The Synoptic Problem and the Non-existence of Q

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 2 ~

Matthew, the Revisionist

Sometime late in the first century an unknown writer/editor, or perhaps more accurately, a group of editors, undertook to compose what would become the most formidable Gospel ever written. It would contain a richness and diversity of Jesus traditions exceeding all that had come before it. It was an elegant, formal collection that the Church would sanction as the ultimate definition of the Jesus story. Soon after its composition, the Church would begin to represent the Gospel of Matthew as the first Gospel to have been composed. The Church would eventually place Matthew in the strategically significant first position in the New Testament canon.

To imbue this new Gospel with authority, the Church attributed it to the apostle Matthew—an apostle who, other than being listed in Mark and Luke as one of the twelve, was an unknown and ideologically neutral figure in the history of the Jesus movement. As such, Matthew would seem to be a peculiar choice for attribution of authorship; why not select an apostle with a more visible historical profile—James, the son of Zebedee perhaps, or Andrew, the brother of Peter?

The answer lies in the fact that, from the outset, the plan for this Gospel was to add a small but strategically vital revision to the story—the apostle Matthew was a tax collector. There is no hint in Mark or Luke that Matthew was a tax collector. But the Gospel of Matthew mentions it twice. In addition to the striking reference in The Calling of the Twelve (Matt 10:3, Fig 4.1, p. 96), where Matthew is the only one of the twelve apostles identified by his occupation, the author of this Gospel also alters the story of The Calling of the Tax Collector (Fig 2.1, below) in Mark and Luke by substituting the name of Matthew for the tax collector Levi.


2.1 The Calling of the Tax Collector 

Mark 2:14-15

14 And as he passed on, he saw  Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples.

Luke 5:27-29

 27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them.

Matthew 9:9-10

9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.


This revision in Matthew is of enormous consequence. By the time Mark was composed in the late 60s, the Jesus movement had suffered waves of severe persecution at the hands of the Romans. Prominent figures of the movement including Peter and Paul were executed by the Romans during the 60s. The movement was seeking ways to mitigate hostilities with the Romans in order to survive. They desperately needed to proclaim that there was no ideological conflict between the Jesus movement and Rome. As it happens, the occupation of tax collector was uniquely visible as a street level enforcer of Roman rule. Tax collectors kept the funds flowing from the oppressed Jewish masses to the Romans and the ruling elite Jewish aristocracy that benefited from maintaining a political alliance with the Romans. The tax collectors were despised by the masses for their role in extracting onerous tax burdens, and for their tendency to resort to brutal tactics to accomplish their mission. They were vital functionaries in sustaining the Roman occupation.

Under the circumstances, then, it is not surprising that the heavily persecuted movement in the 60s began to circulate stories portraying Jesus as socializing amicably with tax collectors. In modern pulpits, these stories provide opportunity for amusing side comments or sentimental reflection on the inclusive nature of Jesus’ vision. It is easy to make light of the references in this manner, for the Gospels whitewash the harsh oppression the Jewish people experienced at the hands of the tax collectors. However, this was a deadly serious issue for followers of Jesus under the cultural reality of Roman domination. The stories depicting Jesus as fraternizing with tax collectors were not designed to illustrate the open-mindedness of Jesus. They were intended to show that tax collectors did not view Jesus as socially subversive or in any manner a threat to Roman governance. If large numbers of tax collectors regularly socialized with Jesus, how much of a political threat could he have been?

The tradition that Jesus associated with tax collectors finds it earliest expression in Mark. It is amplified in Luke, wherein we find Levi throwing a “great feast” for Jesus and a large company of tax collectors (Fig 2.1). In addition, Luke contains this parable:

9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)

This parable must be interpreted in light of its social context, which was the aftermath of the Jewish uprising against Rome in 66-70 CE. Given this background, the juxtaposing of the Pharisee and the tax collector would have been understood as a candid political statement: The Pharisee represents Jewish resistance to Roman rule; the tax collector symbolizes active support of it. By portraying Jesus as sympathetic to the tax collector and critical of the Pharisee, the nascent church was attempting to distance itself from its Jewish heritage and align itself with Rome, in the hope of reducing its exposure to persecution. The symbolic role of the good tax collector throughout the Synoptic tradition is decidedly political. (As a side note, Jesus never befriends or associates with tax collectors in the Gospel of John.)

This concept is carried to an extreme in Matthew with the identification of the apostle himself as a tax collector. Three important inferences may be drawn from this extraordinary development. First, placing the entire Gospel story on the lips of a tax collector cannot have been calculated to appeal to the Jewish masses. This is an indication that, in the minds of those who compiled the Gospel, the Roman authorities were a strategically vital component of their target audience. By identifying one of Jesus’ chosen twelve apostles as a tax collector, and promoting that apostle as the authorized spokesperson for the official Gospel tradition, the Church establishes an ostensible solidarity with Roman rule.

Second, the attribution of this Gospel to the apostle Matthew was not an unrelated afterthought. The substitution of Matthew for Levi, the tax collector, was integral to the overall plan for the Gospel’s composition—the Church intended to circulate this work as the “Gospel of Matthew, the tax collector,” from the outset. Otherwise there would have been no reason for the author to have altered the traditions inherited from Mark and Luke in this unsavory manner. Seen in this light, it is evident why the Church would have needed to attribute the Gospel to an apostle who had no previous historical profile.

A third inference is that the community that produced the Gospel of Matthew was both temporally and ideologically separated from the original Jesus movement. From the fact that Jesus was crucified by the Romans, we may safely presume that solidarity with Rome was not a prominent theme in his preaching. Jesus’ immediate disciples, and in turn their respective associates, all Jews under Roman occupation, would not have accepted any representation in Gospel form that one of the twelve apostles was a minion of Roman rule, and an instrument of Jewish oppression. Thus, the Gospel of Matthew must have been composed under circumstances entirely removed from the influence of the original followers of Jesus.

The substitution of Matthew for Levi has puzzled scholars. Some have speculated that Levi and Matthew were in fact the same person; just as Simon was renamed Peter, perhaps Jesus had given Levi the name of Matthew. Yet there is no mention of this anywhere in the Gospel record. In reality, this can only be understood as a deliberate substitution of one character for another to meet an ideological objective. Furthermore, this revision is not an isolated case—later in this study we shall examine several instances in which the author of Matthew alters the identity of individuals in his sources for ideological reasons; the substitution of Levi with the apostle Matthew is merely one example in a larger pattern of editorial behavior.

As with the other Gospels, Matthew is internally anonymous. The author is unknown, and was probably not an individual at all. Rather, we may suppose that the Gospel was composed by a group of editors operating under the supervision and guidance of the highest authorities of the Church. An independent writer would not have had editorial license to proclaim, on behalf of the Church, that one of the twelve apostles had been a tax collector. Furthermore, the decision to make such a revision to the inherited tradition would not have been undertaken lightly even by the Church Fathers. One may imagine that this move was subject to debate and dissent prior to finding its way into the published Gospel. In light of the fact that this is just one of many theological and political revisions in Matthew that would seem to have required debate and approval by the Church prior to release, we are best served by supposing Matthew’s Gospel to have been an official collaborative effort rather than the creative work of a single, autonomous author. Nevertheless, we shall continue to refer to the author as an individual named Matthew for convenience.

When we place the Synoptics side-by-side and observe the changes Matthew makes to Mark, we gain an appreciation for the degree to which he was motivated to alter Mark in order to achieve his desired result. Furthermore, when we view Luke along side Matthew and assume that Matthew used Luke as a source, we find the same editorial filters at work. Since Matthew’s observable use of Mark and Luke is consistent and rational, it contributes to the impression that Matthew must have used Mark and Luke as sources.

Most of Matthew’s revisions of Mark and Luke fall into one of three categories: (1) elimination of extraneous or redundant language, (2) correction of factual or ideological errors, or (3) doctrinally motivated alterations or expansions. In the balance of this chapter we will consider examples of the first two; changes to accommodate doctrinal issues will be the focus of the next chapter.


Elimination of unnecessary language

Except in a few unusual instances which will be examined later, Matthew avoids verbose storytelling. When reproducing his sources, he often eliminates language that is not vital to the storyline, thereby rendering an epitomized version of the original. For the most part, changes of this nature are innocuous, and intended simply to render a more efficient presentation of the story. Figure 2.2 is a prime example. In this illustration it is clear that, for Matthew, the fact that they moored to the shore and got out of the boat could be inferred; thus, the language could be dropped without affecting the essence of the story. Similarly, most of v. 55-56a is unnecessary, and Matthew eliminates it. His objective here is to retain the essence of the story while rendering it in as few words as possible.

2.2:  Healings at Gennesaret

Mark 6:53-56

 53 And when they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, 55 and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well.

Matt 14:34-36

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennasaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent round to all that region and brought to him all that were sick, 36 and besought him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well.


A more extreme example of this type of editing is found in Jairus’ Daughter (Fig.2.3) where Matthew removes every nonessential element in Mark’s story and renders a skeleton version, compressing fifteen verses into five. It is apparent that in Matthew’s view, Mark rambles unnecessarily. Mark introduces Jairus with a lengthy preamble “Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him” Matthew condenses this to read, “a ruler came in and knelt before him”. Continuing through the text, Matthew found the fact that the woman was ill for twelve years to be relevant, and reproduced it; however, the information that she had suffered under many physicians and spent all she had was not. In Mark, Jesus asks his disciples who in the crowd touched him, and his disciples point out that anyone could have done it. Matthew regards this exchange as superfluous; he repro-duces only the vital elements of Mark’s story and discards the rest. 

2.3 Jairus’ Daughter

Mark 5:21-34

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23 and besought him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” 29 And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Matt 9:18-22


18 While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment I shall be made well.”

22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.


On occasion, when Mark is obviously redundant, Matthew eliminates the redundancy while retaining the core message, as we see here:


Mark 10:29-30

29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Matt 19:29

 29 And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,  and inherit eternal life.


Since Matthew tends to remove extraneous verbiage from Mark, it would be helpful for the thesis at hand to demonstrate that he did the same in his use of Luke. And indeed, Matthew routinely removes superfluous language from Luke as well. This pattern is illustrated in Division within Households (Fig. 2.4), The Parable of the Flood (Fig. 2.5), and John the Baptist’s Question (Fig. 2.6). Matthew’s methodical elimination of extraneous language in his sources is the procedure that allowed him to assemble a much more extensive collection of Jesus’ sayings and traditions into a document that was, in total text length, 7% shorter than Luke.

2.4:  Division within households

Luke 12:51-53

51 “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Matt 10:34-36

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law...


2.5:  The Parable of the Flood 

Luke 17:26-30

26 “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man. 27 They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was in the days of Lot – they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – 30 so it will be on the day the Son of man is revealed. 

Matt 24:37-39

27 “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.



2.6:  John the Baptist's Question

Luke 7:18-23

18 The disciples of John told him of all these things.  19 And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'“  21 In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight.  22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.  23 And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”

Matt 11:2-6

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you  hear and see:  5 the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  6  And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”


Matthew’s desire to avoid redundancies sheds light on his decision to pass on some of the special Lukan material[1] as well, for special Luke contains an array of ideologically redundant material. For example, Luke 12 presents three distinct pericopae that each counsel the believer to be cautious about accumulating possessions on earth. The first is an aphorism to be wary of covetousness since a man’s life does not consist of his possessions (Luke 12:13-15). The second is the Parable of the Rich Fool, whose ill-advised concern is to lay up treasure for himself (Luke 12:16-21). The third is the admonition to eschew possessions and instead lay up treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33-34). Of these three units, Matthew reproduces just one, rendering it in the form of a parallelism (Matt. 6:19-21). Yet, in this form, it captures the essence of all three of Luke’s pericopae on the subject of possessions and treasure by (a) counseling against the laying up of treasure on earth, and (b) encouraging the laying up of treasure in heaven. Having done so, Matthew’s version renders the remainder of Luke’s material on earthly possessions unnecessary.

Similarly, Luke 15 consists of three parables in sequence, all addressing the same topic: the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10); and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). These parables all contain the same basic message that heaven is joyful at the return of the wayward sinner. Matthew again adopts one of the three to be included in his Gospel, and passes on the remaining two. Furthermore, the unit that he selects is rendered in condensed form—he eliminates colorful narrative while retaining the essential meaning:

2.7:  The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Luke 15:4-7

4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Matt 18:12-14

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains, and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.


As a side note, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the parables of Luke 15 that Matthew did not reproduce, is among the most venerated of Jesus’ parables today. Some have argued that if Matthew had used Luke he would have included this parable in his own Gospel. However, Matthew clearly valued brevity over colorful storytelling. The Prodigal Son is, by a comfortable margin, the longest parable in the NT. Given Matthew’s aversion to nonessential narrative, it is not surprising that he would have considered the Prodigal Son to be superfluous after the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

Matthew’s tendency to avoid colorful but non-vital language is also seen in the Healing of the Paralytic (Fig. 2.8). Remarkably, Matthew eliminates the memorable reference to the paralytic being lowered into the room through a makeshift hole in the roof. This story exists in both Mark and Luke, yet Matthew elected to remove it due to either its lack of immediate relevance, or perhaps due to its oddly comical nature. In any event, the spectacle of the paralyzed man being lowered through a hole in the roof represented storytelling that Matthew felt his readers could do without.

2.8:  The Healing of the Paralytic 

Mark 2:3-11

3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy!” Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – 11 “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet, and go home.”

Luke 5:18-24

18 And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when    he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say “Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the man who was paralyzed – “I say to you, rise, take up your bed, and go home.”

Matthew 9:2-6

2 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say,  ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, take up your bed, and go home.”


Matthew corrects his sources

A second characteristic of Matthew’s editorial procedure was to correct Mark and Luke when they appear to be problematic for whatever reason. Some of his corrections are simply factual in nature. As examples, Mark cites a prophecy as coming from Isaiah, when in fact the first half of his quotation (Fig. 2.9, in italics) comes from Malachi 3:1. In using Mark’s text, Matthew deletes the portion that comes from Malachi and retains the second half of the quotation, which is correctly identified as being drawn from Isaiah  (Is. 40:3):


2.9: John the Baptist Prophesied

Mark 1:2

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  

Matt. 3:3

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” 


Another error in Mark appears in his quoting Jesus as saying that “do not defraud” is one of the Ten Commandments. Matthew understandably corrects the quotation by dropping the reference in his reproduction of Mark’s text:

2.10 The Ten Commandments

Mark 10:19

“You know the commandments; ‘Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

Matt. 19:18

And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.”


As another example, within Matthew’s community unchastity was evidently recognized as legitimate grounds for divorce. It may have been in the communities of Mark and Luke as well, but they failed to stipulate the exception in this particular saying of Jesus. Matthew clarifies the issue by inserting the phrase except for unchastity:

2.11 On Divorce

Mark 10:11

And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her.”

Luke 16:18a

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:9

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife,  except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”


 Revising the character of Jesus

Not only does Matthew correct factual errors in Mark, but he frequently removes Markan references that make it appear as though Jesus is subject to human cognitive limitations or emotional frailties. He eliminates language in Mark that implies Jesus is not in control of the situation, or that he is dismayed, surprised, or angry. In cleansing his Markan source of such references, Matthew portrays a Jesus who is fully in control of the situation at hand.

One instance of this occurs in Walking on the Sea (Fig. 2.12). Here the disciples are traveling by boat to the opposite shore, and Jesus intends to pass by them unnoticed, walking on the sea. In Mark’s account, the disciples notice him inadvertently and are terrified. In essence, as the incident is reported in Mark, Jesus makes a mistake. Matthew does not allow this reference to stand. In reproducing Mark’s text, he drops the phrase He meant to pass by them. In Matthew’s version, Jesus comes to the disciples with full intention of being seen:

2.12 Walking on the Sea

Mark 6:48-49

And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

Matt. 14:25-26

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost.” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”


Another illustration is found in Jesus’ Rejection at Nazareth (Fig. 2.13). Here Mark reports that Jesus was unable to perform any mighty works and that he was taken by surprise at their unbelief. Matthew revises the story to indicate that it was Jesus’ decision not to perform any mighty works because of their unbelief. Matthew deletes the suggestion that Jesus was surprised at the unresponsiveness of the people:

2.13 Jesus Rejection at Nazareth

Mark 6:4-6a

 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And he could do no mighty works there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Matt. 13:57b-58

 But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house. And he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.


In Fig. 2.14, The Pharisees Seek a Sign, we find another example. On this occasion, Mark indicates that the Pharisees began to argue with Jesus, and that Jesus sighed deeply in exasperation that he was being asked for a sign. Jesus appears quite human in this passage. Matthew eliminates both references. In Matthew’s account, Jesus does not engage in an argument, he shows no emotional reaction, and registers no surprise that he has been asked for a sign.

2.14 The Pharisees Seek a Sign

Mark 8:11-13

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Matt. 16:1-2a, 4

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, 4 “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  


In yet another instance, Jesus Blesses the Children (Fig. 2.15), Mark portrays Jesus as being indignant at the behavior of his disciples. In Matthew’s view, Jesus cannot be portrayed as manifesting the petty emotion of indignation. Therefore, he removes this reference:

2.15: Jesus Blesses the Children

Mark 10:13-16

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”        

Matthew 19:13-15

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”



Finally, in The Man with the Withered Hand (Fig. 2.16), Mark depicts Jesus as being angry and grieved at the attitudes of the people around him. Matthew reproduces the story, but leaves out language reflecting Jesus’ emotional state.

2.16 The Man with the Withered Hand

Mark 3:4-5

13 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them in anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Matthew 12b-13

12b “So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, whole like the other.


Thus, in rewriting Mark, one of Matthew’s objectives is to minimize signs of human emotions or cognitive limitations on the part of Jesus. We can peer over Matthew’s shoulder and watch as he erases details that indicate Jesus was subject to human frailties. Consequently, in Matthew’s Gospel we see a whitewashed caricature of Jesus as a serene being that is in full control of his surroundings and his destiny, whereas Mark offers a more genuinely human interpretation of Jesus. Matthew’s meticulous revisions of Mark are a key to understanding the ideological guidelines under which his Gospel was produced.


Other Noteworthy Revisions

In addition to corrections bearing upon the character of Jesus, Matthew makes other changes that are ideologically motivated. An example of this appears in the Request of the Sons of Zebedee (Fig. 2.17). Here, Mark portrays the disciples James and John as lobbying for their own favored treatment. Accordingly, the story in Mark does not reflect favorably on the sons of Zebedee. Matthew changes the story to indicate that it was the mother of James and John who was petitioning Jesus on their behalf. By the time Matthew was composed, the original twelve apostles had gained legendary status as a venerated group uniquely chosen by Jesus. There was no need to perpetuate a tradition which denigrated the character of James and John to no apparent end. Thus, Matthew changes the story to soften its edge—no one could fault a mother for looking out for her sons:


2.17  The Request of the Sons of Zebedee

Mark 10:35-40

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  39  And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.     

Matt. 20:20-23

20  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.  21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”  22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”  23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”         


Matthew used Mark extensively as a primary source, reproducing well over 90% of Mark’s pericopae. His willingness to alter this detail in Mark in order to make the tradition more palatable for his late first century audience indicates that he was likely to do the same with problematic references in other sources. Indeed, there are a number of instances in which Matthew appears to have corrected Luke in the same manner. An obvious example occurs in the following saying in which Matthew amplifies a teaching about forgiveness:

 2.18   On Reconciliation

Luke 17:3

3 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, “I repent,” you must forgive him.

Matt. 18-21-22

21 And Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”


Another correction of Luke by Matthew appears in the Conditions of Discipleship (Fig 2.19). Matthew’s mission to create a more compelling portrait of Jesus prompts this alteration:  

2.19  Conditions of Discipleship

Luke 14:26-27

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Matt 10:37-38

 37 “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38  and he who does not  take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.


In Figure 2.19, Luke’s quotation dwells on the need to reject one’s family as a precondition of discipleship. Many would nominate this as one of the least inspired sayings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. There is no chance that Jesus ever would have said such a thing. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and no social structure was more important to his Jewish culture than that of family. If Jesus had preached a rejection of family, he would have found himself without Jewish followers, which is to say he would have had no followers at all. If Jesus had spoken the words in Luke 14:26-27, we would not be studying him today, for the world would never have heard of him. They are the words of an imaginary cult leader as envisioned by the Gentile-oriented movement in the post-70 CE era.

It is not difficult to understand why Matthew would have been motivated to rewrite Luke’s text. Matthew’s positive rendition focuses upon impulses toward love and allegiance, and is more in keeping with the calm portrait of Jesus he intends to create. He removes the reference to wives, brothers, and sisters, perhaps because they are not required to illustrate the point. Matthew also softens the edge of the consequence; in Luke, anyone who fails to hate his loved ones is banned from discipleship. In Matthew, failure to love Jesus more than family simply deems him unworthy. Yet within the greater context of Christian faith all believers are unworthy, and it does not preclude discipleship. Matthew’s reworking of the saying softens it considerably and makes it more palatable for the Church.

Matthew also revises Luke in Fig. 2.20. In Luke, we find the Baptist excoriating and ridiculing the flock of faithful that had come to him for baptism. Neither the Baptist nor those who seek him out are shown in a favorable light in this text. Matthew revises this episode to indicate that the Baptist’s wrath was directed toward the religious elite who had come out to him, not the multitudes at large. The revision places the rage of the Baptist in a more appropriate context:


2.20:  John the Baptist’s Preaching of Repentance 

Luke 3: 7-8

7  He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  8  Bear fruits that befit repentance,  and do not  begin  to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Matt 3:7-9

7  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  8  Bear fruits that befit repentance, 9 and do not  presume  to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.


There is further evidence in this text that Matthew is editing Luke. Note the substitution of the verb presume in Matthew for begin in Luke. Certainly presume is the stronger and more appropriate word in this context. However, the case is strengthened when we realize that Matthew routinely eliminates or alters the use of begin when he feels it has been improperly used in Mark. To illustrate:

      And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood  (Mk 5:17)

        when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood  (Mt. 8:34)


        Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything…”  (Mark 10:28)

        Peter said in reply, “Lo, we have left everything …”  (Matt. 19:27).


        when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41)

        when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. (Mt. 20:24)


And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one… (Mk 13:5)

And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one…   (Mt. 24:4)


        They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another (Mk 14:19)

        They were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another (Mt 26:22)

Clearly, Matthew was sensitive to inappropriate uses of the verb to begin, as he routinely eliminates it or places it in more precise context as he transcribes Mark. Thus it is reasonable to infer that Matthew has performed the same editing of Luke in Figure 2.20.

Two observations can be made with respect to Figure 2.20 and proposed solutions to the Synoptic Problem. The first relates to theories propounding Luke’s use of Matthew. Here it is difficult to imagine why Luke, if he had used Matthew, would have been motivated to copy this text verbatim with the exception of the two peculiar changes—the first making John the Baptist appear decidedly less attractive, and the second adopting a less appropriate verb that Matthew specifically did not care for. This text is difficult to explain within the context of any theory advocating Luke’s use of Matthew.

The second observation is more germane to the 2DH. For once again we find a Matthean text that appears to be the result of a direct editing of Luke by Matthew—most of it is copied verbatim with the exception of two alterations that make perfect sense.  Proponents of the 2DH would argue that this is an illusion—the real reason for this phenomenon is that Luke copied from his Q source and duplicated it without change; meanwhile Matthew independently used the same Q source and edited it to incorporate the changes evident to us. The fact that Matthew appears to edit Luke directly is alleged to be nothing more than a coincidence. Thus, a fundamental assumption underlying the Q theory is that Luke tends to copy his Q source without change, for there is no other way to explain the recurring phenomenon that Matthew appears to be editing Luke directly. This assumption will become increasingly problematic for the Q theory as we explore it further in the following chapters.

[1] Both Luke and Matthew contain unique subsets of material that do not exist in any other Gospel. Material that is found in Luke only is collectively referred to as Special Luke. Material that is found exclusively in Matthew is referred to as Special Matthew. These subsets are commonly designated L and M respectively.

From The Myth of the Lost Gospel, Evan Powell
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