Why Go in Twos?
The first time I met ‘the two’, I was 13 years old, and the year was 1974. Believe it or not, we drove 3,000-plus miles from Alameda, California, (near San Francisco) to Anchorage, Alaska, to see an aunt and uncle and numerous cousins, and also for the sheer adventure. Adventure it was! In preparation for driving the old Alcan Highway, (1400 miles of it unpaved—just rock and gravel), my dad reinforced the grill and undercarriage of an old station wagon. Unbelievable scenery, carsickness, fighting with my cousins, seeing herds of running wild horses, combined with meeting family members I had never met made it my most memorable childhood journey for sure.
My mother had spoken of ‘the two’ as ‘the twins’ and I thought they were quite pretty. Over the years, Mom began to refer to them as the ‘old maids’, but I did not think much about it until I saw them again, 34 years after the Alaskan trip, when we had a huge family reunion at Lake Tahoe, and they came down from Fairbanks, Alaska. ‘The two’ were very kindly, though they did look and seem like old maids, with long gray ponytails, wearing big dresses, and finishing each others’ sentences.
As we chatted, finding out about each other, they told me they were ‘Two by twos’. Huh? I asked a lot of questions and found their story and faith very interesting. (While the doctrine of the ‘two by twos’ seems to go a little bit awry, I appreciated so much about what they believe.) But reading Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve now gives some perspective.
First, from Mark’s pen, “Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.”1
“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first,
Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew;
James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew;
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.2
These twelve Jesus sent out . . .” Notice, that Matthew’s gospel lists them in twos.
Why did Jesus send the disciples out to minister in pairs? Part of the answer lies in the Jewish tradition of “two witnesses.” The Old Testament law, Deuteronomy 19:15, stipulated that at least two witnesses were needed in order to convict someone of a crime. In the culture of Jesus, this legal requirement also underscored the commonsense idea that two witnesses are more reliable than one. So, when two of Jesus’ disciples proclaimed the presence of the kingdom, they would be more likely to receive a hearing. (Of course, it wouldn’t hurt their credibility if they cast out demons or healed the sick either!)3
There may be another reason why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs. He was no doubt thinking of the power of shared ministry, the added impact when two or more people work together toward a shared goal. This co-laboring was a sort of foreshadowing of how ministry would be most effectively conducted in the early church, right up until today. In two or more, there is encouragement, a pooling of ideas and resources, and accountability—iron sharpening iron.
I think of the model of how Paul did ministry with Barnabas, with John Mark, with Timothy and Titus. He got it—we are not to ‘go it’ alone. Jesus made sure there were those to attend the harvest, but he also ensured his beloved twelve did not go out alone. Jesus never missed a detail it seems.
1 - Mark 6.7
2 – Matthew 10.1-5
3 - Mark Roberts, Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary