Matthew 4:3-10 – Why do Luke and Matthew place Satan’s conversation out of order?

Problem: Mark merely refers to the temptation of Jesus (Mk. 1:12-13), but doesn’t give specifics. John omits the event altogether. Luke and Matthew both describe the temptation, yet they contain the conversation in a different order:

Luke 4

Matthew 4

Turning the stone into bread (vv.3-4) Turning the stone into bread (vv.3-4)
Seeing all the kingdoms of the world (vv.4-8) Urging him to fall from the pinnacle of the Temple (vv.5-7)
Urging him to fall from the pinnacle of the Temple (vv.9-12) Seeing all the kingdoms of the world (vv.8-10)

 

Is this a contradiction?

Solution: No. Commentators believe that Matthew most likely captured the temptations chronologically, while Luke captured them topically. Craig Evans writes, “Fitzmyer[1] believes that Matthew has retained the original order, which is reflected in the logical progression of the temptations (from desert-floor, to pinnacle of temple, to a high mountain) and in the descending order of Jesus’ quotations from Deuteronomy.”[2] Nolland writes, “Most [commentators] rightly recognize the priority of the Matthean order which allows the first two closely related temptations to be juxtaposed, and sets the quotations from Deuteronomy in simple reverse order.”[3]

Ancient historians did not hold chronological ordering as a priority. For instance, if someone asked you, “How was high school for you?” You might say, “I graduated with a 4.0, I played football my sophomore year, and I was in a major car accident when I got my license.” Of course, this account is not chronological. But based on this, would it be reasonable for them to call you a liar for recounting your experience in this way? Of course not. We can record events topically and still tell them truly.

NT scholar Richard Longenecker notes that almost all ancient historians wrote topically, rather than chronologically. He writes, “In writing their histories the ancients frequently grouped their material per species, without always specifying chronological relationships.”[4] He cites a number of examples of ancient historians who adopted this view: (1) Satyrus’ Life of Euripides, (2) Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, (3) all Roman historians besides Tacitus, and (4) Suetonius’ Augustus.[5]

Why do Matthew and Luke choose to recount this event in two different ways? Luke most likely wanted to emphasize Jesus going to Jerusalem. Jesus ultimately defeats the temptations of Satan by going to Jerusalem to die on the Cross. We agree with Darrell Bock who writes, “Luke will highlight Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9:51–19:44), the nation’s central city, as the place Jesus is fated to go and suffer death. So Satan’s offer to circumvent that suffering is a truly sinister effort to thwart God’s plan. The placement of this temptation last foreshadows the strategic role Jerusalem will have in Luke’s story.”[6] Craig Evans adds, “Jerusalem plays a significant part in Luke’s story of Jesus. Only in Luke’s Gospel does Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” (9:51) and then take the next ten chapters or so to get there (i.e., 9:51–19:27). The importance of Jerusalem for Jesus is hinted at in Luke 13:33: “surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (see commentary on 13:31–35 below). For Luke, Jerusalem is the city of Jesus’ destiny, and therefore it is appropriate that the temptation scenes reach their climax there.”[7]

On the other hand, Leifeld holds that Matthew might want to emphasize the importance of the Gentiles or nations in Jesus’ plan. After all, Matthew’s gospel ends with the Great Commission to “all nations.” He writes, “It may be that Matthew preferred to conclude with a kingdom reference. Possibly Luke wants to center on the city of Jerusalem (v. 9), which Matthew does not mention by name, because of his theme of the progression of the gospel from Jerusalem to the Gentile nations.”[8] Surely both views are possible.

[1] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, 2 vols., AB 28 and 28a. Garden City: Doubleday, 1985. 507-508.

[2] Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 65). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Nolland, J. (2002). Luke 1:1–9:20 (Vol. 35A, p. 177). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 213.

[5] Longenecker, Richard. The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 213.

[6] Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke (Lk 4:1). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 65). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Leifeld, W. L. (1984). Luke. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 864). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

 


And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matt 4:3-10)

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