Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

3. The Lamp
Mark 4:21-25 // Luke 8:16-18
Matt 5:15 // Luke 11:33
Matt 10:26-7 // Luke 12:2-3

  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 

Any source theory needs to be supported by redaction criticism. It must be able to account for both narrative transpositions as well as any parallels or variations in content. Only a hypothesis that is consistent with each gospel's editorial tendencies at other points can be considered plausible.

A hypothesis that presupposes that Matthew is the primary source of this pericope (A & B) must be able to explain why both of the other synoptics

  • link aphorisms that Matthew presents in separate contexts; &
  • agree with each other in altering Matthew's rhetoric; & 
  • insert this aphoristic pair at the same point in the narrative that differs from the setting of either saying in Matthew.

Any hypothesis that Mark is the basic source (C & D) only has to explain why Matthew presents these two aphorisms separately, in contexts that differ from that in Mark.

A hypothesis that Luke used Matthew as a secondary source (C) also has to explain why he decided to alter Matthew's setting for his second version of each of these aphorisms.  Thus, the Two Source hypothesis (D) has far fewer problems to resolve than other source theories.


Testing the Theories


Did Mark edit Matthew? 

The aphorism of the lamp is distinct from that of the disclosed secrets in rhetorical form, logic & vocabulary.  Thus, it is quite plausible to conclude that these were originally separate sayings -- as in Matthew -- which were first linked by Mark (or Luke, if one follows Griesbach).  

Augustine's theory that Mark abbreviated Matthew, however, is not an accurate description of either these aphoristic formulae or their use in the respective narratives. 

  • Wording: The combined number of Greek words in these two sayings is identical in Matthew and Mark. Since Mark appends an injunction to hear that is not associated with either of these sayings in Matthew, his version is actually more verbose.
 Word count   Matt   Mark 
 Lamp 20 19
 Secrets 16 17
 Ears   6
 Total 36 42
  • Rhetoric: Matthew's version of the aphorism of the lamp is rhetorically simpler than Mark's. For Mark ironically names two inappropriate settings for a lamp (under bushel or bed) while Matthew mentions only one (bushel). If Mark got this saying from Matthew he complicated it by (a) turning a statement into a rhetorical question & (b) inserting a 2nd setting for his audience to reject.

  • Logic: Matthew's version of the aphorism about disclosed secrets is logically more coherent than Mark's. According to Matthew, Jesus simply predicts that everything hidden will eventually be disclosed. Though a world in which literally everything is known may seem an exaggeration,  it is at least conceivable. Mark's version, however, has Jesus make the absurd claim that the only reason for hiding anything is to reveal it. Such an observation, if not completely inaccurate, is at least more problematic than Matthew's.

  • Context: Although Mark does present a briefer version of Jesus' missionary instructions to the 12 [Mark 6:7-13 // Matt 10:1-42], he does not echo Matthew by reporting the aphorism about disclosed secrets in that context. Instead, he locates it here in a less suitable setting among parables that he  -- unlike Matthew -- claims Jesus deliberately designed to keep outsiders from grasping the secret of God's kingship [Mark 4:11].

  • Deconstruction: Mark reports only 6 aphorisms that approximate elements of Jesus' inaugural Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

Motif Matt  Mark 
 Salt 5:3 9:50
 Lamp 5:5 4:21
 Hand 5:30 9:43
 Divorce 5:32 10:11
 Forgiveness 6:14-15 11:25
 Measure 7:2 4:24

Two of these -- the lamp & the measure -- are presented together here in a narrative context totally unrelated to the themes Matthew used them to support. The rest Mark scatters in his account of the conclusion of Jesus' public career. 

So, if Mark got this material from Matthew, he is better described as totally dismantling that text rather than epitomizing it. Moreover, in the process of reassembling the few fragments he saw fit to salvage, Mark would have deliberately complicated & obscured sayings that were simple & clear in his supposed source. And he would have inserted them into a chapter on parables with which they share no common motif or verbal link even though they contradicted his own version of the rationale for Jesus' parables. Why he would have done this is unclear.

Thus, Augustine's theory that Mark edited Matthew raises many redactional questions here, thereby creating conditions for further unverifiable speculation about Mark's editorial agenda.



Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke? 

At first glance, Griesbach's theory that Mark drew on material from both other synoptics might account for Mark's suggestion of  two inappropriate places to put a lamp: under a bushel (as in Matt) & under a bed (as in Luke). According to this hypothesis, both Mark's linking of this aphorism with that about disclosed secrets & his appending of this aphoristic pair to the interpretation of the parable of the sower could be interpreted as evidence of his dependence on Luke.

Yet this passage does not support the general redactional tendencies that supporters of the Griesbach theory usually suppose for Mark. For in this case Mark does not favor Matthew's text nor does he preserve those passages in which both Matthew & Luke agreed. In fact, close examination shows that Griesbach's theory does not adequately describe the actual  linguistic data in these texts & poses more redactional problems than it solves. 

If Mark used Luke as well as Matthew, he would have inexplicably

  • favored the version of the linked aphorisms that is reported only by Luke, even though it differed from Matthew in both wording & narrative context; &
  • rejected the separate version of the aphorism about disclosed secrets in both gospels, despite the fact that they are identical in wording; &
  • eliminated the phrases that frame both versions of Luke's versions of the aphorism of the lamp [purple text], although they are worded exactly the same; &
  • dropped the reference to lamp lighting & its illumination of people that is explicit in both the Matthean & Lukan versions of this aphorism; & 
  • turned a saying that is a statement about lamps in Matthew & both Lukan versions into a rhetorical question; &
  • ignored an explicit statement about secrets becoming "known" that is in all other synoptic versions of the sayings about disclosed secrets [blue text], including the linked aphorism in Luke that he paraphrases; &
  • inserted a redundant injunction to hear echoing that appended to the parable of the sower, despite the fact that it is not tied to any version of these aphorisms in either Matthew or Luke. 

In other words, Mark gives no evidence here that he is collating two written sources but rather is clearly composing this section of his gospel quite independent of the presentation of these aphorisms in the texts of both Matthew & Luke. 

Moreover, Griesbach's hypothesis only compounds the redactional problem of accounting for the various versions of these sayings by making Luke responsible for 

  • moving both the aphorism of  the lamp & that of the disclosed secrets from their literary contexts in Matthew; &
  • creating a redundant doublet by linking these sayings despite the lack of a clear catchword or parallel logic; &
  • appending that extra pair of aphorisms to the discussion of the parable of the sower, despite the fact that it contradicts his own report that Jesus designed this parable to keep his message of God's kingdom a secret from the general public.

Thus,  this source theory actually creates more redactional problems here than it solves.


Did Luke use Matthew? 

In explaining the different versions of these aphorisms, the hypothesis that Luke's primary narrative source was Mark has two advantages over hypotheses that assume the primacy of Matthew:

  • it has no need to try to explain why either Mark or Luke would radically reconstruct Matthew's text simply to join these two aphorisms & insert them into this section on parables although they do not fit better here than where Matthew has them; &
  • it is easier to interpret Luke's text as an expansion of Mark than as a rewrite of Matthew, since the first pair of Luke's versions of these two aphorisms is located in the same narrative setting as Mark's, while neither version shares Matthew's setting.

The question remains, however: what led Luke to include a redundant separate version of each aphorism? Some written source is probable because Luke's 2nd version of the aphorism of disclosed secrets:

  • is virtually identical in Greek with Matthew's version; &
  • is followed by practically the same series of sayings as Matthew's.

The question, then, is whether Luke derived these sayings directly from the text of Matthew or from the same source as Matthew.

Farrer's claim that there is no need to assume a hypothetical sayings source common to Matthew & Luke complicates matters here. For it requires one to imagine the following editorial scenario:  

  • Matthew derived the aphorisms of the lamp & the disclosed secrets from Mark's segment on parables but:
    • divided them, &
    • paraphrased them, &
    • moved both several chapters forward into other speeches of Jesus;
    • using the lamp, along with paraphrases of 5 other aphorisms from later in Mark,
      in his composition -- de novo -- of the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5-7]; &
    • inserting the disclosed secrets into his expansion of Mark's version of Jesus' missionary instructions to the 12 [Matt 10//Mark 6].
  • Luke followed Mark by keeping both aphorisms linked to the parable of the sower,
    but introduced sayings material from Matthew into Mark's outline by
    • recording a condensed version of Matthew's Sermon [Luke 6], minus the aphorism of the lamp, prior to his version of the parable of the sower [Luke 8]; &
    • transforming the first half of Matthew's missionary instructions to the 12 [Matt 9:37-10:16], minus the aphorism of the disclosed secrets, into instructions for the 70 [Luke 10:2-16] & relocating this speech after the parable of the sower; then

    • appending the version of the aphorism of the lamp that he had extracted from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5:15] to a cluster of sayings about the sign of Jonah & other sayings that Matthew recorded prior to the chreia about Jesus' true kin [Matt 12:46-50] & transferring this expanded cluster to a new setting after a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer [Luke 11:2-4], which he had also extracted from the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 6:7-13]; then 

    • turning a few aphorisms from the second half of Matthew's missionary instructions to the 12 [Matt 10:26-33], beginning with the aphorism on disclosed secrets, into a new speech [Luke 12:2-9] & appending it to a string of warnings about scribes & Pharisees that he extracted from another speech near the end of Jesus' public career in Matthew [Matt 23:23-36] & moved to the beginning of Jesus' trip to Jerusalem.

If Luke made such a through revision of Matthew's text, it is all the more remarkable that both versions of his aphorisms of the lamp & the disclosed secrets are closer to Matthew's wording than to Mark's. Why he would have shown more respect for Matthew's phrasing of individual sayings than for the well composed speeches that Matthew credited to Jesus is unclear.  Thus, Farrer's theory here creates such a complex picture of inexplicable editorial activity by both Matthew & Luke  that it strains credibility.


Are Matthew & Luke independent revisions of Mark? 

The Two Source Hypothesis is able to avoid the redactional incongruities that plague other explanations of the aphorisms of the lamp & the disclosed secrets by presupposing that Luke did not depend on the text of Matthew but on a written source of Jesus' sayings other than Mark that had also been used by Matthew, a source that modern scholars generally call Q. As a collection of oral material, Q was composed of a number of originally independent clusters of sayings without its own narrative framework. Most of the contents of Q was sayings ascribed to Jesus that were not used by Mark: e.g., a sermon, a prayer, the sign of Jonah, warnings to scribes & Pharisees, etc.  But Q contained versions of some sayings that Mark had also gotten from oral tradition: e.g., the aphorisms of the lamp & the disclosed secrets, the parable of the mustard, a set of mission instructions, etc.

As editors expanding Mark, Matthew & Luke were able to insert the same Q material at any point in Mark's narrative that either thought appropriate. Thus, the different narrative contexts into which Matthew & Luke set the unlinked versions of the aphorisms of the lamp & the disclosed secrets is a good example of Matthew & Luke's independent citation of Q sayings in their revision of Mark. Matthew had used the Q version of these aphorisms before he got to editing the section on parables in Mark. Luke, on the other hand, came to using these same Q sayings only after he had already transcribed Mark's complex of sayings surrounding the parable of the sower. Recognition of this allows an advocate of the Two Source hypothesis to offer a simple explanation of the differences between Matthew & Luke's presentation of these aphorisms.

Matthew tended to organize Q material into long speeches with related motifs.

  • He used a lot of Q material in composing the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5-7] that he inserted near the beginning of Mark's narrative outline. He probably expanded the original framework of Jesus' sermon in Q to include, among other things, the aphorism of the lamp & the Lord's prayer.
  • Then, he combined the versions of the mission instructions in Mark & Q with a number of other Q sayings encouraging those who faced opposition -- including the aphorism on disclosed secrets to form another long speech of Jesus [Matt 10].
  • When he finally came to editing Mark's section on parables he simply dropped Mark's version of these aphorisms because (a) he had already used the Q version of each & (b) they were neither parables nor sayings well-linked to other motifs in this chapter.

Luke did not use Matthew's reorganization of Q material any more than he used Matthew's revisions of Mark. Rather, he tended to reproduce sayings from either source in the approximate context in which he found them even though the links of these sayings to the logic of surrounding material was tenuous at best, as in the case of Mark's citation of these aphorisms. 

Yet, Luke also tended to prefer the wording of the sayings he found in Q. Therefore, he not only copied the clusters of loosely organized Q sayings that contained a version of these aphorisms that differed from Mark's, he revised the Markan version of these aphorisms to conform more closely to the version he found in Q. 

Thus, the Two Source Hypothesis allows an explanation of the differences in the synoptic presentation of the aphorisms of lamp & disclosed secrets that is consistent with reasonable redactional principles of distinct editors without having to suppose that two of them engaged in dismantling & reorganizing speeches that written sources ascribed to Jesus. Other major source hypotheses do not.


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last revised 28 February 2023

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