35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough” (Lk 22:35-38).
Some Christians appeal to this passage is opposition to pacifism. Most commentators think it's figurative. My own opposition to pacifism doesn't require this passage, so in that respect I have no stake in the interpretation, one way or the other. Although most commentators support the figurative interpretation, their reasons are surprisingly poor.
1. To command them to buy a sword would contradict what Jesus taught elsewhere.
i) That objection is circular. It would only be contradictory if Jesus taught pacifism. So that begs the question.
ii) Moreover, the objection is puzzling. I doubt all Synoptic scholars who construe this passage metaphorically think Jesus was a pacifist.
2. The sword is a metaphor to be spiritually forearmed for the coming opposition.
i) But if the sword is symbolic, don't the money, cloak, knapsack, and sandals need to be symbolic as well? If so, what do they stand for?
Perhaps we could salvage that interpretation by saying these are parts of a complete word-picture.
ii) But another problem is that these items are literal in v35. It would be a jarring transition if the sword is figurative.
iii) Moreover, as all scholars grant, v36 stands in sharp contrast to the status quo ante. Without Jesus to protect them and provide for them, the disciples are on their own. They face a much tougher situation ahead.
Although accompanying Jesus for the past three years was not without its hardships, it had fringe benefits. Jesus was the world's best bodyguard. An omnipotence bodyguard. They were safe with him.
Likewise, so long as they were in his company, they never went hungry. He could miraculously produce food. If they took ill, he could heal them. If it was too frigid to sleep outside, he could miraculously produce a toasty campfire.
But after he leaves them, they will have to fend for themselves. So procuring a defensive weapon makes sense in that context. They must made dramatic adjustments to life without Jesus by their side.
3. This isn't a Zealot-style call to arms against the Jewish or Roman establishment.
i) That's true, but a straw man. The nonpacifist interpretation doesn't require it to be an armed insurrection.
ii) This objection fails to distinguish between the defensive and offensive potential of a sword. Even if Jesus never intended for Christians to use it offensively, that hardly precludes a defensive use. It was standard equipment for travelers in the Roman Empire.
iii) Keep in mind that a sword had defensive value against dangerous animals as well as dangerous men (cf. 1 Cor 15:32).
4. Jesus reproves their misunderstanding in v38.
i) That interpretation is less than straightforward. To begin with, if they misunderstood him on such a significant issue, wouldn't we expect him to correct them? And not just for their benefit, but for the Christian reader. It is not misleading to leave that unresolved?
ii) As a matter of Greek usage, it not clear that "it's enough" means "drop it!" From the lexicons I consulted, that's an idiosyncratic definition of hikanos.
5. Two swords are hardly enough to protect them.
i) True, but irrelevant. At this juncture, two swords are more than enough because they don't need any swords at the moment. They will only need to protect themselves after Jesus ascends to the Father. There's no urgency in having swords at the ready in the hours ahead.
ii) Moreover, what's "enough" is probably not the swords, but the fact that they got the point. Showing him their swords confirms their understanding.
6. The literal interpretation would contradict Christ's reproof of Peter.
That's confused. Naturally it's inappropriate for Peter to interfere with the plan of redemption. Resisting arrest would frustrate the very reason Jesus came in the first place. But you can hardly extrapolate from that unique situation to a universal principle.
7. According to Acts and the NT epistles, the church was nonviolent
i) That's an argument from silence.
ii) When you are vastly outnumbered by potential enemies, then violent self-defense is futile. That doesn't mean you wouldn't or shouldn't protect yourself or others where that's a viable option.
I conclude that the literal interpretation is the most likely. So opponents of pacifism can rightly cite this passage.