It is easy to claim new solutions and new approaches to familiar problems. But in the field of New Testament research it is much harder to make these claims stick. Some years ago I wrote an article in which I attempted to correct the prevailing view that Mark was the first of the Gospels. When the article was discussed in a seminar at Cambridge, the objection was raised that there was nothing new in my contentions or approach. Perhaps not. Perhaps I am simply unable to find in the enormous mountain of scholarly contributions to our knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels the special line of solution and methodology to which I found myself driven as early as 1962.
Despite the continuing debate between Matthean and Markan priorists, some form of the widely-accepted Two-Source Hypothesis seems necessary for a proper understanding of the synoptic relationships. The Two-Source Hypothesis as generally conceived, however, cannot cover the evidence of dependence and interdependence found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The same must be said for the theory of Matthean priority.
It appears that the original context for Jesus’ “Comfort for the Heavy-Laden” saying has been lost; however, in spite of this, passages in the apocryphal book of Ben Sira may help us determine Jesus’ intent. The Ben Sira texts indicate that Jesus was speaking of the study of Torah (Written and Oral) and the rigors of first-century discipleship.
In a beautiful statement that probably referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, according to Luke, that “many prophets and kings” desired to see and hear what they (his disciples) are seeing and hearing. Matthew preserves the same saying, but in Matthew’s account the doublet is, “prophets and righteous persons.” The wording of Jesus’ saying in these two accounts is so similar that it appears likely that their slight differences reflect literary, or editorial, changes rather than different versions of the saying uttered by Jesus on different occasions. If so, which of these gospel accounts preserves the more original form of Jesus’ saying? Did Jesus say “prophets and kings” or “prophets and righteous persons”?
Dr. Horst Krüger, Jerusalem Perspective’s representative in Germany, has suggested to me that Genesis 48:16 may be part of the background to a phrase found in the Lord’s Prayer. I believe that Dr. Krüger has made an important discovery.
When the argument is advanced for a Hebrew “undertext” behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels, the evidence may be separated into two categories: internal and external. Internal evidence refers to evidence that is contained within the Greek text such as Hebraisms and the presence of parables or other types of rabbinic literary forms. External evidence refers to statements preserved in other ancient literature that affirm that Jesus’ life was originally recorded in Hebrew. The most important external evidence is a statement made by Papias, bishop of Hierapolis.