Now we have established that the great crisis in Israel's affairs marked by the quotation of Isaiah 6:9, 10 occurs at Matt. 13: 14, 15 and not at Acts 28:26, 27, the question at once arises how it all fits into the four accounts. So far as Matthew's Gospel itself is concerned, the matter is plain enough. This pronouncement marks the end of open public proclamation by the Lord Jesus and the beginning of individual or private instruction. At this point is found the first mention of parable. Thereafter public teaching is largely either in answers to questions or in parables. There is no public pronouncement in any way comparable with the Sermon on the Mount.
This comes out clearly when we examine the echoes of the Sermon in Luke's Gospel. The first parallel in Luke is between Matt. 7:7-11 and Luke 11:9-13, to the disciples. The next; Matt. 5:15 and Luke 11:33 followed by Matt. 6:22, 23 and Luke 11:34, 35 form part of a short speech in Luke (8 verses) to the throngs. The next, Matt. 6:25-33, is paralleled by Luke 12:22-31, followed by Matt. 6:20, 21 paralleled by Luke 12:33, 34—all to the disciples. Next, Matt. 5:25, 26 and Luke 12:58, 59, to the throngs. Next Matt. 7:13, 14 and Luke 13:24; followed by a not very close parallel between Matt. 7:22, 23 and Luke 13:25-27, Next come Matt. 5:13 and Luke. 14:34, 35; Matt. 6:24 and Luke 16:13; Matt. 5:18 and Luke 16:17. In each of these the Lord Jesus is reproducing isolated items of the Sermon to meet the requirements of subsequent events; and a careful examination will show how completely circumstances had changed.
Something of the nature of the change is indicated again when the only parable before Matt, 13:14, 15 is examined. This is found in Luke 7:41, 42; and in fact by comparison with the others it can barely be regarded as a parable at all. Instead of being a general illustration or an instructive story, it is a private question to one man. Certainly it is very different from the Parable of the Sower which shortly follows.
The corresponding points to Matt. 13:14, 15 are Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10. In John's Gospel the whole period comes within the gap between the fifth and sixth chapters. The parallel section of Luke raises an interesting problem. Matt. 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21 are generally regarded as the same event; but Luke's account of the Parable of the Sower precedes it while Matthew's and Mark's follow it. Dr. Bullinger contends (The Companion Bible p. 1455) that the parable was pronounced twice. If this is so, then a part of the quotation from Isa. 6:9, 10 (in Luke 8:10) was pronounced before the Lord's words of condemnation in Matt. 12:25-45 which are the occasion for the pronouncement of Isaiah's judgment. This robs the account of all its point; and it is far easier and more reasonable to assume either that Luke 8:19-21 is a parenthesis or that the event occurred twice; first in Matt. 12:46-50 and Mark 3:31-35, and a second time after Matt. 13:52. This will explain Luke's rather different wording. Another problem is, the portion peculiar to Mark (Mark 4:21-29). placed beside Matthew 13 and read into it, there is a feeling of irrelevance which spoils the argument. Yet, as the Companion Bible shows, in its setting in Mark it is quite harmonious. Perhaps two talks occurred; the connected series' of eight parables in Matthew, and immediately afterwards the shorter set in Mark, each being intended: to carry its own special lesson. This may be the point of the concluding sentence of Mark 4:34.
Because so much attention has been diverted from Matt. 13:14, 15 to Acts 28:26, 27 we have tended to underestimate the change marked by the former and to discover a change accompanying the latter which is simply not there. Acts 28:28 does not mark the end of the history, but Acts 28:31. True, the subsequent events are compressed into three verses, but the fact that any account of them exists at all is fatal to the "Acts 28:28 boundary-line" theory, particularly when we bear in mind that Paul was telling the Roman Jews what had happened to their fathers. Matthew 13 opens the series of events which resulted in, the saving-work of God reaching the Gentiles. They did not appear in the picture then, but for the vast throngs of Israel it was a crisis indeed, as the sequel showed.
It is much to be regretted that so little attention is paid to the comparative study of the four Gospels. Dr. Bullinger's solution, in the Companion Bible, of the problem of fitting them into one consecutive narrative without distortion is satisfactory on the whole. A few major points and a number of minor ones need reconsideration. If that were accomplished, a conspectus of the whole, in four parallel columns, would be, possible. The foregoing study is no more than a brief sample of what might be done along those lines. In view of the truly wonderful unfoldings of the inner meaning and significance of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus which Mr. Thomson has recently given us, it is abundantly plain that we ought to pay more attention to the four Gospels. For myself it is not too much to say that I am reading them with fresh eyes.
R. B. WITHERS: Last updated 11.12.2005