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 1 ~

Hidden Synoptic Patterns

 

When we view a map of the world, the continents of North and South America, Europe, and Africa look like pieces of a grand puzzle that could fit together perfectly. Today, when school children wonder at the striking shoreline configurations, their teachers tell them of the fascinating discovery of continental drift. However, it was not until the end of the 1960s that continental drift was widely accepted. Prior to that time, it was simply obvious to everyone that the continents could not have moved, so the complementary continental contours were assumed to be nothing more than a coincidence. But commonly held assumptions about the nature of the earth were wrong. The echoing coastline patterns, we now know, exist for a reason.

The experience in geophysics is instructive for Synoptic studies as well. There are widely held assumptions that Matthew and Luke were written independently, or that Luke was later and used Matthew as a source. All conventional solutions to the Synoptic Problem operate upon one of these two premises. Meanwhile, as we shall see in this chapter, there are striking patterns in the way the various traditions are distributed in the Synoptics. These patterns cannot be explained under prevailing assumptions—they can only be dismissed as odd coincidences. However, the commonly held assumptions about the relationships of the Gospels are wrong. The recurring patterns we will find in the Synoptic Gospels form distinctive ideological contours, and they exist for a reason.

This area of inquiry has a significant bearing upon the dating of the Gospels, and our understanding of their chronological sequence. The manner in which traditions are arrayed in the Synoptic Gospels indicate that Matthew was the last of the three to have been published.

Though it is not possible to date any of the NT Gospels with precision, there are indicators which help to place them, with reasonable probability, within certain timeframes. Most scholars, for example, believe that Mark was composed subsequent to the death of Peter and prior to or concurrent with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Thus, there is general consensus that Mark was written in the 65 to 70 CE timeframe. Furthermore, there is overwhelming if not entirely unanimous agreement that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, since about half of Mark appears also in Luke. In addition to his apparent reliance upon Mark, Luke introduces material that does not appear in Mark which reveals his awareness of the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE:

41 And when [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem] he wept over it, 42 saying “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace. But now they are hid from your eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

Therefore, Luke’s use of Mark as a source and his awareness of the specific circumstances of the destruction of Jerusalem cause scholars to date Luke in the post-70 CE era.

Martin Hengel, who has recently argued for the consideration of Matthew’s dependence upon Luke, points to several features of Matthew and Luke which help us to interpret Luke as the earlier of the two compositions. One of his observations is that the image of Jesus weeping over the siege of Jerusalem suggests that, for both Luke and his intended readers, this was a recent calamity for which emotions were still raw. This places Luke in the post-70 CE era, but not too long after the war, perhaps during the decade of the 70s. By the end of the century a whole new generation would have risen up that had never experienced the Jewish-Roman War, and most of those who had would have passed on. Thus its emotional toll as well as its religious and social relevance would have receded with time, just as the awareness and raw emotional impact of the Vietnam War has receded for Americans in our own lifetimes.

With respect to the dating of Matthew, since over 90% of the material in Mark appears also in Matthew, it is once again almost universally assumed that the author of Matthew used Mark as a literary source, drawing from it the foundational narrative structure upon which he then constructed his more comprehensive Gospel. This would place the composition of Matthew after that of Mark, and well into the post-70 CE era as well.

Furthermore, when comparing Matthew and Luke, many have noted that Matthew presents more liturgically refined forms of key traditions such as The Lord’s Prayer (Fig. 1.1), the Beatitudes (Fig. 1.2), and the Great Commission (Fig. 1.3), than the versions found in Luke. This pattern suggests that some time had elapsed between the composition of Luke and Matthew, during which these traditions evolved as the Church coalesced into a more institutionalized structure.

1.1: The Lord's Prayer

 

 Luke 11:2-4  

When you pray, say:  

Father, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.

 Matt.  6:9-13

Pray then like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

 

1.2: The Beatitudes

 

 Luke 6:20b-23

Blessed are you poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

Blessed are you that hunger now,

for you shall be satisfied.

Blessed are you that weep now,

for you shall laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! 

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

 Matt.  5:3-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of God

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely

on my account. 

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

 

1.3: The Great Commission

 Luke 24:46-49

 [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high”

 Matt.  28:18-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

In addition to the fact that Matthew contains more sophisticated forms of these traditions, there are other indications that Matthew was published after Mark and Luke. Among them is an intriguing clue from the attributions of authorship. Though the Gospels are internally anonymous, Hengel argues that it is not likely that any of them would have been distributed without identification of authorship:

Since the Gospel writings were used in worship, from the beginning it would have been quite indispensable to have a designation for the writing that was being read out; that already followed from the use of Old Testament texts in readings.[1]   

Practically speaking, the Gospels would need to have been referred to in some distinguishing manner, and there is no evidence that they ever circulated under titles other than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke respectively. Thus it is likely that these titles were applied either immediately upon publication or soon thereafter. Building upon this observation, Hengel states:

A comparison of the titles shows that the ‘non-apostolic’ titles must be older than the ‘apostolic’ titles. Once the names of apostles had come to be used in titles to give a work additional authority, it was hardly possible to choose authors with lesser authority. In the second century the Gospel of Mark would presumably have been named after Peter, and that of Luke after Paul.[2]

As noted previously, the Griesbach and Augustinian theses both argue that Mark and Luke were published well after Matthew had been in circulation for some time. Yet, following Hengel’s observation, it is difficult to imagine how second generation writers could have published Gospels under their own names once a Gospel had been published under the authority of one of the original twelve apostles. Conversely, a third generation author with no recognized nexus with apostolic authority might well be motivated to publish pseudonymously, thereby imbuing the work with the authority of one of the original twelve. That Matthew is the only one of the three to carry an apostolic title suggests that it may have been a later composition.[3] We will examine evidence which lends credence to this interpretation in the following chapter.

During the course of our discussion we will locate ample evidence to establish with certainty that Mark was the first of the three Synoptics to have been composed, thereby eliminating the Griesbach and Augustinian hypotheses from consideration. In the balance of this chapter we will explore two significant features of the Gospel of Matthew that will allow us to conclude beyond any doubt that it was the last of the three. The first of these features is that, upon comparing Matthew with Luke, we discover that Matthew contains a greater density of Jesus traditions than does Luke. In Matthew we find a more extensive collection of Jesus’ ethical teachings, a greater array of supernatural events, additional ruminations on the end of the age, more thought on the nature of the kingdom of God/heaven, and a significantly increased focus on the intimate Fatherhood of God. This is remarkable considering that Matthew is shorter than Luke by about 7%. Moreover, not only does Luke offer a more limited array of traditions, but frequently those that do exist in Luke represent a subset of those that appear in Matthew.

The second noteworthy feature of Matthew is that it contains numerous attempts to reconcile problematic elements in the Jesus story that remain unresolved in Mark and Luke. Matthew methodically corrects and explains aspects of the accounts in Mark and Luke that had led to skepticism and doubt. We will explore this in detail in Chapters Two and Three after we examine how the various elements of the Jesus tradition are arrayed in the Synoptic Gospels.

Distribution patterns in Matthew, Mark, and Luke

Many different types of stories and sayings are distributed in distinctive patterns among the Synoptic Gospels. To illustrate this phenomenon we will define seven discrete categories that constitute unique thematic elements in the Synoptic texts:

1.    The supernatural events
2.    
The eschatological vision
3.    
The ethical teachings
4.    
Jesus as the Christ
5.     Jesus as the Son of man
6.    
The kingdom of God/heaven
7.    
The fatherhood of God

 

The questions before us are these: How are each of these elements distributed throughout the texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke? Are they scattered randomly? Do the three Gospels contain roughly equal proportions of material from each of the seven categories? Or does one Gospel lend more emphasis, say, to the kingdom of God and Son of man sayings, while another places more emphasis on eschatology and the fatherhood of God? What can be discovered by analyzing this material quantitatively in each of the three Gospels?

As a preliminary observation, the absolute lengths of the Gospel texts are germane to the inquiry, as they differ significantly in length. The Greek text of Mark through 16:8 (where most scholars believe the original Gospel of Mark ended), consists of about 12,500 words. Matthew is longer than Mark, with about 20,300 words, and Luke is the longest with about 21,700 words. Accordingly, Matthew is 62% longer than Mark, while Luke is 74% longer than Mark, and 7% longer than Matthew. These percentages will vary slightly based upon assumptions made in regard to the Greek texts as reconstructed from surviving manuscripts. However, fine precision is not required. For the present discussion we need only recognize that Luke is the longest of the Synoptics, exceeding the length of Matthew by about 7%, and Mark by about 74%:

1.4: Word Length of the Synoptic Gospels

MYTHWordLength2.jpg

Given that Luke is the longest of the Gospels, we might anticipate that Luke would be the richest repository for at least some of the Jesus traditions. However, other than concentrations attributable to relative text length, there is no reason to anticipate that the wide diversity of themes in the list above would be arrayed in any common pattern.

The following analysis offers a simple inventory count of each occurrence of each thematic element, and compares the results as they are distributed among the three Synoptic Gospels. This is, of course, not a traditional method of textual evaluation. However, it yields information that bears upon the larger questions at hand.

 

1. Supernatural events

The Synoptic authors viewed Jesus’ ministry as being acted out upon an earthly stage that is subject to intervention from the divine realm. The natural world is being observed by beings from the spirit world (God, Satan, angels, demons) who occasionally break through into the natural space-time continuum to influence or disrupt the course of events on earth. These manifestations consist of angelic appearances, voices from heaven, demonic possessions, timely earthquakes, and so on. They are, by and large, independent of the miracle working activity of Jesus himself. The supernatural events in the Synoptics serve to depict human life on earth as subordinate to an interactive struggle between good and evil forces in the spirit world. As such they are interpretive mythical elements which are used to expand both the drama and the cosmic meaning of the Jesus story.

1.5:  Supernatural Events of the Gospels

(excluding miracles performed by Jesus)

 


Event


Mark


Luke


Matt

  Virginal Conception

 

1

1

  Star of Bethlehem

 

 

1

  Warnings in Dreams

 

 

2

  Angelic appearances

 

4

4

  Heavens open upon Jesus’ baptism

1

1

1

  Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove

1

1

1

  Voice from heaven

1

1

1

  Temptation by Satan

1

1

1

  Conversations with Satan

 

1

1

  Angels minister to Jesus in wilderness

1

 

1

  Conversations with demons

3

3

1

  Transfiguration/ Moses & Elijah appear

1

1

1

  Voice from cloud during Transfiguration

1

1

1

  Sky darkens on afternoon of Jesus' death

1

1

1

  Tearing of the temple curtain

1

1

1

  Earthquake upon Jesus' death

 

 

1

  Earthquake at the tomb

 

 

1

  Saints resurrected/appear in Jerusalem

 

 

 

1

Total Supernatural Events

 

12

17

22

Figure 1.5 above is an inventory of the supernatural events in the Synoptic Gospels. We find twelve such events in Mark, seventeen in Luke, and twenty-two in Matthew. Thus, despite the fact that Luke is the longer gospel, it is in Matthew that we find the highest concentration of these events. Note also that most of Luke’s supernatural events are duplicated in Matthew, while Matthew contains several dramatic events that do not appear in either of the other two Gospels. A bar graph of these data is presented in Figure 1.6:

1.6 Distribution of Supernatural Events

MYTHSupernat.jpg

In and of itself, the fact that Matthew contains a wider array of supernatural events than Luke reveals little about the literary relationship of the two Gospels. The data only become meaningful as we begin to find the same pattern replicating itself across numerous unrelated categories of tradition.

 

2. Eschatological material

Each of the Synoptics incorporates some discussion related to the end times and the Second Coming. When we isolate the texts referring to the last day, the close of the age, the Second Coming, or the day of judgment, and quantify this as a percentage of the each Gospel’s entire text, we get an interesting result: 7.2% of the text of Mark is focused on these issues; Luke is second with 10.3%; Matthew is third with 14.5%. The result is noteworthy in that the graph of these statistics (Fig. 1.7) looks similar to the distribution pattern of supernatural events above.

 

1.7: Percentage of Synoptic texts regarding Eschatological Issues

MYTHEschat.jpg

 (Table based on the following texts: Mark 12:1-11; 13:1-37; Luke 10:10-15; 12:35-50; 17:20-37; 18:1-8; 19:11-27, 41-44; 20:9-18; 21:5-36; 22:28-30; 23:28-31; Matt 10:14-23; 11:20-24; 12:36-42; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 16:27-28; 21:33-41; 23:32-36; 24:1-51; 25:1-46; 26:64)

 

There is no apparent reason, other than coincidence, why there would be a statistical correlation between the distribution of supernatural events and that of eschatological content. If the Gospels were produced by independent communities with diverse concerns and influences (as Q theorists propose), we would expect to find ideas pertaining to the end times to have evolved along a different statistical trajectory than that of the supernatural events of Jesus’ ministry.  Yet, a statistical correlation—accidental or otherwise—does exist between these two categories of thought. Not only does the pattern appear in a measurement of the quantity of text each author allocated to eschatological issues, but it also becomes apparent in an evaluation of the content of the eschatological teachings themselves.

All three Synoptics present the idea that there will be an end of time, heralded by tribulation and violence, the culmination of which will be the physical return of Jesus. Further, all three evangelists agree that this event is to take place within the lifetime of those who heard Jesus speak. Thus, believers are admonished to be alert and to watch for the signs of the end (Mark 13:30-33 and pars). In Mark, there will be an “end” of sorts heralded by violence and persecutions, culminating in Jesus' return. However, Mark does not call it a “day of judgment” as Matthew does. Though this might be inferred from the text, the idea that the world will be destroyed and unbelievers cast into eternal damna­tion is not as developed in Mark as it is in Luke and Matthew.

Luke has an increased focus on apocalyptic judgment as compared to Mark. Statistically, Luke’s texts on the end of the world are more than twice the length of those in Mark. Luke adds a heightened sense of ominous foreboding. For example, Mark 13 simply cautions believers to watch and take care that they are not led astray by false prophets and teachers. In contrast, Luke ends the discourse with the following:

But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34-36)

Luke also takes Mark's vision of the end one significant step further by introducing the idea that the Second Coming will be accompanied by the violent destruction of the world (Luke 17:26-30, Fig 2.5, p.54). Luke therefore manifests a greater sense of urgency regarding the end of the world as compared to Mark.

Yet, it is Matthew’s Gospel which develops the end of the world concept to the greatest extreme. The phrase “day of judgment” occurs only in Matthew (10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36), as does the phrase “close of the age” (13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20). The explicit damnation of unbelievers to an “eternal fire” is also unique to Matthew 25:41. The vision of Jesus sitting on his throne with all the nations before his divine judgment appears only in Matthew 25:31-46.

Another idea unique to Luke and Matthew is concern over the delay of the Second Coming. Clearly, the audiences for whom these Gospels were written had lived with the expectation of Jesus’ return for so long that impatience and confusion among believers needed to be addressed. Both Matthew and Luke include the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matt 24:45-51; Luke 12:41-48). In addition to this common pericope,[4] the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8) and the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) warn readers to stand faithful in the face of the delay of Jesus’ return. It is understandable that parables pertaining to the delay of his return would have been created and attributed to Jesus over time. It is consistent that they should appear in the later Gospels while they are absent from Mark.

The distribution of eschatological teachings in the Gospels is summarized in Figure 1.8 below. In this table, the pattern of evolv­ing thought regarding the end of the world corresponds with the increasing percentage of the Gospels’ texts allocated to it. The increasing focus from Mark to Luke to Matthew suggests a growing anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus as a violent cataclysmic event. The Gospels reflect an increasing need to encourage the believers to stand firm.

 

1.8: Summary of Eschatological Themes

 


Mark


Luke


Matt

 

   Damnation of unbelievers to eternal fire

 

 

x

   “Day of judgment,” “close of the age”

 

 

x

   Concern over delay of Jesus’ return

 

x

x

   Destruction of world at Jesus' return

 

x

x

   Violence/persecution as end of age nears

x

x

x

   Second coming of Jesus to earth

x

x

x

   Last day/termination of present age

x

x

x

 

Thus, we find a pattern similar to that of the supernatural events: All of the eschatological themes developed in Luke also appear in Matthew, but Matthew contains ideas that are a step beyond those found in Luke. With few exceptions, Luke contains a subset of the eschatological materials found in Matthew and a subset of the supernatural events that are found in Matthew.

 

3. Ethical Teachings

A third common feature of the Synoptic Gospels is that they each portray Jesus as an ethical visionary. For the purpose of this study the ethical teachings are defined as those which bear upon proper conduct and right thinking as it relates to one’s fellow man. These sayings may be distinguished from those which instruct on the kingdom of God, salvation, and other religious or philosophical themes. For example, the commandment to love God with all one’s heart is considered here to be a religious concept as it bears upon man’s relation to God, whereas the admonition to love one’s neighbor is classified as an ethical teaching since it bears upon the individual’s relationship to society.

It is not suggested that the authors of the Gospels would have made such distinctions. To the contrary, these categories are defined expressly for the purpose of statistical comparison, for there is a quantifiable dif­ference in the ethical sayings content between the three Synoptics. Isolating Jesus’ ethical sayings sheds light on the degree to which each evangelist was concerned with the moral conduct of believers among themselves and within society at large, and the degree to which Christian faith was being interpreted to have consequences for daily social life.

Figure 1.9 lists the sayings of Jesus which bear upon right thinking and proper conduct in society and among fellow believers. On occasion, sayings of very similar intent or meaning have been grouped into a category rather than listed separately. For example, Matthew contains teachings to fast in secret,  to pray in secret,  and to give alms without others knowing. These three sayings are combined and listed in Figure 1.9 as “admonitions to practice faith in secret.” Since Luke and Matthew have the greatest propensity to restate similar themes, such groupings do not alter the general distribution pattern of ethical teachings in the Gospels. However, since the categorization of certain sayings is subjective, the reader is encouraged to perform an independent review to verify to his or her satisfaction that the statistical distribution of ethical content is fairly represented by this table.

1.9:  Distribution of Ethical Teachings

 

Ethical Teaching:


 

Mark

 

Luke

 

Matt

Healing on the Sabbath

x

x

x

Admonitions to forgive

x

x

x

Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit

x

x

x

On Fasting

x

x

x

On Divorce

x

x

x

When you pray, forgive

x

x

x

Measure you give/measure you get

x

x

x

He who would be first must serve all

x

x

x

Great Commandment (love God/neighbor)

x

x

x

Render to Caesar things that are Caesar's

x

x

x

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off

x

 

x

What comes out of one's heart defiles him

x

x

x

Do not lay up treasures on earth

x

x

x

Make friends quickly with your accuser

 

x

x

Love your enemies

 

x

x

Turn the other cheek

 

x

x

Give to those who beg of you

 

x

x

You cannot serve God and mammon

 

x

x

Take the speck out of your own eye

 

x

x

Judge not, that you be not judged

 

x

x

As you wish men would do to you, do so

 

x

x

He who exalts himself will be humbled

 

x

x

Parable of the Good Samaritan

 

x

 

Blessed are the merciful . . .

 

 

x

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .

 

 

x

Blessed are the pure in heart . . .

 

 

x

Do not look lustfully upon a woman

 

 

x

Do not be angry with your brother

 

 

x

Do not swear, either by heaven or earth

 

 

x

He who takes sword, dies by sword

 

 

x

Admonitions to practice faith in secret

x

 

x

 

______

______

______

 

TOTAL

 

14

 

22

 

30

 

 

The data from Figure 1.9 are presented as a bar graph in Figure 1.10. Perhaps not surprisingly, we once again find the familiar pattern of progression in the Mark-Luke-Matthew sequence that exists in the distribution of supernatural events and eschatological teachings.

 

1.10: Distribution of Ethical Teachings

MYTH-14-22-30.jpg

Again note in Figure 1.9 that almost all of the content that appears in Luke appears also in Matthew, while Matthew contains an array of teachings that are unique to Matthew. Though Luke is the longer of the two Gospels, when we quantify the supernatural events, the eschatological material, and the ethical content, Luke consistently represents a virtual subset of the Gospel of Matthew.

 

4. Jesus as the “Christ”

Jesus is identified as the Christ in all three Synoptic Gospels. In light of the data above, the distribution of these references is remarkable: The Christ title appears seven times in Mark, twelve times in Luke, and sixteen times in Matthew. What becomes more intriguing with each succeeding category of tradition is that the patterns not only show a consistently higher concentration of material in Matthew than in Luke, but the increases charted thus far are largely proportional to one another, as this graph shows:

1.11: Synoptic references to Jesus as “Christ”

MYTHChrist.jpg

 

5. Jesus as “Son of man

In addition to the title of “Christ,” Jesus is designated as “Son of man” in all three Synoptics. An inventory of occurrences of the term “Son of man” reveals that it appears 14 times in Mark, 25 times in Luke, and 30 times in Matthew (Fig. 1.12).

The titles of Christ and Son of man are more closely related to each other theologically than either of them is to, for instance, ethical or supernatural content. However, it is incorrect to presume that they go hand-in-hand. Independent communities that were evolving under different influences would be expected to emphasize one title, or preferred set of titles, while deemphasizing others. In the authentic letters of Paul, for example, Jesus is referred to as the Christ dozens of times, but never once is he referred to as the Son of man. Thus the fact that we find the familiar statistical correlation in the Mark-Luke-Matthew pattern is noteworthy.

 

1.12: Synoptic references to Jesus as “Son of man”

MYTH-14-25-30.jpg

 

6. The kingdom of God/heaven

Another prominent Synoptic concept is the coming kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven. An inventory of the usage of these phrases, plus the additional uses of the word “kingdom” as a direct reference to the kingdom of God (e.g., “thy kingdom come”), reveals 15 occurrences in Mark, 39 in Luke, and 52 in Matthew (Fig 1.13).

 

1.13: Synoptic references to “Kingdom of God/heaven”

MYTH-Kingdom.jpg

 

7. The Fatherhood of God

Finally, as a seventh distinct ideological category, the depiction of God as an intimate personal Father in heaven exists in all three Synoptics. This concept is entirely unrelated to ethical teachings, or end times visions. Nevertheless, the use of the term Father in relation to God is relatively sparse in Mark, occurring only four times. Meanwhile it appears 16 times in Luke and 44 times in Matthew:

MYTH-4-16-44.jpg

Observations

It is clear that these seven categories of tradition manifest a common pattern of distribution among the Synoptics, with Matthew containing the highest concentration of material in all seven categories. Since Luke is the longer of the two Gospels, this is an unexpected result. Furthermore, not only does Luke contain a diluted form of each tradition found in Matthew, but a peculiar feature of the data is that in five of the seven categories Luke manifests a proportionate dilution in a narrow range of 71% to 77%. This is far too much statistical uniformity to pass off as mere coincidence:

 Category

 Luke

 Matthew

 Luke as % of Matt

 

 

 

 

Supernatural events

17

22

77%

Eschatological content

10.3%

14.5%

71%

Ethical sayings

22

30

73%

Jesus as Christ

12

16

75%

Jesus as Son of man

25

30

83%

Kingdom of God

39

52

75%

God as Father

16

44

36%

Now with these striking statistical patterns in mind, we may revisit the premise underlying the Two-Document Hypothesis. Advocates of the 2DH propose that Matthew and Luke each wrote their respective Gospels independently of one another while drawing upon Mark and Q. However, it is unlikely that the repeating statistical distributions could have occurred by random chance as the product of two independent authors using the same two source documents. If the communities that produced Matthew and Luke were truly isolated from each other such that the publication of the earlier Gospel in one remained unknown to the other, we would expect that these communities would have had different biases and preferences, emphasizing certain aspects of the Jesus tradition and minimizing others. One community might have had more interest in Jesus’ social message and its ramifications, while the other may have harbored more concern for eschatological issues, just as various factions of the church do today.

Instead, we find that the community that produced Matthew developed a more refined and expansive interpretation of Jesus traditions across the entire spectrum of thought. Not only are the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commission presented in more evolved form in Matthew, but the content of Jesus’ ethical message is richer, the visions of the end-time events are more extreme, supernatural mythology is more diverse, and the concept of the intimate fatherhood of God is more developed. Collectively, Matthew contains an enrichment of all prominent aspects of the Jesus story, surpassing the material found in Luke, while Luke contains virtual subsets of the material found in Matthew.

Therefore, Matthew presents a more mature expression of the Church’s interpretation of Jesus. The statistical distribution of materials between Luke and Matthew, as well as the qualitative enhancements of Matthew over Luke, are consistent with the proposition that Matthew was composed some time after Luke. Moreover, there was an interval of time between the two that would allow for all facets of the Jesus tradition to have evolved into the more sophisticated forms that are documented in the Gospel of Matthew.

Before leaving the subject of statistical comparisons, we may touch on its consequences for the alternative solutions commonly proposed, namely the Griesbach hypothesis, the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis, and the Augustinian hypothesis. All of these theories argue that Luke was dependent upon Matthew. Yet the data we have just reviewed are difficult to explain under such a scenario. We must imagine that Luke, in using Matthew as a source, managed to diminish its traditions across the board both qualitatively and quantitatively, while at the same time producing a Gospel that was longer than Matthew by 7%. In the process he eviscerated the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes; he dismantled the Sermon on the Mount and reformulated it as the more anemic Sermon on the Plain; he diminished the ethical vision of Jesus; he removed most of Matthew’s references to the intimate fatherhood of God; and finally he eliminated the decisive command from Matthew’s Great Commission to “go therefore and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and replaced it with a statement that repentance and forgiveness should be preached to all nations, but that the disciples should wait in the city until further notice.

It is difficult to imagine what Luke would have had in mind to have used Matthew in this manner. Yet as we shall ultimately discover, these are just the first of many editorial eccentricities of which Luke would be guilty were he to have used Matthew as a source.



[1] Hengel, Martin, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 170

[2] Ibid, p. 169.

[3] Hengel's entire discussion of the Synoptic Problem and his rationale for considering Matthew's dependence upon Luke is an important reference for those pursuing further study. It is found in The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, Trinity Press, 2000, pp.169-207.

[4] A pericope (pa-RI-ka-pee), in rhetoric, is a discrete literary unit. The term is commonly used by biblical scholars in generic reference to sayings, parables, healing stories, miracles, and any discrete literary unit in the scriptures.

From The Myth of the Lost Gospel, Evan Powell
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