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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

What Jesus Meant When He Said, “I Didn’t Come To Bring Peace, But A Sword”

There’s a passage in Matthew 10 that comes up somewhat frequently in conversations– perhaps you’re familiar with it. It’s a passage where Jesus said, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.”

It’s a strong statement.

I see this passage brought up most often by two opposite sets of people: conservatives who try to use it as evidence that Christians can use violence or that Jesus was a warrior, and the anti-theists who like to pull short, outrageous sounding passages out of scripture as a way to mock scripture. Unfortunately, this passage doesn’t accomplish the goal of either side.

This passage has been heavy on my own heart because it applies to my own spiritual journey, so I thought I’d break it down here on the blog so that it makes a bit more sense to folks. First, let’s look at a broader snapshot of the passage:

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.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. – Jesus (Matthew 10:34-38)


Before we get into what the passage is saying, let’s get out of the way what the passage is not saying. This passage is not a prooftext for Jesus as a warrior or the Christian use of violence, as Jesus’s use of sword in this passage is clearly metaphoric– he even goes on to explain what he meant. He explains that he’s not talking about a sword that kills, but a sword that causes division in relationships. (This same metaphor using sword to indicate division is also used in Hebrews 4:12.) Plus, if Jesus was speaking of literal, physical violence he would have contradicted his own teachings earlier in Matthew. So, metaphor is where this passage is at.

However, that still leaves a reader in tension. Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” but here he’s saying he didn’t come to bring peace, but division. What gives?

Conservatives will often mock me and say things like, “Jesus wasn’t some hippy who went around giving everyone high-fives.” And, they’re technically right. While Jesus was totally nonviolent, he was not one to avoid conflict. In fact, Jesus was so nonviolently confrontational that (SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t read the end of the story, stop reading now) he actually gets executed for it.

I believe in this passage Jesus is pointing to a reality that many of us are becoming familiar with: his teachings aren’t exactly popular. Following his teachings? Doing the things that Jesus did? Loving the way Jesus loved? Well, at a minimum that’s going to invite conflict into your closest relationships.

The message of Jesus is summarized by “love God and love others”. While that sounds simple, it’s actually controversial. Loving people will always be controversial.

And that means, should you accept this mission to love the world, it will screw up your relationships. In fact, Jesus claims it will put tension on the relationships most close to you. Your parents, in-laws, children… loving God and loving others can potentially put you at odds with anyone who isn’t ready to love quite as radically as you are.

Or at least, loving God and loving others presents you with a choice: do you keep the status quo, or do you become willing to be an outcast even in your own family?

Jesus goes on to essentially say, “don’t even bother pretending you want to follow me if you’re not willing to be an outsider in your own family.” (v37) And that’s a tough choice.

The entire sentiment of Jesus in this passage is similar to a statement he made at the beginning of his ministry: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and among his own family.” (Mark 6:4, Matthew 13:57, Luke 4:24)

I remember growing up at church camp and having it drilled into my head that following Jesus will make you “hated by the world”. The reality is however, and what Jesus taught, is that loving God and loving others will put you at odds with the people closest to you. Most especially other professing Christians.

When you love people radically like Jesus loved many outside of Christianity will say, “Wow, that’s a kind of Christianity I could go for!” but you will quite often end up a prophet without honor in your own hometown and among your own family.

I’ve come to realize that speaking against violence, against xenophobia, against homophobia, Islamophobia, and and so many other things that stand against love, will complicate my closest relationships. I’ve come to accept that standing up for immigrants and refugees will get me labeled a liberal with a political agenda. I’ve embraced the reality that speaking against racism will get me called a race-baiter. I’ve embraced that anything I say dissenting from the status quo of the civil American religion often called Christianity, will be dismissed.

All in all, I’ve accepted that loving like Jesus will complicate relationships.

It’ll complicate yours too. But here’s the thing:

Jesus didn’t come to bring a period of tranquility where everyone holds hands in a circle– he came to bring upheaval to the ways of this world. He came to flip tables. He came to disrupt a faux version peace. He came to speak up for the oppressed, to loose their chains, to welcome the sojourner, and to make room for those the religious elite want excluded from God’s table.

Everyone turned on him, and they killed him for it.

To follow in his footsteps? Well, at a minimum that will really complicate even your closest relationships– and that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.”

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Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

BLC

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

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  • Dianze Robinson says:

    If you have a friend that tells you about his conversations and visits with Satan, that becomes scary and unacceptable. Jesus talked about not bringing peace right after his visit with Satan, according to Matthew. Everyone believed he was a threat to their families and that is why none of the Disciples tried to stop Judas from betraying him. The main reason Jesus was put to death is because he could actually descend to hell and talk to Satan. Who wants to be associated with someone like that?

  • heavensong1952 says:

    I thought it might mean that we may have to cut some ties with people. We may have to tell some true but unbelievable things that have happened to them. The person may have to risk being laughed at and have to be embarrassed because of their friends. luckily for me I dont have to answer to anyone. My friends family does not know about some things God had told him. He said God said he isnt suppose to tell anyone. And now he said I am not suppose to tell anyone either(after I told some people. I don’t really know what to believe because as far as I know God doesnt want things to be secret, he wants us to tell everyone.

  • Tommyzax says:

    It’s about following the Law. You don’t divide families by approving their sinful lifestyles, you bring people together. Jesus was not there for that. If you follow the Law, it will surely alienate you amongst FAMILY, whether that means church family or real family. Everybody will say you are a troublemaker and call you “legalist” as a bad word, which it’s not. As Reagan said, we can have peace tomorrow, all we have to do is surrender to our enemies.” So this is not about “love” alienating people, otherwise we’re saying Jesus approved homosexuality. Matthew 5:19 shows that whether you belive He fulfilled the Law or not, He did not teach against the Law.

  • Jesus M Jacinto says:

    The truth does not change in twenty-five years, the truth does not change in twenty-five thousand years, the truth does not change in twenty-five million years. The truth does not change. The truth is one.

    Thousands are the expressions for it, but truth is one. Many are the fingers pointing at the moon, but the moon is one. Don’t get lost in the fingers, don’t get too much attached to the fingers. Look at the message and forget the medium.

    Mediums are many, truth is not many. Metaphors are many, truth is not many. Truth is one, eternal, timeless, transcendental. About truth this thing has to be understood very deeply. This understanding will liberate you from being a Christian, from being a Hindu, from being a Jain, from being a Buddhist, from being a Mohammedan. This understanding will make you religious for the first time.

    Religion is not confined to any mediums. Many, many efforts have been made – it is not confined to any effort to express it. All that is expressed is something totally different from the metaphors, the parables, the words, the language, in which it is expressed. Remember the essential and forget the non-essential. Buddha, Mahavir, Krishna, Christ, Mohammed – they all say the same thing, obviously in different ways. They are different people so they speak different languages. They are differently brought up, their metaphors are different. But how can they speak different truths? Truth is one.

    Look! – even science is one. There is no Hindu chemistry and there is no Christian mathematics.

    The truths of science are one. If the truth is one about matter, why should it be otherwise about consciousness? When the truth is one about the periphery, why should it be different as far as the center is concerned? The center is one, the peripheries can be different from each other.

    The periphery is big enough to be divided. The center is not even big enough to be divided, the center is indivisible. Yes, there is a possibility of there being a Christian mathematics and a Hindu mathematics, but there is no possibility of there being a Christian religion and a Hindu religion – because mathematics exists on the periphery; it is the world of the superficial.

    Religion is at the very core of reality, the center of the cyclone. It is one! We can look at it with different eyes, and we can have different glasses on our eyes – different coloured glasses. We can have different mind constructs, ideologies to interpret it. But that which is being interpreted is the one. Religion is one. Religions are not religion but just sects. Religions are just ways to point at THE religion – fingers pointing to the moon.

    Let it sink deep into you

  • Jesus M Jacinto says:

    a state of thoughtless awareness, when all thoughts disappear and you look into reality without any hindrance, when all dust has been dropped and the mirror reflects perfectly – as is the case – that which is reflected without any interpretation on your part. That’s what Zen is!

    You may be puzzled many times that I go on speaking on Tilopa, Mohammed, Mahavir, Krishna, Christ. But I go on saying the same thing. These are just different excuses to bring you home. If you don’t listen, if you don’t understand the way Buddha speaks, I will speak the way Mohammed speaks. If you don’t understand that, I will speak the way Tilopa speaks. I have infinite hope that in some way, some day, some metaphor will hit you, and will open your heart.

    This sword? – good. If this is not going to kill you, then another sword. I am not attached to swords.

    My whole effort is how to annihilate you. Any sword will do. I am not interested that you should be killed only by this sword: Buddha’s sword or Mahavir’s, or Christ’s – any sword will do, any temple will do. The prayer has to arise, the meditativeness has to happen.

    So the first thing before we try to enter this beautiful story: many are the lies – only lies can be many, truth cannot be many. How can there be two truths? Either they will agree with each other, then they will become one; or they will disagree with each other, then only one can be true, or maybe both are false, but both cannot be true. Truth cannot be two.

    Opinions are many. Opinions are lies, man-invented lies. For example, we are sitting here, one thousand persons sitting here. If you think, you are one thousand. Everybody thinks in his own way; everybody will have his own thoughts, will spin his own dreams. But if you are all silent, nobody is thinking, then there are not one thousand persons sitting here: there is simply one silence, one zero – big zero – and all have dissolved into it.

    When you meditate, the ego disappears. With the ego all the distinctions, differences, disappear.

    If you all are meditative here, in this moment, then here there is nobody. Only one prevails – the unknown – only God prevails. You disappear, you lose your boundaries, you melt, you merge in the ocean. When you are thinking, you are separate. When you are thinking, you create noise, you create a boundary around you, you are fenced off against the other. When you are thinking, you are for something and against something. Thinking always creates pros and cons.

    When you are thinking, you are a Hindu or a Mohammedan. When you are not thinking, who are you? – Hindu or Mohammedan? You cannot say. If you say Hindu, you are still thinking. If you say Mohammedan, you are still thinking. When you are not thinking, you are nobody. Only God is. You are a hollow bamboo, a flute, and the song is God’s not yours.

    Lies are many, because lies are inventions of man. You can go on inventing them. That’s why people are interested so much in lies, because lies give thrill – they are new. Truth is never new, it is the ancientmost – the same, the same, the same…. Truth is boring. Lies are very, very intriguing; lies are very interesting. Hence you love fiction, hence you go to the movies. Life is all around! You don’t see this life – you go to a movie, you pay for it. For three hours you are lost in a fictitious world, unreal, but you enjoy it. Why are you enjoying it? It is new.

    But truth is always the same. In fact to call it old is not right either, because it has never been new so how can it be old? Anything that is new will become old, anything that is old must have been new some time or other. Only the new becomes old. Truth is neither. That’s what we mean in India when we say truth is SANATANA – eternal – neither new nor old. As old as anything and as new as anything, but basically neither.

    Only a very, very intelligent person can listen to truth. The stupid mind hankers for fictions, gossip – not for the gospel. The stupid mind is interested in gossiping. There is thrill! Something new is happening! You read the newspaper in the morning. You don’t read the Gita any more, you don’t read the Bible any more, you don’t read Dhammapada. You read the newspaper; the newspaper is the world of lies – the world of the politician, the world of fictions. You enjoy the newspaper tremendously, because you have the feeling that something new may have happened, something new is possible.

    I have heard that once a journalist died and went directly to heaven. He was a journalist and a big name, and he didn’t bother whether he was entitled to go to heaven or not. He simply knocked on the door – and all the great doors in the world were always open to him: prime ministers’, presidents’, and all the VIPs’.

    He knocked at the door. St. Peter opened the door, inquired who he was, and he said, “Don’t you know me? Have you never heard my name? Don’t you read the newspapers?”

    St. Peter said, “No, newspapers don’t come here. And we have our full quota of journalists in heaven – twelve – we have the quota fixed. Even those twelve are useless, because there is no news here!

    It is just a formality. They are here, but no newspaper is published. There is nothing to publish. For news to happen, mad people are needed.”

    George Bernard Shaw has said, “When a dog bites a man it is not news; when a man bites a dog, it is news.” A dog biting a man? What news is this? This ordinary. But a man biting a dog becomes news. Only mad people create news. So if you want real news you have to go to mad cities – New Delhi, Peking, Moscow, Washington, London – there you find news all around. News, and news and news!

    So he said, “Please, you go to the other place, to hell. There they need many newspeople – great journalists are needed and respected there, and much happens there. Here nothing happens! It is always the same. Nothing changes here, it is eternally the same. Silence prevails, absolute calm prevails. No gossiping, no fighting, no war, no murder, no rape – nothing happens. Things are here as if they are not.”

    But the journalist was intent. He said, “Twelve you have. Just give me twenty-four hours’ time. I will persuade somebody to go to the other place, and then you can manage for me. I want to he here.”

    St. Peter took pity on him and gave him twenty-four hours to persuade somebody.

    He spread the news – he was a journalist – he immediately entered and started talking to people:

    “A new paper, a very new paper, is being published in hell, and on a good salary, big house, big car, big staff, editors, news editors are needed.” He spread the news.

    After twenty-four hours when he came back to St. Peter, St. Peter closed the door and said, “Don’t try to get out. All the twelve have escaped!”

    But then the journalist became a little suspicious. He said, “All the twelve have gone? I was thinking one or two at the most. All the twelve have gone? Then let me go out. Then there must be something in it.”

    He himself has created the news. It is a lie, he knows, but when you tell lies to people many times, by and by you start believing it yourself. Lies have a tendency to become truths, just repetition is needed.

    That’s what Adolf Hitler says in his autobiography, MEIN KAMPF. That is the only distinction he makes between truth and a lie: a lie is just the truth told for the first time; and a truth is a lie told many times. That is the only distinction he makes. And he knows well, he did it well himself.

    You can go ON repeating a lie again and again and again, and sooner or later people will start believing it. When they hear it again and again, the impact… it creates a groove in their minds. And when many people start believing, you will start believing yourself, because you live according to people.

    “If so many people are believing, there must be something in it,” said the journalist. “I want to go, I don’t want to be here. And I have looked into your heaven – it is useless. Nothing is happening here and nothing will ever happen here.”

    SO REMAIN IN A STATE WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS,

  • brucegr says:

    Jesus meant that we should not SEEK peace.

    We are on the planet as an opportunity to free our Souls from Satan.

    We have to be cut free from the grip of Satan. Being cut free is done with the sword of Christ.

    That sword works through our attention, our will for God, our resistance of Satan. The sword is one of WILL (ours and God’s), that cuts us free.

    We have to earn it though. We have to turn to God strongly enough for that sword to be wielded powerfully, so powerfully it cuts us free from that which is not God’s purity.
    So, do not SEEK peace. Seek instead to be cut free from Satan. And in that we will find peace.

    We cannot have peace when we are still pulled by Satan.

  • Apostolics_together says:

    the passage is consistent with other statements of Christ. “His Kingdom is of Heaven not of Earth.” “Expect tribulation, but do not worry, God has conquered evil.” I think of when Peter cut of the soldiers ear, and Christ put the ear back on. Also the “plank in the eye” comes to mind. IMO many who act as God are selective in their social justice. They may accept abortion, they may be open to immigrants who believe in Polygamy. Others may think they can defeat evil themselves. I think MLK understood that shaming does not work to solve problems. Redemption has to be available and only Christ offers that.

  • John Dearing says:

    Jesus was totally non violent? I think you forget what did at his Fathers house! He oveturned tables and whipped the money changers right out of it! I understand his core teachings and his purpose in coming the first time. Make no mistake though you can only turn the othef cheek but once.
    He stayed Peter’s hand because the time had not yet arrived for them to sell their cloak and buy a sword.

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