X Doesn't Mean X
A Reply to Glenn Miller's Solution to the "Staff Discrepency"
by Nancy Todd
Glenn Miller offers a typical "X" doesn't mean "X" solution to the
"staff" contradiction between Matthew 10:9-10/Luke 9:3 and Mark 6:8.
All verses are quoted from the NAB. In transliterating Greek, I
use capital Roman letters to represent long vowel sounds.
Matthew 10:9-10 Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no
sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.
The laborer deserves his keep.
Luke 9:3 He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither
walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a
Mark 6:8-9 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a
walking stick--no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were,
however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
As translated, these verses contain an obvious contradiction of the " p
~p" variety. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus forbids the disciples to
take a staff. In Mark, Jesus permits the disciples to take a
staff. Miller's attempted resolution centers on the meanings of the
words that are translated as "take," i.e., his solution is that "take"
doesn't mean "take."
Matthew has a form of the verb ktaomai, while Mark and Luke both use
forms of airO. Miller argues that in Matthew 10:9-10, ktaomai means "to
acquire" in the sense of "to hunt for and obtain." He says that
in Luke 9:3, airO also means "to acquire" in the sense of "to hunt for
and obtain." Luke didn't use ktaomai in 9:3, Miller claims,
because he uses it elsewhere to mean "to purchase," and his readers
would have been confused if Luke had told them that Jesus ordered his
disciples to purchase money. Apparently, Miller thinks that Luke's
readers would not be able to tell from the context that Luke meant "to
acquire/get/retrieve" rather than "to buy." Although Mark and Luke use
the same word, airO, Miller says that it has a different meaning to
Mark. For Mark, airO meant "to pick up and carry."
In Miller's mind, this resolves the contradiction because in Matthew
and Luke, Jesus tells the disciples not to hunt for and obtain (i.e.,
go get, retrieve, etc.) for their journey money, bread (Luke), a sack,
a second tunic, sandals, or a staff. In Mark, Jesus, knowing that the
disciples already have staffs, tells them not to pick up bread, a sack,
or money, and to put on their sandals but not to put on a second tunic.
This, of course, creates the problem of Jesus commanding the disciples
not to hunt for and obtain that which he knows they already have, i.e.,
staffs, and not to pick up and carry that which they are forbidden to
hunt for and obtain. Miller asserts that the reason the disciples are
prohibited from going to get the items is "presumably because of the
urgency and haste of the trip—as indicated in all versions; much of
this saying probably would have been standard prophetic
hyperbole—perhaps indicated by the strong 'take nothing' in some of the
passages—since most of them would have already had walking sticks."
According to Miller, Matthew says that Jesus told the disciples not to
prepare for the journey by acquiring money, or bread, or a second
tunic, or sandals, or a staff because of the urgency of the trip: "In
Matthew, Jesus tells them not to 'make preparations'—the trip is
too urgent to 'acquire belongings for the trip' (cf. Luke 17.31). No
hesitation—start NOW with what you already have at your disposal."
Miller doesn't let the context of the verses stand in his way. He
doesn't seem to notice that the context of the verses, especially
Matthew, strongly suggests that the reason Jesus orders the disciples
to take nothing is because God will provide. Miller gives no textual
support for either presumption, that the urgency of the journey is the
reason Jesus forbids the disciples to take time for even minimal
preparations, and that the disciples have their walking sticks at hand
and Jesus knows this.
Can ktaomai and airO have the meanings Miller attributes to them?
Yes. I looked them up on line in the Liddell and Scott Greek
English Lexicon (L&S), as well as in my copies of L&S abridged
and the Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. I'll just
give meanings from L&S because the other dictionaries didn't
contain any meanings that aren't in L&S.
ktaomai--procure for oneself, get, acquire; procure or get for another
There are other meanings, but they are irrelevant to this discussion
because they do not apply to the present tense, which is the tense used
in the verse in question.
Miller's claim, that in Matthew Jesus is telling the disciples not to
get the items, could certainly be considered correct, but forbidding
the disciples from getting the items has the effect of telling the
disciples not to take the items with them. In this context, take seems
to be a perfectly reasonable choice for the translation.
When we get to the verb airO, things start to get a little dicey.
Miller says that in Mark 6:8-9, the verb airO means "to pick up and
carry." L&S gives the following meanings for airO:
to lift, raise up, take up, take up and carry or bring, wear (clothes),
lift and take away, remove, take away, destroy, undergo, undertake
There are a few meanings I didn't included that are context-dependent,
such as weigh, as in "weigh the anchor," but they aren't relevant to
Obviously, airO does have the meaning of pick up and carry. So Miller
says that Mark has Jesus telling the disciples to pick up and carry
their staffs, (which they must already have, says Miller, because Jesus
forbids them to go get staffs), but not to pick up and carry bread, a
sack, or money, (which, presumably, they could pick up and carry if
they were at hand since they are permitted to pick up the staffs
because they are at hand). Remember, Miller has already told us that
the reason Jesus forbids the disciples to go get the prohibited items
is because there isn't time, and the reason they are permitted to pick
up staffs, even though they are forbidden to go get staffs, is because
they have staffs at hand.
Why does Jesus forbid the disciples from fetching something they
already have, and why does he forbid them to fetch items that he
prohibits them from picking up or to pick up items he forbids them to
fetch? Well, in Miller's mind it give the appearance that the
contradiction has been resolved. So what if it makes Jesus look like a
That brings us to Luke 9:3 and its use of airO. This is where
Miller argues that airO doesn't mean airO. According to Miller,
in Mark 6:8-9, airO means "to pick up and carry," but in Luke 9:3, airO
means something else; it means the same as "ktaomai" in Matthew
10:9-10, i.e., airO means "to acquire" in the sense of to hunt for and
obtain. No such meaning is given for airO in L&S, but Miller
cites Luke17:31 to support his argument. (More on this later.)
If Luke's audience would be misled if Luke had used ktaomai to mean "to
acquire" in the sense of to hunt for and obtain because he uses it
elsewhere to mean "to acquire" in a financial sense, wouldn't his
audience also be misled by his use of the verb airO to mean "to
acquire" (in the nonfinancial sense) when he uses it elsewhere to mean
"to pick up and carry"?
Miller writes a lot about why Luke couldn't use ktaomai and says that
Luke couldn't mean airO in the same sense as Mark because elsewhere he,
Luke, uses bastazO to mean carry. In other words, Mark's airO = Luke's
bastazO." However, he goes on to list four instances where Luke uses
airO in the sense of "to pick up and carry," but he dismisses these
because they are all passages that appear in all three synoptics. It
seems that Luke just didn't have much flexibility in changing the
wording in these shared passages.
What other evidence does Miller provide to support his assertion that
airO means "to acquire" in Luke 9:3? He cites Luke 17:31: "On
that day, a person who is on the housetop and whose belongings are in
the house must not go down to get them…." But Mark 13:16 uses airO in
the exact same sense as Luke 17:31: "And a person in a field must not
return to get his cloak…." How do we know that Mark 6:8-9 doesn't use
airO in the same sense as Luke17:31? Miller gives no explanation
for this, even though he mentions the verse. He want to eat his cake
and have it, too.
Although I wrote a lot more, I am not including it because it just
elaborates on what I have written above. I'll just summarize my
criticism of Miller's attempted resolution of this contradiction.
Miller's attempt to resolve the contradiction fails for a number of
(1) He fails to make a compelling argument for giving airO in Mark 6:8
a different meaning from airO in Luke 9. The reason he gives for the
meaning he chooses for Luke (airO = to get in Luke 17:31) also applies
to Mark (airO = to get in Mark 13:16), a problem he doesn't address.
(2) His assertion that Luke couldn't use ktaomai because it would
mislead his readers is not compelling because the same argument would
apply to the verb that Luke did use, i.e., airO.
(3) He provides no evidence to support his presumption that Jesus
forbids the disciples to prepare for the journey because of the
time involved; to the contrary, the text itself strongly implies Jesus
forbids the preparations in order to make the point that God will
(4) His argument that the disciples already had staffs begs the
question because he is assuming that which he must prove.
(5) Even if Miller's distinction between acquiring and picking up and
carrying objects were applicable, it would make no difference because
the act of prohibiting acquisition effectively prohibits picking up and
I'm certain there are other reasons that Miller's attempted resolution
fails, and I request comments and criticisms. Fire away.