Of Desires for Other Things, and the Pleasures of Life
In modern New Testament studies, it is commonly assumed that the Gospel of Mark was written first. Matthew and Luke, according to this view, depended largely on Mark for the general order of events, and used much of Mark's material in their own writing. There are events recorded in Matthew and Luke however that are not found in Mark. The places in which Matthew and Luke agree are primarily in sayings of Jesus. It is assumed in those cases that Matthew and Luke both depended on a separate source of material that is no longer extant. This source is commonly called Q, from the German word Quellen, meaning "source." The reader can find more extensive treatments of this view in Donald Guthrie's New Testament Introduction (InterVarsity Press, 1970), pp. 143-157, as well as in An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris (Zondervan, 1992), especially pp. 34-36.
The differences among the gospels, particularly when they are recording the same events, can be a fruitful place to look for possible Aramaic background information or sources. One example of this is in the case of the parable of the sower (also known as the parable of the soils), as it is recorded in all three of the Synoptic gospels. The material regarding the seed that fell among the thorns offers some interesting differences. Mark 4:19, presumed to the earliest, says, "but the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word." Matthew 13:22 says, "but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word." Luke 8:14 says, "they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life."
All three gospels mention cares and riches, though Matthew and Mark are wordier than Luke. Mark and Luke have three terms, rather than the two that Matthew has, but they differ somewhat in the details of the third term. Mark has "the desires for other things" while Luke has "pleasures of life." There are a number of possibilities to explain these differences. First, the reader must recognize that in any case the gospel writers are presenting only a summary of Jesus' teaching on that occasion. It is clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus spent hours speaking to the crowds and instructing them. Thus, the gospel writers have preserved for us the meat of those messages. This fact in itself could explain the differences in wording among the gospel writers, as each sought to express the essence of Jesus' statements. In light of the common view the Matthew and Luke depended upon Mark, it is curious that neither Matthew nor Luke exactly replicates the words of Mark.
Carmignac, whose work we recently reviewed, suggests (p. 36) that the differences represent an original Hebrew text (an Aramaic text on this point would be identical). The original, in Carmignac's view read sheer (flesh), which the translator of Mark has read as shear (rest, or remainder). Thus, the original would have read (in Mark) "the desires of the flesh." While interesting, this does not explain either the Matthew text, which omits the phrase entirely, or the Luke text which says "the pleasures of life." Furthermore, bios (life) which Luke uses, is never used in the Septuagint to translate any word for "flesh." While it remains an intriguing proposal, just a bit of study shows it to be unlikely in the extreme. It does not explain how the translator of Mark managed to get it wrong, nor does it explain why neither Matthew nor Luke offer anything close.
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic). He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005. Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.
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