Thursday, May 7, 2015

Peter's Sword and Vox Day

Vox Day pointed this out semi-recently, and I have to admit, it caught me off guard.

Most people are familiar with the point in the New Testament where Christ is being arrested, and Peter responds by pulling out his sword and slicing off the ear of the high priest's slave. Jesus immediately rebukes him, which most people typically take as a rebuke against violence in general from Christ.

Vox's view seems to be that it was a specific criticism of violence in that situation, since Christ had to be crucified. His point: if Christ objected to violence, period... then why was Peter carrying a sword to begin with? Apparently Christ had no objections to that.

I am sure someone can fire back with some kind, any kind of answer to this. But I admit, that one struck me as interesting.

16 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I would defer to experts on First Century life to decide just how noteworthy was Peter's possession of a sword. I was always struck by the disciples telling Jesus "Look, here are two swords!" as though that might be something remarkable. But remarkable in what context? Are they proudly showing Jesus that they were (erroneously) "thinking ahead" - anticipating what they thought He was about to tell them?

We must never forget that the Apostles were often quite the dunderheads about understanding Jesus. My favorite instance of this is at the very beginning of Acts, when they as the Lord, "will you at this time [finally] restore the kingdom to Israel?" Even after the Crucifixion, they're still hoping for a military messiah! Pure speculation here, but prior to the Crucifixion, there may well have been a bit of whispering amongst the Apostles along the lines of, "Our Master seems a bit slow about taking on the Roman oppressors, but that shouldn't stop us from being ready when the time comes. Let's give him a pleasant surprise when he finally gets round to it, and show him how much prep work we've done! Let's buy a few swords."

Alternatively (I don't know), owning a sword in those days of highwaymen (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan) may have been just good sense, and noting to take special note of.

I read one blogger who opined that the Romans may have not tolerated an armed populace, but I highly doubt that. The ancient world could be a pretty dangerous place, considering once you left the cities there was basically no law enforcement.

The immediate context of the sword is Jesus's total repudiation of any sort of partisanship (Ahh.. you knew I'd get around to that eventually, right?). Just look at the makeup of the 12. Simon the Zealot (i.e., an anti-Roman revolutionary) alongside Matthew the tax collector (i.e., part of the "establishment") There are other odd pairings as well, emphasizing that Christ's call was Universal and no respecter of ideology. (as in "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." But [Jesus] said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?") So his retinue included both armed radicals (the Zealots) and pacifists (John and Jude being probable Essenes). And it is completely in character for Peter the hothead to in one moment take up arms to defend Christ, and with the next breath to deny that he ever knew him.

Syllabus said...

Eh, I don't buy it. Peter was supposed to be kind of notoriously willful, right? I don't think it's implausible that he might have just been carrying it without Christ's direct approval. Or maybe it was left over from when the Disciples were sent out two-by-two, I dunno.

But his inference seems somewhat stretched. We have absolutely no background info against which to make a more/less valid inference, so I'm dubious.

Crude said...

Syllabus,

I don't think it's implausible that he might have just been carrying it without Christ's direct approval.

But there's no way he'd carry it with Christ's direct disapproval.

Bob,

I would defer to experts on First Century life to decide just how noteworthy was Peter's possession of a sword.

I will not.

Alternatively (I don't know), owning a sword in those days of highwaymen (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan) may have been just good sense, and noting to take special note of.

Christ, finding it acceptable that people would arm themselves? Common sense? Goodness.

And it is completely in character for Peter the hothead to in one moment take up arms to defend Christ, and with the next breath to deny that he ever knew him.

Rather out of character for Christ to not call out sin as he saw it.

B. Prokop said...

"Rather out of character for Christ to not call out sin as he saw it."

Really? Jesus most certainly knew perfectly well that Judas was embezzling from the common fund, yet He never took the purse away from him. For that matter, He never expelled the traitor from their midst.

Crude said...

Jesus most certainly knew perfectly well that Judas was embezzling from the common fund, yet He never took the purse away from him.

Putting aside the fact that Judas occupies a unique place - he also had no problem calling out Judas in his sin. Or Peter. Or most anyone else. You may as well say he also didn't set upon Judas when he started in with the betrayal, but you know, there was a reason.

B. Prokop said...

The real question, as yet unanswered, is how unusual was it in A.D. 33 for a Jew to own a sword? Were weapons of war prohibited by the Roman occupation force? I don't know. And what is a "sword" anyway? Standard Roman issue to the legions was the gladius, which by the standards of the swashbuckling Errol Flynn movies we grew up on was practically a knife. Did Peter strike at the High Priest's servant with what we today would consider a long knife?

I personally like my idea of a subset of the Apostles doing some below the radar prep work on the off chance that Jesus might suddenly declare Himself to be King, but I will admit that such is pure speculation (although nothing in Scripture contradicts it).

Crude said...

The real question, as yet unanswered, is how unusual was it in A.D. 33 for a Jew to own a sword?

Either way you slice it wouldn't help the inference. If it was common, Christ had nothing to say about it. If it was unusual, Peter's ownership of it - as if it was at least not unusual for Peter - was all the more odd.

I'm not taking much away from this other than it tempers certain pacifistic views of Christ.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Crude

Pacifism is not Church teaching we are not Mennonites. While in some circumstances it is noble to refuse to meet violence with violence even justified violence in other circumstances it can be sinful.

I believe it was Scott Hahn who said "The Bible may tell me to turn the other cheek if i am struck but moral theology would say I cannot turn my son's cheek. Indeed my duty as a Father would be to crush without pity the hand that tried to strike it.

In the case of the Apostle Jesus could have wanted them specifically to rely totally on him and not their own devices and in their specific case he might not have wanted them to use weapons.

OTOH in Luke 22:36 He told them to buy swords.

I'm stumped......

B. Prokop said...

I regard pacifism as a calling, like celibacy. It is neither "true" nor "false", other than for the person being so called. The Church is big enough to contain both pacifists and warriors.

I myself am not a pacifist. Heck, I'm an Army veteran and served in the Defense Department for 34 years! But I still think pacifism is a valid calling for some - for instance, for Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

This is not moral relativism! It is a recognition that God does not call us all in the same way. Some are called to be hermits, while others are called to plunge into the masses. Some are called to be Priests, while others are called to be husbands and fathers.

Crude said...

I regard pacifism as a calling, like celibacy.

Well, that's an interesting perspective.

My problem is that I run into many people who regard pacifism as obligatory. Strangely, never celibacy.

voxmaximus said...

Crude,

It should also not be forgotten that not only did Christ Himself drive the money-changers out of the temple through violence, but he literally fashioned himself a weapon to do so.

Kind of hard to claim Christ was categorically against violence when he used it himself. And if He is our example, then...

Vox Maximus
www.voxmaximus.wordpress.com

B. Prokop said...

Beware of making too much out of the Driving out the Money Changers, as a justification for violence. The whip was almost certainly used on the animals (sheep and oxen) and not the money changers.

But what is often overlooked when people discuss this event, is that it was premeditated. I've heard way too many people say it's an example of Christ losing His temper. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read Mark's account. Jesus enters Jerusalem and heads for the Temple, looks around, and then withdraws for the night. The next day, He heads back into the
Temple and straightaway drives out the money changers. To me at least, Christ used the time between His first entry and the second to draw up a plan of action - something that would announce His arrival on the scene with a splash. Remember that, according to John, He's been here several times before already. He wants to "cross the Rubicon" this time around, and make sure everyone knew this time was different.

Crude said...

The whip was almost certainly used on the animals (sheep and oxen) and not the money changers.

It almost certainly was not.

But more than that - the whip isn't even the only violence Christ did there. He also flipped tables and benches, and apparently tore the place up. I'd love to see someone argue that Christ didn't hurt anyone (just the animals) - he just destroyed their possessions.

He wants to "cross the Rubicon" this time around, and make sure everyone knew this time was different.

You know a great way to do that? You bring a whip and hit people.

voxmaximus said...

Bob,

From the Gospel of John (ESV):

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. [THIS CLEARLY SHOWS HE DROVE THE PEOPLE OUT, AND HE MADE THE WHIP TO DO EXACTLY THAT; IT WAS NOT JUST THE ANIMALS NOR WAS IT PRIMARILY ABOUT THE ANIMALS.] And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”

Furthermore, I might point out that your point that Jesus pre-planned this event supports my point even further, for it means that he literally pre-planned using violence to achieve the end that he desired. By your own words, Jesus literally committed a pre-emptive strike against the money-changers. And again, if Jesus is our example to follow, then, in terms of his example about violence, this means...

Finally, I will just add that Jesus's behaviour with the money-changers is a low-level example of "Just War" doctrine in action. Jesus's behaviour is proportional, it achieves its end with minimal harm, it had/has a chance of success, and so on. Very instructive, in my view.

Vox Maximus
www.voxmaximus.wordpress.com

B. Prokop said...

I'm not going to quibble this forever, but I don't think John's wording "clearly shows" that the whip was used against people. If Jesus was driving out the animals with the whip, he would necessarily be driving out the money changers right along with them, without any need for laying a hand (or a cord) upon them. Because they would have to chase after their assets (and thus be "driven out" by default). But as I said, it's a quibble. I don't think either of us, using Scripture alone, can make a decisive case. I personally don't think he used it against the money changers themselves, but I also don't believe I can prove that with a "proof verse" from the Gospels.

Crude said...

If Jesus was driving out the animals with the whip, he would necessarily be driving out the money changers right along with them, without any need for laying a hand (or a cord) upon them.

I think one has to be hoping hard, rather than reading in context, to come to the conclusion that Christ did not - at the absolute least - scare the living hell out of everyone in the temple with threats and acts of violence. Go ahead and say he was beating the animals and flipping tables and destroying things, but he didn't lay a hand directly on any of the people present. Is that really an improvement here? It's still violence.

I will not take seriously the claim that Jesus walked into the temple, showed everyone the whip innocently, leading them to leave because they were ashamed at his craftsmanship. And then he gently guided the animals out, and carefully turned over the furniture as a non-violence act of civil disobedience, knowing it would be a hassle to re-arrange it again.