Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark
Matt 13:10-17 // Mark 4:10-12
// Luke 8:9-10
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focuses on a cryptic & perplexing pronouncement
about the purpose of parables. In form
it is like an oral chreia that could be repeated
anywhere. Yet, there is no evidence that it was ever cited outside its literary
context in the synoptic gospels. In Matthew, Mark & Luke it is sandwiched
between the parable of the sower
& its allegorical interpretation;
& there is no parallel passage elsewhere. This synoptic sandwich cannot be
traced to oral tradition, since the discussion of the purpose of parables in
general disrupts the natural memory link between the preceding parable &
its explanation. Thus, this sequence of material was created by one of the
gospel authors & simply echoed by the others.
The scene is structured as a
dialog with three basic elements:
The details of this dialog,
however, complicate the task of identifying the source text(s).
The great variation in the length
of the three versions of this passage makes it obvious that it underwent
Mark has the most verbose
& awkward introduction of the question
about parables [the Greek is actually even more awkward than the RSV
English: "And when it happened he was alone, when..."]. The
parallel verse in both Matthew & Luke is more grammatical &
Matthew, on the other hand,
presents a much fuller & more lucid explanation
of purpose ["because..."], complete with a typically
Matthean quotation of a prophetic oracle
from the standard Greek translation of the OT (commonly called
the Septuagint). Mark & Luke's versions of this pericope omit most of
Luke's account is
characteristically the most concise & focused of the three. Note that,
like Mark, Luke explains Jesus' use of parables with a purpose
clause ["so that..."] rather than a causal clause
["because..."] like Matthew.
Beside the quotation
from Isaiah 6:9-10, Matthew presents 2 aphorisms
here that are found elsewhere in the other synoptic gospels:
Thus, any source hypothesis has to
account for the fact that Mark & Luke both omit some elements of Matthew's
explanation of why Jesus speaks in parables & present others in a totally
Though each synoptic narrator
presents those who were close to Jesus ["disciples" or "those
around the 12"] as raising the question about the parable(s), the reply
indicates that parables were not composed for them. Jesus insists that his
inner circle has already been given the secret(s) of the Deity's
regime. The two aphorisms that only Matthew presents at this point underline
this positive note by
The absence of these
aphorisms in Mark & Luke (particularly the second) focuses attention on
people who are not followers of Jesus & ends those versions of
this pericope on a more ominous negative
The primary logical problem
in this pericope, however, is created by the difference of a miniscule subordinating
In most mss. of Matthew,
Jesus tells parables to people outside his circle because
[Greek: hoti] they
do not yet know what his disciples know. Thus, Matthew represents
the parables as visual aids for those who are slow to understand. This
denseness of the general populace is the condition that Jesus'
parables are designed to correct.
According to Mark &
Luke, however, Jesus tells parables so
hina] people outside
his immediate circle will not understand what his disciples do.
Thus, Mark & Luke make public confusion the goal that Jesus'
parables are designed to achieve.
are usually composed as illustrations rather than puzzles (even
though later interpreters may be puzzled by them). So if
either Mark or Luke knew Matthew's version of this passage it is odd that neither
echoed his reading at this point.
In Matthew's logic, the
characterization of hearers as slow to comprehend justifies Jesus' pedagogical
practice of composing graphic parables. Yet, like a good scholar, the
Christian scribe who composed this gospel also explicitly points out that this
description of Jesus' audience parallels a passage in a previous scriptural
characterization of his fellow Jews. Neither Mark nor
Luke note this parallel.
Note, however, that Mark's
version of Jesus' explanation of his motive for using parables concludes
with a cautionary clause ["lest..."]
is grammatically parallel to the conclusion of the passage Matthew
quotes from Isaiah 6. Yet, the logical function of these clauses is
almost diametrically opposite. In Isaiah, the prophet is forewarned that his
audience will not heed him since they deliberately close their eyes
to keep themselves from seeking God's help. In Mark, the the logic of the
grammatical syntax ["so that...lest..."] makes the cautionary
clause refer to the Jesus' motive for speaking in parables rather
than to the stubbornness of the audience. Taken literally Mark 4:12 seems
to say that Jesus composes parables that hide his message of God's
kingdom from outsiders in order to prevent them from repenting
& being forgiven.
From the perspective of a
Christian who knows Jesus' message of forgiveness, the logic of Mark 4:12
makes it one of the most difficult & perplexing passages in the NT. So, it
is not at all surprising that Luke has no parallel to the cautionary clause in
Echoed Word Patterns
RSV translation of this pericope has been modified at several points to
indicate the actual parallels in the original Greek
Where the RSV uses the
same English word to represent different Greek words or verb
forms the variant term has been presented in black type in square
brackets: e.g., [and].
Where I have replaced
the RSV translation with more literal wording, the text is presented in
pointed brackets: e.g., <seeing>.
The patterns of identical
phrasing in this mini-dialog are complex. So the line of literary dependence
between these works is not immediately self-evident. There are few words
beyond Jesus' distinction
between his associates & others that are common to all versions of this
pericope [blue text]. But each pair of texts
(Matthew/Mark, Mark/Luke, or Matthew/Luke) has some features [teal
text] that are not
found in the 3rd.
Each narrative diverges from the
others in a few fine points:
Matthew poses the question of
parables as a direct quotation, whereas both Mark & Luke refer to
it only indirectly.
Mark introduces this dialog
with a change in scene from the setting
of the parable of the sower, while Matthew &
Luke do not. Note that Mark's characterization of those who pose the question
also differs from the other synoptics. Matthew & Luke identify them simply
as "disciples." Most mss. of Mark, however, use a more oblique &
obscure designation: "those about
him with the 12."(Yet note: in some
early mss. Mark, Matthew & Luke do not
differ at this point).
Luke's narrative preface differs
in two minor grammatical details from Matthew & Mark:
In Matthew & Mark
the pericope opens with the common copulative "and"
kai ]; Luke has a more literate transition [Greek:
Luke refers the question
to a single parable; where in both Matthew & the earliest
mss. of Mark the term is plural (in
the Byzantine recension,
however, the term in Mark is singular like Luke rather than Matthew).
Note that in most respects
Luke's version of Jesus'
reply is closer to Mark than to Matthew.
Mark & Luke identify the
"kingdom" as belonging to "God" rather than
"Heaven" (the difference is one of terminology rather than
The Greek word basileia,
which is usually translated "kingdom," refers to the office
or extent of a supreme ruler's authority rather than to spatially
In Matthew's usage
"Heaven" is a circumlocution for the name of God rather than
the designation of a place.
The climax of Matthew's
version of Jesus' pronouncement specifies what others "have
not been given" (secrets); Mark
& Luke focus instead on what they have (parables).
Mark nor Luke introduce the aphorism about haves
& have-nots at this point in the sequence of
Jesus sayings (but present it instead at the same point in a
There are 3 small details,
however, in which Luke's version of Jesus' reply (8:10) parallels Matthew
(13:11) rather than Mark (4:11):
In introducing Jesus' saying,
Matthew & Luke use an aorist (timeless) form of the verb
"to say" [usually translated in English as a simple past tense],
while Mark uses an imperfect.
Matthew & Luke have the
infinitive "to know," while Mark does not.
Matthew & Luke use the
plural "secrets," while Mark has the singular.
Like all other verbal echoes,
points where Matthew & Luke have parallel wording where Mark does not
cannot be ignored in tracing the relationship of the synoptic gospels. But
given a gap of more than a century between our oldest mss. & the original
version of these gospels, these minor agreements in wording are not
automatic proof that one text (Matthew) was the direct source of
similar phrasing by another author (Luke).
12 April 2008