Comparisons of the gospels started in the very early centuries of Christianity as a tedious manual process of comparing texts line by line. But these days there are other tools to help with such a comparison. Today, any standard word processor contains basic tools to compare different versions of documents and show modifications and matches. I used Microsoft Word.
So what happens when you compare the Greek texts of Matthew and Mark in a standard word processor? First, you find that the computer cannot successfully compare the documents as a whole. They are too different for a comparison at the level of the whole document. There is so much additional material in Matthew as compared to Mark that the word processor stopped the comparison. To get a comparison from the word processor, it was necessary to separate the documents into individual accounts -- for example, to compare the sections containing the parable of the sower, or the sections relating the death of John the Baptist. Comparing two documents the size of Matthew and Mark, account by account, is no quick task even with a word processor.
Here is an example of a comparison between Matthew and Mark. The text below is a comparison of the accounts of the discussion, "Whose son is the Messiah?"
ΚΑΙ ΑΠΟΚΡΙΘΕΙΣΣΥΝΗΓΜΕΝΩΝ ΔΕ ΤΩΝ ΦΑΡΙΣΑΙΩΝ ΕΠΗΡΩΤΗΣΕΝ ΑΥΤΟΥΣ Ο ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΕΛΕΓΕΝ ΔΙΔΑΣΚΩΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΙΕΡΩ ΠΩΣ ΛΕΓΩΝ ΤΙ ΥΜΙΝ ΔΟΚΕΙ ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ; ΤΙΝΟΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΕΣΤΙΝ; ΛΕΓΟΥΣΙΝ ΟΙ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΕΙΣ ΟΤΙ Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΕΣΤΙΝ; ΑΥΤΟΣΑΥΤΩ ΤΟΥ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΙΣ ΠΩΣ ΟΥΝ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙ ΤΩ ΑΓΙΩΚΑΛΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΝ ΛΕΓΩΝ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΤΩ ΚΥΡΙΩ ΜΟΥ ΚΑΘΟΥ ΕΚ ΔΕΞΙΩΝ ΜΟΥ ΕΩΣ ΑΝ ΘΩ ΤΟΥΣ ΕΧΘΡΟΥΣ ΣΟΥ ΥΠΟΚΑΤΩ ΤΩΝ ΠΟΔΩΝ ΣΟΥ ΑΥΤΟΣ; ΕΙ ΟΥΝ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΛΕΓΕΙΚΑΛΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΘΕΝΠΩΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΥΙΟΣ; ΚΑΙ Ο ΠΟΛΥΣ ΟΧΛΟΣ ΗΚΟΥΕΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΔΕΩΣ; ΚΑΙ ΟΥΔΕΙΣ ΕΔΥΝΑΤΟ ΑΠΟΚΡΙΘΗΝΑΙ ΑΥΤΩ ΛΟΓΟΝ ΟΥΔΕ ΕΤΟΛΜΗΣΕΝ ΤΙΣ ΑΠ ΕΚΕΙΝΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΡΑΣ ΕΠΕΡΩΤΗΣΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΟΥΚΕΤΙ
This particular item was selected for a blog post because of its brevity; it does not illustrate every point that is seen in some of the longer comparisons. But it does show a few of the things which come to light through such a comparison:
- The black text is material that matches, word-for-word, in the Greek texts of Matthew and Mark. In the text shown above, the longest verbatim match is a shared Old Testament quote: "The LORD said to My Lord" (etc). That pattern -- where the strongest match is on a shared quote -- is seen more than once in comparing the different accounts.
- The blue text shows wording that is in Matthew, but not in Mark. Some of that material is also in Mark, but in different words. Or at times Matthew has material that is not in Mark's account.
- The red text shows wording that is in Mark, but not in Matthew. Over the course of comparing the two gospels, again we see material that is found in Matthew but in somewhat different words. And again, in some accounts, we see material in Mark that is not found in Matthew.
In a later post, I hope to show some other points of interest that have made me wonder whether the current theory "Matthew was based on a copy of Mark" may be too simple to account for the material in Matthew and Mark as we have them.
I'd posted an early version of this on the Cadre Comments blog, 03/29/2005