The Synoptic Problem and its Solution

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1. Hidden Patterns in the Synoptic Gospels
2. Matthew, the Revisionist
3. The Man who Buried Jesus
4. Matthew's Knowledge of Luke
5. Luke, the Eccentric Evangelist
6. The Weak Case for the Existence of Q
7. Further Statistical Analysis
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~ Chapter 5 ~

Luke, the Eccentric Evangelist

We can see the results of Matthew’s editorial activity in many of the parallel texts we have examined thus far. By observing the manner in which he edits his sources, we gain an appreciation for his literary preferences and ideological objectives. Now we must turn to the question of Luke’s editorial behavior. By examining how he uses Mark we can gain a similar understanding of Luke’s tastes and objectives. Also, by comparing the double tradition texts in Luke and Matthew we can derive some sense of how Luke must have been using his Q source, if indeed Q existed. As we will discover, if Luke used Q, he did so with editorial behavior that is close to the opposite of his approach to Mark.

Our inquiry begins by focusing on the essential problem. In the double tradition it is not unusual to find word-for-word duplications between Luke and Matthew. The following examples illustrate:

5.1:  Jesus' Lament over Jerusalem

Luke 13:34

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 

Matt. 23:37

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 

 

5.2:  Jesus' Prayer

Luke 10:21b

21b  “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes;          yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.”

Matt. 11:25-26

25    “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes;  26   yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.”

 

In addition to passages such as these which are exact duplications, there are others which show extensive verbatim reproduction, but which also contain some evident editorial change. John the Baptist’s Preaching of Repentance discussed previously (Fig 2.20, p.65) is an example. Another is this:

 

5.3:  On Serving Two Masters

Luke 16:13

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Matt. 6:24

13 “No  one  can serve two masters;

for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”

 

Practically speaking, there are two ways in which these texts could have been created. Since Matthew was the later of the two Gospels, the most direct solution is that Matthew copied from Luke, making occasional edits as he saw fit. It would be no surprise to find that he had done so, for he copies Mark verbatim on numerous occasions. If he is copying Luke in these passages, he is simply exhibiting editorial behavior toward which he is already demonstrably inclined. Furthermore, when there are editorial changes, it most frequently appears as though Matthew contains the edited or improved version. This was clear in the alterations in John the Baptist’s Preaching of Repentance, where Matthew redirects John’s hostility toward the religious elite, and away from the multitudes. It is evident again in the text above. The change from servant to one makes the saying more universal, and thus the alteration is an understandable improvement that Matthew could have made to Luke’s text. Conversely, one may wonder why Luke would have made such a change if drawing upon Matthew.

The other explanation for the duplications in the double tradition is that, in these instances, both Matthew and Luke independently copied directly from Q. This coincidental use of a common source produced a double tradition that when viewed in parallel appears to be the result of one author copying and editing the other directly.  

A substantial portion of the double tradition displays exactly this phenomenon.[1] Therefore, the fundamental assumption upon which the Q theory depends is that Luke must have copied large portions of his Q source verbatim, for this is the only way to explain the continuing coincidence that Matthew appears to have copied or edited Luke directly. Since the 2DH and its Q thesis is wholly dependent upon this assumption, its validity revolves around one simple question: Is it reasonable to assume Luke would have used Q in this manner?

To answer this question we must turn to Luke’s use of Mark—does Luke tend to reproduce Mark verbatim in the same manner that we must imagine he reproduced Q? In point of fact, he does not. To the contrary, Luke exhibits a strong desire to paraphrase Mark. Though he often follows the storyline of Mark closely, he manifests a need to render Mark’s text in his own words, even when Mark’s version does not seem to call for it. The following comparison illustrates Luke’s typical alterations of Mark:

 

5.4:  Jesus Departs from Capernaum

Mark 1:35-38

35 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.  36 And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.”

Luke 4:42-43

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a lonely place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them; 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

 

In Figure 5.4, the story that Luke tells is very close to that in Mark, but the wording is remarkably different. It is as if Luke resists any opportunity to replicate Mark, and instead actively seeks out a different way to say the same thing.

The same tendency can be observed in Stilling the Storm (Fig. 5.5). There are numerous incidental reproductions of verbiage that are sufficient to justify an inference that Luke is using Mark as a source. Yet, Luke renders the story in his own language while remaining essentially true to the content and meaning of Mark’s version:

 

5.5:  Stilling the Storm

Mark 4: 35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them,  “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  38 but he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”  39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

Luke 8:22-25

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.”  So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, Master, Master, we are perishing!”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm.  25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?”  And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the wind and water, and they obey him?”

 

The comparisons above illustrate Luke’s propensity to rewrite Mark in his own words. While there are occasional verbatim reproductions, they are incidental. Indeed, lengthy reproductions of Mark by Luke are rare. The underlined text in The Healing of the Demoniac (Fig 5.6, Luke 4:34-35a below) is the longest continuous duplication of Mark found in the Gospel of Luke—a duplication consisting of 26 words in the Greek text. There are no other verbatim duplications which rival the length of this passage, and there are only a few which exceed half its length. Hence, it stands out as a remarkable exception when Luke and Mark are compared:

5.6:  The Healing of the Demoniac

Mark 1:23-28

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; 24  and he cried out, What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”  26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Luke 4:33-37

33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon; and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ah! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  35  But Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”  And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed, and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”  37 And reports of him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

 

In the examples above there is no discernible motive on Luke's part to change the essential meaning of the stories. Rather, he appears to render his source in his own words with colorful embellishments. In Fig 5.6, Mark's unclean spirit becomes the spirit of an unclean demon in Luke. In Mark, the man cries out; in Luke, the man cries out with a loud voice. Again in Mark, Jesus commands with authority; in Luke he commands with authority and power. These additions have no purpose other than to amplify the drama without changing its meaning.

Luke’s paraphrasing of Mark was a common literary practice in the Hellenistic world of the first century, and it would not have been cause for concern among his readers. However, it creates a puzzle for us today. For the Q theory assumes that Luke copied large portions of Q verbatim. If he did not, the exact or nearly exact duplications in the double tradition would not exist. Nor would we be able to detect the precise editing which is often apparent in Matthew against Luke in the double tradition material.

There is an obvious disconnect between theory and observed evidence at the heart of the 2DH. The theory asks us to believe that Luke manifested two different editorial styles, freely paraphrasing Mark while reproducing Q as a mere copyist. Advocates of the 2DH have proposed that the resolution of this dilemma lies in the fact that Q consists mainly of Jesus’ sayings, whereas Mark is primarily narrative. It is indeed reasonable to assume that Jesus’ sayings would be reproduced with higher fidelity than narrative text, and statistically, it is true that Luke does reproduce the sayings material in Mark with greater fidelity than he does the non-sayings narrative.

However, even with the sayings material that Luke finds in Mark, he shows a tendency to change wording for no apparent reason other than to create an original version. In the Stilling of the Storm (Fig. 5.5, p. 110), Mark has Jesus say, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Luke alters the saying to read “Where is your faith?” And in Jesus Departs from Capernaum (Fig. 5.4, p.109), Mark reports Jesus as saying, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” Here, Luke renders a thorough rewrite: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” Thus the proposition that Luke would reproduce Q material verbatim because it consisted primarily of documented spoken words of Jesus is contrary to the evidence.

One might object on the grounds that there are two generic types of Jesus’ sayings material—conversational speech on the one hand versus more highly structured parables and aphorisms on the other. Thus we must ask—does Luke exhibit a tendency to reproduce parables and aphorisms of Jesus with greater accuracy than conversational speech? The Question About Fasting (Fig. 4.6, p.101) offers excellent insight into this, as it provides evidence of Luke’s typical use of Mark, and Matthew’s use of both Mark and Luke.

First consider Luke’s use of Mark. Notice that Mark opens the story with a premise, then repeats the premise in the question. Luke evidently sees this as unnecessary, and rephrases the opening question to eliminate the redundancy. He adds the comment about offering prayers, and changes the accusation from your disciples do not fast, to yours eat and drink.  Luke has not made any material change to the scenario, as prayer and fasting go hand in hand. He has simply rewritten the text in his own style and added some color, as we have seen him do previously.

Luke reproduces the first half of Jesus’ statement in v. 19 very close to verbatim. However, the second half of Jesus’ statement is considered by Luke to be extraneous, and he drops it entirely. He then replicates Mark 2:20 verbatim until the end of the sentence, where he pluralizes those days to match the plural days that Mark had opened with. Once the subject switches to the parable of the patched garment, Luke moves into a thorough paraphrasing, abandoning any sense of obligation to accurately reproduce the words of Jesus in Mark. Finally, in the new wine saying, Luke blends verbatim phrasing with his own original constructions. Overall, an examination of The Question About Fasting reveals that Luke felt no duty to record the words of Jesus as he found them in Mark. While he had no aversion to copying some sayings verbatim, he viewed them as being subject to rearranging, correcting, deleting, and embellishing.

Let us then consider Matthew’s use of Mark and Luke in this same text. At the outset, Matthew alters the substance of the story for whatever reason he may have had—it is no longer third-party bystanders who pose the question to Jesus as it is in Mark and Luke; it is now the disciples of the Baptist themselves who challenge Jesus. We have already seen Matthew alter or redefine characters in the story. He replaces the multitudes with the religious leaders as those who were inciting the wrath of John the Baptist. He reports that it was the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Fig. 2.17, p. 63), not the sons themselves, who was pleading for their special treatment. And of course, the apostle Matthew is substituted for Levi the tax collector. Here we find another alteration of a similar kind. Something provoked Matthew to make this material change to the account, though the reason for it is not obvious. However, since this is editorial behavior we have seen previously, it is not surprising to see it again.

A second observation in Matthew’s text is that he accomplishes the same initial edits as Luke, in that they both eliminate the redundant language in Mark 2:18 and 2:19b. Though these two common omissions could have been autonomous edits by two authors unaware of the other’s activity, if Matthew had seen this beneficial editing in Luke he would have been likely to adopt it himself. 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this comparison occurs in Matthew’s treatment of the sayings pertaining to the patched garment and the new wine. Matthew uses Mark’s version of the patched garment, rendering it in an epitomized form while ignoring the language in Luke. He then turns to Luke for the new wine saying, and compresses it in much the same way that he does the garment saying. Thus Matthew’s text is an efficient fusion of elements drawn from both Mark and Luke. In Alland’s Greek text of The Question About Fasting, Mark’s version contains 129 words, and Luke’s has 141. By rewriting with more precision, Matthew compresses the same material into 105 words.

Matthew displays no tendency to introduce new language simply to tell the story in his own words as Luke often does. For the most part he uses the language he finds in his sources and replicates it subject only to refinements for efficient presentation, or to introduce material changes or expansions to the traditions. Thus, in The Question About Fasting, Matthew maintains high verbatim agreement with either Mark or Luke, or on occasion both. Other than putting the opening question into the mouths of the Baptist’s disciples instead of bystanders, the only uniquely Matthean elements in the entire passage are mourn in v.15, and the concluding phrase and so both are preserved. The Question about Fasting is an ideal illustration of (a) the use of Mark by both Matthew and Luke, and (b) Matthew’s tendency to conflate elements he found in Mark and Luke.

Another illustration of Matthew and Luke’s respective use of sayings material in Mark is The Parable of the Fig Tree (Fig. 5.7). In this pericope the entire text of Mark is copied almost without change by Matthew, with several small exceptions. Meanwhile, Luke again rewrites the opening portion of this text for no apparent purpose other than to render it in different language. Furthermore he deletes the final statement of Mark’s v.32 entirely. The fact that this parable is a saying of Jesus that Luke sees recorded in Mark does not inhibit him from performing these extensive edits.

The Parable of the Fig Tree is a good illustration due to its length and the fact that it consists exclusively of the words of Jesus. Though Matthew reproduces Mark almost verbatim, there is no similar replication of Mark in Luke. The fact that we can observe Matthew copying sayings of Jesus in Mark word for word indicates that he may have had a propensity to copy the sayings of Jesus in Luke word for word as well. This would explain the frequent verbatim duplication in the double tradition. On the other hand, Luke’s paraphrasing of the opening text, his alterations in Mark’s v.29, and his deletion of Mark’s final phrase represent editorial manipulations that are entirely inconsistent with the editorial behavior needed to sustain the Q theory, for if Luke routinely performed similar edits on Q the frequent duplications in the double tradition would not exist.

5.7:  The Parable of the Fig Tree

Mark 13:28-32

 

 

28 From the fig tree learn its lesson:  as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that         summer is near.  29 So also, when you see all these things taking place, you know that he                                  

is near, at the very gates.  30  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.  31 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  32 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Luke 21:29-33

29 And he told them a parable:                   “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.  31 So also, when you see         these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away        till all has

taken place. 33

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

Matthew 24:32-36

 

 

32 From the fig tree learn its lesson:  as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that          summer is near.  33 So also, when you see all these things,                        

you know that he                                 

is near, at the very gates.  34  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away   till all         these things take place.35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but        the Father only.

 

The Signs Before the End (Fig 5.8) is another example in which the distinctive redactional tendencies of Matthew and Luke are apparent. Here we see Luke's inclination to embellish the story with colorful accents. Luke changes the word alarmed in Mark to terrified; Mark’s earthquakes become great earthquakes in Luke; he renders the word famines to famines and pestilences, and to ensure his readers get the point, Luke adds and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. Luke enthusiastically assumes his role as a creative storyteller, rewording the text to add drama and originality.

5.8:  Signs Before the End

 

Mark 13:3-8

 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, saying, 4 “Tell us,    when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?”  5 And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray.      

  6  Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,'                 

           and they will lead many astray.                 

        7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be        

alarmed;    this must            take place, but the end is not yet. 

                               8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;            there will be

earthquakes in various places, there will be     

famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

Luke 21:7-11

 

 7 And they asked him,                                

“Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?”                         

 8 And he                  said,

 

           Take heed that you are not led astray'          for many will come in my name, saying,    'I am he!' and 'The time is at hand!'

                Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults,

do not be        

 terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great

earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

Matthew 24:3-8

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives

                        the disciples came to

      him privately, saying,    “Tell us,    when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”             

 

4 And Jesus      answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray.  5For many will come in my name, saying,  'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.                    

           And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed for this must           take place, but the end is not yet. 

                            7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places;

            all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

Conversely, Matthew typically refines Mark's text without altering its dramatic intensity. When Mark writes, And Jesus began to say to them, Matthew changes it to And Jesus answered them. Mark's cumbersome phrase there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines, is edited by Matthew to read more concisely: there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. Other than changes of this nature, Matthew stays very close to Mark. The underlined text represents Matthew’s verbatim reproductions of Mark. His alterations of Mark are both limited and motivated by a desire to clarify or improve the precision of the text.

Matthew’s willingness to copy his Markan source with limited change—and Luke’s evident need to paraphrase it—undermines the credibility of the 2DH. The editorial behavior of these two evangelists is markedly different, and the tendencies of Luke do not fit the requirements of the 2DH. The Q theory requires us to believe that Luke adopted two different editorial persona in regard to his sources—as a creative interpreter of Mark and a copyist of Q. Nevertheless, Q theorists insist that there is no reason to preclude this scenario since the Q document was primarily a collection of sayings. It has been suggested that Luke had reason to hold Q in higher esteem as an authentic early collection of sayings. If this were the case, it is argued, Luke would have been motivated to reproduce the sayings of Jesus he found in Q with higher fidelity than he did the sayings of Jesus in Mark.

However, there is evidence that even this assumption is not warranted. Matthew contains several sayings that are rendered in structured parallel form, whereas Luke’s versions appear in free prose. It is widely assumed that Matthew’s structured forms are closer to the original oral traditions. Hence, according to Q theorists, Matthew’s parallelisms are the versions more likely to have appeared in Q. Two such parallelisms are illustrated in The House Built Upon the Rock (Fig. 5.9) and Treasures in Heaven (Fig. 5.10). In both cases, the International Q Project identifies the parallel forms in Matthew as the original text of Q:

 5.9:  The House Built Upon the Rock

 

Luke 6:47-49

47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like; he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon the rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 

But he who hears and does not do them is

 

like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

Matt. 7:24-27

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;

25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;

27 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

 

 

5.10:  Treasures in Heaven

Luke 12:33-34

Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 

 

 

 

 

For where your treasure is,

there will your heart be also.

Matt. 6:19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,

Where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,

But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven,

Where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

For where your treasure is,

there will your heart be also.

This is a significant turning pointing the debate. For in identifying the Matthean version of these sayings as the original wording of Q, the IQP paints itself into a corner. If it is true that Luke found Matthew’s version in his Q source, then it becomes obvious that Luke was willing to paraphrase Jesus’ sayings in Q just as freely as he did those in Mark. Once we admit the possibility that Luke was paraphrasing some of his Q source, there is no reason to imagine that he did not paraphrase the majority of it, just as he did Mark. At this point, the fundamental premise underlying the Q theory becomes highly problematic, for we are now required to imagine an absurd scenario: Luke paraphrased just the Q material for which we have surviving comparative evidence, while he ritually copied only those portions of Q which are coincidentally lost to us today. Scholars often argue for the existence of Q based on the implausibly eccentric editorial behavior implied by Luke’s use of Matthew. Yet the Q theory itself requires us to suppose that Luke used his Q source in a manner contrary to all available evidence.

The lack of an adequate logical foundation under the Q hypothesis now begins to take its toll. Jesus warned against building a house without first digging deep and laying a firm foundation on rock. Yet the architects of the 2DH have done precisely that. It is only a matter of time before waves of skepticism beat against the towering house of Q scholarship. It will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own improbability.



[1]  Further examples include  Luke 6:20-23 = Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 11:1-14 = Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 12:2-9 = Matt. 10:26-33; Luke 12:22-32 = Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:51-53 = Matt. 10:34-36;  Luke 14:26-27 = Matt. 10:37-38; Luke 15:3-7 = Matt. 18:10-14.

From The Myth of the Lost Gospel, Evan Powell
Copyright (C) 2006, 2011