RSS Feed

Ministry in Capernaum: Mark 1:21-34

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

They went into Capernaum. As soon as the Sabbath came, he went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his manner of teaching, for he taught them with power, unlike the scribes. Suddenly, a man was possessed by an evil spirit in their synagogue! He shouted: "What the hell do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?! Have you come to destroy us?! We know who you are -- God's Holy One!"

Jesus rebuked it: "Be quiet and come out of him!" The evil spirit threw the man into convulsions, and then, with a very loud scream, it came out of the man. Everybody marveled and murmured among themselves: "What's this?! A new teaching with power? He even commands the evil spirits, and they obey him!" This rumor about him immediately spread everywhere in the entire area surrounding Galilee.

Just as they left the synagogue, he went to Simon and Andrew's house with Jacob and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay bedridden with a fever, and they immediately told him about her. So he approached her and took her hand. Immediately the fever left her, and she waited on them.

When evening came, when the sun had set, they brought to him all those who were afflicted or demon-possessed. The whole city was gathered at the door! He healed many, who had various illnesses, and he also cast out several demons. He didn't allow the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Translation Notes
1. "Manner of teaching" (v 22). While there is no "style of" or "approach to" there in Greek, I believe this is the idea referred to. Translating it as "teaching" would give readers the impression that the new thing is the content of his message. While that is unique, the focus of the passage is how he taught. If a straightforward reading of "teaching" gives the wrong impression, then it's better to insert words for clarity, IMO. I could be wrong.
2. "Power" (vv 22, 27). It's not that I think the more usual "authority" is inaccurate here. It's just that the idea is supernatural, miraculous authority. Since we aren't usually accustomed to the idea of miracles as having authority over something, I just think "power" sounds like more natural English.
3. Verse 23: I can't tell if Mark is saying that someone in the synagogue was suddenly possessed, or if someone already possessed just suddenly ran into the synagogue.
3. "Evil spirit" (vv 23, 26f). In Greek it's literally "unclean spirit(s)." I don't know enough about this issue to deviate from traditional translation here, though. I'd like to find an answer to why it's usually rendered "evil spirit."
4. As far as I can understand this Greek idiom, it seems that "what between you and me" is an expression of hostility or defensiveness. As it so happens, the best English equivalent has profanity in it. Should we be surprised that a demon would say that? I don't think so. I would render Jesus' response to Mary in John 2:4 differently, and that's another story.
5. "rumor spread" (v 28). "This report went out" just doesn't work. It's clearly word-of-mouth, informal spread of rumor rather than a spy's formal report. Oh, and rumors don't have to be false. The point is that Jesus became well-known among the populace by word of mouth.
6. "Bedridden" (v 30). It's clearly implied that she couldn't move around. Keep in mind that the English word bedridden doesn't necessarily mean you're in a bed. It just means you can't move around.
7. "She waited on them" (v 31). Mostly following NIV here. The idea is that she made them a meal and such, and so I could say "entertained them [as guests]" but I don't like brackets. Specifically, she made them dinner since it was nighttime, but since Mark isn't being that specific, neither will I.
8. "Demon-possessed" (v 32). Again following the NIV. I wonder if perhaps this includes not just outright possession but also lesser torments such as nightmares, etc. I don't know just how much of difficulty is linked with demonic activity, so it's hard to say.

With this section we see the continuation of spiritual warfare. Last time, Mark briefly mentions the temptation in the desert, where Jesus stands firm against Satan's attacks. Retreating with his tail between his legs, he sends his minions to harass Jesus while he teaches in the synagogue. Instead of trying to say that Jesus is not the Messiah, the demon tries to reveal Jesus. Since people don't yet understand that the Messiah is a passover lamb and not a Romans-conquering lion, this would be detrimental for Jesus' ministry.

But he keeps himself and the situation under control. There's no stopping the spread of his teaching of repentance, nor the powerful style of his teaching. The people are utterly astonished.

Mark moves us along quickly to the next incident, a rather quick mention of healing various people, and refusing to allow demons to reveal him. I think the point of this section is to show the results of the synagogue exorcism: "the entire city" was gathered at the door, since "this rumor immediately spread everywhere." Because of experience with his first exorcism, Jesus knew to not let the demons speak -- and preventing their speech was completely within his power.

Mark is such a sudden gospel! I have no idea how many times the word "immediately" occur, but it's quite a lot. Also the exaggeration of "everyone" or "the whole city" or "everywhere." Mark is just intense and dramatic. Wonderful.

Review of "Resident Aliens"

Posted by Gary Labels:

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, both professors of Duke University, wrote an excellent, short work on ecclesiology called Resident Aliens. I've been soaking this up for the past two weeks now, taking rather copious notes.

Of all the books I've read on how to approach the problem of ministerial outlook (which isn't many), this is the most innovative. The first five chapters concern the proper view of the church, and only at the climax do they directly address the problems of pastors today within the church. One must first understand what the church is before one can understand what pastors do, since pastors' roles are defined by the church's needs. There's good discussion on true needs versus felt needs. For instance, the church needs constant reorientation towards God, but does not need preachers to be soft and cushy comforters. Much attention is given to the act of sugar-coating and catering to selfish needs of individuals.

Perhaps what is most shocking to me is that this book is relevant at all! RA addresses the difficulties of the American churches as of 1989, but over 90% is still applicable in describing the church in 2010.

There's plenty of anecdotes from genuine ministry experience as well as wrestling with some of the parts of history Americans generally gloss over, such as the Vietnam War. Part of the book's thrust is that we need to be the confessing church, a church that centers on constantly reaffirming God's truth and learning to live by it. Christian life is war with the world. Principalities, world-rulers, powers... these things are out to get us. Discipleship is a journey, an adventure, and we take part in the ongoing story of God and his people.

The Gospel is countercultural and counterintuitive. You can't understand it apart from the story of scripture. This is why the world doesn't understand us: because the world doesn't know him.

In short: this book is an excellent take on Christian ministry that resonates well with the Sermon on the Mount, I John, Philippians, and Ephesians especially. Go get it.

In honor of MLK: The power of hate speech (and why to not use it)

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Although I will not be addressing civil rights, this post on nonviolence is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

How is it that a human being can open fire on another human being? The truth is, most of us just don't have it in us to do so. That's because there is a natural block in the human mind that forbids us -- our conscience will stay our hand from firing at another human being.

Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman wrote a book on warfare called On Killing. In it, he explains how soldiers in early American wars often fired at an upward angle, intentionally missing the enemy soldiers. The military had to use psychological strategies to train soldiers to get around this block against killing other people.

Part of the strategy involves what psychologists call operant conditioning, which is more or less the punishment vs. reward training strategy that we use to learn anything. Instead of firing at moving clay discs ("pull!"), target practice now featured a man-shaped bulls-eye with a points system similar to that of archery. There is no doubt in my mind that the clay disc targets are harder to hit, though whether that makes for better accuracy training is debatable.

The trick is, this no longer was about accuracy. It introduced a rewards system for firing, and accustomed would-be soldiers to the idea of shooting at man-shaped objects (such as flesh-and-blood men). Physically, they got used to the idea of shooting at people and got rewarded for doing well at it. This is one part of overcoming the natural block most people have against killing.

Several, including myself, oral sources I will not name, and researcher Rachel McNair would argue that another element of this training is linguistic in nature. In linguistics, we learn that words have both content and framing. Content is what a word says, and framing tells you how you should feel about it. Example:

Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary killed.
Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary murdered.
Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary executed.

These all express the same content. The difference is the framing. The first example is a neutral observation. The second implies that it was not morally or legally justifiable, and the third implies that it was morally/legally just.

Now, apply this to the military. If you can't shoot at people, then you can at least shoot at "the enemy." This collective singular "the enemy" (almost never "enemies") allows you to visualize them as an obstacle to your objective. What's your objective? Surviving this hellhole and getting back to your family! Once you get this mentality going, you can overcome the natural restriction against killing. If God forced that door closed, then we can open a window.

Once you dehumanize and objectify with language, it's easier to shoot them. Shooting people is unthinkable without psychologically being desensitized to it, but shooting objects is fine. Objectify people, and that's already half the battle!

Another means of objectifying enemy soldiers is to use racist language. Once racism takes over, atrocities are quite possible, as Aiden Delgado will testify. Examples of military use of racist slurs:

Gook: military word for Filipinos/Koreans/Vietnamese used throughout various wars.
Hajji (also "Haji" or "Hadji"): the current slur of choice for Iraqis and Arabs in the War on Terror. See also "sand nigger."
Chink: a term used originally of Chinese, but then later of Vietnamese soldiers.
Jap: originally a harmless shorthand for "Japanese," but eventually it became offensive after its use in World War II. See also "nip."
Kraut: a term for Germans as sauerkraut-lovers. Used especially by US troops in World War II. The British preferred the term "Fritz" in the early war, and then "Jerry" later. See also "Boche" and "Nazi" (which is short of "National Socialist).

But deep down, we all still know that killing other people is wrong. Soldiers are trained to be desensitized to shooting enemies, but they are not trained to be desensitized to seeing friends die. Soldiers who survive life-threatening situations together develop a bond of camaraderie that is incredibly strong. Since you got through some life-threatening situations together when you can't believe you're still alive, you can't believe three days later that your friend is dead. Extensive therapy is the only way to distance yourself from the event emotionally.

This is crucial to understand. Nearly everyone is naturally unable to actually kill another person except in heat-of-the-moment self-defense (even then, we hesitate). The military partially reprograms you to be desensitized to the act of killing another person -- but then also teaches restraint to not become an indiscriminate homicidal maniac. You learn how to shoot, but also learn when or when not to shoot.

But since you cannot dehumanize your allies (because they're your source of emotional support and camaraderie), you still realize the wrongness of war when allies die. This trauma is why war is hell. Soldiers may come home, but they may never really come back. Today people expect us to "support our troops" because war is hell. Yes, but my problem is that people don't realize that hell starts at training. If people were aware of this, they would be less likely to be involved in the military.

In short: although soldiers can, through brainwashing, circumvent the restriction against killing other people, their minds still register that killing is wrong when their allies die. The only reason they can cope with dealing out the damage is by emotional/physical distance (avoiding hand-to-hand at all costs!) and by dehumanizing the other soldiers as "the enemy." You can't kill people, but you can kill gooks, sand niggers, japs, and nazis. Once you introduce racist language, you can kill others because you frame them as objects of contempt.

Words hurt people. They really do. They shape our thoughts and influence how we treat people. Watch always how you speak of others, and never let hate speech turn another person into an object of scorn in your eyes.

I produced a man!

Posted by Gary Labels:

Better Bibles Blog made a post asking if translation-work should have its own course material. I want to give an illustration of why theology should be part of the tense and self-contradicting world of translation priorities. This is yet another generic post trying to sort out the difference between exegetical accuracy (the technical accuracy of a translation) and communicative accuracy (making sense) in translation.

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." (Genesis 4:1, TNIV)

Really, this seems to be a strange reading. While one could make a case that all men are children, one cannot say that a woman gives birth to a man in good English idiom. If the TNIV is willing to break concordance for the sake of having gender-inclusive renderings, why is this not done here? I would have liked to see the word "person" here, as it would (rightly) affirm that newborns are persons in God's eyes. If there's one point I'd have liked to see "person" in Genesis, it would probably be here.

And yet,
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that these daughters were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of the human beings and had children by them. (Genesis 6:1f, 4, TNIV))

Compare ESV: When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.

Some thoughts:
The word "man" is generalized to human beings. Here, this messes up the contrast between idolatrous humanity (the "daughters of men" being the female half of these) and the sons of God. I highlighted the way the word "man" is variously rendered in this passage. Note that "these daughters" avoids saying "daughters of men" by pointing back to the unpossessed daughters born to them (which is arguably possession). This lets them avoid that weird phrase "daughters of human beings" once, though it messes up a contrast that is part of the passage's theology. Later on, they use the phrase "daughters of the human beings" anyway. OK. Break traditional readings to make good English style. That's fine. But don't break tradition to make an equally if not more awkward expression.

For those just joining me: I do not feel very convinced of the angelic interpretation here (Matthew 22:30 precludes it, IMO). I instead believe that the "sons of God" were members of Seth's lineage and "daughters of men" were of Cain's lineage. The "two ways" contrast from chapters four and five carries over, since the entire flood narrative is an expansion of the genealogy of chapter 5. The genealogy that begins in 5:1 doesn't end until 9:21.

...Alternately, it could be dynastic kings picking women for their harems. But that seems less germane to the past two chapters, so I stick to the Sethite-Cainite interpretation.

Back to TNIV-bashing: one also does not see the lustfully inappropriate aspect within the behavior of the sons of God. They're picking women who are attractive -- it is not to be given a positive connotation like "beauty." Plus, they're "taking in marriage" and not "marrying." Here, at least, it is important to retain that image because it emphasizes how terrible their behavior was.

Lastly, it's important to note that humanity was on the surface of the earth. Yes, I know: it's awkward, but it contains meaning. ALL humans were swept away in the flood, but eight were swept away safely in the boat.

The TNIV rendering makes it look like there were angels that politely courted and married women. The possibility of other meanings for "sons of God" is suppressed by this reading, and so is the inappropriate nature of the sons' behavior.

Genesis 4b-5: Humanity Chooses Two Ways

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Humanity now separates into two distinct camps. Cain goes off on his own to raise a family and build a city. What follows is a short five-generation genealogy that climaxes with Lamech. While Lamech is in power, his sons become the pioneers of music, nomadic herding, and even metallurgy. So he is pretty much king of the world and the bastion of secular power.

He becomes the first polygamist and idolater setting himself up as if he were eleven times as great as God himself. Lamech's trust is in the advance of civilization and the power it brings. Strangely, nobody in this lineage is recorded as dying. Why is that? To not record someone's death is akin to not attending their funeral. It speaks very negatively of those whose death is unrecorded.

While the line of Cain is left an open-ended question, such is not the case for Adam and Eve. God granted them another child, Seth, in place of their dear Abel. 4:25 shows how much bitterness arose between Cain and his parents: even though he was firstborn, his absence is not mourned. Seth replaces Abel, and Cain is disowned as if he had never been born. And then, people begin to call upon the name of the Lord.

God grants Adam and Eve mercy and allows them to continue their lineage, despite this bitterness toward Cain. So, Seth gets a nice ten-generation genealogy climaxing with Lamech. Let's note some of the differences between the line of Cain and the line of Seth: for every name in Cain's genealogy, there is a counterpart in Seth's. Seth's also has twice as many generations. They live incredibly long lives, and their deaths are recorded. They have several progeny recorded. In short, they are quite blessed.

The capstone, again, is with someone named Lamech. Whereas the sons of Cain-Lamech learned to thrive under God's curse on the ground, the son of Seth-Lamech is the one who will remove that curse from the ground. Cain's line trusted in themselves and advanced in technology; Seth's line called upon the Lord and advanced in God's blessing. Lamech lives 777 years, hits the jackpot, and passes the torch on to Noah.

Essentially, the entire flood story is an extension of the line of Seth. Cain's little genealogy gets no torch-passing, but Seth's lineage lives on through Noah and continues throughout the Bible.

Genesis 4.1-16: The Deathblow

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Genesis 3 sets into motion a series of events that have their roots in the activities in Eden. In chapter 3 the man and the woman sin and disrupt the vertical relationship: fellowship with God. Now, people violate the horizontal relationship of people with others. Hamilton points out that the sins of Genesis 3-11 have one theme in common: the human desire to be like God. In chapter 3 we saw a mixture of sin and grace, of judgment and promise. In this section we will see the more of the same double theme.
After once overstepping the limits imposed by God, humankind continues to surrender its standards. The results are:
1. Fratricide (killing one’s brother) brought on by jealousy (4:8, Cain & Abel)
2. Polygamy and retaliation (4:23-24, Lamech)
3. Further surrender to lust (6:1-4, “Sons of God” and “daughters of men”)
4. Corruption and violence in the earth (6:5, 11-12)
5. Incest (?) (9:20-27, Canaan)
6. City with a tower to the heavens (11:1-9, Babel)

Genesis 4-11:9 chronicles the spread of sin, leading up to Abraham, the man who becomes the hinge that this book turns around. After a 7½-chapter downhill spiral, Abraham will bring renewed hope to the reader. But that’s another lesson. For now, let’s start with the Cain & Abel episode.

First, I’ll repeat Hamilton’s note that there is no break between chapters 3 and 4. The two episodes are linked together by the repetition of key words: “Adam and Eve knew [i.e. realized] they were naked” (3:7) connects with “Adam knew [intimately] his wife” in 4:1, “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16) connects to “…sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it (4:7),” and finally “he drove out the man” (3:24) finds its echo in 4:14’s “today you have driven me away from the soil.” On a side note, it’s interesting to note that the first crime of inhumanity relates to an act of worship.

So, as the text starts: Adam knew his wife, and she became pregnant and bore a son, Cain. “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth/acquired a man,” she says, explaining why she named him so. Cain sounds like the word for “brought forth/acquired,” and so is a good wordplay. Cain, as the firstborn, is proof that amid all the talk of death in chapter 3, Adam was right to name Eve the mother of the living, because here we see indeed that there is another person born. A note of grace and hope is here in verse 1. There was expulsion from the Garden, but immediately following is a note of hope. Later, she gave birth to Abel, whose name means “temporary,” and hints at his short lifespan.

Firstborn and Firstfruits 4:1-7
Cain follows his father by working the ground, while Abel tends flocks of animals. At some point, they decide to give offerings to the Lord, and Cain brings some of his harvest. Abel brings the best he has – choice firstborn of his flocks. God smiles on Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? One (incorrect) explanation is that the sacrifice required blood. Nonblood sacrifices are allowable, especially if it is a sacrifice for something other than atonement. Even in the context of sin offerings, a very poor person could purchase flour (Lev 5:11-13) for the sacrifice.

One explanation, which seems fairly natural and straightforward, is that Abel gave the best he had, whereas Cain just gave something. The wording hints at this, but it also hints that Cain did not have his sacrifice matched by an inner attitude of righteousness; God asks Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Could it be that religious ritual became a substitute to Cain for obedience and holy living? It seems to me that both explanations are hinted, but note that no prophet later on draws upon Cain as a parallel for Israel when they give sacrifices instead of holy living. The later parts of the Bible do not seems to interpret it that way, so that does throw some doubt on that interpretation.

Another idea Hamilton mentions: Is Cain’s offering considered unacceptable because he offers something that comes from the ground that God just cursed one chapter ago? Perhaps it is wrong to offer God that which bears the consequences of his curse.
So, summing up, God may have rejected Cain based off of a) not giving his firstfruits (which makes sense), b) not giving with a right heart (which makes sense, but doesn’t seem to be supported by scripture later on), or c) because he gave what bears God’s curse (interesting, but not likely).

For whatever reason, God refuses Cain’s offering. Cain becomes very angry and his face becomes downcast. He’s considering killing his brother at this point (v 5). Then God appears and warns Cain before Cain can even take action. He says “sin is crouching at your door,” which my NIV text note says refers to how in ancient mythology they believed demons crouched outside the door of a house to snatch up someone when they left their home. Thus, sin is pictured as a vicious demon waiting to pounce on Cain.

First Blood
Ignoring God’s warning, Cain invites his brother out to the field, intentionally killing him. Not much details are given this matter, because Cain isn’t the main character. The Main Character shows up immediately and says “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain sarcastically replies, “What am I? His keeper?” Cain is most certainly not. “To keep” means “to control, to regulate and rule.” God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to keep it (Gen 2:15). Many times in scripture God is called “Israel’s keeper.” But, no; no man is his brother’s keeper.

God rebukes Cain: “what have you done?! Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” Even the inanimate parts of creation protest Cain’s sin. Finally, God lays a curse on a human being: Cain, who followed in his father’s steps as a farmer, can no more work the ground. His green thumb, his greatest pride, is now taken from him. He must now gather wild food and must then be a restless wanderer.
Cain responds: “My punishment is more than I can bear! Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless wanderer all right – I’ll never be able to sleep soundly, always afraid that any other person I meet will kill me to avenge Abel.”

God listens to this sinful one’s plea for mercy and gives a measure of grace with the punishment: Cain falls under God’s divine protection and thus he goes eastward from the Lord’s presence (?) to the land of Nod. Now, what was this mark Cain had? The first thing he does in the land of Nod is build a city. While it’s being built, his wife conceives and he names his son, as well as the city, Enoch. Quite possibly, the city itself is the mark by which God warned off avengers.

Although I don’t want to do this very often, let’s ask ourselves where Cain’s wife could have come from. Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters (5:4), and it would just be natural to assume that he married one of his sisters. His finding a wife does not prove there were other people in Nod. “If Nod had no other people in it, why would he be afraid of being caught and killed?” I’ve heard this objection as proof that there were people other than Adam and Eve in the Bible. Actually, this makes no sense. Only someone who knew that Cain was a murderer (another person in the line of Adam) would know that Cain was guilty of anything. Secondly, only Adam or one of his sons would even be angry enough to seek vengeance, anyway. His fear of other people does not prove there were other people in Nod.

Now, as to how he was going to build the first city… that’s a little bit of a mystery. With (I assume) such a long lifespan, we could say he planned to fill it solely with his own progeny. In any case, a scholar named Sailhamer points out that you could call the city of Enoch the very first city of refuge. Cities of refuge were places that, according to the law of Moses, a person who committed homicide could flee to and be safe from kinsmen-avengers until a fair trial to determine if the death was accidental or intentional (Num 35:9-15, Deut. 4:41-43, 19:1-10, Josh. 20:1-9).

And so this section ends with sin's second hit. If in chapter three sin drew first blood, it is here that we find the death blow that removed the last bits of human innocence. The earth itself was violated, because Cain used the ground to hide Abel's blood. The ground was not meant for hiding what is dead, but for nourishing what is living. While in the last chapter humanity in general gains hostility with snakes in general, now a specific person has hostility with the ground. God "drives him away" from the ground itself.

What is to become of the human race now? One son is dead, and the other is a murderer driven into exile. How will Adam and Eve cope? And what is to become of Cain?

Should Christians Carry Swords?

Posted by Gary Labels: , , , ,

Well, it's a new year! I've been reading quite a bit from the Old Testament lately (which means in English), and it makes me impatient. My strength lies in New Testament studies, and I don't want to get rusty. So, I've decided to make a post about Jesus' statements on the Sword. The first passage in question is Luke 22:35-38, which says

He said to them: "When I sent you without a purse or bag or sandals, you didn't lack anything, did you?" They answered, "No; nothing." Then he said "But now, let whoever has a purse take it, likewise a bag also; and may whoever doesn't have a sword sell the shirt off his back to buy one. For I tell you that this which is written will soon find its end in me: 'He was counted among the lawless,' and that [which is written] about me is at its time of fulfillment." And they said: "Lord, ah! Here are two swords." He replied: "That's enough!"

I've heard something to the effect that Jesus can't really be made to fit pacifism completely, that Christian pacifism must be a personal ethic, more or less. With all due respect, I believe careful study of the New Testament, its historical context, and the writings of early Christians would quite strongly support the idea that Jesus was indeed one-sided on this debate.

So, without further stalling, let's look at this passage. We're at the evening of the Lord's Supper. The disciples just quarreled about who is greatest, then Jesus solemnly told Peter he would deny Him. Now Jesus gives a dramatic warning. Given that this occurs between Peter's denial and the final prayer, Jesus has His own death in His mind.

In this passage He reminds them of when they were sent out (see Luke 9) and gives them the idea that, after the Passover, they will again be scattered. If they believe His claims about Him dying, then they realize they'll be fleeing. If they don't believe He'll die, then they think He's gonna send them out again.

In either case, He tells them to take a purse (wallet) and a bag (backpack) -- if they have one. They don't necessarily have to buy one if they don't own one. But they'd better have a sword, each and every one of them. There's a powerful emphasis on them having a sword, even if they have to sell the shirt off their back to get one. [Strange, also, that swords replace sandals.]

Why does He say this? He has His death in mind. He is going to be counted with the lawless. And then He predicts His death quite painfully in v 37. Literally it's "for indeed the about me has an end." If we supply "written" as context would urge us to do, then this phrase means "for that [which is written] about me is about to be fulfilled." But there's more! The way this is phrased seems to have an undertone of him referring again to His death.

Now how do the disciples respond? They remind Jesus that there are two swords there [in the house they were using for the Passover. Ownership of the swords is not specified]. Wait a second. What happens when the disciples respond to Jesus, as a general rule? Think of a few times when the disciples' response is recorded. They are seldom right, and pretty much never completely right. Usually the disciples are incorrect in their statements, and then Jesus clarifies for them as a good rabbi would do.

But not this time. He doesn't correct them. He casually dismisses the conversation "that's enough!" Perhaps more colloquially, "forget it" or "drop it." (Here I reference Richard Hays' Moral Vision of the New Testament.)

Now, I apologize if this is a complicated explanation. But what is the alternative explanation for "that's enough"? Jesus switched from "no bag, purse, or sandals" (Luke 9) to "a bag and purse if you have it, and make absolutely sure you have a sword." And then when they said there were two swords among them, Jesus just changed His mind about many swords were needed? That explanation simply won't do, so I argue that taking "that's enough!" as a dismissal of the conversation is the more coherent understanding of this passage.

Oh, and He dismissed the conversation because they mistakenly took Him literally (a mistake many casually make today with regard to this passage, yet I've just shown that taking Him literally here would make Him inconsistent). So what did He really mean? Well, He didn't elaborate because He dismissed the conversation. It's fair to say it was another prediction of His death and a warning of coming persecution.

Now, much more quickly, I'm going to discuss Matthew 26:52, which says
"Then Jesus said to him: "Return your sword to its place! For all who wield the sword shall perish by sword! Or do you not think ..."

What happens to all those who wield the sword? They will perish by sword. "Sword" is one of God's calamities that He uses to judge nations and individuals. Note also the verb: perish. What does it mean to perish? It's worse than dying. Everyone dies, but bad people get their just punishment when they perish. Go to and do a keyword search. See how many occurrences of it have to do with wickedness! Try Psalm 1 or John 3:16 or Luke 13:1-5. I don't know if the NIV usually retains the perish-die distinction, so you might want to try KJV.

So, in short, Jesus is saying that God will cause punishment on those who wield the sword. The kind of punishment that makes you perish. A case can be made that those who perish end up going to hell, but that argument is inconclusive. It can't be denied, however, that perishing is for the wicked.