Live by the sword, die by the sword

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The Arrest of Christ (c. 1500) by the Master of the Evora Altarpiece, showing Jesus intervening after one of the disciples cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest Caiaphas

"Live by the sword, die by the sword" is a proverb in the form of a parallel phrase, derived from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 26, 26:52): "Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

Original Biblical quotation[edit]

The phrase comes from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 26, 26:52), in which one of Jesus's disciples is described as having struck the servant of the High Priest of Israel and cut off his ear.[1] Jesus is described as having rebuked him, saying:[2]

Version Text
Original Greek New Testament τότε λέγει αὐτῶ ὁ ἰησοῦς, ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς, πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μάχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται.[3]
Latin Vulgate Tunc ait illi Jesus: Converte gladium tuum in locum suum: omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.[4]
King James Version (KJV) Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
New International Version (NIV) "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

The saying "all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" is only found in the Gospel of Matthew and not in any of the other gospels.[2] The Latin version refers to the weapon as a gladius, while the Greek version refers to it as a makhaira.


The sayings is usually interpreted to mean "those who live by violence will die by violence",[5] which some have interpreted as a call for Christian pacifism[6] or even complete nonviolence, including in self-defense.


A very similar line is spoken by Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and queen of Mycenae in Greek mythology.[7][8][9] Agamemnon was part of the Oresteia, a trilogy of tragic dramas by the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus and was first performed in 458 BCE. The play remains popular to this day and is regularly performed[10][11] and widely read.[12][13]

References in popular culture[edit]

"Live by the bomb die by the bomb" at the White House Peace Vigil, started by Thomas in 1981.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Senior 1985, pp. 85–86.
  2. ^ a b Senior 1985, p. 86.
  3. ^ WikiSource:Κατά_Ματθαίον
  4. ^ "Latin Vulgate Bible with Douay-Rheims and King James Version Side-by-Side+Complete Sayings of Jesus Christ". Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  5. ^ "Those who live by the sword die by the sword - Idiom Definition". Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  6. ^ John David Geib (2007). Gail M. Presbey (ed.). Philosophical Perspectives on the 'War on Terrorism'. p. 401. War and Peace in Christian Tradition: Why I am an engaged Christian pacifist
  7. ^ Fagles, Robert (1984). The Oresteia. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140443332.
  8. ^ "The Agamamnon". 1920-01-01. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  9. ^ Hughes, Ted (2000). The Oresteia of Aeschylus: A New Translation by Ted Hughes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374527051.
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