Commissioning and Instructing the Missioners. 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy (-two) others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. Just prior to sending out these “apostles” (the related verb apostello is used in vv. 1, 3, & 16), James and John indicate their inadequacies by wanting to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans and three “would-be” followers indicate their unwillingness to leave all to follow Jesus. Yet, in spite of these shortcomings among his followers, Jesus sends them out.
Only the Gospel of Luke contains two episodes in which Jesus sends out his followers on a mission: the first (Luke 9:1–6) recounts the sending out of the Twelve; here in Luke 10:1–12 a similar report based is the sending out of seventy-two (seventy in many manuscripts) in this gospel. The narrative continues the theme of Jesus preparing witnesses to himself and his ministry. These witnesses include not only the Twelve but also the seventy-two. Note that the instructions given to the Twelve and to the seventy-two are similar and that what is said to the seventy-two in Luke 10:4 is directed to the Twelve in Luke 22:35.
As mentioned, only Luke among the evangelists tells of this second mission of disciples (cf. 9:1-6 for the first sending). “Luke provides no geographical setting for the mission of the seventy-two, and there is no reason to expect that Jesus’ envoys participate at this juncture in a mission to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, in other ways Luke uses this scene to prepare for and anticipate a mission that is in the process of expanding beyond the land of the Jews. This is suggested by the number of important parallels between the sending of the seventy-two and the mission ‘to the end of the earth’ as it is portrayed in Acts—for example, the thread that runs from the mission of John to the mission of the seventy-two to the mission of Jesus’ followers in Acts, as well as the parallels between the forms of ministry (‘in the name of Jesus’) and anticipated reception of the seventy-two and their counterparts in Acts. In indirect and figurative ways, too, this narrative unit points to the wider mission. The appointment of the seventy-two portends in a symbolic way a concern for all the peoples of the world. Moreover, the rejection of Jesus and his message among Galilean towns, set against the claim that a mission oriented toward Gentile settings would certainly have produced repentance, raises the prospect of opportunities for response to the good news outside the land of the Jews.” [Green, 410-11]
The disciples are to go “ahead of him,” therefore not announcing themselves or their own message, but preparing the way for Jesus. This is the continuing charge of Christian preachers. The missionaries are sent in twos in order to give a witness that can be considered formal testimony about Jesus and the reign of God (see Matt 18:16). In the readers’ setting (both in Luke’s day and in ours), is it the disciples calling to prepare the people for the (second) coming of Jesus? How do we do that? Actually, it would seem that the apostles in these verses do it by proclaiming (in words and actions) the Kingdom of God as a present reality.
The Urgency of the Harvest and Risk of Mission. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. 3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. The prophets of the OT used harvest as a metaphor for eschatological judgment and for the gathering of Israel in the last times (Joel 3:13; Mic 4:11–13). In every culture, harvest season is a time of great urgency. The common day laborer would understand the exhortation to plead with the landowner to bring in more laborers to help with the harvest. In the context of the parable of the sower and the seed earlier (8:4–8), it is now time to gather in the harvest from the soil that has produced a hundredfold. [Culpepper, 219]
Again, there is no room for illusion. The disciples will be lambs among wolves, defenseless, completely dependent on the Lord of the harvest for whatever is needed (Isa 11:6; 65:25). The metaphor warns the disciples of the opposition they will encounter. Unlike Matthew (10:16), Luke does not give any instruction as to how the disciples should prepare for or respond to the opposition they will encounter, unless the instructions that follow are understood as following from this warning. The simile points both to danger and to helplessness. God’s servants are always in some sense at the mercy of the world, and their own strength is inadequate. They must depend upon God. So Jesus tells them to take no equipment (cf. 9:3).
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. The command neither to carry sandals (hypodēmata) nor to greet (aspasēsthe) certainly amplify the sense of urgency about mission. Most scholars see the echo of both the Mosaic and the Elisha tradition, where the theme of urgency is evident. In Exod. 12:11 the Israelites were commanded to eat their first Passover with their sandals on their feet, and in 2 Kings 4:29 Elisha sent Gehazi on his way with this command: “If you meet anyone, ouk eulogēseis auton [‘give him no greeting’].” Greet no one along the way is not an exhortation to impoliteness: it is a reminder that their business is urgent and that they are not to delay it with wayside acquaintances. The traditions of the near eastern make road side encounters, however hospitable and gracious, are elaborate and time-consuming. These traditions highlight the point of Jesus’ commands, as the eschatological urgency of his ministry surpasses that of the first Passover, and the command not to offer greetings reflects the same concerns.
Luke 10:1–12 Only the Gospel of Luke contains two episodes in which Jesus sends out his followers on a mission: the first (Luke 10:1–6) is based on the mission in Mark 6:6b–13 and recounts the sending out of the Twelve; here in Luke 10:1–12 a similar report based on Q becomes the sending out of seventy-two in this gospel. The episode continues the theme of Jesus preparing witnesses to himself and his ministry. These witnesses include not only the Twelve but also the seventy-two who may represent the Christian mission in Luke’s own day. Note that the instructions given to the Twelve and to the seventy-two are similar and that what is said to the seventy-two in Luke 10:4 is directed to the Twelve in Luke 22:35.
Luke 10:1 seventy[-two]: One of the most difficult textual problems in the New Testament is the number of people Jesus sent out on this mission. The inclusion of dyo (“two”) is supported by major Alexandrian and Western witnesses (P75 B D), but its omission is also attested by significant manuscripts (א A C L W Θ Ξ Ψ f1.13) – in other words, many good manuscripts read ‘seventy,’ but there are many also that read ‘seventy-two’. With the evidence at our disposal certainty is impossible.
Two major conceptual parallels have been suggested, but neither one settles this textual issue. First, in light of the possible allusion to Num. 11 in 9:49–50, also conceivable is an allusion to Num. 11:16–30, where Moses is told to choose seventy (or seventy-two if Eldad and Medad are included) elders “so that they shall bear the burden of the people along with [Moses]” (11:17). This interpretation is strengthened by Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the prophet like Moses elsewhere (9:35; Acts 3:22; 7:37). They see Jesus as the second Moses. Others think of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders who should have been preparing for the coming of the Messiah.
The second possible allusion is to the list of nations in Gen. 10–11, where the Hebrew text has seventy while the LXX has seventy-two. For those who see Gen. 10–11 as the framework for the interpretation of Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy(-two), the foreshadowing of the coming mission of the Gentiles is the primary point of Luke 10. The reference to seventy-two princes in the world in 3 En. (17:8; 18:2–3; 30:2) and the seventy-two translators of the LXX for the pagan world (Let. Aris. 35–51) may likewise reflect the use of this number as a reference to the Gentile world. Both Num. 11 and Gen. 10–11 point to the significance of 10:1–16 for Luke’s second volume, while various other possible allusions behind the number seventy(-two) could be further identified.
Whatever the truth behind these conjectures, Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him in pairs.
Luke 10:3 lambs among wolves: Reading the metaphor of arnas en mesō lykōn (lit., “lambs in the midst of wolves”) in its wider context, where the eschatological significance of this commissioning is noted (cf. 10:17–20), suggests an allusion to Isa. 11:6: symboskēthēsetai lykos meta arnos (“the wolf shall feed with the lamb”) (cf. Isa. 65:25). In the immediate context, however, divine protection in the midst of hostility and rejection seems to be the focus, and the use of this “lamb/sheep” imagery is found already in the prophetic literature (Isa. 40:11; 53:7; Jer. 50:6–7; Ezek. 34; Mic. 2:12). The use of this metaphor for the theme of divine protection together with the mentioning of the seventy nations is found later in Midr.Tanhuma Toldos 5: “There is something great about the sheep [Israel] that can persist among 70 wolves [the nations]. He replied: Great is the Shepherd who delivers it and watches over it and destroys them [the wolves] before them [Israel].”
Luke 10:4 Carry no money bag, no sack: The “money bag” (ballantion, used by Luke only in the New Testament) is a coin purse. The “sack” (pēra) is a traveller’s bag.
…greet no one along the way: because of the urgency of the mission and the single-mindedness required of missionaries, attachment to material possessions should be avoided and even customary greetings should not distract from the fulfillment of the task.
- R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995)
- Joe B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 410-420