The Gospel of Luke As Creative Rewriting of the Gospel of Matthew – Hasert’s study

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by Neil Godfrey

The following outline of ways the Gospel of Luke appears to rewrite the Gospel of Matthew is taken from a chapter by Vadim Wittkowsky, “Luke Uses/Rewrites Matthew: A Survey of the Nineteenth-Century Research” in Luke’s Literary Creativity (ed by Mogens Müller and Jesper Tan Nielsen, 2016). I focus here on just one of the authors discussed by Wittkowsky, Christian Adolf Hasert (1795-1864), who published a detailed analysis of the relationship between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Luke’s Literary Creativity is a collection of essays from a 2014 conference on Luke’s creativity held in Roskilde, Denmark; Wittkowsky (photo) is listed there as based at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Hasert’s analysis indicates that the author of Luke’s Gospel was a “Paulinist” who objected to Matthew’s anti-Pauline views.

Every change, every omission or adding of details in parables, sayings and stories are of pure Pauline character (Wittkowsky, p. 11 – presenting Hasert’s summary of his research)

On the futility, impossibility, of seeking salvation by good works

Note, for example, 2 Corinthians 3:5,

By ourselves we are not qualified in any way to claim that we can do anything. Rather, God makes us qualified. (God’s Word translation)

That’s not what we see being taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:48,

Be perfect (τέλειοι), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

Luke changes “perfect” to “merciful” in Luke 6:36,

Be merciful (οἰκτίρμονες), just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)

For Luke one can only be like God insofar as one is merciful; perfection is out of the question. Notice also the concluding thought Luke adds to the parable of the dutiful servants in Luke 17:7-10,

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Recall the parable of the Great Banquet in Matthew that concludes with the king ordering the poorly dressed guest to be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-13); Luke’s version of the same parable (14:16-24) drops that miserable ending.

Recall further Luke 16:15,

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

— a saying that might be interpreted as a snub to the teaching of Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew’s Jesus instructs the disciples to search out for someone “worthy” with whom they might stay in a town they are visiting:

“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy (ἄξιός) in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. (Matthew 10:11, NASB)

Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus merely require that his disciples stay put in the one place wherever they visit (Luke 9:4).

Other passages in Luke’s gospel that stress the need to look only to the grace or mercy of God and not to merits: Luke 18:9-14; 7:29-30; 7:36-50; 21:1-4, etc.

On salvation by grace or mercy and the requirement of love and faith in response

Notice how in Luke we read some of the same miracles and teachings as in Matthew, but with addition of an emphasis on the importance of faith.

So of the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Matthew writes (9:18-19),

As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before him. “My daughter has just died,” he said, “but you can bring her back to life again if you just come and lay your hand on her.” So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. (NLT)

But in Luke Jesus speaks immediately to Jairus with the following words (8:50),

But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.” (NLT)

Compare and contrast Matthew’s and Luke’s explanation of the parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:19-23,

19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (NLT)

But Luke 8:12-15 adds the importance of faith,

12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. (NLT)

The theme of salvation through God’s grace and mercy with the faithful responding with love and faith are central themes in Luke’s gospel, as we see in the story of the sinful woman (Luke 7), the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18), and more.

Luke omits all requirements to perform or exceed the Law of Moses  and works of righteousness in general

Matthew’s gospel goes to great lengths to drive home the importance of exceeding the works of the Law of Moses and producing works of righteousness:

Matthew 5:17, 19; 23:3

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (NIV)

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)

So practice and obey whatever they [those in Moses’ seat] tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. (NIV)

Luke omits all of that.

Matthew 5:20-6:4 see Jesus setting out strict requirements requiring highly disciplined cognitive behaviour therapy to suppress normal human emotions and to adopt the posture of an hapless submissive determined to suffer joyfully.

Luke omits all of that, too.

In Matthew 24:20 Jesus warns his disciples not to flee on the sabbath day. Luke leaves that out.

In Matthew 19:17 Jesus replies to the man who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life by instructing him to keep the commandments. Luke changed that. Jesus simply tells the fellow that he knows the commandments (or possibly asks him if he knows commandments) — Luke 18:20.

Similarly we find no trace in Luke of Matthew’s other discourses on righteousness, marriage laws, works: Matthew 15:1-11; 19:3-9.

On the enthusiasm to damn the Jews

Luke’s hostility towards Jews’ blindness and rejection of the gospel emerge “much earlier, more angrily and more consistently” than in Matthew:

  • Note the hostility as early as the Nazareth scene in Luke 4:24-27
  • Note the attempt by the crowd to kill Jesus in Luke 4:29
  • Note the defiance of the “fellow citizens” of the king (the Jews) and their inevitable doom in Luke 19:14, 27
  • Note the wrath of God descending upon the Jews in Luke 21:20-24 etc

On the patent favouritism shown towards Gentiles

Gentiles, on the other hand, are the focus of Luke’s praise. If Matthew’s Jesus went only to Israel and explicitly avoided the gentiles, Luke’s Jesus makes a point of going to gentiles, even Samaritans.

Matthew liked to use expressions like “King of the Jews” (2:2) and “God of Israel” (15:31). Luke avoided such terms.

In Luke’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31) “Lazarus is clearly associated with the Gentiles, and the Rich Man with the Jews.”

Luke’s Jesus is compared with Elijah, but with a half-twist. Jesus does not believe in calling down fire from heaven on his enemies (9:54-56) but he does compare himself with the prophet commissioned to go to Serapta of Sidon (4:25).

The reader of Luke’s Gospel comes away more impressed by the Roman centurion, the Samaritans and even by Pilate than by Jewish high priests, priests, Levites and elders. Gentile worshipers of Jesus are even more impressive than Luke’s depiction of the twelve disciples.

All of this makes sense of one difference in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Matthew takes Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham; Luke, however, extends it to the father of all humanity, Adam — and God himself. Wittkowsky quotes Hasert on this point:

All this is very characteristic of Romans 11 and 2 Corinthians 3. 


A number of questions come to mind as I type the above. But I leave the first part at that for all of us to see what’s being said and discussed of late about the Gospel of Luke by some academics. Keep in mind that I am outlining the summary (by Wittkowsky) of a summary (Hasert’s summary of his research).

There is a second part of Hasert’s summary which examines the different treatments of the Twelve and the followers of Paul, with apparent allusions in Luke’s Gospel to the facets of Paul’s letters.

That’s for a future post.


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24 thoughts on “The Gospel of Luke As Creative Rewriting of the Gospel of Matthew – Hasert’s study”

  1. It always amazes me that eighteenth-century scholarship can continue to be relevant – speaks for the lack of progress in the field.
    I completely agree with the idea that Luke has written to improve upon and supplant Matthew. Interesting that scholars are perhaps returning to this view as they discount the hypothetical and probably imaginary Q.
    In my book ‘The Rock and the Tower’ I suggest that the relationship between Luke and Matthew follows a “same but different” pattern. The author of Luke was heavily influenced by Matthew and follows the same structural features; basing their gospel on Mark, including the so-called Q material, adding a genealogy and a nativity. It is extremely unlikely that two gospels written independently would share all these features. But the author of Luke then seems to have quite deliberately changed many of the details. So we have a completely different genealogy and nativity story, and a sermon on the plain.

    1. If Marcion had to choose between two Pauline Gospels (Mark and Luke), why did he choose Luke and not the (more ancient) Mark ?
      Thomas Brodie argued that proto-Luke was more old than Mark, but Brode did a clear error when he thought that some episodes of the Nativity in Luke come from proto-Luke (we know obviously that the Nativity episode is obviously only late anti-marcionite propaganda). Even so, I think that Brodie may be right about the idea of proto-Luke as the earliest Gospel…

  2. [Per] Eric Franklin and David Ravens, both of whom regard Luke as “an interpreter of Paul and critic of Matthew.” Franklin comes closer to the views of Hasert and Scholten because Luke for him is a “Paulinist,” while Ravens tends rather to the position of the Tübingen school as, in his opinion, Luke is a quite independent theologian who interprets Paul very freely. [72] Remarkably enough, neither of these two authors ever mention their nineteenth-century predecessors.

    [Note.72| Typical for his View are his rhetorical questions: “But why should it be assumed that Luke would agree with either [Paul and Matthew] since he could hardly agree with both? The major differences between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew on the one hand, and between Paul’s portrait in Acts and what can be learnt from his letters on the other, suggest that they are the deliberate polemical changes made by a theologian who saw grave potential weaknesses in the works of his renowned predecessors…”]

    Wittkowsky, Vadim (11 August 2016). “Luke Uses/Rewrites Matthew: A Survey of the Nineteenth-Century Research”. In Mogens Müller. ”Luke’s Literary Creativity”. Jesper Tang Nielsen. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 23, n. 72. ISBN 978-0-567-66583-6. @ https://books.google.com/books?id=DHWcDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA23

  3. Is too much hand waving and tail wagging the dog. Argumentation about order of text composition is all predicated upon the doctrine the arguer adheres to. Hand waving has gone on for millenia without resolution of synoptic problema. It is all too much like Ptolemaic astronomy, completely wrong, but establishment has too much investment in it does not want discomfort of change, so argues more loudly and adds more epicycles, resist correctness rather than admit wrongness.
    Instead of hand waving, it should be asked if application of statistics, or making assumption that texts evolved and breaking down texts into minuter units and application of cladistics to see if their order can be determined. Old methods are broken, all that is happening is addition of more epicycles to synoptic problems, more sound and furiousness without achieving significant solution. Is time for out break from box, and need for new methods and examination by not theologians but people from analytic sciences. Use methods from biology, use methods from study of signals and data, quit hand waving.

  4. Matthew places the sermon on the mount obviously on a high hill while Luke has a similar sermon but this time set on a plain?
    Reminds me of Moses receiving and giving the ‘Law’ on a mountain in Exodus then issuing it again on the plains of Moab.
    Is the second ‘giving’ to be regarded as the definitive one ?

    1. Yes, very good and vital point. Luke does all he can to remove any link between Jesus’ teaching and the law of Moses. Matthew sets up the Sermon on the mountain as an allusion to the giving of the Mosaic law. Luke rips that Mosaic imagery right out of the story.

  5. Another example of this is the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6. 10 Matthew says
    “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

    In Luke 11. Luke only says “Your kingdom come.”

    No mention of praying for God’s will to be done on earth when the kingdom comes.

    Why not? Because “The Just shall live through Faith. (Romans 1. 17)

    Because Paul’s Gospel needs Jesus’ sacrifice to abrogate the Torah. In Matthew’s version The Law is still valid after the coming of the Kingdom.

    I think this relates to the question of whether Paul is the founder of Christianity. Hasert’s study is what one would expect if Paul was the founder.

    Paul and the Author of Luke and Acts try to minimise the conflict between Paul and Jesus’ original Jewish followers.

    How do you think devout Jews would have reacted to Paul’s message that it was no longer needed to obey the Law.

    I often think the Jews most likely to flog Paul (2 Corinthians 11. 24) were Jesus’ original Jewish followers.

    1. “The anonymous author of Luke claims to have “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3), 56 though a literal rendering of the Greek ἀ ́νωθεν (rendered in the NIV as “from the beginning”), is “from above.” Given the subject matter, such as the supernatural claims of Luke’s Gospel, it would be appropriate that this Gospel’s author is claiming that his knowledge of Jesus comes from his direct channel to the divine.” Raphael Lataster: Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories.

      One of “Luke’s” things is to smooth out the differences between Pauline and Petrine “Christianities”. Paul’s “kingdom” is not of this world; when the Christ comes the faithful are to meet the Christ in the sky, get new and heavenly bodies and reincarnate in that heaven. I’d expect references to anything continuing on this earth, which is to pass away, to be dropped by “Luke” for this reason.

  6. Since the Gospel of Luke features Jesus walking through people, I tend to think that it originated with Doecetists like the Marcionites. Epiphanius’ Gospel of Marcion says that Jesus came down “among” them and that Jesus lifted his eyes, implicitly to the crowd, which makes more sense than looking away from the crowd towards his disciples.

    As Koester and Crossan point out, there is a “Bethsaida Section” in Mark 6:45-8:26 that begins and ends in the town of Bethsaida and are filled almost entirely with nearly identical doublets of earlier stories in Mark, indicating that it is a later interpolation. The fact that Matthew includes this section and Luke does not points to the fact that Luke was not using our version of Mark or our version of Matthew.

    A previous Vridar post gave a short review of Delbert Burkett’s book “Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark”, in which Burkett provides proofs for the following criterion:

    1. Matthew and Luke did not use our version of Mark.
    2. Mark and Luke did not use our Matthew.
    3. Mark and Matthew combined common sources of material in different ways.
    4. Mark and Luke combined common sources of material in different ways.
    5. Mark often conflated two or more sources that were also used by Matthew and Luke respectively.

    For example, Mark 9:17-27 conflates two different demon possession stories: one is a story of an “unclean spirit” that revolves around the faith of the disciples that Matthew and Luke have, and one is a story of an “unspeaking and mute spirit” that revolves around the faith of the father not known to Matthew or Luke. If Matthew and Luke were just copying from our Mark and/or our Matthew, then that would mean one or both of them would have had to have recognized that the story was a conflation, cut one out, and then ignored the second one.

    Another example provided by Griesbach theorist Thomas Longstaff shows Mark conflating a source common with Matthew and a source common with Luke:

    Mark 14:12a Matthew
    Mark 14:12b Luke
    Mark 14:12c Matthew
    Mark 14:13a Luke
    Mark 14:13b Matthew
    Mark 14:13c-16 Luke
    Mark 14:17-21 Matthew

    There are a lot of these miniature conflations, like Mark 1:32 conflating “When evening came (Matt. 8:16), when the sun set (Luke 4:40)” or Mark 3:8 conflating “across the Jordan (Matt. 4:25) and around Tyre and Sidon (Luke 6:17)”.

    If we magically had access to all the versions of the gospels lost to time and see the overarching complexity and independence regarding how the gospels evolved as they were rewritten and revised by Adoptionists, Docetists, Ebionites, Cerinthians, Montanists, Marcionites, Sethians, Valentinians, Antioch Christians, and Apostolic Presbyters over hundreds of years, then I think we would actually discover that Griesbach, Streeter, Farrer, Augustine and the rest were all simultaneously correct in the sense that some groups somewhere did combine some version of the gospels in a similar to the way they theorized but that they were also all wrong that the versions of the gospels they imagined were the canonical versions that happened to be standardized and thus survive to be passed down to us.

    1. Lately I’ve thought the same thing, very broadly, i.e. the transformations of these texts and the uses they were put to may in reality defy any simple schema. This is why I was gratified to see Burkett’s circuitboard-like flow chart even without understanding all the details. It may take something like that level of complexity in a representation to successfully depict what actually happened in reality.

      One gets the sense – or at least I do – that these texts were subject to rewrites from almost the moment they were written. And that an entirely different orientation to texts, to questions of authenticity, and so on is required to account for what they were doing. It’s almost as if today, to draw a crude parallel, the internet were only available to a small group of people, a select few. But there was also a Wikipedia, and somebody put a Wikipedia biography of a certain Jesus online. But that biography and all its details were open to all the wanton ‘correction’ and rewrites and factional edit wars we see today. And one internet user would correct and then immediately print his preferred version, then present it to the rest of his little community or sect, with these people fully unable to access the information for themselves or judge it. These print-outs were subject to further revision and change over time in the life of the community as this or that internet user (scribe or church leader) died and was replaced. They were also subject to change or elimination as groups merged or died out or were annihilated.

      I sometimes think we miss something essential in considering these gospel questions because ours is a literate society. We can’t imagine what it’s like to come from a fundamentally illiterate society. Add to that the zealotry of true believers combined with craven opportunism – often in the same person – and it isn’t a simple thing to slip into the mindset of the people who were altering these texts.

      1. I like the Wikipedia analogy. But the gospels were not the only writings treated like this. We see similar rewrites, or dialogue, among the OT writings. Compare Kings and Chronicles; Isaiah and Micah; Jeremiah and Daniel’s 70 years… The gospels were following a long tradition.

        1. Har. But then: who said they were? One imagines that the difference would be between the closed society of Israelites (?) on the one hand and the aspiring Empire-conquering quasi-Gentiles on the other meant that there’d be more flagrant textual libertinism because the conquering stakes for the latter were higher. – But you may well be right. It could have all been of a piece with the earlier Judaic material.

          1. Is it conceded that Philo is a synthesizer of new Judaic theological content for Hellenic Jews ? Whether or not it became inculcated, should be irrelevant. Rather it is a “Proof of concept”.

    2. I have also seen it suggested that Luke omitted the Mark’s “Bethsaida section” for theological/narrative reasons: all of the gentile mission and cross-sea travel that involved were shifted to Paul and Acts, the point being to preserve a gradually expanding narrative progression of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome (and the world).

    3. Since “Mark” is ostensibly the earliest document we have, how do you recognise a conflation? I haven’t more than given Delbert Burkett a skim but this theory, like “Q”, falls foul of Ockham. We have LXX, Homer, Josephos, Euripides, the Orphic poems etc. i.e. actual sources; we don’t have to make things up.

  7. Do you know if Hasert justified his presumption that Luke came after Matthew? Was the idea of a proto-Luke even considered at the time? I mean, most of these arguments assume Lukan *ossissions* rather than Matthean *additions*, contradicting (at the very least) the principle of *brevior lectio probabilior*

    1. I don’t know because I am unable to read Hasert’s original work. But my post is meant only to show some differences between Matthew and Luke that are interesting from the perspective of the hypothesis that Luke did know and engage with Matthew. I am not presenting the points as a slam dunk case by any means.

  8. Luke 8:50 “Don’t be afraid. Only believe, and she will be healed.”
    Mark 5:36 “Don’t be afraid, only believe.”

    Matthew 24:20 “not to flee on the sabbath day”
    Matthew added that to Mark. Luke is agreeing with Mark against Matthew here.

    In Matthew 19:17 vs. Luke 18:20.
    Luke is agreeing with Mark here also.

    But it has been noted that the topics of the Sermon on the Mount are similar to topics in the Epistle of James, as well as other words of Jesus. James 2:8-10 seems to be saying that Galatians 5:14 is a good start but no good enough, then starts refuting Galatians beginning with where Abraham is used as an example of faith by giving examples of works.

    Luke seems to be rejecting the influence of James on Matthew.

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