The Transfiguration: Mark 9.2-10 and Parallels

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Form critics have asserted that the Transfiguration pericope may have been a misplaced resurrection account.  If this is so then it may allude to the resurrection appearance in 1 Peter 1.3.[1] By considering the subject matter of Mark’s transfiguration account, and Luke’s and Matthew’s, we gain a better understanding of why such critics have formed this opinion. There are parallels between the resurrection and transfiguration accounts, but the majority of these can be dismissed when considering a misplaced resurrection account. For instance, it has been argued that the transfiguration and the resurrection are the only occurrences where a miracle is done to Jesus. This can be debated due to the occurrences of miracles, such as during the baptism accounts. Stein even firmly argues that there stronger dissimilarities between the transfiguration and resurrections than there are similarities.[2]

Mosaic of the Transfigration, St. Catherine's ...
Mosaic of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

Theories concerning the placement of the time reference in Mark 9.2 are numerous.  It may come from a Pre-Markan tradition following the six days Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:16); the six days preceding the Sabbath.  It could also refer to the seventh day which could in turn relate to the Sabbath.  However, the form of the Greek of this time reference actually makes this theory unlikely as the Sabbath would more likely be represented by the term ‘after the sixth day.’ Which begs the question: the sixth day after what?

If the Transfiguration is a misplaced Resurrection narrative, then the period of six days is unusual.  Most Resurrection accounts have very distinct temporal references to three days, the first day and during forty days but never six days. This time reference is also not unique in appearance as it occurs throughout the synoptic accounts in places with no association with the Resurrection. This suggests that what is seen as an indicator of resurrection is more an indicator of tradition.

There is also the hypothesis that James and John are later additions to the transfiguration story as only Peter speaks and if all three were present at the transfiguration how then could they have later denied their Lord? The three disciplines appear firmly embedded in Mark’s version despite only Peter speaking.  This is seen in the use of numerous third person plural terms and phrase which reflect the presence of multiple disciples; James, John and Peter. Such words as αυτους (them), μονους (by themselves), αυτων (of them), αυτοις (to them), εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο (for they were exceedingly afraid) and αυτοις ακουετε (You (pl.) listen), reflect that there is small ground for the view that the Transfiguration was originally only associated with Peter.

The two passages, Mark 9.2 and Mark 14.33, tell similar narratives in that Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him.  There have been theories concerning the Transfiguration occurring not at the time given in Mark but originally on the last night of the Lord’s life at Gethsemane when the three were alone with Jesus on the hillside. This would coincide with Luke’ account of the sleeping disciples.  There are several agreements between the two stories; notably, the presence of Peter, James and John, and the idea of not knowing what to say in Mark 9.6 and 14.40.

Whatever the case, the centrality of the characters is implicit in these two theories of the relation to the parallels between the two passages in Mark mentioned.  Not knowing what to say is indicative of the almost foolish nature of the disciples witnessed throughout Mark.  This parallel and the presence of the characters at the transfiguration could be seen as exemplar of their inability to understand despite how clearly it is laid out for them.  Could this be why they could have later denied their Lord anyway? If the Transfiguration did occur around chapter 14 as suggested, Mark could have separated them as an emphasis technique to make privy the nature of these disciples.

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration has a number of parallels with the ascension story in Acts 1.9-10.[3] The first notable comparison is seen in the inclusion of a cloud in Luke 9.34 and Acts 1.9, which blocks the disciples’ sight.  Some critics assert that this is an indication of a misplaced resurrection story in Luke but it appears more likely that it is an allusion to Old Testament tradition.  The idea of the cloud overshadowing is seen also in Exodus 40.34[4] and 1 Kings 8.10.[5] One of the most significant and obvious differences, which indicates that to the transfiguration belonging in its own category, is that in Luke the cloud leaves Jesus when it departs while in Acts the cloud hides Jesus from sight and he is taken up. A cloud regularly symbolises the presence of God and is not an indication of resurrection.

There is also the parallel of the two men which appear beside them, which is often taken similarly as an indication of misplaced resurrection.  While both appearances represent sinless and perfect beings, the type of which Jesus also belongs as a representation of the exemplar, the stories differ surrounding their actions and placement.  In Luke 9.30, the two men, Elijah and Moses, talk directly with Jesus and have no dialogue in the version.  In Acts 1.10, the two men remain unnamed and talk directly to the disciples; they appear after the ascension of Jesus rather than beside him.

The third comparison which holds scholars in debate is the physical appearance of the two men described in Acts and Jesus’ appearance in Luke 9.29. Jesus is described by Luke as having the ‘appearance of his countenance altered, and his raiment became dazzling white’ which parallels the white garments of the two men in Acts. Yet again the appearance in white could be alluding to Old Testament tradition, as paralleled in Daniel 7.9 where the Most High has clothing ‘as white as snow.’ It is a sign of holiness and sinlessness but it does not necessarily represent resurrection.  Jesus is acknowledged in Luke as the perfect man; in the presence of god it seems that occasion called for such an appearance.

Mark 9.9 is indicative of the Messianic secret found in Mark (paralleled in Matthew 17.9 and Luke 9.36).  This is the final time in Mark that we see the idea of secrecy surrounding Jesus as the Messiah.  The passages in Mark and Matthew clearly tell of the Son of Man being raised from the dead, asserting knowledge of the resurrection was presented to the disciples. The implication of this is that after the resurrection has occurred, the risks of letting the secret out no longer are issues.  The passage also provides the disciples with an explanation for finding the tomb empty after the Crucifixion (Jn.20.8). The passages announce the upcoming death of Jesus; notably in Luke with the preceding passage (Luke 9.31-31). It is directly related to knowledge of the Passion of Christ as well as the Messianic secret in the words “Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

The message from the heavenly voice in Mark 9.7 addressed to the disciples is implicit of the importance of listening to the Lord, especially when he speaks of the approaching passion. This is particularly of significance in relation to Peter who had previously been unwilling to do so.  For instance in Mark 8.32, ‘He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him,’ after Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

The occurrence of the voice in Mark 1.11 is implicit of the presence of God, but the focus differs to the occurrence in Mark 9.7. Here the voice is directed at Jesus rather than the disciples and while it introduces the heavenly voice, it does not have the same purpose.  Mark 15.39 does not include the heavenly voice but instead echoes the message of the voice. It is as if the voice in these three passages is part of a formula that is implicit of the message that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark 1.11 introduces the idea and presents it to Jesus himself, Mark 9.7 presents the idea directly to the disciples though in Mark they fail to fully comprehend, and Mark 15.39 conveys the understanding of the message. This idea presents an argument against the idea that the transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection story as it makes no sense for the incomprehension to appear after the acknowledgement.

The Markan narrative of the Transfiguration story appears to have a significant function in the overall set out of Mark’s gospel. As discussed below, the words of God especially emulate the baptism and resurrection accounts.  This suggests that the transfiguration functioned as a link between the periods of Jesus’ life. It has been asserted that the transfiguration represented the climax of Mark’s gospel because afterwards it was all downhill, but this seems terribly unimaginative. Its function is more likely a prediction of events to come, an introduction to the glorified Jesus Christ and the explanation of the Messianic secret. Whether or not it was a resurrection account originally; the transfiguration in all three accounts has received a conscious placement which indicates that to the writers it was not misplaced.

Peter offers to build three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.[6] When one looks at the following line concerning Peter’s lack of knowing what to do, one questions Peter’s motives for this statement.  Mark 9.6 reads ‘He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.’ This shows that Peter and the disciples were confused and fearful, suggesting that the proposal was probably not made with consideration as it was made out of fear of an unusual event.  Such proposals generally don’t involve a judgement call.

The confusion that is seen is the result of Peter’s recent awakening from sleep to witness the strange event. Peter thinks of all three figures as if they were the same, but Jesus differs from Elijah and Moses and this grouping is made without thought. Jesus is seen as more important than his companions in this passage and yet Peter fails to differentiate. Peter’s proposal though is logical in the situation and practical; if these figures were to remain on the mountain-top for the night then they would indeed benefit from shelter.

The term ωφθη which is used preceding Peter’s proposal in 9.4 has also been said to indicate that this account was originally a resurrection account.  It is true that the verb ωφθη is often used in relation to resurrection appearances, though in this case the argument is dismissed by its agreement.  The verb in Mark 9.4 refers to Elijah and Moses rather than to Jesus as it would in a resurrection account.

The title that Peter gives to Jesus here is interesting when one considers the Greek.  While English translators often translate Mark’s version to read ‘Master’, the term is actually Ραββί (teacher, preacher). This suggests that Mark was not relating a misplaced resurrection story for two main reasons.  Firstly, the term likely belongs to a Pre-Markan tradition because Mark only makes use of it on two other occasions (Mark 11:21 and 14:45).  Secondly, it seems unrealistic to assume that a resurrection story would refer to Jesus as a risen Rabbi; there are far more suitable titles.

Matthew and Luke treat the issue of the fear and lack of understanding of the disciples differently to Mark though they also make mention of the issues.  Mark stresses that the disciples and Peter were afraid with the use of the adverb ‘exceedingly,’ or at least this is what one thinks until they refer back to the Greek text and find that the adverb is here missing, reading only ‘ου γαρ ηδει τι αποκριθη, εκφοβοι γαρ εγενοντο,’ but the emphasis remains. Mark’s placement of these issues though illustrates the point of the additional adverb by placing them together at the beginning of events and he attributes the issues to each other, ‘For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.’

Luke separates the issues and presents them as logical actions in the space of occurring events unlike Mark who presents the disciples as fearful and thoughtless from the first instance.  The not knowing what to say in Luke is a logical reaction to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, just as the fear is a logical reaction to the overshadowing of them all by a mighty cloud that basically blinds them.  Their fear in Luke is more an effect of awe in the presence of unexplained phenomena and the presence of the voice of God.

Matthew in turn presents the issues differently from Mark, but has some parallel in Luke.  Matthew ignores the ignorance issue altogether and excludes the idea of not knowing what to say in order to overshadow the ignorance theme seen in the Markan version.  This is a theme seen throughout Matthew.  The issue of fear is similar in appearance to that in Luke.  It appears as a logical reaction to awe rather than ignorant fear.  Matthew relates this clearly, saying ‘When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”

Matthew, Mark and Luke have similarities which demonstrate that all three share the same essence of the text. They also contain some interesting differences.  Luke starts his account by displaying one such differentiation; the temporal designation of ‘after eight days’ (Luke 9:28). We see parallels throughout the New Testament which may explain the eight days in context. Eight days was known as a week in the period. John 20:26 also includes the appearance of the divine after a period of eight days when Jesus appears to Thomas.  This suggests that Luke may have been taking from a known tradition or independent source which he believed to be a more suitable inclusion.

Luke alone records that Jesus was praying when his appearance changed. Luke appears to be indicating that Jesus was in contact with the heavenly world.  This passage is also exemplar of Luke’s independence from the other synoptic gospels as it is presented as a narrative in the past tense.  ‘Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῳ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἰδος του προσώπου αὐτου ἑτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτου λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων.’ (Luke 9:29)

Luke’s version of the transfiguration is the longest account, followed by Mark, with Matthew being the shortest in length.  The extra length in Luke’s version is due to the dialogue reported in Luke 9:31-32 and the experience of the disciples. This material expresses the upcoming departure of Jesus which he will accomplish in Jerusalem. The addition of this material from a possible independent source contributes to the argument that the transfiguration is not a misplaced resurrection story by emphasising Luke’s agreement with Matthew and Mark that the transfiguration was an event in the life of Jesus.

Luke does appear to use Mark in parts but is generally different in wording and focus. The Markan material is mostly found towards the end of the account with Peter’s conversing with Jesus.  This material also appears in Matthew and all three versions use similar wording with the exclusion of Matthew’s addition of ‘if you wish, I will…’ This addition in Matthew suggests a more conscious motive in Peter to prolong the experience rather than the confusion and ignorance that is expressed in Mark and Luke in the phrase ‘οὐ γὰρ ἤδει τὶ ἀποκριθη’ (Mark 9:6). Luke 9:33 echoes Mark in expressing that Peter has misunderstood the occasion.

The transfiguration account in Luke is again exemplar of Luke’s use of sources, his motive and audience.  We see a use of Markan and independent material which could be extracts from Q.  Matthew does express independent material in his account but not at the same points as Luke which is illustrative of his Markan priority. This is seen, for example, in Matt.17:1-2 where the wording is primarily Markan with few diversions. Luke expresses in his introduction a desire to present an orderly narrative to benefit those with prior knowledge of the faith and to narrate the life of Jesus historically.  The narrative form of the transfiguration and the lack of metaphorical and descriptive terms which are found in Mark and Matthew show this further. For instance in Luke 9:29 in comparison to Mark 9.3, with the description of Jesus’ transformation in appearance.

Matthew echoes Mark in the temporal inclusion of six days and the generally character of the text (Paralleled in Ex. 34:29-35). Matthew does differ from the Markan description of Jesus’ appearance. He reports that Jesus’ face ‘shone like the sun,’ which is a simple simile unlike Mark’s multiple descriptive phrases.[7] Matthew maintains a Jewish character in his text and presented his gospel as a teaching tool which did not require the descriptive disposition of Mark’s gospel. Mark, writing for a gentile audience, needed to provide explanations. The face being compared to the Sun is paralleled in Rev.1:16, which could suggest that a link to resurrection and the coming of Jesus.  But it is just as plausible that the description belonged to earlier traditions.  It is not enough to base the hypothesis, concerning a misplaced resurrection story, on the wording of descriptive phrase and the context of a few parallels.  The sun is a subject which appears throughout the Old Testament tradition (Jdg.5:31, Ps.84:11, 136:8, Mal.4:2).

Matthew exhibits the use of independent source material.  For instance, he is the only one of the synoptic accounts that records ‘with whom I am well pleased’ in God’s address to the disciples (Matt.17:5). This verse makes a link to the baptism account where God addresses Jesus in Matthew 3:17.[8] The ‘ακουετε αυτου,’ which appears alongside this addition, occurs in all three synoptic accounts and echoes Dt.18:15 which reports a promise that a prophet like Moses would one day come.[9]

[1] “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

[2] Stein, R.H., Is the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) a Misplaced Resurrection-Account? In Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.95, No.1 (Mar., 1976), p.83

[3] “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.”

[4] “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

[5] “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.”

[6] And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

[7] “…and his garments became glistening white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.”

[8] “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

[9] “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their people, and I will put my words in that prophet’s mouth. My prophet will tell them everything I command.”

Mark 7:31-37, The Healing of a Deaf and Mute Man

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Mark 7.31-37 records the miracle story of the healing of a deaf and mute Man.  This post will explore the verses and their connection to redaction, history and tradition.

Mark 7.31 describes the journey of Jesus and his disciples to the area in which this miracle of the healing of a deaf and mute man takes place.  When one looks at this journey on a map, the first thing that stands out is that Jesus appears to make a massive detour by going North and through Sidon from his starting point in Tyre. It is difficult to surmise why Jesus is said to take this root. Its absurdity indicates that the trail was historically accurate, simply because why would anyone make up such a detour and then not give pause to explain the addition. It has been suggested that Jesus took this route in an attempt to gain the necessary seclusion for the instruction of the Twelve which he had twice before failed to gain.[1] This is demonstrated in Mark 6.31-32, ‘Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat…So they went to a solitary place.’ Mark 7.24 closely precedes the miracle story in Mark 7.31 following.  It again demonstrates this required seclusions; ‘Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence a secret.’

Decapolis, the area of Jesus’ destination, was a ten-city group on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Eusebius explains that the region included Hippose, Pella, Scythopolis, Philadelphia, Gerasa, Dion, Kanatha, Damascus, Raphana and Gadara (the site of the famous healing baths).[2] Each of the ten cities included numerous smaller settlements and dominated trade routes.  This presented Jesus and his disciples with an abundance of people, especially of the middle and lower classes, to which to expose to his teachings. Decapolis is also mentioned in Mark 5.20.  This occurrence acts as a preliminary exposure for the people of the region; ‘So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.’ This verse similarly parallels the reaction of the people in Mark 7.37. It is interesting to remember that the places mentioned in Jesus’ journey were inhabited by a large number of Gentiles, especially Decapolis which was a nominally Gentile region.

The state of the disabled man is interesting in its description.  The inability to speak clearly does not necessary mean that the man is neither dumb nor mute; more so it could be caused by the man’s deafness. The term μογιλαλον is a rarely found word which only again occurs in Isaiah 35.6; ‘Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the mute shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.’ This verse in Isaiah and its preceding verses suggest that the wording of Mark was referring to a much earlier tradition from the Old Testament in Isaiah 35. Μογιλαλον could also mean ‘stammerer’ which would attest the man’s inability to articulate due to his deafness.

The movement away from the crowd in Mark 7.33 may have simply been to avoid the distraction and the unnecessary publicity. This verse could emulate the idea presented by Jesus’ journey mentioned above; an attempt to gain some seclusion in which to teach and perform his miracles. The reason for this act remains under debate. The act appears elsewhere in Mark 8.23 which could suggest a link to the secrecy motif in Mark and the association of Jesus’ identity and his actions which will be explored later in this paper.

Reasons that are possible for the act of taking aside from the crowd could be as simple as to conceal the manner of the cure, in order to be not distracted, and not to attract unwanted attention. This may be part of the historical Jesus, a window into his thought processes and attitude to what he was doing.  Similarly it is indicative of an addition by Mark in accordance with his motives to keep the identity of Jesus quiet within the population until the end; while maintaining Jesus’ relation to divinity and keeping the audience of his gospel informed.

Jesus’ methodology in curing the man is full of vivid detail which is indicative of the Markan gospel. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then spat and touched his tongue. On first observation one notes that Jesus is identifying the ailments for everyone to see. There have been some hypotheses suggesting that Jesus is more so communicating with the man here saying that he understands his pain. This is a plausible hypothesis as it initially shows that Jesus can relate to human suffering. One hypothesis goes so far as to suggest that it is a form of sign language, while possible, the argument made in its favour is far too simplistic.

Medicine in this time and region was basically inexistent. Morton Smith explains that healing institutions and medicine remains primitive in Israel to this very day, and that in ancient times anyone with healing ‘powers’ was upheld in high regard by the population and highly sought after.[3] One of the main cures that healers provided was simply the placebo effect that accompanied the use of charms and medicinal cures. Jesus’ methodology for curing the deaf and mute man is indicative of the placebo healing method. Jesus was by then known for his cures and teachings and people really believed that they would be cured and hence were by faith alone in many cases. The healing in this story appears to be designed to evoke the co-operation of faith and to present the idea that, with faith, you will be opened to the will and teachings of Christ. Mark’s gospel often acted as a handbook, this story could have been used by Mark to convey this instruction. The ability of Jesus’ hands and saliva to heal is also suggestive to the audience of his divine nature. That he could remove the sins by simple actions.

The use of saliva was a significant and accepted remedy in the period and region. It is also seen in Mark 8.23, ‘He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spat on the man’s and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”’ The appearance of this cure in John 9.6 is implicit of the acknowledgement of saliva as a remedial cure; ‘Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.’ The use of saliva was a well-known remedy mentioned even in Pliny the Elder. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia contains a whole chapter on the remedial uses of human saliva. Pliny first notes what Marcion of Smyrna says on the remedy before noting that Salpe (a female healing authority) believed that saliva could cure numbness if applied correctly.

  1. The Efficacy of Saliva

Stiffness is removed from any numbed limb if you spit into your bosom or if the upper eyelids are touched with Saliva. [4]

Placement of the hands in order to heal is repeated several times throughout the synoptics and could be interpreted as an acknowledged healing procedure in the period or an illustration of Jesus’ powers to heal. Mark 5.23 reads ‘Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ This healing touch is also expressed in Mark 6.56; ‘…they placed the sick in the market places.  They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.’  This suggests that Mark uses the touch of Jesus in Mark 7 as he does elsewhere, as a mark of Jesus’ divinity and that faith heals. Luke similarly emulates this healing technique and the message of divinity and faith in 4.40; ‘When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.’ The touching of the ears is found in one notable synoptic comparison with Luke 22.51.  This verse tells of the who’s ear has been severed and Jesus heals him by touching the afflicted body part.

The look up to heaven and accompanying sigh in 7.34 give a connection to heaven and the divine that suggest that they are involved in the healing of the deaf and mute man. The sigh is an indication not that Jesus had difficulty in healing the man, but more likely a representation of the feelings Jesus felt.  This links back to Jesus’ human side, his ability to relate to humanity, to be human.  This is an important idea in Mark’s gospel as well as the other synoptics.  Luke particularly represents Jesus as the perfect ‘man’; as an example to humanity.

The sigh is an indication of Jesus’ emotions concerning the man and the compassion he feels towards him.  He is expressing his pity for the hardships of human life and the horrible things that can happen to undeserving people.  It is this form of human emotion and relation with Mark often likes to express in his gospel in relation to Jesus.

The magic word “Ephphatha!” used in Mark 7.34 could be a sign of the historical Jesus.  It means ‘be opened’ in Aramaic which many believe Jesus spoke along with Greek and Hebrew. Nazareth, where Jesus is said to originate from, was primarily Aramaic-speaking. The use of the word in this miracle story is implicit of the historical Jesus as Aramaic was a common language in the first century AD in Israel and the surrounding areas. The New Testament contains many examples of Aramaic (and Hebrew) additions, including Ephphatha. Some scholars believe that the gospel writers had access to Aramaic sources which they took from.  For instance, Q was possibly a collection of Aramaic writings. So the use of the Aramaic word and phrase may be representative of source material as well as the historical Jesus.

Other examples of the inclusion of Aramaic and Hebrew phrase are found throughout Mark.  Mark 5.41 includes the phrase Ταλιθα κουμ (טליתא קומי) which is Aramaic in a Greek transliteration. This generally translates to ‘Little girl, Get up.’ Mark 14.36 contains the Aramaic word Αββα (אבא) in Greek transliteration which is originally an Aramaic form borrowed into Hebrew. This phrase is also found in Romans 8.15 and Galatians 4.6. Εφφαθα (אתפתח) could be the passive imperative of the verb ‘to open’ and is also given in Greek transliteration, similarly to these other examples. Mark’s explanation of the word at the end of Ephphatha is indicative of his writing for a Gentile audience which he believed required him to provide some often highly detailed explanations.

In the days of Jesus, ailments such as deafness and muteness were often seen as either punishment for sin or possession by demons.  Jesus’ ability to cure these ailments presents him as one who can forgive sin and overcome demons.  This picture of Jesus would have been a powerful illustration of who Jesus was.  This may account further for the secrecy at the end of the story in relation to Mark’s addition of the Messianic secret.  The curing of the man highlights the identity of Jesus, so though the actual command for secrecy does not deal with the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the miracle story as a whole attests to the fact.

Mark 7:37 expresses the amazement of the people who witnessed the miracle. This amazement is a logical reaction to witnessing such an act; even in this enlightened day one still is in awe of even a simple magic trick.  But why was this added to this particular story? Firstly, it is by far not the first inclusion of the reaction.  It appears numerous times throughout Mark (Mark 6.51, 5.42, 1.22, 16.8). The multiple uses of this reaction indicate that Mark is attempting to highlight the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ acts and teachings.  This amazement in turn would have provided a base for the revelation of Jesus’ identity at the end of the gospel. It is difficult to isolate whether this feature is redactional or historical, it is too logical a reaction for this to be determined; it could be both.

The amazement in hand with the people’s reaction in talking more about the miracle also says something of the Jesus presented in Mark’s gospel. It presents Jesus as a man of humility in that he wishes not to proclaim his own achievements; he is seen as a modest soul. This could be interpreted as Jesus setting an example, a form of his teaching.  Jesus, as the messiah, is not likely to be represented as one in danger of being ostentatious. The taking away from the crowd, the amazement expressed by the people and their talking of the act is implicit of the historical Jesus in that he would have recognised that there were those that saw him as an evil doer.  By taking the man away from the crowd Jesus limits the audience to only those who may have faith already or a wish for faith.  The amazement expressed by the audience and the modesty of Christ mean that others are more likely to believe what they are told.

The people talk more about the act the more Jesus asks them not too, which is essentially a logical and human reaction to being amazed or on hearing something unusual. Mark’s motive and Jesus’ attitude will be discussed below concerning this addition but first one should consider the message that this verse conveys in relation to its placement and context. It can be interpreted readily as if our ears are open to the teachings of God and Christ then we will have our tongues loosened to praise and prayer.[5] So while this verse appears to be an act of human nature, it also potentially holds an important message which coincides with Mark’s purpose.  It is instructional in that it outlines the benefits and result of opening oneself to God’s teachings; just as the man who is healed is ‘opened’ to the world.

The line ‘he has done everything well’ is an interesting point for interpretation It is plausible that this line refers to the idea which is pushed in all the synoptics that Jesus is the exemplar man. Luke particularly raises this view of Jesus. Mark 7.31-37 emulates that Jesus is indeed human in that he understands human reaction and emotion.  It also, in this line, expresses that he is what humans should be; someone who does things well, to the best of their ability, who understands others and forgive sins (just as he forgives the sins which are metaphorically the ailments of the deaf and mute man.)

Mark 7.36 expresses Jesus’ command to the witnesses not to tell anyone of the event that had taken place. This is not the only indication of secrecy in the Markan gospel; Mark 1.43-44, Mark 5.43 and Mark 7.24, and their synoptic counterparts (Matthew 8.4 and Luke 5.14 for 1.43-44, and Luke 8.56 for Mark 5.43) exhibit this also. There is evidence to suggest that these miracle stories and this command for secrecy was not directly to do with the messianic secret because the actual identity of Jesus is not an issue. Mark’s secrecy motif though indicates that the gospel writer did acknowledge these acts as works of the Messiah.[6]  This indicates a link between Jesus’ commands and the Messianic secret. It is possible that this was the originally use of these sayings, to provide a link between the identity of the Messiah and the acts that he performed.  When one considers redaction then Mark could have recorded the verses without their original sense (the link to the identity of the Messiah), if he chose to interpret them in a different way.

Jesus’ wish for secrecy appears obvious, but this assumes the attitude of Jesus based purely on his words and not on reaction.  With Jesus telling the people not to talk of the miracle, they talked more.  By this time Jesus would have surely been aware of the reaction people would have to his miracles and his commands.  Jesus’ intention could have been a form of reverse psychology which acted as a catalyst for the spread of the story.  This is though an issue of interpretation, attitude and redaction criticism which remains in contest.

Mark 7.31-37

31.) Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.

32.) There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on him.

33.) After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue.

34.) He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).

35.) At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36.) Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.

37.) People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Matthew 15.29-31

29.) Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down.

30.) Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.

31.) The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Luke 4.38-44

38.) Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her.

39.) So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

40.) When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

41.) Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

42.) At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.

43.) But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

44.) And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Matthew 15.29-31 provides us with the means for synoptic comparison for the healing of the deaf and mute man miracle in Mark. Matthew’s version is a summarised version but still maintains several key features of the Markan version. These include; Jesus’ journey down the Sea of Galilee, the great crowds that confront Jesus and his disciples, the healing miracles (though they are more general and there is no detail in Matthew), the amazement of the people and their clear need to tell and praise what they had seen. Matthew’s version does not have the same emphasis and focus that Mark’s has but it maintains its placement and essence.

Matthew’s version is likewise placed between the two feedings and straight before the feeding of the 4000. The two feedings in Matthew illustrate the Markan priority Matthew generally exhibits; however the healing here, while having similarities, is outside the Markan priority.  This was probably in part due to Matthew’s differing motives and foci, but there is also evidence that Matthew decided to take this story from a separate independent source.  This is seen in the Greek wording in comparison to Mark. Unlike the feedings, the healings in Matthew have very few of the same words and phrase that Mark uses.  The only initial similarity in wording is seen in the ‘Sea of Galilee.’ One would expect that Matthew would at least use the same term for mute or amazement if he was taking from Mark, but he does not.  This suggests that Matthew and Mark both had sources which told of Jesus’ journey and healing of men but these sources were independent to the authors and both made their choices based on personal preference, if indeed they had a choice or more than one source. Matthew for instance, was not so concerned about the secrecy motif and so did not require additions concerning identity and secrecy.

Luke again only summarises the healing of many and does not recall the instance in Mark 7.31-37. Luke 4.38-44 tells of many people bringing Jesus various kinds of sickness and Jesus laying his hands on them healed them. Luke does not maintain the placement that we see in Matthew and Mark. Luke does though emphasise that Jesus wished to keep his title as the Son of God quiet; he silences the demons that shout ‘You are the Son of God!’ and would not allow them to speak because ‘they knew he was the Messiah’ (Luke 4.41). This indicates that Luke, like Matthew, knew of stories telling the journey and healings of Jesus but sources or at least motives differed between the synoptics.

Luke 4.43 emphasises an idea which, as discussed, could be behind the long detour that appears in Mark 7.31. Luke 4.43 expresses the travelling that Jesus must do to spread the word of God; this is expressed in Mark in the journey Jesus takes to Decapolis. There is also the need for privacy to teach which complements the idea that Jesus wished to get away from the crowds; if not to keep his divine identity a secret, then to teach his disciples in peace. Luke 4.44 shows that Luke’s audience and motive were unlike Mark’s which may explain the summarising of this miracle. Luke clearly highlights synagogues and Judea. From this, we see that Luke wrote for a Jewish audience or at least one with foreknowledge of Jewish customs. Luke, and similarly Matthew, did not need to provide such a Gentile orientated and specific miracle, so they could have easily decided to omit it or summarise it. Mark’s audience and motive benefitted from the inclusion of this miracle in full.

The miraculous healing in Mark 7.31-37 is part of two cycles of stories which each contain a water based miracle, three healings and a feeding. The healing of the deaf and mute man is accompanied by the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 6.45-51), and the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7.24-30). The placement of the miracle in Mark 7.31-37 is interesting considering its placement between the two feeding stories in Mark (the feeding of the 5000 and of the 4000). The healing of the blind and mute man illustrates the opening of the mind, mouth and ears.

During the feeding of the 5000, the disciples question the motives and actions of Jesus which requires Jesus to use strong imperatives. During the feeding of the 4000, after the miracle story has occurred, the disciples are more cooperative and confess their lack of understanding. The healing of the deaf and mute man represents the need for open ears to the teaching and actions of Jesus, and it is with this understanding that the attitude of the disciples appears to change as seen in the second feeding. This is further shown in the use of words within the two feedings; ‘During those days ANOTHER large crowd gathered’ (Mark 8.1), the repetition of ‘How many loaves do you have,’ and ‘ this remote place.’ The repetition suggests that the two feedings are meant to be at least associated with each other if not with the miracle stories which separate them.

Mark 7.31-37 is indicative of Mark’s writing for a specific audience. Mark probably wrote for the Christian community of which he himself was a part of; a mainly gentile audience. This is exhibited in Mark’s explanatory remarks such as with Ephphatha, ‘which means “Open up”’.  A Jewish/Palestinian audience likely would be aware of its meaning due to its Aramaic and Hebrew connections; a Gentile audience would require the explanation. Mark’s decision to write in Greek also suggests that his audience was made up of non-Jews. If Mark was writing for a Jewish audience it falls to reason that he would not have included such explanations and language.

Mark’s audience is important because the audience is in the role of the ‘privileged observer.’ In this role they are able to experience things that only the character of Jesus is privy to, such as the meaning beside the seclusion from the crowd, the importance of the detour in his journey and the actions of sighing and looking towards heaven before undertaking the healing miracle act. This is emphasised elsewhere in Mark, for instance, at the baptism when God speaks “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Only Jesus and the audience are privy to this event.

Where this miracle story originally was sourced from is highly debatable, especially since the synoptics do not have specific parallels. As discussed earlier, both Luke and Matthew have accounts of Jesus healing the deaf and the mute; however, these accounts are highly generalised in comparison to Mark.  From other parallels it is fairly certain that Luke and Matthew had access to Mark.  This makes for an interesting point of enquiry, especially for Matthew who usually expressed a Markan priority. It is possible that Luke and Matthew both decided that the miracle was not significant enough to express the Markan priority in this case.  Considering the differing motives of all three synoptics, this is plausible, especially when one considers that they did not make entirely the same decision. This is seen in Matthew’s placement of the healing miracle account at the same point as Mark’s where Luke decides to place it closer to the beginning of his gospel with even less emphasis.

All the synoptics appear to have knowledge of the healing miracles which suggests that both Luke and Matthew either used independent sources or summaries or made the personal decision to summarise the account. It is plausible that Mark’s choice to include the account in detail was a decision relating to his audience and motifs.

Mark could have viewed this story as an opportunity to express the link to his Gentile audience. Tyre, Sidon and Decapolis, as mentioned, were historically areas of non-Jews; this would have created an association which appealed to his audience; made them part of Jesus’ journey and teachings. Matthew and Luke did not require this association with their not specifically Gentile audiences. Mark’s secrecy motif is also strongly expressed in this miracle story and Mark could have consciously chosen to convey the story with this in mind, catering his account to further highlight and evolve this motif to include not just the identity of Jesus in himself but his identity through the acts which he performed.

The parallels to this miracle story are not confined to the biblical texts. There are parallels which suggest further that the healing of the deaf and mute man was a story based in history and tradition. Tradition is exhibited by the healing spells that make up a large part of the Greek Magical Papyri.  In the time of Jesus, there was a strong tradition of miraculous healing with the use of bodily fluids, magical words and the touching of afflicted areas.  The Epidauros inscriptions contain parallels where the God Asklepios was said to touch the afflicted area and heal the ailments in dreams.

A man who had the fingers of the hand crippled except one came to the God as a supplicant…While sleeping he saw a vision…the God appeared and seized upon the hand and stretched out its fingers. As it turned out, he seemed to bend the hand to stretch the fingers one by one. When he straightened all of them, the God asked him if he still disbelieved the inscriptions upon the tablets of the temple. He said “No.”[7]

Like the miracle story in Mark, this inscription tells of belief on witnessing the acts of a divine figure. Such parallels show that there is a historical acknowledgement of these forms of healing and also a basis, if not in biblical traditions, then in the healing traditions of the society in which the authors lived.

There is the idea that obstructions can be removed in order to cure ailments; an acknowledged healing tradition which could refer to both physical and metaphorical obstructions. Tacitus tells of how deformities and ailments could be healed if a healing for e were applied.[8] This refers to the will of the Gods and divine service an interest similarity to the looking up to heaven and the divine identity of Jesus in Mark 7.31-37.

Mark 7.31-37 and the synoptic miracles certainly have a basis in Jewish tradition. jBerakoth 9.1 and Deuteronomy 4.7 both tell of a Jewish boy who calms the sea with prayers to God. The divine presence and prayer appears to be an important part of many of these miracle stories, just as it is in Mark 7.31-37 with Jesus’ sigh and silent appeal towards heaven.

The miracle stories in the synoptics make up only a fraction of the miracle or miracle-like stories which are recorded or referred to in ancient literature. It is a genre which the biblical authors adopt for their own purposes. Iamblichus in his Life of Pythagoras records that Pythagorus mastered the Daunian bear, a miracle in that it was thought impossible; a creature that harmed the surrounding population.[9] He also tells of omens, symbols and signs that are often related to miracles, which parallels miracle stories such as the appearance of the doves at the baptism of Jesus. Iamblichus even refers to the calming of storms; a parallel to one of the most well known synoptic miracles.

Mark 7.31-37 appears to be a collection of redactional, historical and traditional features which have been brought together to best fit the motive and audience of Mark.  The miracle of tis healing specifically caters for the understanding of Mark’s Gentile audience which suggests that Mark could have manufactured the story.  At the same time, there are indications of the historical Jesus in the use of Aramaic, the detour and the human side shown.  Ancient and biblical traditions also appear as seen by the magical and healing parallels throughout contemporary literature.

The question of sources here is a difficult one.  It is believed that Matthew and Luke both had access to the Markan account; and Matthew had a Markan priority.  Why then would Matthew not include the miracle in its Markan form? For Luke it was usual to omit Markan text in favour of independent sources or summaries.  This could suggest that Luke and Matthew had a source/s that they held in higher regard for this area of the text.  It is more likely that this miracle story was so heavily Markan and catering for Gentiles, that both Luke and Matthew independently decided to change it to suit them by making it generic. This hypothesis is based also on Matthew’s addition of the healing miracles at the same temporal place as Mark, showing a remnant of that Markan priority prevalent throughout the rest of Matthew.

Further Reading

Betz, H.D., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago, 1986)

Cartlidge, D.R. and Dungan, D.L., Documents for the Study of the Gospels (Minneapolis, 1994), pp.151-164

Drane, J., Introducing The New Testament (Oxford, 1993)

Eusebius, Onomasticon, s.v

Goodrick, E.W. and Kohlenberger III, J.R., The NIV Handy Concordance (London, 1982)

Guthrie, D., Motyer, J.A., Stibbs, A.M., and Wiseman, D.J. (eds.) New Bible Commentary (Leicester, 1992)

Hay, L.S., Mark’s Use of the Messianic Secret, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol.35, No.1 (Mar., 1967), pp.16-27

Lockyer, H., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Cambridge, 1986)

Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (London, 1978)

Perrin, N., The Christology of Mark: A Study in Methodology, in The Journal of Religion, Vol.51, No.3 (Jul., 1971), pp.173-187

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (Trans. Bostock, J.)(London, 1855)

Tacitus, The Histories [] 4.81

[1] Guthrie, D., Motyer, J.A., Stibbs, A.M., and Wiseman, D.J. (eds.) New Bible Commentary (Leicester, 1992)

[2] Eusebius, Onomasticon, s.v

[3] Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (London, 1978)

[4] Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (Trans. Bostock, J.)(London, 1855) 28.38

[5] Guthrie, D., Motyer, J.A., Stibbs, A.M., and Wiseman, D.J. (Leicester, 1992), op.cit.,

[6] Hay, L.S., Mark’s Use of the Messianic Secret, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol.35, No.1 (Mar., 1967), p.21

[7] Cartlidge, D.R. and Dungan, D.L., Documents for the Study of the Gospels (Minneapolis, 1994), p.151

[9] Cartlidge, D.R. and Dungan, D.L., (Minneapolis, 1994), op.cit., p.153

A Source-Critical Analysis of the Parable of the Mustard Seed

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I don’t write about the New Testament often so here is something a bit different. Apparently when a historian like myself gets bored they form a source-critical analysis of Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19, Matthew 13:31b-32 and the Gospel of Thomas 20:1-2 AKA the parable of the mustard seed. On first comparison we see that all three synoptic texts agree on the essence of the parable but none are identical.  All three texts discuss the kingdom of God in likeness to a mustard seed which could be a proverbial metaphor for something large that comes from very little.

In essence, all three synoptic versions recount the same parable, referring to the kingdom as ‘like a grain of mustard seed.’ This seed when sown grew into a great plant in which the ‘birds of the air’ could make nests.  Each version though differs in its details and even parallels contain variations in the Greek language between accounts.  Matthew, Mark and Thomas make the claim that the mustard seed is ‘the smallest of all seeds’ with slight differentiation to the Greek sentence structure. This is a claim not made in Luke’s shorter version of the parable.

There are some considerable differences between and within the synoptic and Thomas’ versions. Mark’s account is clearly the longest in Greek while Luke’s and Thomas’ are the shortest.  In turn, the introduction to Luke’s is longer that Matthews. The forms of the accounts also differ in relation to the introductions. Luke and Mark both begin with a pair of rhetorical questions.  While Matthew does not follow suit he does, like Luke and Mark, place the introduction of the parable in the mouth of Jesus unlike Thomas who has the disciplines initiate the parable by asking Jesus to ‘Tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.’

What appears the most obvious difference though is the variation in the details of the texts. The nature of the seed’s growth and form is described differently by all form versions. Mark chooses to describe it as a great shrub, which is the most realistic outcome concerning a mustard seed. Luke and Matthew choose to describe it as a tree, but Matthew also calls it the greatest of all shrubs which parallels Mark’s wording.  Thomas creates a more general image, describing it as a ‘great plant.’ Thomas’ description also holds some realism as it recounts the birds sheltering under the plant which would occur in the case of a mustard plant.  In this way, among others, Thomas’ account most closely parallels Mark’s version.

While all versions allude to the birds of the air making use of the plant, the way that this occurs differs between accounts.  Matthew and Luke, alluding to their conclusion that the seed becomes a tree, state that the birds come and made nests in its branches. Thomas and Mark place emphasis rather on the shelter which the ‘shrub’ provides for the birds, though Mark does use the term branches in describing the growth of the shrub.

Mark again proves the closest parallel to Thomas in reference to the sowing of the mustard seed. Mark makes little comment of the sowing action and refers only to the seed as ‘when sown upon the ground’ which is the closest parallel to Thomas’ ‘when it falls on tilled soil.’ Luke and Matthew place a greater emphasis on the sowing action by adding a human element which could act as a catalyst by which the ‘tree’ is grown. Matthew tells of a man who took and sowed it in his field. Luke tells of a man who took and sowed the seed in his garden. Mark places a greater emphasis on the state of the seed shown in his excessive use of adjectives and superlatives.  In this point we see a parallel between Matthew and Luke which cannot be paralleled by either Thomas or Mark. This is implicit of another source being used by Luke and Matthew.

It is interesting to note that Mark and Luke both share details with Matthew but not with each other. For instance, the contrast between the seed and the shrub emphasised in Mark and Matthew, is not seen in Luke. The growth of the tree is seen in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Luke is independent from the other versions also because it presents the parable in a narrative context. This is seen clearly in the use of the past tense where Mark, Matthew and Thomas use the present.

Considering the similarities and differences that occur throughout the four versions of the Parable of the Mustard Seed, an explanation is necessary. It appears that the parable is an example of the two-source hypothesis which promotes the use of Mark and Q plus unique sources by Luke and Matthew. Matthew and Luke both have parallels in Mark but they also contain similarities that allude to access to at least one separate source.  Thomas shows a Markan priority and does not appear to have access to the Q source in relation to the mustard seed parable. Luke presents an almost entirely Q version of the parable while Matthew attempts to merge the Markan and Q versions.

Matthew is indicative of Markan priority though Matthew converts Mark’s comparison to a story form while retaining Mark’s botanical addition. Markan priority throughout the gospel is witnessed in his omission of a mere fifty-five Markan verses. There is also a marked use of Q which is emphasised in the use of narrative.  In turn, there is an amalgamation of source material and form in Matthew of Mark and Q.  Matthew is an incomplete narrative because he maintains the narrative of the man sowing the seed attributed to Q but ends in a Markan general statement. Luke is independent in this respect as he does not conclude with a general statement regarding Jesus’ use of parables.

The Jewish character in Matthew’s text is seen throughout the gospel as Matthew sees no need for explanations of Jewish customs.  Matthew’s gospel presents itself like a teaching tool, a manual. It is interesting to note that, despite independent motives, Matthew retains an addition in Mark to explain the significance of the seed to the Gentile audience, ‘the smallest of all seeds.’

Luke uses Mark and the Q source.  In turn, Luke appears to reproduce a version more true to the Q source. The mustard seed parable lands within a chunk of the Lukan gospel which is specifically taken from Q (9:51-18:14). Thomas on the other hand reflects the Markan source almost entirely. Luke’s introduction expresses a wish to present an orderly narrative which would benefit those who have some knowledge already about the Christian faith.  He attempts to narrate the story of Jesus as historical.  Luke also has a considerable amount of further information from unknown sources.

The use of the Q source is seen in the mention of the man in Matthew and Luke which does not appear in Mark. The Q source mentions άνθρωπος towards the beginning of the parable before ignoring him and changing the focus to directly lie on the mustard seed. In fact at this point of the text in Matthew and Luke, both appear to take their Greek account straight from Q which would account for the same Greek, …κόκκω σινάπεως, ‘όν λαβών άνθρωπος…(Matt. 13:31; Luke 13:19).

The use of a separate source by Matthew and Luke is also seen in the parallels concerning the tree (δένδρον) and κατασκηνοῦ εν τοῖς κλάδοις αυτοῦ (Matt.13:32)/κατεσκήνωσεν εν τοῖς κλάδοις αυτοῦ (Luke 13:19). The choice between ‘shrub’ and ‘tree’ is implicit of sources chosen by the gospel authors. The Markan version clearly states that the seed became a shrub which is directly paralleled in Thomas.  This is exemplar of Thomas’ use of Mark.  Luke’s decision to use ‘tree’ reiterates that Luke is usually believed to reproduce a Q form of the parable. This point is an example of the Mark-Q overlap because Matthew represents a mix of Markan and Q forms with the extension of the shrub idea into that of the tree; this is a classic trait in Matthew.  The addition of the tree found in Matthew and Luke alludes to Old Testament roots. The tree in Daniel 4:10-4:27 refers similarly to a kingdom. Mark’s uses of Old Testament allusions are fairly few which is implicit of a Roman audience.

It is difficult to assert the sources which Mark used to compose any of his gospel let alone the Mustard seed parable.  Form-critics have postulated that the existence of comparatively small tradition cycles, oral traditions that date prior to the written gospel.  There are also theories pertaining to the idea that Mark’s gospel was formed from preaching.

The different tenses are indicative of separate sources as well as the differing motives of the authors.  From the use of the narrative form in Luke we can surmise that Q was presented in the past tense while Mark is expressed in the present. The contrast involved in the line ‘smaller than all the seeds on the earth’ also makes a case for use of Q by Matthew and Luke.  Mark explicitly states the contrast whereas Q leaves it implicit.  This would account for the contrast not appearing in the Lukan version.  Luke saw himself as a historical writer which may account for him not needing the explanation; he wrote for those with some prior knowledge so he could make his versions shorter and sharper.

The Gospel of Thomas appears dependent on Mark as it shows many of the Markan features.  It does not appear to have any influence from Q like Luke or Matthew though it may have dealt with an independent source and its choice of words sometimes differs.  For instance, ‘birds of the air’ becomes ‘birds of the sky’ and ‘the greatest of all shrubs’ becomes ‘a great plant.’ This may exhibit though Thomas’ choice of audience and way of writing rather than his choice of sources. Thomas like Mark engages in a more realistic description of the plant and how the birds shelter under it. The omission of the farmer is indicative of the lack of the Q source.

Further Reading

Guthrie, D., Motyer, J.A., Stibbs, A.M., and Wiseman, D.J. (eds.) New Bible Commentary (Leicester, 1992)

Lockyer, H., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Cambridge, 1986)

Drane, J., Introducing The New Testament (Oxford, 1993)

Goodrick, E.W. and Kohlenberger III, J.R., The NIV Handy Concordance (London, 1982)