I received the following question:

This past weekend I was going through every occurance of apostello and looking at the context and supporting verses that were before and after the word.  I found an interesting set of verses that I cannot figure out or find an answer to.  In Luke 20 the parable of the vine growers is given:

9And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time.    10″At the harvest time he sent (apostello) a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.    11″And he proceeded to send (pempo) another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent (pempo) him away empty- handed.    12″And he proceeded to send (pempo) a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out.    13″The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send (pempo) my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’

I’m sure you already see my question…why is “apostello” used in the first occurance and then “pempo” for the following four?  Was the first slave the only commissioned one under authority?  I’m stumped.

I would say that the answer to your question lies in verse 10, and the reason the first slave was sent to the vineyard, “so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard.” This was the owner’s vineyard, and so he had the perfect right to commission someone to do this. This was the slave’s purpose, and he was sent officially to do this. When the vine-growers beat him and sent him away (exapesteilan, or “out-commissioned” him,) it was obvious that they were not willing to allow the owner his due. There is no mention of the purpose or mission of the next two slaves, and finally the son, just that they were sent. It seems unlikely that the owner would have sent even a second slave the same way as the first, as if the mistreatment of the first had never happened. The subsequent sendings would have been to see what was the grievance of the vine-growers, and why they were refusing to allow his slaves to carry out his orders. In other words, they were not being commissioned to collect the produce, but merely sent to try to straighten out the problem with the vine-growers. The vine-growers had no desire to listen to the pleas of the owner, however, and they mistreated and sent away the two servants empty-handed, without either produce or any kind of agreement to respect the owner’s requests in the future.

You might look at it that the first servant was sent to do his official job, which was to collect produce. For this, he was commissioned. When the vine-growers despised the commissioning, the subsequent slaves and the son were sent (without commissioning) to plead with the vine-growers to mend their ways and relationships to the owner. This was not their official job, so they were merely sent, not commissioned.

What constitutes a commission and what a simple sending, I think, is key. You could think of it this way. Remember that the first servant was the one with the commission to collect the produce. He was put out of the action when they beat him. The second and third servants were not the one whose job it was to collect produce, and it certainly wasn’t the son’s job. Thus, they were not sent to do their job, but rather to plead the owner’s case with the vine-growers, so they were pempo. Only the first servant was acting in his official capacity with the owner’s permission, so only he was apostello.

Now the fact is that in the parallel accounts of this passage in Matthew 21:33-41 and Mark 12:1-9, the word pempo is used in all occurrences, and apostello is not used at all. I think we need to keep two things in mind in dealing with this question. The first is that the Lord Jesus was no doubt not speaking in Greek when He told this parable. He was using Aramaic, and thus did not actually speak either the word apostello or the word pempo. The use of these words is by the choice of the Holy Spirit to communicate in Greek the idea that the Lord had when He gave this parable in Aramaic. That is not to say that the Greek version is not inspired, for it certainly is. But that is to say that the Lord actually used neither apostello nor pempo, but an Aramaic word for “sent.” It was up to the Holy Spirit to give that to us either as apostello or pempo, and He could have given us either one.

Now remember that apostello is a technical word for “sending.” It means to send with authority or commission, as opposed to merely a simple sending, like I might send you on a vacation by giving you the money to go on the vacation. Thus, one who is simply sent is only sent in the pempo manner, but one who is apostello sent is both sent simply and sent technically with a commission. Thus, in the book of John, Christ could say that the Father had sent Him pempo in John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life,” and that He had sent Him apostello in John 5:36, “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

So when Christ spoke of the sending of the very first servant, this servant was both sent by the vineyard owner, as all the other servants and the son were sent, and he was commissioned by the vineyard owner, as the one with the official authority to collect the fruit on behalf of the owner. He was both apostello and pempo. Yet he was the only one for which this was true, for the others were merely “sent” to try to arbitrate with the vinedressers. Luke makes this distinction by using the word apostello to speak of the sending of this first servant. Matthew and Mark, however, do not bring this technicality in, and just use pempo for all the sendings throughout the parable. Remember, they were all three presenting what Christ said translated from Aramaic anyway, so the word choice was up to the Divinely inspired author. Thus Luke points out the technical fact of the first servant’s commissioning, whereas the other two gospel authors do not point out this special detail, since it is not all that important to the story.