More Minor Lucan Muddles

Here are some more examples of editorial fatigue in Luke, from Michael Goulder’s Luke: A New Paradigm.

What Evil did Capernaum do?

At the end of the text where Jesus commissions the seventy, Luke has a negative reference to Capernaum that doesn’t make sense in this gospel because nothing has been said about anything negative happening there:

“But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. (Luke 10:13-15)

This reference to Capernaum is out of the blue with no indication of why it should be condemned.  In Luke all we have heard of Capernaum up to this point is that Jesus did miracles there (4:23), taught and healed people there (4:31-41) and at a distance healed the slave of a Centurion who lived there (7:1-10).

In Matthew the story makes sense from beginning to end.  Matthew introduces the saying with an explanation:

Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. (Matt 11:20)

And then the text of Jesus’ monologue that Matthew introduced in this manner makes it clear why Capernaum is being singled out:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.

In Matthew everything fits together and makes sense.  In Luke, we have a fragment taken out of context, with an explanatory clause (italicized in the quotation above) dropped. The direction of borrowing appears clear: Luke is copying from Matthew, and in a move that you are by now seeing to be his typical modus operandi, he reworks the text adapted from Matthew in a way that leaves out key pieces of data. Reading Luke alone you would have to guess at what the reference to Capernaum was about.

Tomb Building as Evidence of Complicity in Murder

The saying of Jesus in Luke 11:46-50 contains a couple of muddles:

And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore (διὰ τοῦτο) also the Wisdom of God said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ that (ἵνα) the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation . . . (Luke 11:46-50)

One builds a tomb to honor the one buried in it; building the tombs of the prophets is certainly not evidence in and of itself that the builders witnessed the prophets being killed, much less that they must have approved of the killings (“for you build the tombs . . . so you are witnesses and consent”).

And who are the prophets in this saying?  “The prophets whom your fathers killed” is clearly a reference to the Old Testament prophets. The same word appears again later apparently in reference to the same group, here alongside New Testament apostles:  “I will send them prophets and apostles . . .”  The problem here is the text that follows “Therefore” (διὰ τοῦτο).  This clause means that because lawyers in Jesus’ day consented to their fathers’ deeds of killing prophets, God promised to send those very prophets whom the lawyers’ fathers killed. The text goes on to assert that the purpose of sending the prophets (note the ἵνα in v.50) was to make the lawyers of Jesus’ day pay the penalty for all of the prophet killings “from the foundation of the world.” Meanwhile, it isn’t clear anywhere in the text that the lawyers themselves have done anything themselves to merit this extreme penalty, aside from consenting to what “their fathers” did.

Once again, an equally careful examination of the parallel text in Matthew reveals a text that makes sense in its context:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation. (Matt 23:29-36)

Here the building of tombs does not ipso facto prove anything, it’s the builders’ own words that witness to the fact that their fathers killed the prophets.  Here the sending of “prophets and wise men” is clearly a future act that gives the scribes and Pharisees themselves an opportunity to “fill up the measure of their fathers” by doing the evil deeds against the prophets themselves. It is then their own evil deeds that will result in their being “sentenced to hell” to pay the penalty for “all the righteous blood shed on earth.” The penalty sounds harsh in the extreme, but there are no illogical leaps or temporal mix-ups here. 

Once again, the direction of borrowing and adapting is from Matthew to Luke.  The mistakes are typically Lucan mistakes in transcribing and editing, especially the omission of crucial explanatory clauses. 

It can seem monotonous to continue to point out all of these instances of editorial fatigue.  But the only way to reach a conclusion with any degree of certainty is to build up a cumulative argument based on a preponderance of evidence.  It is the number of times these kinds of instances show up in Luke, along with the fact that the only editorial fatigue in Matthew occurs in borrowings from Mark, that creates serious difficulties for the Q hypothesis.

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