A Few Notes on Matthew and Luke from My Students

Categories: Biblical Studies, New Testament
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My historical Jesus course just finished going through the four canonical gospels in sequence (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John). I thought a couple of my students’ observations on Luke (and its relationship to the other Synoptics) were especially noteworthy.

First, as one of the (admittedly weaker) arguments in favor of the existence of Q is that Luke surely would not have broken up such a masterpiece as Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, I thought my students’ observation that Luke’s Jesus seemed much more of a “teacher” than Matthew’s was quite interesting. I was pretty surprised by this feedback, as Matthew’s Jesus is constantly teaching (like in the Sermon on the Mount), but upon expressing my surprise, my students explained that though Matthew’s Jesus indeed taught quite a bit, Luke’s Jesus was simply easier to receive from. That is, because the sayings were more contextualized in Luke, it seemed as though Jesus really meant for people to do the things he was saying, meant for people to change their lives in accordance with what he said, whereas in Matthew, it seemed as though he was simply setting expectations.

Granted, these are 21st Century American (mainly) college students, but I found it interesting (and refreshing) to hear their perspective—Matthew’s grand speeches simply did not have the “clout” that Luke’s contextualized sayings did in terms of how these students read things. If nothing else, it shows that Luke may have had some reason to have broken up such a literary masterpiece as the Sermon on the Mount—as this different audience showed, perhaps Matthew’s style of presentation simply didn’t work for what Luke wanted to present.

The students also expressed appreciation that Luke seemed to “fill in gaps” where Mark and Matthew had left things open—like why the disciples would be willing to leave everything immediately at Jesus’ word. (The degree to which John seems to do the same thing, in some cases assuming knowledge of Synoptic stories, is what persuades me that John knew at least one Synoptic Gospel.)

At any rate, it’s always fun going through this material with new eyes, if for no other reason than that they remind me of things I have either forgotten or haven’t seen myself.

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