When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel? A Test Case: The Lucan Parables -- By: Craig L. Blomberg

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 46:1 (Spring 1984)
Article: When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel? A Test Case: The Lucan Parables
Author: Craig L. Blomberg

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 synopses stand, at least certain sets of parallels present fairly blatant contradictions between Gospels which call into question the trustworthiness 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 5–7 vs. Luke 6:17–49), of his commissioning of the twelve (Matthew 10 vs. Luke 9:1–6), and of pairs of parables like the pounds and talents (Matt 25:14–30 vs. Luke 19:11–27), the wedding feast and great supper (Matt 22:1–14 vs. Luke 14:15–24), and the two versions of the lost sheep (Matt 18:12–14 vs. Luke 15:4–7).

This problem of parallels has elicited a variety of responses. Most scholars accept the synopses as printed and harbor no reservations 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

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.

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