A Word About Sources

As one peruses the gospels in parallel, frequently one notices that they are alike word-for-word, and in other places they are almost word-for-word, and in still other places they are quite dissimilar. We will want to know why this is so, and where they disagree, which one is more correct.

Scholars hypothesise the existence of source documents from which the gospel writers drew their material. Because almost all of the Gospel of Mark can be found in Matthew and Luke, it seems likely that there was an early Document Mark that became, with a few later additions, the Gospel of Mark as early as 66 C.E. (common era).  This material was available to the authors of Luke and Matthew, writing about 15 years later, and with the exception of a very few verses, they included it in their own gospels, often word-for-word.

As there are large portions of Luke and Matthew that are not in Mark, but are very similar, it is believed that there was another source common to them, which scholars call Document Q.

In addition, there are passages unique to Matthew and others unique to Luke, so we can assume each had his own source (Document M and Document L, respectively).  There are variations on this, but we will stick to these in order to keep it simple.

You will note from the diagram below that, when you look at a page in the gospel parallels, you will expect to see material in all three columns over 40% of the time, and the source of much of this will be Document Mark. Usually, when there are only two columns filled, it will be in Matthew and Luke, and typically this will be material from Document Q.

Each of the gospel writers had a particular agenda, and being aware of these helps one to understand why the writers sometimes put their own slant on the same passage.  Very briefly, Mark is characterised by keeping silent about the relationship of Jesus to the Messiah and emphasising the failure of the disciples to grasp Jesus’ message. Matthew, whose audience was Jewish, was at pains to identify Jesus as the Messiah and put him in the Jewish tradition of Abraham, Moses and the prophets. Luke, writing to Gentiles, places an emphasis on salvation history.  For more information about the individual gospels, Wikipedia provides a brief summary.

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