***DISCLAIMER*** The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to answer the question.
Recently I was asked about an alleged paradox/contradiction between Matthew 10:10 and Mark 6:8. What follows is the verbatim question followed by my response.
There is a paradox on Mark 6:8 & Matthew 10:10 about staff. Commentaries say: “Save a staff only. –St. Matthew (Matthew 10:10) gives, “neither staves”—i.e., they were to take one only.” But in both Matthew 10:10 & Mark 6:8, it is singular in Greek text. Why is one word translated to staff in Mark 6:8 and translated to staves in Matthew 10:10?
This is a really good question.
One must consider who is speaking in each of the two passages. In the Matthew passage, Jesus is speaking as he says the following in Matthew 10:1-15 (NASB):
Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.
2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 9 Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. 11 And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. 12 As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13 If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. 14 Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
I underlined verse 5 to show the fact Jesus is speaking. I also underlined verse 10 since that is the verse in question.
Mark 6:7-13 features much less speaking from Jesus compared to the aforementioned Matthew passage, as shown. Furthermore, the verse in question has Mark speaking instead of Jesus:
And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.”10 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.”12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.
Here I underlined the verse in question (verse 8) and the brief instances that feature Jesus’ speaking. In verse 8, Mark explains what Jesus was telling the twelve.
Another thing to consider is the specific instruction in each passage. In the Matthew passage, Jesus is telling the twelve not to acquire a staff, among other things (some translations, such as the NASB and ESV, actually show the word “staff” instead of “staves”). To acquire something is to add to what exists. In the Mark passage, Mark explains how Jesus told the twelve not to take anything for the journey except a mere staff. This is tantamount to telling someone who already owns a staff to take it with him/her on a specific journey. Clearly, these are two different instructions. As a result, there really is no paradox. One need only to see who is speaking and what exactly is being said. After careful analysis, one can see that these are two different accounts of the same story. Each account provides unique information that complements each other.
To best answer this question, however, one must also take into account another parallel passage. This passage is in Luke 9:1-5 (NASB):
And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. 2 And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. 5 And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Jesus is speaking in verses 3-5. In verse 3, Luke uses the Greek word “airo” for the word “take.” This word means, “to raise, take up, lift.” Mark actually used this same Greek word in Mark 6:8 (a passage not speaking about acquiring anything). However, Luke actually used this same word to mean “acquire” in the referenced Luke passage. Luke does this same thing in Luke 19:21-24. Here, I underline the verbs “take” (from the Greek word “airo”) that are used to mean “acquire” in the passage:
Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He *said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
Jesus is speaking in this passage. In reference to the underlined verbs, Luke uses the verb “airo” to describe how Jesus spoke of an exacting man who acquired what he did not lay down. In verse 24, Luke uses “airo” to describe how the bystanders were to acquire a mina from a worthless slave (a mina that was not theirs from the start).
I reference the Luke 19:21-24 passage because one could look at the Luke 9:1-5 passage, see the word “take” there, and claim some kind of contradiction between that passage and the aforementioned discussed passages in Matthew and Mark. Furthermore, one needs to see this Luke passage in comparison with the aforementioned passages in Matthew and Mark in order to best understand how zero contradiction exists between the Matthew and Mark accounts. The Matthew and Luke accounts clearly emphasize not to take anything extra on the journey. The Mark account emphasizes bringing what already exists to the journey. Therefore, after careful analysis of all three passages, one can safely conclude that no contradiction exists between the three.
In answering this question, I found a helpful article that explains language flexibility in the Greek. It also explains how the English language has a similar flexibility. You can find it here. Another helpful resource is the Encyclopedia of Alleged Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer Jr.. I reviewed that excellent resource here.