Luke 10:1 and 10:17  70 or 72 disciples?

Which is the correct reading in Luke 10:1 and 10:17? Did Jesus send out 70 or 72 disciples? 

In the KJV we find that Jesus sent out 70 disciples. This reading is found in both Luke 10:1 and 10:17 

Luke 10:1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. KJV

Luke 10:17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. KJV

However, many modern version do not in fact read 70 but 72 in both of these verses such as the NIV and ESV

Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. NIV

Luke 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” NIV

Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. ESV

Luke 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” ESV

These readings are also found in the NET, BSB, NLT, CEV, 

I will point out that there are in fact many modern versions such as the NASB, ISV, NAS, ERV and Young’s literal that read 70 just as the KJV does. 

So why is there a split here, even amongst the modern versions that follow the critical text.

Well this is because there is a textual variant here that has caused a rather decisive split between those that believe the original text reads 70 and those that believe the original was 72. This split even divides those that follow the critical text as we have seen. 

Let’s have a look at the evidence for both readings 

The shorter reading is supported by the majority of manuscripts. It is also supported by a number of early manuscripts such as Sinaiticus (4th Century),  Alexandrinus (5th Century) and Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th Century). It is also the reading of P45 which is one of the two oldest, if not the the oldest manuscript attestations to this reading and dates to around 100 years or so before Vaticanus or Sinaiticus the two main manuscripts of the Alexandrian line. 

Luke 10:17 P45, 01, A, C, K, P, L, M, W, X, D, Q, X, Y, f1, f13, 28, 33, 157, 579, 700, 1071, 1342, 1424, Maj, Sy-C, f, q, Sy-P, Sy-H, bo,

Let’s have a look at the manuscript evidence for the reading 72.

Luke 10:17 , (P45)*  P75, B, D, R, 0181, 372, pc, Lat, Sy-S, 

So Vaticanus and Sinaiticus disagree with each other here. Vaticanus reads 72 while Sinaiticus reads 70. 72, although not attested to by the majority of manuscripts, does have what would be considered by scholars as strong manuscript evidence, in the fact that, P75, B and D agree.  Many scholars give special credibility to the reading of these manuscripts when they are in agreement. 

Now notice that I have put brackets around P45 in the support for the reading 72 in Luke 10:17. 

This is because this manuscript does NOT support this reading, despite the fact that some claim that it does and that it is cited as support by NA/UBS 

P45 actually reads ο̅  which is shorthand for ἑβδομήκοντα (70)  and NOT  ο̅β̅ which is shorthand for ἑβδομήκοντα δύο 72. P45 is thus support for 70 not 72 in this verse. It must be noted that the reading of Luke 10:1in P45, is non-existent, as the fragments we have do not contain this verse. 

But why is P45 still cited as support for the reading 72? Well, simply they are using outdated information that has been demonstrably shown incorrect. 

The Westcott and Hort text read 72

Ὑπέστρεψαν δὲ οἱ ἑβδομήκοντα δύο μετὰ χαρᾶς λέγοντες Κύριε, καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ὑποτάσσεται ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου.

However, this was not based on the reading of P45 but rather the reading of Vaticanus as P45 had not yet been discovered and thus the reading was not available to Westcott and Hort. 

It is worthy of note that neither the Revised version of 1885 or the ASV of 1901 followed the Westcott and Hort text, both read 70. 

Frederic G. Kenyon’s publication of P45 in 1934 recorded that the reading in Luke 10:17 was ο̅β (72). This reading was brought into question in 1953 when  Colin H. Roberts a papyrologist asserted that the reading was in fact ο̅ ϛ (76) though this reading was not followed by any critical text. But the reading would again be challenged in 1959 when Bruce M. Metzger concluded that neither 72 or 76  was correct but it was in fact  ο̅  (70) and was then followed by a space filler (>) and not by any numerical number.

Metzger wrote

[t]he present writer has examined this passage in P under natural and artificial light, and has assured himself that the Greek character which follows the letter omicron (standing for ‘’) is neither β, as Kenyon supposed, nor ϛ, as Roberts thinks, but merely the diplé, or space-filler (>), which scribes would use occasionally in order to bring an otherwise short line even with the right-hand margin of the column. In fact, by consulting Kenyon’s volume of Plates of P anyone can see the similarity between the disputed character and the diplé which appears on the same folio near the top of the column.

B. M. Metzger, ‘Seventy or Seventy-two?’

The NA text followed this new understanding regarding this reading in 1960 and read 

Ὑπέστρεψαν δὲ οἱ ἑβδομήκοντα μετὰ χαρᾶς λέγοντες Κύριε, καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ὑποτάσσεται ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου.

However, this again changed in the NA26 text 1975 and the UBS 3 text 1979 to  read ἑβδομήκοντα δύο (72) 

Ὑπέστρεψαν δὲ οἱ ἑβδομήκοντα δύο μετὰ χαρᾶς λέγοντες Κύριε, καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ὑποτάσσεται ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου.

This reading has remained and can still be found within the NA28 and UBS 5 text although δύο is bracketed.

The revision of this reading back to 72 is not based on any new manuscript evidence or the reading of P45 as per Metzger being shown false. P45 is now cited as evidence for 72. It is in fact a mystery as to why this was changed, especially as it is the proponents of the critical text that so vehemently assert that it is the shorter readings that are more likely the originals and that scribes were far more prone to add to the texts rather than take away.  It seems that textual critics simply pick and choose when they get to follow one of their rules. 

In the notes of the NET Bible, we find the usual assertion regarding the “harder” reading. Many modern scholars believe the harder reading is usually the correct one as a scribe is less likely to change an easier reading into a hard one. 

The more difficult reading is “seventy-two,” since scribes would be prone to assimilate this passage to several OT passages that refer to groups of seventy people (Num 11:13-17; Deut 10:22; Judg 8:30; 2 Kgs 10:1 et al.); this reading also has slightly better ms support. “Seventy” could be the preferred reading if scribes drew from the tradition of the number of translators of the LXX, which the Letter of Aristeas puts at seventy-two (TCGNT127), although this is far less likely. All things considered, “seventy-two” is a much more difficult reading and accounts for the rise of the other.

Notice that it is asserted that the more difficult reading that accounts for the rise of the other. In other words 72 is the more likely reading because it is less likely to have been 72. I have also written intensively on the incorrect understanding that the harder reading should be considered the original. 

Another source of evidence that many people use alongside manuscript evidence to support one reading or the other are appeals to symbolic reasoning as to why the number may have been 70 or 72 and then argue for the reading based on that symbology. While symbology is used in the Bible there is no specific reason to believe that was what was being used here. 

But let’s have a look at some of the symbology anyway. When the nation of Israel was led out of Egypt they came to Elim, where there were 12 wells of water (12 disciples) and 70 palm trees (70 disciples sent) 

Exodus 15:27 And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters. KJV

Numbers 33:9 And they removed from Marah, and came unto Elim: and in Elim were twelve fountains of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they pitched there.KJV

This was something that Tertullian alluded to. 

24 adlegit et alios septuaginta apostolos super duodecim. quo enim duodecim secundum totidem fontes in Elim, si non et septuaginta secundum totidem arbusta palmarum?

  1. [Luke 10: 1-20.] He chooses other seventy apostles also, over
    above the twelve: for to what purpose twelve, after that number
    of wells in Elim, without adding seventy, after that number of

Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem IV (24)

This of course makes Tertullian a witness to 70. 

Cyril of Alexandria makes a connection between the 70 sent by Jesus and the 70 elders chosen by Moses, which also makes him a witness of the reading 70

Exodus 24:1 And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.

If we are looking for numerical symbology then we can also find the number 70 elsewhere, such as 

70 nations descendents from Noah in Genesis 10 (MT) 

70 offspring of Jacob 

Exodus 1:5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.

Deuteronomy 10:22 Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the LORD thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.

It isn’t hard to see, if we are looking for numerical symbology, why the number 70 would be the correct reading. 

There are more references to 70 such as the 70 years of exile, 70 sons of Ahab and 70 sons of Jerubbaal but none of these seems to have any real relevance as to why 70 would be a symbolic number of disciples chosen by Jesus. 

But what about 72? 

When it comes to biblical usage of 72 there really is not much support. There is the 72 descendants of Noah as per the LXX of Genesis 10 and that’s basically it. This in itself demands an investigation into which is the correct number of nations in Genesis, 70 or 72. I shall not do that here but in a separate writing. 

Others do allude to the apparent 72 translators of the LXX as per the letter of Aristeas. This though is rather pushing the limits of numerical symbology and is certainly not biblical support. It is hard to reason why Jesus would send 72 using numerical symbology equated to something that is never referenced within the Bible itself. Here I must again point to my other writings on the historicity of this supposed translation. Like arguments for other variant readings, the readings of Luke 10:1 and 17 should be viewed from an overall standpoint and not as a singular variant. 

72 simply has much less biblical basis on which to argue a symbolic meaning.

It is wrong to argue which reading would be correct based on Luke himself, which would be more Lukan, whether Luke would more likely use the symbology of 70 or 72. This would make Luke the author of an arbitrarily selected number rather than the recorder of a factual number of disciples sent out by Jesus. It may well be that the number is symbolic for one reason or another, however, this symbolic number would have been one used by Jesus himself when sending out the chosen number of disciples and not Luke inserting his own symbolically created number into his account. 

Whatever number Luke wrote, we should be confident,  it was based on the actual number of disciples that Jesus sent out and not simply his own personal choice based on his own use of a number for symbology, even if the number that Jesus sent out was symbolically based. 

It is very possible that a scribe believed that the number in Luke 10:1 and 17 was indeed symbolic and so either added or removed the δύο based on their own understanding of the symbolic number, which I would postulate was to align with the number that they understood was correct for the number of nations in Genesis 10 as this is where we also have a variant of 70 and 72. It would therefore be, my belief, that either the scribes exemplar had 72 nations in Genesis 10 or  he was aware of this reading and believed this was the correct reading but, his exemplar had 70 in Luke 10:1 and 10:17 and so added δύο in order to correct a mistake that he believed had been made and harmonise the two numbers together. 

Further witnesses 

Other witnesses to the reading 70 are Irenaeus from the 2nd century, who makes 2 references to the 70,  although it must be noted that we only have the latin translations of these citations and not the original Greek. Clement of Alexandria refers to the 70, although he is citing the non biblical writing the Epistle of Barnabas who Clement refers to as, one of the seventy.  Eusebius, Basil of Caesarea, Theodoret, Ambrose and Jerome are all witnesses to 70.  

Adamantius, Apostolic Constitutions, Ambrosiaster and Augustine are all witnesses to 72 while John Chrysostom actually witnesses to both readings. 

The reading 70 has the majority of manuscript evidence, it has early manuscript evidence and has a larger witness amongst early church writings. It also has better symbolic support. It is the shorter reading, which is so often preferred by textual critics and is an easier reading. 

Ultimately a person has to be convinced in their own mind. What has been presented here must be taken into consideration alongside the complete argument regarding the textual variant issue. 

If you liked this study please subscribe here 

Join our Patreon membership here


Leave a Reply