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Alleged Discrepancies

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Take It or Leave It

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Perhaps the most difficult alleged Bible contradiction that we have been asked to “tackle” at Apologetics Press was presented to us some time ago by the mother of a dear friend. She asked, “When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles on what is commonly called the ‘limited commission,’ did He instruct them to take staffs or not?” Her question was the result of studying the three following parallel passages in the synoptic Gospels (the difficult portions are in bold type).

Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs (literally, “a staff”); for a worker is worthy of his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).

“He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics” (Mark 6:8-9).

“And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs (literally, “a staff”) nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece’ “ (Luke 9:3).

A cursory reading of the above passages admittedly is somewhat confusing. Matthew and Luke seem to agree that Jesus prohibited the disciples from taking a staff on their journeys, while Mark appears to give them permission to take one. Furthermore, although Luke does not record Jesus’ command regarding sandals, some have concluded that Matthew and Mark also contradict each other on this point. To use the words of Steve Wells, author of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, “In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to go barefoot and take no staff. But the Jesus in Mark’s gospel (6:8-9) tells them to wear sandals and carry a staff” (emp. added). Actually then, the question at hand is about staffs and sandals, even though Luke mentioned only staffs.

The differences between Matthew and Mark are explained easily when one acknowledges that the writers used different Greek verbs to express different meanings. In Matthew, the word “provide” (NKJV) is an English translation of the Greek word ktesthe. According to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, the root word comes from ktaomai, which means to “procure for oneself, acquire, get” (1979, p. 455). Based upon these definitions, the New American Standard Version used the English verb “acquire” in Matthew 10:9 (“Do not acquire….”), instead of “provide” or “take.” In Matthew, Jesus is saying: “Do not acquire anything in addition to what you already have that may tempt you or stand in your way. Just go as you are.” As Mark indicated, the apostles were to “take” (airo) what they had, and go. The apostles were not to waste precious time gathering supplies (extra apparel, staffs, shoes, etc.) or making preparations for their trip, but instead were instructed to trust in God’s providence for additional needs. Jesus did not mean for the apostles to discard the staffs and sandals they already had; rather, they were not to go and acquire more.

To illustrate this point using a modern day scenario, consider the CEO who came to his Personnel Director near the end of the day and said that he needed her to fly to Los Angeles on a business trip immediately. If he told the director not to acquire anything for this urgent trip, including clothes, shoes, or make-up, she would know that he meant not to take anything extra. Obviously the CEO did not intend for the Personnel Director to take off her shoes, clothes, and the make-up she already was wearing in order to make the trip. Furthermore, if her boss came back five minutes later (to ensure that she understood his instructions clearly) and stated, “Hurry. The plane is leaving in one hour. Don’t take anything with you except what you are wearing,” the Personnel Director would conclude the same thing she did the first time—do not take anything extra. The CEO said the same thing using two different phrases. Similarly, the wording in Matthew and Mark represent two different ways of saying virtually the same thing.

Most apologists and biblical commentators discontinue their discussion of these parallel passages at this point. They explain the difference between Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus sending out the Twelve, but they omit Luke’s account. In order to answer the skeptic’s criticism adequately, however, Luke’s account must be included in this discussion. Otherwise, one still is left with an unanswered alleged contradiction. The differences surrounding Luke and Mark’s account are explainable, but it takes effort on the part of the reader to comprehend them. [The following facts must be read carefully in order to understand how the differences in these accounts do not point toward a contradiction.]

As is obvious from a comparison of the verses in Matthew and Luke, they are recording the same truth—that the apostles were not to spend valuable time gathering extra staffs—only they are using different words to do so.

Provide (Greek ktaomi) neither gold nor silver…nor staffs” (Matthew 10:9-10, emp. added).

Take (Greek airo) nothing for the journey, neither staffs” (Luke 9:3, emp. added).

Luke did not use ktaomi in his account because he nearly always used ktaomi in a different sense than Matthew did. In Matthew’s account, the word ktaomai is used to mean “provide” or “acquire,” whereas in the books of Luke and Acts, Luke used this word to mean “purchase, buy, or earn.” Notice the following examples of how Luke used this word.

“I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (ktaomai) [Luke 18:12, emp. added, NAS]

“Now this man purchased (ktaomai) a field with the wages of iniquity (Acts 1:18, emp. added).

“Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased (ktaomai) with money!” (Acts 8:20, emp. added).

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained (ktaomai) this citizenship” (Acts 22:28, emp. added).

[Luke 21:19 is the only place one could argue where Luke may have used ktaomai to mean something other than “purchase, buy, or earn,” but even here there is a transactional notion in it (Miller, 1997)].

When Luke, the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14), used the word ktaomai, he meant something different than when Matthew, the tax collector, used the same word. Whereas Luke used ktaomai to refer to purchasing or buying something, Matthew used the Greek verb agorazo (cf. Matthew 14:15; 25:9-10; 27:6-7). Matthew used ktaomai only in the sense of acquiring something (not purchasing something). As such, it would make absolutely no sense for Luke to use ktaomai in his account of Jesus sending out the apostles (9:3). If he did, then he would have Jesus forbidding the apostles to “purchase” or “buy” money [“Buy nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money….”]. Thus, Luke used the more general Greek verb (airo) in order to convey the same idea that Matthew did when using the Greek verb ktaomai.

Just as ktaomai did not mean the same for Luke and Matthew, the Greek word airo (translated “take” in both Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3) often did not mean the same for Luke and Mark (see Miller, 1997). [Understanding this simple fact eliminates the “contradiction” completely, for unless the skeptic can be certain that Mark and Luke were using the word in the same sense, he cannot prove that the accounts contradict each other.] Mark consistently used airo in other passages throughout his gospel to mean simply “take” or “pick up and carry” (2:9; 6:29; 11:23; 13:16). That Luke (in 9:3) did not mean the same sense of airo as Mark did (in 6:8) is suggested by the fact that in Luke 19:21-22 he used this same verb to mean “acquire.” Another piece of comparative data between Mark and Luke is that when Mark recorded Jesus informing His listeners that to be His disciple one had to “take up his cross” (Mark 8:34), he used the word airo. Luke, on the other hand, used the Greek word bastazo (14:27) [Miller, 1997].

Without going any further with these language comparisons, one simply must understand that the Greek language (like most languages) is flexible enough so that sometimes two writers can use the same word to mean different things, and sometimes they can use different words to mean the same thing (as indicated by the following chart,* which serves as a summary of the comparisons and contrasts made in this article).

 
ktaomai
agorazo
airo
bastazo
Matthew
to acquire
to purchase, buy
   
Mark    
to take, pick up and carry
 
Luke
to purchase, buy
 
to acquire
to take, pick up and carry
*NOTE: Only the definitions that pertain to this article are shown.

In case you think such “language leeway” in the Greek sounds absurd, remember that this flexibility appears frequently in the English language. Consider two basketball coaches who are commenting on a player. One says, “He is bad;” the other says, “He is good.” The coaches may be using two different words to mean the same thing. The truth is, in some contexts the words “bad” and “good” are opposites, in other situations they are synonymous.

Although many have been misled about the differences regarding Jesus’ instructions when sending out His apostles on the limited commission, the truth is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all saying the same thing: “Hurry up and get moving!”

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter. (1979), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, ed. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich; revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F.W. Danker from Walter Bauer’s 5th edition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), second edition.

Miller, Glenn (1997), “Well, did Jesus Tell Them to Take a Staff or not? Another Contradiction?!” [On-line], URL: http://christian-thinktank.com/nostaff.html.

Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com.






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