Traveling without a bag

Read the previous post, Treasures old and new, for an introduction to this one.

Recently I was reading a section in Light From the Ancient East by Adolf Deissman about the value of understanding the meaning of New Testament words through words in common use in New Testament times.

Deissman takes up the account of Jesus sending out the twelve and shows how one simple word is understood better through the use of documents from the same time period.

Jesus said to the disciples,

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. (Matthew 10:8-10 NASB)

See also Mark 6:8 (the KJV uses scrip for the Greek pera) and Luke 9:3; 22:35-36.

A path at Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A path at Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Below is the rather lengthy quotation from Deissman which I have in the Libronix format now. Because of the length of this paragraph I will not indent it as we normally do, and will divide it into three paragraphs for ease of reading.


One of the characteristic utterances of Jesus has here been handed down, not without variations, but still in such form that the original can be discerned beneath them: the apostles were told to take with them for their journey only the barest necessaries, among which was to be reckoned neither money nor bread. According to St. Matthew’s report they were further forbidden even to earn money on their way, as they might have done by working miracles of healing, etc. The meaning of the “wallet” (A.V. “scrip”) has seldom been questioned, because it seems so obvious: most commentators probably think of it as a travelling-bag, or, more precisely defined, as a bread-bag.

The word in the original Greek, πήρα, is capable of either meaning, according to circumstances. In the context “travelling-bag” would do very well; “bread-bag” not so well, being superfluous after the mention of “bread,” and tautology seems out of place in these brief, pointed commands given by Jesus. But there is a special meaning, suggested by one of the monuments, which suits the context at least as well as the more general sense of “bag” or “travelling-bag.” The monument in question was erected in the Roman Imperial period at Kefr-Hauar in Syria by a person who calls himself, in the Greek inscription, a “slave” of the Syrian goddess. “Sent by the lady,” as he says himself, this heathen apostle tells of the journeys on which he went begging for the “lady” and boasts triumphantly that “each journey brought in seventy bags.”

The word here employed is πήρα. Of course it has nothing to do with well-filled provision-bags for the journey: it clearly means the beggar’s collecting-bag. The same special meaning would make excellent sense in our text, particularly in St. Matthew’s version: there is to be no earning, and also no begging of money. With this possible explanation of the word πήρα the divine simplicity of Jesus stands out afresh against the background suggested by the heathen inscription. While Christianity was still young the beggar-priest was making his rounds in the land of Syria on behalf of the national goddess. The caravan conveying the pious robber’s booty to the shrine lengthens as he passes from village to village, and assuredly the lady will not forget her slave. In the same age and country One who had not where to lay His head sent forth His apostles, saying:—

“Freely ye received, freely give. Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses: no wallet for your journey.”


I was looking at some material on the financial support of preachers. John encouraged his readers to receive those who come preaching the gospel. He says,

You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. (3 John 1:6-7)

The Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament points out the difference between those who went out preaching the message of Christ and those who were out for the money. The preachers of Christ were to be supported by fellow Christians. This was “in marked contrast both to the wandering philosophers of the day and to the beggar priests of the Syrian goddess” [mentioned by Deissmann].

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