Category Archives: synoptic problem

Did Luke Use Mark?

Lately I've been writing about what I think is the direct trajectory of Synoptic interrelations by way of Mark > Matthew > [Marcion >] Luke. That is, that Q isn't necessary to explain the similarities between Matt and Luke; that Luke used Matt as a source (or used a source that used Matt as a source – some heretical Synoptic gospel a la Marcion) and not Q.

I posted an image of the relationship between the Synoptic gospels in one of those posts. There's one part that gives me pause about the whole hypothesis though: The 1% of overlap between Mark and Luke that is not shared in Matt. If what I had originally proposed was true, then Luke could have reconstructed Mark completely using only Matthew, but this is obviously incorrect. This 1% is a single pericope, the one where Jesus exorcises the demon from the synagogue in Capernaum. In Mark, it is Jesus' first demonstration of his

Mark 1.21-28:

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.

22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out,

24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”

26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Similarly in Luke 4.31-37:

31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.

32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice,
34 “Let us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!”

37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

So yeah. Luke has to be using Mark here since the wording is near identical. Especially the words that Jesus and the demon(s) speak; the words spoken in Mk 1.24-25 are nearly equivalent to the words spoken in Lk 4.34-35. The only difference is the word λεγων (saying) in Mark is replaced with εα (leave us alone or ha!) in Luke. What's also interesting is that Marcion's gospel also has the same exact spoken words as Luke, except that Marcion leaves out the vocative Nazarene (Ναζαρηνε) since it didn't make sense in Marcion's narrative that Jesus would be referred to as being from Nazareth (by this time, Nazarene had probably already lost its original meaning and was probably equated to one being from Nazareth) as soon as he had descended from the Father straight into Capernaum.

So it might be that Luke is indeed using Mark as a source as well as Matt and Little Marc.

This, as J. Tyson points out in Marcion and Luke-Acts, makes sense of the opening of Luke: That “many” (πολλοι) had composed narratives about the life of Jesus and he set out to write a better account. I can't see how only Mark and Q could be considered “many”. But Mark, Matt, Marcion, (and possibly a source that Marcion might have used; some sort of proto-Luke that looked a lot like Mark) would most certainly fit the logic of “many”. I also can't see how “many” could apply earlier than the existence of any supposed Christian heresies – prior to the 2nd century.

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in synoptic problem


Nazoraios and Q

It seems to me that if Luke and Matthew were sharing the same source according to the Q hypothesis, then we would expect the odd word “Nazoraios” (Ναζωραιος) in the shared material.

Luke only uses Nazoraios once (outside of Acts of the Apostles), at Lk 18.37: “απηγγειλαν δε αυτω οτι ιησους ο ναζωραιος παρερχεται”. This is the scene where Jesus heals the blind man at Jericho.
Luke 18:
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.
37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (ιησους ο ναζωραιος should be translated as “Jesus the Nazoraios”)
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,
41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This makes me realize another problem with Q. This pericope most certainly is not in Q since it is in Mark. As a matter of fact, I argue that this pericope was invented by Mark to implicitly teach his readers what the Aramaic “bar” meant so that they could understand the significance of Mark’s later character’s name: Barabba. Matthew, upon rendering this pericope, removes Mark’s “redundancy” (“the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus”) and splits Bartimaeus into two anonymous blind beggars. We can tell that this is a Matthean fingerprint because he has a tendency to render in two what Mark renders as one (i.e. two people possessed by the demon Legion instead of Mark’s one person, riding on two donkey’s upon Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem instead of Mark’s one, and so on).

Again, if Luke were using only Mark and Q as a source, he wouldn’t need to make the person anonymous. Matthew probably made the blind man anonymous so he could multiply the number of people being healed. Why would Luke make Bartimaeus anonymous? Another person whom Jesus helps – Jairus – is not made anonymous by Luke. However, if Luke is reading from Matthew (or reading from a source that used Matthew), then it would be a lot more obvious why Luke would remove Matthew’s redundant second person because Luke never knew the person’s name in the first place.

Matthew only uses Nazoraios once during the birth narrative (2.23) and once when Jesus is being tried by the high priest (26.71). This second use changes Mark’s original “you were with that Nazarene, Jesus” to “This fellow was with Jesus the Nazoraios“.

If, as I suspect, that Matthew invented the word Nazoraios at 2.23 — as a misremembering of Judges 13.5 —  then we have a clear trajectory of it being found in all gospels subsequent to Mark. The fact that Nazoraios is not in Q is also another strike against the Q hypothesis. Q doesn’t explain how all gospels subsequent to Mark have this title. Moreover, Nazoraios (as well as Barabba) is a peice of evidence that John was aware of a Synoptic gospel. When I mean “a” Synoptic gospel, I don’t just mean the canonical three. The same probably applies to Luke; the best explanation, to me, is that there was probably some sort of intermediate gospel(s) in between Luke and Matthew that Luke used and edited, not simpy a list of sayings.

Corroborating this, we know that there were more than four Christian communities (i.e. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John), and we know that each of these communities in the sea of heresy only used one gospel; more than likely one that they edited for their own community’s needs.

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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in synoptic problem


The Difference Between The Gospels and Actual Greco-Roman Biographies

I hear from layman Christians and Christian apologists all the time that the gospel narratives are a form of “ancient biography”. One can tell that they've never read any ancient biographies when they make this claim, because I think there is a fundamental difference between actual ancient biographies and the gospels.
The most important difference is that other ancient biographers almost always tell us who their sources are. The gospels never do anything like this; they read more along the lines of a Jewish novel (i.e. the book of Joshua) than a Greco-Roman biography. For instance, take the first few lines of the biography of Apollonius of Tyana:
And I have gathered my information partly from the many cities where he was loved, and partly from the temples whose long-neglected and decayed rites he restored, and partly from the accounts left of him by others and partly from his own letters. For he addressed these to kings, sophists, philosophers, to men of Elis, of Delphi, to Indians, and Ethiopians; and in his letters he dealt with the subjects of the gods, of customs, of moral principles, of laws, and in all these departments he corrected the errors into which men had fallen. But the more precise details which I have collected are as follows.
There was a man, Damis, by no means stupid, who formerly dwelt in the ancient city of Nineveh. He resorted to Apollonius in order to study wisdom, and having shared, by his own account, his wanderings abroad, wrote an account of them. And he records his opinions and discourses and all his prophecies. And a certain kinsmen of Damis drew the attention of the empress Julia [Domna, wife of Septimius Severus] to the documents containing these documents hitherto unknown.
Now I belonged to the circle of the empress, for she was a devoted admirer of all rhetorical exercises; and she commanded me to recast and edit these essays, at the same time paying more attention to the style and diction of them; for the man of Nineveh had told his story clearly enough, yet somewhat awkwardly.
And I also read the book of Maximus of Aegae, which comprised all the life of Apollonius in Aegae; and furthermore a will was composed by Apollonius, from which one can learn how rapturous and inspired a sage he really was. For we must not pay attention anyhow to Moeragenes, who composed four books about Apollonius, and yet was ignorant of many circumstances of his life.
That then I combined these scattered sources together and took trouble over my composition, I have said; but let my work, I pray, redound to the honor of the man who is the subject of my compilation, and also be of use to those who love learning. For assuredly, they will here learn things of which as yet they were ignorant.
Notice what Philostratus does here. He tells us where he got his stories from and why they're credible to him. He doesn't just jump into the narrative out of nowhere as though it were the dictate of a god. There's also Plutarch and his Lives where he writes of Romulus:
Moreover, even those writers who declare, in accordance with the most authentic tradition, it was Romulus who gave his name to the city [of Rome], do not agree about his lineage.
2 For some say that he was a son of Aeneas and Dexithea the daughter of Phorbas, and was brought to Italy in his infancy, along with his brother Romus; that the rest of the vessels were destroyed in the swollen river, but the one in which the boys were was gently directed to a grassy bank, where they were unexpectedly saved, and the place was called Roma from them.
3 Others say it was Roma, a daughter of the Trojan woman I have mentioned, who was wedded to Latinus the son of Telemachus and bore him Romulus; others that Aemilia, the daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, bore him to Mars; and others still rehearse what is altogether fabulous concerning his p95origin. For instance, they say that Tarchetius, king of the Albans, who was most lawless and cruel, was visited with a strange phantom in his house, namely, a phallus rising out of the hearth and remaining there many days.
4 Now there was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany, from which there was brought to Tarchetius a response that a virgin must have intercourse with this phantom, and she should bear a son most illustrious for his valour, and of surpassing good fortune and strength. Tarchetius, accordingly, told the prophecy to one of his daughters, and bade her consort with the phantom; but she disdained to do so, and sent a handmaid in to it.
5 When Tarchetius learned of this, he was wroth, and seized both the maidens, purposing to put them to death. But the goddess Hestia appeared to him in his sleep and forbade him the murder. He therefore imposed upon the maidens the weaving of a certain web in their imprisonment, assuring them that when they had finished the weaving of it, they should then be given in marriage. By day, then, these maidens wove, but by night other maidens, at the command of Tarchetius, unravelled their web. And when the handmaid became the mother of twin children by the phantom, Tarchetius gave them to a certain Teratius with orders to destroy them.
6 This man, however, carried them to the river-side and laid them down there. Then a she-wolf visited the babes and gave them suck, while all sorts of birds brought morsels of food and put them into their mouths, until a cow-herd spied them, conquered his amazement, ventured to come to them, and took the children home with him. Thus they were saved, and when they were grown up, they set upon Tarchetius and overcame him.
7 At any rate, this is what a certain Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy.
But the story which has the widest credence and the greatest number of vouchers was first published among the Greeks, in its principal details, by Diocles of Peparethus, and Fabius Pictor follows him in most points…
Again, Plutarch gives a variety of reports about the birth of Romulus and then goes with the story he feels is the most credible one. This is noteworthy because in comparison to Jesus, there is a much higher probability that Romulus is entirely mythical. The constant “some say… some say… others say…” while reading these sorts of ancient biographies gets kind of tedious. But at least these ancient authors have a concern over epistemology (i.e. how they know what they know). The closest we get to this sort of “some say… other say…” discourse in early Christian material is in the gospel of Luke. Once in the very short introduction, and next at Luke 3.23: “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph“.
Of course, Luke is not writing history, or basing his gospel on “eyewitnesses” like he says in Luke 1, because his gospel (1) shares about 65% of his material with the first (non-eyewitness) gospel Mark and its derivative Matthew, and (2) is probably written to re-Judaize Marcion's gospel. Luke never actually tells us who or where he gets his information from other than “eyewitnesses” (which, itself, is probably false). The appeal to eyewitnesses is actually a marker of 2nd century provenance since this was the time period that “Apostolic Succession” was being bandied about to refute the various heretics (the Gospel of Thomas and the last chapter of John also fall into this time period). Earlier written works/gospels did not appeal to eyewitnesses or an apostle since they weren't yet seen as authorities. The influence of Marcion is probably what began the appeal to apostles or eyewitnesses, since he is the earliest Christian to use that line of argument.
Like I wrote about earlier, the character “Barabbas” was more than likely invented by Mark. Thus any gospel that uses that character also more than likely used Mark as a source or used a source that used Mark as a source. This ostensibly includes Luke.
Most notably, the earliest witness to the Theophilus introduction in Luke comes from the time period of Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180 CE), who seems to be ignorant of the Jesus story even though he called himself a Christian. In other words, no Christian prior to the late 2nd century knows anything about a gospel addressed to a Theophilus, even though they might quote from what we later know of as “Luke” (like Justin Martyr and Marcion). I have a hunch that Irenaeus (c. 180 CE) wrote the prologue in this gospel (and also in Acts of the Apostles) to his contemporary.
Another lesser point of departure from other ancient biographies is that, after reading the gospels, we don't know anything more about Jesus' character than we did before we read them. For most modern readers, we know that Jesus did a bunch of miracles, healed some people, and gave some moral dictates. Other than that, we don't know anything about Jesus' personality. We don't leave the gospel with more personal information about Jesus than what we went into it with. Before reading the gospels, we know that Jesus is the [son of the] god of the Jews and died for your sins. After reading the gospels, we know exactly the same amount of information.
What did Jesus look like? Was he tall, short, or average height? Did he have a beard? Did he have a bull-neck or was he somewhat effeminate-looking? What kind of clothing did he wear? Oddly, we get a bit of personal information about John the Baptist; he wore clothes made out of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist. And he also ate locuts and wild honey. I can only think that this sort of personal detail was included for theological reasons, and not because the author (i.e. Mark) was actually interested in JtB's personal effects. To that point, it's interesting to note that the Ebionites claim that JtB ate cakes (εκρις) — instead of locusts (ακρις) — and wild honey. This change was made by the Ebionites for theological reasons.
The only time we get a description of Jesus' physical appearance is during the transfiguration scene, and it seems to be a mirror of Moses' own “transfiguration” after going up the mountain to receive the initial 10 Mitzvot (as an aside, I suspect the transfiguration in Mark has something to do with the law [Moses] and the prophets [Elijah]. And there may be a relationship between the original Exodus story with Moses and Joshua [Gk: Jesus] going up the mountain to receive the law).

Joseph And An Issue With "Q"

Here is the probable content of Q:
I: The Preparation
A. John's Preaching of repentence
B. The Temptation of Jesus


II: The Sayings
A. Beautitudes
B. Love to One's Enemies
C. Judging
D. Hearer and Doers of the Word


III. Narratives
A. The Centurion's Servant
B. The Baptist's Questions
C. Christ's Answer


IV. Discipleship
A. On the Cost of Discipleship
B. The Mission Charge
C. Christ's Thanksgiving to the Father


V. Various Sayings
A. The Pattern Prayer
B. An Answer to Prayer
C. The Beelzebub Discussion and Its Sequel
D. Sign of the Prophet Jonah
E. About Light


VI. Discourse Against the Pharisees
A. Against the Pharisees


Chapter 23
VII. Sayings
A. About Fearless Confession
B. On Cares About Earthly Things
C. On Faithfulness
D. On Signs for This Age
E. On Agreeing with One's Adversaries


VIII. Parables
A. On the Mustard Seed and Leaven


IX. Other Sayings
A. Condemnation of Israel
B. Lament Over Jerusalem
C. The Wedding Feast
D. Cost of Discipleship
E. On Serving Two Masters
F. On Law and Divorce
G. On Offence, Forgiveness and Faith
H. The Day of the Son of Man


There's something very strange with how scholars have defined Q. In Mark, the father of Jesus is never presented. In Luke and Matthew, Jesus' “earthly” father is Joseph. But how could there be agreement with the name of the father of Jesus if Luke and Matt's source – Q – does not explicate who Jesus' “earthly” father is? Joseph never shows up in Q and is absent in Mark. So where did they get that name from?
Either they got it from the black hole of tradition, or one is using the other as a source.
Joseph makes one appearance in Luke outside of the birth narrative. This is the pericope where Jesus is rejected in his hometown; it has a peculiar evolution in the Synoptic tradition.
Mark 6.1-3: Jesus left there, and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked “Isn't this the carpenter?”
Matthew 13.53-55: When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked “Isn't this the carpenter's son?”
Luke 14-22: Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn't this Joseph's son?” they asked.
Why would Luke, who we all know used Mark as a source, render Mark's “Isn't this the carpenter?” pericope as “Isn't this Joseph's son?”, which depends on Matthew's reinterpretation of Mark? In other words, if the only source that presents Jesus as a “carpenter's son” instead of the carpenter himself is Matthew, where else would Luke get that idea from?
It's like the “unknown” variables in Matt and Mark were filled in by concrete nouns by Luke. Originally in Mark, Jesus' hometown was a bit ambiguous. In Matt it's only implied that it's Nazareth (I think that Matt invented this) in this pericope. Luke removes the ambiguity and firmly establishes that Nazareth was Jesus' hometown. This evolution makes sense if Luke first used Mark and then used Matt.
Q solves a lot of problems, but it also creates some that wouldn't exist otherwise…
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in synoptic problem


Marcion, Luke, and Justin

So I was thinking about how late Luke might have been written. In my view, it seems as though our current Luke is a reaction to Marcion’s possible correction of Matthew. If Luke is after Marcion, then who is the earliest witness to things in the gospel narrative(s) that are unique to Luke? This would be Justin Martyr.

There are a few clues that Justin was aware of Luke (courtesy of a table put together by Neil Godfrey).

1. Elisabeth is mother of John the Baptist (Dialog with Trypho 84) / Luke 1:57
2. Gabriel’s announcement to Mary; “Be it according to thy word” (DT100) / Luke 1:38
3. Census under Quirinius (DT78) / Luke 2:2
4. Circumcised 8th day (DT23,67) / Luke 2:21
5. Sweats drops of blood (DT103) / Luke 22:44
6. Appears to disciples in Jerusalem (DT 51) / Luke 24:36 [the other gospels have him appear in Galilee, the more Gentile of the two]
7. Ascended to heaven (Firs Apology 51, 46) / Luke 24:51

Justin also seems to be aware of the Protevangelium of James:

But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.

The bolded part — Joseph and Mary taking residence in a cave to give birth — is only to be found in the gospel of James:

17. […] And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth. And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whither shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is desert.

18. And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem.

The gospel of James is dated to around 150 – 200 CE.

One thing to point out is that Justin never refers to any gospel names as we know them (according to Matthew, etc.), he just refers to them as the Memoirs of the Apostles and it seemed like some sort of gospel harmony. If this is the case, then it was probably a compilation of the most popular gospels written by then; one of which more than likely included Marcion’s.

Here is a nice rundown of Marcion’s gospel vs. Luke’s:

In my opinion, Marcion must have been active a lot earlier than what’s traditionally ascribed by his enemies as his period of activity (140s CE). They had a vested interest in showing that heresy started “late” and orthodoxy started “early” (this is also the time period when gospels start getting names of those assumed to be “orthodox”; which is also after Marcion). There had to have been enough time for Marcion’s influence to spread all across the Roman empire by the time Justin is writing in the 150s. Of course, I could be wrong, but for the sake of argument, I think Marcion wrote his gospel – and began spreading it around – in the 130s. This is enough time for Mark’s gospel to have been written in the late 1st century (as I argued there), Matthew to make corrections that start getting circulated, Marcion becoming aware of both, and them him writing his correction of Matthew.

Sometime between Marcion and Justin, the current Loukan birth narrative was added, one that’s independent of Matthew’s, but still feeding on traditions of a miraculous birth. What Greco-Roman hero didn’t have a miraculous birth in antiquity? Of course, another line of evidence would be the portion of Luke that’s not the birth narrative that shows evidence of being aware of Matthew. Courtesy of Mark Goodacre:

The same phenomenon of editorial fatigue occurs also in double tradition material, where the evidence suggests that Luke is secondary to Matthew. In the Parable of the Talents / Pounds (Matt 25.14-30 // Luke 19.11-27), Luke, who loves the 10:1 ratio (Luke 15.8-10, Ten Coins, one lost; Luke 17.11-19, Ten Lepers, one thankful, etc.) begins with a typical change: ten servants, not three; and with one pound each (Luke 19.13). Yet as the story progresses, Luke appears to be drawn back to the plot of the Matthean parable, with three servants, “the first” (Luke 19.16), “the second” (Luke 19.18) and, remarkably, “the other” (Luke 19.20, ο ετερος). Moreover, the wording moves steadily closer to Matthew’s as the parable progresses, creating an internal contradiction when the master speaks of the first servant as “the one who has the ten pounds” (Luke 19.24), in parallel with Matthew 25.28. In Luke, he does not have ten pounds but eleven (Luke 19.16, contrast Matt. 25.20).

Possible evidence that Luke (or Marcion) depended on Matthew. On top of that, this also gives time for the author of Luke to utilize the (relatively) recently published works of Josephus.

One last point, and back to Luke 22:44. Ehrman argues in “Misquoting Jesus” that all throughout Luke, Jesus seems completely in control – never becoming emotional. It’s only at Luke 22:44 where Jesus seems to show any emphatic display of emotion. This might be a sign of interpolation; and if it is an interpolation then this means it happened before Justin since Justin is aware of it. Jesus — as the Good God of Marcion — being in control, showing no emotion, and knowing what will happen seems to be a staple of Docetic Christologies. Lk 22:44 might have been inserted as anti-Marcionite along with the rest of the birth narrative.


The Gospel of John and Synoptic Parallels

There’s an ambiguity in scholarship as to whether the writer of John knew of Mark’s narrative. I personally don’t think so, but I do think that John knew of some sort of Synoptic Gospel.

First, there are two oddities in John that would only be explained if John knew of some sort of Synoptic gospel. When I mention “a” Synoptic gospel, I don’t mean just Mark, Matt, or Luke. There were other variations in 2nd century Christianity so John might not have known what we now read as Mark, Matt, or Luke. John could have been aware of say the Ebionites’ version of Matthew, or the gospel of the Hebrews, or some other “heretical” version of a Synoptic.

Anyway, the two oddities that I think show that John knew of some sort of Synoptic(s) and was trying to tie his narrative into theirs are “Nazarene” and the phrase “Kingdom of God”. These two are littered all throughout the Synoptics, but make very few appearances in John. “Kingdom of God” is only found twice – in John chapter 3 (arguably the most famous chapter in all Christianity). John says that no one can see the “Kingdom of God” unless they are born from above (3:3 and 3:5). After this chapter, John never mentions the Kingdom of God ever again.

Now there are probably two gospels that I’ll rule out for John being aware of. First, even though it’s very weak evidence, John doesn’t seem to be aware of Mark’s Nazarene (Ναζαρηνος). John never once writes the word “Nazarene”. He writes either Nazareth (Ναζαρεθ) or Nazoraios (Ναζωραιος). Neither of these phrases are found in Mark (“Nazareth” technically is, but I argue that it’s not original to Mark). So John must have gotten his Nazareth and Nazoraios from some other source.

Second, John doesn’t seem to be aware of Matthew’s “Kingdom of Heaven”. Matthew has a preference for saying “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of Mark’s “Kingdom of God”. Matt only uses “Kingdom of God” twice when not directly quoting from Mark or Luke/Q (or their common source). So if John was aware of Matthew, he would have used that phrase in his “born from above” speech to Nicodemus in chapter 3.

However, the three times that John uses the word Ναζωραιος (18:5,7; 19:19) he uses it how Mark would say “Nazarene”, i.e. Jesus the Nazarene. And the two times that he uses Nazareth he’s actually describing the town without the qualifier. 1:46 Nathan’s response about the town by itself without the association with Jesus depends on Phil mentioning it at 1:45 so to be consistent the spelling would have to be consistent. Matthew describes Jesus as having to be a Nazarene to fulfill what was said in the prophets. However, Matt uses Ναζωραιον, which he probably got from recalling Judges 13:5 from memory (Ναζιραιον).

Now if, as many NT scholars claim, there’s a documentary relationship between the gospels, and Mark is first, then the word (Ναζωραιον) “Nazoraion” enters the synoptic tradition via Matt. Now, the only gospel left that John could be aware of is Luke/Marcion. If Nazoraion is original to Matt, then any gospel with that phrase also has to share a documentary relationship with Matt.

Luke only uses Nazoraion once – at 18:37: ιησουν τον ναζωραιον in a parable about a blind man receiving his sight:

35As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.

36When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.

37They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth [i.e. ιησουν τον ναζωραιον] is passing by.”

38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,

41″What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

43Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This just so happens to be one of the seven miracles that Jesus does in John – a blind man being given sight. But it’s very unlike the miracle in John; John’s miracle is closer to how Mark cures someone of blindness (Mk 8:22-26).

John and Luke also have other similarities beyond the more superficial like the phrase “Kingdom of God” – Luke also uses the word “Nazareth”. John and Luke downplay the little apocalypse in Mark 13/Matt 24. Luke and John both have anti-Docetae resurrection appearance by having him eat fish and showing his crucifixion injuries.

One final and probably most important relationship between John and Luke is who seems to be the first Christian witnesses to these gospels. Valentinus and Marcion, respectively, seem to be the “heretics” who used these two gospels first, and both were Docetists. I’ve even heard that the two might have collaborated with each other, but that’s just hearsay.

So, in my opinion, it seems as though the author of John either knew Luke, knew some sort of proto-Luke (i.e. Marcion), or knew of our current Luke’s source.

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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in gospel of john, nazarene, synoptic problem


Was "Jesus Barabbas" Invented By Matthew?

According to some footnotes in some bibles, the man that the Jews want Pilate to release in exchange for Jesus (Christ) is called Jesus Barabbas (Matt 27:16-17). These instances of “Jesus Barabbas” only appear in some Greek manuscripts of Matthew. Since Matthew is basically an expanded version of Mark, does this mean that Mark also originally had Jesus Barabbas? This makes sense of Pilate’s contrast: To release Jesus called Barabbas or Jesus called Christ (ιησουν τον λεγομενον βαραββαν η ιησουν τον λεγομενον χριστον). In our current texts, he just asks to release Barabbas or the Jesus called Christ.

“Bar Abba[s]” literally means “son of the father” in Aramaic.

I argued in an earlier post that Mark 1:9 probably didn’t have “from Nazareth” in the original since its Synoptic equivalent, Matthew 3:13, doesn’t have that phrase. It only has “from Galilee”. Meaning that when Matthew was writing his edition of Mark 1, his version of Mark probably didn’t have “from Nazareth” or he would have included it, since Matt likes to insert the words now translated as “Nazareth” in parts of his narrative that are unique to Matthew (Mark 11:1-11 vs Matt 27:1-11).

Along those lines, I can see why Matthew would add the name “Jesus” to “Barabbas” if he understood Mark’s theological point. On the other hand, Matthew removes Mark’s Aramaisms (like “talitha koumen” in Mark 5:41; cf Matt 9:23-25) so he might not have known Aramaic. On the other hand, Matt knew what the name “Jesus” meant. But then again he’s writing in Greek. The name “Jesus” has no meaning in Greek but the name that it’s derived from – Joshua – does have meaning so he must have been told what the name meant by someone else. Another possible reason would be that because Matt seems to be writing to Hellenized Jewish-Christians, the Aramaisms might have seemed either redundant, offensive, or useless.

But I’m thinking Matt didn’t know Aramaic. So if Matt didn’t know Aramaic, then he wouldn’t have known what “Barabbas” meant and would have had no reason to add the name “Jesus” to his name. But Mark does seem to know Aramaic (Mark 14:36 vs Matt 26:42), and having a constrast between an insurrectionist Jesus Son of the Father and a peaceful Jesus Son of the Father does seem to fit Mark’s style of writing; his ironic contrast.

So “Jesus Barabbas” is more than likely an invention of Mark, and Matthew probably just copied what Mark wrote. Since it’s only in some manuscripts of Matthew, it must have been systematically left out of subsequent copies of Matthew. Mark, on the other hand, was never a popular gospel. At least until the forged resurrection sighting was added to the end.

Or then again, Jesus Barabbas might have been the historical Jesus!

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