The Synoptic Problem Revisited

Today at our weekly ecumenical Bible study on the following Sunday’s Gospel we were looking at the following passage:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,
    and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

This led me to reflect on the Synoptic Problem.  When I was training the predominant theory (simply put) was that Mark was written first, then Matthew, based on Mark and then Luke based on both.  However, one of my lecturers discussed the theory that Luke preceded Matthew.  This appealed to me as someone who likes things categorised; that Luke told stories and then Matthew rearranged them into more organised blocks.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and

“On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

There were two things that I noticed:

  • Matthew had an extra “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” to the first response.
  • The order of the temptations is different.

Why might this be?

If Matthew wrote first then why would Luke remove the second half of the quote?  If Luke wrote first, then Matthew (as a Jew writing for Jews) might have included the second half of the Old Testament quote as he already knew it, and knew that it would point his readers to a known reference.

Why would Luke change the order of the temptations if Matthew wrote first?  I am sure you may come up with your own answers, but if Luke wrote first Matthew might change them so that they reflect a movement from the personal, to personal aggrandisement to power.

I am far from an expert in these matters, but from time to time I like to think about these things!

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