Est. May 2008

23 November, 2013


Over at Patheos, Phil Jenkins gives us an analysis of the Sign of Jonah.  And, in my humble estimation, he gets at least two points right: there are only two references made by Christ to the Old Testament Galilean prophet – Matthew 12:39-42 and Luke 11:29-32; he also correctly points out that Luke’s account is shorter, in that it leaves out Matthew’s reference to ‘three days and nights in the belly of the great fish’.

So far, so good.

And, of course, you know I’m about to say, ‘However….’

Here is how the author explains the difference:
This is the Sign of Jonah, which features in passages in Mark (12: 39-42) and Luke (11. 29-32). The two texts have such close verbal resemblances that they must have a common origin. Because they are in Matthew and Luke but not Mark, most (but not all) scholars would attribute them to the lost gospel source Q. (emphasis mine)

Okay, let’s get get the nitpicky stuff out of the way first.  It’s not Mark 12:39-42, it’s Matthew 12:39-42; second, the convention for chapter and verse is Chapter, colon, verse(s), not period (at least in all the writings I’ve seen).

Anyway, the really big deal here is that the author tried to attribute the resemblance of the verses, as well as their absence from the book of Mark, to ‘the lost gospel source Q’.  What’s Q (other than James Bond’s tech-specialist?)?  Let’s go to Wikipedia which, in this case, looks to be pretty accurate:
The Q source (also Q document, Q Gospel, Q Sayings Gospel, or Q from German: Quelle, meaning "source") is a hypothetical written collection of sayings (logia) of Jesus defined as the "common" material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in their other written source, the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this ancient text was based on the Oral Tradition of the Early Church. (emphases mine)
I think there’s a much simpler explanation than having to refer to a hypothetical, non-existent source, though.

There are many scholars who believe that Mark’s gospel was written first, and, more importantly to this post, that it could actually be subtitled The Memoirs of Peter.  If this is true, it’s likely Mark’s only source was Peter, as some scholars believe Mark wrote the gospel while he was with Peter in Rome – with no other sources of information available.

Now, compare that to Matthew and Luke.  Luke, certainly, utilized various sources for his gospel – he admits as much in the first paragraph of his gospel: ‘Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.  much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us’ (emphasis mine).  Matthew, having been an apostle and eyewitness of Jesus, lived in Jerusalem; he would have had access to others – especially Jesus’ mother, Mary – who could have given him information as to Jesus’ life before His baptism (which is where Mark begins his gospel).

Because Mark was using a single source – Peter – his gospel would reflect whatever Peter told him; Peter, in his reminiscences, may have simply forgotten an event or two, was unaware of an event because he wasn’t there when it happened, or simply didn’t relate something he didn’t feel was important.  Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, using multiple sources, would have had multiple points of view on different events – not only mental points of view, but actual physical ones as well – one observer may have seen something that another, in a different spot, did not, and so forth.

Do your own mental exercise on this.  Imagine a specific scene – say, a traffic accident.  If you interview the driver of one car, you’ll get one story.  If you interview the other driver, you’ll get a different story.  Those two stories may resemble each other in some points, but not in all points.  Now add to that the reports of one, two, three, or a dozen passers-by witnesses of the accident – you’re going to get a whole lot of similarity, but you’re still going to get some differences.

That’s normal.  Assemble all those different points of view and you get a pretty good picture of the events that actually occurred.

And you don’t have to refer to a hypothetical, non-existent ‘source’ for anything.

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