Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1984) 78-103.

        Copyright © 1984 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   







                                             CRAIG L. BLOMBERG



            ANYONE who has ever used a Gospel synopsis knows the

difficulty of determining just which passages should be

matched in compiling a table of parallels. As most modern syn-

opses stand, at least certain sets of parallels present fairly blatant

contradictions between Gospels which call into question the trust-

worthiness of the Gospel tradition.1 Many apparent discrepancies

affect areas of seemingly little doctrinal or ethical importance, but

when one examines the teaching ascribed to Jesus, the problem

becomes more acute. Even those who would restrict the accuracy

of Scripture to matters of faith and practice must come to grips

with the problem of the divergent forms of the various sayings

of Jesus; here if anywhere is the very core of the biblical message.

Yet even here Gospel parallels present striking similarities side-

by-side with marked divergences — consider the details of Jesus'

great sermon (Matthew 5–7 vs. Luke 6:17–49), of his commission-

ing of the twelve (Matthew 10 vs. Luke 9:1–6), and of pairs of

parables like the pounds and talents (Matt 25:14–30 vs. Luke

19:11–27), the wedding feast and great supper (Matt 22:1–14 vs.

Luke 14:15–24), and the two versions of the lost sheep (Matt

18:12–14 vs. Luke 15:4–7).

            This problem of parallels has elicited a variety of responses.

Most scholars accept the synopses as printed and harbor no reser-

vations as to the presence of contradictions. In the wrong hands,

the methodological tool of redaction criticism, which focuses on

the distinctive contributions of each Gospel writer, is often abused

so that it seems to do little more than invent new contradictions


                1 E.g. K. Aland, Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Stuttgart: UBS, 1976) ;

A. Huck, Synopse der drei ersten Evangelien (rev. R. Greeven; Tubingen:

Mohr, 1981); B. Orchard, A Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Macon: Mercer

University, 1982).


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      79


between parallel texts at every turn.2 More conservative scholars

therefore sometimes overreact and call for the disuse rather than

simply for the proper use of the tool. They may solve the problem

by assuming that Jesus uttered virtually every sentence attributed

to him at least two or three times in different contexts, even when

the verbal parallelism between Gospels is so great as to make such

a solution highly unlikely.3

            The issue which remains almost entirely unaddressed in all this

discussion forms the topic of this paper. When is a parallel really

a parallel? Many writers simply state their opinions without giving

any reasons for them. Those who elaborate usually just argue

that the parallels seem too striking to have stemmed from separate

events or that the differences seem too striking to have stemmed

from the same event. But how striking is too striking? D. A.

Carson, in what is probably the best introduction to the use and

abuse of redaction criticism now available, notes that no method-

ology exists "for distinguishing between, on the one hand, similar

sayings in separate Gospels that do reflect a trajectory of inter-

pretation and, on the other, similar sayings in separate Gospels

that are actually both authentic."4 Of course, one short essay can

scarcely solve all the problems of Gospel parallels, but it can at

least examine a test case. The test case offered here is the corpus

of Lucan parables, several of which were already mentioned in


                2 It is unfortunate that one of the most well-written and widely-circulated

introductions to this discipline (N. Perrin, What Is Redaction Criticism?

[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969]) comes from one of its most radical practi-

tioners, thus perpetuating this stereotype in certain circles.

                3 E.g. J. D. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1981). Cf. also J. W. Montgomery, "Why Has God

Incarnate Suddenly Become Mythical?" Perspectives on Evangelical Theol-

ogy (ed. K. S. Kantzer and S. N. Gundry; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) 57—

65; R. Thomas, "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Redaction Criticism"

(paper read at the ETS national conference; Essex Fells, N. J., Dec. 17,


                4 D. A. Carson, "Redaction Criticism: On the Legitimacy and Illegitimacy

of a Literary Tool," Scripture and Truth (ed. D. A. Carson and J. Wood-

bridge; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) 126. For other constructive evan-

gelical critiques of redaction criticism, see M. Silva, "Ned B. Stonehouse and

Redaction Criticism," WTJ 40 (1977) 77-88, 281-303; G. R. Osborne, "The

Evangelical and Redaction Criticism: Critique and Methodology," JETS 22

(1979) 305-22; R. E. Morosco, "Redaction Criticism and the Evangelical:

Matthew 10 a Test Case," ibid., 323-31.




the above examples of problem passages. Hopefully, the conclu-

sions arrived at will have some wider applicability as well.

            The Gospel of Luke contains more than twice as many parables

as any other Gospel. Most of those peculiar to Luke fall into his

central section (9:51-18:34)5 and probably stem from a very

primitive Jewish-Christian source document to which only Luke,

of the evangelists, had access.6  At the same time, Luke records

no less than fourteen parables for which most scholars find parallels

in either Matthew or Mark or both.7  These vary from the short

parable of the householder and thief (Luke 12:39-40; Matt

24:43-44), which displays almost exact verbal parallelism in

Matthew and Luke, to the parables of the watchful servants (Luke

12:35-38) and doorkeeper (Mark 13:33-37), which contain cer-

tain conceptual similarities but virtually no words repeated ver-


            A brief statistical analysis reflects this variety in parallelism.

The chart below presents the number of words common to each

of the fourteen pairs of parables. The first two columns, labeled

(I) and (II), list the total number of words contained in the

Greek text of Luke's version of the parable,8 followed by the

total number of words in the most closely paralleled passage

(either Matthew or Mark). Then come three columns which list

(a) the total number of words in Luke's account which appear

in identical form in the "parallel," (b) the number of words which

are common to both texts but in different lexical or grammatical

form, and (c) the number of words in Luke which are clear

synonyms for corresponding words in the other text. Finally, three

percentages are tabulated in columns (d), (e), and (f) : (a)/x,


                5 For a discussion of which passages are to be considered parables, and

for a defense of these boundaries for Luke's central section, see C. L. Blom-

berg, "The Tradition History of the Parables Peculiar to Luke's Central

Section" (Ph.D. Diss.: Aberdeen, 1982) 28-37, 50-58.

                6 Cf. C. L. Blomberg, "Midrash, Chiasmus, and the Outline of Luke's

Central Section," Gospel Perspectives (ed. R. T. France and D. Wenham;

Sheffield: JSOT, 1983) 3.217-61.

                7 Interestingly enough, this accounts for all the potentially paralleled

parables in the Synoptics, since Matthew and Mark do not have any parables

in common not also found in Luke.

                8 Following Aland (Synopsis) by including bracketed words, but only in-

cluding Jesus' direct speech and not additional contextual material.





      Parable            Texts                       (I)            (II)           (a)            (b)           (c)            (d)           (e)            (f)

(1)    Housholder     Luke 12:39-40         34            39            29            2              3              85.3         91.2         100.0

         and thief         Matt 24:43-44

(2)    Faithful and    Luke 12:42-46         102          111          83            5              4              81.4         86.3         90.2

        unfaithful        Matt 24:45-51


(3)    Leaven            Luke 13:20-21         21            19            15            3              1              78.9         94.7         100.0

                                Matt 13:33             

(4)    Asking son     Luke 11:11-13         48            50            34            2              2              70.8         75.0         79.2

                                Matt 7:9-11           

(5)    Children in      Luke 7:31-35           76            65            45            14            2              69.2         90.8         93.8

         marketplace    Matt 11:16-19

(6)    Sower             Luke 8:5-8               76            105          44            11            7              57.9         72.4         81.5

                                Matt 4:3-9

(7)   Wicked            Luke 20:9b-16a       120          131          64            11            6              53.3         62.5         67.5

        Husbandmen   Matt 12:1-9

(8)   Mustard seed  Luke 13:18-19         38            45            19            5              4              50.0         63.2         73.7

                                Matt 13:31-32       

(9)   Two builders   Luke 6:47-49           83            95            21            16            3              25.3         41.5         44.6

                                Matt 7:24-27

(10) Lost sheep/      Luke 15:4-7             81            65            15            12            2              23.1         30.4         41.5

         wandering       Matt 18:12-14       


(11)  Pounds/          Luke 19:12-27         253          302          54            23            28            21.3         30.4         41.5

          talents           Matt 25:14-30

(12)  Animals in      Luke 14:5                17            22            2              6              1              11.7         47.1         52.9

          well/sheep     Matt 12:11

           in pit

(13) Great supper/  Luke 14:16-24         159          151          10            14            4              6.3           15.9         17.6

        wedding           Matt 22:2-10


(14) Watchful          Luke 12:35-38         67            66            2              4              3              3.0           9.1           13.6

        servants/          Matt 13:33-37


                                                                words      words      word        words      synonym (a)/x         a+b/x       a+b+c/x

                                                               in Luke     in paral.   verbatim  diff. 




[(a) + (b)]/x, and [(a) + (b) + (c)]/x, where x in each case stands

for the smaller figure in columns (I) and (II). In other words,

the number of parallel words is compared in each case with the

total number of words in the shorter of the two parallel texts. It

is important to choose the shorter text, because the longer text

could be dependent on the shorter but have so expanded the

original that the number of words it would share with the shorter

version would seem deceptively small.

            The chart reveals three basic categories of parables. The first

eight entries show great verbal similarity to their parallels in all

three percentage columns: 50.0%—85.3% in (d), 62.5%—94.7%

in (e), and 73.7%—100.0% in (f). These parables also distribute

themselves fairly evenly over these intervals. The next four para-

bles form a second group, with markedly lower percentages in

column (d), 11.7%—25.3%, though with somewhat higher figures

in columns (e) and (f), 30.4%—47.1% and 41.5%—52.9% re-

spectively. The last two parables form a third group, with very

low percentages in all three columns: 3.0%—6.3% in (d), 9.1%—

15.9% in (e), and 13.6%—17.6% in (f). The fairly clear-cut

categories into which these data subdivide predispose one who has

studied basic statistical methods to suggest that passages in one

category differ from those in another in some significant way.9

Quite naturally, one suspects that the pairs of parables in the

first category are (as is generally assumed) dependent on one

another or on a common source, while passages in the last cate-

gory are (as is not always assumed) independent of each other

or any common source. The status of the parables in the middle

group remains unclear.

            It is remarkable how often writers who wish to illustrate the

presence of irreconcilable contradictions between the Gospels ap-

peal to the examples of the parables in these last two categories.

Jeremias, for example, in what undoubtedly remains the definitive

work on the tendencies of the parables' transmission, bases his

discussion of embellishment, change of audience, the effect of the

delay of the Parousia, and allegorization to a large extent on these


                9 For further detail, see any introductory statistics text. E.g. H. L. Alder

and E. B. Roessler, Introduction to Probability and Statistics (San Fran-

cisco: Freeman, 1975).


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      83


specific pairs of parables.10  If it were to turn out that they were

not genuine parallels after all, much Traditionsgeschichte would

require rewriting. It is precisely this point which shall be argued

below. Few would dispute that literary dependence of some sort

is required to account for the degree of similarity between parallel

versions of the first eight parables on our chart.11 Five of the

remaining six sets of parallels, however, seem rather to represent

parables which Jesus spoke in more than one form on separate

occasions, so that differences between the various accounts do not

retain their standard significance. Each of the pairs of parables

numbered (9) through (14) on the chart will therefore be ex-

amined, in turn, in order of increasing parallelism.


            I. The Watchful Servants/Doorkeeper (Luke 12:35–38;

                                                Mark 13:33–37)


            The main argument for the independence of these two passages

lies in their sheer lack of verbal agreement. The only two words

which appear in identical form and location in both parables are

"the master" (ho kyrios), and the same expression appears fre-

quently in Jesus' parables elsewhere (in Luke, cf. 13:8; 14:21–23;

16:8; 19:16–25). Four terms appear in different grammatical

forms — anthropos, doulos, erchomai, and gregoreo — but one

could hardly narrate a parable about a man leaving servants to

watch over his household without employing these terms. Virtually

all the remaining features differ wherever they can — the reason

for the man's departure, the number of servants, the tasks en-

trusted to them, the reaction of the master on his return, and


            10 J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (London: SCM, 1972) 27–28, 38–

41, 53–55, 58-70.

            11 Some commentators view Luke's shorter versions of the parables of

the sower and wicked husbandmen as evidence for a pre-Marcan source,

because more primitive texts are often thought to be shorter than secondary

ones. Cf. esp. T. Schramm, Der Markus-Stoff bei Lukas (Cambridge: CUP, 

1971) 114–23; M. Lowe, "From the Parable of the Vineyard to a Pre-Syn-

optic Source," NTS 28 (1982) 257–63. But this "law" has been disproven;

see E. P. Sanders (The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition [Cambridge:

CUP, 1969]) — and, in fact, Luke consistently abbreviates his Marcan ma-

terial. Of the 92 pericopes in Aland (Synopsis) which Mark and Luke

share, Luke's version is shorter in 71 instances. Cf. Blomberg, "Tradition

History," 25–27.




the description of the divisions of time during his absence.

Granted that a specific teaching is in view and not just the nar-

ration of an event, and granted the Synoptists' propensity for

close verbal parallelism elsewhere (see the chart), it seems un-

likely that these accounts reflect the same original parable of


            This intuition seems borne out by the lack of consensus among

recent commentators on these two passages. At least four con-

tradictory positions command considerable acclaim. (1) Bultmann

views the watchful servants as a secondary composition or "com-

munity formulation"12 which has inextricably intertwined pas-

sages like Mark 13:33-36 and Matt 24:42, 45-51.13 (2) Others

view the parable as strictly a reworking and expansion of the

Marcan passage.14 (3) Still others see primarily the influence

of Matthew (even of his parable of the ten virgins) and assign

the parable to Q.15 (4) Finally, some consider the parable lit-

erarily independent of Mark's and Matthew's traditions, noting

(as the chart above indicates) how little verbal parallelism with

either of these Gospels it actually demonstrates.16

            While the first three positions together account for the views

of a sizable majority of commentators, not one of them stands

out as clearly dominant. This fact alone reveals that the various

types of parallelism perceived are not that obvious. Position (4),


            12 R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (Oxford: Black-

well, 1963) 118, 205.

            13 E. Grasser, Das Problem der Parusieverzogerung in den synoptischen

Evangelien and in der Apostelgeschichte (Berlin: Topelmann, 1960) 85.

            14 E.g. Jeremias, Parables, 53; C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom

(London: Nisbet, 1935) 161; C. E. Carlston, The Parables of the Triple

Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 84.

            15 E.g. T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (London: SCM, 1949) 115;

G. Schneider, Parusiegleichnisse im Lukasevangelium (Stuttgart: Katholisches

Bibelwerk, 1975) 32; W. Schmithals, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Zurich:

Theologischer Verlag, 1980) 147.

            16 C. W. F. Smith, The Jesus of the Parables (Philadelphia: United Church

Press, 1975) 177; H. Weder, Die Gleichnisse Jesu als Metaphern (Gottingen:

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978) 163; W. Michaelis, Die Gleichnisse Jesu

(Hamburg: Furche Verlag, 1956) 86; A. R. C. Leaney, The Gospel accord-

ing to St. Luke (London: Black, 1958) 201; W. Grundmann, Das Evangelium

nach Lukas (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1966) 264; E. E. Ellis,

The Gospel of Luke (London: Oliphants, 1974) 179; S. Kistemaker, The

Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981) 116.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      85


moreover, commands substantial assent as well, although not all

who adopt it make the additional move from literary to historical

independence. The case for the position is not watertight, but

additional comments below will reinforce it further.17 For now

it seems fair to conclude, with I. H. Marshall, that the Lucan


            has a more positive character of promise. The two parables may reflect

            one original parable, handed down in the two separate traditions, but this

            presupposes considerable freedom on the part of the tradition and it is

            perhaps more likely that the tradition reflects different forms in which

            Jesus conveyed the same basic teaching.18


If this conclusion is wrong, the next most likely explanation is

none of the three alternatives noted above. Rather it is possible

that Mark and Luke have both drawn selectively from a pre-

Synoptic version of the eschatological discourse, longer than any

of the current Gospel versions. A thorough analysis of this view

awaits the publication of David Wenham's forthcoming mono-

graph, The Rediscovery of Jesus' Eschatological Discourse.19


      II. The Great Supper/Wedding Banquet (Luke 14:16-24,

                                    Matt 22:1-14)


            Most scholars assign Luke's parable of the great supper to Q

without hesitation. Yet no small number of commentators have

challenged this consensus, preferring to view the parable not as

the product of an immediate written source which Luke and

Matthew shared, but either as one story passed along in variant

but chiefly independent traditions,20 or as two separate similar

stories in which Jesus employed a common theme.21


            17 See section V, last paragraph.

            18 I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978)


            19 D. Wenham, The Rediscovery of Jesus' Eschatological Discourse (Shef-

field: JSOT, forthcoming). Dr. Wenham has kindly shared preliminary drafts

of several sections of his work with me.

            20 Dodd, Parables, 121; Grundmann, Lukas, 296; J. A. Findlay, Jesus and

His Parables (London: Epworth, 1950) 54; E. Linnemann, Parables of Jesus

(London: SPCK, 1966) 166 n. 20; J. Ernst, Das Evangelium nach Lukas

(Regensburg: Pustet, 1977) 422; D. H. van Daalen, The Kingdom of God

Is like This (London: Epworth, 1976) 44.

            21 Smith, Parables, 120; Kistemaker, Parables, 100, 198 ; R. W. Funk,




            Once again the statistics favor this last view. Only ten of over

150 words are identical in both texts, and of these ten words only

two (apesteilen and agron) are not conjunctions, articles, or pro-

nouns. Noteworthy terms occurring in different forms include

anthropos, poieo, kaleo, doulos, hoi keklemenoi, orgizomai, and

poreuomai, but these scarcely stand out in view of the great dif-

ferences which otherwise distinguish Luke from Matthew — the

man vs. the king, the supper vs. the wedding banquet, the absence

of the son, the additional invitations, the reduction of servants,

the difference in excuses, the absence of retributive warfare, the

introduction of the "poor, maimed, blind, and lame," the addition

of the climax pronouncing judgment on the original guests, and

the absence of the incident of the man without a wedding garment.

            Most commentators have explained these differences by as-

suming that Matthew has expanded and allegorized a parable

much like Luke's, in view of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.

70, and juxtaposed an originally separate parable about the man

without festal clothing. Luke, on the other hand, has added the

second invitation to the outcasts, in light of the extension of the

proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. K. H. Rengstorf, how-

ever, has demonstrated that the Matthean parable is quite real-

istic in light of earlier historical incidents with which Jesus'

audiences would have been familiar.22 Compared with unques-

tioned examples of vaticinium ex eventu concerning the destruc-

tion of Jerusalem, Matt 22:6–7 seems relatively tame.23 Simon


Language, Hermeneutic and the Word of God (New York: Harper & Row,

1966) 163; H. Palmer. "Just Married, Cannot Come (Mt 22, Lk 14, Thos

44, Dt 20)," NovT 18 (1976) 255; A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical

Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1896) 395 n. 4; N. Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

(NICNT; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1950) 395 n. 4; L. Morris,

The Gospel according to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 233;

E. Galbiati, "Gli invitati al convito (Luca 14, 16-24)," BeO 7 (1965) 130.

            22 K. H. Rengstorf, "Die Stadt der Morder (Matt. 22:7)," Judentum,

Urchristentum, Kirche (ed. W. Eltester; Berlin: Topelmann, 1960) 106-29.

            23 See the well-balanced remarks of J. A. T. Robinson (Redating the New

Testament [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976] 19-21). The objection that no

evidence exists for this custom in Jesus' day proves little, since neither is

there evidence that it had fallen into disuse, while both pre- and post-NT

sources attest to its practice. Cf. further, W. Hendriksen, The Gospel of

Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973) 797-98.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      87


Kistemaker, moreover, points out that Matt 22:1–14 forms a

unity. The enigma of the man just pulled off the street and ex-

pected to have proper banqueting attire is solved by recognizing

that the king would have provided the necessary clothing, so that

the man's behavior reflects deliberate rejection of the king's in-

vitation.24 Kenneth Bailey, finally, emphasizes the precedent for

the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles both in the OT and

elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus, so that the Lucan parable need

not reflect later redaction at this point.25 It seems likely, however,

that Jesus intended no allegorical reference here at all. If the

servant's initial mission did not fill all the places at his master's

table, it would have been natural to press the search farther afield.

"Highways" and "hedges" (Luke 14:23) are not known symbols

for Gentile territory in other Jewish literature, and in the context

of the parable they remain entirely within Israel.26

            In addition to the traditional arguments for Matthew's redac-

tion of this parable, commentators must now come to grips with

Robert Gundry's massive new work on the first Gospel.27 It is

virtually impossible either to endorse or to reject his analysis of

any individual passage without first evaluating the methodology

supporting his overall study. The scopes of this paper prevents

such a detailed critique; fortunately a few have begun to appear.28

In nuce, Gundry argues that virtually every word with which

Matthew differs from Mark or Luke represents Matthew's own

creation or revision of his sources, which are limited to Mark and

Q. Thus even two parables as divergent as Luke's prodigal son

(Luke 15:11–32) and Matthew's two sons (Matt 21:28–32) be-

come attributed to one original.29 The equation of the six pairs


            24 Kistemaker, Parables, 104.

            25 K. E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes: More Lucan Parables (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 101-8.

            26 Cf. Smith, Parables, 123; Funk, Language, 183-86; Schmithals, Lukas,


            27 R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theo-

logical Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

            28 See esp. D. A. Carson, "Gundry on Matthew: A Critical Review,"

TrinJ n.s. 3 (1982) 71—91; P. B. Payne, "Midrash and History in the

Gospels, with Special Reference to R. H. Gundry's Matthew," Gospel Per-

spectives 3.177—215.

            29 Gundry, Matthew, 422.




of parables from Matthew and Luke under analysis here follows

almost automatically.

            Two general comments, however, place a question mark against

this approach. First, Gundry has vastly overestimated the amount

of peculiarly Matthean material, including "insertions" into Mark

and Q, which can be argued to reflect Matthew's distinctive style,

via statistical criteria. The best discussion of vocabularly statistics

for Gospel criticism appears in Lloyd Gaston's Horae synopticae

electronicae.30 Gundry is at least aware of Gaston, for he cites

him, if only as an example of the method he rejects, but it is not

clear if he has thoroughly understood him. Gundry prefers his

own method, which "reflects an openness to Matthean creativity,"

whereas Gaston assigns unparalleled sentences "to earlier tradi-

tions of a piecemeal sort."31 On the contrary, Gaston makes clear

that his use of symbols like "L" and "M" is purely conventional;

he explicitly assumes nothing about the source-critical origin of

unparalleled sentences, but simply wants to avoid the trap into

which Gundry falls of assuming that partially parallel pericopes

must entirely reflect redactional activity where they differ. Gas-

ton's method reflects substantial openness to redactional creativity,

whereas Gundry's presuppositions virtually compel such a con-


            Second, the majority of Gundry's specific comments on a given

passage do not demonstrate Matthean redaction; they assume it.

Thus to return to the parable of the wedding feast, one discovers

that Matthew's "king" (22:2, vs. Luke's "man" — 15:16) de-

rives from the preceding parable of the wicked husbandmen where

Matthew alone refers to God's "kingdom" (21:43). The addition

of the king's son "reflects the prominence of sons in the preceding

two parables" and "renews a Christological emphasis". And the

burning of the city in v 7 "illustrates Matthew's habit of alluding

to the Old Testament"; here the allusion is to Isa 5:24-25.33 Some

of these suggestions are more probable than others. If Matthew


            30 L. Gaston, Horae synopticae electronicae (Missoula: SBL, 1973).

            31 Gundry, Matthew, 4.

            32 Gaston, Horae, 4-6. For a detailed discussion of Gaston's method and

an application of a slightly modified version of it to Lucan and Pauline

writings, see Blomberg, "Tradition History," 312-38.

            33 Gundry, Matthew, 433-36.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      89


had been inspired to change the man to a king based on the word

"kingdom," the more logical (and nearer) antecedent would be

in 22:2a, and not in the preceding parable. Similarly the parallels

between Matt 22:7 and Isa 5:24-25 are not as close as those with

Jer 25:4-11; 29:16-19; and 44:4-6;34 or even with Zeph 1:1-16,

which Gundry dismisses as insignificant.35 But even if all of these

explanations of the differences between Matthew's and Luke's

parables are correct, none presupposes any creative activity which

Jesus himself could not have performed. The case for Matthean

creation reverts back to vocabulary statistics.

            In these examples basileus, huios, apollymi, and polis are the

most decisive Mattheanisms, yet even by Gundry's standards

these are among the weaker candidates for Matthew's favorite

vocabulary.36 More to the point, even where redactional material

occurs, one may not automatically jump to claims of inauthen-

ticity. Of course the evangelists utilized their distinctive styles,

and selected traditions based on their own interests. Discerning

the patterns of these interests demonstrates the profound theolog-

ical importance of redaction criticism. But a historical conclusion

that redactional material does not reflect authentic tradition, how-

ever freely rewritten, can only follow if there is something con-

tradictory or implausible about attributing the material to its

alleged Sitz im Leben Jesu.37 When Gundry abandons the inter-

pretation of Matt 22:6-7 as a flashback to A.D. 7038 the major

objection to authenticity also vanishes.

            Finally, a comparison with the Talmudic parable attributed to

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (one of the early Tannaim) proves

instructive. In b. Sabb. 153a one reads:


            34 S. Pedersen, "Zum Problem der vaticinia ex eventu (Eine Analyse von

Mt. 21, 33-46 par.; 22, 1-10 par)," ST 19 (1965) 181-85.

            35 Gundry, Matthew, 439; pace J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testa-

ment (London: Darton, Longman & Todd) 127-28.

            36 Gundry, Matthew, 641-49. Apoilymi and polis actually occur more often

in Luke than in Matthew. Basileus in parables is distinctively Matthean,

however, and M. D. Goulder ("Characteristics of the Parables in the Sev-

eral Gospels," JTS 19 [1968] 53-55) uses this as one reason for arguing that

none of the Matthean parables is authentic.

            37 A profound methodological debate lies behind this claim. See further

S. C. Goetz and C. L. Blomberg, "The Burden of Proof," JSNT 11 (1981)

39-63; D. A. Carson, "Redaction Criticism," 126, 140.

            38 Gundry, Matthew, 436.




            R. Johanan b. Zakkai said: This may be compared to a king who sum-

            moned his servants to a banquet without appointing a time. The wise ones

            adorned themselves and sat at the door of the palace, [‘for,’] said they,

            ‘is anything lacking in a royal palace?’ The fools went about their work,

            saying, ‘can there be a banquet without preparations?’ Suddenly the king

            desired [the presence of his servants; the wise entered adorned, while

            the fools entered soiled. The king rejoiced at the wise but was angry with

            the fools. ‘Those who adorned themselves for the banquet,’ ordered he,

            ‘let them sit, eat and drink. But those who did not adorn themselves for

            the banquets let them stand and watch.’ [Soncino ed.]


The similarities between this parable and both Matt 22:1-10 and

11-14, which are almost always separated from each other by

tradition criticism, are obvious. There are also clear "parallels"

with the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13). Yet almost

no one conversant with the Rabbinic literature argues that this

or any other Tannaitic parable developed out of familiarity with

the Jesus tradition.39 This should caution us against too quickly

attributing equally similar yet dissimilar pairs of parables in the

Gospels to one common Grundschrift.40 Both the Lucan great

supper and the Matthean wedding feast parables remain intelli-

gible as wholly authentic and distinct utterances of Jesus.


            III. The Animals in the Well/Sheep in the Pit (Luke 14:5,

                                                Matt 12:11)


            Both of these short parabolic sayings occur in the contexts of

narratives about Jesus' healing on the Sabbath. In Luke, Jesus

has just healed a man with dropsy before dinner at the home of a

Pharisee. In Matthew the setting is the healing of the man with

the withered hand, which Luke recounts in 6:6-11, but with this

little parable notably absent. Did Matthew know the saying from

some other source and interpolate it into his version of the Marcan

miracle?41 Was this source Q, and could Luke thus have gotten


            39 Although R. M. Johnston ("Parabolic Interpretations Attributed to

Tannaim" [Ph.D. Diss.: Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1978] 205) tenta-

tively suggests this possibility.

            40 For an interesting comparison of how R. Johanan's parable underwent

development in the Rabbinic tradition, cf. Midr. Qoh. 9.8.1, which inter-

sperses verbatim quotation of the Talmudic form with "targumized" com-

mentary and embellishments.

            41 J. M. Creed, The Gospel according to St. Luke (London: Macmillan,

1930) 188.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      91


it, and perhaps all of 14:1-6, from this sayings source?42 Or "hat

Lukas die Erzahlung seinem Sondergut entnommen"?43 The higher

percentage of variant forms and synonyms (columns [e] and [f]

in the above chart) may mislead somewhat in such a short pas-

sage; the presence of only two identical words in both verses

seems more significant, and these are merely the incidental hymon

and eis. The differences are all the more striking if one adopts the

variant huios e bous (instead of onos e bous) in Luke 14:5,44

although J. M. Ross argues that in this case the more difficult

reading is too difficult and destroys the a fortiori logic of the pas-

sage.45 In any event, the unparalleled nature of Luke 14:1–4 and

6 combines with the perfect fit of v 5 into this context to render

it quite improbable that the parable is a variant of Matt 12:11.

And the fit of the Matthean verse in its context is no less satisfac-

tory, even if Matthew's source (in this case Mark) omits it.46


      IV. The Pounds/Talents (Luke 19:11-27, Matt 25:14–30)


            This pair of parables displays many of the same types of simi-

larities and differences as do the parables of the great supper and

wedding feast. Matthew's version is again longer and apparently

more embellished the talent was valued at sixty times the

pound, the man went away "for a long time" (polyn chronon),

presumably reflecting the delay of the Parousia, the unfaithful

servant did not merely hide his money in a napkin but dug a

hole in the ground for it, and his punishment involved not just

losing the money entrusted him but being cast into the outer

darkness. On the other hand, Luke adds several features not found

in Matthew — the master is a nobleman who leaves to receive a

kingdom, and his citizens oppose him and send an embassy to

thwart his mission. At the end of the parable, the nobleman re-

wards his servants with authority over cities and commands his

enemies to be slain in his presence.


            42 So Ernst, Lukas, 435-37.

            43 Grundmann, Lukas, 291.

            44 So UBSGNT; cf. Marshall, Luke, 579-80.

            45 J. M. Ross, "The `Harder Reading' in Textual Criticism," BT 33 (1982)


            46 Gundry (Matthew, 226) assumes Matthew has conflated Luke 15:4 and

14:5 with necessary alterations to smooth out the seam.




            Not surprisingly, quite a number of theories compete for accep-

tance concerning these parables' tradition history. Perhaps the

most common view is that Luke's parable of the pounds has fused

or conflated two separate parables one very similar to Mat-

thew's and one about the throne claimant just described. By re-

moving vv 12, 14, 15a, 27, and the references to cities in vv 17

and 19, one can almost piece these details together into a separate

story, which very much reflects the type of incident known to first-

century Palestinians from the trip of Archelaus to Rome in 4 B.C.,

and the Jewish embassy which opposed him and incurred Ar-

chelaus' subsequent revenge.47 If this view is correct, it is probable

that both of these parables go back to Jesus and that they were

fused at some pre-Lucan stage of the tradition, since Luke else-

where does not interweave separate stories so intricately.48 Others,

however, feel that the additions about the throne claimant can be

sufficiently explained in terms of Luke's redactional interest,

whether or not it was ever a separate parable.49 Still other ap-

proaches include the views that the two parables are literarily,

though not historically, independent,50 that the standard tenden-

cies of oral tradition have modified a basic Q-form of the parable


            47 Jeremias, Parables, 58—59. L. C. McGaughy ("The Fear of Yahweh and

the Mission of Judaism: A Postexilic Maxim and Its Early Christian Ex-

pansion in the Parable of the Talents," JBL 94 [1975] 235-45) discerns a

third separate section in v 26.

            48 F. D. Weinert, "The Parable of the Throne Claimant (Luke 19:12, 14—

15a, 27) Reconsidered," CBQ 39 (1977) 505—14; M. Zerwick, "Die Parabel

vom Thronanwarter," Bib 40 (1959) 654—74. W. Resenhofft ("Jesu Gleichnis

von den Talenten, erganzt durch die Lukas-Fassung," NTS 26 [1980] 318—

31) believes that the "parable" of the throne claimant ended originally with

the words of Matt 22:6-7.

            49 J. Lambrecht, Parables of Jesus (Bangalore: Theological Publications

in India, 1978) 251—52; S. Schulz, Q: Die Spruchquelle der Evangelisten

(Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1972) 288-92; M. Didier, "La parabole des

talents et des mines," De Jesus aux Evangiles (ed. I. de la Potterie; Gem-

bloux: Duculot, 1967) 248—71.

            50 K. H. Rengstorf, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

& Ruprecht, 1937) 217; Manson, Sayings, 313. A. Weiser (Die Knechtsgleich-

nisse der synoptischen Evangelien [Munchen: Kosel, 1971] 229-48) gives

detailed linguistic arguments for equating these traditions with M and L.

Smith (Parables, 139) prefers to think of oral traditions as the primary

cause of the variations. Marshall (Luke, 702) suggests different recensions


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      93


in two separate ways,51 or that Matthew has abbreviated his

source which more closely approximated the Lucan form.52 Gundry

argues that Matthew has conflated Mark 13:34 and "a tradition

preserved without much revision in Luke 19:11-27," but he has

no explanation for the omission of the throne claimant material,

material which ought to interest Matthew immensely, granted

Gundry's previous observations concerning "king-parables."53

            As with the parables of the doorkeeper and watchful servants,

the sheer diversity of theories should prevent one from too easily

adopting any simple explanation of literary dependence. The per-

centages of verbal parallelism are certainly higher, but still a far

cry from those for the pairs of parables which are unquestionably

parallel. Moreover, one statistic stands out strikingly. Of the total

number of words in any way paralleled in the two parables, an

inordinately large proportion fall into column (c) — apparent

synonyms. For virtually every other entry in the chart, this col-

umn accounts for only a small percentage of the total parallelism.

Among the undoubted parallels, the highest percentage is 14.3%

(4/28) for the parable of the mustard seed, while most of the

percentages are less than 9%. Here, however, it accounts for 28

out of 105 words, or 26.7%. Such a large figure at the very least

suggests independent oral traditions, if not completely separate

originals altogether.

            In fact, a number of scholars have argued that two separate

parables from the life of Jesus do lie behind these texts.54 The

sayings that are most closely parallel ("Well done, good servant"

— v 17, cf. Matt 25:21; "reaping what I did not sow" — vv

21-22, cf. Matt 25:24, 26; "to everyone who has will more be

given" — v 26, cf. Matt 25:29; and the like) are those which are

almost proverbial and most likely to be used repeatedly and re-


            51 E. Kamlah, "Kritik and Interpretation der Parabel von der anvertrauten

Geldern," KD 14 (1968) 31—34; Grasser, Parusieverzogerung, 113.

            52 M.-J. Lagrange, Evangile selon Saint Luc (Paris: Gabalda, 1941) 491;

J. Schmid, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Regensburg: Pustet, 1960) 288-91.

            53 Gundry, Matthew, 371; cf. n. 36 above.

            54 E.g. Geldenhuys, Luke, 476 n. 6; Morris, Luke, 273; Plummer, Luke,

437; W. Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) 858;

Kistemaker, Parables, 138-39; H. C. Thiessen, "The Parable of the Noble-

man and the Earthly Kingdom," BSac 91 (1934) 180-90.




produced without change.55  W. 0. E. Oesterley surmises that" "we

have here another illustration of the existence of a current para-

bolic theme upon which the parable is constructed." But unlike

those cases where "the theme may be susceptible of more than one

lesson," here it is one "from which only a single lesson can be

deduced: so that, if two parables are constructed upon such a

theme, they are in one sense distinct, but as both are based on a

common source, they are also in some sense identical."56  J. G

Simpson, however, thinks the parable of the pounds makes two

main points, one on the responsibility required of Jesus' disciples

and one on the judgment of those who reject his message. Both

types of people would have been in his audience. Elsewhere Jesus

takes up only the former theme (the parable of the talents) or

only the latter (the parable of the wicked husbandmen) , but here

he gives his fullest statement both of his rejection of contempo-

rary apocalyptic and of his true mission on earth.57

            The alternatives appear less convincing. The position that sees

a separate "throne claimant" parable in Luke is deceptively at-

tractive. William Green showed long ago how easy it was arti-

ficially to create two fairly coherent narratives out of one by

sheer imaginative skill, with his tongue-in-cheek source-critical

division of the parables of the good Samaritan and prodigal son.58

Nor is the "parable" of the throne claimant even all that coherent

in its reconstructed form. Syntactically, v 15a requires supple-

mentation, and the references to the rewards of cities in vv 17

and 19 presuppose the presence of some faithful subjects who are

otherwise absent from this "parable." The entire story, moreover,

is quite brief and harsh, with the climactic pronouncement of v 27

rendering the new king's behavior quite arbitrary. Most impor-

tantly, as Jouon observes, the throne claimant is left with a king-

dom which has no subjects; the faithful servants must be retained


            55 Cf. T. Zahn, Das Evangelium des Lucas (Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1913)


            56 W. O. E. Oesterley, The Gospel Parables in the Light of Their Jewish

Background (London: SPC'K, 1936) 144.

            57 J. G. Simpson, "The Parable of the Pounds," ExpTim 37 (1925—26)


            58 W. H. Green, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (New York:

Scribner's, 1895) 119-23.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      95


in order to give the story any verisimilitude.59 Of the other views

that see only one original parable, the independent traditions

theory seems most probable. For, as Weiser has shown, both

parables contain a number of formulations peculiar to M and L,

Q parables generally have a much more concise form ("oft

spruchartige und eher den Bildworten als den Parabeln naheste-

hende Redeformen"), and neither Luke's addition nor Matthew's

omission of the throne claimant parable is likely since (as noted

above) it is Matthew and not Luke who prefers parables about

kings and judgment. Finally, Luke does not elsewhere conflate

parables, especially with this intricacy.60

            The remaining question for one who would argue for two sep-

arate parables here is whether or not Luke's apparently com-

posite account can stand on its own as a coherent whole. There

are a number of minor problems which can be overcome fairly

readily,61 but by far the most troubling occurs in v 20. Although

Luke describes the nobleman calling ten servants and distributing

ten pounds in v 13, when the servants return for their rewards,

only three come forward, and yet the third is called ho heteros

("the other one").62 Some have argued that this expression refers

to a different class or type of servant, that is, the type that did

not invest as commanded,63 but this is not a well-attested mean-

ing for the expression.64

            Perhaps a better solution is to translate ho heteros as "the

next." The phrase te hetera hemera appears frequently in Greek to

mean "on the next day,"65 and in Matt 10:23, RSV translates

en to polei taute . . . eis ten heteran as "in one town . . . to the

next."66 Most commentators pass over this point in view of the

more perplexing exegetical questions surrounding this verse, but

already a century ago John Lange observed that "the definite


            59 P. Jouon, "La parabole des mines et la parabole des talents," RSR 29

(1939) 493.

            60 Weiser, Knechtsgleichnisse, 256.,E

            61 See Blomberg, "Tradition History," 266—73.

            62 This problem is obscured in translations like RSV, NIV, which un-

justifiably translate it as "another."

            63 Geldenhuys, Luke, 428; Plummer, Luke, 441; Morris, Luke, 275.

            64 Cf. Marshall, Luke, 706.

            65 BAGD, 315.

            66 So also BDF, par. 306 (2).




article before allen or heteran denotes the next city in order which

had not yet been visited."67 A similar translation makes good

sense of Luke 4:43: "But he said to them that it was necessary

for him to preach the kingdom of God also in the next cities (tais

heterais polesin). The translation, "the other cities," seems to

suggest specific locations previously mentioned, but none appears

in the context of this verse. The translation "next" fits Luke

19:20 exactly; ho heteros could thus imply the next servant in

order who had not yet been summoned to give an account of his

stewardship. Having presented three servants (two good and one

bad), the form and content of the parable were complete, so no

further servants needed to be mentioned.68 Moreover, Jouon ob-

serves that the larger number of servants in Luke accords with

the larger audience for the parable. Both the twelve and a larger

group of followers are in view — thus the details concerning three

and also the broader reference to ten. In Matthew, Jesus just

addresses the disciples and therefore needs mention only the

three.69 The problem of different audiences will recur momentarily,

but for now enough has been said to conclude that the parables

of the pounds and talents are not genuine parallels, but two sep-

arate elaborations of a basic theme which Jesus utilized on (at

least) two different occasions.


            V. The Lost Sheep/Wandering Sheep (Luke 15:4-7,

                                    Matt 18:12-14)


            The two parables of the lost sheep in Matthew and Luke form

the final entry in this list of not genuinely parallel parables. The

decision to place them in this list is perhaps hardest of all. Here

the statistics suggest little; here too only a small minority doubts

that Matthew's parable comes from the same source as Luke's.

Moreover, unlike with the parables of the pounds and talents, key

differences reflect characteristic Matthean and Lucan emphases.


            67 J. P. Lange, The Gospel according to Matthew (Edinburgh: T & T

Clark, 1871) 192 n. 1.

            68 Cf. Schmid, Lukas, 288-89: ". . . ist dies nicht als storende Unebenheit

des Lukas-Textes der Parabel zu deuten, wie die genau entsprechenden Falk

14, 18-20 and 16, 5-7 bestatigen. Eine Vorfuhrung aller zehn wurde

ermudend wirken and den poetischen Wert des Gleichnisses beeintrachtigen."

            69 Jouon, "Mines," 494.


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      97


The closing sentences, for example, clearly disclose prominent

redactional themes: Matthew's concern for the "little ones" (hoi

mikroi) which links 18:14 with vv 10, 6, and 3, and Luke's em-

phasis on the joy of repentance, linking with the following para-

bles of the lost coin and lost son.

            Nevertheless notable dissenters deserve a hearing. T. W. Manson

believes that "it is more likely that we have here a case of the

overlapping of sources, and that the Matthaean version belongs

to M and the Lucan to L."70 C. W. F. Smith observes all the

differences between the two accounts and judges that the "two

versions came down in the tradition separately."71 Oesterley thinks

it more likely that in characteristic Rabbinic fashion, "we have

here another instance of a parabolic theme being used for more

than one purpose."72 Streeter believes that the words which

Matthew and Luke share are those "without which the story

could not be told at all," but that "where the versions can differ,

they do so," and thus that the accounts are independent.73 Reng-

storf notes that pairs of parables characterize Luke's peculiar

material (cf. 11:5-8, 11-13; 14:28-30, 31-32; 16:1-13, 19-31)

and so believes it likely that 15:4-7 and 8-10 stood together as

an original unit in L.74  Most important of all, Jeremias subjects

the parable to careful linguistic analysis and concludes that Luke's

version is literarily independent of Matthew.75 Jeremias' cautious

dissection of passages into their traditional and redactional ele-

ments provides a healthy corrective to less conservative approaches,

although even his criteria are not uniformly helpful.76 Marshall



70 Manson, Sayings, 283.

71 Smith, Parables, 72. Cf. P. Fiebig (Die Gleichnisreden Jesu im Lichte

der rabbinischen Gleichnisse des neutestamentlichen Zeitalters [Tubingen:

Mohr, 1912] 195) who attributes all the differences to oral tradition.

72 Oesterley, Parables, 177.

73 B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Mac-

millan, 1930) 245.

74 Rengstorf, Lukas, 181-83.

75 J. Jeremias, "Tradition and Redaktion in Lukas 15," ZNW 62 (1971)


76 See his posthumously published work (J. Jeremias, Die Sprache des

Lukasevangeliums [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980] which ana-

lyzes all of the non-Marcan portions of Luke according to carefully defined

criteria (p. 8).




            The differences between the Lucan and Matthaean forms are sufficiently

            great to make it unlikely that both Evangelists are directly dependent

            upon the same source. Even when allowance is made for their editorial

            work, we are still left with two independent versions of the parable.

            There is no reason why Jesus himself should not have used the same basic

            parable more than once and for different purposes.77


            Philip Payne has assembled a helpful chart comparing the audi-

ences of the various parables in the Synoptics which reinforces

Marshall's intuition.78 Payne assigns each parable a number (1

through 4), standing for the claims which he believes the Gospels

make concerning the setting for that parable. (1) means the

setting is not even hinted at, (2) means the setting seems to be

hinted at, (3) refers to settings which are implied but not ex-

plicitly stated, and (4), refers to settings explicitly stated. No

doubt a fair amount of subjectivity comes into play in distinguish-

ing categories (2) and (3), but it is remarkable that Payne can

find only one parable (Luke 13:20-21) for category (1), but

31 parables (counting parallels) for category (4).

            Payne then assigns all of the parables in (2), (3), and (4) a

letter corresponding to the audience claimed by the evangelists

for that parable — (o) for Jesus' opponents, (d) for his disciples,

and (c) for the crowd In general. He gives many of the parables

two letters where the Gospels' descriptions include more than one

type of audience. The amazing result is that in only two instances

does one Gospel contradict another by assigning a completely

different audience to the same parable.79 These two cases are

the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the pounds, where

Matthew portrays Jesus exclusively addressing the disciples; and

Luke, his opponents or the crowds. Yet if the Gospel writers seem

so careful to preserve the correct audience in all but two cases,

and if in those cases there is independent reason to believe that

the parallels might not really be parallels after all, then surely


            77 Marshall, Luke, 600.

            78 P. B. Payne, "Metaphor as a Model for Interpretation of the Parables

of Jesus with Special Reference to the Parable of the Sower" (Ph.D. Diss.:

Cambridge, 1975) 239.

            79 Cf.    P. S. Minear, "Jesus' Audiences, according to Luke," NovT 16

(1974) 81—109; A. W. Mosley, "Jesus' Audiences in the Gospels of St. Mark

and St. Luke," NTS 10 (1963—64) 139-49; J. A. Baird, Audience Criticism

and the Historical Jesus          (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969).


            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      99


the most probable conclusion is that the alleged parallels are

actually separate stories in which Jesus used similar themes and

vocabulary more than once, although the separate traditions of

these stories might have undergone slight assimilation either in

their transmission or in their final redaction.

            To be sure, the evidence of Jeremias' classic work on the para-

bles seems to contradict Payne's conclusions, but in fact a careful

analysis of his discussion of "the change of audience" yields a

different conclusion. Jeremias only presents in detail the examples

of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) and the lost

sheep.80 The former is peculiar to Matthew, so tradition-historical

reconstructions are entirely speculative; the latter is precisely one

of Payne's two exceptions. Jeremias briefly lists further examples

in defense of his claim that the evangelists regularly altered the

audiences for Jesus' parables, but this list also proves deceptive.

Eight of the passages he lists are not included in Payne's list of

parables,81 two are peculiarly Matthean,82 two are peculiarly

Lucan,83 one is probably peculiarly Marcan,84 three are repro-

duced by both Matthew and Luke without any change of address

and cannot be included in the list even by conjecture,85 and seven

of the parables are merely Luke's parallels to the Matthean pas-

sages Jeremias has already included earlier in his list, thus making

the number of examples supporting his point seem rather greater

than it really is.86 Moreover, of the eight passages which Payne

did not examine, none reveals contradictions in audience in their

parallels.87 The end result is that Jeremias has no further examples

to support his case at all. Payne concludes concerning Jeremias'

approach: "often the misrepresentation to which he refers is not


            80 Jeremias, Parables, 33-42.

            81 Mark 9:50; Matt 5:25-26; 6:22-23, 27; 7:3-5, 13-14, 16-18; Luke


            82 Matt 13:47-48; 25:1-13.

            83 Luke 16:1-7; 17:7-10.

            84 Mark 13:33-37; cf. Luke 12:35-38 and pp. 83-85 above.

            85 Matt 7:7-11; 24:43-44, 45-51.

            86 Luke 6:41-42; 11:11-13; 12:25, 35-38, 39-40, 41-48; 13:23-24.

            87 Cf. the refs. in n. Si above, respectively, with Matt 5:13; Luke 17:57-

59; 11:34-36; 12:25; 6:41-42; 13:23-24; 6:43-45; Matt 15:14. Using Payne's

abbreviations, the audiences for the eight pairs of passages are c/c and d;

c and d/c; c and d/d; c and d/c and d; c and d/c and d; c and d/a; d/d.




actually stated in the texts in question and may not have been

intended by the evangelists. The misrepresentations to which he

refers are often based on an inference which would be valid in a

scientific chronological biography but may be inappropriate in

the Gospels."88

            One final feature confirms the independence of the two versions

of the lost sheep (and of four out of five of the other pairs of

parables so far discussed). I have elsewhere argued that the core

of Luke's central section is made up of a collection of parables

which, when isolated from their surrounding material, form an

extended chiasmus in a way which suggests that Luke acquired

them from a very early source not utilized by the other evan-

gelists. Since most of the parables in this chiasmus are peculiarly

Lucan, it is likely that they all are, and that they reflect a source

independent of the other Gospel strata. Significantly, the parables

in question are precisely those surveyed above (except for the

parable of the pounds).89


            VI. The Two Builders (Luke 6:47—49; Matt 7:24—27)


            Judging only from the statistics, this last pair of texts seems

to belong with the other five pairs of parables not genuinely

parallel. The percentages of parallelism are much closer to those

for parables like the lost sheep and pounds/talents than to those

for the eight above it on the chart. It could well be that these

two versions reflect independent traditions;90 much depends on

one's assessment of the overall relationship between Matthew's

sermon on the mount and Luke's sermon on the plain.91 But since

both evangelists place the parable at the conclusion of what is at


            88 Payne, "Metaphor," 26.

            89 See Blomberg, "Midrash," 240-48.

            90 So Marshall, Luke, 274; B. S. Easton, The Gospel according to St. Luke

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1926) 94.

            91 Marshall (Luke, 245) admits frankly: "the question of the sources and

pre-history of the Sermon defies solution." Cf. his subsequent survey of the

alternatives. The striking difference between Luke 6:17 and Matt 5:1 is best

solved by observing that Jesus was already on the mountain in Luke 6:12,

so that the level place (topos pedinos) of v 17 is probably still in the hills.

The recourse of G. L. Archer (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [Grand

Rapids: Zonder'an, 1982] 366) to two entirely different messages seems un-



            WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?                      101


the core the same basic sermon of Jesus, it seems hard to believe

in this instance that the writers had two distinct settings in mind.

            The greater percentage of verbal difference stems for the most

part from the changes in imagery. Matthew apparently envisages

a Palestinian wadi — a waterless ravine with steep sides which

occasionally turned into a raging river after severe rains. Luke, on

the other hand, portrays a broad river like the Orontes at Syrian

Antioch where temporary summer shelters had to be abandoned

before the winter rains set in.92 Most concur that Luke's parable

reflects representational changes due to his writing for a non-

Palestinian audience. The emphasis on building a foundation for

the house likely further reflects Hellenistic influence.93 These

changes are striking and show the freedom with which the early

church could treat the ipsissima verba Jesu, but they do not ma-

terially differ from what some modern Bible paraphrases practice

(cf. the "flashlight" of Ps 119:105 or the "shake hands" of Rom

16:16 in the Living Bible Paraphrased)94 and nevertheless pre-

serve the original meaning of the parable intact. To claim that

Luke changed the point of the parable "from one of choice of a

site to digging deep to lay a foundation"95 overlooks the fact that

both evangelists stress that the wise person's house is built epi ten

petran. Luke "merely gives the figure in a more complete form."96

C. W. F. Smith concludes that Matthew exhorts one to build on

Jesus' teaching rather than on another's, while Luke encourages

one to build on the hearing of Jesus' word with the proper re-

sponse.97 Yet surely part of the proper response is not to accept

any teaching which differs from Jesus', so it is hard to see how

these conclusions can contradict each other.

            The same is true with the slight variety between the house

falling and shaking (Matt 6:25/Luke 6:48), or falling and being

ruined (Matt 6:27/Luke 6:49). Rhegma no doubt reflects Luke's


            92 Findlay, Parables, 95-96; J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke

(1-IX) (AB 28; Garden City: Doubleday, 1981) 644.

            93 Jeremias, Parables, 27 nn. 9, 11.

            94 The Good News Bible employs this method regularly, though generally

less dramatically. See S. Kubo and W. Specht, So Many Versions? (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) 143-44; E. A. Nida, Good News for Everyone

(Waco: Word, 1977) 63-71.

            95 Smith, Parables, 189. Cf. Manson, Sayings, 61.

            96 Geldenhuys, Luke, 218 n. 22. Cf. Ernst, Lukas, 236.

            97 Smith, Parables, 190.




proserexen in v 48, while ischysen saleusai auten again heightens

the contrast. This expression may be original, though, for it is not

demonstrably Lucan;98 and if a house cannot be shaken, then

obviously, as in Matthew, it cannot fall. In any event, Wrege's

conclusions seem sound. No theological differences appear in Luke's

parable, and the differences in imagery represent "verschiedene

Schwerpunkte im Anschauungsmaterial, die den Inhalt der Aussage

nicht verandern."99 Or as Caird puts it, "the meaning is the same

in each case. The man who hears and does is safe against every

crisis, while the man who only hears is inviting disaster."100

            Of the six Lucan parables examined, five have counterparts in

either Matthew or Mark which resemble them at times in striking

fashion, but which are best viewed not as true parallels at either

the literary or historical level. Rather, Jesus most likely followed

the practice of every good teacher and utilized similar themes and

imagery in different ways on different occasions to make somewhat

distinct points relevant to the differing situations. The corpus of

parables in the Rabbinic literature demonstrates how commonly

certain themes and characters (e.g. kings and their servants) may

reappear independently in similar combinations.101 On the other

hand, in one instance, the parables surveyed most likely reflect

literary dependence by one evangelist on the other or by both

on a common source, despite greater divergence than is otherwise

customary. While there is no reason to assume that Jesus did not

repeat this parable of the two builders as well, there is no indica-

tion in the texts themselves that the Gospel writers intended their

readers to understand them as different teachings of Jesus from

different contexts, and this is a characteristic feature of the un-

disputed parallels.102


            98 Pace H.-T. Wrege, Die Uberlieferungsgeschichte der Bergpredigt (Tu-

bingen: Mohr, 1968) 155; Jeremias, Sprache, 150. Ischyo is characteristic of

L, not Luke, saleuo does not occur often enough to be characteristic of any

text (Matt 2X, Mark 1X, Luke 4X, Acts 4X, Paul 1X, Heb 3X), and the

other three occurrences in Luke's Gospel are paralleled in Matthew or Mark

(Luke 6:38; 7:24; 21:26).

            99 Wrege, Bergpredigt, 155.

            100 G. B. Caird, The Gospel of St. Luke (London: Black, 1968) 107.

            101 For a translation and analysis of all the earliest Rabbinic parables,

see Johnston, "Interpretations."

            102 For a detailed comparison of the other Lucan parables and their

parallels, see Blomberg, "Tradition History," 273-83, 287-98.




            Since so many examples of the drastic extent to which the

evangelists allegedly felt free to rewrite their sources stem from

these first five pairs of parallels, a reevaluation of this "freedom"

is in order. I. H. Marshall's comments, concluding a detailed study

of the parable of the sower in its various forms, apply well in a

much wider setting: the evangelists (or the transmitters of the

tradition they inherited) "felt quite free to modify details in the

wording of the story, something which modern preachers regularly

do when they are recounting the parables."103 However, a large

part of this activity "can be understood as a clarification . . . to

bring out its meaning more clearly for his readers." In other words,

"the substance of the tradition remains unchanged even though

the language has been altered."104

            The statistical study of the verbal parallelism between the four-

teen pairs of parables produced a rather clear-cut distribution of

three types of parallels — only one of which consistently turned

out to reveal genuine parallels. This distribution ought to en-

courage one to test other sets of apparent parallels in similar sta-

tistical fashion.105 If other data were similarly skewed — with

some apparent parallels bunched toward one end of the percentage

spectrum and others toward the other end — one would have gone

a long ways toward objectifying an answer to the question, "when

is a parallel really a parallel?"


Palm Beach Atlantic College

West Palm Beach, Florida 33401


            103 I. H. Marshall, "Tradition and Theology in Luke (Luke 8:5-15),"

TynBul 20 (1969) 63.

            104 Ibid., 73-74.

            105 I have elsewhere tested out this method on the corpus of Rabbinic

parables, specifically those attributed to Tannaim. At least 28 such parables

from the Tosepta, Talmuds, and Midrashim have one or more apparent

parallels elsewhere in that literature, and all but two of the pairs show over

40% exact verbal parallelism. All but seven reveal a figure of over 60%.

In no instance do pairs of parables present the types of similarities and

differences shared by the texts of this study which were labeled not genuinely

parallel. See Blomberg, "Tradition History," 420-43.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu