Questions From Readers
● Some modern Bibles at Luke 10:1 say that Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples, but my Bible says seventy. Why is there a difference?
The difference results from the fact that ancient manuscript evidence is divided as to the number of disciples Jesus sent out.
Some ancient Greek manuscripts and versions in other languages read “seventy-two” at Luke 10:1, 17, which mentions the sending out and returning of disciples. This evidence includes the codex Vaticanus (1209) of the fourth century, the codex Bezae (Cantabrigensis) of the fifth or the sixth century, the Latin Vulgate and some Syriac versions. On this basis certain translators have departed from the reading “seventy” and used instead “seventy-two.” The New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible are two recent examples. Even scholars Westcott and Hort chose to use this number in the Greek text that they prepared.
However, there is an abundance of weighty manuscript support for the reading “seventy.” That is the reading found in the fourth-century codex Sinaiticus, which is customarily accorded “primacy of position in the list of New Testament manuscripts.” “Seventy” is the reading also of the codex Alexandrinus, the codex Ephraemi and the Syriac Peshitta, all of the fifth century. Also, Jesus sent out “seventy” disciples according to a third-century papyrus (Chester Beatty 1).—The Text of the New Testament (1968).
Accordingly, many reputable Bible versions retain the well-supported and familiar reading “seventy.” The New World Translation reads: “After these things the Lord designated seventy others and sent them forth by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come.”—Luke 10:1; compare Revised Standard Version, American Standard Version and the translations by R. Weymouth, R. Rieu, K. Wuest, W. Barclay.
Bible scholars have offered various ideas as to how an early copyist might have made the slip that resulted in this slight numerical difference. But a consideration of this technical variation of the readings at Luke 10:1 should not detract from the main import of what the manuscripts show.
The abundance of ancient manuscripts and versions agree in all fundamentals, verifying that Jesus did send out a large group of disciples. We have a distinct record of why they were sent, what they were assigned to do and how they reacted upon their return. That such a complete account should reach us after nearly two thousand years certainly does evidence God’s preservation of his Word.