I've done some revision of, and made some additions to, what I've
previously posted on the questions of (1) the sources of Matthew's and
Luke's WTS (Wilderness "Temptation" Story) and (2) the historicity of
the event and the origin of the Matthean and Lukan versions of the WTS .
Trusting that List Members are interested in seeing how I'm working all
of this out, I'm posting the revisions here.
Comments and criticisms are welcome.
The Evangelists' Sources
Most commentators on Mt. 4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13, and especially those who
accept the general validity of the "two source/document hypothesis"
solution to the Synoptic Problem (in which the major sources of the
Gospels of Matthew and Luke are the Gospel of Mark and a document of
about 250 verses in length conventionally labeled ["the Sayings Gospel"]
Q) , agree that both the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Wilderness
temptation story are independently based upon, and derived from some
form of "pre-Matthean" and "pre-Lukan" tradition, oral or written. But
not all. In addition to the majority view that both Matthew's and
Luke's versions are derived from, and are dependent upon, both Mk.
1:12-13 and a dialogic narrative of Jesus being tested by the devil that
Matthew and Luke found independently of one another in a document of
some kind, we find other positions that break down roughly along these
Luke's version is primarily derived from Matthew's which is something
that Matthew himself, using Mk. 1:12-13 as his basis and starting
point, creatively expanded upon and worked up into an haggadic on the
Biblical stories of Israel's Wilderness testing (a position advanced
and argued for by A.Farrer and Michael Goulder and strongly articulated
and defended by Mark Goodacre, among others).
Luke's version is wholly derived from Matthew's which in turn is
dependent only upon a fixed pre-Matthean tradition centering in a
dialogue between Jesus and the devil and has within it no elements from
Mk. 1:12-13 (a position taken by J.J. Greisbach, W. Farmer, D. Peabody,
D, Duncan, T, Longstaff and other "Griesbachians) so called Griemany
advocates of the Griesbach Hypothesis)
Luke' version is derived both, and in the main, from Matthew's, which in
turn is derived from some form of a fixed pre Matthean tradition about
Jesus being tested by the devil in the wilderness, and, at certain
points, from Mk. 1:12-13 (a position advocated by B.C. Butler and
other proponents of the "Augustinian hypothesis")
Luke's version is derived from Matthew's version which is an haggadic
midrash on the Biblical stories of Israel's Wilderness testing something
that Matthew himself worked up without reference to, or use of, Mk.
1:12-13, even though Matthew was aware of, and elsewhere used material
from, the Gospel of Mark (a position advocated by W. Wilkens)
"Die Versuchung Jesu nach Matthäus", NTS 28 (1982) 479–89; ibid.
"Die Versuchungsgeschichte Lukas 4, 1–13 und die Komposition des
Evangeliums", TZ 30 (1974) 262–72.
Matthew's version is derived from Luke's version which in turn is
dependent upon a pre Lukan midrash on the tradition of Abraham's tenth
testing that is preserved in Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 89b
(a position propounded by William Lockton, Robert L. Lindsey, and
members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research).
Space forbids a discussion here of which, if any, of these positions is
correct. But it seems clear that some -- the Griesbachian, Augustinian,
and Jerusalem School positions in particular -- are less likely than
others noted above. The Griesbachian and Augustinian views are bound up
in theories of Synoptic relationships that are based no so much on a
dispassionate analysis of the literary relationships that exist among
and between the Synoptic Gospels as they are on acceptance of the
validity of patristic testimony about Matthean priority and the order of
Gospel composition, which is, at least to many, highly questionable.
And the Jerusalem School's view is grounded in presuppositions about the
date of Luke and the evidentiary value of the data adduced in support of
the Gospel's early date that are untenable.
Furthermore, absent having either (a) concrete evidence (a found scroll
of Q?) for the existence of a discreet pre-Matthean tradition which
contained a version of the Wilderness temptation whose form and wording
comports with what advocates of Matthew's and/or Luke's use of it have
(notably, not always in agreement with one another) postulated it
possessed, or (b) some trustworthy external testimony that Matthew and
Luke had available to them, and used, no other version of the story
than that which is found in at Mk. 1:12-13, the validity even of the
remaining source critical positions cannot actually be determined.
Given the limits of our knowledge here, they must remain possibilities.
The Historicity of the Event and the Origin of the Wilderness
There is no compelling reason to doubt the claim of Matthew and Luke
that prior to engaging in a public ministry (and as a concomitant to his
baptism), Jesus had some sort of experience in which his resolve to
follow a particular understanding of faithfulness to the God of Israel
was "put to the test".
So E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin,
1993) 117; M. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and
Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (San Francisco: Harper/San
Francisco, 2006) 124, J. Dupont, "L'origine du récit des tentations
de Jésus au désert", RB 73 (1966) 30–76; R. Funk and the Jesus
Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of
Jesus (San Francisco: Polebridge Press, 1998) 43; J.
Murphy-O'Connor, "Triumph over Temptation. The Historical Core
Behind the Testing of Jesus" Bible Review 15 (1999) 34-43, 48-49;
Allison, "Behind the Tempations", 213, and others. The claim that
the theme of a trial or testing of a hero or a religious founder
that takes place shortly before their adoption of a commissioned
vocation or assent to a way of life is one that is prominent in
fictitious "biographies" of these figures, hardly counts as fatal
evidence against this, even should it be true that the theme is as
widespread in such biographies as it is often (but, notably, usually
by disciples of J.G. Frazier and C. Jung or uncritical adherents to
the work on heroes of F-R. R. Somerset (Lord) Raglan [The Hero, A
Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama [New York: Oxford University
Press, 1937]), asserted to be . On this see N.T. Wright, Jesus and
the Victory of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996) 457.
It may even have taken place both in the particular locale in which,
according to the Synoptic Evangelists, we are told it occurred,
I.e, "the wilderness". On the questions of the specific location of
the "wilderness" identified by Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the locale
of Jesus' Wilderness "temptation and the historicity of the
Evangelists' claim that Jesus' went to/was in a wilderness locale
when he experienced a pre-ministry testing of his resolve to be
faithful to a particular understanding of "sonship", see Robbins,
The Testing of Jesus in Q.
as well as within the context of, or after, and as arising from, a
period of fasting on Jesus' part. The question, however, is whether
this experience actually unfolded and transpired with even a minimal
resemblance to the particular way that we are told by the Evangelists it
The answer to this must certainly be no, and this apart from the often
observed facts(a) that Matthew and Luke contradict one another not only
in the way they set out the order of the event's constituent episodes,
but with respect to narrative details within them (since conflicting
accounts of the sequence or of the details of an event do not, in and of
themselves, falsify the historicity of the event inaccurately reported,
(b) that a principle character within the story is not an historical
personage, let alone an ontological reality (since one can encounter, be
subjected to, and go through, an actual test of faithfulness absent an
ontologically real "tester)", and (c) that the accounts of the event
are embellished with patently "mythological" motifs (since the
function of such embellishment is often to highlight what to the
reporter is the significance of the event in question).
What makes the certain the negative answer to the question of the
historicity of the incidents narrated in Mt. 4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13 is that
Matthew and Luke themselves do not think that what they relate as having
happened to Jesus during his time in the wilderness are concrete,
objectively verifiable, historical events. Rather, they think that what
they record in Matt. 4:3-11//Lk. 4:3-12 as transpiring between Jesus and
the Devil and as coming upon Jesus are things that Jesus experienced in
a vision to which he alone was privy.
So Twelftree ("Temptations of Jesus" 822) and especially
B..Witherington who points to the facts that the story as Matthew
and Luke present it is not only explicitly portrayed as grounded in
the sort of action that, according to Dan. 9:3; 10:203; 4 Ezra 5:13,
20; 2 Bar. 9:2, are regularly the occasion, if not the cause, of
visionary experiences, but also displays the themes of "transport in
the Spirit, or visionary transport"and the interpreting angel who
reveals the mysteries of God to those in his charge and who takes
them up into high places so that they might see things normally
hidden from the eyes of men, that are prominent in, and key
features of, Inter-testamental accounts of visionary experiences
(cf. Witherington, Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy [Peabody
Mass.; Hendrikson, 1999] 279-280) .
But was the vision that Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus had during
or after a fast in the wilderness really something that Jesus himself
actually had. That is to say, is the particular delineation of the
content of the vision attributed to Jesus by the Evangelists, something
that is secondary to Jesus, a "church product". Or is it a reproduction
of a dominical reminiscence? While it is usually assumed that it is the
former, a number of scholars have argued that it is the latter.
E.g., Hagner, Twelftree, Allison, Witherington, Wright, and
(tentatively) Borg, among others. Notably, as V. Keitsch has
pointed out ("The Antiocheans and the Temptation Story" in F.L.
Cross [ed.], Studia Patristica 7 [TU 92 Berlin:Akademie Verlag,
1966] 496-502), so did a number of important Alexandrine and
In support of this contention, they point out, citing such texts as
Lk. 10:18; 20:31-32, not only that Jesus was, and knew himself to be,
a visionary, but that the specific subject of at least two of the
visions to which he was privy was Satan in action as "the one who tests"
That this is the subject of the vision Jesus reminisces about in Lk.
10:18, see U.B. Müller, "Vision und Botschaft: Erwägungen zur
prophetischen Struktur der Verkündigung Jesus." ZNW 74 (1977) 416–48.
Thus to rule as impossible the idea that Jesus could have had a vision
along the lines of the one that Matthew and Luke tell us he had when he
was on the verge of his public ministry, is unwarranted. Moreover, if
as other Synoptic texts such as Mt. 12:22-32//Mk. 20-30//Lk.1:14-23 seem
to indicate, Jesus actually envisaged himself as one who by various
means was putting into effect an initial victory he had earlier obtained
over the one who tests faithfulness, it would be surprising if he had
not had a vision like the one outlined in Mt. 4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13.
So J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus; N.T, Wright, Jesus and the
Victory of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996) 457-458
Nor is there any reason to deny the assumption inherent in the claim
that the vision recounted in Mt. 4:1-11//Lk 4:1-12 is dominical -- i.e.,
that Jesus would have spoken publicly about it, and thereby set it out
as a tradition to be remembered and transmitted. Again, Lk. 10:18, not
to mention, Lk. 20: stands as evidence for this. And it is not
difficult to imagine plausible scenarios in which Jesus would feel it
necessary or desirable to recount it.
E.g, that, as A Feuillet suggests ("Die Versuchungen Jesu",
Internationale Katholische Zeitschrift Communio 8  226-237),
Jesus reported such an experience to his disciples in the context of
the rebuke of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:33).
But the difficulty with all of this is that, even granting that what
Matthew and Luke report as the content of Jesus' vision was rooted in a
recitation by Jesus himself of a vision vouchsafed to him in which his
resolve to be obedient to God was put to the proof by God's tester, we
have no way of knowing, let alone proving, that what Matthew and Luke
transmit is an accurate reproduction of the form and wording and
narrative substance of that recitation.
In fact, at least one principal feature of Mt. 4:3-11//Lk. 4:3-13
strongly suggests that what they "transmit" is not, not, namely, the
style of debate Jesus is depicted as using in the temptation story,
which has with justification been deemed by many as "thoroughly Rabbinic".
Cf. B.M. van Iersel, "Der Sohn" in den synoptischen Jesusworten:
Christusbezeichnung der Gemeinde oder Selbstbezeichnung Jesu?
(Leiden: Brill, 1964) 166; Bultmann, History, 253–57; Nolland, Luke
As is indicated by the conflict stories in the Synoptic tradition, this
is not Jesus' usual manner of argumentation, even with opponents versed
in Scripture or who use scripture to make their case. Nor can one find
anywhere else in the Synoptic Traditon a portrait of Jesus issuing
responses to anything said to him that are entirely made up, as Jesus
responses in Mt. 4:3-11//Lk. 4:3-13 are, of scriptural citations.
Mt. 22:41-46//Mk. 12:35-37a//Lk. 20:41-44 notwithstanding, for here
Jesus is presented not as responding to a question asked of him, let
alone defending a position he has adopted, but as posing a riddle to
a passive audience and going on the offensive against a position the
Pharisees (so Matthew) or the "Scribes" (so Mark and Luke) have taken.
Moreover, even if Jesus **did **report that in his vision he had found
himself using and exchanging scriptural quotations with the devil,
would he have cast his recollection of the quotations he and the devil
used according to their LXX formulations? And adding to the suspicion
that Mt. 4:3-11//Lk. 4:3-13 is not a faithful reproduction of a
dominical report is both (a) the fact, pointed out by Gouder and
Wilkens, that a significant portion of the vocabulary we find in both
of the "transmitted" versions of the report is characteristically Matthean.
Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew, 247; Wilkens, "Die
Versuchung Jesu nach Matthäus." NTS 28 (1982) 479–89.
and (b) the consideration that Jesus and the Evangelists never
elsewhere cast anything he recounts, including, notably, his other
visions of Satan "falling" and at work in "sifting" God's elect, in
anything like the form or the genre of haggadic midrash in which the
"transmitted" report of his Wilderness "temptation" vision is cast.
So not only must we remain skeptical with respect to the validity of the
claim that what we have in Mt Lk derives from Jesus himself and embodies
more than minimally a reminiscence of a vision that is ultimately
dominical; we must recognize that the affirmation of its validity
entails the very conclusion that those do affirm it seem reluctant to
accept, namely, that the report as it is reproduced by Matthew and Luke
is a "church product".
But the assertion that Mt. 4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13 is a "church product"
poses its own problem. It does not answer the question of why it was
that "the chuch" cast the WTS in the particular form in which Matthew
and Luke present it, let alone why "the church' endowed it with the
recapitulation theme and the specific articulation of the content of
Jesus' "temptations" that it has in their Gospels?
One answer is that the who ever was responsible for the "the church
product" presented at Mt..4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13 (an anonymous scribe? [so
Gerhardsson] the "Q comminity"? [so Klopenborg and others], Matthew
himself? [so Goulder]) has taken his/her/their cue to do so from Mark
who had adumbrated in his version of the WTS all that we find in Mt.
4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13. But this presupposes not only that "the church"
responsible for creating the Matthean and Lukan WTS knew and used Mk.
1:12-13, but that within these verses Mark himself presented the content
of Jesus' WT along the same lines as the Matthean and Lukan versions of
the WTS do, that is, a test of Jesus' resolve to be faithful to a
pattern of Sonship that consists in being an eirenhpoioj -- a
supposition that not all interpreters of Mk. 1:12-13 share, let alone
think is likely.
Especially so if one believes, as do E. Best The Temptation and the
Passion: The Markan Soteriology (Cambridge: CUP, 1965), R. A.
Guelich, Mark 1–8:26 (Dallas: Word, 1989) 38; J. Gnilka, Das
Evangelium nach Markus. Vol 1 (Zürich: Benzinger/Neukirchen-Vluyn:
Neukirchener Verlag, 1978) 58; J. Jeremias," 0Adam", TDNT 1 (1964)
141; H.G. Leder, "Sündenfallerzählung und Versuchungsgeschichte."
ZNW 54 (1963) 188–216; Allison ("Behind the Temptations", and
others, that Mk. 1:12-13 presents Jesus in terms of Adam, not, as I,
van Henten ("The First Testing of Jesus", 366) and others think,
And even if this indeed be what Mark presented as the center of Jesus'
WT, we still do not have the answer we seek, since the matter is not
actually resolved. It is simply pushed back one remove. On what is
Mark's presentation based?
Far more plausible is the claim that the reason we have the story of
Jesus' WT explicated in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the form and
fashion we do, is that the Matthean and Lukan versions of the WTS are
grounded in the fact, widely known in, and frequently proclaimed by "the
church", that during his ministry Jesus was not only subjected by
"adversaries" who proclaimed true insight into the ways and purposes of
God to tests of faithfulness, but that these tests always focused in
some fashion, if not explicitly, on the question of whether God
actually demands, as Jesus thought and declared he did, that to be a
true Israelite, one must follow even unto death the path of the
eirenhpoioj and show mercy and compassion to those his adversaries
(among whom his disciples sometimes numbered) deemed enemies of Israel.
For a defense of this contention which, to my knowledge, was first
mooted by John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus ) see my
Temptations of Jesus in Early Christiinity, passim..
Thus, the particular shape that the "church" gave to the source of Matt.
4:1-11//Lk. 4:1-13 is due to the setting out in fixed fashion not some
unconstrained imaginings of early followers of Jesus about what they
thought Jesus must done/ undergone when he was lone in the wilderness,
So Funk, et. al, Deeds of Jesus, 43.
but a programmatic summary of memories of actual events in Jesus' life.
On this, see R.E. Brown, "Incidents. that Are Units in the Synoptic
Gospels but Dispersed in St. John," CBQ 23 (1961), 143–60.
Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)
1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
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