Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark
1. True Kin
Matt 12:46-50 // Mark 3:31-35
// Luke 8:19-21
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Form: Pronouncement Story or
This story sketches an incident that ends with a dramatic saying of Jesus. The situation is described with
just the minimum details needed to set up Jesus' words. There are no names of characters or
descriptions of the setting that reflect eye-witness reminiscence. None of the accounts mentions the
outcome of the incident. Everything stops with Jesus'
Here the synoptic gospels present three performances of the same basic script, a script designed to let
Jesus have the last word. Note the patterns of extensive verbal agreement in each
narrator's blocking of
the incident. The logical structure of the story is practically the same in each case. The only differences
are stylistic (verb form, synonyms, transitional words, omission or repetition of phrases like "mother &
The logical skeleton of this pericope is:
Jesus' biological kin stood outside his inner circle.
[Jesus was told this].
[Jesus questioned the identity of his kin].
Jesus defined his kin by theological rather than biological relationships.
As the texts of
Luke show, either of the two middle elements could be dropped without
disrupting the basic logic of the story.
Surprisingly, however, there is wide variation in the three versions of Jesus'
lines. This is not an instance of Jesus saying the same thing on different occasions but, rather, of divergent reports of Jesus'
words on the same occasion.
If these stories varied in structure or significant details, the variation in Jesus' pronouncement could be
attributed to faulty recollection of different witnesses. But since the logical structure of the pericope is
identical in all three gospels, one has to conclude that the writers are repeating the same story & that at
least two of them have deliberately edited the punch line.
Location in Texts
This story about kinship is a self-contained unit that could be told anywhere, since there are no clues in
the narrative to indicate where or when it happened. Yet, all three synoptic writers present it right next
to a block of material focused on the problem of understanding Jesus' parables:
[For precise place in the gospel sequences see Gospel Outlines, lines
93 & 118].
There are no internal logical links between the story of Jesus' kin & the parable segment. So the
connection between these pericopes is not likely to be a coincidence in the oral memory of writers
working independently. Rather, it is one clue among many pieces of evidence that these gospels shared
a written source. If that source is not some unknown lost document, then two of these texts are based on
Wording: Mark as Middle Ground
Ancient writers had no concept of copyright. So they often plagiarized material from other texts without
bothering to credit the source. Careful comparison of the patterns of agreement & disagreement in
wording uncovers important clues as to who copied from whom.
In the case of this chreia regarding Jesus' kin, note four things:
The bulk of the wording is duplicated in at least two texts
(blue & teal type).
Except for the oft-repeated phrase "mother & brothers," there is practically no wording shared by
all three texts (blue type). [That would still be the case if Matt 12:47 was in the original version of Matthew, which is
The pattern of verbal agreement between texts
One whole verse is in Mark & Luke but probably
One whole verse is in Matthew & Mark but
In the focusing statement Matthew shares one verbal clause with Mark ("stand outside"),
while Luke shares another ("came").
In Jesus' climactic
pronouncement, Matthew & Mark agree in every detail except the name
Jesus used to designate the deity, while that is the only word in which Luke & Mark agree
(except for the recurrent phrase "mother & brothers").
Therefore, the text of Mark is the middle term in the relationship between the texts of Matthew & Luke.
Without Mark, Matthew & Luke would have practically no wording in common except the repeated
reference to "mother & brothers." The only elements that Matthew & Luke's versions of this story share
Such a pattern usually points to a common oral source rather than to literary dependence of one text on
another. So, without Mark, this passage alone does not demonstrate a literary link between Matthew &
Luke. But with Mark in the middle a literary link becomes obvious.
Note the differences in the wording each synoptic writer uses
to introduce this story. Transitions
between pericopes are the creation of the person who combined them & reveal much about that
author's characteristic style. Matthew opens with a temporal clause that leads the reader gradually from
one scene to another. Mark & Luke have only vague single word links that make the reader jump from
one scene to the next .
Mark's opening word is the simple coordinating conjunction "and" (Greek: kai), which is usually used to
add one item to another to form a string of parallel elements (as in "mother and brothers"). This is
Mark's favorite transition word to link scenes (more than 70 times in 16 chapters; compared with about
30 times each in the longer gospels of Matthew & Luke). Mark also regularly used it to link action
statements (5 times in this pericope alone). Frequent dependence upon "and" to establish logical links
between clauses may be acceptable in oral story telling, but it is not good literary style in Greek any
more than in English. [In Hebrew or Aramaic literature, however, such use of "and" is common. So the
Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible regularly used kai to represent the Hebrew word
va ("and") in linking parallel statements.]
Mark's style is colloquial, Matthew's & Luke's more formal. Matthew & Luke wrote good Greek. They did
not generally use "and" to link actions. Instead they preferred subordinate clauses, which is a more
elegant, literate method of joining action statements. But note: in this pericope, at least, Luke
never used the same transitions as either Matthew or Mark. [The
Greek word behind Luke's conjunctions
printed here in square brackets (Luke 8:20) is not kai
but de, a more subtle flexible conjunction preferred in
polished Greek literary works].
11 January 2019