Saturday 5 April 2008

Which One First?

Which One First?
A study in textual comparison in the New Testament,
etween Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:20-30 and Luke 11:14-23.

In this exercise I will be attempting to do a contextual comparison between three texts, Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:20-30 and Luke 11:14-23. Due to the restriction on outside sources, this paper will be mostly opinion, but hopefully informed opinion. The exercise provides challenges in that the limitation on the size of Biblical text used as well as the limited length of the assignment. However I will attempt to do it some justice to both.

First I must state that I am going to refer to the Authors o
f these texts as Matthew, Mark and Luke. Knowing that this is just a reference point from convenience and not that they were actually written by them, for that is a fact we can not know at this point in time.

I will begin with a comparison of the three biblical texts, where they are exactly alike, where they differ and gaps between the three accounts, this will be done in a chart form. Then I will attempt to explain possibly some of the r
easons for some of the differences. And then conclude with what we can gleam of Jesus and 'what he was about' in the concluding section.

Lets build a chart now of where these texts meet and diverge from each other:

As can be seen from the chart, the basic text is the same story, which boils down to: "Jesus is teaching or healing. He gets accused of casting out demons by the power of evil, He teaches on a divided house falling. Then the story of a strong man. Then either or a statement on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, either you are for me or against me." The key area's where they differ is in how do we get to this place? In Matthew Jesus is healing a blind mute demonic. In Mark his family is coming to him trying to pull him off the teaching, for fear he had gone out of his mind. And In Luke he cast a demon out of a mute.

The next major difference is the discrepancy listed abov
e, the greatest divergence here is the Luke 11:16, the crowds demanding a sign. Then In Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 it states He (Jesus) knew what they were thinking and said …(the rest of the passage). But at this point Mark 2:23 diverges and states that he (Jesus) called then to him and spoke in parables.

Then the third area of difference is that both Matthew 12:27, 28 and Luke 11:19,20 both return to the reference to Beelzebul. Which does not happen in the Mark account.

Next all 3 accounts have reference to a strong man. Matthew and Mark are very similar in their account of this story, almost word for word. But here Luke has a very different version of the story, in Luke's telling, there is reference to arms, and guards, and a stronger man who attacks overpowers and take
s away the defenses the strong man had trusted in.

Then when we get to the endings they overlap to some extent but each has variations from the others. Then we get a section that appears towar
ds the end of Matthews account 12:30 and at the end of Luke's 11:23 which are the identical verse in both accounts. But there is no mention of this in Mark either in word, concept, or implication. Then the end of Matthews account v21-23 is very similar in meaning but different in wording to Mark's v28-29. Then Mark v30 ends with a reference to an 'unclean spirit' which we see in neither of the other Gospels.

When one comes to trying to explain these differences there are many theories and possibilities. First I will list all possible sources then try to chart some of the possible ways these gospels have come to built the way they
  1. Q. = Quelle or source of Quotes
  2. S. = Stories of collection of Jesus Parables and Teaching lessons
  3. P. = Paul's Letters
  4. Mk. = Mark
  5. Mw. = Matthew
  6. L = Luke
  7. J. = John
  8. O. = Oral tradition(s)
  9. H. = Holy Spirit
Now two of these sources are tricky and one is of my own process. The S. source is one that I have always wondered about. They may have been a Q. source that was a list of quotes of sayings. Yet I think it equally possible that among Jesus many followers they may have been someone or many people who kept records of his parables and other teaching stories an these I have given the title S. source for "Stories."

The other one is the O. or oral tradition(s) I believe that there may have been many oral traditions circulating around. From each different traveling teacher like Paul or Peter and the churches they founded. Much like the Irish legends that I have heard from my father then read variations on a theme in many versions of the same story. Much like our beloved 'Cinderella' story or the 'Ashiepattle' Version of it we find in Grimm's collection, there are variations of this story on almost every contentment and in each region. So too variations on the Jesus stories or teachings could have arisen in different communities long before they were put to parchment.

Finally the H. source from John 14:26 NASB "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." As a believer this verse always leads me to the possibility that other than Oral Traditions there were no sources other than the Holy Spirit. But academically I have to stay open to the possibility of all that is listed above.
So now I will chart these by the book to list some possible forms there shaping could have gone through, From the most academic to the most religious.

As can be seen from this chart when we factor in the theological possibilities, the academic possibilities and theories, and also the religious concerns there are many possible ways each of our texts came into existence.

Thus as we go to the assignment of explaining the difference in the 3 texts that we are examining. I personally believe that Mark was the first gospel that was written (from the 3 we are examining). I think that Mark would have drawn upon Oral Tradition(s), and possibly the Q. and S. sources, I also believe that at each stage of the process from Oral to Q. and S and Mk the Holy Spirit was guiding the process. It is also possible that Mark drew upon Paul's letters.

Thus from Mark we move onto Matthew, I think Matthew was written based upon all the same sources as Mark and that he probably drew upon Mark as well. And Finally Luke, I believe that Luke like Matthew drew upon Q. S. and also Mk. All guided by H. there is also the possibility that Luke drew upon Matthew.

From the above chart and explanations it is very easy to explain some of the similarities and some of the differences. It is entirely possible that if Mark is written first and Matthew draws upon Mark and Luke draws upon both of them. Then weather we have earlier sources or not we can explain Mw and L's overlap with Mk. If we include the Q. source that Matthew and Luke draw upon but Mark does not, it accounts for the exact wordings being in some spots in both Mw and L.

Thus we account for the identical verses in Mark 3:27 with Matthew 12:29 by the fact that Matthew drew upon Mark. Also if Luke drew upon the Matthew source or both Matthew and Luke drew upon a Q. source we can account for the save verse word for word in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23. Which could account for this verse not in word or concept being in this story in Mark.

Another example going in divergence of text could be the reference to Beelzebul in Matthew 12:24b, Mark 3:22b and Luke 11:15b each of these versus states the same thing but in different ways. That could have easily been just an authors preference or use of language differences among the authors. So from the variations of ways the Books we know as Matthew, Mark and Luke came into existence we can account for all of the similarities and difference by one theory or another.

One other possibility I would like to address is that if from the evidence we have Jesus was often at odds with the authorities weather we mean scribes, priests, Pharisees; then we could also account for difference in that this scenario was played out more than once during Jesus ministry. That being his accused of being associated with Beezebul. Thus these could actually be 3 retellings of 3 different events, not of the same event. This could also account for the differences.

What do we learn about Jesus and what is he about? That is what we will attempt to examine in this finale section. First I would state that Jesus was man of power and controversy. He could heal diseases, and cast out demons. The incredible things he did are not debated by his opponents in all three texts. What they do question is how he does it. From this small sampling I would say that Jesus was very passionate about what he did, that he saw himself as an instrument of God. And that He was bringing the kingdom of God to man on earth.

I would say that based on his healing and caring for others that he was a very compassionate person. But he is also a man of great intellect and wisdom. The parables , stories and analogies he comes up with are just as relevant and applicable to us today as they would have been to his original audiences nearly 2000 years ago.
I can under stand the leaders reactions. Here is a man with great power and abilities the likes of which they have not seen before and he is upsetting the peace. People are following him and not sticking to the ritual and tradition , they fear their own position and also upsetting the Roman government. I do not under stand his family's reaction. I can thus offer no explanation for it. As to the crowds I can see their enthusiasm at some one who has this power, who heals , cleans and releases from bondage any who are brought to him. Who would not follow such a one that they saw in person.

That we have a complicated task, to keep at bay the religious fever and also not become so academically focused that we loose the experience of being touched by Jesus even across the years and miles. For the freedom he provided then is just as available to us. So that will be my aim through the rest of this course, finding a balanced view and approach to 'This Jesus', both academically, and through the eyes of my faith.

(First Written for RS206 Jesus Life and Legacy Spring 2000.)

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