More Lucan Muddles—Editorial Fatigue in Passages Copied from Mark

Lucan muddles really become interesting or enlightening when you can use them to see how Luke has copied from and manipulated one of his sources. These are often called instances of “editorial fatigue” because the author edits a source as he starts to copy it into his own work, then attention wanes and he forgets to make corresponding changes as he copies the remainder of the source. Some clear cases where Luke made mistakes when copying from Mark will help illustrate the concept.

The Parable of the Sower

The parable of the sower appears in all three synoptic gospels (Matt 13:1-23 // Mark 4:1-20 // Luke 8:4-15), followed in each case by its interpretation.  In Luke the parable itself is in 8:5-8a:

A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.

The interpretation is in 8:11b-15:

The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

If you focus on the rocky soil and its interpretation, you find three anomalies:

And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. (Luke 8:6)

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13)

Three elements of the interpretation don’t seem to have corresponding elements in the parable.

  1. “Receive it with joy” in the interpretation presumes something more than just “as it grew up” in the parable. 
  2. “Have no root” in the interpretation corresponds vaguely at best to “had no moisture” in the parable.
  3. The “time of temptation” in the interpretation corresponds to nothing at all in the parable.

Now, you might be inclined to say that maybe the interpretation simply wasn’t meant to be exact – except that on all three points the parable and interpretation match perfectly in Mark:

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and [1] immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and [3] when the sun rose it was scorched, and since [2] it had no root it withered away. (Mark 4:5-6)

And these . . . are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, [1] immediately receive it with joy; and [2] they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, [3] when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

In Mark each element of the interpretation has a corresponding element in the parable:

  1. “Receive it with joy” corresponds to “immediately it sprang up” in the parable.
  2. “Have no root in themselves”  corresponds to “had no root” in the parable
  3. “When tribulation or persecution arises” corresponds to “when the sun rose” in the parable.

The best explanation for the muddle in Luke is simply that he decided to condense a parable he found in Mark and forgot to make corresponding changes when he copied the interpretation from Mark. Besides showing Luke’s dependence on Mark rather than the reverse, this along with other muddles shows us something about Luke as an author:  keeping related but separate parts of his text consistent isn’t his top priority.

Through the Roof

Another example is in the story of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus by lowering him through a hole in a roof (Matt 9.1-8 // Mark 2.1-12 // Luke 5.17-26). In Luke we have a muddle because the men “bring in” the paralytic but there’s no word about what or where they are bringing him into:

On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. (Luke 5:16-20)

In Mark it’s clear. Mark sets the stage (Jesus’ location in a house) and explains the reason for the strange approach (a crowd at the door):

. . . after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; . . . And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. (Mark 2:1-4)

In the continuation of this same story Luke’s editorial changes miss a beat and leave the reader in a muddle once again.  The scribes are openly questioning Jesus, but he accuses them of questioning “in their hearts”:

And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, `Rise and walk’? (Luke 5:21-23)

Once again, everything is consistent in Mark’s version:

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? (Mark 5:5-9)

In this case, Luke changed Mark’s “questioning in their hearts” to “began to question, saying,” and this required him to change “Jesus, perceiving in his spirit . . .” to just “Jesus, perceiving . . .”, but he forgot to remove “in your hearts” from Jesus’ response.

These kinds of muddles make sense if Luke was copying from Mark. It is much more difficult to conceive of Luke writing these kinds of errors first and Mark correcting them, so they are powerful evidence that Mark wrote first and Luke used Mark as one of his sources. In my next post I’ll explain how similar muddles in texts coped from Matthew serve as evidence that Luke used Matthew as his other source, rather than Q. But before relating some of the many examples of those kinds of Lucan muddles, I’ll explain why it matters whether Luke’s other source besides Mark was Matthew or Q.


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