FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
12/8/98 (first written 1995)
Does it matter whether Matthew copied from Mark
or Mark copied from Matthew, or Luke copied from both
or from Mark only? Does it matter if Matthew and Luke
each had another written source document or not? These
conclusions of modern scholarship regarding the synoptic
gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke are virtually unchallenged
Furthermore, does it matter whether the gospels report
accurately what Jesus said, or only approximately
or not at all, and which and how do we know? Again
does it matter how much of the narrative reported in the
gospels is historical, or whether it was invented by the
Let me offer some answers to these questions.
THE ORIGINAL SOURCES
The reason that it is of importance to know that there
were older source documents Mark and Quelle is that we
can then realize that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are not
three independent witnesses. Mark and Quelle are the two
oldest independent witnesses. Matthew and Luke together
by their reproduction of nearly all of Mark in the same
words and the same order demonstrate the prior existence
of Mark, and Matthew and Luke again by their reproduction
of many sayings and some episodes demonstrate the prior
existence of another document possessed by both.
John appears to be another independent source, but his
story conflicts so much with that of Mark that we can only
conclude that either Mark was mistaken in his story
or that John was mistaken in his. Thomas also appears
to be another independent source, but it is a collection
of sayings only.
Matthew reports many sayings found only in his gospel
and a few fanciful incidents not found in any other gospel.
Since these passages are not duplicated elsewhere
it is not possible to prove that they are from another
written document, because they could have been from oral
stories. The style however is that of a written document
and is called the Matthean document by scholars. This
may have been written originally in Aramaic, although some
scholars think that the form of the Greek indicates that
it was originally written in that language. We will call
it Mattheus, or M for short.
Luke contains many anecdotes, parables, and sayings not
found in any other gospel. A few of these are found in
Thomas but not in Matthew. These items are found in many
parts of Luke, and were assigned by Burnett Streeter to
another older document which he called the Lucan document
but again it is not provable that they are from a written
document. However, Luke in his first four verses refers
to "many" older written documents which he has "traced
accurately", and there is nothing to disprove the hypothesis
that these were found by him in written form. Furthermore
most of them occur in the three sections of Luke which have
no parallels in Mark but many in Matthew, and none of them
occur between portions which are clearly copied from Mark.
This is most easily explained by the assumption that they
were in Quelle originally, but omitted by Matthew, rather
than that Luke intermixed them somewhat randomly with
sections from Quelle but never with sections of Mark. This
was De Witt Burton's hypothesis, that the material called
"Quelle" included two documents, one called Galileus or G
and the other Pereus or P, which Luke reproduced completely
but Matthew did not.
But whether "Q" was one document or two documents, it compels us to deny
independent authenticity to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and to accept instead the
independent authenticity of Mark, Quelle, Mattheus, and Thomas, and to ascribe
independent witness to John although it must be examined more carefully since
it conflicts with the others throughout.
MARK AND QUELLE
Let us ask therefore, what narratives or teachings are
found in both Mark and Quelle, since they are probably the
oldest documents and independent witnesses. At first glance
this question would seem to conflict with the assertion that
Quelle contained passages found in Matthew and Luke but not
Mark. However, there are clearly duplications of stories
between them where Matthew or Luke tells both the version
found in Mark and the version found in Quelle.
1) The description of the preaching of Yohanan must have been found
in both Mark and Quelle. Matthew copied Mark's version more or less
exactly and inserted a few verses from the Quellan version, whereas
Luke copied the Quellan version. Luke 3:16 appears to be copied from
Mark, but since it is a memorable quotation from Yohanan, it could
have easily been found in both versions.
2) The tale of Yeshua being tempted by Satan must have been found
in both Mark and Quelle. Mark reported it as a brief narrative only
but Quelle contained a fanciful narration of those temptations which
was inserted by both Matthew and Luke into the Marcan version.
3) The tale of healing in the synagogue on the sabbath is reported
in Mark, copied by both Matthew and Luke, and two other versions of
the tale, or perhaps other occasions, in Quelle. The evidences that
the two other occasions were in Quelle and not in Luke's special source
is that Matthew inserts Yeshua's response from Quelle into the Marcan
version, which means that the incident was in his copy of Quelle
unless it was also in Mattheus, or he got it from hearsay.
4) The tale of the dispute over casting out Satan occurs in both
Mark and Quelle. Matthew skillfully conflated the two versions
whereas Luke simply omitted the version from Mark.
5) The tale of Yeshua's refusal to give a sign is found in both Mark
and Quelle. Matthew reports both versions, the one interpolated
with another saying from Quelle and the other exactly as found in
Luke, but Luke has again omitted the version from Mark.
6) The tale of Yeshua's sending out his disciples to recruit other
followers is found in both Mark and Quelle. Here also Matthew has
conflated the two versions by incorporating verses from the Quellan
version into the Marcan version. But this time Luke reported both
versions, the one exactly as found in Mark, and the second as
found in Quelle as demonstrated by parallels from Matthew.
7) The tale of Yeshua's visit to his hometown must have been found
in both Mark and Quelle (or both Mark and Lucus) since the narrative
in Luke is completely different from that in Matthew and Mark.
8) The tale of Yeshua's call of the first disciples must also have
been found in both Mark and Quelle (or both Mark and Lucus) since the
narrative in Luke is again completely different from Mark and Matthew.
9) The tale of the woman washing Yeshua's feet must have been found
in both Mark and Quelle (or both Mark and Lucus). Matthew included
the Marcan version only, and Luke included only the Quellan version
and omitted the Marcan version.
10) Both Mark and Quelle contained a version of a longer discourse
in which Yeshua predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and tragedy
for all the Judeans. Luke reports both versions, but Matthew copies
portions of the Quellan version into the Marcan discourse and into
the discourse on instructions to the disciples on their tour.
Thus we find that the two oldest independent witnesses
Mark and Quelle, confirm the following facts
about Yeshua's life.
1) Yohanan came preaching and baptizing in the desert, which is also
reported by Josephus. He apparently was preaching the end of the
world, but had a clear ethical and moral message as well, as reported
by Matthew, Luke, and Josephus.
2) Yeshua came to Yohanan to be baptized.
3) Yeshua withdrew into the wilderness where he underwent internal
struggles which he must have later reported as temptations of Satan
and described them as little parables about himself, since that is
the only way in which Mark and Quelle could have found out about them.
4) He called his first followers by some form of the saying, Come
to me and I will make you fishers of men.
5) He visited his hometown and was rejected by them as a "fresh kid"
on which occasion he made some form of the saying, No prophet is
appreciated in his hometown. This saying is found also in John and
Thomas, but without context.
6) He healed persons in the synagogue on the sabbath, and when
criticized for this he retorted, Wouldn't you lift even your ox or
your donkey out of a well on the sabbath? John also reports that he
healed a man on the sabbath and was criticized for it.
7) He was accused by the authorities of being possessed by Satan
because of his exorcisms, to which he retorted, How can Satan cast
out Satan? and, A house divided against itself cannot stand, nor
can a kingdom divided against itself.
8) He also told a parable about binding a strong man before you can raid
his house, found in both Mark and Quelle, and also in the gospel of
Thomas but without context.
9) And he made some form of a saying about the unforgiveableness of some
actions, since that is found not only in Mark and Quelle, but also
in Thomas. The exact form of the saying cannot be affirmed, however.
10) He refused to give a sign when asked for one. In the Marcan version
the refusal is absolute, accompanied by a weary sigh: There shall no
sign be given to this generation. In the Quellan version he makes an
exception for "the sign of Jonah", as attested to by the exact parallel
between the wording of Matthew and Luke. But what did he mean by the
sign of Jonah? Jonah did not claim his experience with the fish as
evidence of the destruction of Nineveh; but he did preach repentance
to the people of Nineveh, and Yeshua probably meant to compare his own
preaching to the preaching of Jonah as "the sign of Jonah".
11) At some point in his career around the sea of Galilee he sent out
his disciples to gather other disciples, and gave them instructions
on how they were to comport themselves. These included: Take no
money with you; do not take extra clothes; do not go from house to
house finding places to stay; eat what is set before you; and, if
people do not receive you, simply shake the dust off your shoes at
them as a gesture.
12) Also at some point or perhaps several points in his career he gave
a longer statement on events of the future. In Mark's story he
answers the disciples about the temple by saying, There shall not
be left here one stone upon another which will not be thrown down.
Later he expands on this by telling them, Those days shall be
tribulation such as there has never been the like from the beginning
These bare essentials of his early career may be affirmed
with confidence since they are attested to by both Mark and
Quelle, and in some cases by Thomas as well.
MARK AND THOMAS
Now let us ask what are the likenesses between Mark and the
so-called gospel of Thomas. Since Thomas consists of sayings
only, introduced usually by a question put to him by his
disciples, we can not obtain very much information on the
events of his life, but perhaps we can of his teaching.
1) Both Mark and Thomas report that he told the parable
of the sower.
2) Both Mark and Thomas report that on one occasion he
asked the disciples to describe him, and what their
3) Both Mark and Thomas report that he made a statement
about how only the things coming out of a person's mouth
could defile him.
4) Both Mark and Thomas report that he told the parable
of the mustard seed, and this parable is also found in
5) Both Mark and Thomas report that he told a parable of
the grain ripening without anyone understanding how it
occurs, although the version in Thomas is extremely
rudimentary and does not clearly follow from the previous
clause in the context.
6) Both Mark and Thomas report that he said that children
were like those who would enter into the kingdom of God.
7) Both Mark and Thomas report that he said that there was
no need to fast until the bridegroom had left the bridal
chamber, although Thomas refers the act of fasting to the
presence of sin.
8) Both Mark and Thomas report that he referred to the
folly of patching old garments with new cloth, or perhaps
new garments with old cloth.
9) Both Mark and Thomas report that he referred to the
folly of putting new wine into old bottles, and also that
he said that people who have tasted old wine do not desire
new wine. The last statement is found in Luke's version
of Mark's incident report, but it is not in Matthew or Mark.
10) Both Mark and Thomas report that he referred to being
able to move mountains if you had the right attitude.
11) Both Mark and Thomas report the parable of the wicked
12) Both Mark and Thomas report that saying about the
rejected stone becoming the cornerstone.
13) Thomas says that he said, I will destroy this house
and no one will be able to build it up again. John reports
that he said to the priests, Destroy this temple and in
three days I will build it up, different both in that the
statement is a challenge to the authorities and his response
is to build it up rather than no one will be able. Mark
reports that he was accused of saying, I will destroy
this temple and build it up again in three days, but that
it was false witness and the witnesses did not agree with
each other. The historical foundation for these three
variations on a theme is probably his statement that there
would not be left one stone upon another which would not
be thrown down, as reported by Mark.
14) Both Mark and Thomas tell of an event in which his
mother and brothers were outside, and he responded that
his mother and brothers were those who heard the will of
God, and did it.
15) Both Mark and Thomas report an event in which Yeshua
is presented with a gold coin and told that they are required
to pay taxes to the emperor and he replies, Give to Caesar
the things belonging to Caesar and to God the things
belonging to God.
16) Both Mark and Thomas report that he said, To him who
has, more will be given, and to him who has nothing, even
that will be taken away.
QUELLE AND THOMAS
Quelle and Thomas have many sayings in common. Some of
them are proverbial expressions which could easily have been
put in Yeshua's mouth by the editors, such as, Whoever has
ears to hear, use them and listen!
1) Quelle and Thomas both report that he spoke three of the
so-called Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor; blessed are the
hungry; blessed are the persecuted. The last one Thomas
reports twice, as does Matthew.
2) Quelle and Thomas both report that he enjoined unconditional
love: Love your brother even as your own soul; love your
enemies and do them good.
3) Thomas and Quelle both report that he urged lending without
hope of return: If you have money, do not lend it at interest
but to him who will not be able to return it to you; Give to him
that asks of you, and to him that takes your goods ask them not
again. Matthew amends this Quellan statement to finish, From
him who would borrow of you do not turn away.
4) Both Quelle and Thomas give the saying about the mote and the
5) Both Quelle and Thomas give the saying about not being able to
pick grapes from thistles, or figs from brambles.
6) Both Quelle and Thomas report that he asked, What did you go
out into the desert to see? a wind-shaken reed, or a man in
fine clothes? Quelle reports that he said this about Yohanan
whereas Thomas reports that he said it in the abstract.
7) Both Quelle and Thomas report that he gave Yohanan the highest
praise when he said, Among them that are born of women there is
none greater than John the baptist. Both append the statement
that one who finds the kingdom of God shall be greater than John.
8) Both Quelle and Thomas report that he said, The foxes have dens
and the birds have nests, but the son of man doesn't have any
place to lay his head.
9) Both Quelle and Thomas report that he said, The harvest is plentiful
but the laborers are few.
10) Quelle and Thomas both report that in his instructions to his
disciples, Yeshua said, Eat such things as are set before you
and heal the sick among them.
11) Quelle and Thomas both report that Yeshua said, Seek and you
shall find, for everyone that seeks finds; knock, and it will
be opened, for to everyone that knocks it will be opened.
12) Quelle and Thomas both report that he said, No one lights a lamp
and hides it under a bushel basket.
13) Quelle and Thomas both report that Yeshua said, I came to set
fire to the earth, and I am impatient until it be kindled.
14) They both report that he blamed the Pharisees for hiding the key
of knowledge and neither entering in themselves nor allowing
15) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he was asked to compel someone
to divide their inheritance, and that he replied, Who made me a
judge or a divider over you?
16) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he urged non-anxiety: Take no
thought for what you shall have to eat or to wear.
17) Quelle and Thomas both report that Yeshua said, The kingdom of God
will not come upon demand. Rather it is around you and among you.
18) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he said that he had not come to
bring peace but division, and that he predicted strife between
family members. But these latter words are a quotation from Micah.
19) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told the parable of the leaven.
20) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told the parable of the
21) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told them that if they did not
disown their family, they could not be his disciple.
22) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told the parable of the
23) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told them, The days will come
when you shall desire to see one of the days of the son of man
and you will not see it.
24) Both Thomas and Quelle report that he told them, Two people will
be in one bed, one will live, and the other will die.
THOMAS AND MATTHEUS
Thomas and Mattheus (the Matthean document or document M) also have
some sayings and parables in common.
1) They both quote Yeshua as saying, A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
2) They each quote Yeshua as listing fasting, praying, and charity
as undesirable activities, and as saying that you shouldn't let
your right hand know what your left hand is doing.
3) They both give the quotation, Don't throw your pearls before the
pigs, or what is sacred before the dogs.
4) They both tell the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
5) They both tell the parables of the pearl of great price
and of the treasure in the field, and of the net full of fish.
6) They both quote Yeshua as saying, Come to me, for my yoke is easy
and my burden is light, and you will find rest for yourselves.
7) They both quote Yeshua as telling them, You be wise as serpents
and harmless as doves.
8) They both quote Yeshua as saying, Any plant not planted by God
will be pulled up and will perish.
9) They both report a statement about many being left outside and
not everyone being allowed to enter.
From these observations we are in a better position to assay the
authenticity of sayings and doings in the gospels. If a passage is found in
three or more independent sources, it can be taken as having a high degree of
certainty. If a passage is found in two independent sources, it can be taken as
having a high degree of probability. If a passage is found only in one source
it may be doubted, unless it is consistent with other material found in other
Thus, when we are told that Yeshua appeared on Mount Hermon with Moses and
Elijah, we do not have to accept it, since it is attested in only one source.
But if we are told that Yeshua refused to give a sign, we can believe that
happened, since it is attested in two sources, even if we are uncertain as to
whether he made an exception for the sign of Jonah. And when we are told that
Yeshua said, No prophet is appreciated in his hometown, we can believe that with
some certainty, since it is attested to in three sources, in fact, in four sources:
Mark, Quelle, Thomas, and the gospel of John.
But if we are told that Yeshua drove the moneychangers out of the temple
we can believe that but with some hesitation, since it is attested to in two
sources, but with considerable differences: Mark reports it on Yeshua's entrance
into Jerusalem, whereas John reports it at the beginning of his career on the
first of four visits to Jerusalem; Mark reports Yeshua as quoting exactly from
Isaiah and Jeremiah, but John reports Yeshua as claiming that the temple is his
own father's house and changes the word "robbers" to "merchants". And when we
are told that Yeshua told a parable about how no one would believe in a sign
such as someone rising from the dead, we do not have to believe that, since it
is attested to in only one source; but we can accept it nevertheless since it is
consistent with his refusal to perform a sign found in two other sources.
Similarly, when we are told that he told a parable about a Samaritan
rescuing a Jew who had been beaten by robbers, we do not have to believe that
since it is attested to in only one source; but still we can accept it because
it is consistent with his teachings that we should love our enemies, and the Jews
considered the Samaritans their enemies.
And we do not have to accept John's telling us that Jesus claimed all his
healings and miracles as signs, when both Mark and Quelle tell us that Yeshua
refused to perform a sign, and Quelle tells us a parable about how no one would
be convinced by a miraculous sign anyway. Furthermore Mark and Quelle tell us
repeatedly that Yeshua told those who were healed to "go and tell no one", and
"it is your own faith that has healed you", both of which refute any reports
that Jesus claimed his healings as signs.