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Topic: Is The Bible Full of Contradictions?

The "Contradiction" Between Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3

by Darrel Cline

Mark 6:8 "and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, 'Do not put on two tunics.'" [NASB]

Luke 9:3 "And He said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not even have two tunics apiece.'" [NASB]

This is how I now see it. First, I always try to make two controlling determinations in my approach to any biblical text. The first is: an author always chooses his words so that he may communicate what is in his mind. The second is: the author's choice of words is a matter of choosing the words he understands with the meaning he has in his mind. In other words, we have to try to find out what was in the author's mind without reading our understanding of his words into his words. These two issues dominate my Bible study.

These two controlling principles mean a couple of things. First, one can only get so much "relief" from running to a lexicon or doing a word-study of how the words were typically used in our author's generation. Author's are notorious for giving their own specialized meaning to words. Second, biblical authors had special grace imparted to them to enable their words to carry enough indicators of their meaning that, if a person isn't too committed to finding something in them that isn't there, we can find out what was in his mind by study and active dependence upon the ministry of the Spirit of God in guiding our thinking.

Now, with the preliminaries behind us, let's look at the two texts. Mark 6:8 is Mark's record of Jesus' instruction in the form of indirect discourse. He wrote, "...and He charged them that they..." Luke 9:3, in distinction, is Luke's record of Jesus' instruction in the form of direct discourse. He wrote, "And He said to them, 'Take nothing...'" This means two things. First, Mark was using his own words to tell us what Jesus said, while Luke was recording Jesus' words to tell us what He said. Second, there is a possibility that Mark's particular words did not have the same meaning as Jesus' particular words. The only necessity is that whatever Mark's words did mean, they had to carry Jesus' meaning in them.

This brings us to the next step. How do we know if Mark's particular words carried the same meaning as Jesus' particular words? Let me illustrate. The word translated "staff" is the same in both texts: it is "hrabdos". When we run to a lexicon to see what "hrabdos" means (just in case our translators dropped the ball for us), we discover (Liddell-Scott's Greek-English Lexicon) that it has more than 20 definitions. However, when we look at the 20+ options, we note that they all have a basic meaning-type: a "hrabdos" is an item that has the general shape of an elongated piece of material (twig, baton, pole, staff, fishing pole, etc.) that a person can normally carry and use. This means that a "hrabdos" is, in meaning-type, like our word "tree". It has a general identity to keep it from being mistaken from a cow or a car, but it doesn't have enough specificity to tell us if it is an oak, pecan, willow, or hackberry.

At this point, we have to do our homework. We have to ask, and seek an answer for, the question: what did Jesus mean when He used the word "hrabdos"? Was He excluding every kind of individual particular within the meaning boundaries of the general meaning-type, or did He have a particular one of those individuals in mind? In other words, was He forbidding any and everything that could be classed as a "hrabdos", or did He have a particular kind of "hrabdos" in mind? How do we know?

Since Luke recorded Jesus' exact words, we will see if Luke will let us in on the secret. Was Jesus forbidding a fishing pole, a limed twig, a musician's baton, a walking stick, or what? Our translators have said that He was forbidding a "staff". How do we know? We look at the text in its context. The first thing we notice is that Jesus forbade His disciples to take "anything" for their journey! His words are, "Take nothing unto the road..." The use of "ei" plus the accusative seems to signify that Jesus was saying, "Take nothing in view of the road (journey)..." This means, "Don't plan ahead for your needs." But, "nothing" is a pretty big category! Were they not to take their clothes? Were they not to take any rings they may be wearing? Were they to go barefooted, or, worse, bare-everythinged? What does "nothing" mean? Well, Jesus knew He had to be more specific than that, so He began giving some examples of what His "nothing" meant: no "hrabdos", no "paran" (bag), no "arton" (bread = food), no "argurion" (silver = money), neither two "citwna" (tunics). Now, if we take the prohibition against two tunics to heart, what we see is that each of the things involved in Jesus' "nothing" has something to do with provisions for the future because the future always develops its own set of needs. Setting out on a journey normally means planning for what might become necessary down the road a ways. The key hint is in the prohibition of two tunics because in that prohibition we have Jesus, in effect, saying "You won't be sleeping out of doors, so you won't need that other tunic you always take if you think you may have to camp out." In fact, Jesus' prohibition against two tunics, by way of implied meaning, was actually a promise that they would be offered housing every night of their preaching tour. That implied meaning is strengthened by the opening words of 9:4, "And whatever house you enter, stay there..."

Next question: how do we validate the way our minds are going with this? How about a parallel passage included in the same author's writing, in the same book? If we read ahead, we eventually come to Luke 22:35. There, Jesus says, "When I sent you out without "ballantion" (purse) and "phran" (bag) and "upodhmatwn" (sandals), did you lack anything?" This text does a couple of interesting things. First, it casts us back to Luke 9 by means of the words, "When I sent you out without..." Second, it puts in a couple of particulars that Luke 9 had not mentioned: the "ballantion" and the "upodhmatwn". But, these two items easily fit into our category of things needed after the journey has begun, so they were involved by way of implied meaning even if Jesus was not exhaustive in the particulars that He gave to give content to His original "nothing". Now, let us consider Jesus' question in 22:35. It is clear by His question that His intent in Luke 9 was to send the disciples out without any kind of provisions for the future so that they could learn about how He would provide for them as they obeyed Him. As they went without provision, and discovered everything was provided as they needed it, they learned that obeying Jesus was what was crucial, not worrying about the what-ifs and the how-abouts. This was obviously what Jesus wanted them to learn. It was the point of His command in Luke 9.

What this all boils down to is this: Jesus wanted to set up a scenario for His disciples in which they could learn to obey Him without worrying about all of the sidebar issues of life. So, He set them out with a job to do and strictly forbade them to provision themselves for the future contingencies (which they couldn't know anyway!). This means that we now have a category of meaning-type that tells us what "nothing" means: nothing that is intended to satisfy a future need. This means that we also have a category of meaning-type to apply to our mystery word "hrabdos": all of the particulars under that umbrella of meaning that are designed to anticipate future needs are prohibited -- whether specifically mentioned by Jesus or not. This is how Jesus could put in purse and sandals (plural, the prohibition was not against wearing sandals, but against taking an extra pair because they might be needed down the road a few miles) in His later mention that He had not put in earlier. The disciples knew that He didn't want them taking the kitchen sink with them!

So, when Jesus said "don't take a 'hrabdos'...", what did He mean? In general, He meant "anything that fits into that general category that is intended for anticipating the future". We have confirmation of this meaning in Luke 22:36, where He countermands His earlier instructions by telling them to prepare themselves for the future. However, we have an even greater help in 22:36 for the definition of "hrabdos" in Jesus' command that if they have no sword, get one. By bringing in the need for a sword, Jesus introduces the possibility of the need for defense -- either against wild animals, or robbers. Since the word "hrabdos" includes a particular that shares the meaning-type of sword (a weapon for self-protection), we can deduce that when Jesus forbade a "hrabdos" in Luke 9:3, He was thinking particularly of an elongated piece of material that could be used as a weapon of defense, i.e., a "club".

So, now we know what JESUS had in mind. He didn't want His disciples to take a heavy piece of wood with them to be used as a club in the future potentiality of meeting up with wild animals or robbers.

That brings us to Mark 6:8. As we have already pointed out, these are Mark's words as he gave Jesus' meaning in indirect discourse. The question is this: did Mark have a different understanding of "hrabdos" in his mind when He communicated Jesus' meaning? For those of us who believe in the integrity of the Scriptures, the answer is obvious: He had to have had.

So, what was Mark's meaning for which he used the word "hrabdos"? How do we know? We look at the text. When we do that we notice that Mark has determined to clarify Jesus' meaning of His "nothing" in a way that Jesus didn't do, but in a way that was not contrary to Jesus' meaning. He determined to reveal what was included in the "nothing" and what was not.

Mark gives us two items that ARE to be taken, along with four things that ARE NOT to be taken. The things to be taken are a "hrabdos" and sandals; the things not to be taken are bread, bag, money, and two tunics. When we ask what Mark is telling us, we see immediately that the things are broken down into two categories: things to be taken so that the journey can begin, and things not to be taken because they anticipate future contingencies after the journey has been going on a while. In other words, Mark says that Jesus told them to take what they had to have to go, but to take nothing they thought they might need later. And, Mark further clarified by tying sandals and "hrabdos" together as things needed for the going. This means that both sandals and "hrabdos" were seen as necessities to set out -- sandals to protect the feet so the going could be undertaken, and a "hrabdos" to protect the balance of the walker on rough terrain so the going could be undertaken. In a word, Mark's meaning for his use of "hrabdos" was "a walking stick"...", an aid to the going".

Now an observation or two...

When Mark wrote his account of Jesus' instruction, he did not anticipate Luke's later account. He only had in mind a desire to tell what Jesus did and taught. When he came to the words of Jesus to His disciples in that initial commission, he wanted to make clear that Jesus' "nothing" was not absolute, but relative to the issue of Jesus' desire to teach His disciples that He would provide for them as they followed His commands. He had no idea that his record of Jesus' desire in his (Mark's) own words might later be a difficulty for people who want to stumble over words rather than dig into their meaning.

When Luke came along, he intended to tell his readers what Jesus said in Luke 22, so he felt no need to attempt to clarify anything Jesus said in Luke 9. Therefore, he simply recorded Jesus' words as a direct quote and left them to be explained later by Jesus himself.

The conclusion of the matter is this: hermeneutics is not a sloppy reading of words, assigning meaning hit or miss because the possibility exists in a lexicon somewhere. Rather, hermeneutics is an investigation of the clues a writer gives us as to his meaning. The more clues we dig up, the greater clarity we have of his meaning. The fewer clues we dig up, the greater the ambiguity there is in our minds. So, let this be a motivator to us to dig, dig, dig...clear meaning leads to solid faith and solid faith leads to enormous peace of soul and mind. The fruit is worth the labor!

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This is article #250.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.