Copyright © 1984 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL?
A TEST CASE: THE LUCAN PARABLES
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 57 vs. Luke 6:1749), of his commission-
ing of the twelve (Matthew 10 vs. Luke 9:16), and of pairs of
parables like the pounds and talents (Matt 25:1430 vs. Luke
19:1127), the wedding feast and great supper (Matt 22:114 vs.
Luke 14:1524), and the two versions of the lost sheep (Matt
18:1214 vs. Luke 15:47).
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) ;
Huck, Synopse der drei ersten Evangelien
(rev. R. Greeven;
1981); B. Orchard, A Synopsis of the Four Gospels (
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.
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?
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-
K. S. Kantzer and S. N. Gundry;
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.
of a Literary Tool," Scripture and Truth (ed. D. A. Carson and J. Wood-
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;
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
(4) Asking son Luke 11:11-13 48 50 34 2 2 70.8 75.0 79.2
(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
(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
(9) Two builders Luke 6:47-49 83 95 21 16 3 25.3 41.5 44.6
(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
(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 12:3538;
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; 14:2123;
16:8; 19:1625). 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) 2728, 38
41, 5355, 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
1971) 11423; M. Lowe, "From the Parable of the Vineyard to a Pre-Syn-
optic Source," NTS 28 (1982) 25763. But this "law" has been disproven;
see E. P. Sanders (The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition [
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
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 (
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;
Schneider, Parusiegleichnisse im Lukasevangelium (
Bibelwerk, 1975) 32; W. Schmithals,
Das Evangelium nach Lukas (
Theologischer Verlag, 1980) 147.
16 C. W. F. Smith, The Jesus of the Parables (
1975) 177; H. Weder, Die Gleichnisse Jesu
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
(Hamburg: Furche Verlag, 1956) 86; A. R. C. Leaney, The Gospel accord-
ing to St. Luke (London: Black, 1958) 201;
nach Lukas (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1966) 264; E. E. Ellis,
The Gospel of Luke (London: Oliphants, 1974) 179;
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,
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.
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)
(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
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-
and the Word of God
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.
1896) 395 n. 4;
(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;
23 See the well-balanced remarks of J. A. T. Robinson (Redating the New
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 22:114 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 15:1132) and Matthew's two sons (Matt 21:2832) 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.
TrinJ n.s. 3 (1982) 7191; P. B. Payne, "Midrash and History in the
Gospels, with Special Reference to R. H. Gundry's Matthew," Gospel Per-
29 Gundry, Matthew, 422.
of parables from Matthew and Luke under analysis here follows
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-
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  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,
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 (
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 14:14 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 25:1430)
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
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
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, 5859. L. C. McGaughy ("The Fear of Yahweh and
pansion in the Parable of the Talents," JBL 94  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) 50514; M. Zerwick, "Die Parabel
vom Thronanwarter," Bib 40 (1959) 65474. W. Resenhofft ("Jesu Gleichnis
von den Talenten, erganzt durch die Lukas-Fassung," NTS 26  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 (
(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) 24871.
50 K. H. Rengstorf, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (
& 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
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) 3134; 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,
Kistemaker, Parables, 138-39; H. C. Thiessen, "The Parable of the Noble-
man and the
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 (192526)
58 W. H. Green, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (
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
60 Weiser, Knechtsgleichnisse, 256.,E
61 See Blomberg, "Tradition History," 26673.
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
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,
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 (
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
70 Manson, Sayings, 283.
71 Smith, Parables, 72. Cf. P. Fiebig (Die Gleichnisreden Jesu im Lichte
der rabbinischen Gleichnisse
des neutestamentlichen Zeitalters
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 (
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
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
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.:
79 Cf. P. S. Minear, "Jesus' Audiences, according to Luke," NovT 16
(1974) 81109; A. W. Mosley, "Jesus' Audiences in the Gospels of St. Mark
and St. Luke," NTS 10 (196364) 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
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 6:4749; Matt 7:2427)
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
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
(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-
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,
102 For a detailed comparison of the other Lucan parables and their
parallels, see Blomberg, "Tradition History," 273-83, 287-98.
WHEN IS A PARALLEL REALLY A PARALLEL? 103
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?"
103 I. H.
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.
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