Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jesus Tradition 3: Common Sayings in Matthew and Luke

If Mark is a primary source behind Matthew and Luke, then we still have to explain where the material common to Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark comes from.  For some, it is just easier to go with Matthew as the first gospel.  Then Mark and Luke can simply be an abbreviation and rearrangement of Matthew respectively.  But if the last post about Markan priority holds true, then we will need an alternative explanation.

The "common oral tradition" explanation does not seem, at least to me in my limited exploration, to be able to account for the amount of this common material (remembering that Jesus did a lot more than what is recorded) and the extent of its verbal similarity (although my sense is that this material is less close verbally than the Markan material).  In any case, by far the majority position is that some written source explains this material.

There are two main alternatives.  The one sees Luke drawing directly on Matthew and Mark.  The other sees both Matthew and Luke drawing on some common source or sources, primarily a collection of Jesus' sayings. Gospel experts are less united on this one.  Probably a majority still go with a common source, a collection of Jesus' sayings.  It's usually called "Q," which is short for Quelle, "source."

Renewed studies of oral tradition do complicate these hypotheses.  Despite any written sources that may have been in play, Matthew or Luke's memory of sayings and events was probably also a factor in how things ended up like they did. Also, even if Luke had a written source of Jesus' sayings in front of him, he might also have a copy of Matthew in front of him or have heard Matthew at some time.  If we knew the complete story, I imagine it would be pretty complicated.

So here is my current sense of things as someone who has done some study but who is not an authority on them per se.  Yes, there are some places where Matthew and Luke agree in wording against Mark, sometimes used to argue that Luke knew Matthew even though he primarily followed Mark.  In the opinion of most, these instances are not significant enough to dislodge Markan priority.  However, some believe they are significant enough to make it unnecessary to hypothesize some sayings source (e.g., Mark Goodacre).  Rather, they suggest that Luke had Matthew in addition to Mark and that Luke's sayings material comes from Matthew rather than some Q.

On the one hand, I am very open to the possibility that Luke knew Matthew.  However, in the end, I am still siding with the majority that the evidence ultimately suggests Luke also had a sayings source that Matthew also used.   I offer a few reasons why I think this majority position--again, a position that has stuck around for well over 100 years--seems more likely.

First, if we look at Matthew and Luke's common material, sometimes Matthew's version seems more original and sometimes Luke's version seems more original.  This speaks to a common source rather than to one of them using the other.  On the one hand, I don't know any voice of any significance that argues that Matthew used Luke.  It can be argued, of course, but look at the way that Luke arguably edits this saying that is also in Matthew:

Matthew 10:28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather be afraid of the one able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

Luke 12:4-5
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after these things are not having something further to do.  I will show you whom you should fear.  Be afraid of the one who, after killing, has the authority to cast into Gehenna.

Here, it seems to me, Matthew preserves the more original wording and Luke has expanded on the saying.  The real question is thus whether Luke at some point has a more original version of a saying and Matthew seems more to paraphrase it.  Consider the following possibility:

Matthew 5:3
Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 6:20
Blessed [are] the poor, because yours is the kingdom of God.

It is hard to argue for which might be original.  The poor are a major theme of Luke, so one might argue that it  might despiritualize Matthew's version.  On the other hand "kingdom of heaven" is a clear redactional tendency of Matthew, something he might modify from Mark.  In the end, I think it slightly more likely that Matthew would spiritualize the saying than that Luke would despiritualize it.

But the strongest reason why I think Luke does not get his common sayings material from Matthew is the fact that I can't think of any reason he would scatter Matthew's teaching.  Take Luke 16:14-18.  This material appears in three different places in Matthew.  Matthew's presentation of it is magisterial and great pedagogically, appearing in coherent sermon contexts.  In Luke, though, even the NIV puts as the heading for these verses, "Additional Teachings."  They just seem to come out of nowhere and to be grouped somewhat randomly.

In short, it makes sense to me that Matthew might take a sayings source and organize some of its material together.  It makes no sense to me that Luke would look at Matthew and partition its sayings material.  For this reason, a majority still leans toward the over a century old suggestion that both Matthew and Luke drew on a common source, consisting mostly of Jesus' sayings, for this common material, called "Q" for short.  Luke's order for this material is often taken to be closer to how it might have actually appeared in this source than Matthew's order.

Now if you follow this line of thinking, it leads to some thoughts that might feel a little uncomfortable.  I am not going to die for any of them but you can see that they are not simply some whacko liberal clap trap.  They are the result of experts doing detailed analyses and following the evidence to what seems to be its most logical conclusions.  These are not beyond question for certain, but they're also certainly not some attempt to undermine the Bible.

For example, the Sermon on the Mount would turn out to be in part a collection of Jesus material, with Luke's Sermon on the Plain as its core.  Matthew as we now have it would probably not turn out to be in the same form as the gospel the second century Papias mentions--a collection of Jesus' sayings in Aramaic.  Although it is not a popular suggestion these days, I myself like to think that what we call "Q" was actually an expanded Greek version of an Aramaic collection of Jesus' sayings that the disciple Matthew made.  I can't prove it, of course.

The Gospel of Matthew would thus be named after one of its primary sources.  We do have examples of these sorts of sayings collections.  The Gospel of Thomas is one, as are 4QTestimonia and 4QFlorilegium from Qumran (although they're a little different from what we are picturing here).

In any case, this is some of the stuff that gospel experts assume and some of the stuff they debate...


FrGregACCA said...


Anonymous said...

Ya can't get more succinct than that, Greg!

Anonymous said...

The argument based the arrangement of the Sermon on the Mount material always strikes me as too aesthetic. We impose our own literary preferences on the authors and mistake it for historical analysis. What purpose could Luke have in rearranging Matthew's material? Read the Sermon on the Mount aloud sometime and get a sense of just how tedious it is. Do the Beatitudes hold together well with the metaphors and the teachings? They make good study and sermon material but one can argue that as literature they are not all that superior to other arrangements. It is perfectly reasonable for another author to prefer dropping many of these teachings into some sort of appropriate context elsewhere in the narrative.

I am not sure that having a section of "additional teachings" argues for Q either. Luke could just as easily have left over teachings from Matthew that he could not fit anywhere else and yet wanted to keep. Why would we favor Q as their source?

Goodacre has done some interesting work examining the editorial decisions made by film makers when they tackle the SotM. Even a film entitled "The Gospel According to Matthew" did exactly what Luke would have done; shorten the sermon and spread the remaining teachings through out the story. It makes perfect rhetorical sense if you prefer to use the power of the narrative to anchor your message.

It appears that I have become a shill for both Ehrman and Goodacre. No hope for me!

Anonymous said...

By the way. I think it is great that you are presenting this material that is so often neglected (swept under the carpet) by the church. Sadly the people who frequent your blog are not the ones who need to be exposed to this. Every week, Sunday school lessons (and sermons!) across the country continue on as if it is an established fact that Matthew wrote the gospel attributed to him.

How do we get the word out more widely? Ehrman wrote "Jesus Interrupted" as an attempt to get this same material to the lay audience (told you I was Ehrmanista!) with very little effect. Obviously his cred in the less liberal community is limited. Who else can Academia send as apostle to the fundamentalists?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Ken, for your post (and for mentioning my work) and thanks, Scott for your helpful comments. The redistribution of the Sermon is indeed an aesthetic judgement, and one that is special to NT scholars have been repeating the judgement since Streeter. But actually, on closer inspection, they are not so positive about Matthew's arrangement -- cf. scholars like Stanton and Fitzmyer who talk about the second half of the sermon as a "rag bag", and this only a few pages after they have celebrated its glorious order.

On the first beatitude, I agree with you, Ken, about the Matthean nature of the "kingdom of heaven" (32/0/0), which Luke omits, always preferring kingdom of God. And it's not so much "despiritualizing" as septuagintalizing and redacting it in the light of what we so often see him doing elsewhere -- preferring the poor in an eschatological reversal with the rich.

With respect to the minor agreements, you are right, Ken, that these incline me to see Luke's use of Matthew. But I think it is important also to pay attention to the major agreements. So much of the double tradition material actually occurs in triple tradition contexts (esp. Matt. 3-4 and Luke 3-4) and these so called "Mark-Q overlap" passages are seriously problematic for the Two-Source Theory.

With respect to Luke 16.14ff, I agree that it is not Luke's finest work, but that judgement stands whether or not one thinks he used Q. Bear in mind that not all the material there is Q material anyway, so the problem is present whether one thinks he is using Q or Matthew.

With respect to alternating primitivity, I would also want to underline that I do not rule out Luke's use of other traditions alongside Matthew. I would repeat here a point that I have attempted to make before, that we should avoid confusing literary priority with age of traditions.

Thanks again for a nuanced post, and for taking an alternative to the Two-Source Theory seriously.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for these insights, Mark. I think it's in Questioning Q (or was it on your blog) that you mention that most "experts" like me hold lazily to the Q hypothesis. We are really experts on other parts of the NT or other aspects of the gospel and we have not delved into the detail that true source experts like you have. I hope one day to look into these things with more than the time it takes to write a passing blog post...

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Ken. That observation is in The Case Against Q, I think. It came from something a senior NT prof. once said to me, that he was a "lazy believer in Q"! What's encouraging about your blog post, Ken, is that you do think about the issues involved. Many don't and are happy simply to repeat the supposed wisdom of yesteryear.