ou might consider this writing to be completely irrelevant to a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with a particular text, especially since this week we are looking at Luke 10:1-20. That is a substantial amount of text. And that is also a significant text, since this is one of the few places where the writer used the word ‘Lord’ instead of ‘Jesus’. But I would like to look at whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two (see verse 1).
Yes, you read that correctly. In some manuscripts the text says that Jesus sent out seventy people to go on ahead of him, and in some manuscripts, it says that he sent out seventy-two.
It seems there are two extremes that one can have in response to hearing such a topic. Now both extremes deserve at least a hearing.
The first response is that such a thing is not important. Whether Jesus sent out seventy or seventy-two, they came back, and Jesus eventually traveled through those cities, and then, eventually, he went on to Jerusalem to die, rise again, and ascend to the right hand of his Father. And such a point is well taken. The Apostles’ Creed goes quickly from Jesus’ birth to his suffering under Pontius Pilate. But the details of how he ‘suffers’ before Good Friday may actually be important for our daily ‘suffering’.
The other extreme is that this shows that the bible is ‘full of errors’ and that cannot be trusted in anything if it is not reliable in everything. You can probably see a problem with that perspective.
Both perspectives may be the start of a type of ‘slippery slope’ argument. Both extremes have the people with those extremes speaking before the text has had its say. Both extremes are trying to revise the text in some way, to fit their own expectations of such a text and such a God. And both extremes emphasize what God is NOT known for—his apathy and power. Listening is becoming a lost art these days.
Although there are some difficult parts to the following quote, what is below might be helpful to work through such an issue. This comes from A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament by Roger L. Omanson (pages 127-8). Its subtitle may be helpful: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. I should point out at the start that it does not answer the question, but I think that it points the reader in a good direction, one that shows Jesus’ concern for ALL people, even two of them.
Was it seventy or seventy-two whom Jesus appointed and sent on ahead of him? The external evidence is almost evenly divided. On the one hand, the chief representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups, with most of the Old Latin and the Sinaitic Syriac, support the numeral ‘seventy-two.’ On the other hand, other Alexandrian witnesses of relatively great value, as well as other noteworthy evidence, join in support of the numeral ‘seventy.’
The factors that are significant for evaluation of the internal evidence are ambiguous. Does the account of the sending of the 70 or 72 disciples have a symbolic value, and, if so, which number seems to be better suited to express that symbolism? The answers to this question are almost without number, depending upon what one assumes to be the symbolism intended by Jesus and/or Luke and/or those who transmitted the account.
It is often assumed, for example, that the symbolism is intended to allude to the future proclamation of the gospel to all the countries of the world. But even in this case there is uncertainty, for in the Hebrew text of Gen 10 the several nations of earth total seventy, whereas in the Greek Septuagint the number comes to seventy-two. In order to represent the balance of external evidence and the ambiguity of the internal evidence, the [Greek] word ‘duo’ is placed in brackets to indicate uncertainty regarding the original text. Modern versions disagree on whether to follow 70 (RSV, NRSV, Seg) or 72 (REB, NIV, NJB, TEV, TOB, FC).