Bible Studies/Matthew 19:17
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus! Last year I contacted you regarding the different English translations.
This time I have a question on the difference between Matthew 19:17 and Mark 10:18. In the modern translations, Jesus in Matthew’s account says “Why are you asking Me about what is good?” but in Mark’s account He says “Why do you call Me good?” (NASB). Why is there this difference between these two gospels?
I am aware that this difference is not present in the KJV. I also looked at your translation at http://www.sentpress.com/PDFs/Matthew.pdf
and you seem to agree with the modern translations on Matthew 19:17.
My question is NOT about why modern translations are different from KJV. I understand that the modern translators considered earlier manuscripts to be more reliable. Considering that their viewpoint is correct and that Matthew really wrote “Why are you asking Me about what is good?”, my question is why Matthew’s wordings are different from Mark’s.
Thank you very much.
There are a few possibilities as to how the difference arose. For example:
1. It's possible that Matthew and Peter, who were both there, understood Jesus differently, and so down through the decades there were two slightly different versions of the saying circulating. Mark recorded Peter's version, and Matthew, or "Matthew" (if the author of Matthew is not the disciple/apostle Matthew, but someone composing a gospel from Matthew's materials), recorded Matthew's version.
2. It's possible that Peter's version held on in Christian communities where Peter was there to explain it--and it continued to be understood that Jesus was rejecting the typical flattery that people gave to the scribes and Pharisees. In other circles the saying may have been slightly altered because people kept thinking it meant that Jesus was denying his own goodness and his own divinity by saying "only God is good."
3. Same as 2. but Matthew himself, rather than the Christian communities in which he had come to think of this saying as having a certain form, may have made the change in the process of composing his gospel, because he felt that it was too easy to misunderstand. The key point, in the minds of people passing on the saying and in the mind of Matthew, was that Jesus would not accept flattery--not that he was claiming not to be good or not to be divine.
Small changes like this are not uncommon in the gospels--and it's often not easy to say with total confidence at what stage or for what reason the change came about. In fact sometimes it is not clear which text is original and which text is the changed version. For example, Matthew's and Luke's version of the temptations are in two orders, each of which makes its own kind of sense. Which is earlier? I would say probably Matthew's, because Luke's seems to put the dare to jump down from the roof of the Temple last so that "You shall not tempt the LORD your God" can hold a double meaning--1. Jesus won't do it because it would be tempting God, and 2. Jesus is implicitly telling the devil that he is sinning by tempting Jesus, because Jesus is divine. Thus the scene ends elegantly with the devil going away, having been commanded to stop tempting Jesus. As above, did Luke think this up, or did he inherit the story in that form? It's at least tempting to think that somebody intentionally made the change in order to draw attention to Jesus' divinity. But whether Luke did it or somebody did it years earlier, it's hard to say.
By saying all of this I'm not trying to say that Jesus' divinity was a late idea and that earlier texts were altered in order to make the gospel accounts reflect it. I would say instead that the community of believers in Jesus always had an inkling--at least after his resurrection--that he was somehow divine, but that it became progressively clearer over a period of decades (between 30 and 60 AD) about Jesus' divinity, and that over this period certain gospel sayings and events popped out in new ways as indicators of his divinity that had not always been noticed in that way. Similarly (thinking of the Matthew 19:17 and Mark 10:18 texts that you asked about), certain sayings might have come to be perceived as awkward or easy to misunderstand in particular cultural contexts that hadn't been noticed to be awkward before, when Jesus' divinity hadn't yet come fully into focus in the communities.