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Did Jesus tell His disciples to take a staff? Or did He tell them to leave them behind?
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.”
He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.”
In these parallel passages, Jesus issues an urgent command to His 12 students—go and preach the immediacy of the kingdom of heaven to your Jewish brethren. Our English translations contain an apparent discrepancy in what Jesus told them to take with them—were they to take a staff or not? The issue can be cleared up studying the Greek words used for provide or take in the original manuscripts.
The sense of Matthew’s provide (ktaomai) is “to get or acquire.” In this passage, Jesus seems to urge His disciples to go now, don’t take the time to find another staff, just take what you have and go. He promised that the disciples would be provided for, so they didn’t need to make elaborate preparation.
Mark uses a word with a broader meaning (airo), which indicates “lift or take up.” In this passage, Mark seems to convey the idea that Jesus wanted the disciples to take what they already have and go. Those who already had a staff were to take it but were not to acquire another staff. In the same vein, they should wear the sandals they had on but weren’t to find an additional pair. They were to wear the tunic they already had on but weren’t to get another.
Although using the same word for take as Mark, Luke’s passage conveys the same sense as Matthew’s. (Some scholars suggest that Luke probably gained his information mostly from Matthew’s book and didn’t have access to the book written by Mark.) Luke also conveys the idea that the disciples were to depart quickly and without taking lots of “things” with them. They needed to focus on preaching the kingdom of heaven and were to trust the Lord to provide for their needs.