Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Bible Contradiction: Staff or No Staff?

This is one of the more difficult apparent contradictions in the Bible. In one gospel it appears that Jesus said the disciples could take a staff, and in another gospel it appears that Jesus said they could not take a staff. The solution is somewhat complicated but it is satisfying.


Of all the apparent contradictions in the Gospels, I think the most difficult one to deal with is the staff, no staff. When Jesus commissioned the 12 disciples to go out, in Mark it says, take a staff, and in Luke and in Matthew it appears to say, don't take a staff. And so this is the most difficult apparent contradiction there is, I think, in the Gospels.

But before we get into the actual text, I want to emphasize something, that in the basic message, all three Gospels absolutely agree, and they're making three points. Number one is trust God. That's why they don't take money, it's why they don't take extra food, because they're to trust God to provide for them.

But second of all, the worker is worthy of his wages. In other words, you don't take food because the people you're preaching to should be feeding you, should be housing you. And thirdly, the principle is don't appear to be like one of those traveling philosophers there was a group of philosophers that would travel, they would beg for money because all they really wanted to do was get rich.

And so on those three points, all three Gospels are in total agreement. Again, that's the basic thrust of this instruction that Jesus gives to the 12 before he sends them out. But that being said, we still have this issue of the staff, no staff.

So let's turn over to the interlinear and let's see what we can see. In Mark 6, 8 to 9, Jesus says, take, that's kind of a general word, IRL, take nothing for the journey except a staff, a hrabdos, only. In other words, when they go out, they can only take a staff.

That's the basic principle. And the staff could be a small stick to ward off enemies or wild animals, but most likely it's just a walking staff. And then he stipulates by nothing, I mean, no bread, no bag.

And this is an important word. It can mean several different things, but most likely it's a beggar's bag. It's the kind of bag that these philosophers would carry to try to accumulate their wealth.

And he says, don't look like that. Don't bring your bag and bring no money in your belt. So that's the basic principle.

You can only take a staff. You can't take all these other things. And then Jesus says, well, okay, put on sandals.

In other words, go ahead and wear sandals. That's perfectly okay. And in that day and age, sandals would be critical to wear.

It's dusty. Although as you're walking barefooted, that doesn't make any sense. And also when you go into a house, you wouldn't want to walk in barefooted.

So you can take sandals, but you can not wear two tunics. Now the ketone is the article of clothing that's worn closest to the body. And he says, don't take two of them.

Why would you want two of them? Well, in case one got wrecked or most likely it's cold at night and it would be warmer to have two. But again, the whole point is that they're not supposed to trust in themselves. Supposed to trust in God.

It's supposed to be cared for by the other people. So presumably they wouldn't be outside where it's cold. They would be inside being taken care of.

We get down to Luke 9 3 then and we get something a little different. It's take, it's the same verb, take nothing on the journey. Neither a staff, same word, nor a bag, the beggar's bag, nor bread, nor money, nor have two tunics.

And if anah is actually originals in the text, what is clarifying is that he's talking about two tunics per disciple. But here's the problem, isn't it? Neither a staff. In Mark, it's you can take a staff.

In Luke, it's you cannot take a staff. Now, one of the things that's interesting to look at is that the staff is a different category of thing. In other words, the bag is don't look like the philosophers.

The bread is trust God and be taken care of by the people you're preaching to. Don't amass money like the teachers. And that has to do with the day in and day out provisions for the journey.

The staff is simply a walking stick you would use. And so it's kind of odd that staff is put in with these other things, I think. But we'll see this become significant later on.

Now, along with the commissioning of the 12, there is in Luke a later account of the commissioning of the 72. And it actually has a lot of things that's in common with the commissioning of the 12. And there's an interesting hint in this passage.

To the 72, Jesus says, do not carry. Now, bastanzo is a different verb from IRL. And it's the idea of carry along.

Don't carry along on your journey. Don't carry along a money bag. Okay, that's basically what he's already said.

No beggars bag, no sandals. And you go, wait a minute, you're not supposed to carry sandals? You're supposed to walk barefoot? Well, that can't be what it's meaning because everybody wore sandals. And there was no reason not to wear sandals.

The clue is the change of verb. This is, you know, when you get ready to go on the journey, this is what you take or don't take. This is what you carry along with you while you're on the journey.

Well, why on earth would anyone carry sandals? Well, you wouldn't. You would wear your sandals. And so, I think implicit, and this is the important point.

What is implicit in Luke 10.4 is that he's not talking about sandals. He's talking about an extra pair of sandals. So, in other words, you don't carry a money bag.

You don't carry a beggars bag. And you don't carry an extra pair of sandals. Now, it doesn't say extra, but why would you carry sandals? Well, you wouldn't.

You would wear sandals. So, I think that this has to be extra sandals. And remember too, up in Mark 6, one of the exclusions, one of the things they can have is sandals.

And now we get down to the Matthew 10 passage. And at first glance, the Matthew 10 passage looks like it agrees with the Luke passage. But actually, I think as we look at it, we'll realize that it is much more in agreement with Mark.

So, I think Matthew and Mark are actually saying the same thing. I'll show you why. Jesus says, do not acquire.

Okay, now here's a different verb, katahomai, and it means to gain. Jesus isn't talking about what you start your journey with. He's talking about what you acquire as they're on their journey.

And he says, don't acquire gold, nor silver, nor copper in your money belts. In other words, don't be being paid. And again, notice the, you go from may to may death, don't acquire gold, nor silver, nor copper.

So, this is a single group of ideas. In other words, don't get paid for your work. You get down to verse 10, and it's assuming the katahomai from verse nine, do not acquire a bag.

In other words, don't pick up a beggar's bag for your journey. And now this is where it gets really crucial. The may goes to may death, neither to tunics, nor sandals, nor staff.

Okay, so at first glance, this appears to be agreeing with the Luke 9, 3 passage, but there's a couple of really important things here. First of all, to, to is any gender. And so we can modify tunics, it can modify sandals, and it can modify staff.

That's grammatically one important point. But the other is the switch. Don't acquire a bag for the journey, neither acquire.

And what you have is a sequence of two tunics, nor sandals, or staff. And it's very easy to understand the duo is modifying all three. Don't acquire, don't get an extra tunic, don't get an extra pair of sandals, don't get an extra staff.

That's actually why I like the punctuation in the ESV. It actually is what the Greek is saying. It says no bag for the journey, comma, or two tunics, or sandals, or staff.

And I would not have put the word a in there. Comma, for the labor deserves his wages. And what it's doing is grouping tunics, sandals, and staff together.

You see some of the same thing in the NRSV. No bag for your journey, comma, or two tunics, comma, or sandals, or a staff, semicolon, for laborers deserve their wages. I would prefer a stronger punctuation here if you're going to have commas here, but you get the point.

So, my conclusion here is that the duo carries over to an extra tunic, an extra sandal, or an extra staff. Now, it does feel a little different to say don't take an extra staff. Why would you take an extra staff? Well, I think there's a couple of reasons.

One is it could be a practical consideration that it could get ruined, or it could get destroyed, or it get lost. And he's saying, well, if you lose it, then don't worry about it, trust God. Or it could be that Jesus is being hyperbolic.

He wants to really emphasize that they really have to trust in the Lord, and that means don't even don't even take an extra staff. So, it could be somewhat hyperbolic. So, I think when it comes to comparing Mark and Matthew, what the prohibition is is don't take an extra staff.

And when we get to Luke, this is where it gets difficult. And I think there's a couple of solutions. Neither one is totally satisfying but I simply don't know of another explanation.

In fact, if you want to read more check out Daryl Bach's commentary on Luke. He has seven options on how to handle this. But I think there's one of two things going on.

One is that Luke expects his readers to read what he writes in light of Mark and Matthew. And therefore, he doesn't have to be as complete, as exhaustive in covering what Jesus says. And secondly, it's just common sense.

There is no reason why Jesus would have said don't take a staff. You can see why he says don't take food, don't take extra clothing, you don't look like the false philosophers out there just begging money to get rich. That's one category thing, but a staff is something totally different.

And it's just kind of common sense that what he would be saying in light of his overall purposes is, you know, don't take an extra staff. It's just you really need to trust the Lord. Like I said, I think this is the most difficult apparent contradiction in the Gospels.

And it's something that we need to be wrestling over. But for now, that's the best I can figure out.