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John 18:10 (NLT)

 10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.

The pastor at a church I used to go to once said1 that Peter was part of a militant sect of Judaism that felt like it was their duty to kill Roman soldiers as often as possible/prudent. This would explain why Peter had the sword with him and why his first instinct was to attack. However, I don't know either the name of this sect or whether he was involved in one.

1: If absolutely needed, I can dig up the sermon transcript online.

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3 Answers 3

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There was a militant sect in the first century known as the Kanai or Zealots. One of Jesus' apostles was named Simon the Zealot. Some scholars think he might have been associated with this group, but the best evidence seems to suggest the Zealots as a political organization did not exist until decades after Jesus' time. In any case, he was not the same person as Simon Peter.

A splinter group known as the Sicarii carried concealed daggers to kill Romans and Roman sympathizers. Some scholars have tried to suggest that Judas' second name Iscariot is a Hellenized version of Sicarii, but again the best evidence suggests they were not active until much later.

As for Peter's drawing the sword, the most plausible suggestion I've heard is that he was impulsive and often spoke or acted before considering the consequences, just like when:

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Sicarii may have been the specific name that the pastor used...[strokes chin]. –  El'endia Starman Sep 15 '11 at 20:44

Jesus actually told his disciples to acquire swords, and they had 2 on them at the Last Supper.

Luke 22:36-38 NIV
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

    “That’s enough!” he replied.

Also, Jesus does tell Peter to put his sword away, so it is likely Peter was carrying the sword on him.

Matthew 26:52 NIV
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

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If we go back to Luke 22:36-38, it indicates that Jesus had them acquire swords before they went up to pray before Jesus' arrest.

It does not indicate the intent of having the swords, however, it appears that their use was specific to this instance, likely to protect themselves against undue violence and arrest (but not Jesus, as He allowed Himself to be arrested). Jesus did want them to survive so that they could continue spreading His message and to create the Church on Earth. This is a bit of interpretation, however, I don't see any indication of there being some violent Jewish sect. Many Jews of the time did expect the Messiah to be a great military leader who would release them from the Romans in a revolt, but that is simply an expectation of the day, and not one of a sect.

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