Michael Kok is addressing the arguments for and against Q on his blog where he explores the “history and reception of New Testament writings”. In his latest post he raises the question of whether Luke knew Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Unfortunately his comment policy does not encourage responses from outsiders hence this post.
My own view is that Q is too easily dismissed with assertions like “it is only a hypothetical document” and “Occam’s razor suggests Luke knew Matthew” without actually investigating the arguments in its favour. The questions debated by those who are more aware of the arguments also can often by narrowly focused; historical inquiry ought to begin with a clarification of the broader context of the evidence being evaluated.
I argue below that an anti-Marcionite agenda explains well the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s baptism scenarios.
Before comparing the Gospel of Luke with anything it is worth clarifying what we understand by that Gospel and the scholarship surrounding its genre, its development and its appearance in the historical record. If we find the arguments of Joseph Tyson plausible then we begin with the probability that our canonical gospel emerged in two stages: first a proto-Luke; followed by a heavily redacted treatment of that earlier document to give us our Luke-Acts. Tyson does not dispute Q, by the way, and his model does have “Luke” use Q and Mark, but at the same time he brings together a wealth of other scholarship relating to the question of Luke’s development and emergence in the record that is of relevance to Kok’s discussion.
It is relatively uncontroversial to suggest that an early form of the Gospel of Luke began at 3:1, which has been described as “a very good place to begin a gospel”:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . .
This is also the place where Marcion’s gospel began. Marcion’s gospel did not include the John the Baptist narrative, however. The opening verse was followed with Jesus’ entry into the world (probably starting at Capernaum) preaching the gospel.
Although the “tradition” of the Church Fathers held that Marcion’s gospel was a mutilated form of the Gospel of Luke we really don’t know whether or not the original form of Luke contained the baptism episode. The “proto-orthodox” had a motive for arguing Marcion deleted the passage; Marcion had a motive for arguing his gospel was the original one. (One can explore more deeply the related evidence on either side at this point but I am skimming the surface of the argument for the sake of a relatively short blog post.)
If the subsequent stage of the Gospel of Luke was indeed an anti-Marcionite embellishment (as Tyson and several other scholars have argued) — and the evidence for this canonical version of Luke only makes its appearance after the mid-second century — then it is surely safe to conclude on chronological grounds that the “canonical redactor” did indeed know of the Gospel of Matthew.
Further, it is surely relatively safe to think that our redactor had an interest in shaping the baptist scenario to rebut Marcionism.
The question to ask then is whether canonical Luke functions as an anti-Marcionite document, and in particular to ask whether the treatment of Jesus’ baptism functions the same way. If so, does the suggested political context (anti-Marcionite) explain Luke’s differences from Matthew’s baptism scenario?
I think a case can be argued that they do indeed.
Both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew present Jesus as the one who came either to replace or spiritually fulfil the law. Mark’s Jesus was witnessed by the Law (represented by Moses) and Prophets (represented by Elijah) but clearly stood apart from them both as the very Voice of God’s Son — as is confirmed at the Transfiguration. Matthew’s Jesus continued this symbolism: Jesus was witnessed by the prophets (typified by John as Elijah) but stood apart from the prophets as the unmediated Voice of God’s Son and embodiment of the righteous loving nature of God himself (as per the instructions in the Sermon on the Mount).
That is, in both earlier gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus was set apart from the law and prophets, being witnessed by the law and prophets. Marcion may not have been comfortable with his form of Jesus being prophesied by the Jewish scriptures, but he certainly would have been pleased with a Jesus who was clearly and distinctly set apart from and above and beyond the prophetic scriptures.
After removing all associations of John the Baptist from Elijah (Luke’s Baptist no longer wears the tell-tale clothing of Elijah) the Gospel of Luke takes one more step and depicts Jesus himself as an Elijah, albeit at the same time one “greater than Elijah” of course. John, meanwhile, is relegated to the backseat with the explanation that he was not the Elijah but one who came in the “spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:17).
Only in Luke’s gospel do we find Jesus explicitly emulated against Elijah. When he and his disciples were making their way through Samaritan territory they were met with inhospitable locals. The disciples wanted the old Elijah to act:
52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them [as did Elijah]?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village. — Luke 9:52-55
Luke’s Jesus compares himself explicitly with Elijah in his sermon in Nazareth:
25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. — Luke 4:25-26
And he follows up Elijah’s Zarephath miracle with the raising of another widow’s son from the dead:
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” — Luke 7:11-16
The same gospel concludes with Jesus departing the scene the same way Elijah departed, by being taken up into heaven. Jesus, being a greater Elijah however, did not need a chariot for the ascent.
All of these points about Luke’s identification of Jesus with Elijah are taken from Michael Goulder’s Luke, A New Paradigm. Elijah is not the only prophetic figure Jesus is identified with in this gospel and there are further arguments for the Elijah-Jesus identification but I am trying to keep this post brief.
The point is that our canonical Luke portrays Jesus as a prophetic figure in the “OT” tradition. The origins of the Church go back to Jesus the Prophet in the mould of the Jewish prophets of old. The beginning of his career was also entwined with the Temple, in Jerusalem. Recall his circumcision and blessing there, and then his boyhood exchanges with the Pharisees there. The author of canonical Luke-Acts is grounding the Church — and its founder Jesus — in the Law and the Prophets as distinct from beyond the Law and Prophets.
I suggest few stronger anti-Marcionite barbs could be constructed.
The final author or redactor of the Gospel of Luke was satisfied with neither Mark nor Matthew as the most effective way to meet his anti-Marcionite polemic.
With respect to the little scenario of the baptism of Jesus the question of Q is lost from view.
We have no way of knowing if the first (pre-Marcionite) version of the Gospel of Luke betrayed any Matthean influence.
The canonical redactor of the gospel, however, has arguably removed all past hints that Jesus was a potentially Marcionite figure who came after the Law and Prophets to replace or supersede them both. Rather, Jesus was the embodiment of those very Prophetic Scriptures. Take that, Marcion!