The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: How Many Walking Sticks?

In ancient Israel people often used the Persian reed (Arundo donax—a tall reed growing up to eighteen feet or more high; also known as giant cane) for a walking stick. Other uses for this reed included fishing rods, measuring rods, and musical pipes.[1] Some individuals may have chosen a wooden stick (a staff) for greater stability and for use in defending themselves.

Before Jesus sent His twelve disciples throughout Israel to heal, to cast out demons, and to proclaim His kingdom message, He gave them instructions about what they should or should not take with them. Matthew 10:9–10 appears to say that they were not to take a staff (walking stick). Mark 6:8 reports that Jesus instructed His disciples to take a staff. Luke 9:3 records Jesus’ words as “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, . . .”—appearing to agree with Matthew’s report. One way to resolve the difficulty would be to note that Matthew used a Greek verb meaning “acquire” (κτάομαι, ktaomai; Mark and Luke use a verb meaning “take,” αἴρω, airō). Since Matthew reports that Jesus was forbidding taking an additional garment and an additional pair of sandals, the same might apply to an additional staff—in other words, no need for replacement items in case of loss or damage. That leaves Luke’s account as the one that might differ from the other two. In light of both Matthew and Mark, however, it might be best to understand Luke as meaning no additional staff, or any other item normally carried on a journey. The disciples obviously needed the garment and the sandals. An extra walking stick was no more necessary than an additional garment or pair of sandals.

We must admit, when we encounter cases like this one, we do not possess all of the answers. Let’s not lose sight of the basic emphasis of Jesus’ instructions—the disciples were to travel as simply as possible, but as normally as prudent. He told His disciples to trust God for their journey’s provisions. We would do well to put the same principle to work in our own lives and travels.

Notes

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1057.

Read also:

“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Geographical Realities”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Translation Differences”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Authors’ Choices”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Misrepresentation of Persons”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: How Many People?