Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

9. Allegorical Interpretation of Harvest 
Matt 13:36-43 

  context     Greek synopsis     English synopsis     parable     analysis     source hypotheses  

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Source: Matthew

This pericope interprets the parable of the Wheat & the Weeds, which is recorded in the gospels of Matthew & Thomas, but not those of Mark & Luke. Yet Thomas does not provide an interpretation of the Wheat & the Weeds (or any parable) but, instead, invites readers to find their own interpretation of Jesus' sayings (Thom 1). So, Matthew is the sole source for the contents of this passage.

Which source hypothesis has a simpler explanation of this data?

Theory Relationship
 A   Augustine   Mark condensed Matthew; Luke drew on both
B  Griesbach   Luke edited Matthew; Mark condensed both
C  Farrer   Matthew expanded Mark; Luke drew on both
D  Two Source    Matthew & Luke independently edited Mark & Q 

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 probable.

Hypotheses that Matthew wrote first & was a source for the other synoptic gospels (A & B) must provide a plausible explanation of why Mark & Luke deliberately omit this passage & the parable on which it depends. Hypotheses that Mark was the primary source for the other synoptics (C & D) have to explain why Matthew decided to add it.

A theory that Luke used Matthew as a secondary source (C) must still explain, however, why Luke chose to omit this passage, while preserving sayings that Matthew presents just before this. A theory that Matthew & Luke independently supplement Mark with other material (D) need only explain Matthew's motives for adding this allegorical explanation of a parable that he knew, but apparently Mark & Luke did not. So, the Two Source hypothesis (D) clearly presents the simplest explanation of the synoptic evidence for this passage.

Testing the Theories


Did Mark edit Matthew? 

Augustine passes over the parables in this section without dealing with differences in the synoptic accounts [On Consensus of the Gospels 2.41.88], but elsewhere offers the general theory that the gospel writers "abstained from adding to their distinct works any extra compositions they shared."

That explanation simply does not account for the textual data in this case. For just before this Mark does not abstain from presenting close parallels to Matthew's account of the Sower & its interpretation; and he does not just omit the parable of the Weeds & Wheat, he presents another harvest parable in its place.

Speculation that Mark omitted this passage & the parable on which it depends because he did not find the contents appropriate to his purpose is also inadequate. For this allegorical interpretation simply develops themes that Mark stresses elsewhere:

  • the appearance of the Son of man with angels at the close of the current era;
  • warning that those who are unprepared will face a crisis when he comes.
Mark 8
 38  For whoever is ashamed of me
  in this adulterous and sinful generation,
  of him will the Son of man also be ashamed,
  when he comes in the glory of his Father
  with the holy angels.
Mark 13
26 And then they will see the Son of man
  coming in clouds with great power and glory.
27 And then he will send out the angels,
  and gather his elect from the four winds,
  from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Of all passages in Matthew that lack a parallel in Mark, the interpretation of the parable of the Weeds & Wheat is one that Mark would not have been disposed to omit on his own. Thus, the traditional western view of the relation of the gospels fails to account for the textual data in this case.



Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke? 

Griesbach's hypothesis that Mark conflated the other two synoptic gospels credits Mark's omission of the parable of the Weeds & its interpretation to the theory that Mark kept an eye on Luke as he was editing Matthew. Mark often omits material found in Matthew that has no direct parallel in Luke. Thus, in this case, Mark's omissions can be credited to strict critical standards in editing his sources rather than to any personal aversion to the substance of the parable & its interpretation.

This theory still does not explain why Mark would have substituted a harvest parable that is neither in Matthew nor Luke for one that is only in Matthew. Nor does it account for those times when Mark omits passages, such as the parable of the Leaven, that are practically identical in Matthew & Luke. But it does shift responsibility for the deliberate omission of the parable of the Weeds & its interpretation from Mark to Luke.

Luke's view of the future has often been characterized as less catastrophic than Matthew's & Mark's. He does not mention the theme of the "coming" of the Son of man as frequently as Matthew. Instead, the parallel version of these sayings in Luke often refers more vaguely to "the days" of the Son of man. So one could speculate that Luke suppressed the parable of the Weeds & its interpretation because he did not want to present such a vivid picture of the last judgment.

Such a theory of Luke's editorial intentions, however, does not account for the fact that Luke keeps other synoptic sayings that present the same imagery. If he wanted to suppress expectations that the Son of man would act as ultimate judge, then he should also have eliminated---or at least emended---the Son of man sayings in Mark 8 & 13. Instead, he not only repeats them with only minor wording differences from Mark, he even adds a warning about the last judgment that is not found in the other synoptic gospels [Luke's own wording presented here in teal type]:

Luke 9
 26  For whoever is ashamed of me
  and of my words,
  of him will the Son of man be ashamed
  when he comes in his glory
  and the glory of the Father
  and of the holy angels.
Luke 21
 27  And then they will see the Son of man
  coming in cloud with power and great glory...
 36  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.

These sayings are proof that Luke had no more inclination than Mark to initiate the suppression of Matthew's interpretation of the parable of the Weeds. So, the Griesbach hypothesis is not adequate to explain why this passage is found only in Matthew.


Did Luke use Matthew? 

Mark's omission of Matthew's interpretation of this harvest parable makes more sense if one assumes Mark wrote prior to Matthew. The simplest explanation is that Mark did not record it because he did not know it.

Luke's omission of the parable of the Weeds & its interpretation is then easily credited to his dependence on Mark rather than Matthew. If Luke knew the gospel of Matthew & used it as a secondary source, however, his omission of this material is harder to explain. He was not averse to allegory, since he preserved the interpretation of the parable of the Sower. Nor did he have philosophical reservations about the substance of Matthew's apocalyptic interpretation of the harvest motif, as his preservation of similar imagery in later Son of man sayings (Luke 9 & 21) demonstrates. Moreover, Luke preserves elsewhere a close parallel to the parables of the Mustard & the Leaven, which are presented in Matthew between the parable of the Weeds & its allegorical interpretation. If Luke got those parables from Matthew, his reason for omitting the passages that frame them is even more puzzling.

Thus, in this case, any theory that Luke used both Mark & Matthew only creates unsolvable & unnecessary redactional problems. The Farrer hypothesis is not much better than Augustine's (A) in explaining the synoptic evidence here.



Are Matthew & Luke independent revisions of Mark? 

The Two Source hypothesis offers the most logical explanation of the presence & absence of the allegorical explanation of the parable of the Weeds in synoptic texts:

  • Mark wrote first without any apparent knowledge of the parable of the Wheat & Weeds or Matthew's interpretation of it.

  • Matthew edited Mark by replacing one harvest parable with another (the Wheat & Weeds) & creating an allegorical explanation of it.

  • Luke edited Mark evidently unaware of Matthew's additions.

Matthew's creation of an allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Weeds is easily accounted for as imitation of Mark's allegorization of the parable of the Sower. His inspiration for this interpretation is not purely personal speculation, but rather his familiarity with the apocalyptic Son of man sayings in Mark 8 & 13. This allegorical interpretation is the product of an early Christian scholar's research in his sources: research that neither Mark nor Luke show any evidence of having read.

Moreover, Matthew justifies his own right as a trained scribe to introduce this novel paraphrase of ideas ascribed elsewhere to Jesus (Mark 8:38 & 13:26-27) by appending the parable of the Trained Scribe to this section, a passage also omitted by the other synoptic writers.

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last revised 11 December 2019


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