king is actually a crucified carpenter or more to the point in this context, a crucified and slaughtered lamb whose own shed blood is salvific. Another point worth making here is similar to points made in earlier posts of this series, namely, the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Here, the action is actually both. What we have here is descriptive of peace and what we have here is also prescriptive for how Jesus' followers should conduct themselves in violent contexts, that is, by speaking God's Word (the Sword of God) and being willing to lay down their lives non-violently.
We also have another passage that connects Jesus with a sword in Mt 10:34 which is closely paralleled in Lk 12:51. Here's what Mt 10:34 says: Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν• οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν (You all do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.). Once again, we must understand the immediate context here. These words are uttered within a larger discourse related to family. In the ancient world, we know that kinship ties were extremely important. This is why maintaining one's family honor and avoiding family shame was seen as incredibly virtuous. To bring shame or harm upon one's family was to be avoided at all costs.
This is, in fact, what would have made Jesus' words so difficult for his ancient hearers. He is not speaking of literally carrying a sword but rather, he is speaking of how he himself, his life, his words, and his movement, will often be seen as divisive within families. For example, a father might have certain beliefs which the rest of the family is to follow. If one veers from these beliefs, it will bring shame upon the family. If one veers from believing in the family's religion to believing in and following a crucified carpenter, this has the potential of bringing a terrible amount of shame on the family. Thus, one will be "cut off" from the family, divided from them. Thus, the comment about the sword here is not literal, rather it is metaphorical. This is proven by the fact that this is how Luke interpreted it. In fact, Luke replaces the word "sword" (μάχαιραν) with the word "division" (διαμερισμόν).
What is going on here is that Jesus is saying that he knew/knows how divisive his movement will be. We must understand that he is not talking about carrying a sword or any other type of weapon. Further, we must realize that what Jesus says here is referring to the "effect" of his coming, not the "purpose" of his coming. There is a big difference between those two things! Jesus is saying that he knew his coming would be divisive and have divisive effects, but that even thought this was the case it ultimately had to be done. For Jesus, it is not the "family" that defines a person nor is it the family that is one's greatest allegiance, instead one's highest allegiance is to Jesus, even at the cost of being "cut off/divided" from those who are anti-Jesus in one's family. Note here that Jesus is also not advocating the use of swords or weapons to protect one's family!
At the end of the day, these are two more passages that, as we see, cannot be used to advance the notion of a pro-violence and pro-gun Jesus. Jesus and acting in violence do not go together, they do not mix (other than in the instance where Jesus has violence enacted upon him). These verses cannot be used in an attempt to marshal evidence for a pro-gun Jesus or a pro-gun Christianity. It just doesn't work! As I continue to work towards a Christian theology of guns, it is only becoming more and more clear that trying to drag Jesus into the pro-gun (or pro-weapon or pro-defense) conversation just doesn't work. Further, it is becoming more and more clear that in working toward a theology of guns, we are actually working toward a Christian theology of peace and non-violence. This, however, does not surprise me in the least, nor should it surprise you. There is a reason, after all, that he was called the Prince of Peace.