Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

6. The Measure 
Matt 13:12 // Mark 4:24-25 // Luke 8:18

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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 well as any parallels or variations in content. For a source theory is no better than its ability to account for the details of the actual construction of the texts in question. 

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 would transpose the aphorism in Matt 12:13 from Matthew's context [in Jesus' explanation of why he speaks in parables] preceding the interpretation of the parable of the sower to a point following that pericope. 

Any hypothesis that Mark is the basic source (C & D) only has to explain why Matthew presents versions of the aphorisms in Mark 4:21-25 at other points in his narrative rather than in their Markan context.

A hypothesis that Luke used Matthew as a secondary source (C) also has to explain why Luke preferred to follow the Markan sequence at this point even though he reproduces parallels to Matthew's version of these sayings elsewhere.  A hypothesis that Matthew & Luke used the same collection of sayings [Q] in addition to Mark need only explain why Luke dropped the principle of equal measures from Mark's context. So, the construction of this aphoristic cluster is more easily explained on the basis of the Two Source hypothesis (D) than other source theories.

Testing the Theories


Did Mark edit Matthew? 

Augustine's claim that Mark condensed Matthew's gospel does not accurately describe the construction of this pericope.  For Mark here presents three aphorisms -- an alert, the principle of equal reciprocal measures [Mark 4:24], & the riddle about the haves & the have-nots [Mark 4:25] -- at a point somewhat later in the sequence of sayings where Matthew presents just one of these (the riddle),  Moreover, the scribal gymnastics required to derive Mark 4:24-25 from the text of Matthew are complex enough to create serious doubts about the adequacy of a theory that Mark was directly dependent for these sayings on Matthew's gospel. 

If Mark edited Matthew:

  • he must have first decided to extract the riddle of the haves & the have-nots [Matt 13:12] from Matthew's logical context [Jesus' explanation of his rationale for speaking in parables before the interpretation of the parable of the sower] where it fits well, only to record it in a new context 13 verses later [after the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the sower] at the end of a cluster of aphorisms that he had extracted from elsewhere in Matthew, even though there was no obvious thematic reason for linking these sayings or preferring to locate them at this particular point in the gospel narrative;
  • then Mark must have retrieved 2 small aphorisms -- about the placement of lamps [Matt 5:15] & the disclosure of secrets [Matt 10:26] -- one each from two long widely separated speeches in Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount & Jesus' missionary instructions to the 12) that he had previously decided not to copy & used them to open this new cluster of aphorisms, even though there was no clear verbal or logical link that would have led him to recall these sayings together;
  • finally, Mark would have had to recall Matthew's principle of equal measures [Matt 7:2b] -- another minute saying from the Sermon on the Mount -- out of context & insert it right before the riddle of the haves & the have-nots, despite the fact that the logic of the two sayings conflict.

These sayings not only lack internal coherence but disrupt the sequence of pericopes with a seed theme [parables of sower, harvest & mustard seed] that Mark 4 shares with Matthew 13.  So it is puzzling why Mark would have bothered to extract these particular aphorisms from the contexts in which Matthew had recorded them & interpolate them at this point in his narrative sequence.  Therefore, the hypothesis that the gospel of Matthew was the source of this aphoristic cluster in Mark creates more redactional problems than it solves.


Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke? 

The Griesbach hypothesis avoids some of the problems that the Augustinian theory of synoptic relationships has in accounting for the construction of this aphoristic cluster by proposing that Mark followed Luke's reworking of Matthew at this point. 

  • In revising the narrative sequence of synoptic passages, Luke chose to reproduce only a condensed version of the complex of sayings associated with one parable (the sower & its allegorical explanation) at this point. So it is at least conceivable that he could have recalled the riddle of the haves & the have-nots [Matt 13:12] that he had dropped from his version of Jesus' rationale for speaking in parables a few lines earlier & recorded it as an appropriate concluding moral for this pericope. 
  • According to this hypothesis, Mark's only revision of Luke at this point would have been his interpolation of a single brief principle -- that of equal reciprocal measures  -- between the Lukan alert concerning proper hearing & the riddle of the haves & the have-nots [Mark 4:24].

Such a redactional scenario does not, however, confirm Griesbach's general observations that Mark's text is usually closer to Matthew and favors a brief presentation. If these were really Mark's predilections, then it is a mystery why he would have abandoned them to interpolate an expansion of a cluster of aphorisms -- including those of the lamp & disclosed secrets -- that he derived from Luke into the longer collection of 3 seed parables allegedly drawn from Matthew, when Matthew presented none of these sayings at this particular point in his narrative. 

  • If Mark knew the other two synoptic gospels & was really concerned to be brief, one might expect him to favor the complex of sayings in Luke 8:4-18 associated with the single parable of the sower, especially since he does not present either the version of a harvest parable that immediately follows the allegorical explanation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 or most of the subsequent parables in that chapter [the leaven, treasure, pearl or net].  But instead of ending this section where Luke does [with the riddle of the haves & the have-nots], Mark -- like Matthew -- goes on to present 2 more seed parables: (a) a version of a harvest parable that is found in neither Luke nor Matthew & (b) a parable of the mustard seed that differs in significant detail from the versions in both Matthew & Luke.  In fact, Mark's version of virtually every saying with a parallel in Luke 8:4-18, including this aphoristic cluster, is longer than Luke's version. So, it is difficult to account for both the phrasing and sequence of sayings in this section of Mark  on the assumption that he preferred the briefer format of Luke.
  • If, on the other hand, Mark favored Matthew, as Griesbach alleged, then it is doubly inexplicable why he inserted this aphoristic cluster at this particular point in his narrative. For Matthew presents none of these sayings where Mark does. If Mark was in fact dependent in part on Matthew, then one might expect him to insert any other sayings he wished to associate with Matt 13:12 in the sequence of Matthew's narrative syntax. But he obviously did not.
  • Moreover, in presenting his version of the riddle of the haves & the have-nots, Mark omits the promise in Matt 13:12 -- "and he will have in abundance" -- even though it makes practically the same point as the concluding words of Mark's own phrasing of the principle of equal measures ("and still more will be given to you") that he used to preface this saying. If Mark phrased the riddle of the haves & have-nots as Matthew did, then one might plausibly argue that this concept of receiving with abundance is what prompted him to link these two sayings. But since he does not, the logic of his presentation of these sayings shows even less dependence on the text of Matthew than it does on that of Luke.
  • Finally, if Mark was actually dependent for his material on the other two synoptics, he should have been aware that Matthew & Luke each present versions of both the principle of equal measures & the riddle of the haves & have-nots in substantially the same contexts [Jesus' sermon & the parable of the entrusted funds] at other points in their gospels. Yet, he did not present these sayings in either of those contexts, despite the clear narrative agreement between his alleged sources. Why Mark would prefer instead to create a hybrid composition by extracting a cluster  including these aphorisms that he found just in Luke & planting it in a block of parables drawn from Matthew, at a point where there was no prior logical connection is a complete mystery.  

Thus, it is difficult to account for the various versions of this pericope on the basis of the Griesbach hypothesis, since this source theory raises more questions than it answers.


Did Luke use Matthew to revise Mark? 

A theory that envisions the literary dependence of the other synoptics on Mark can more easily explain the various forms in which the aphorisms in Mark 4:24-25 and parallels were recorded than a theory that presupposes the priority of Matthew. Mark's reasons for recalling these particular aphorisms in tandem & introducing them as a cluster at this point in his narrative may not be more scrutable by presuming that Mark wrote first. But at least the mental mechanics involved in Mark's recalling these sayings from oral tradition presents a simpler & more normal model of creative composition than the intricate mental gymnastics required if one presupposes that Mark based his work on one or both of the other written synoptic texts.

Since the logical coherence of these aphorisms & their relevance to Mark's narrative context is tenuous at best, it is easy to see why Matthew preferred to record them elsewhere. Luke, on the other hand, obviously had no problem leaving most of these aphorisms where Mark had recorded them, insofar as the principle of equal measures is the only saying he dropped from this cluster of maxims. 

Yet, the question remains: Does Luke's presentation of these aphorisms indicate that he knew & used Matthew also, as Farrer suggested?  

Luke clearly did not follow Matthew in constructing the cluster of aphorisms appended to the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the sower, since Matthew presents none of the sayings there that Luke & Mark do. Moreover, the formulation of the riddle of the haves & have-nots with which Luke concludes this sayings cluster follows Mark 4:25 rather than Matthew 13:12 in omitting the phrase: "and he will have abundance."  So, if Luke knew the gospel of Matthew, he obviously chose to ignore it when he edited this section of Mark.

Elsewhere, however, Luke associates both the principle of equal measures & a second version of the riddle of the haves & have-nots with sayings complexes like those in Matthew.

  • In Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew, the principle of equal measures is linked directly to a warning against judging others [Matt 7:1-2]. The wording & sequence of sayings in Luke's version of that sermon, which he locates on a "plain," is too similar to Matthew's to be accidental. For there is no necessary logical link between the principle of equal transactions & the idea of not judging others, as the traditional Jewish rule of fair retaliation -- "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Deut 19:21) -- proves.  So, the fact that both Luke & Matthew present a speech in which Jesus cites the principle of equal measures as reason for not judging indicates a common source. That source cannot be Mark, since his gospel does not report this sermon of Jesus or most of the sayings that Matthew & Luke identify with it.
  • In a parable set at the conclusion of Jesus' public career, Matthew presents a second version of the riddle of the haves & have-nots [Matt 25:29] as the reason for stripping a conservative servant of entrusted funds he had hidden. Luke's own second version of this riddle is closely parallel, even though he records his version of the parable of  entrusted funds much earlier in his narrative. Note that, while the two synoptic versions of this parable vary extensively in narrative detail, the concluding aphorism is worded almost identically in both gospels. In fact, Matt 25:29 and Luke 19:26 agree even in the verb forms used to describe the subjects (having/not having), although these differ from the grammatical constructions used to describe the haves & the have-nots in Mark 4:25 and parallels.  While such minor grammatical details may seem trivial since they do not alter the sense of the aphorism itself, such a pattern of close agreement in Matthew & Luke's formulation of a saying that is not from Mark probably indicates dependence on a single source.

The two simplest ways of accounting for such patterns of rhetorical agreement between Matthew & Luke are: 

  • Luke used the gospel of Matthew as well as Mark, or
  • Matthew & Luke each used some common source (Q). 

In general, Farrer's theory that Luke drew material directly from Matthew seems the simplest explanation.  But in this instance, at least, it requires envisioning editorial activity by both Matthew & Luke that is almost as complex as that required by the Griesbach hypothesis.

If Matthew had only Mark as a source for the parallel sayings in his gospel, then he would have deliberately had to deconstruct & eliminate the cluster of aphorisms in Mark 4:21-25 only to cite four of these sayings in separate contexts earlier in his narrative -- with only the last even remotely related to its use in Mark.  Then much later, near the conclusion of Jesus' public preaching in Matthew, he repeated the last of these aphorisms in yet another context, as the moral of a long narrative parable that he did not derive from Mark. The following diagram illustrates the complexity of Matthew's reorganization of Markan material if Mark was Matthew's sole source:
Saying  Mark  Moved to   Matt  
1 Lamp location 4:21 Sermon (beginning) 5:15
2 Disclosed secrets 4:22 Mission instructions


3 Use ears to hear 4:23 [omitted] ---
4 Alert about hearing 4:24a [omitted] ---
5 Equal measures 4:24b Sermon (end) 7:2b
6 Haves & Have Nots 4:25 Reason for parables 13:12
Parable of entrusted funds 25:29

Not only the location but the wording of Matthew's four sayings that resemble those in this Markan cluster diverge enough from Mark to make it clear that the Matthean versions are at best free paraphrases recalled in contexts unrelated to Mark.  The fact that both Matthean versions of the riddle of the haves & have-nots contain a clause not used by Mark ["and he will have abundance"] shows Matthew's persistent divergence from Mark's phrasing of these sayings. Since Matthew repeatedly demonstrates his independence from the Markan version of these sayings, it is not at all clear that the Matthean parallels were even indirectly derived from the gospel of Mark itself.

Likewise, if Luke used Matthew's versions of these sayings, he deliberately obscured this second source by totally rewriting the sayings with which Matthew associated them & moving them to other points in his narrative for no apparent reason. 
  • In Matthew the parable of the entrusted funds is sandwiched between two other long parables [about awaiting a bridegroom & the last judgment] at the conclusion of Jesus' last speech, which is filled with crisis motifs associated with the end-time. Since this parable concerns a final reckoning when a master returns, it fits well in such a context.

    Luke relates it instead to Jesus' much earlier encounter with a tax-collector [Zacchaeus] at Jericho, an incident not reported by Matthew. The relevance of the parable of entrusted funds to motifs in that story are less clear than to those in Matthew's context.  Moreover, most of the details of Luke's telling of this parable differ so much from those found in Matthew it is clear that, if Luke knew Matthew's version of this parable, he did not like it & thought it had to be totally reworked. 

    Besides, Luke's version of Jesus' eschatological final speech contains none of the parables & other sayings that Matthew has in this context which lack parallels in Mark. So, it is not at all certain that Luke was familiar with Matthew's version of Jesus' last speech at all, much less extracted material from it rather than some other source. If Luke used Matthew, it is unclear why he omits Matthew's phrase "and he will have abundance" from the parable of entrusted fund's conclusion about haves & have-nots, since this point is illustrated by Luke's version of that parable [where servants are rewarded in direct ratio to their productivity] even better than Matthew's [where all funds are returned to the master].
  • As for the principle of equal measures: both Matthew & Luke introduce this as reason to withhold judgment. Yet, the logical & rhetorical syntax of these ideas in Luke's sermon is much more complex than Matthew's, as the following diagram indicates [words in pink indicate wording unique to Matthew; those in green are peculiar to Luke]:
Matt 7  Luke 6
  Action Reaction   Action Reaction
 1  Judge not not judged 37 Judge not not judged
2 Judge be judged   Condemn not not condemned
        Forgive be forgiven
      38 Give be given
          good measure
          full & overflowing
  Measure be measured   Measure be measured

Not only does Luke fail to use the mediating formula in Matthew's version of Jesus' sermon that links a grammatically negative injunction with a grammatically positive principle, he introduces positive actions (forgiving, giving) that stretch the tight logic of the Matthean formula.

Moreover, Luke's sermon does not contain any of the aphorisms in the whole chapter [Matt 6] immediately preceding this passage in Matthew's sermon on the mount. Luke also omits many other sayings that follow this cluster of aphorisms in Matthew, yet appends sayings to the principle of equal measures that are not in Matthew's version of Jesus' sermon.  So whatever the source of Luke's formulation of this material, it is clear that -- at this point at least -- his sermon on the plain does not follow the composition of Matthew's sermon on the mount.  

Such observations fail to confirm Luke's dependence on the text of Matthew or Matthew's sole reliance on the text of Mark.  Farrer's theory of synoptic relationships may seem simple in the abstract. But when placed under a microscope, it fails to explain the variation in performances of these sayings.


Did Matthew & Luke use a common source other than Mark? 

Any source theory that does not envision the synoptic authors' access to oral tradition and/or a written document other than our canonical gospels will inevitably have to resort to radical & often inexplicable editorial revisions in order to account for the differences in Matthew, Mark & Luke's presentation of the same aphorisms.  So, despite initial impressions to the contrary, the two source hypothesis provides a simpler model than rival theories for explaining the range of permutations in which these synoptic sayings were recorded.  

  • The principle of equal measures & the riddle of the haves & the have-nots are based on quite independent observations. Like other aphorisms credited to Jesus, they originally circulated separately in oral tradition. Yet like any wise saying they could be combined with other sayings & invoked in any logical context that someone who recalled them deemed appropriate.
  • Mark associated the principle of equal measures with the riddle of the haves & have-nots and -- for reasons that are not immediately apparent -- decided to add them to a string of other aphorisms [e.g., the lamp & disclosed secrets] that he appended to his interpretation of Jesus' parable of the sower.
  • Yet, some other Christian scribe collecting sayings of Jesus, obviously did not make the same mental associations as Mark but, instead, associated the principle of equal measures & the riddle of the haves & have-nots with other sayings [an injunction against judgment, on the one hand, & a parable, on the other] & recorded these sayings in quite different contexts.
  • Though this is how these aphorisms appear in the gospel of Matthew, the author of that gospel need not have been the first scribe who recorded them in this form.  The fact that Luke also records these aphorisms in forms that are similar to but not identical with those in Matthew makes it likely that both Matthew & Luke used the same non-Markan sayings source [Q], when they revised Mark.
  • Since Matthew & Luke each locate the injunction against judging in a sermon of Jesus near the beginning of their gospels & the parable of entrusted funds near the end, the sayings source "Q" must have had a stable structure & thus was probably a written document.  The fact that Matthew & Luke locate these pericopes in totally different contexts in their narratives is most easily explained by assuming that Luke added Q material to Mark without any dependence on the text of Matthew.
  • Since Matthew cited Q versions of the lamp, disclosed secrets & principle of equal measures long before he came to editing the section of Mark that dealt with parables, he simply chose not to copy the cluster of aphorisms in Mark 4:21-25. The fact that these sayings were awkward in this context anyway may have influenced his decision.  Yet, Matthew had not yet recorded the riddle of the haves & have-nots.  Rather than just eliminate it or leave it in as irrelevant transition between the interpretation of the parable of the sower & the next seed parable, Matthew decided to use this saying in his expanded revision of Mark's explanation of why Jesus spoke in parables.  Finally, Matthew expanded Mark's version of Jesus' final speech by including many sayings from Q that had similar crisis motifs, including the parable of entrusted funds, to which the riddle of the haves & have-nots had already been linked in Q.
  • When Luke edited Mark, he did not use Matthew's revisions as his guide.  So he kept the aphoristic cluster that Mark appended to Jesus' interpretation of the parable of the sower. But, like Matthew, Luke had already cited the Q version of the principle of equal measures when he inserted the sermon from Q early in his narrative. So, in editing Mark 4:21-25, he simply decided not to repeat this saying in its Markan context.  Since Luke consistently condensed Markan pericopes this decision was probably made to economize on words. Like Matthew, Luke used Q's parable of entrusted funds, but instead of appending it to Mark's version of Jesus' last speech he used it to expand Mark's passing reference to Jesus' visit to Jericho.

So, the fact that Matthew & Luke record 

  • only one version of the principle of equal measures, both in the non-Markan context of Jesus' sermon, 
  • but two versions of the riddle of the haves & have-nots -- the first linked to the Markan section on parables & the second to the non-Markan parable of entrusted funds, 
  • yet in totally different narrative contexts from each other 

is most simply interpreted as evidence that Matthew & Luke

  • are independent revisions of Mark,
  • by authors who both had access to copies of a document [Q] that contained some Jesus sayings that were also in Mark, but recorded in non-Markan sayings complexes; &
  • each valued this collection of Jesus' sayings [Q] as much or more than Mark.

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last revised 28 February 2023

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