Friday, May 11, 2012

Seventy-Two Fables

After James and John ask Jesus if they should ask God to rain fire from the sky on people who did not welcome them, the Gospel of Luke briefly shares some material with the Gospel of Matthew. In that section, Jesus makes it clear that attaining the Kingdom of God takes precedence over all earthly affairs, even paying your last respects to the dead. From there, Luke again ventures into the lonely territory of unique material... well, sort of unique, and sort of a rehash of an earlier episode.

Seventy-Two Fables
Before Jesus was resurrected, He sent some disciples out from Him a few times: Jesus sent the Twelve Disciples/Apostles out on the First Mission. Jesus sent two random disciples out to get a colt for Him to ride into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-7 {where they also get a donkey, and Jesus rides both simultaneously!}, Mark 11:1-7, Luke 19:29-35 {NOTE: in John 12:14-15, Jesus found His own colt}). Finally, Jesus sent the disciples (Matthew 26:17-19), or two random disciples (Mark 14:12-16), or Peter and John specifically (Luke 24:7-13), to make preparations for what is known as the Last Supper.

Aside from those instances, Luke uniquely records two other times when Jesus sent out people on a given task, and both of those times were supposedly to make advanced preparations for Jesus to pass through various towns in His planned route to Jerusalem. The first one we examined earlier; when James and John wanted to burn a Samaritan town with fire from Heaven when the residents did not welcome Jesus' messengers. The second is when Jesus sent out seventy-two "others" (Luke 10:1-20).

The strange thing is that Luke's story here is not really much of a unique account. The beginning and ending are unique, but the rest appears to be built from much of the same material that Matthew used for the First Mission. Luke's account of the First Mission is very short compared to Matthew's (Matthew 10+ versus Luke 9:1-6), but Matthew's extra material is not completely lost in Luke. Luke rearranged it, which suggests that at least one of the two authors is wrong, and possibly that Matthew's Gospel was not a direct resource used in making Luke's Gospel. Let us take a closer look. Luke 10:1 begins with:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. NIV
Notice Jesus is referred to as "the Lord" here, suggesting divinity. Also note that these seventy-two people were "others," implicitly meaning disciples other than the Twelve Disciples/Apostles.

Here is where the commonality begins. Jesus gives them instructions for their journey, just like the Twelve Disciple's First Mission (FM). In the following table, you can see the duplicate pattern unfold:

Verse Paraphrased Content Luke's Seventy-Two Matthew's FM
Big harvest, few workers Luke 10:2 Matthew 9:37-38
(Verses just before the FM)
Lambs among wolves Luke 10:3 Matthew 10:16
Do not take supplies with you Luke 10:4
(also FM Luke 9:3)
Matthew 10:9-10
Stay in a welcoming houseLuke 10:5-9
(also FM Luke 9:4)
Matthew 10:11-13
Condemn unwelcoming houses/towns Luke 10:10-12
(also FM Luke 9:5)
Matthew 10:14-15
Jesus condemns Korazin and Capernaum Luke 10:13-15 Matthew 11:21-23
(after the FM, possibly before the Disciples returned)
Vicarious accepting or rejection Luke 10:16 Matthew 10:40

From there, Luke becomes truly unique for a moment. Luke 10:17 has the seventy-two return, marveling at how they could control demons. In Luke 10:18-20, Jesus replies:
[Jesus] replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven." NIV
So Jesus saw Satan fall from Heaven... What? Clearly, if Heaven was some alternate dimension where God dwelt outside of space and time, there would be no falling from it. This comment only makes sense in perspective of the antiquated belief that the realm of Heaven was directly above the Earth, and Satan was kicked out of it.

This episode continues on with Luke sharing more content with Matthew that we discussed earlier regarding how Jesus was happy that God was preventing people from understanding Him. In Matthew, that subject matter directly followed the above-noted condemnation of Korazin and Capernaum.

Circling back to the broader picture, we should question why and how Luke's sending of the seventy-two others could overlap the Disciple's First Mission so much; drawing in material shared by Matthew which is not in Luke's earlier description of the First Mission. It seems as though either Luke had no problems manipulating Matthew's storyline to his will, or that perhaps Luke was drawing from some other source document that had no, or had different, framing text. In any case, the "Truth" has suffered for it.

One more path to consider is numerology. Numerology? (You ask.) Yes. Strange as it seems, numerology may play a role here either if Luke was knowingly writing a myth or if Luke was "enhancing" the spirituality of events that he thought were historical. (Or, perhaps, Luke's source did this myth writing or enhancement before him.)

There are some hints of Luke being a numerology-sensitive author. While there are several examples of these hints to choose from, one of the easiest ones to perceive is how Luke changes the timeline to the Transfiguration from six days, recorded in Matthew 17:1 and Mark 9:2, to eight days in Luke 9:28. Apologists often explain away this apparent contradiction by saying Luke was counting including the start and end days, while Matthew and Mark were just counting the days in between. However, in numerology, the number six is said to represent imperfection, sin, and/or evil, as well as the physical as opposed to the spiritual. If Luke was numerology-sensitive, he would have balked at Jesus being associated with the number six, especially around a holy event like the Transfiguration. That is why eight would have been more appealing to Luke, because eight was the number of days after birth when Jewish boys were circumcised, and it represents new beginnings.

If the numerology angle is correct, then it becomes a gnostic mystery to decode the number seventy-two. Numerology is tricky, because, as an interpreter, you can almost get it to mean whatever you want, especially with large numbers like seventy-two. That is because the meaning may be in the number itself, or in its multiples. So should we focus on 72, or 8 x 9, or 2 x 36, or 6 x 12, or 3 x 4 x 6, etc.? In this case, we may have a clue to that as well, because Jesus sent out the seventy-two people in pairs; 2 x 36.

Now, just like interpretations of the Bible, what the numbers mean in numerology also varies somewhat depending on your resource, but this one I used suggests that two is the number represents division, while thirty-six is a reference to an enemy or opposition. So one take may be that this represents dividing (and conquering) an enemy force or opposition. Indeed this meaning can be reflected in both Jesus' confrontational destination of Jerusalem (ultimately conquering the hollow, mechanistic Judaism of Jesus' day which was opposed to Him) and in the attack of and power over the demonic forces in opposition to God (with the seventy-two's ability to control demons and Jesus' specific mention of overcoming the power of the "enemy").

Of course, when you delve into the world of symbolism like numerology, nothing is really as it seems. But then, the same could be said about trying to think of the Gospels as accurate history...


  1. The rudeness of the orders given by Jesus to the ones he sent has always bothered me. I actually used those verses to rationalize to myself that it was OK to be rude to people who disagreed with me.

    This portion shows a tribalist Jesus, very different from the sweet Jesus preached nowadays.

  2. It sure is Lorena. I was quite surprised by His rudeness too. He is not exactly the picture of meekness.