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Matthew 10:34 New International Version (NIV)

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

How do we understand Jesus use of the word Sword in this verse?

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    "Sword" is obviously a contrast to "peace" in the same verse. While "peace" indicates harmony/tranquility/unity, "sword", the opposite, refers to war/strife/division. Is this what you're asking, or are you asking how we see in practice that Jesus' doctrine divides people against each other? – Niobius Nov 30 '13 at 17:01
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    Yes your right, but are these not one and the same thing, I mean the sword representing the opposite of peace and that Jesus's doctrine divides people! yes I see something more..is there a possible correlation here to where we read that the word of God is like a two edged sword dividing between bone and marrow? – John Unsworth Dec 1 '13 at 12:17
  • Check out 2 Cor 10:3-6, where Paul says his weapons are not of the flesh. Note that ideas can do battle, and ideas can take on lives of their own. Richard Dawkins was wise to coin the word meme, despite his general philosophical naïveté. :-) – Luke Breuer Dec 4 '13 at 0:05
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In Matt. 10:34, it is written,

34 Do not think that I came to send peace on the earth. I did not come to send peace, but rather, a sword!

ΛΔʹ μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν TR, 1550

The “sword” (μάχαιρα) represents “division” (διαμερισμός), and this is evident when we examine the synoptic parallel in Luke 12:51, in which it is written,

51 Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? No, I tell you! But rather, division!

ΝΑʹ δοκεῖτε ὅτι εἰρήνην παρεγενόμην δοῦναι ἐν τῇ γῇ οὐχί λέγω ὑμῖν ἀλλ᾽ ἢ διαμερισμόν TR, 1550

What does this division involve? If we read the next verses following either verse, the Lord Jesus Christ explains that it involves division of families.

In Matt. 10:35-36, it is written,

35 For I came to sever a man from his father, and the daughter from her mother, and the daughter-in-law from her mother-in-law. 36 And a man’s enemies shall be of his house.

ΛΕʹ ἦλθον γὰρ διχάσαι ἄνθρωπον κατὰ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ θυγατέρα κατὰ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφην κατὰ τῆς πενθερᾶς αὐτῆς ΛϚʹ καὶ ἐχθροὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οἱ οἰκιακοὶ αὐτοῦ TR, 1550

In Luke 12:52-53, it is written,

52 For from now on, there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

ΝΒʹ ἔσονται γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν πέντε ἐν οἴκῳ ἑνὶ διαμεμερισμένοι τρεῖς ἐπὶ δυσὶν καὶ δύο ἐπὶ τρισίν ΝΓʹ διαμερισθήσεται πατὴρ ἐφ᾽ υἱῷ καὶ υἱὸς ἐπὶ πατρί μήτηρ ἐπὶ θυγατρί καὶ θυγάτηρ ἐπὶ μητρί πενθερὰ ἐπὶ τὴν νύμφην αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφη ἐπὶ τὴν πενθεράν αὐτῆς TR, 1550

This may not be well understood in America, in which the religious majority is Christianity (however, it does happen on occasion). However, in the Middle East, particularly Judea, which is the setting of the Gospel, the religious majority was Judaism. Not too long after Christianity was born, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin became hostile to any Jews who converted to Christianity. Those Jews who confessed Christ were excommunicated from the people of Israel and placed under cherem. Even their own family members disowned them.1


Footnotes

1 See John Gill’s commentary on John 9:22.

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Sword means the rhema word of God. Paul uses the same word for the sword when describing the full armor of God:

“Do not think that I have come to bring (βαλεῖν) peace to the earth. I have not come to bring (βαλεῖν) peace, but a sword (μάχαιραν)… (ESV)

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword (μάχαιραν) of the Spirit, which is the word (ῥῆμα) of God (Ephesians 6:17 ESV)

The sword is the ῥῆμα (rhema) word of God; of this use in Ephesian’s Vine’s states:

The significance of rhema (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Eph 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture. [rhema]

Jesus did not come to "bring" peace, He came to "bring" the rhema word to the earth. The word translated "bring" is βαλεῖν which means "to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls." [906-ballo] As shown in the Disciples Literal New Testament and elsewhere in Matthew:

Do not suppose that I came to cast peace over the earth. I did not come to cast peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34 DLNT)

And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw (βαλεῖν) it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 ESV)

Jesus came to cast the sword which is the rhema word of God upon the earth without caring where it falls. With regard to His peace, He came to give peace to individual believers:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.... (John 14:27 ESV)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

The rhema word of God is cast upon the earth. The peace of Jesus is implanted in people, one disciple at a time.

Additional Thoughts

The primary Greek concept of peace was the state of tranquility due to the absence of war. [eirene] It is defined by that which is missing. The Hebrew concept of peace is one of completeness. [shalowm] Comparing the two:

Greek: tranquility is a result of the absence of war
Hebrew: peace is a result of an addition which brings completion

In the beginning was the logos Word of God and Jesus came to bring that which completes the word of God, the rhema Word. Peace with God is now possible because the Word of God is complete.

The Athenians worshiped Eirene, the goddess of Peace. [Eirene] Understanding the deficiency in the Greek meaning of peace increases the clarity of the message Paul delivers in the Areopagus:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV)

The Athenians believed they had peace because their nation was not at war. In reality they were still enemies of God. Their idols were proof they were actually at war with God. They were going to be judged. Their peace was missing something vital:Jesus

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There is an interesting translation problem which shows that literal translations sometimes are potentially misleading.

In the Greek text we have an infinitive βαλεῖν. The infinitive in English is indicated by the word "to" so it becomes "to send" (or literally to throw.) But the English "to" can also indicate purpose, but that is not the meaning of the Greek text. Greek does not specify whether it is purpose or result, but we know from other Scriptures that this is a result rather than purpose. The purpose of Jesus coming was to bring peace to people, but only to those who accept his message and believe in him. When some people believe and others do not, the result is strife or division.

It is pretty impossible not to communicate a wrong idea by way of a literal translation. I made a meaning-based and free translation in Danish which I can quote here:

At jeg er kommet til denne jord, betyder ikke, at der fra nu af er fred og ingen fare. Nej, der vil blive splid, helt ind i familiens inderkreds.

English translation: That I have come to this earth does not mean that from now on there will be peace and no danger. No, there will be strife, all the way into the inner circles of the family.

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What does the word “Sword” mean in Matthew 10:34?

In garden of Eden, God said to Satan:**

Genesis 3:15 NET

15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The situation then was the same as in the days of the earthly life of his Son, Jesus Christ, who said:

Matthew 10:34 (NIV)

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Jesus' teachings also brought rifts within the families, (Luke 12:51-53) but this was not due to the fact that some accepted the truths, but because others hartened their hearts against them.The blame lays with the rejecters that opposed the truths and not with those that accepted them. This may also occur in our days, when a member of the family chooses to change religion other than that of the family.

John 8:40 NET

40 But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this!

John 15:22 NET

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. But they no longer have any excuse for their sin.

John 17:14 NET

14 I have given them your word,[a] and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

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