Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
Proper 9 - Year C

Other texts:

A brief comment about the context. Just prior to sending out these "apostles" (the related verb apostello is used in vv. 1, 3, & 16), James and John indicate their inadequacies by wanting to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans and three "would-be" followers indicate their unwillingness to leave all to follow Jesus. Yet, in spite of these shortcomings among his followers, Jesus sends them out.

There are also many similarities in our text to the sending out of the Twelve in 9:1-6.

I'm including in the CAPITALIZED lines below, an outline of the entire section, (vv. 1-24). I will make very brief comments about those verses that we are skipping over the lection. I've also included some fairly lengthy quotes from Culpepper, because I think that he has captured the most important themes from this passage. (This also means that I will try to keep my notes shorter and less detailed -- ha!)

A word distinction that might be worth mentioning: Sometimes we are "disciples," that is, "learners." Sometimes we are "apostles," that is, "sent out ones." The old illustration of the Dead Sea might apply to some of our people -- all inflow with no outflow -- produces death. Without something flowing in, there can be nothing flowing out. One definition of burnout is: "giving much more than you are receiving." (I heard Bill Easum wonder: "How can people get burned out when they've never been on fire?") Discipleship without apostleship leads to stagnation. Apostleship without discipleship leads to burnout. A life-giving faith requires both: the inflow from disciplined learning and the outflow of being sent into the world with a message.


How many were sent out? The manuscript evidence is about equal between 70 or 72. There are possibly two symbolic functions that either number fulfills. According to a couple of commentaries, there are 70 different nations listed in Genesis 10 in the Hebrew text. (I didn't bother to count all the names of the descendants of Noah.) However, according to the same sources, there are 72 nations listed in the LXX version. (I didn't count them, either.) One symbolic function is that they represent all the nations of the world.

In Numbers 11:16-25, Moses gathers 70 elders who will be given a share of his spirit so that they might bear the burden of the people. Two additional men, Eldad and Medad, who did not go out with the original 70 also receive the Spirit (Num 11:26-30). Another symbolic function is that they represent the sharing of Jesus' Spirit and his ministry. The Spirit-filled ministry of the disciples to the entire world is an emphasis of Luke/Acts.

The sending of two-by-two may allude back to Dt 19:15 where two witnesses are required for a testimony to be credible. A more practical reason would be the rigors and dangers of traveling back in those days.

Their purpose in being sent out (apostello) before Jesus' face seems to prepare the "towns and places" (= the people?) for Jesus' eventual coming. In the narrative setting, they are forerunners for the earthly Jesus. In the readers' setting (both in Luke's day and in ours), is it their calling to prepare the people for the (second) coming of Jesus? How do we do that? Actually, it would seem that the "apostles" in these verses do it by proclaiming (in words and actions) the Kingdom of God as a present reality. NOTE: the verbs for "eat," "heal," and "say," in vv. 8-9 are present tense -- implying repeated or continual actions.

Having been around farmers during harvest, there is great urgency about getting the work completed. I've seen some that operated their combines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to get the crops in. Others would take time off to attend church. Would that we had such urgencies about preparing the people for Jesus' coming. This urgency may also be highlighted by the fact that their instructions include not greeting anyone one the road (or way) (v. 4). (In this sense, our text is similar to last week's where Jesus indicates that following him and proclaiming the Kingdom of God is more important than burying one's father or saying good-bye to one's family.)

The "laborers" are not "volunteers," but they are worthy to receive "wages" or "rewards" for their work (v. 7) -- namely, food and drink from the people they are ministering to -- not salaries from the sending agent! I don't know how this might apply, but I found it an interesting observation.

Although Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Church) doesn't quote v. 2, I think that his comment directly relate to it. The chapter is called "Surfing Spiritual Waves," and he begins by stating, "Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds." We can't build waves. Later he writes:

The problem with many churches is that they begin with the wrong question. They ask, "What will make our church grow?" This is a misunderstanding of the issue. It's like saying, "How can we build a wave?" The question we need to ask instead is, "What is keeping our church from growing?" What barriers are blocking the waves God wants to send our way? What obstacles and hindrances are preventing growth from happening?

All living things grow -- you don't have to make them grow. It's the natural thing for living organisms to do if they are healthy. For example, I don't have to command my three children to grow. They naturally grow. As long as I remove hindrances such as poor nutrition or an unsafe environment, their growth will be automatic. If my kids don't grow, something has gone terrible wrong. Lack of growth usually indicates an unhealthy situation, possibly a disease. [pp. 15-16]

Jesus promises a plentiful harvest. What's keeping us from reaping it? What's hindering our congregations from taking in this promised harvest? An answer given in our text is that there are not enough workers. The word for "workers" or "laborers" is ergates (vv. 2 & 7). It implies involvement in an activity that involves effort. I note that Jesus did not say that there were too few committees, or even believers. It's workers that are lacking.

I read the following in a church newsletter:

A preacher in the midwest tells of a woman who called him to speak of her dissatisfaction with the program of the Church. He invited her to come to his office and talk the problem over with him. She accepted the invitation and brought to his attention some of the things that were needed and could be done.

He gratefully acknowledged the wisdom of her ideas. He then said, "This is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person this Church needs to head up this program. Will you take the job?"

Her reply was just as immediate. "Oh, no, I don't want to get involved. With my clubwork and the hours that I put on some other things, I just don't have the time. But I will be glad to advise you any time."

The preacher's answer was classic and well put: "Good, gracious, lady, that's the problem now. I already have 400 advisers. I need someone who will work."

Almost everyone in a congregation says that they want it to grow. (Some put a limit on the growth, "I'd like to see us have about 500 members and then stop.") If people want growth, if God promises a good harvest, why aren't more congregations growing? What is stopping the growth God wants to give? That's a question worth exploring with church members.

I find it ironic that Jesus declares that he is sending these "apostles" out as lambs in the midst of wolves (v. 3), but then tells them to take nothing for their survival! How many of us clergy wish that Jesus would have been a bit clearer about how to deal with the "wolves". I also note that Jesus says nothing about taking along a rifle.

In contrast to the "wolves" there are also "sons of peace" (v. 6 -- "shares in peace" in NRSV). To be a "son" meant sharing the characteristics of the "parent". This "character" is revealed by the way one receives the "apostles" and their message of the Kingdom -- as a person of shalom or a wolf.

NOTE: the "apostles" do not take back their peace once it has been uttered, but it may return to them on its own when it doesn't find a place to stay.

Tiede (Luke) makes this observation about the declaration of peace:

It is an official declaration of the presence of the kingdom, and it confronts the people of the house with God's salvation and authority. It is a word of blessing. Luke could never conceive of a form of Christian evangelism which opened with a threat, whether direct or implied (contrast 1 Sam. 25:13), yet this peace is a force of effect of God's presence which the disciple conveys. [p. 202]

There is a judgment, but it is God's judgment (vv. 12-15). The "apostles" are to announce the kingdom. These words of judgment are not part of the message the "apostles" are to convey. Jesus gives it to them for their benefit -- and perhaps to stress the urgency of their task.


These verses have been omitted from the lection -- and it may be a good thing. Such words of judgment were not part of the "apostles'" proclamation to the world, but they were part of their motivation to get the "good news of the Kingdom" out, so that the people might repent. See Romans 2:4b for the argument that God's "kindness" (not wrath) is meant to lead people to repentance.


This verse confers on the "apostles" the "rights and authorities of a legal agent" [Culpepper, p. 221].

I think that the following "reflection" offered by Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible) on vv. 1-16) captures the most important theme from this passage -- a word that we need to hear.

Luke 10 contains a concentration of sayings that are embarrassing and difficult for the church. The pronouncement of woes on towns and villages is seldom heard from contemporary pulpits, and certainly not from fashionable churches. More revealing, however, is our neglect and discomfort with the commissioning of the seventy(-two). The mission of the church has come to be regarded as something that only a few specially called professionals carry out. One has to be called to be a missioner -- one doing the mission of the church. The sending out of the seventy(-two), however, which is peculiar to Luke, reminds us that Jesus sent out not just the Twelve, but perhaps all of his followers. A few churches (such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) still send out members on mission, sharing their faith door to door, but most churches have abandoned that practice.

More than ever, therefore, the church must struggle with its understanding of its mission. Having abandoned one traditional form or expression of that mission, has the church abandoned its mission entirely? How does the church articulate its mission today? Can working with and through agencies and institutions substitute for talking with individuals about their response to the gospel? In what ways can the mission of the church be articulated and pursued by the church today? Such questions do not permit easy answers, but the interpretation of these verses for the church is not complete until it leads us to grapple with these issues. The church can neither recreate the itinerancy of the earliest days of the Jesus movement in Galilee nor abandon the gospel call to announce the kingdom and devote oneself to kingdom tasks. The expression of the mission of the church in concrete forms and specific activities, however, has changed from generation to generation.

In our own time, the challenges of a shrinking world, ease of travel and communication, multiculturalism, and religions pluralism require us to enter into dialogue regarding what we as American Christians have to offer to people of other cultures and faiths. The development of a world economy and the oppression of Third World Countries require that we include in our awareness of the church's mission concerns for the end of economic exploitation of other people, alleviation of disease and hunger, and assurance of basic human rights. it is not that the mission of the church has become unnecessary or impractical, but simply that the changing conditions of the communities in which we live are forcing us to rethink the Gospel's teaching about the mission of those who follow Jesus and to find avenues of obedience that are effective and appropriate for our times and as well as faithful to Jesus' teachings. [pp. 221-222]

"10 PRINCIPLES OF MISSION" (words from Culpepper, form and emphases from Stoffregen)

1. It affirms the world's need for the church's mission: "The harvest is plentiful." there is more work to do than laborers to do it.

2. Jesus' commission affirms the importance of prayer in support of the church's mission: "Ask the Lord of the harvest."

3. It insists on the active participation of each disciple: "Go on your way." The work of the church is not merely the calling of a select few. Believers can contribute to it in their own way and in the context of their spiritual journey.

4. Jesus' commission warns of the dangers will face and provides guidelines: "I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves." By means of this metaphor, Jesus seems to be counseling innocence and sincerity, vulnerability and non-resistance as means of turning aside anger and danger.

5. Jesus calls for singularity of purpose: "Greet no one on the road."

6. The commission specifies the purpose of the mission: "Say, ‘Peace to this house' and ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.'" Disciples declare what God is doing and bring God's peace to whomever receives them. Share table fellowship with whomever receives you.

7. The host, not the guest, sets the context for the disciple's witness: "Eat what is set before you." The disciples do not seek to dictate the menu or impose their own cultural background on others.

8. Jesus' commission recognizes that the disciples will not always succeed: "[When] they do not welcome you...." Jesus knew that the disciples would meet resistance and rejection some of the time.

9. Jesus admonishes the disciples to persevere: "Shake the dust from your feet.

10. Jesus gives the disciples a word of assurance about the fulfillment of God's redemptive mission: "Know this: the kingdom of God has come near."

By principles such as these the church can be guided in every generation. The context, means, and forms of the message continually, but its basis in God's redemptive love remains constant. [p. 222]

With the "great harvest" around us and the promises from God, I'll raise the question again: "What is hindering us from bringing in a great harvest?" Do we really want to reap a huge harvest? (When I asked some members of my present church, "How would you like to be part of a 1000-member congregation, most indicated that they didn't think they'd like it. Does that attitude sabotage efforts to reap the harvest?)


The "apostles" report that the "demons were subject" to them in Jesus' name. However, exorcism was not something Jesus told them to do in this commission, but "eat," "cure," and "say" (v. 8b-9). The Twelve were given "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases" in 9:1.

Jesus responds: "I was seeing (imperfect = continuous action in the past) Satan fall from heaven like lightning."

I don't know if anyone would want to tackle the topic of demonology or Satanology. This verse implies that Satan was still in heaven until this event. (The place where Satan is in the book of Job -- 1:6-12; 2:1-7.) The imperfect for "seeing," implies that the fall didn't happen all at once (which would use an aorist verb). The Greek word hos, frequently designates a simile: "falling from heaven as lightning." Seldom does lightning "fall from heaven" just once, it is an event that has many "falls". Did Satan's complete "fall" occur at that time? Is Jesus still seeing Satan fall in our ministries in his name?

I agree with Culpepper that in v. 19

Jesus' language is metaphorical, not literal. Serpents and scorpions appear as images for the power of evil in prophetic and apocalyptic writings (serpents, Gen 3:1-14; Num 21:6-9; scorpions, 1 Kgs 12:11, 14; Rev 9:3; serpents and scorpions together, Deut 8:15; Sir 39:30; Luke 11:11-12). Treading on serpents as a sign of divine power and protection echoes Ps 91:13, and though such language seems to have been taken literally by some early Christians (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:3-6), its original purpose was metaphorical. By casting out demons, the disciples had demonstrated their power over Satan; they had trodden on serpents and scorpions. Vanquishing the enemies of God's people was another of the apocalyptic hopes (see 1:71, 74; 19:27; 20:43; Acts 2:35). [p. 224]

V. 19d needs some clarification. Tannehill (Luke) writes:

"Nothing will hurt you" can also be translated "In nothing will he [the enemy] hurt you" (taking ouden as an adverbial accusative). The second translation fits the later narrative better, where it is clear that Jesus, as well as the disciples, are indeed subject to physical injury through persecution, even though they may be protected from Satan's power. [p. 179]

In addition to considering ouden as an adverbial accusative rather than a nominative ("nothing" -- nom. & acc. forms are the same for this word in Greek), the verb (adikeo) carries with it the sense of "acting unjustly towards," "undergoing suffering that is not deserved." Certainly the sufferings that Jesus and the disciples would later endure were unjust, so the phrase cannot refer to what other people might do to the disciples. If the subject of the verb is "the enemy," as Tannehill suggests, then the phrase suggests that any sufferings that he -- the enemy -- brings upon us is deserved (contrary to the book of Job). Could we suffer because we do not make use of the power and authority Jesus has given us to trample on the evil forces? Generally I do not state that we cause our own suffering. I do not believe that the man with MS or the woman with rheumatoid arthritis cause their suffering or that they lack enough faith to be healed. At the same time, we often do things that can bring suffering upon us. Driving while too tired, overeating, over-working, etc.

V. 20 suggests (as do other verses in Luke: 6:23; 13:17; 15:5, 6, 9, 32; 19:6, 37) that JOY is the proper response of Jesus' disciples. However, that joy may be misplaced. It is not based on the "spirits" relationship to the disciples -- note that this verse does not indicate that the disciples have power over the spirits, but that the spirits subject themselves to the disciples. The joy is based on heaven's relationship with the disciples -- the place where their names have been written. The passive verb indicates that it was someone else besides the disciples who wrote their names there. It may be that the spirits' subjugation to the disciples comes about because of their connection with heaven (see also v. 16). In some of the other "joy" passages, the joy is based on the salvation of other people, not one's self.

In Christian Chaos: Revolutionizing the Congregation, by Thomas G. Bandy. He also writes about JOY, in the context of spiritual gifts:

Generally speaking, a "spiritual gift" is linked to whatever you profoundly enjoy doing, and which you deeply desire to do with excellence …

One test to determine whether or not you are really doing what Christ called you to do, is to discern if you truly and deeply enjoy doing it! Does this activity give life to you or rob life from you? energize you or spiritually exhaust you? lead you to laugh or lead you to sigh? fill you with joy or leave you with unresolved anger? For first century Christians authentic callings always, always led to joy.

Lay leadership "burnout" is not a biblical church issue. It is a modern church issue. It has become an issue because modern churches habitually motivate people to act out of duty, rather than out of joy. They continually remind people of their obligations, but fail to assist people in affirming themselves [pp. 239, 241, emphasis in original]

What if we could make every activity of the congregation a joyful experience? (Isn't "joyful council meetings" an oxymoron?)

Could part of the reason that we lack workers for the harvest is that we haven't tapped into the gifts that people profoundly enjoy sharing?


These verses appear to come from Q -- being found also in Mt 11:25-27; 13:16-17. What are "these things" that have been hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed to infants? That their names are written in heaven? That the writing of their names was not their own doing? This could be related to the fact that "knowing" the son comes not through our own powers, but as a revelation given by the Father.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364