Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark
Understanding The Sower
Matt 13:18-23 // Mark 4:13-20
// Luke 8:11-15
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Which source hypothesis
has a simpler explanation of this data?
Any source theory needs to be supported by redaction
criticism. For only a hypothesis
that is consistent with each gospel's
editorial tendencies at other points can be considered plausible.
Any hypothesis that Matthew is the
basic source (A & B) needs to explain
why Mark & Luke both
- regularly changed Matthew's singular forms to
- omitted Matthew's reference to "the
- altered syntax & wording of
Matthew's well-constructed opening sentence [Matt 13:19].
Any hypothesis that Mark is the basic
source (C & D) only has to explain why
Matthew & Luke
- omitted both rhetorical
questions in Mark's introduction,
- otherwise edited Mark's text in different directions.
A hypothesis that presupposes that Luke used
Matthew as a secondary source (C) must also explain
why Luke deviates from wording where the texts of Matthew & Mark are virtually
identical. A hypothesis that Matthew & Luke edited Mark independently
(D) need only explain why their explanations of the seed on
the path share a single word ("heart") that is not
found in Mark.
Thus, the Two Source hypothesis (D)
has the simplest task in accounting for the patterns of parallels &
omissions in the synoptic reports of the parable of the sower.
Testing the Theories
Mark's version of this pericope
is longer than Matthew's. So it does
not support Augustine's claim that Mark abridged Matthew.
If Mark got this interpretation of the
parable of the sower from the gospel of Matthew, he deliberately
- inserted a preface
that, contrary to Matthew's text, raises questions about the ability of
Jesus' disciples to understand this or any of Jesus' parables; &
- dropped Matthew's explicit equation of
"the word" with Jesus' message about God's kingdom;
- butchered the grammar & logic of
Matthew's well-constructed initial sentence
of the parable interpretation [temporal clause + main clause with singular
subjects & objects] -- by
- turning it into 3 loosely linked non-parallel
clauses [the last with a temporal clause];
- beginning the 2nd clause with a plural
demonstrative pronoun ["these"]
that has neither precedent in Matthew nor a proper grammatical
antecedent in Mark, since both subject & object in the preceding
clause ["sower" & "word] are singular.
Instead of clarifying the parable of the sower,
the Markan interpretation actually introduces confusion by leaving
the reader unsure as to what detail in the parable his 2nd statement ["these
are the ones along the path"] refers to. The only plural item "along
the path" in Mark's own version of the parable was the birds. But Mark's
"these" cannot refer to them, since he goes on to interpret the
birds as a singular subject ("Satan") who removes a singular object
("the word") that was "sown in them" (plural).
On reflection one might conclude that the
plural pronouns refer to an unexpressed identification of the path
with some group of hard-headed hearers who are impervious to instruction. But
Mark himself does not make this clear; and his explicit identification of
"these" as those who are along [Greek παρὰ, lit.:
"beside"] the path, leaves one uncertain as to what image he has in
By contrast, Matthew's opening statement [Matt
13:19] is as logically lucid as it is grammatical. The seed [i.e., the
"word of the kingdom"] is what is sown along the path. When anyone
does not grasp this meaning, the word is easily removed before its
message can be taken to heart.
If Mark could read the text of Matthew,
it is hard to see his reason for turning Matthew's clear statement
into a grammatical & logical mess that makes the parable interpretation more confusing than the parable itself.
Thus, instead of clarifying the actual contents of these
texts, Augustine's source theory only creates imponderable puzzles.
Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke?
hypothesis is able to account for more of the details in the various versions
of this pericope by identifying Luke as the editor who condensed &
paraphrased the text of Matthew & Mark as a synthesizer of these
Luke, like Matthew, writes
literate Greek, where Mark's syntax is clumsy & at points confusing. But rather than simply copy
Luke clearly preferred to present his interpretation of
the parable of the sower as a string of equations.
Since Mark's version contains a
substantial proportion of Matthew's wording & some of Luke's [teal
text], it seems plausible to regard it as a conflation of the two.
Mark's clumsy grammar might be explained as the result of his imperfect skill
in combining material from sentences with different syntax.
As plausible as this may sound in
general, however, the Griesbach hypothesis only shifts responsibility for
several of the problematic aspects of the Augustinian theory from Mark to
Luke. For if Luke paraphrased Matthew, he deliberately
If Mark then conflated the
texts of Matthew & Luke, he obviously preferred Matthew's version since he
generally agrees with that wording of this parable interpretation. Yet, he
would have deliberately
adopted both of Luke's
problematic plurals & added two more [Mark
4:18 & 20] where both Matthew
& Luke had a singular subject; &
followed Luke in suppressing
mention of the "kingdom";
interpolated a preface
-- suggested by neither Matthew nor Luke -- that explicitly
questions the disciples ability to understand Jesus' parables.
What would have given Mark the
impression that Jesus' disciples did not understand his message is
unclear. For Matthew asserts precisely the opposite [Matt
all the synoptics -- including Mark -- had just presented Jesus' claim that his
disciples already knew the secret(s) of
God's kingdom. Thus, if Mark added the questions about the
disciples' inability to comprehend Jesus' parables to the
interpretation of the parable of the sower that he found in Matthew &
Luke, he would not only have contradicted both his sources, he would have
called into question Jesus' own ability to gauge the intelligence of his
Hence, the Griesbach hypothesis
actually creates more problems than its solves here.
Mark's presentation of the interpretation of
the parable of the sower is the most problematic from the standpoint of both
grammar and logic. So it is easy to view Matthew's & Luke's versions
of this pericope as attempts to polish Markan grammar & resolve questions
that confront readers of the Markan text.
By suppressing the rhetorical
questions that preface Mark's allegorical exegesis, Matthew & Luke
were able to avoid questions about both the disciples' intelligence & the
accuracy of Jesus' earlier expression of confidence in what they knew (Mark
4:11). Each also tried to bring the interpretation more into line
with imagery of the parable itself by dropping Mark's problematic plural
pronouns [i.e., "these" (Mark 4:15
& 16), "others" (Mark
4:18), & "those" (Mark 4:20)]
which lack any proper grammatical or logical antecedent.
Luke's revision of this passage in Mark,
however, is quite different from the changes introduced by Matthew. Apart from wording shared by all three gospels
[blue text], there are only two
minor points where Luke's version of this parable interpretation agrees
with Matthew's verbal constructions:
Yet, even that observation is misleading. For
the similarity between Matthew & Luke at these points appears greater in
English translation than it does in Greek. Apart from words common to all
three synoptics, Luke does not use any of the Greek verbal formulae preferred
- Matthew describes the word as "sown
in his heart" [dative with singular possessive
pronoun]. In Luke, however, the prepositional phrase is linked to
description of the devil [a term not used here by Matthew] taking
the word away "from their heart" [genitive with plural
- Matthew (like Mark) uses a masculine form
for what was sown "among thorns" & "upon good
soil," while Luke prefers a neuter construction.
Therefore, while it is true that at these
points Luke & Matthew have introduced similar revisions of Mark,
this pericope provides no evidence to support Farrer's
hypothesis that Luke's text reveals his knowledge of the written gospel
of Matthew. If Luke knew Matthew, he deliberately chose both (a)
to alter Matthew's alterations of Mark [e.g., Matt
13:18-19 // Mark 4:14-15] & (b) to alter wording where Matthew &
Mark were in total agreement [e.g., Mark 4:16-17
// Matt 13:20-21 teal text]. Not only
does this force one to imagine Luke as an editor who ignored one or both of
his alleged sources, it leaves one with the impossible task of trying to prove
plagiarism where there is no clear textual evidence.
Are Matthew &
Luke independent revisions of Mark?
The simplest explanation of the fact that Luke
does not echo Matthew's wording of this pericope
which is not found also in Mark is that Luke's redaction of Mark was made
without regard for Matthew's. Mark's version of this text presents
enough logical & grammatical problems that it should not be surprising to
find Matthew & Luke omitting or altering the same lines in Mark. For
- drop the rhetorical questions that imply the
disciples did not understand Jesus [Mark 4:13];
- simplify the awkward syntax of Mark's
introduction of the thorn-choked & productive seed [Mark
This just shows that both were good literary
editors. The fact that in the second case both substitute similar
grammatical constructions proves only that each wrote better literate Greek
than Mark. The fact that neither reproduces the other's corrections of
Mark verbatim indicates that their revisions were probably made
independently. And the observation that Luke sticks close to Mark's
syntax even where Matthew's syntax is grammatically superior confirms the
impression that Luke did not use Matthew as a source for his redaction
The only textual evidence that might
lead one to suspect that Luke may have known Matthew's version of this
pericope even remotely is his use of the word "heart" to interpret
the fate of the seed that fell on the path [Luke
8:12 // Matt 13:19]. But that conclusion would be necessary only if
one could prove that
- the author of the gospel of Matthew was the
first to insert the word "heart" at this point in the
interpretation of the parable of the sower; &
- before Luke edited Mark only texts of
Matthew mentioned "heart" in this context.
Neither of these conditions, however, is
probable. For the redaction history of the text of Mark at this point is
ambiguous. The majority of Greek texts -- those of the
Byzantine & Western recensions -- have, in
fact, some prepositional phrase with the word "heart" in Mark
4:15. Only some -- not all -- Egyptian mss. of Mark
omit heart from this verse. So, even though the oldest extant versions of Mark
are of the Egyptian type, it is unclear whether Luke's own copy of Mark
omitted "heart" from this verse. That would be probable only if
Luke was himself writing from someplace in Egypt or the south-eastern
Mediterranean. Since Luke was almost certainly from the northern
Mediterranean -- the region that produced the Byzantine recension -- it
remains quite possible that his copy of Mark already included "heart" in
verse 4:15. Because we have no copies of the gospel of Mark before the
middle of the 3rd c. CE
it is impossible to determine exactly when this word was first inserted into
Mark's allegorical interpretation or by whom.
Thus, the fact that Luke & Matthew share a
single word that is omitted from modern critical reconstructions of the
original wording of Mark is too ambiguous a detail to be cited as substantial
evidence that Luke must have known & recalled the gospel of Matthew. Since
all other linguistic evidence in this pericope indicates that Luke did not
follow the text of Matthew, the Two Source hypothesis
remains the simplest source theory for interpreting these parallel versions of
the allegorization of the parable of the sower.
03 September 2020