Thursday, January 31, 2013

...BUT A SWORD?

...BUT A SWORD? 


A LOOK AT VIOLENCE, THE STATE, THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, AND THE NATIONALIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY



***Note: Text highlighted in yellow is my emphasis***




There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
-- Will Durant


The State corrupts the Church and a corrupted Church abuses the State.
-- Me

On February 27th, 380 C.E., something happened that would from then on impact the way professed Christians dealt with the non-Christian world. With The Edict of Thessalonica, Roman Emperor Theodosius The First declared Christianity as the official and sole legal religion of the Roman Empire. Thus was established an entity that became known as The State Church Of The Roman Empire. What a travesty! All true Christians should rue that day. 


This move brought to completion a process that began with Emperor Constantine The Great earlier in the 300's. At first, Constantine's changes were benevolent, starting with his two Edicts of Toleration, the former finally bringing an end to the Roman Empire's brutal persecution of Christians and the latter officially recognizing Christianity as a legitimate faith. But this came at a cost, a contamination of Christian teaching by political leaders. While it should be remembered that Constantine's changes were benign compared to his successors, this period is known as The Constantinian Shift. What was shifting? The relationship between the Church and the State.

In my opinion, there should be none at all. But during the Fourth Century, the Constantinian Shift led to a meshing of ecclesiastical (church-related) and political power. This entangling became known as Caesaropapism (Caesar for the Roman Emperor, Papism in reference to the Church leaders in the various centers of Christianity (The Pentarchy, addressed below), not just the Papacy in Rome, as the Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox split was still centuries away).


For a flow chart of changing laws through the 300's dedicated entirely to Christianity in that period, see this website.


By the 500's C.E. under Emperor Justinian The First, Caesaropapism was firmly established. Early 20th century scholar John Ayers, in his 1913 "A Source Book for Ancient Church History" says Justinian felt he:

had the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline, and also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church.
Just like Jesus taught, right? Wrong, of course:
Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Emperor Justinian also established The Pentarchy, a political alliance between the Church and Imperial leadership in Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, declaring they had collective control over all of Christendom. Quick side note on the word "Christendom": I am wary of using that term due to its obvious connection with statism. The only true Christendom is Christ's Kingdom, not the physical jurisdictions of elitists.

Above I said:


The State corrupts the Church and a corrupted Church abuses the State.

That is the essence of my view that libertarianism and Christianity are complementary. Christians should not brush off non-believing allies of liberty as non-believers should not discount working with Christians who realize that government is not the Holy Spirit--it cannot change men. If your end is liberty, we mustn't quarrel over religion to the point of non-affiliation. That's how governments win, by dividing its subjects. The State was an early and horrifyingly brutal persecutor of Christians. The point is: Totalitarianism threatens us all.


But there is quite an important issue that both of these systems address (and some believe diverge on): Violence. The purest libertarians formulated a concept called the non-aggression principle, which declares initiatory violence or threat of violence unjustifiable, but perfectly justifies defensive violence.

Christian pacifists have argued that there is a theme in the Bible of condemning man-made violence (7/30/2011 EDIT: of course, there are many examples of God-ordered violence. Here is my analysis of that) and that especially Jesus taught a pacifistic reaction to the evils of the world.

I agree that He did teach us to be non-violent. We are to be patient, well-mannered, and well-informed in evangelism and being that light of the world. But are we ordered to be passive in the case of physical assault? No, sir.

Anti-pacifist sentiment can be based on some innate disgust to inaction in the face of violence. I share this distaste. Perhaps the most reflexive and common response to pacifist assertions is "What would you do if your family were attacked?" Indeed, I am sympathetic to this sentiment, and if I found myself in a situation like that, the attacker should start making his peace with God because his time is short.

However, what did this prove? For one, it in no way ***disproved*** that Jesus espoused pacifism because no text was analyzed, nor even cited. What it ***does*** prove is that man, attacker or defender, is violent, sinful, and selfish. No amount of human sensibility can contest God's command. So we must jettison these emotional arguments and focus on the commands themselves to interpret them.

One text cited as a blanket condemnation of violence is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:
38 You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person... 


The phrase "do not resist an evil person" is translated from the Greek word "antistenai" which almost always means violent retaliation, even war-like. What follows are three examples of how to react in verses 39 - 41:


38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 
39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.



These acts are not particularly acts of violence, but insults to the person. Indeed, note in verse 40 how it is not a mugging that is described, but a lawsuit. So Jesus was telling us not to act with violence against insults, and then explains (with examples clear to his audience) how we ***should*** react to such situations. It was the law in the Roman Empire that soldiers could require subjects to walk with them for up to a mile, any distance thereafter being subject to penalty. By going another mile, the Christian is either being a nuisance to the soldier so that he will not bother Christians, or gives them more time to talk to them about the Gospel. By giving the person who is suing you your cloak as well a tunic, the people of Jesus's time would have been exposed to nakedness, which was simply unacceptable to see. Even the cheek slap should not be taken to be as an aggressive physical assault. If I slapped you, would you think that I am trying to start a fight or that I am insulting you and consider you  inferior? This slap would be done with the right hand, as the left was considered unclean. The first slap was on the right cheek. Therefore, the slap would have been backhanded. In first century Palestine, a backhanded slap on the cheek was even more poignant: an assertion of dominance of a higher-class member over a lower-class member. By offering the left cheek to be slapped, the receiver is wordlessly mocking the man-made hierarchy and letting it be known that the insult was ineffective. We are not being ordered to submit to and embrace the beatings of any and every thug we may have the misfortune of meeting in a dark alley. What Jesus was teaching here is that Christians are not to get caught up in trading insults. There are more important things to do.

Here is an example of a pacifist argument using perhaps the most important contested texts on this issue, Luke 22:35 - 53:

35 Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered.
36 He said to them, "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.
37 It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."
38 The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied. 
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."
41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 
42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,
48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"
49 When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?
"50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?
53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns."
First and foremost, a very weak argument for Christian pacifism (that the above writer did not use) is that Jesus halted Peter from fighting back and, on top of that, restored the servant's severed ear. Well, of course He did. His mission was to die and there was no reason to resist the arrest.

Next, it must be pointed out that the word translated as "sword" (machaira) actually means "dagger." So we are not talking about a vicious, offensive, decapitating longsword, but a defensive weapon, the sidearm of the day.

The pacifist author writes:
First, Jesus reminds the disciples of his mission for them before he arrived in Jerusalem (Luke 9:3; 10:1-17). Did they need a purse, a bag, or extra sandals? No, because people were friendlier, and their opposition to him was spread out over three years.



This does not follow, however. Why would they not need bags and extra sandals if the people are friendlier? There is simply no correlation between the friendliness of people and the need for a change of clothes and footwear. Also, did Jesus not warn that there would be receptive and unreceptive people (as there were, have been, and always will be)? Friendliness is no issue here. No, they did not need these things because during Jesus' Ministry, they were preaching to their fellow Jews in the Land of Israel. But once everything is fulfilled, their mission will expand and they will be charged with spreading the message to all nations. Great journeys, to be sure, and travel that would require a change of clothes or two. And since the world is dangerous, a weapon would be needed, too. In fact, so essential was the dagger that one should sell a piece of clothing in order to get one.

The pacifist author also writes:
The third and final nonliteral interpretation says that Jesus frequently used physical objects (seeds, lamps, vineyards, coins, lost sheep and so on) to teach nonphysical, universal truths, and the same is possibly true of the two swords.

It is doubtlessly so that Jesus often used symbolism and hyperbole in His teachings and the recognition of that is essential to understanding what His teachings actually are. However, He was not teaching here. He was speaking very plainly that His time on earth was almost done and that the Apostles must prepare themselves to proliferate the Gospel far and wide and without Him. I also find it inconsistent to consider the admonition to buy swords as symbolic while the admonition to bring bags and money (and presumably sandals) is not.

The Apostles, of course, don't understand that Jesus is telling them that He will soon be tortured and killed in accordance with His mission. This is an assumption, but I would venture to say that most of the Apostle's did have bags with extra clothes and sandals and purses with money (Remember, Jesus told them simply not to ***bring*** them on their missionary journeys in Israel). Therefore, the confused Apostles, who understood only the advice to gather materials, naively point out that they already have two daggers.

Then comes the response, "That is enough." Christian pacifists interpret this as "two daggers are enough to be numbered among the transgressors" in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. I find this lacking, however, as the Sanhredin had already set their mind on arresting Jesus. He was ***already*** counted as a criminal. Also, he was never charged with possession of a weapon.  Indeed, the only charge the Sanhedrin could muster was blasphemy and Pontius Pilate found that absurd. Nor did any of the arresting party point out that the possession of the daggers was the (or a) reason behind the arrest. Also, would we not expect Peter to have been arrested as well if it were unlawful to have a dagger? No, it was a premeditated operation. A sham arrest with a target.

I rather see "That is enough" as "I'm through here." I see it as an expression of Jesus' frustration with the Apostle's naivete, so He goes to talk to His Father, Who will understand everything. Further evidence of the Apostle's misunderstanding is that they repeatedly fall asleep when Jesus has ordered them to keep watch while He prays. However, even if we take it to mean that two daggers are enough to be arrested, when looking at verses 35-36 as practical advise rather than symbolic teaching, it simply means that those two daggers would suffice to be arrested tonight, not that they could only have two swords among them always.

Next, we have Matthew's treatment of the incident which includes Jesus rebuking Peter for cutting the guard's ear off and finally this, Matthew 26:52:
"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."


As the pacifist writer points out:


On the other hand, Jesus said to Peter in the Garden, 'Put your sword back in its place,' meaning, back in its scabbard or holder or in Peter’s belt or another article of clothing. He never said to throw the sword away, off to the side at a distance.


Yes, Jesus did say that the sword has its place with men, at your side drawn only at the right moments, i.e., for defense.



Does the second half the verse call for pacifism? Well, it's clearly not true that every single person who has drawn a sword/dagger has died by one. So this phrase is a bit of proverbial wisdom that we should seek always to not draw our weapons, for it is a dangerous path whether one enters as the attacker or defender.

The pacifist continues:
Therefore, it is entirely possible that some disciples carried the two weapons after  the crucifixion and burial when they lived in hostile territory, and maybe some did after the Resurrection and Ascension.

Friend, it is not only possible, nor even simply probable, but almost certain that most or all of the Apostles (and the converts from them and the converts from them) carried daggers, and that also applies to everyone else. Throughout history, it has been the norm for individuals to be armed. In fact, there were once laws that demanded citizens be armed. How the world has changed due to anti-gun/weapon propaganda. Even the pacifistic Essenes armed themselves.

He continues:
However, later reliable tradition says that none of the Apostles fought or even tried to fight their way out of fiery trials with swords, as some sort of misguided, twisted, violent martyrs. Instead, tradition says that all of the Apostles but John were martyred as a direct result of persecution.



But it does not make sense to compare martyrdom with an act of self-defense against thugs. The Apostles were prepared to die to defend and proclaim the Gospel. This is much different than being jumped on a street corner by punks. Jesus used a whip to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple. Not in ***His*** house, you don't!

Finally, is Jesus contradicting himself in these two passages?

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 


-- Matthew 5





34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’


-- Matthew 10



Surely not. As always, context is the key. Matthew 5 is, of course, the Sermon on the Mount, i.e., the teachings of Jesus for daily ethics. But what was happening in Matthew 10? Let's have a look:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 


Jesus, as mentioned above already, was talking to His fellow Israelites about His fellow Israelites. What He said there refers to the turmoil that would follow after Christ's Crucifixion and eventually result in several armed Jewish revolts against Roman rule (in fact, this is the most powerful argument for the truth of Christianity and, sadly, very rarely used.). But factionalism among the Israelites, even splits within immediate families, led to their defeat..


But to close, we may all say that violence is a disease. Christians should never seek to use it. From the prohibition of aggression, I would say Christians have no place in the military or law enforcement. We should be working towards peace in the world because indeed, blessed are the peacemakers.

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