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Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

Why Does Jesus Say He Came to Divide?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

Question: In Luke 12:51 Jesus says “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”What does this mean? It would seem that he would come here to unite?

Upon first reading, Jesus’ statement here does seem shocking, as does the prediction by the aged Simeon when Jesus was an infant that Jesus was “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed…” (Luke 2:34) It appears in stark contrast to other promises that the Savior would bring peace. However, if we read this passage in the context of the prophetic tradition — which Luke draws on throughout his gospel — we realize that Jesus is challenging his listeners just like the prophets of old did before him. He denounces all manners of injustice and wrongdoing, calling for repentance and conversion. By calling his listeners to consciously and explicitly choose to walk in God’s ways and turn from injustice, he points out the human reality that the peace will be disturbed because there are others who will not repent of their evil doings. When prophets issue challenges, they always disturb the peace. The division is not created by the prophets or by Jesus, it is a natural outcome of listeners making different decisions about whether to follow Jesus or not. Just so, Jesus declared “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).

The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Source of all Truth

    “The division is not created by the prophets or by Jesus,” well actually it is caused by Jesus. Jesus challenges all to follow the will of God. If Jesus did not issue this challenge, people could live without taking up sides. Jesus forces the issue. There is this tendency in the Church to create an image of Jesus (peace maker) and ignore all facts that don’t support that claim. It is Jesus who forces the issue. Many people otherwise would passively live with others on the other side of the issue. As in: “You believe what you want, I believe what I want, and lets all get along.”
    It is Jesus who forces the issue and creates the division.

  • JuliePurple

    Personally, I think that if people just stop doing wrong and stop behaving unjustly, it’s none of my business whether they repent and/or are converted. Behaving in an ethical and compassionate and reasonable manner, that’s something that affects society. A person’s private thoughts and beliefs do not affect society, and so should be nobody else’s business. What Jesus supposedly said, “Whoever is not with me is against me”… doesn’t make any sense, unless he was addressing a specific situation whose details we don’t know. Because, just as an innocuous example, I am not “with” jazz music, but I’m not against it, either. It can flourish or not, however it works out, and it won’t bother me one way or another. The for/against comment is just a bit controlling, don’t you think? It’s like a husband who demands to know what his wife *thinks* about something, regardless of how she behaves towards *him*. In a marriage, it would be called psychological abuse.

    • http://www.bluewhalecoffee.com Kimberly Peterson

      I would suggest, in love, that you are against Christ by showing your support of a sin that God has established as an abomination. If we are to stand firm in faith, honoring all that God commands, there can be no compromises. We aren’t called to hate the sinner, just the sin itself. You can show kindness to sinners, offering the truth in love, with hope for an eternity in heaven. Otherwise, you pave the way for their eternity separated from God in hell.

      • Julie Purple

        Kimberly, what sin are you talking about? If you are referring to passively standing by while someone is being hurt in a real way, such as being beaten or shot, and the person is able to stop it, then that is a problem. It is a bit of a stretch to call it “supporting” it, though. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It depends on the circumstances. If you are talking about someone being upset because of another person merely believing differently, then that is simply being a control freak. Such a person would do better to mind his/her own business. And calling minding one’s own business the same as being “against Christ” is just silly. You don’t get to decide that for someone else. You really don’t.
        Now, when you come to the area of what you term “honoring all that God commands”, you’re on shaky ground. Do you mean all of the strictures in the Old Testament? Good luck, there. Those were made by a specific tribe for a specific time, and much more a set of cultural customs and taboos than anything else. And if you believe that not all of those “commands” are valid for people of today, then which do you ignore? Where and how do you draw the line? Think about it.
        Or do you think that all the rules of whatever your personal belief system are what constitutes the commands? Again, be careful: your belief system is one of many. Different systems have different rules.
        I suggest, in love, that you do your best to honor what you believe to be true, and behave accordingly, and allow others the respect and space to do the same according to their own belief system.

      • Cinthia Rodriguez

        Well if you think that someone’s private thoughts and beliefs don’t affect society than your basically insulting everyone who has lost their lives to the Catholic Church’s genocide throughout the ages down to Islamic controlled countries and not to mention men like hitler (and please don’t say he’s Christian because he was not the bible specifically spoke of men who forcefully take the kingdom by force like the Pharisees who by their own private thoughts in their temples conspired to kill Christ and actually succeeded) killing unjustly and merely for power and because they chose not to give up their kingdoms of bones and blood… Christ is calling everyone to repentance and trust me I know how hard it is to give up this false image you worked so hard to build to get accepted by society to have it completely demolished by the image of Christ, it is fig leaf upon fig leaf coming off because anything that stands against the knowledge of Christ will not stand on judgement day it will be burnt to chaff, I rather experience loss here than before a holy God who day after day used whatever possible instrument to gather my whole being to a relationship with Him because I was to blind or dead in spirit… This world and its toys has nothing to offer but emptiness and death, the only true treasure here is people’s souls and i will work with my Father to run to that finish line with as many pearls I can take.. Even if it is just one!!!

      • Julie Purple

        Wow, Cinthia, you sure are making a lot of assumptions here. But think about it, I said that DEEDS affect society. People lost their lives because of the deeds: genocide is a deed. Hitler? What does Hitler have to do with this? I don’t care one way or another what his beliefs were, but I do care that he directly or indirectly caused so much death and suffering… by his deeds.
        It would be nice if you could stay on topic.

  • Chris topher

    How is it that a female can instruct men on anything? Doesn’t I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2 forbid it? And this is in the NEW Testament, AFTER Jesus has come and gone, so noone can say “Oh Well, we are no longer under Old Testament law.”

    • JuliePurple

      Oink, oink…

      • Chris topher

        And, honestly, I really dont care about whether women serve in the church or not. Depending upon which fairy tale you believe, a woman/women was/were the first to see the risen Lord. I just want someone to explain to me that if a female is a woman of faith, how she could justify breaking “God’s” word.

      • JuliePurple

        Hi, Christopher
        Don’t get the impression that I am defending any belief system here, because I’m not; but I’ve read some interesting commentaries about the passages you cite, and the gist of it is that they were referring to specific situations and were not intended to be an injunction against women teaching in general. You can do the research yourself, if you’re interested.
        Your first sentence (“How is it that a female can instruct men on anything?”) is rather offensive, as I’m sure you intended it to be. It gives the impression that the article is simply an excuse for you to voice that opinion, because it really is not pertinent to the article.

      • Chris topher

        I like it when you say “the gist of it is that they were referring to specific situations”. Hum, I guess the 10 commandments only refer to specific situations as well. Take a look at the 4th commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. Everybody I know works on either Saturday or Sunday. What is the penalty for working on the Sabbath? Exodus 35:2-Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. There are 10s of millions of Americans who work on the Sabbath. Either they should be put to death, or this is another example of “they were referring to specific situations”. What is it? You tell me. Can we just interpret the Bible however we want? Either you accept the Bible as the inerrant word of god, or you don’t. If you do, then you must obey EVERY commandment therein.

      • JuliePurple

        Christopher, you’re comparing apples and oranges here. The 10 commandments, according to the myth, were intended to be rules for the general populace (i.e., of the group of people who were of that belief system). The letters of Paul were *letters* to people, regarding current situations. Some of them have general admonitions, some have specific instructions.
        And do remember, I said I am not defending a belief system. To be clear, I am, instead, debating the meaning of a passage of text. I don’t have to believe it to do that, nor do I have to agree with it.
        In the event that your latter comments are more than rhetorical, I will tell you that I think the bible is pretty much just an inconsistent, cobbled together cultural relic of an iron age tribe, much added to and edited by later people with an agenda to promote, to put it as politely as I can. And it’s not up to you to decide who must do what.

      • Chris topher

        JuliePurple- I think we should have been in the debate club together. Your last comment has made more sense than much of the discussions I’ve had with Fundamentalist Christians and Creationist Christians for the last two months. Sorry about my tone but I get upset when as you said “And it’s not up to you to decide who must do what.”, but apparently they think its their job to do so. So, I appreciate your feedback, and your understanding.

      • JuliePurple

        Hi, Christopher
        No worries. It’s cool.
        I was never in a debate club (I don’t think there was one at my school when I went there), but I’ve read some interesting things about how to debate, that make a lot of sense to me. Google “Rules of Debate”, if it’s not already old hat to you, which it probably is!
        Well, about Fundamentalists of any stripe: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, you name it … don’t expect rational thinking. Logic and reason simply cannot coexist inside the same head that harbors fundamentalism, unless there is a severe degree of compartmentalization there.
        My comment about it not being up to you to decide who must do what was in direct response to your saying “… MUST follow every commandment…”. I do realize that this was after an “if”, by the way. :-) In matters of religion, as well as in life in general, what a person *must* do is what he/she believes is right and what is possible given the limitations of the situation. Period. Anything else is just sad. Because (to quote Steven Weinberg), “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      • Chris topher

        hahaha-Love the Steven Weinberg comment! Well, I’m off to debate some Fundamentalist Muslims.

      • JuliePurple

        Good luck, Christopher. Better you than me: I have no familiarity with the Koran at all. I hope it goes well!

      • Chris topher

        Its spelled ‘Qur’an’. my friend! Oh, and I might be beheaded!

      • JuliePurple

        Eek! Be careful!
        (By the way, I *did* look it up, and “Koran” is an acceptable variant spelling. And since you opened that can of worms, do we go into proper use of apostrophes? ;-) )

  • http://www.thebillofrights.gov Joe Roman

    HAHAHAHA! I always find it funny when a woman starts teaching about the bible. A book that specifically forbids women teaching. Do you just ignore this, or do you only stick to the verses you like? How does that work?

    • guest

      The Bible is a book of history as well as faith. It is very reliable, both historically and archeologically. It’s also the only book of a religion that includes promises of God and prophesies of God which have been and are continuing to come true. If you look into the cultural context of the passage you are thinking of you will see that Paul is speaking to an environment that was heavily dominated by the women and the worship of the goddess Diana. It that culture for that time he is saying he does’t let them teach, but to step down and learn of Jesus. Besides, God Himself used women to teach all through the Bible, just as much of what we learn comes from our mothers, so you really need to look a little deeper into the context of what you’re questioning.

  • Mike

    that was a mouth full.

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