Seccombe-the mission of the 72

For Lent I am reading the last chapters (those leading up the passion of Christ) in David Seccombe’s study of Jesus, The King of God’s Kingdom.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus sends the disciples on a major mission twice.  First, in Luke 9:1-6 he sends just the twelve on a mission.  They go through the villages (presumably in Galilee) preaching the good news and healing the sick (v. 6).  Then in Luke 10 he sends out 70 or 72 (there is a textual variation) on a similar mission.

Seccombe asks if there really were two missions.  Most critical scholars have seen a doublet here with the same story getting told again.  But Seccombe argues that there may have been two stories in Luke’s source (Q).

Matthew has one mission.  But Matthew’s gospel is built around five discourses.  One of those discourses is the missionary discourse in Matthew 10.  A characteristic of Matthew is to lump all the sayings of Jesus about a topic into one discourse.  Matthew cared about what Jesus said about mission, not the particular episodes of mission.

Seccombe’s best argument here has to do with the texts, which say Jesus sent 72 and other texts that say 70.  Seventy could be a symbolic number.  But Seccombe argues that 72 is a practical number.  Each of the twelve may have been assigned 3 pairs of missionaries.  You can see scribes changing 72 to 70 as a simplification.  But there would be no reason to change 70 to 72.  It would be an unnecessary complication.

So Seccombe argues that the source, Q, may have had two separate missions. Matthew pulled bits and pieces from both accounts to make his missionary discourse.  But Luke, who used blocks of material from Q, has the second mission. I root for this solution simply because I feel the Jesus Seminar scholars got really arrogant in claiming to tell us exactly what was in a non-corporeal source like Q.  This would open the door to other unexpected stuff from Q.

Then Seccombe asks when this second mission would have happened.  He has argued against the idea that the two missions are a doublet.  But he thinks the mission to Samaria mentioned in Luke 9:52 may be a doublet with the mission of the 72 in Luke 10.

The statement in Luke 9:51 shows the end of the Galilean mission and a new focus for Jesus: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Then the mission to Samaria gets introduced.

Seccombe points to Maurice Goguel’s reconstruction of Jesus’ ministry using John’s gospel for clues about chronology.  Goguel thought that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in October of the year before the final Passover and stayed for the Feast of Dedication in December.  Then, after predicting the destruction of the Temple, he was forced to leave for Perea.

Seccombe puts the mission of the 72 in the period just before Jesus came to Jerusalem in October for Tabernacles.  John 7:1-6 says that Jesus stayed in Galilee and avoided Judea.  His brothers advised him to go to Judea to enhance his reputation as a miracle worker.  To this Jesus replied that his time has not yet come.

Seccombe says:

“One can only be struck with the contrast between this and Luke’s statement that the mission of the seventy-two was triggered by Jesus’ realization that the time for going up was fulfilled.  One expresses a feeling of not yet, the other of now”(p. 461).

So, according to the author, Jesus’ mission to Galilee would have ended in the summer and his pilgrimage to Jerusalem would have lasted for a couple of months.  Then there would have been his withdrawal from Jerusalem to Perea until Passover.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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