I was thrilled to have my paper accepted again this year at Houston Baptist University’s annual theology conference coming up soon on April 16-18 (put it on your calendars!). Last year’s theme was “Paul and Judaism” (my abstract for last year’s conference is here), while this year’s conference is more broadly focused on “The Church and Early Christianity.” As it has come to be expected, the keynote speakers lined up for the conference are first-class: John Barclay (Durham University), Everett Ferguson (Abilene Christian University), and Ben Witherington III (Asbury Theological Seminary). The thrust of the conference is to explore the early church’s theological, ecclesial, and social relationships, internally and externally, in their respective historical contexts.
My particular presentation will hopefully contribute to the ongoing conversation on the earliest Jesus movements’ ethics regarding violence and pacifism, particularly in relation to Roman imperial domination, and more particularly from the perspective of the author of the gospel of Luke and the community (or communities) intended to receive them. My paper is entitled: “The Sword and the Servant: Reframing the Function of the ‘Two Swords’ of Luke 22:35-38 in Narrative Context.” Here is the abstract:
The “two swords” passage of Luke 22:35-38 has plagued interpreters for centuries. Scholars have attempted to explain this passage by suggesting that Jesus was either not speaking literally of buying swords, alluding to future persecution of the disciples, preparing them for bandits along the way, preparing them for the time of trial to come when he is gone, etc. Many of these interpretive positions seem to be out of step from Luke’s narrative portrayal of the mission and ethic of Jesus and his disciples. In recent scholarship the dominant approaches to solving the interpretative issues associated with this enigmatic text have tended to focus myopically on the pericope itself apart from a thorough treatment of passage within its narrative context. This study will provide an explanation of Jesus’ command to buy a sword within the immediate context of the narrative as a prophetic announcement of the disciples’ denial in the same way he announces Peter’s denial in the previous section. This will be demonstrated in two ways: (1) arguing for Luke’s positioning of the unique “two swords” pericope (Lk 22:35-38) within a wider chiastic structure of Lk 22:31-62 and (2) demonstrating that in Luke’s employment of Isaiah 53:12 in the immediate narrative context, he understands the transgressors that Jesus is to be counted with are not the criminals that he is crucified next to, as traditionally understood, but with his disciples who brandish the sword. This reading is consistent with the non-violent martyrological ethic of the Jesus movement in Luke-Acts and has profound implications for early Christian ethics in the context of Roman imperial domination in the first-century as well as for contemporary Christian ethics today.
For anyone who has wrestled with this enigmatic, and at first reading, seemingly contradictory text in Luke while scratching their head and getting a migraine from all the possible problematic ethical implications that result (hope it’s not just me), I think you may be in for a treat (and a cure for your interpretive headaches, although, I might give you whole new ones). I hope to argue for a more coherent narratival and intertextual reading that provides answers to a number of exegetical problems and interpretive questions regarding such a controversial text in New Testament studies. Not only would this proposed reading be important for the study of earliest Christianity in its Early Jewish and Greco-Roman context, it would be especially important for those seeking to appropriate this text in the complicated discussions regarding violence and pacifism in contemporary Christian ethics.
I look forward to seeing many of you there. I’m anticipating an interesting and engaging conference (par for the HBU course) and a good time with friends old and new! Make sure and register for the conference here. You’d be hard pressed to get more bang for your buck at only $40.00 for the cost to register! A big thanks to my friend Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for consistently hosting such great events like this one. See you there!
* ADDITIONAL NOTE * On Saturday March 21, I was honored with the news that my paper was also accepted by the Synoptic Gospels program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting on November 21-24, 2015 in Atlanta. If you don’t catch it first in Houston, you can catch it then.