The Gospels on the Pharisees IV

(continued from here)

9.) Mt 15.1-20 / Lk 11.37-54 / Mk 7.1-23
In Mt the issue is ritual handwashing prior to a meal, something that concerned some Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, and is undoubtedly related to the later-attested Rabbinic practice (see Mishnah tractate Yadayim, passim). This would have been a basic issue that apparently would presumably prevent table fellowship between Jesus and his disciples on one side, and the Pharisees and scribes on the other. Jesus’ argument is fascinating. Adducing a presumably Pharisaic and scribal halakhic example regarding vows to the Temple (“Qorban”) and positing a situation in which it would actually break commandments in the Torah rather than preserve them, he follows with a quotation from Isaiah 29.13, a prophetic condemnation of similar behavior. This is then followed by a stunning pronouncement which appears to be related to the Isaiah quotation: what comes from the heart defiles. In Lk the argumentation is completely gone, and the pericope is combined with a Lucan version of the some of the woes of Mt 23. Mk, however, follows Mt more closely, though still not presenting the argumentation in full. Indeed, it appears that in his concern for parenthetical explanation of Jewish customs for his Gentile readers (vv 3-4, 11) and application to their situation (particularly in the parenthesis in v 19: “Thus he declared all foods clean” — patently not the issue in Mt), Mk has taken the pericope in a different direction altogether, one foreign to the argumentation in Mt.

10.) Mt 16.1-4 / Lke 11.16, 29; 12.54-56 / Mk 8.11-13
As noted above in #8, Lk and Mk have harmonized Mt 12.38-42 and Mt 16.1-4, which is most apparent in Mk 8.11 and Lk 11.16 noting that the questioning was in order “to test him,” which is lacking in the parallel in Mt 12.38. Also to be noted is the weather observation saying in Lk 12.54-56, which originates in an appropriate fuller context in Mt 16.1-4.

11.) Mt 16.5-12 / Lk 12.1 / Mk 8.14-21
Lk excerpts only the very beginning of the Matthean pericope on the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but identifies this leaven as the hypocrisy of the Pharisees alone, rather than the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees as in Mt. (The single excerpt is then followed by a Lucan version of Mt 10.26-33, interestingly implying persecution from the quarter of the Pharisees, though this would’ve been in actuality unlikely due to their position as influential intellectually, but lacking official power as a body themselves.) The version in Mk moves the focus, as elsewhere, to the miracles of the multiplication of loaves on two separate occasions, altogether neglecting to inform the reader what this leaven represents. An interesting change is that of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” in Mt 16.6 to “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” in Mk 8.15. It is perhaps this unusual alteration in Mk that led to omitting the identification of the leaven. What role would the Pharisees and Herod have in common? Certainly not teaching. Mk probably should be taken, however, to understand the leaven as “hypocrisy” with Lk 12.1, contra Mt 6.12.

12.) Mt 19.3-12 / Lk 16.18 / Mk 10.2-12
In both Mt and Mk, it is the Pharisees asking Jesus about divorce, but there is a crucial difference in the two accounts. Mt has the question posed “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (19.3). Mk has it “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10.2). Mt’s question will explain why Jesus’ ruling in 16.9 includes the proviso for adultery as the only legitimate reason for divorce. The unqualified question in Mk leads to an unqualified ban on divorce. Lk and Mk have no parallels to the concluding section of this pericope in Mt regarding not marrying as “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” vv 10-12. Such imagery could be construed as distasteful to a Gentile audience, if aversion to circumcision is any guide. Lk and Mk might then simply have avoided presenting this odd saying to their predominantly Gentile audiences.

13.) Mt 21.23-27 / Lk 20.1-8 / Mk 11.27-33
In Mt we find “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (21.23) questioning the source of Jesus’ authority, while in Lk it is “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders” (20.1) and in Mk it is “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (11.27). Again, Lk inserts scribes and Mk follows suit, connoting the group against Jesus to be composed of all the rulership of the nation as well as the instructors, while Mt leaves the latter out of this particular episode. Lk and Mt both foster the impression of widespread official opposition to Jesus from the beginning of his teaching, while Mt presents a picture over the course of the gospel of a deteriorating relationship between Jesus and the other parties: Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, et al.

14.) Mt 21.33-46 / Lk 20.9-19 / Mk 12.1-12
This is the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen. The three versions are substantially parallel, though Lk omits the removal of the kingdom in Mt 21.43, and Mk omits both that and the following verse regarding being broken on the stone (Mt 21.44; Lk 20.18). The parties who recognize themselves depicted unflatteringly in the parable are “the chief priests and the Pharisees” in Mt 21.45, and “the scribes and the chief priests” in Lk 20.19. In Mk it is simply “they” (12.12), referring back to “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” of 11.27.

(to be continued)


  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I am, too. There’s one more installment of the parallels, and then I want to take a look at the way some of the gospel passages have simply been misread throughout history regarding the Pharisees, and why that might be. As we’ve seen already in the comparisons between the gospels, the misunderstandings started that far back in some cases. It should be fun. So stay tuned!

  2. Hello Kevin,

    I would like to second Tim, this is an interesting series and I’m looking forward to what’s coming up.
    I also like how you’ve tied current research on the Pharisees with Griesbach’s theory. A nice slant!


  3. Thanks, John. I don’t know that I would’ve thought to throw in the Griesbach angle if it hadn’t been mentioned by both the authors as an alternative to the Two Source Hypothesis they were using.

    Pickup says on p. 68: “Complicating the matter is the lack of scholarly certainty about the compositional history of Mark and Matthew. The vast majority of scholars agree that some kind of literary interdependence exists between the synoptic gospels, but how so? Was Mark the earliest gospel and did Matthew and Luke use it as a source? Did they also use a collection of Jesus’ sayings? Or did Luke use Matthew, and Mark condense them both? (Most scholars would affirm the former position, but the latter has its defenders.)”

    Levine says on p. 113: “Second, source-critical questions remain uncertain. Most New Testament scholars propose that Luke relied on both Mark’s gospel and a (hypothetical) source shared with Matthew, labeled Q. A minority of scholars argue that Luke directly depended on Matthew and that Mark is a conflation of Matthew and Luke.”

    So, I thought it’d be interesting to turn the evidence around. I think it’s particularly clear with and approach like this that Lk clearly stripped out parts of sayings and argumentation that would seem extraneous or distracting to his Gentile audience. Mk followed this in general, but on occasion restores (relative to Lk) parts of the sayings that were too severely excerpted. I find it perfectly clear and beyond a doubt the case that Mt is the source for both Lk and Mk. Their reorganization of Mt’s materials is explicable by their audiences (Gentiles), while there would be no reason for Mt to reformulate theirs (or Mk’s with the ephemeral and unattested Q and perhaps M — whatever happened to Ockham’s razor?), Jewish society having been devastated in the Great Revolt, with no more chief priests, Sadducees, and so on. Likewise, the scattering of material pulled together in Mt into coherent halakhic argumentation is not just the skill of a genius prooftexter at work. Seeing the original tight argumentation broken up by later authors (Lk and Mk) who either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the argumentation themselves is much more likely.

    Anyhow, there’s more to come. I have to beat off a head cold, first!

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