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Inerrancy and the 72

In Luke 10, we are told that Jesus sent out seventy disciples. But some manuscripts say that Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples. Does this cause you consternation? Does your understanding of the inerrancy of scripture feel threatened by this fact? If that is you, never fear. The inerrancy of the Bible, if we can talk about it that way, doesn't work like that. Luke is not telling us dry facts about the life of Jesus. Luke is telling us a story about who Jesus is, what He has done and why it matters. Luke is giving us a biography after the fashion of biographies that were written around the time of the first century. Biographies of the first century did not necessarily tell their stories chronologically. Rather, biographers focused on arranging their informational material in such a way as to highlight the significance of their subjects life. What mattered most to the biographer was not the exact timing of events but their significance and impact. Luke, in fact, is the only Gospel writer to even mention the sending of the seventy or the seventy-two. And there is a reason for this. Luke has been telling the story of Jesus as the story of Israel's long awaited second exodus, this time not only out of slavery in Egypt but out of all slavery once and for all. Jesus, in Luke's Gospel, is the new Moses leading the people of Israel out of oppression and slavery and into God's promised land. Because of this, Luke highlights the sending out of the seventy disciples. In the book of Numbers 11:16-25, God tells Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel to be commissioned by God, through the Holy Spirit, to receive a portion of Moses' ministry. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon the seventy and they prophesy. In the same way, Luke wants to say that Jesus was sharing his vocation and calling with his disciples by commissioning them and equipping them with the Holy Spirit. So what about the manuscripts that say that it wasn't seventy but seventy-two disciples who were sent out? Well, in the same story found in Numbers 11, there are two elders of Israel who were not at the tent to receive the commissioning from God but nevertheless received the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy in the camp. It seems that some scribes or copyists along the way knew the story that Luke referred too and simply added the two, maybe to make it clearer as to what was going on or maybe because it was their way of saying that, just as these two men in the book of Numbers are surprisingly added to the list of consecrated elders, so God commissioned the seventy but He is also no respecter of persons and is still calling and commissioning all sorts of people to share the vocation and calling to be the Light of the world and heralds of the Kingdom. Whatever the reason, we need to understand that the Gospel writers and even the copyists felt the liberty to arrange material and edit material in such a way as to bring across the meaning of events as opposed to a simple recitation of dry facts. This doesn't mean that they made stuff up, but it does mean that they were not worried about the modern, Western, analytical, concept of inerrancy. They were much more concerned with meaning. So rather than asking "What exactly did Luke say happened?" We would do better to ask "what did Luke think it all meant?" It is much like the times of intense conflict in our lives when someone says things that hurt us. Often, we don't recollect exactly word for word what someone may have said, but we can almost never forget it's meaning, even if we want too. The world is much more than a place of chemicals, formulas and statistics. The world is also a place of passion, emotion, and many other left brain activities. The first century Jews knew this and we need to remember it. Luke has much more to say to us than a mere play by play presentation of facts. Luke wants to explain the meaning to us.The point was that Jesus was sharing his vocation with his followers just as God shared Moses' vocation with the elders. Luke and the subsequent copyists thought making that clear should be the highest priority.


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