Article Information

Dieter T. Roth1,2

1Department of New Testament Studies, Johannes Guttenberg−Universität, Germany

2Department of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa

This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the ‘Prestige FOCUS Conference on Mission and Ethics’ held at the University of Pretoria, South Africa from 14−16 September, 2011 in my capacity as a research associate of Prof. Dr Kobus Kok in the Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria in the research field of mission and ethics.

Correspondence to:

Dieter Roth

Postal address:
Kaiserstr. 34, 55116 Mainz, Germany

Received: 09 Jan. 2012
Accepted: 13 Mar. 2012
Published: 29 June 2012

How to cite this article:
Roth, D.T., 2012, ‘Missionary Ethics in Q 10:2−12’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 68(1), Art. #1215, 7 pages.

Copyright Notice:
© 2012. The Authors. Licensee: AOSIS OpenJournals.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Missionary Ethics in Q 10:2−12
In This Original Research...
Open Access
The parable in Q 10:2
Q 10:3
Q 10:4-12
   • Competing interests

Elements of the mission discourse of the Synoptic Gospels are found in Mark 6:6b−13; Matthew 9:35−10:15; Luke 9:1−6 and Luke 10:1−20. Similarities and differences in these accounts have led many New Testament scholars to posit the presence of a mission discourse in Q. This discourse, along with the parable that introduces it (Q 10:2), provides insight into how Q conceives of ‘mission’ as well as the ethical principles and precepts that are part of Jesus’ missional charge in this document. Through an intertextual approach to Q, with particular emphasis on narrative structure and imagery, this paper considered the interplay of mission and ethics in this early Christian text.


In his 1983 work Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity, Martin Hengel wrote ‘the history and theology of earliest Christianity are “mission history” and “mission theology”’ (Hengel 1983:64). Within this context, the mission discourse in Q has played, and continues to play a significant role.1 Catchpole observes ‘every study of Q, its theology, its community setting, its purpose, and the history of the traditions it contains accepts that the mission charge (Q 10:2−16) is both sensitive and significant as a pointer to all those concerns’ (Catchpole 1993:151). Fleddermann (2005:426) notes that the mission discourse ‘serves as a lightning rod in contemporary Q studies because for many scholars it opens up a window into the Q community’. The question posed here is whether the mission discourse in Q, in addition to offering insight into a ‘mission history’ and ‘mission theology’ in early Christianity, may also provide a glimpse of principles operative in what could be termed a type of ‘missionary ethics.’2 In the following article, my focus falls in particular upon verses 2−12, even though the discourse continues with the woes in verses 13−15 and concludes with the statement in verse 16. In considering Q 10:2−12, the article begins with the parable in Q 10:2,3 then considers the ‘sending word’ of Q 10:3, and finally reflects upon the instructions found in Q 10:4−12.

The parable in Q 10:2

The parable concerning workers for the harvest is found in Luke as one of two introductory statements to the mission discourse, whereas in Matthew the initial commissioning and listing of the twelve disciples (Mt 10:1−4) falls between this parable (Mt 9:37−38) and the sending out of the disciples (Mt 10:5). Though it is the essentially unanimous view that Luke’s order follows Q here (Braun 1991:279−280; Fleddermann 2005:403; Uro 1987:25−26; Vaage 1987:72), whether or not the parable immediately preceded the mission instructions does not alter the fact that its imagery governs at least a component of the missional conception in Q.

If, within the ‘implicit ethics’ framework, one begins with a consideration of the linguistic form,4 it is significant that the discourse begins, not with a list of imperatives, but with a picture within a parable. One can, therefore, speak of an aesthetic entry point into questions concerning the ethical framework of the mission discourse. The communicative point of contact is not an abstract deduction or syllogism, but rather a vivid depiction of everyday realities. For the parable, most of the wording appears verbatim in Matthew and Luke, and it is clear that the image of the θερισμός features prominently: the θερισμός is described as πολύς and there is a κυρίος τοῦ θερισμοῦ, to whom the harvest belongs (θερισμός αὐτοῦ). Further underscoring the significance of the image is the fact that it appears at the outset, in the middle, and at the end of this brief parable. This observation immediately raises the question of what precisely is envisioned with the image of a ‘harvest’. Marshall (1978:416) rightly notes that θερισμός can be the crop of the harvest itself (cf. Rv 14:5), or the process or time of harvesting (cf. Mt 13:30, 39; Mk 4:29; Jn 4:35). As is well known, the time of the harvest as an image of the time of the eschatological judgement has a rich background in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple literature (cf. Is 18:5; Jl 4:13; Mi 4:12; Is 27:12; 2 Bar 70:2; 4 Ezr 4:28–32).5 In addition, in order to understand the harvest image in Q 10:2, the importance of other uses of the image in Q is regularly highlighted (Horsley & Draper 1999:242). Often, reference is made especially to John the Baptist’s speech in Q 3:7−9, 16−17, and the eschatological judgement spoken of there being presented with harvest imagery. For this reason, the conclusion is usually drawn, as expressed by Catchpole:

That the harvest metaphor is used so frequently with the End in mind must favor the view that Q 10:2 does the same, and in so doing it could
endorse the proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom which was central to the main body of the mission charge. (Catchpole 1993:164; cf. also
Braun 1991:310 and Horsely & Draper 1999:242)

At the same time, however, it is important to note that rather differently than in the John the Baptist speech, the focus here is not on the temporal nearness of the harvest, nor is there any explicit reference to judgement of any sort. For this reason, some caution is warranted in here positing the presence of a clear or straightforward image of eschatological judgement or the eschatological gathering of Israel (cf. Nolland 1993:550). Of course, I do not wish to dispute that the image assumes that the time of the harvest, understood eschatologically, has come and that there is a certain urgency in bringing the harvest in. Kim (1990:275) may well be right in contending, ‘In dem Spruch geht es um das endzeitliche Bewußtsein der urchristlichen Q-Gemeinde und ihren gegenwärtigen Missionsauftrag. Hier wird das Selbstverständnis der Q-Gemeinde als endzeitliche Sendungs- und Sammlungsgemeinde dargestellt’. And yet, the temporal component remains in the background. The primary component of the use of the image here in the opening of the parable, and that which is brought into the foreground, is not the time or nearness of the harvest, but rather the size of the harvest.6 The harvest is πολύς.

In antiquity, the conception of the size of the harvest was measured in relation to the seed that had been sown (Zimmermann 2007c:112−113), though interestingly, here the imagery is simply one of ‘plenty’ without definite reference to a specific multifold harvest. The reason for this focus upon the plentiful harvest is revealed as the parable continues; the joy that would usually be associated with the blessing of a large harvest is immediately tempered by the paucity of workers for the harvest. Thus, the implied hearer or reader of this parable is offered a vision of ripe fields devoid of workers, which would seem to imply that the harvest is in danger of being ruined (cf. 1 Sm 12:17; Pr 26:1; Theophrastus, De causis plantarum 4.13.6). This danger reveals that even if the issue of time is not the foremost component in the image, there is, nevertheless, a sense of urgency connected with the image: there is a plentiful harvest that, without workers, may be lost (Venetz 1980: 152–153). Again, however, the emphasis is not on a need existing because the harvest is near, but rather because the harvest is large.7 In other words, the (eschatological) time of the harvest is simply a given, and it seems that one could legitimately assume that the parable implies that if the harvest were smaller the few workers might be sufficient, but since the harvest is large more workers are needed.8

It is at this point that the underlying and implied narrative of the parable takes an interesting turn. Different from the scenario in which the harvest in question is found in one’s own field, in nearly every imaginable instance there is precious little that can be done about the harvest in someone else’s field. One cannot simply charge into someone’s field and start harvesting. So, can nothing be done? Quite the contrary, in the narrative progression of the parable, there is an immediate call for the reader or hearer to do something, namely, to petition the κυρίος τοῦ θερισμοῦ to send workers into the harvest. In other words, the opening image of the parable illustrates the need that leads into a particular, and somewhat surprising, imperative. Consonant with the agricultural image, nothing can be done about the time of the harvest. The only variable that can be changed is the number of workers sent out to bring the harvest in. And yet, this call to petition for an increase in the number of workers sent out to bring in the harvest presents a significant curiosity. Why should the one to whom the harvest belongs need to be asked to send sufficient workers to reap the harvest? Does not even the most basic economic interest include a strong impetus to bring in the harvest? Perhaps, however, it is precisely this curiosity that points to an interest beyond an economic concern and a reality beyond an annual grain harvest. As Zimmermann (2007c:112) points out, the ‘Begriff κυρίος … ist für die Rezipienten der Parabel unschwer als die Gottesbezeichnung zu erkennen. So wird Gott, der HERR, in der greich. Übersetzung des AT genannt.’9 He further observes: ‘Auch der Begriff “Sendung” ist im urchristlichen Sprachgebrauch ein theologisches Signalwort’ (Zimmermann 2007c:112). Therefore, the hearer may well begin recognising that the imperative to ‘ask’ of the κυρίος to send workers has a deeper meaning as a prayer to the Lord to commission labourers,10 and that the harvest, which belongs to the κυρίος, has a deeper meaning of those individuals belonging to the Lord.

Of significance is that the conclusion of the parable does not merely present a way out of a present difficulty ‘by tracing the Christian mission back to God who as Lord of the harvest calls and sends laborers into his mission’, (Fleddermann 2005:429) but also clearly demands action on the part of the hearer. Noteworthy, and setting the stage for specific ethical considerations to follow, in response to a plentiful harvest but a paucity of workers, the action required is one that, when done, expresses dependence upon God. Thus, Fitzmyer (1985:844) only captures part of the point in his statement, ‘The success of the harvest will depend not only on the disciple’s cooperation, but also on their prayer’, for, as Nolland (1993:551) correctly notes, ‘All depends finally on the initiative of the farm owner, who must take responsibility for orchestrating the harvest [author’s own emphasis]’. Action is indeed required, but it is the ‘dependent’ action of prayer; this petition must be offered, but ultimately the plentiful harvest can only be brought in if the lord of the harvest hears the plea for more workers and sends them.

Q 10:3

The ‘sending word’ in Q 10:3 is found immediately after the above-discussed parable in Luke, but after the series of mission instructions in Matthew (Mt 10:16). In addition, Luke refers to ἄρνας ἐν μέσῳ λύκων whereas Matthew speaks of πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων. The general consensus is that Luke is following Q’s order and that Matthew may have preserved Q’s wording; however, once again, regardless of the saying’s placement or whether lambs or sheep are mentioned, the invoked imagery in Matthew and Luke is essentially the same. In addition, even if the connection with the parable is more overtly obvious in the Lukan order where the saying immediately follows, the same connection in regards to the issue of ‘sending’ also exists in Matthew despite intervening material.

The first point to notice here is that whereas the ‘you’ in Q 10:2 were asked to petition the lord of the harvest to send workers, here it is Jesus who sends the ‘you’. It appears to many that some type of ‘settled community’ is implied in verse 2 and that a different, ‘itinerant’ group is in view in verse 3 For this reason the literature is replete with discussion about the change of audience or change of setting between verses 2 and 3 (cf. Zeller 1982:404), even if there are also blunt statements like the one by Horsley and Draper (1999), who rather pointedly state:

… the move from a petition to ‘the lord of the harvest’ to send out (more) laborers in Q 10:2 to the declaratory sending of
(more) laborers in 10:3 would be only appropriate if not expected. Detection of a discrepancy between these two closely related steps in the
standard mission discourse is an inappropriate application of modern Western logic of literary compositional consistency and is perhaps rooted in
a lack of class analysis. (p. 242)

I have little interest in beginning to travel the ‘Q redactional road’ or in positing and attempting to analyse a supposed Q1, Q2, Q3, et cetera, and simply want to highlight, as Kloppenborg (2000:183) observes, ‘while Q may contain some materials directed to itinerants, in the present form it is the product of a settled group or groups’. At the same time, it can be asked why only ‘settled’ groups who are engaged in sending and supporting missionaries should be envisioned as praying to the Lord to send workers into the harvest?11 As Marshall (1978:416) astutely observes, ‘it is in fact missionaries themselves who are most conscious of the need for more workers’. Furthermore, Zimmermann (2007c:116) notes that through the appeal structure of the parable, those who are praying for workers may themselves become more acutely aware of the need and end up presenting themselves to be sent into the field.

Regardless of how one views these issues, it is clear that Q 10:2 has depicted God as the one ‘sending’ workers, and that this commissioning is reiterated in Q 10:3 by Jesus (cf. Kloppenborg Verbin 2000:393). Particularly significant here is that a ‘functional equivalence’ between God and Jesus can be recognised in that ‘God’s sending is involved in his [Jesus’] sending’ (Catchpole 1993:161; also Schlosser 2001:304). More important, in terms of the present question involving missionary ethics, is the image employed for those who are sent. Those being sent are lambs or sheep amongst wolves. Though the word Bildwort is not without its problems (Zimmermann 2008), Wolter (2008:378) summarises the impact of this image nicely: ‘Das Bildwort wird demnach von kulturellem Alltagswissen gespeist, denn jeder kann sich vorstellen, wie es Lämmern ergeht, die in ein Wolfsrudel geraten’. Once again, the image is a standard one in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple literature, not only for hostility (cf. 4 Ezr 5:18; 1 Ec 89:14, 18−20; Pss. Sol. 8:23), but also as an image of peace when the wolf and lamb will dwell together in eschatological peace (cf. Is 11:6; 65:25). Of course, the image is also found elsewhere in the ancient world with references found in Aesop’s Fables (158), Herodotus (Hist. 4:149), and Ovid (Ars amatoria 3:8, 419), amongst others (cf. Labahn 2010:521; Vaage 1987:307–308). In any case, the prevalence of the tradition allows Horsley and Draper (1999:244) rightly to conclude that it was a ‘standard image in Israelite tradition with which the hearers of this discourse would have resonated metonymically’.

At the same time, however, the scholarly literature offers various views on what precisely is being pictured in this ‘standard image’. Vaage (1987), forcing the image through his ‘Cynic paradigm’, offers the unlikely view that this image expresses a contrast of character and that:

at issue is ethical integrity. Can the ’sheep‘ whom Q represents maintain their way of life? … The persons whom Q represents
are warned, in other words, that they will be in situations which threaten their moral endurance. (p. 312)

Dunn (2003:562) draws closer to the significance of the image in stating ‘suffering was to be the lot of the messenger, as a sheep amongst wolves (Mt 10:16 or Lk 10:3)’; yet, it does not seem that the element of suffering is in the foreground here, but rather the picture of imminent danger. Fitzmyer (1985:2, 844) seems to be on the right track by highlighting that the workers ‘are … being sent out like lambs amongst wolves, i.e. defenseless, weak creatures, whose status will always be precarious when strong confrontation and attack are imminent.’12

Here it becomes interesting to consider the options of the hearers or readers when confronted with this foreboding image. Two possible responses present themselves, (1) recognising the danger that the image depicts, the ‘sheep’ can attempt to make preparations to be equipped to confront the danger, or (2) the ‘sheep’ can trust that it has a good shepherd who will be able to ward off the attack. Interestingly, this latter thought appears in later Rabbinic tradition regarding Israel and its enemies as recorded in the section toledot in the Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu: ‘Hadrian said to R. Joshua [c. 90 CE]: “Mighty is the lamb [Israel] that can survive among seventy wolves.” And he replied: “Mighty is the shepherd who can save and protect the lamb, and destroy the wolves surrounding her”’ (Berman 1996:169). Schulz (1977:413), however, is correct in saying that within the narrow confines of the image itself, ‘die Verheißung göttlichen Schutzes ist [nicht] der Skopos dieser Aussendungsrede, sondern die scharfe Warnung im Blick auf ihre außeroredentliche Gefärdung.’ At the same time, the reality of this situation does raise the question of the required action within the context of the mission in Q. What ought the ‘sheep’ to do? It is with this question in mind that the following verses are particularly significant (cf. Kloppenborg 1987:194), for they provide the answer to the question of what conduct Q envisions for the ‘sheep’.

Q 10:4−12

It is well known that in this series of mission instructions there are numerous exegetical questions and several important images including the εἰρήνη/υἱος εἰρήνης (cf. Klassen 1980−1981: 496−497; Uro 1987:137–141) and ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ/τῶν οὐρανῶν, amongst others. In addition, there are a few elements in Luke (Lk 10:4b, 7c, 8b,13 11b) unique to Luke, and a few elements in Matthew (Mt 10:5−6, 8b) unique to Matthew, which have been debated as to their presence in Q. Though these issues are not insignificant, consonant with the focus of this study, the primary concern in the discussion of these verses remains related to the issue of ‘missionary ethics’ and the elements which both Luke and Matthew incorporated into their gospels.

Given the image highlighting the danger of ‘sheep among wolves’, it is interesting that Q 10:4 does not offer advice as to what should be done, but rather indicates what should not be done. The precise Q text is a bit difficult to discover due to the influence from Mark, though it appears likely that Matthew’s δύο χιτῶνας (Mt 10:10) has come from Mark 6:9, and that the prohibition of a ῥάβδος was found in Q, even if Luke only mentions this element in Luke 9:3 and not in Luke 10:4. In any case, the instructions here imply the thought, ‘Given that you are heading into danger, this is what you should not do.’ You should not acquire or carry14 funds in order to acquire provisions.15 You should not carry a bag for provisions.16 You should not have sandals.17 And, in all likelihood, Q indicates that you should not have a rod or staff. In the light of these commands, the observation by Tashjian (1987) is a propos:

Ethical radicalism characterizes the Q messengers at the earliest stage … In the mission instructions the injunction to take no silver, no
purse, no bag, no sandals, no staff (10:4) is to be understood as having its social setting in situations of life that are extreme, to say the
least. (p. 638)

An important question, however, arises when one inquires as to the governing norms, maxims, and values for these instructions.

On the one hand, Catchpole (1993:182−184) connects the prohibitions primarily with the beatitudes and sees in the action ‘an identification with those to whom the message of the kingdom is directed’. Though these connections to Q 6:20−21 are important, it is not clear that the primary normative thrust is an identification with those to whom the kingdom is preached. The action required in Q 10:2 was one that expressed both active engagement and complete dependence in order to have workers sent into the field. The sending of those workers was then presented in terms of an image highlighting acute danger. Here, the activity again seems to necessitate active engagement and the posture of utter dependence. You pray, but the ‘Lord of the Harvest’ must send. You go, but, to mix the metaphors, the ‘Lord of the Harvest’ has to make sure that you do not get eaten by wolves in the field! That these actions also have relevance for the interaction with others is clear; however, particularly with a view towards the implicit ethical discourse, the commands are not being driven by the idea ‘be like your audience’.18 Thus, the instructions are not formulated with an audience-based teleological focus. That is, it is not so that one is able to identify with and be like the audience that these instructions carry ethical force and validity. On the other hand, it also seems that the radical rejection of possessions is not first and foremost illustrating the pressing stringency of the final, apocalyptic mission (cf. Schulz 1977:414−415), even if this element is part of the image.19 Again, the eschatological background to the mission is not insignificant; however, it, once more, does not appear to be the driving norm behind the commands.

Rather, it is significant that it is precisely the typical equipment that would provide protection, sustenance, and the ability to procure sustenance that is prohibited. As Hoffmann (1972:324) rightly notes, ‘Jedes einzelne Verbot der Ausrüstungsregel brachte für denjenigen, der es realisieren wollte, größte Ungesichertheit und Entbehrung’. At this point it may be relevant to note the way in which Q 10:4 has played a role as one of several passages discussed in debates concerning a ‘cynic-like Jesus’ or ‘cynic-like Q’. Numerous scholars have argued both for and against understanding cynicism as an apt analogy for understanding Jesus or Q, and the details of the plethora of issues involved in the discussion cannot be considered here.20 Kloppenborg Verbin (2000) has noted an important point in the discussion, however, highlighting that for advocates of the cynic hypothesis:

the point is not one of identity or homology but of analogy: to compare the Q people with Cynics allows one to see in Q a
critical posture, a rootlessness, experimentation, and playfulness. It is not an argument about ’influence‘ or
genealogy. (p. 189)

Though these elements are significant in considering the social location of Q, in terms of the implicit missionary ethics, it is actually another posture that seems to be of greatest importance, and one that distinguishes the workers here rather profoundly from cynic philosophers. Tuckett (1996), in comments on Q 12:22−31 rightly observes the ‘radical difference’ in the underlying ethos in Q and amongst cynics:

With cynics, the ethos is to give up one’s possessions and live a life of austerity and physical deprivation in the belief that that life as
such will provide true and lasting happiness and fulfillment. Moreover the ideal for the cynic is a life of self-sufficiency
(αὐτάρκεια) and independence from the rest of society. In Q the ethos is radically different: it
is to encourage not independence, but dependence—upon God.21 (p. 389)

Though Gaechter’s (1963:325) view of the commands as merely ‘hyperbolic instructions’ emphasising the greatest possible simplicity of equipment in the mission is likely incorrect, he rightly summarises: ‘Der klare Sinn des Wortes ist, daß die Sendboten Jesu nicht für sich sorgen, sondern ihr ganzes Vertrauen auf Gott richten sollen’. There may, therefore, be at least a certain teleological component in the instructions in that certain injunctions are placed upon the workers precisely with the goal that they be fully dependent on the one who sent them. Fleddermann’s (2005:431) conclusion captures the fundamental reasoning behind this model of dependence: ‘Just as God provides laborers for the harvest (v. 2bc), God will provide for the laborers sent into the harvest’.

Yet, it is also important to note, as Tiwald (2002:123) puts it, ‘Die ipsissima praxis Jesu (völliges Gottvertrauen angesichts des Anbruchs des Gottesreiches) wird zum Archetypus wanderradikaler Mission.’ In other words, there is also the example of Jesus, which is part of the context of the instructions. Perhaps here there could also be a certain deontological element to the instructions from the vantage point of the duty to be like Jesus when one presents the message given by Jesus. There is, therefore, clearly an element of ‘kingdom ethics’ in the required behaviour of the missionary workers: being involved in the labour of proclaiming the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed necessitates a certain behavioural norm.

At the same time, there is a potential danger in overemphasising just one element in the list of prohibitions. For example, Tiwald, focusing on the prohibition of a rod or staff with which a traveller would protect himself or herself, states ‘Mit ihrer unübersehbaren und irritierenden Feindesliebe werden die Wandercharismatiker zum realsymbolischen Zeichen der hereinbrechenden basileia.’ This seems to come rather close to reading a pacifistic idea into the text. It is not at all clear that ‘loving ones enemies’ or a ‘pacifistic’ idea coupled with the ‘peace’ greeting (Lk 10:5) is in view here.22 Though Tiwald also recognises the significance of the other symbolic actions, he seems to (over)emphasise a pacifistic reading.23 The fact that a worker has no rod with which to defend himself against a ‘wolf’ does not mean that no defence against a ‘wolf’ will take place or that, as will be seen, no judgement will fall upon a ‘wolf’. It is, rather, that this action falls to God to perform and not to the worker. Nevertheless, Tiwald (2002:156) is right to see in the actions ‘einen Ausdruck des vollen und uneingeschränkten Gottvertrauens’ and that that which they depict is ‘der Anbruch des Gottesreiches, den die Wanderradikalen mit ihrer ganzen Existenz zeichenhaft-realsymbolisch verkörpern’. Lying behind the images is the goal, again quoting Tiwald (2002:160−161), ‘das anbrechende Gottestreich realsymbolisch (gleich einem atl תוֹא) vorwegzunehmen und sein sicheres Eintreffen zu erwarten.’

Having just adumbrated the issue of God’s action in Q 10:5−12, there are a few more points to make before coming to the conclusion. Once again, even though there are some differences in the Matthean and Lukan accounts, it is clear that as the workers enter houses or towns with their message and ministry of healing they will be confronted with one of two possible responses: acceptance or rejection. In the light of the development of the instructions dealing with missionary conduct thus far, it is interesting to note the behaviour now enjoined in these two scenarios. In the case of the acceptance of the missionary and the message, the workers are to accept lodging and provision by the inhabitants.24 Of note is the sentiment that this acceptance is justified because the labourer deserves his food (Matthew) or wage (Luke). Despite the slightly different context and slightly different wording in Matthew and Luke, the basic idea remains the same (cf. Park 1995:114). At the same time, a moment’s reflection reveals the manner in which the opening image of Q 10:2 is now operating. The lord of the harvest sent the workers into the harvest, and now it is the ‘harvest’ itself that pays the labourers. In this way, the ownership of the harvest by the ‘Lord of the harvest’ is affirmed and extended in that the gathering of the harvest into the kingdom results in the possessions and provisions of those who have been gathered being at the disposal of the lord of the harvest in order to remunerate the workers in the harvest. In other words, it is because the lord of the harvest has a harvest that the workers of the harvest can be paid. In a certain sense then, the saying that the labourer in the harvest is worthy of payment from the harvest ‘provides the rationale for the prohibition of travel gear’ (Park 1995:113); there is no need for any provisions along the way for the labourer ‘is to receive this provision as God’s payment to his harvest worker’ (Nolland 1993:553).25 Note how the labourer cannot create the harvest upon which his wage is dependent, but must rather believe that the lord of the harvest has a harvest plentiful enough to provide for his provision as payment. In essence, as Marshall (1978:418) puts it, ‘the disciples were to be a striking example of faith in God to supply their needs’.

There is, however, also the possibility that the message and the messenger will not be received. That is to say, one may and will encounter a wolf in the field. In this instance, the labourers receive the instruction to depart and shake the dust off of their feet. Regardless of the precise interpretation one gives to this command (cf. Gregg 2006:95−96), the ultimate meaning of the gesture, particularly in the light of Q 10:12, is transparent: there is a proclamation of judgement upon those who reject the messenger and the message. As already hinted at above, the messenger does not directly execute judgement, but rather performs a sign symbolising the fact that God will judge. As in the case of the call to prayer, where one is to pray but is ultimately dependent upon God’s action in response, the action of removing the dust from one’s feet is ultimately dependent on God bringing about the action symbolised.

One final point to note here is that nowhere does Q seem to give any indication that a goal of bringing in as large a harvest as possible could lead to the mission being conducted differently. Peace is to be offered, healing to be done, the kingdom of God proclaimed – all from a posture of complete dependence upon the one who sent the missionary. As such the message and messenger will either be accepted or rejected. Rejection, however, is not to be met with a change in posture or tactics so that perhaps, in some way, an initial rejection could become a subsequent acceptance. One could therefore say that the mission is framed in a set of absolutes where the duty of the labourer is to perform the required actions and then, much as in apocalyptic thought, look to God to either heal or judge. The conduct of the labourers cannot be subordinated to the mission to ‘bring in the harvest’.


Clearly, the missionary ethics of Q 10:2–12 reflects Q’s conception both of the principles and ethos of the kingdom. Without a doubt the eschatological expectation is one component of how the values governing the mission task in the kingdom are determined in Q; however, it appears that the governing norm for workers in the harvest and labourers for and in the kingdom is an utter and radical dependence upon God. It is noteworthy, as Kloppenborg Verbin (2000) puts it, that:

these diverse materials yield, by the algebra of association, a Christocentric conclusion: it is the specific lifestyle, therapeutic practice and
kingdom message of Jesus that defines the activities of the ’workers’ and these are traced back ultimately to the
’sending’ of God. (p. 393)

There is, of course, a certain sense in which particulars of this ethical construct are restricted to a particular mission, and that the following of this prescribed missionary ethics is the ground upon which this particular missionary task is constructed. Yet, though on the one hand the ultimate principle upon which the specific commands are based reaches back into Q’s depiction of the life of the earthly Jesus, on the other hand, it also moves forward into the prayers, missionary activity, and life of early Christian communities.

Furthermore, it is interesting how Luke picks up on the images from this posture of dependence to highlight God’s provision in his account of Jesus’ words in the upper room in Luke 22:35. Here Jesus asks, ‘When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?’ And the disciples replied ‘No, nothing’. That retrospective view of God’s provision is not found in Q, and yet it highlights that Luke also understands the primary paradigm, even ‘ethical’ paradigm, as the performing of actions in which one reveals utter dependence upon God. I have contended that the workers themselves; their safety, protection, and sustenance; the positive response to their message; and the judgement for rejecting their message all centre on God’s action. And so, the actions required in the mission discourse of Q, and the implicit ethical reflection behind those actions, centre on the expression of dependence. As such, the mission discourse does not simply set forth an internal reliance or passive dependence upon God, but rather presents a clear, external and active ‘doing’ that at every turn expresses dependence upon the κυρίος τοῦ θερισμοῦ.

In short, Jesus in Q presents a basic principle of a posture of dependence for activity within the mission upon which he sends his disciples. With the specific context of a plentiful (eschatological) harvest this dependence is reflected in a set of imperatives involving prayer, being sent, and conduct along the way, each of which draws on traditional images from both the Hebrew Bible and everyday life in the ancient world. The ‘lord of the harvest,’ with a functional equivalence of God and Jesus, sends the workers forth within a certain ‘ethical superstructure’ of absolute dependence resulting in a radically lived ethos within the context of the early ‘mission field’. In this way, the governing norm in this ‘implicit ethics’ of the mission discourse leads to a better understanding of the rationale behind the concrete ‘missionary ethics’ in Q.


Competing interests
The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationship(s) which may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.


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1.Though there has been intense and renewed discussion concerning Q and other proposed solutions to the so-called ‘Synoptic Problem’ this article does not offer a defence of the existence of Q or for the two-source (or two-document) position, but rather presupposes it. At the same time, however, I am skeptical of the ability to reconstruct the precise wording of much of Q as highlighted in a recent paper I delivered at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz during the conference ‘Auf Fels oder Sand gebaut? Die Q-Forschung: Rückblicke - Einblicke – Ausblicke/Built on Rock or Sand?: Q Studies: Retrospects, Introspects and Prospects’ held from 20–23 July, 2011. The published version, entitled ‘Die Parabeln in der Logienquelle: “Alte” Probleme und “Neue” Ansätze’, will appear in the forthcoming conference volume to be published by Peeters. The analysis in this article, therefore, does not depend on any one reconstructed version of Q and seeks to develop insight into mission and ethics in Q by considering the ‘text’ of Q as an intertext between Matthew and Luke and not as a verbatim reconstructed ‘words on a page’ text of Q behind Matthew and Luke. In this way it is rather different from several longer studies of the mission discourse in Q (e.g. the doctoral dissertations Tashjian 1987; Uro 1987; Vaage 1987).

2.There is, of course, a significant debate concerning to what extent, if at all, New Testament (NT) ethics exist (cf., e.g. the overview in Keck 1996:3–16). The NT certainly does not offer a ‘Reflexionstheorie der Moral’ (Luhmann 1989:358–447) and technically, Uro (1987:125) may be correct in commenting on Q 10:4, for example: ‘The context of the saying is not an ethical teaching’. At the same time, however, one certainly finds implicit and explicit reasons for particular modes of behavior, which allows one, as Zimmermann (2007a:273) puts it, ‘von einer Handlungsbegründung im Sinne einer “Ethik” bzw. “impliziten Ethik” zu sprechen’. Cf. the introductory comments by Tso (2010:3) who rightly notes, ‘both Christians and Jews since antiquity have their own varied ethical systems, even when they do not explicitly describe them as such’.

3.For a helpful discussion and definition of parables cf. Zimmermann (2007b:25, 2009:170–173).

4.For the various elements in ‘implicit ethics’, see the ‘basic grid’ set forth by Zimmermann (2010:24–27).

5.Tiwald (2002:151) rightly cautions against moving too quickly into judgement imagery with the term θερισμός as only in Isa 18:5 is it used in the LXX as a metaphor for judgement. Nevertheless, the harvest imagery as image for the eschatological judgement, as Tiwald also recognises, is clear.

6.Though much of Tiwald’s discussion of the mission discourse in Q is helpful his perspective that ‘Quer durch die Aussendungsrede zieht sich eigentlich nur ein einziger roter Faden: die Naherwartung der basileia’ (2002:159) overemphasises that which is actually found in the background and not in the foreground of this introductory image. Cf. also Wolter 2008:378 contra D. Lührmann 1969:60.

7.For this reason, when Hoffmann (1972:291–292) states that ‘Nicht die “Weite des Missionsfeldes”, sondern die drängende Zeit veranlasst die Bitte an den Herrn der Ernte, Arbeiter in seine Ernte zu schicken’, he is correct in his first contention but incorrect, or at least unbalanced, in his second. Cf. also the overriding emphasis on ‘apocalyptic’ issues in Schulz (1977:410–411).

8.Uro (1987:209) is therefore correct in viewing the image, in a certain sense, as ‘optimistic’; however, the purpose of the image is not to reflect ‘optimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’ views, but rather to set the stage for the action of the hearers of the parable.

9.Though Zimmermann (2007c:115) is correct in noting that κυρίος τοῦ θερισμοῦ does not appear prior to this occurrence in the extant Greek literature, there are LXX references to κυρίος τοῦ λάκκου (Ex 21:34), κυρίος τοῦ οἴκου (Jdg 19:23), κυρίος τοῦ ὄρους (1 Ki 16:24) and a similar NT reference to a κυρίος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος (Mt 20:8; 21:40; Mk 12:9; Lk 20:13, 15). For this reason, it is not simply the term κυρίος τοῦ θερισμοῦ that signals a theological significance, but the term in context.

10.Interestingly, though δέομαι is often employed by Luke in Luke–Acts, Matthew uses it only in 9:38.

11.Catchpole (1993:159), though seeing verses 2 and 3 arising out of different contexts, also cautions against driving a wedge between ‘the mission of the wandering charismatics’ in a Jewish setting and a ‘church mission’ aimed at the conversion of Gentiles. Catchpole prefers to speak of ‘a settled but charismatic church sponsoring a charismatic mission’ (p. 160); however, even here one could inquire just how ‘settled’ a church must be in order to pray. In any case, Q, as available to Matthew and Luke, does not reflect a group of exclusively itinerant workers or ‘wandering charismatics’ (to use the term that has become commonplace since the influential article by Theißen 1973).

12.Cf. Hoffmann (1972:295): ‘Das Bild bringt ihre Wehrlosigkeit zum Ausdruck’.

13.Hoffman (1972:267–283) argues that in the Q mission the workers were only sent to houses and that Luke 10:8 was not in Q, but it is generally argued that the city mission was likely in Braun (1991:289), for example, contends that though there are redactional layers in Q, ‘the transition from the house- to a city-mission … appears to be an inner-Q compositional development’.

14.Whether κτάομαι [Matthew] or βαστάζω [Luke] or some other verb stood in Q does not alter the basic image of these items being on the person of the one being sent.

15.Luke (βαλλάντιον) and Matthew (χρυσός, ἄργυρος, χαλκός) offer the monetary image in different ways; however, there is no doubt that funds are in view.

16..Both Matthew and Luke refer to a πήρα. Marshall (1978:353) rightly notes that this is ‘a bag for carrying provision and other necessaries for a journey … rather than a beggar’s bag for collecting food’. So also Catchpole (1993:183, n. 90) and Tiwald (2002:158–159).

17.Both Matthew and Luke refer to ὑποδήματα. This, of course, is different from Mark 6:9.

18.In the context of responding to the contention by Jacobson (1982:422–423) and Uro (1987:168) that a prophetic call to repentance is to be found in the mission instructions of Q, Jervis (2002:319) points out that ‘the majority of the mission instructions … encourage the disciples not to call for repentance, but rather to be willing to be vulnerable to those to whom they go – to be like sheep, to be guests’. I find Jervis persuasive concerning the issue of repentance, but am not persuaded that ‘be vulnerable to your audience’ and ‘be a sheep’ are the driving imperatives in the text.

19.If the prohibition of greeting anyone on the road (Lk 10:4b) was in Q, and most scholars believe that it was, this command does point to some level of urgency for the mission. ‘Prima facie, it [this prohibition] seems to mean that the disciples are not to waste time on the mission talking to people because the harvest is ripe and has to be brought in before it spoils’ (Fitzmyer 1985:2, 847; cf. Jeremias 1979:133–134). Mention is often made of Elisha sending Gehazi, the urgency of whose task is also characterised by a prohibition of greeting anyone along the way (2 Kgs 4:29). The urgency is often understood to be present because of the nearness of the end, but Laufen (1980:282–283) argues that ‘bei isolierter Betrachtung der Rede der Schluß vom Motiv der Eile auf Naherwartung nicht zwingend ist, da sich die Mahnung zu eiligem Verkünden auch ohne Mutmaßungen über eventuelle Naherwartung gut erklären läßt. Es kann auch die Wichtigkeit der Botschaft sein, die Eile Gebietet’.

20.A helpful list of the various publications appearing from the late eighties to the late nineties can be found in Kloppenborg (2000:421nn. 11,12). The conversation has continued since the turn of the century as in, for example, Downing (2001:184–214); Tiwald (2002:140–150); Van Aarde (2003:533–556); and Droge (2008:249–269).

21.Cf. similar comments, with slightly different emphases, in Tuckett (1989:373–374). Fleddermann (2005:432) succinctly states, ‘The Equipment Rule reflects Q theology rather than Cynic philosophy’.

22.The point cannot be developed here, but the ‘peace’ offered in conjunction with the healing and proclamation of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God clearly is not some generic peace, but the pronouncement of the Lord’s peace, that is, the Lord’s salvation as in Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 2:1; or Zechariah 9:10 (cf. Wolter 2008:379).

23.A similar one-sided focus on ‘peace’ in a political sense is offered by Hoffmann (1972:324–336) (cf. also the criticism in Uro 1987:139).

24.This image is presented by both Matthew and Luke even if Luke contains further specifics concerning ‘eating’ not present in Matthew.

25.For this image drawing on customary Israelite imagery (Nm 18:30–31), see Horsley with Draper 1999:96.

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