Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

10. The Treasure, the Pearl & the Net
Matt 13:44- 50 

  context     Greek synopsis     English synopsis     analysis     source hypotheses     variants 

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Source: Matthew

While the non-canonical gospel of Thomas contains a variant of each of the three parables in this Matthean catena, none of this material is echoed by the other synoptic authors.

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. Hypotheses that Mark was the primary source for the other synoptics (C & D) only 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. A theory that Matthew & Luke independently supplement Mark with other material (D) need only explain Matthew's motives for adding these parables that he knew, but apparently Mark & Luke did not. So, the Two Source hypothesis (D) clearly offers the simplest explanation of the synoptic evidence for this passage.

Testing the Theories


Did Mark edit Matthew? 

In the abstract, Augustine's theory that Mark wanted to condense Matthew's work offers a reasonable explanation of why this parable complex is omitted from his gospel. But when one considers the material itself, that theory is hardly adequate. If Mark was really concerned to abbreviate Matthew, then it is odd that he omitted these particular parables since each of them is far shorter than those he records in this chapter.


Greek Word Count


Self-growing seed 58
Mustard 55
Buried Treasure 31
Pearl 26
Net 36

Clearly, Mark had no objection to parables or explanations in general. For he begins and concludes this section of his narrative with these sweeping generalizations:

Mark 4

2 And he taught them many things in parables...
34 He did not speak to them without a parable,
  but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Moreover, Mark had no reason to object to these particular parables. For later, he stresses the need to sell all to attain God's kingdom when he recounts Jesus' advice to the rich man and reaction when the rich man withdraws:

Mark 10

21 "You lack one thing:
  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
  and you will have treasure in heaven"...
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
  "How hard it will be for those who have riches
  to enter the kingdom of God."

If Mark was editing Matthew, this would be the perfect spot for him to have recalled either the parable of the buried treasure or the pearl, especially given his insistence that Jesus did not teach without using a parable.

Thus, Augustine's synoptic theory does not offer a convincing explanation of why these Matthean parables are not found in the gospel of Mark. For it presupposes that Mark deliberately deleted words that Matthew ascribes to Jesus, which emphasize an element of Jesus' teaching that Mark himself stresses.




Did Mark conflate Matthew & Luke? 

The Griesbach hypothesis is hardly better at explaining Mark's failure to report any element of this cluster of parables. For it simply shifts the initial decision to drop this material from Mark to Luke, without offering a cogent rationale for Luke suppressing these parables. Besides reporting parallels to many Matthean sayings that are not found in Mark, Luke presents many more parables -- some of which are the longest ascribed to Jesus -- that have no parallel in either of the other synoptic gospels (e.g., the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Shrewd Manager).  Moreover, Luke's omission of three short Matthean parables hardly provides a cogent reason for their absence in Mark, since Griesbach himself stressed that Mark tried "to be brief" and "most often followed Matthew."



Did Luke use Matthew? 

If Luke knew and used the gospel of Matthew, as Farrer's hypothesis alleges, his omission of the parables of the buried treasure and priceless pearl is even more inexplicable than Mark's. For unlike Mark, Luke frequently presents Jesus sayings cited by Matthew in other non-Matthean contexts. The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt 13:31-33 // Luke 13:18-21) are a perfect example of this. So, if, Luke drew this pair of parables from Matthew's gospel, as Farrer presupposes, it is odd that he apparently overlooked or forgot the linked parables of the treasure and pearl (Matt 13:44-46) that Matthew adds to his string.

Such an oversight is all the more surprising, since Luke makes the theme of "selling all" a more recurrent theme of Jesus' message than either Matthew or Mark. While Matthew presents Jesus advising people against "laying up treasures on earth" (Matt 6:19), Luke has Jesus introduce a variant of this counsel with the explicit command "sell your possessions, and give alms" (Luke 12:33), anticipating his later injunction to the rich young ruler:


Luke 18

22 "One thing you still lack:
  Go, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor,
  and you will have treasure in heaven"...

Either of these places in the Lukan narrative provides a perfect context for the Luke to have inserted one or both of the Matthean parables of the buried treasure or pearl. For either provides graphic and practically verbatim support for Luke's version of Jesus' instructions to erstwhile followers. Thus, why he did not present them if he actually knew them is a conundrum that cannot be resolved with any certainty.

Thus, here Farrer's synoptic hypothesis creates unnecessary redactional puzzles that can be avoided simply by presupposing that Luke did not use Matthew as a source.



Are Matthew & Luke independent revisions of Mark? 

The Two Source hypothesis clearly offers the least problematic explanation of why Matthew's well-constructed catena of three parables plus explanation is not found in the gospels of Mark and Luke:

  • Mark wrote first, apparently unfamiliar with any of this material.
  • Matthew edited the gospel of Mark, supplementing his trio of seed parables with parables that he knew from other sources, oral or written, and weaving them into an elegant three-looped catena.
  • Luke edited the gospel of Mark without consulting Matthew's gospel. So his omission of this Matthean catena is hardly surprising. But Luke's failure to cite either the parable of the buried treasure or the pearl indicates that they were not included in the non-Markan source -- call it "Q" -- from which both he and Matthew independently drew many of the same sayings, such as the paired parables of the mustard seed and leaven.


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last revised 11 December 2019

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