7:22 PM

v 34-36 by Matthew Newell

Jesus' claim that he came to bring a sword, and not peace, is troublesome. He has said in 5:9 that peacemakers are blessed and called sons of God. It would be ironic if Jesus himself were not a peacemaker, for by his own mouth he would not then be a son of God! Likewise later in Gethsemane (26:52) he explicitly rebukes a companion for attempting to defend him with a sword, saying 'them that take the sword shall perish by the sword.' What then does Jesus mean by 'sword', and how does it characterize his own description of his own mission?

Luz (111-2) rejects these verses as revealing a crypto-zealot Christ. Rather, they point to the character of the result that Christ's mission will bring about. Acceptance of the Gospel (this is inferred as the 'sword') will cut down the otherwise most intimate ties of family. Davies & Allison (217) read it is as eschatologically-oriented suffering in store for the disciples, including suffering and martyrdom. He claims that Jesus here fulfills the eschatological prophecy of Micah 7:6.

Luz's account makes sense especially in light of v 37, in which Jesus demands that he be loved more than family. He has told his disciples that the Gospel will instigate a crisis of loyalty and obedience between Jesus and family, and he is emphasizing that the choice must be in his favor. The Davies & Allison reading, on the other hand, fits better with what has gone before in vv 16-24: the disciples will face persecution; also the 'cross' of v 38. I don't think that it is necessary to choose between these readings--if one must, however, Luz's might be preferable because its exegetical account works internal to the verses examined. But note that it is crucial for both of these readings that 'peace' NOT be read eschatologically--it must be used here in a 'common', 'loose and popular' sense. Not, say, the peace in John 27:14 as explicitly and uniquely Jesus' to give to his own.

Comment (1)

It is ironic isn't it that Christians call a violent thing like crucifixion "peacemaking." You have pointed to an interesting tension. Are the victims of the sword Jesus has come to bring Jesus/his disciples and/or are they others? The ones named are the divided family members, so I think you are right to follow Luz in trying to read "sword" in light of those family divisions. Why is it precisely the family where the Kingdom meets violent opposition?

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