Jesus of Nazareth was a man depicted by the early writers of Christian scripture as peaceful, compassionate, yet revolutionary. His followers, calling themselves “the Way”, lived communally, healed the sick, and preached love. In today’s society they would be labeled a band of misfits and rabble-rousers, a gang of runaways and losers. They did not fit into the religiosity of the Jews nor the submissiveness demanded by the Romans.
The book of Matthew attributes the following words to Jesus:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace , but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
Those who translate the Bible literally as the inerrant and infallible word of God have great difficulty explaining this “violent” Jesus who is described in other verses as “the Prince of Peace.”
We can, however, better understand this verse when studied in the context of Jesus the spiritual essence of God rather than Jesus the man. The stories, the parables, attributed to Jesus convey a veiled spiritual axiom which is the intended message to his followers. Others, the Romans and the Jewish elite, could not grasp the meaning because they did not see this simple, Jewish peasant as a messenger of God . This verse of Matthew in terms of the mystic’s experience does not propose a sword to inflict physical wrath but rather a figurative sword to slash away the restraints placed by human ego upon the brotherly love and compassion inherent in the Spirit. It is a sword of soul liberation.
Also to be considered are the meanings lost or misinterpreted in translations. Consider the following:
The Book of Kells, a Celtic illuminated manuscript copy of the Gospels, uses the word gaudium, meaning joy rather than gladium which means sword, rendering the verse in translation: “I came not [only] to bring peace, but joy”.