Interpreting the Beatitudes in Luke 6

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Third Sunday before Lent in Year C is Luke 6.17–26, this gospel’s version of the Beatitudes. One of the most obvious questions arising from the reading is how they relate to the Beatitudes as recorded in Matt 5.1–12. This might seem like a distraction to preaching on the passage itself, but I think there are three reasons why we need to take this seriously.

First, people in our congregations notice these things! Whenever I offer a session on ‘Bible questions’, inviting people to ask any question that they like and which perhaps they have not had the chance to ask before, I am always amazed by the range of great questions that are asked—which are clearly not answered even in churches which prioritise ‘Bible teaching’. People notice the differences when they read the gospels!

Secondly, engaging with the question of the relationship between the two does affect our reading of each. We do need to take seriously each text in its own right—otherwise, why bother with reading four gospels rather than just consolidating them into one harmonised version? But the reaction against a harmonised gospel can be an unhealthy separation into reading the four accounts as if they had nothing to do with each other. In this case, I have come across readings of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes as if they were all about social transformation, and had nothing to do with the question of discipleship which are prominent in Matthew’s version.

This leads into the third issue—that some readings of the gospels treat them as if there were four different Jesuses (from which we choose our favourite), rather than four different accounts of the one Jesus, with his teaching drawn out and applied with different emphases and in different contexts. This is, of course, where we touch on some foundational questions of NT scholarship, and whether or not the gospels reliably connect with the teaching of the historical Jesus or not—questions which emerge as we consider the Beatitudes themselves.

Before going any further, let’s look at the differences between the two texts.

Blessings in MatthewBlessings in LukeWoes in Luke
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them. He said:He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, … power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.*Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.*
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.


There are several things in the introductory section worth noting. The most obvious is that in Matthew, this begins the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, whereas in Luke many Bible subheadings (which are addition of the translator, note, and not authoritative parts of the text!) describe this as the ‘Sermon on the Plain’. In fact, neither is strictly accurate. In Matthew, though the phrase εἰς τὸ ὄρος (eis to oros) is singular, Dick France argues that it natural meaning should be taken as ‘into the hill country’, that is, the hills of Galilee to the north of the lake. But of course the singular phrase suits Matthew because it suggests a parallel with Moses who went ‘up on the mountainside’. In Luke, the ‘level place’ is still in the hills of Galilee—and in fact the traditional site of the sermon, marked by the Church of the Beatitudes, is on a level place in amongst the hills affording a panoramic view over Lake Galilee.

Within the Beatitudes themselves, there are at least four notable differences. The most obvious is the number: whilst Matthew gives us eight, the first four appearing to focus on the subject’s situation and the second four focussed on the subject’s character, Luke gives us only four. They only partly correspond to Matthew’s, in that the fourth actually follows the pattern of Jesus’ concluding comment in Matthew, which then flows into the next section of the ‘sermon’, and the order is changed so that ‘hunger’ comes earlier, and ‘weeping’ later (hence I have marked it with an asterisk*).

The second thing to note is that, whilst Matthew’s are couched in the third person (‘Blessed are those…’), which gives them a sense of sayings with a wider relevance, Luke’s are in the second person (‘Blessed are you…’) which suggests a more direct focus on the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking.

But the third key difference, Luke’s inclusion of the ‘woes’, has a compensating effect, in that it is most natural to read the blessings as directed towards Jesus’ followers and the woes directed to those who do not take up the costly call of discipleship. This draws our attention to something that both have in common: the introduction in both cases makes it clear that Jesus’ teaching here is, in the first instance, directed towards his disciples, who are distinguished from the crowds in both narratives, and only (as it were) hear the teaching as eavesdroppers.

In previous discussion of this passage, Alastair Roberts draw my attention to the proposal that the woes in Matthew 23 correlate with the Beatitudes in Matt 5:

The first woe of Matthew 23 (v. 13) condemns the Pharisees because they “shut off the kingdom of heaven from men.” This agrees with the first beatitude, which blesses the poor in spirit, “for their is the kingdom of heaven.”

The second (and textually disputed) woe of Matthew 23 (v. 14) condemns the Pharisees because they “devour widows’ houses.” This agrees with the second beatitude, which blesses “those who mourn.”

The third woe of Matthew 23 (v. 15) condemns the Pharisees because they “travel about on sea and land to make one convert,” but then “make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves.” This agrees with the third beatitude, which blesses the meek, “for they shall inherit the earth.”

The fourth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 16-22) condemns the Pharisees for their unrighteousness. They make the Temple and the Altar of less importance than the gold of the Temple and the sacrifice on the Altar. This seems to go with the fourth beatitude, which blesses “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The fifth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 23-24) condemns the Pharisees for ignoring “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” This agrees with the fifth beatitude, which blesses “those who are merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

The sixth woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 25-26) condemns the Pharisees for being concerned with externals more than with the heart. They “clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” This agrees with the sixth beatitude, which blesses “the pure in heart.”

The seventh woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 27-28) condemns the Pharisees because, though they look honorable to men, inside they are dead, and “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” This seems to agree with the seventh beatitude, which blesses peacemakers as “sons of God.”

Finally, the eighth and climactic woe of Matthew 23 (vv. 29-36) condemns the Pharisees because they persecuted and killed the prophets. This agrees with the eighth beatitude, which blesses “those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” and which goes on to bless those who are reviled, persecuted, and lied about for the sake of the Kingdom.

Alastair then comments:

My suspicion is that the correspondence serves as a framing device for Jesus’ public teaching ministry in Matthew. The ministry begins with the Beatitudes and ends with the Woes. Following the Woes, Jesus gives the Olivet Discourse to his disciples, which seals their result. It also presents Jesus’ ministry as a window of blessing that is opened up, before finally being closed in the woes as that window is rejected.

It also has the effect of concretizing the woes. Rather than referring to a generic judgment, it refers to the very particular judgment that is falling upon Jerusalem on account of its corrupt leaders.

I believe you are correct to suggest that Jesus delivered similar material on various occasions with variations. I think that Matthew arranged the material very intentionally for the purposes of the message of his gospel.

I think this observation reminds us that the gospel writers did organise the teaching of Jesus for their particular purposes—but if read the Beatitudes and Woes in Matthew together, then this makes the text in Luke much less far away from Matthew than we might otherwise have thought.

(We ought also to note a couple of distinctively Lukan emphases—that Jesus was ministering with ‘power’ that was coming from him, and the developed emphasis on joy in the fourth blessing, in which we should not just ‘rejoice and be glad’ but also ‘leap for joy’ when we are hated for our faithfulness.)

Noticing these differences, how might we account for them? The most common view in NT scholarship is that the two accounts stem from a common source, known as Q (from the German Quelle meaning ‘source’) which was a written document, composed largely of sayings of Jesus, and is hypothetically reconstructed from the material and Matthew and Luke have in common which is not found in Mark. Within this view, it is thought that Luke is more faithful to the Q version, which goes back reliably to the teaching of Jesus, since its form is simpler, and the elaborations (poor in spirit…and so on) are Matthew’s revisions and additions. Mark Goodacre tackles this ‘consensus’ view head on in chapter 7 of his book The Case Against Q and points out that:

  • Luke has a clear sense of concern for the poor, and uses this language frequently in his gospel
  • The inclusion of the woes along with the blessings fits well with the theme of reversal which we have already encountered in the Magnificat, and which is expressed most clearly in the story unique to Luke of the rich man and Lazarus (in Luke 16.19–31)
  • Luke is clear that discipleship has economic consequences; the ‘poor’ here are not the poor in general, but the poor disciples, who have (we read last week) ‘left everything’ to follow him.
  • The language in Matthew, when read in context, is not really ‘spiritualising’ language, in that Matthew’s focus on ‘righteousness’ is very practical.
  • There is evidence from the parallel saying in the Gospel of Thomas against ‘the poor’ being the most primitive version.

In other words, the differences here offer no evidence of one version being closer to Jesus’ teaching, whilst the other is an elaboration that takes us away from the original. This leaves us with two important things to consider—the context of Jesus, and the context of the gospel writer.

In relation to the context of Jesus, I am always surprised when the possibility is not more often entertained that Jesus taught on a subject more than once, and that he might have adapted his teaching and varied it depending on the situation and the audience. This is a possibility worth considering simply based on the amount of material that we have in the gospels (which, after all, only takes a few hours to read) compared with the length of Jesus’ ministry. This view is expressed as far back as Plummer’s 1896 ICC commentary on Luke (p 177):

We know beyond all question that some of our Lord’s words were uttered several times, and there is nothing antecedently improbable in the hypothesis that the words in this discourse…were delivered in one or other of these forms more than once.

Howard Marshall makes a similar observation in passing, and Dick France, in his NIC on Matthew, notes (p 163):

The cumulative effect of these observations is to cast serious doubt on the common assumption that there was a single original set of Beatitudes which either Matthew has ‘spiritualised’ or Luke has ‘radicalised’. Jesus may well have used the familiar beatitude form on various locations in the course of his teaching…

France goes on to note that Matthew’s inclusion of ‘you’-form beatitudes immediately following ‘they’-form beatitudes (the very thing which allows Luke’s version naturally to include his fourth saying) is evidence of the commonness of this form of saying.

One intriguing article I came across recently even suggests that the detailed economic differences between neighbouring regions might account for the differences, and the economic situation of Jesus’ audience is in fact highlight by the gospel writers:

In Luke 6.17, we see that Jesus’ message was given in a context which centered on the capital region of Judea and its capital city, Jerusalem. There were people from Tyre and Sidon as well, which were major financial centers and which had some close financial ties with Jerusalem. For example, Tyre minted the Temple Shekel for the Herodians (which we will see was important tool of economic extraction from the people centering in its use in the temple system).

An interesting study by Gary Meadors in Grace Journal adds an important element of OT context as we think about the language of the ‘poor’:

The identification of the poor in Luke 6:20 has been disputed. Some have seen them as the economically impoverished. However, it must be noted that Jesus was specifically addressing his disciples when he uttered the beatitude of the poor. Furthermore, Luke (6:20-26) stands in the literary tradition of an eschatological reversal motif found in Psalm 37, Isaiah 61, and in certain Qumran materials. A comparison of Luke 6:20-26 with these materials indicates a connection between πτωχοί in Luke 6:20 and the Hebrew term עֲנָוִ֗ים which had become metaphorical for the pious. This connection is supported by the fact that Matthew records the same logion of Jesus as πτωχοί, thus the term “poor” in Luke 6:20 is used in reference to the pious.

Now, there is a real danger that we end up ‘spiritualising’ the language of ‘the poor’, thinking it is ‘merely’ a metaphor—where Jesus’ teaching in Luke (and Matthew) hold the two things together strongly. But we can see that Matthew and Luke are drawing out the complementary elements of a single OT idea that has shaped Jesus’ message here. Part of their concern is to relate Jesus’ message to the possible different audiences for the two gospels:

Whereas Matthew identifies with Jewish thought, the Lukan beatitudes identify humanity as the poor and the rich. Dieter Betz concludes that this division in Luke reflects the divisions typically made by Hellenistic moralists, Gentiles typically considered to be Luke’s audience. The law, rightousness and piety found in the Matthean text is all but absent from Luke and the Jewish background so distinctive of Matthew is less obvious. In fact, Luke neither links nor even mentions the Mosaic law within the text. The main theme running through the Gospel of Luke is the universality of Jesus. Although His mission is first to the Jews, Lukan theology includes Jesus’ concern for the Gentiles and social outcasts, such as immoral women, tax collectors, Samaritans and the poor. It is especially clear from the Gospel of Luke that the author has a special concern for the economic poor of his world and much of the content of the beatitudes and the Gospel at large reflects this.

Put together, what does this mean for our preaching? First, that we need to take each of the texts seriously, noting their distinctive emphases. Second, that this need not lead us into treating them in silos, as if they were unconnected with one another. But third, it is plausible that Jesus adapted his teaching (which he gave more than once) in different contexts—and that it is clear that gospel writers are drawing out the implications of Jesus’ teaching for the contexts they are concerned with.

The question then is, given that there is a clear connection between our following of Jesus as his disciples, and the realities of everyday life, including its economic consequences—how is that going to work out in our context?

Here is the weekly conversation between James Blandford-Baker and myself as we explore all these issues and their application for preaching and living:

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28 thoughts on “Interpreting the Beatitudes in Luke 6”

  1. Big thanks lively discussion. Esp helpful for me was the recognition it’s difficult to be a Christian when you are comfortable – all sorts of things there about balancing ‘provide for your family’ and ‘if you have the world’s goods and know that other(s) haven’t, change that balance.’ The other thing was, makarios = ‘realise how fortunate you are and be glad about that’

  2. The material here is comprehensive, so do forgive me if I am guilty of repetition. Some of the beatitudes (hereafter “B”) are of an eschatological nature. For example in Matthew’s account, B2 to B7 incorporate the *future tense* of the verb “to be”, whereas the kingdom of heaven(B1) is viewed as a present reality. The same applies to the penultimate (B8) also about the Kingdom of Heaven. Likewise B9 in in the present tense (until the final statement perhaps which has a future reference). Nevertheless, especially in the present period of history, it is significant that the final two B’s (8 and 9) major on suffering and persecution.
    Finally, when much contemporary preaching has a tendency to herald “instantaneous blessing” it would be good to remember, on the one hand those are continually suffering for Christ (including those whose *instantaneous blessing* has been to “die” for Christ) and on the other hand that for all of us, our “sealing with — the Holy Spirit” is the *arrabon* not only the pledge, but the *foretaste* of our *eschatological blessing* [Ephesians 1:13 &14].

  3. Thanks for all the material on this blog – it is a real blessing! Do you think that Jesus/Luke are structuring this section on Deuteronomy 28, where God’s people are also presented with a list of blessings followed by corresponding curses?

    • Thanks! I think that is a possibility, and some commentators suggest that. There do not seem to me to be any obvious connections with that text (can you see any?) but I would simply see a connection with the general spiritual principle, that we can respond to the call of God and be ‘blessed’ or turn from it and face woe.

      It is worth noting, though, how radical Jesus’ beatitudes are, seeing those as ‘blessed’ that we would not expect.

      • I don’t know whether commentators pick up on the possible Deut 28 sequence rationale for Luke’s very particular selection of sermon sayings:

        (1) Luke has 4 blessings then 4 woes, curtailed in length, and quite unlike Matthew’s arrangement. // Deut 28.1-19 has 4 + summary = 5 blessings, 4 + summary = 5 curses, likewise positioned at the start of the section.

        (2) ‘Your enemies’ twice in Deut 28.25 // Luke has ‘love your enemies’ (6.27,35), again twice. He inverts the OT like Mt 5.43ff. did.

        (3) Lest you be judged (Luke 6.37) is the theme of the whole section Deut 28.15-68. Luke reproduces the 6 ideas/clauses (judge not, condemn not, forgive, give, abundance, proportional measure) in 7.37-50.

        (4) Deut 28.28-9’s parallel to the blind leading the blind (Luke 6.39) is ‘The Lord will strike you with…blindness…You will grope around…like a blind person groping in the darkness, [unsuccessfully].’.
        -To this saying of overweening pride Luke gathers his 2 other Matt sayings of overweening pride (disciple above teacher?! & speck/log).

        (5) Bad fruit: Deut 28.38-42 // Luke 6.43-5.

        (6) Obey; hear my words and do them (Luke 6.46-9) // Deut 28.1,9,13-14-15,58.

        This is similarly wrought to the sequences of themes we find in Luke 9.51-18.14 // Deut 1-26.

  4. Thank you for a very nice and clarifying piece.

    Any thoughts on which of Matthew and Luke were written first? It seems clear that, during his ministry, Jesus will have proclaimed the same thing in different ways to different audiences. Matthew and Luke both made a selection – and I can’t believe that the two authors were ignorant of what the other was doing and why.

    Matthew seems to have a progression, which looks like the progression towards salvation; firstly, acknowledging my poverty of spirit; secondly, mourning (not only my poverty of spirit – but that this is generally the case); leading to meekness, then true hunger and thirsting for righteousness, merciful – and then second last – stepping out and becoming a `peacemaker’ and finally, when you declare your own faith, suffering persecution on His account.

    I think that Luke can be seen in a similar way, but it isn’t so clear.

    • (It is certain that Matthew precedes Luke; the reason it is certain is the copious Elijah and Deuteronomy material in Matthew-Luke parallels in the ‘central section’ 9.51-18.14, every scintilla of which is absent from Matthew. There are 50 or so sequential echoes of Deuteronomy among which quite a number of acknowledgements of the central Elijah story are interspersed. Whereas Luke could easily have tweaked his text in this direction as part of a systematic plan, Matthew (a) could not have removed it all so completely without the seams showing (removing units is one thing, removing one discrete stratum from all the relevant units is far more complex); (b) would have had no motive to (aversion to the OT is not his thing at all). Essentially Luke’s text looks like a combination of Matthew’s text with a Deut/Elijah tweaking. The combination is complex, whereas Matthew is more simple in these passages. An evolution from complex to simple is vanishingly unlikely already, but it is fully unlikely when we consider that the simplicity would have been attained by the removal of precisely what had made Luke’s text complex, a return to the pristine. The pristine by its very nature will be a starting point and the complex will be a development of it. Related is how Matthew can be coherent in the flow of his story and Luke less so (the parable of the talents / mnai). For Matthew to have extracted such an uncomplicated story from Luke’s complexities here (gold from its ore) would be quite a labour, yet he writes effortlessly.

      Despite this, ‘Matthean posteriority’ (Matthew’s use of Luke) is, ironically, the fastest growing option in ordering the gospels. I have not seen the above point addresed.

      • Christopher – well, on the one hand that makes some sort of sense, but on the other hand, even if Matthew came after Luke, I don’t see him taking someone else’s text and redacting it downwards. The gospel authors may well have asked Peter – and got the same answer as Mark did, which could explain intersections that seem to use remarkably similar language.

        There is the obvious point that Matthew’s gospel is placed first – and surely this was done for a reason – most likely chronological.

        Also – with reference to the beatitudes – stating `poor in spirit’ is exactly what one might expect Jesus to be saying; one would expect the emphasis to be on the spiritual state of a person. It was Luke who was introducing a new idea when he said, `Blessed are you who are poor’, completely omitting any reference to the spiritual state and giving it the new angle, that poverty in and of itself could be understood as a sign of a blessing. So this also suggests (at least to me) that Matthew predates Luke.

        • Exactly. Matthew predates Luke, as I said. And redaction ‘downwards’ (if you mean by that the reverse/negative/omission type of redaction) is unlikely to happen and even unlikelier to leave no trace.

          The language is not just remarkably similar but too-too similar not to be explained by the hypothesis that Mark is the source of the others. No verbatim agreement this close and this regularly close is to be found in the whole of Classical literature, I believe. So is there is no use of sources here, there is no use of sources anywhere. Even in an age without copyright.

          One can’t say ‘may well have asked Peter’ unless either (a) the others were unaware of and therefore unable to use Mark – highly unlikely (and anyway Peter would have promptly enlightened them about Mark) or (b) one has already ascertained that the likeliest date of Matt and Luke is in Peter’s lifetime, which has not been already ascertained.

          • Christopher – well I (a complete non-specialist) get the impression that the gospels *were* all written – or at least well under way – during Peter’s lifetime. I don’t see any reason why they should not have been.

            I have seen some unconvincing arguments as to why some additional marvellous insights, unavailable during Peter’s lifetime, are alluded to in the gospels (e.g. some commentator on John’s gospel, exchanging the truth for a lie, suggesting that getting `put out of the temple’ was an anachronism – they say that this didn’t happen during the lifetime of Jesus and putting Christians out of the temple was something that only arose later. This is, of course, utter garbage, since such a commentator is basically saying that the story, as recounted in the gospel, didn’t actually happen, but all the `evidence’ pointing to later authorship of the gospels seems to be like that).

            I’m inclined to accept the basic idea that the gospels, as handed down to us, appear in the order in which they were first published, but it makes an awful lot more sense to me if the writing was basically simultaneous, the authors knew each other and discussed things with each other. Matthew may have had the manuscript of a proto-Mark; Mark’s gospel may have appeared to the general public after Matthew’s.

            Luke may well have appeared slightly later – and he may well have tried to `fill in the gaps’ of Matthew. As I indicated before, I find it very telling with the beatitudes that Matthew presents exactly what you would expect, `poor in spirit’; everybody expects Christianity to deal with the spiritual state of a person – and the first century AD was no different. Luke comes in with new idea that being poor in-and-of-itself may be a blessing.

            Also, everything you indicated about Elijah and the references to Deuteronomy support the idea that Luke was aware of what Matthew was doing and saw that one of his roles was to fill in the gaps.

            I see nothing in any of the gospels to suggest that the Matthew, Mark and Luke couldn’t have all been written within the lifetime of Peter – and only the slightest suggestion (at the end of John’s gospel) that Peter was executed and the final chapter was written after this event.

          • If one asks the question ‘why not theory X?’ as you do here, then that is not a neutral question but has an inbuilt bias towards focusing on X rather than Y, Z etc.. That leads onto the further questions of (a) why, (b) does not that inhibit one from weighing and ranking the options, which by proper process need first to be considered well before any tentative conclusion.

            Scholarship is about the comprehensive panorama, so the matter in hand is to view the total text and rank likely dates. That means that one does not begin with any date in mind.

            There is an even better way than ranking dates that a single text suggests: find how the web of different texts relate to each other sequentially and that will narrow down the options even further.

            Though all of us are not at all specialists on most things, the good thing is that there are people who are, so any discussion begins with seeing what they have written or said (not their conclusions but their isolation of factors and their arguments).

            When you say ‘later’ that could be in danger of saying that there are 2 options: earlier and later. This sounds suspiciously tribal, and (at all events) is certainly not the case. Neither ‘early’ nor ‘late’ is a date at all. Dates are things like 52, 69, 73 AD.

          • Christopher – briefly, it isn’t clear to me that your method is a good one.

            With reference to my post, the point of reference was the death of Peter, so `later’ meant after that and `earlier’ meant before that. Of course, I don’t know when Peter died, so I cannot place this as 52, 69 or 73 AD.

            But, in general, `why not theory X’? is always the way that things start – at least for a mathematician. One starts with `what is true here? Could X be true? A priori it seems reasonable, so let’s try to prove it.’ When things start to go horribly wrong with the proof, the mathematician has to decide if his failure to prove X is because X isn’t true or is it simply that his box of techniques for proving X isn’t large enough. Do the failures point to some alternative being true – and if so, is it possible to come up with a proof of this modified conjecture.

            This also applies to biblical studies. I don’t know how Richard Baukham came up with his theory about the identity of the beloved disciple, but I imagine that he had a brainwave (let’s call it theory X) about the identity of the beloved disciple and then he worked with the question `why not theory X?’ He looked at the aspects of John’s gospel which substantiated theory X – and then, after some work, decided that the material in John’s gospel substantiated theory X more than either theories Y or Z – and then wrote his book and published it.

            For me, the theory that the gospel authors (at least for Matthew, Mark and Luke) knew each other and spoke to each other and that all three of them were written (or at least substantially underway) before the death of Peter makes a lot of sense and seems more convincing to me than the other theories that I have seen.

          • Para by para of your answer:

            ‘Later’: yes, I would leave it at that, except that the relevance of Peter in particular is not at all clear so why fasten on Peter, let alone to the exclusion of other factors? Peter is highly relevant to Mark and also to John. But how relevant to Matthew and Luke? And why not John more than Peter? He lived longer. There is in addition the point that gospels are especially needed from the moment the main eyewitnesses first die. But all that pales into insignificance beside positive internal evidence for particular dates, especially within a web of writings.

            The hypothetical method: The hypothetical method in its purest form has something circular about it (if you test only one hypothesis then your mentality will become fixed in that direction i.e. biased). People will only test a particular hypothesis if it *already* seems to be good at matching the data – and that factor is what makes it so much less circular. But how could people know that it seems to be good at matching the data unless it has first risen to the top in a synoptic assessment of competing hypotheses?

            Bauckham and the Beloved Disciple. Not a new theory of identity, as you seemed to imply. With the extremely important exception of Acts 4.6, perhaps. Bauckham’s work is magnificent as he teases away at the different snippets of data and their relationship to one another, to advance such a coherent argument. Different strands converging, which is exactly what one looks for in a good theory. Although I go with Hengel and think the BD is John the Apostle, and gave a conference paper on this 23 years ago, I agree with almost all other aspects of Bauckham’s theory.

            Your final para begins ‘for me’, which is not a good basis. Superiority to other theories -again , on that we simply must consult first those who are familiar with the range of theories and what evidence supports them.

          • Christopher – something odd here. If the final paragraph started, `For Bauckham, the theory that the BD was John bar Zebedee didn’t add up and he thought that a different John looked more convincing’ or `For Christopher, the theory that the BD was John bar Zebedee’ – both of these are correct statements, both have a reasonable basis; both Richard Bauckham and Christopher Shell have thought about the issues and reached their own conclusions; they have both reached different conclusions – and these conclusions have a subjective component.

            (They clearly have a subjective component – they are not universally accepted).

            It doesn’t matter at all which of the theories of the authorship of John’s gospel Richard Bauckham had, or had not encountered previously; he had an idea of the one that made most sense (i.e. made most sense to him – and there was a subjective component – there always is) – and he pursued it.

            Of course, we acknowledge that he pursued the idea in a professional and scholarly way and we understand that he would have quite willingly given it up for a different idea if the evidence hadn’t fitted the theory, but for him it did (and for you, following the same investigative approach, it didn’t).

            I get the impression that you are trying to dump completely the subjective component – which (unfortunately) seems to be unavoidable.

            The best we can do is to acknowledge that there always is a subjective component and define it in an `up front’ manner.

          • There is a bit of confusion here, as I have exactly the same theory of ‘authorship’ as Prof Bauckham (whose I first read in 1992-3), and almost always have had, with the exception of Acts 4.6 which I thought a brilliant insight.

            I just have a different conclusion on who the Beloved Disciple is, and here I am close to Hengel. Hengel thinks the Elder created as large an overlap between himself and the Apostle as he reasonably could. Making it less of an either/or matter in the first place. One of the few times when the less economical theory has more in its favour.

            You say it does not matter what theories a scholar had or had not encountered previously. In fact they would be raked over the coals if they failed to acknowledge or show awareness of (what had been over the years) the major options. It is from that context that this particular theory leaps out as superior, as meeting the criteria better *by* *comparison*. It is not possible to hold theories before seeing whether they hold up better than their competitors.

            Subjective component – it is better described as weighing the evidence differently, there being no possibility of a precise calculus for how to weight different types and degrees of evidence comparatively. Subjective would suggest personal bias which is the antithesis of scholarship.

          • Christopher – well, perhaps there may be a better term than `subjective component’, but it is there, whatever term you use to describe it.

            For example, with John 9:22, there seems to have been a strand of Johannine scholarship which thought it a light thing to say `oh there is no evidence of Christians being put out of the synagogue during the lifetime of Jesus, the first evidence of this happening is AD xx (can’t remember exactly) therefore this passage must have been written after this time.’

            The people who take this view do not seem to think that such a conclusion would mean that the passage was in some way completely misleading (since to normal people such a passage would communicate that the parents of the man who had been healed were indeed worried about being put out of the synagogue – and that they were worried about this during the lifetime of Jesus, shortly after Jesus had healed their son).

            For such people, they can read it in such a way that there is no contradiction.

            For me, there *is* a contradiction and either the passage means what it says (namely that there existed two people, parents of a man who had just been healed, who were worried about being put out of the synagogue at that time), or else we can’t really trust Scripture on anything.

            This is, in some sense, subjective: for me, either the author has recounted an event that took place in the way that the text says, or else none of it can be taken seriously – while the people who take such a view of John 9:22 do not see the stark contradiction that I see.

            I don’t see this as bias; some peoples brains work differently from other peoples brains when presented with the evidence. That is why juries quite often fail to reach a unanimous verdict and why a person is sometimes convicted on a 10 – 2 verdict, when all jurors are seriously thinking through the evidence that has been presented and trying to reach a correct decision.

            There is a subjective component here whether we like it or not – and it’s best to acknowledge this, be upfront about it and try to quantify it as best as possible. This isn’t necessarily bad scholarship.

          • But why are you preferring ‘subjective’ – which leaves the door open for all kinds of wishful-thinking dishonesty – to ‘comparative different weighting of evidence’? – which doesn’t?

            The being put out of the synagogue is not at one date. There are instances in Acts. Then there is the birkat ha-minim taking effect c80 (Samuel the Small). No reason to think the latter (which is what you’re referring to) is of greater import to the actual author than the former. But if we take this with other factors (a certain distance since Peter’s death; being after Mark but before Matthew) then the coincidence of dates c80-85 might impress us. We need a time in history when that was the only or major recent development for Christians of his circle; it is emphasised a lot whereas other recent developments seem not to be. So it really does stand out as a factor in identifying his immediate context.

      • Thanks for that really helpful analysis Christopher. I find Matthean posteriority difficult too. The big question then is “why has Luke used Matthew in this way?” You will gather I am a Q sceptic! By the way, thanks for your paper on dating the NT you presented at Tyndale those few years ago!

        • Hi Terry, researching for the dating was certainly exhilarating. I love dating as a topic as it is the foundation for so much else.

          On ‘Why did Luke use Matthew this way?’, the evangelists have OT templates and these force their hands. James Bejon wrote on the birth narratives earlier explaining their large difference by Matthew focusing on Moses etc and Luke on Samuel. That is precisely right, as I have frequently argued – OT templates are the chief key to answering ‘What are the evangelists up to?’. Luke (a) reorders and (b) edits/alters Matthew in line with his templates.

          In general this *one* thing explains such a high proportion of the main ways in which the gospels are *different* from one another.

  5. All the blessings are found in Christ, in coming to him: Luke 6 :17 -19 and more pointedly 6: 20-23 who are his.
    This contrasts with those who don’t and aren’t, though in the eyes of the world live in prosperous ease, are filled and flourishing, living in woeful, maybe willful ignorance and folly. Luke 6: 24 -26
    (See Luke 6: 46 -49 for continuation of the wisdom/folly theme and the consequent (terminal?) woe.)

  6. Christopher – I dont understand your statement that you agree with Bauckham’s theory of authorship of John’s Gospel, but you reject his conclusion that John the Elder is the author, rather than the apostle John. Or am I misunderstanding?


    • Yes, you’re misunderstanding. I agree with that theory of authorship but reject his theory that John the Elder is the Beloved Disciple, rather than the Apostle John (at least primarily, though on one occasion in ch20 Hengel’s suggestion of a merger is supported, and the same suggestion is secondly supported through the pattern formed by the enumeration of the various disciples’ total numbers of appearances).

      • But Bauckham believes John the Elder was the BD and therefore the author of John’s Gospel, per the ending of John.

        Does not the ending of John imply that the BD is the author?

        • It would if John were less subtle; but the trouble with this is that there are so many facets to the question that it would take a 50 page pamphlet to answer. You should have been at the talk lol.

          Both Rev and John have an inclusio of something that appears at the very start and the very finish. But nowhere else. For Rev this is a third-party-speech inclusio. For John it is a ‘we’ inclusio and also at the end portion of this there is third-party speech. Both books are presented as emanating from the Apostle but also the presentation makes it clear that the Elder and Apostle are closely identified. The single entity produced by their close identification is probably exactly what ‘we’ means. The reason for the close identification in the first place may be at least partly to prolong the possibility of an actual disciple (and one named John to boot) being present ’till I come’, which was what had been expected to happen. The Rev.1 coming of the Son of Man to John allows a partial fulfilment even of this, supposing that the idea had been that he would be alive when the Son of Man came. At that point he falls down to all intents and purposes dead, and if he were not dead he would not so much need the reassurance there and that Jesus has the keys to Death and Hades. Nor is he ever said to return from heaven. But in Rev all this is in the context of the main characters each having a fourfold identity in the divine manner. That means that because God has a fourfold identity John considers himself perfectly justified in making John have one as well. (The four identities are John the Apostle, John the Elder/prophet/author, the interlocutor Elder, and [as we ascertain from the sequence of revealers in the 7 Sabbath sections being the same as the 7 links in the chain of witness] the 144000 among whom John the Elder, likely a celibate, numbers himself.) As I said, a 50 page booklet would be needed, because it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that just because I have provided only a brief precis it does not mean that the more detailed thinking is absent.

          The way that testimonies are known to be true is by the witness of 2. This is a recurrent biblical and Johannine theme. For example: His testimony is true and he knows he tells the truth (ch19).

          21.24 means: this (singular) is *the* witness and *the* author. The article is used twice. This ‘never’ comes over in English translations.

          • When I said that both books are presented as emanating from the Apostle, understand that the intro and coda in each case are presented as emanating from the Elder. Because the whole written works actually emanate from the Elder, there are various giveaways of that in the course of the writings. And the distinctive style of the start and end bits is identical to the style of the body of the work. Whether the Elder envisaged the Apostle as ‘one who bears witness in heaven’ or deferred to him in all things or owed him everything or needed to piggyback on his authority (though he had enough first-hand credentials of his own) is another question.

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