"God's Christian Warriors" With Scriptural Proofs
The Parable of the Sower: Analysis
This particular parable is found in the Gospels of Thomas(9), Mark(4:1-9), Matthew (13:1-9) and Luke (8:4-8). The parable of the Sower exists, in its earliest form, in the gospel of Thomas (as I will show). Mark seems to have taken the parable from Thomas and fit it into his narrative. I am going to show that, in all probability, Mark copied this parable from the Gospel of Thomas and Matthew and Luke both seemed to have copied it from Mark, independently. All of this information is revealed in the differences existing between the books, of this parable.
Before going on, a word on the parable itself. The parable of the Sower relates to an agricultural practice of
Since there were sharp rocks just below the surface(which would break
any plough) and geological pressure causes these rocks to move, a farmer
would not know from one year to the next where the stones would be.
Since taking these stones out would be next to impossible a system
called ‘broadcasting’ was used(and still is?). The farmer, or Sower,
would simply scatter the seeds all over an area and let them take root.
Some would be lost to birds and lack of depth of soil but there would
always be enough good soil to ensure a good harvest. The striking part
of the parable would be the yield of the harvest. In a good year a
farmer could expect 5 to 10 times the harvest so up to a hundred fold
yield would be particularly striking. This extraordinary result would be
the point of the parable which makes it relate to something other than
actual crop farming. Israel
Thomas is a sayings collection and scholars have dated it approximately around 60-70 AD. The reasoning is that a sayings source probably lost its appeal after biographical books became common and also that the Gospel of Thomas has Thomas as a main character while Peter and Paul seemed to have gained prominence in early Christian literature after the first century AD. Some have tried to date it later based on it ‘Gnostic’ trends but it is entirely possible that these trends existed earlier. Another argument is that the Gospel of Thomas could have drawn from the other gospels for its material and the ‘harmonization’ of Thomas with other gospels is cited (using single words here and there as proof), however, this can also be explained by copying since the people doing such work would probably be familiar with the other gospels so would fit the words to what they deem appropriate(as was very common in the ‘Coptic’ tradition). Though some words are similar, Thomas is far more succinct than the other gospels and seems to indicate that it did not copy from these other gospels, since many descriptions employed by the other gospels are unused, as well as any kind of setting, for this parable. This places the Gospel of Thomas as written around the same time as Mark.
Out of 36 sayings in Mark, 21 appear in Thomas which is quite a large amount of sayings, since it seems that Thomas has not copied from Mark we are left with two possibilities, either Mark copied from Thomas or both copied from the same source(which no longer exits). In Thomas the sayings tend to exist in a more primitive form while in Mark the sayings are woven around a narrative. One example is Thomas 31, “a prophet is not accepted in his own town; a physician does not heal those who know him”, this becomes an elaborate narrative in Mark with a setting. In fact throughout chapters 1-8:22 and 11-12 in mark, when Jesus speaks to his associates in parables or in sayings not only do they parallel Thomas in content and meaning but the words parallel those in Thomas as well, though in Thomas the number of words are less. A good example, that Mark may have built a narrative sequence using Thomas, comes from the ‘wicked tenants’ parable and the explanation right after that (Thomas 65 and 66). In Thomas there is no indication that the parable refers to Jesus so it is entirely possible that sayings 65 and 66 are separate free standing sayings. In Mark the sayings exist in the same order though Mark relates it to Jesus and uses 66 as an explanation for the parable. It seems likely that Mark would have used the sayings for his own purpose and though they are free standing in Thomas, in Mark they fit into a narrative. This supports the hypothesis that Mark used Thomas, because the order of the sayings in both books are the same. Though in one they are free standing, while in the other they are put into a narrative sequence. Mark could easily have assumed that verse 66 explained 65. My final point in favor of Mark using Thomas comes from the ‘secrecy motif’. In Thomas 13 this secrecy motif appears where Thomas is taken aside and given a personal talk by Jesus. This secrecy motif is continuos in Mark as he tries to show that no one understood the identity of Jesus, so Mark may have been influenced by Thomas. However, since Mark intends to show that ‘No One’ understood Jesus while Thomas shows that ‘Thomas’ understood, it makes sense that Mark would take this scenario and change it a little(8:27-33). He changes it to lack of understanding of all disciples and turns Thomas into Peter. Where Thomas says he can’t say who Jesus is because of inability to do so, Peter says he is ‘the Christ”, which is a parallel in that in both instances one disciple understands Jesus. The difference is that in Thomas the understanding is complete while in Peter it is partial. A difference which would make sense in Marks work as his purpose is to show Jesus as misunderstood.
So though I cannot prove beyond doubt that Mark used Thomas, it seems possible that he did. The general trend in Mark is to take a saying and expand on it, like with the Parable of the Sower. In this parable (Thomas 9 and Mark 4), both Thomas and Mark start off in a similar way, where Thomas says “Look!” Mark says “Listen”, both of the other gospels have omitted this beginning. In Thomas the setting does not exist so “Look” would fit in, as the original saying Jesus may have been pointing to a Sower and reciting the parable, however, in Mark the setting is on a sea and in the form of a lecture so the word “listen” fits far better, therefore the change. For the rest of the parable Mark has taken the same order and format, even words to an extant but expanded on it trying to describe more fully the process he is describing.
This covers Marks relation to Thomas. The same parable occurs in the other two gospels under consideration, Matthew(13:1-9) and Luke(8:4-8). The parallels between the three are obvious enough to lend to the hypothesis that one gospel used the other. However there are four separate possibilities, that Mark condensed Matthew and Luke drew on both(Augustine), Luke edited Matthew and Mark condensed both (Griesbach), Matthew expanded Mark and Luke drew on both (Farrer) and finally that Matthew and Luke independently edited Mark and another document (which does not exist or hasn’t been found) labeled Q(two source Hypothesis).
First, did Mark edit Matthew? Matthew version is less wordy than Marks so if Mark copied Matthew then he messed up his text as he added unnecessary words to it. For example, replacing Matthew’s smooth transition from the previous scene with a vague ‘and again’(which would make sense if Mark is copying from a sayings source which has no setting), repeating the conclusion of the opening sentence of Jesus being beside the sea twice( ‘on the sea’ and ‘beside the sea’), repeating the fact that Jesus is teaching(third sentence), adding obvious distinctions to the parable that the seed ‘yielded nothing’ or that it ‘yielded abundance’ and finally adding an unnecessary transition ‘and he said’(on the aphorism on hearing) with another unnecessary ‘to hear’. All of this makes little sense if Mark copied Matthew but perfect sense if Mark copied a sayings source (which I have argued earlier, could be Thomas).
The other possibility was that Mark condensed Matthew and Luke. Luke’s version is even more succinct than Matthew’s which makes ‘condensing’ it somewhat difficult. Unnecessary words and statements in Mark are not echoed in either Matthew or Luke. Why would Mark make his narrative lenghtier with useless words?
What about Luke drawing from Matthew? One thing both Mark and Luke used are singular words where Matthew used plural and both have the words ‘to hear’ in the final aphorism as well as the introduction(i.e. that Jesus said it), which Matthew excludes (i.e. in the earliest documents found, Matthew leaves out the words ‘to hear’, scribes may have added it to later copies). This suggests that Luke probably did not have use of Matthew as he uses the word ‘to hear’ which Matthew dropped(as unnecessary), given Luke’s tendency to refined grammar, it seems unlikely that he would add an unnecessary word(i.e. ‘to hear’) if he was copying his parables from Matthew. Luke may have seen the final aphorism as complete and therefore saw it as unnecessary to alter it.
Another possibility is that Matthew used Luke which seems improbable since where Mark says the seed fell ‘into’ the earth, Matthew changes it to ‘on’ while Luke uses Marks wording. Also where Mark shows the return as increasing (30-60-100), Luke at least retains the idea of a great return on harvest though he shortens it to 100 fold, while Matthew uses the same figures as Mark but reverses the order, which not only defeats the purpose but may also indicate a need to avoid the same structure as another’s writing.
All of the conclusions I have arrived at , using the parable of the Sower, indicates that the structure of copying in the gospels follows the order of, Mark copies Thomas while Luke and Matthew both use Mark independently and not each other. While Thomas is very succinct and is without setting, Mark is wordy and has an unsmooth transition, both which could be results of copying from Thomas, as there would be a problem fitting a parable into a setting which could lead to a difficult ‘fitting’ process. Also the lack of words in Thomas may lead to a need for Mark to expand on the meaning to the point where the words become redundant. Mark shows all the signs of being the earliest biographical recording of the passage. On the other hand Matthew and Luke have independently improved upon Marks work, in terms of polishing off the narrative and grammar. Matthew preserves Marks setting while Luke sees the setting as unnecessary and removes it. The only commonality in use of the parable by Luke and Matthew is the change of the word ‘very large’ to ‘great’(for the crowds), so both saw the word as not fitting but still Luke uses the singular ‘crowd’ rather than Matthew’s plural ‘crowds’ indicating he did not use Matthew.
In conclusion, using the Parable of the Sower, I have shown that the two source hypothesis fits most snugly with the evidence that I have brought into focus with the analysis. Also it shows that in all probability Mark copied Thomas (with the help of some other sources).
Note to scholars: I have used Thomas, Mark, Matthew and Luke as names of the authors for the books for simplicity. There is no indication in any of the books of the identity of the authors.