Month: November 2011

Matthew 10: Did the Twelve ever leave on their mission? And when did they come back?

I was reading Matthew 10 last night. Jesus sends out the newly appointed twelve apostles to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ to announce that the kingdom of heaven is near. Some instructions follow, which are more familiar to me in their form of Luke 11 in the sending out of the 70/72 (find a person of peace…).  Matthew’s account includes this interesting verse:

23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

We might be conditioned to hear it eschatologically, but then it makes no sense. What if it just means they won’t finish going to all the towns before Jesus catches up to them? In that case, it is a strange way to say something so simple.

But what was most strange to me is that there is no record of the Twelve leaving or coming back. Chapter 11 has Jesus teaching and preaching in the towns of Galilee; the disciples reappear in chapter 12, with no mention of their big mission. How long did they go for? What happened? Matthew must have had something in mind, and the record of some tradition, but he gives us no account. Luke at least records, rather barely:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

I looked at three major commentaries at lunchtime; none even mentioned the (problem?). F.W. Beare gave a paper on it in 1969 to SBL; I’m going to read it properly, but his gist was that the lack of an account was evidence for it not happening. That doesn’t really answer my question, of course, and I’m not so sceptical. Just a passing question as I read.