The Wartburg Project

May 31st, 2024

105. How Many Disciples Did Jesus Send Out, 70 or 72?

In Luke 10:1, according to the EHV, Jesus sends out 72 disciples on a mission to Israel. Many other translations say he sent out 70. Which is correct?

The first thing we have to do is look at the manuscript evidence. The Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament says that the textual evidence is almost equally divided. The majority of the UBS Committee voted to retain the word two in the text but to enclose it in brackets to indicate that there is doubt that it belongs there.

With the textual evidence evenly divided, it is not surprising that translations are also divided. In general, it can be said that translations in the King James family favor 70, but that there is a strong trend in recent translations toward 72. The tendency in favor of the number 70 was so strong in older translations that the term The Seventy became an established name for the order of preachers that Jesus sent out after the Apostles, who had been called The Twelve.

Since the textual evidence is indecisive, can the context help us decide between 70 and 72? Seventy is a number which is important in Jewish history. There were 70 elders in the Sanhedrin. There were 70 nations of the world in Genesis 10. The number 72, on the other hand, is not as prominent in the Hebrew Bible. Nevertheless, there is good reason to prefer the number 72 here.

It seems that the reason that there were twelve apostles was so that they would represent all Israel, that is, the twelve tribes of Israel. At the time when the Seventy Two were sent, Jesus’ immediate mission was still to Israel (Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24). Since the missionaries in Luke 10 were a multiplication of the apostles’ ministry to Israel, it seems likely that they were a multiple of twelve (12 x 6 = 72).