Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

1. True Kin
Matt 12:46-50 // Mark 3:31-35 // Luke 8:19-21

  context     Greek synopsis     English synopsis     analysis     source hypotheses     variants 

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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 

All hypotheses that presuppose a literary source have to account for the fact that none of the versions of Jesus' pronouncement --- the focal point of this whole pericope --- are identical. 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

  • altered Matthew's literate Greek style, 

  • added a line not found in Matthew, &

  • changed Jesus' pronouncement. 

Any hypothesis that Mark is the basic source (C & D) only has to explain why Matthew & Luke

  • polished Mark's colloquial Semitic style, & 

  • 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 used none of the editorial changes introduced by Matthew. A hypothesis that Matthew & Luke edited Mark independently (D) need only explain why Matthew & Luke thought it necessary to paraphrase Jesus' pronouncement. 

Clearly, from an editorial point of view, the Two Source hypothesis (D) has the simplest task in accounting for the patterns of parallels & omissions in this pericope about Jesus' true kin.

Testing the Theories


Did Mark edit Matthew? 

This passage does not support Augustine's theory that Mark abbreviated Matthew, since Mark's account is longer than Matthew's (unless one counts the 17 Greek words in Matt 12:47, which are not in the earliest mss.). Word counts are not as important as style, however, when it comes to the question of who edited whom.

Editors generally improve texts by

  • correcting grammar

  • polishing literary style

  • adding clarifying phrases 

  • removing redundant wording.

If Mark edited Matthew, he did just the opposite. Instead of refining his alleged source, he would have

  • replaced Matthew's opening temporal clause with a colloquial "and";

  • butchered the rest of Matthew's opening sentence, by replacing a good Greek grammatical construction (main verb + participle + infinitive) with an awkward one (main verb + "and" + participle + main verb + participle);

  • added a redundant verse (Mark 3:32) in which a "crowd" simply relays to Jesus the information the narrator gave in the previous verse;

  • turned Jesus' clear graphic gesture towards his disciples in Matt 12:49 into a vague nod to anonymous bystanders;

  • repeated Jesus' pronouncement word for word except for his reference to a celestial "Father."

In Matthew, Jesus regularly refers to God as "Father (in heaven)": 42 times in fact, almost twice as much as Mark (5 times) & Luke (17 times) combined. In Mark, Jesus never refers to "my Father in heaven." But Mark had no clear reason to suppress that phrase here, since later he has no trouble reporting this instruction by Jesus to his disciples regarding prayer:

Mark 11 
 25   "And whenever you stand praying,
  forgive if you have anything against any one; 
  so that your Father who is in heaven 
  may also forgive you your trespasses." 

In four other places in Mark, Jesus refers to or addresses God simply as "Father." So it would be odd for him to drop that phrase from a passage that is focused on the question of family & kinship.

Mark's grammatical, stylistic & logical lapses in this pericope are understandable if he is writing this story from oral memory. But they are practically impossible to explain with the hypothesis that he was editing a written text of Matthew.


Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke? 

Griesbach's hypothesis that Mark conflated the texts of Matthew & Luke can account for parallels between Mark's & Luke's versions of this story, which the traditional Augustinian hypothesis cannot. Yet, from the perspective of redactional theory, it is just as problematic as the Augustinian.

  • The theory that Mark omitted Matthew's opening temporal clause because he regularly suppressed Matthean material that is not in Luke just will not work here, because 

    • two verses later he presents an unnecessary rhetorical question that is in Matthew but not Luke; &

    • his version of Jesus' final pronouncement is practically identical with Matthew's precisely in the wording that is not found in Luke.

  • The theory that Mark composed his version of this story by alternately borrowing details from both Matthew & Luke is plausible only if he had the texts of both open before him. But that type of meticulous scribal activity makes it virtually impossible to explain why he regularly ignores the good Greek grammatical constructions in both his alleged sources & prefers a colloquial Semitic style. If Mark could copy nouns from two Greek texts, he certainly could copy their verbs & conjunctions.

Yet, the primary weakness of the Griesbach hypothesis is its difficulty in accounting for Luke's version of this pericope. Some of Luke's changes can be traced to his decision to move this story to a new location in the gospel sequence, but others cannot.

  • If Luke used Matthew, he has deliberately rewritten the whole story (including Jesus' pronouncement), keeping only the repeated words "his mother & his brothers" & even increasing the redundancy by inserting a repetitive report that probably was not originally in Matthew.

  • Luke had no good reason to drop Matthew's opening temporal clause, since it works better in his narrative setting (where Jesus is speaking to the "people") than in Matthew's (where Jesus is debating with the Pharisees).

  • On his own, Luke would not have been inclined to suppress a reference by Jesus to God as "my Father, " since elsewhere he reports Jesus stressing his personal relation to God with this term. In a story unique to Luke, the teenage Jesus replies to a scolding from his mother for staying behind in the Temple:

Luke 2 
49  "Did you not know that 
    I must be in my Father's house?"

Later Luke reports Jesus insisting in unequivocal terms that his filial relationship to God is the basis for all others:

Luke 10 
 22   "All things have been delivered to me by my Father;
  and no one knows who the Son is except the Father 
  or who the Father is except the Son 
  and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

So, if Luke was copying the gospel of Matthew, it would be very strange for him to have deliberately suppressed "my Father" in this story focused on family relationships.

Thus, the Griesbach hypothesis is not adequate to explain the textual data in this pronouncement story.


Did Luke use Matthew? 

The difference in wording between Luke's & Matthew's versions of this story is easy to explain on the basis of the hypothesis that

  • Mark wrote first &

  • both Matthew & Luke used Mark as a primary source. 

This pericope gives no evidence, however, to support the theory that Luke used Matthew as a secondary source. For he did not use any of Matthew's literary refinements of Mark. 

In fact, the theory that Luke was familiar with Matthew at all makes it harder to explain his paraphrase of Jesus' pronouncement. For then he would deliberately have

  • ignored the fact that Matthew supports Mark's version of Jesus' words except for the name for the deity; & 

  • opted to use Mark's impersonal "God" rather than Matthew's personal "my Father" in a story focused on the question of personal relationships.

While other passages show that Luke had no qualms about editing sayings his sources ascribed to Jesus, it would be uncharacteristic of him to be so cavalier in disregarding any source's use of wording that was pertinent to the point.

It is a lame excuse to say that Luke was not following Matthew at this point or did not catch the significance of his reference to "my Father" in this context. For the logic of this pericope is parallel to the logic of Luke's own account of Jesus as a teenager in the temple. In both situations Jesus ignored a son's responsibility to his mother. Since Luke reported Jesus justifying his lapse in the temple incident by appealing to a son's duty to his Father, was he apt to forget the similar reference to "my Father" in Matthew's version of this pericope, if he knew it?

Thus, Farrer's hypothesis that Luke used Matthew as a secondary source not only fails to explain Luke's version of this passage, it introduces unnecessary redactional complications.


Are Matthew & Luke independent revisions of Mark? 

The varied wording patterns in these three versions of this pericope clearly favors two conclusions:

  • Mark transcribed an oral chreia. For frequent repetition of key words ("mother & brothers") & use of "and" in transitions are normal in informal oral story-telling.

  • Matthew & Luke independently edited Mark to make this story read more smoothly as a written text.

Luke edited Mark's version of Jesus' pronouncement without any evident knowledge of Matthew's revisions. Note that Luke omitted Jesus' reference to the "will of God" while Matthew did not. Luke's deliberate omission cannot be credited to his dislike for the concept of doing God's will, since he includes this Gethsemane prayer that stresses the priority Jesus put upon it:

Luke 22 
42  "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me;
   nevertheless not my will, but yours be done."

Luke could easily portray Jesus as recognizing God's will. But he probably saw a logical problem with Mark's version of Jesus' pronouncement: how were people other than Jesus to know God's will? 

Luke apparently found an answer to this question in the parable segment that Mark placed immediately after this pronouncement. There Jesus explains the parable of the Sower as referring to spreading "the Word." So, to make it clear that Jesus regarded anyone who responded to his message as kin, Luke simply reversed the order of these pericopes & rephrased the pronouncement to refer to hearing & doing God's Word. He could feel justified in making this editorial change because the saying at the end of Jesus' sermon, which he had recorded just 7 pericopes earlier, stressed hearing & doing Jesus' words (Luke 6:47-49).

For Matthew, on the other hand, the problem with Mark's version of Jesus' pronouncement was not its reference to the divine will. Matthew's version of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples included the petition: "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). Note that in Matthew the pronouncement on kinship is likewise explicitly addressed to Jesus' disciples. 

The only problem that Matthew saw with Mark's version of this pronouncement was its explicit use of the divine name. As elsewhere, Matthew here substituted a pious circumlocution: "my Father in heaven." Note that Matthew's version of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples begins by addressing God as "Our Father who is in heaven" (Matt 6:9). So, in Matthew's interpretation, this pericope on kinship simply builds on things that Jesus' had already taught his disciples in that prayer.

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last revised 28 February 2023

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