The Logia Translation Hypothesis
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The Logia Tranlsation Hypothesis was first formulated by the late Brian E. Wilson (died Feb 2002) in October, 1998.

CLICK HERE to download a paper presented at the 1999 SBL International Meeting in Finland (with four additional pages of hand-out appended). This paper is a MS-Word document and uses the Sgreek font from Silver Mountain Software.

CLICK HERE to download a paper presented at the 2001 SBL International Meeting in Rome.

 

The Logia Translation Hypothesis - Brian E. Wilson

 

 

 

The Logia Translation Hypothesis (the LTH) is represented in the diagram above. It affirms that many short reports in Aramaic, the Aramaic Logia, were composed by the apostle Matthew during, and soon after the ministry of Jesus. He based some reports on his own eye-witness observation, and some on the testimony of other followers of Jesus. The Aramaic Logia were translated into Greek to form the Greek Logia (or "Greek Notes"). The translator of the Aramaic Logia to some extent edited the material he translated. Each short report was written in lively Greek and was a self-contained piece of material suitable for teaching Jesus tradition to Greek-speaking Christians. Each synoptist independently selected and edited material from the Greek Logia to form his own continuous book of Jesus tradition in Greek, that is, his own gospel.

The LTH therefore entails that virtually all the contents of the synoptic gospels were derived from the Greek Logia, and that the Greek Logia together formed a document that was larger than any synoptic gospel. It also entails that the apostle Matthew used the testimony of Jesus and his followers, including his mother and brothers after the resurrection (see Ac 1.13-14 and I Cor 15.5-7.), and that there was a continuous documentary transmission of Jesus tradition from the time of the ministry of Jesus through to the writing of the synoptic gospels.

 

 

THIRTEEN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON THE LOGIA TRANSLATION HYPOTHESIS, AND SHORT ANSWERS

(1) Is not the Logia Translation Hypothesis the same as the Ur-Gospel Hypothesis put forward by G. E. Lessing?

Not at all. Lessing’s Hypothesis is very different. The LTH posits that each synoptist used the same Greek source, whereas Lessing posited a common Hebrew/Aramaic source used by each synoptist. Lessing’s hypothesis fails because the verbal similarities in Greek between the synoptic gospels are strong and detailed in many places. These close similarities are extremely unlikely to be the result of each synoptist translating into Greek the same Hebrew/Aramaic original. Independent translators do not produce such close similarity in wording. So Lessing’s hypothesis can be ruled out on these grounds alone. On the other hand, the LTH accounts easily for the similarities in Greek in the synoptic gospels, since it posits that each synoptist used the same Greek source. The close similarities in wording in Greek between the synoptic gospels are fully consistent with the LTH.

Furthermore, Lessing’s Ur-Gospel Hypothesis affirms that the common documentary source used by the synoptists was one continuous Ur-Gospel, whereas the LTH holds that the Greek Logia were many short reports or notes. Lessing’s Ur-Gospel would have been a single book suitable for reading continuously, but the Greek Logia consisted of short reports or notes each of which could be used independently for teaching Jesus tradition to Greek-speaking Christians, and would not have been suitable for being read continuously. Lessing posited that one continuous Hebrew/Aramaic book, an Ur-Gospel, was translated and used by each synoptist, whereas the LTH posits that many discontinuous Greek short reports or notes, the Greek Logia, were used, without having to be translated, by each synoptist. Lessing’s Ur-Gospel Hypothesis is therefore very different from, and incompatible with, the LTH.

(2) How could the Greek Logia have contained all the different kinds of material found in the synpotic gospels?

According to the LTH, the apostle Matthew made his short reports on the basis not only of his own eye-witness observations but also by making use of the testimony of others. Jesus giving the parable of the sower, for instance, could well have been witnessed personally by the apostle Matthew and written up by him the same evening. The account of the three ways in which Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, however, would have been based on the testimony given by Jesus afterwards to the disciples. Some of the material concerning the birth and boyhood of Jesus, and of John the Baptist, in the synoptic gospels, and also some of the accounts of resurrection appearances of Jesus could have been received by the apostle Matthew from various followers of Jesus including, after the resurrection, Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, as they met with the apostles in Jerusalem. The variety of content and approach of the different kinds of material in the synoptic gospels is therefore, according to the LTH, the consequence of the apostle Matthew having written some short reports on the basis of his own eye-witness observation and other short reports on the basis of various kinds of testimony given by different followers of Jesus to the apostle Matthew from the time he became a follower of Jesus to soon after the resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, it should be noted that there is a consistency of language and style, of form and approach, throughout the synoptic gospels. Robert Guelich wrote of "the amazing similarity in the language, style, and form of the Synoptic tradition between the Markan and non-Markan materials of Matthew and Luke" when these are compared, for instance, with John’s Gospel.(Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary, Mark 1-8:26, Dallas, 1989, xxvii). It is mis-leading to point only to the differences between the various kinds of material in the synoptic gospels, and to ignore the very strong similarities between the synoptic tradition as a whole. If a pericope from any synoptic gospel is quoted, it may not be immediately obvious from which particular gospel it has come. From the language and style of the material, however, in practically every case it will be immediately recognized that the material is not from the gospel of John, or the gospel of Thomas, or the letter of James, and so on. Even though there are many different kinds of material in Matthew, Mark and Luke, generally the material is distinctively synoptic. This is fully in accord with the LTH which posits that each synoptist took his material from a common Greek documentary source, the Greek Logia, which was a translation into Greek of the Aramaic Logia composed by the apostle Matthew.

CLICK HERE to download a document (RTF format) containing all two-fold repetitions in the synoptic gospels. This paper is a MS-Word document and uses the Sgreek font from Silver Mountain Software.

(3) Does not the Two Document Hypothesis work so well, and is it not accepted by so many scholars, that it is presumptuous to put forward a different view?

The Two Document Hypothesis works very well in accounting for the similarities and differences of wording and order of material between the synoptic gospels. B. H. Streeter considered that the synoptic problem was precisely to explain such "parallelism" between the synoptic gospels. (See B. H. Streeter, ‘The Synoptic Problem’ in A. S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible, London, 1919, 672.) If there were no other type of phenomena than the parallelism observable in the synoptic gospels, then it would be presumptuous to put forward a different view. However, other types of similarities between the synoptic gospels are observed. For instance, there are many instances of story dualities such that each synoptic gospel has instances unique to itself. See the paper presented at the 1999 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Finland on "Duality in the Synoptic Gospels". [CLICK HERE to download finland.doc]. The occurrence of story dualities unique to each synoptic gospel is not a parallelism phenomenon, and it is difficult to see how the Two Document Hypothesis can explain such a synoptic phenomenon. Other such non-parallelism phenomena ("format phenomena") are observed. See the paper on "Synoptic Format Phenomena" presented at the 2001 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. [CLICK HERE to download this talk]. Another non-parallelism synoptic phenomenon is that each synoptic gospel contains instances of transliterated Aramaic words not in common Greek usage (and therefore not "loan" words), and not found in parallel material in any other synoptic gospel. This is also very hard to explain under the Two Document Hypothesis. The Logia Translation Hypothesis easily accounts for this phenomenon, however, as the result of some Aramaic words from the Aramaic Logia having been retained, possibly for dramatic effect, in the Greek Logia, and each synoptist independently making his own selection of these as he used the Greek Logia.

Furthermore, the parallelism phenomena explained by the Two Document Hypothesis are at least as easily accounted for by the Logia Translation Hypothesis. For instance, the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark in the triple tradition are, according to the Logia Translation Hypothesis, the result of all three synoptists having copied the same material from the Greek Logia, with Mark being fairly faithful to the wording of this material, Matthew less faithful as he edited the wording, and Luke even less faithful than Matthew to the wording concerned. Occasionally, as he edited the wording of the material he selected, Mark departed from the wording of the Greek Logia where Matthew and Luke independently retained that wording, so producing the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark in the triple tradition. The Logia Translation Hypothesis thus accounts for the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark in the triple tradition just as well, if not more easily than, the Two Document Hypothesis.

Once it is realized that there are observable similarities other than parallelism between the synoptic gospels, it becomes obvious that it is not presumptuous to put forward an alternative hypothesis to the Two Document Hypothesis. The Two Document Hypothesis fails to account for the synoptic format phenomena, whereas the Logia Translation Hypothesis accounts easily for these. It therefore makes good sense to consider the Logia Translation Hypothesis as an acceptable alternative solution to the synoptic problem.

(4) How does the Logia Translation Hypothesis account for the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent from Mark?

The Greek Logia were many self-contained units of material for teaching Jesus tradition to Greek-speaking Christians. In the first century it was fully acceptable to make selections from a set of notes and use these as a basis for a continuous book. Plutarch, Arrian, Quintilian and Pliny the Elder, for instance, did this. There was no obligation to use all the available notes when writing a book. Each author made his own selection. According to the Logia Translation Hypothesis, Mark selected from the Greek Logia mostly narratives that showed Jesus or John the Baptist as a dominant figure. Mark omitted narratives in which Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Herod the Great, Satan, Herod Antipas, Judas, Pilate’s wife, the guard at the tomb, and so on, were the dominant figures. Mark also apparently disliked long pieces of discourse. He omitted some of the preaching of John the Baptist, and long discourses of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, the long Travel Discourse, and other lengthy passages of discourse retained by Matthew or Luke.

The double tradition material, the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent from Mark, includes some narrative material, for instance the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, but is mostly discourse. According the LTH, this is material which Matthew and Luke independently included from the Greek Logia, but which Mark chose to omit because it was either a lengthy passage of mostly discourse or narrative material in which Jesus or John the Baptist was not the dominant figure. Basically, therefore, the double tradition is material that Mark deliberately omitted from the Greek Logia (together with a great deal of other material omitted for similar reasons) in accordance with his general policy of selection of material from that source, but which coincidentally Matthew and Luke both chose to include.

Some of the double tradition material is in the same context in both Matthew and Luke. In both Matthew and Luke, some double tradition material appears to be in its original Greek Logia position relative to the pericopes that are the same and in the same order in all three synoptic gospels. In the case of the other pieces of double tradition, it seems that mostly Matthew has moved a passage to a different context, but occasionally that Luke has done this. (See the next frequently asked question on this.)

(5) Can the wording and order of the double tradition material in the Greek Logia be reconstructed?

The LTH is similar to the Two Document Hypothesis in that both posit that Matthew and Luke independently used a hypothetical documentary source to obtain the double tradition. The same redaction-critical principles apply to the reconstruction of the wording and order of material of the double tradition in Q (assuming the Two Document Hypothesis) as apply to the reconstruction of the wording and order of material of the double tradition in the Greek Logia (assuming the LTH). The results of the work of Q scholars in reconstructing the wording and order of Q from Matthew and Luke can therefore be used for reconstructing the wording and order of the double tradition from Matthew and Luke on the basis of the LTH. In this respect, the redaction-critical reconstruction of Q found in J. M. Robinson, P. Hoffmann, and J. S. Kloppenborg, The Critical Edition of Q, (Minneapolis, 2000) , can be understood to be a redaction-critical reconstruction of the double tradition of the Greek Logia posited by the LTH. Thus the order of the double tradition material on pages vi-viii of this book, is the order of the double tradition material in the Greek Logia also. Similarly the wording of the double tradition in The Critical Edition of Q can be understood to be the wording of the double tradition of the Greek Logia of the LTH, as a result of applying the same redaction-critical principles to Matthew and Luke under the LTH.

(6) Can the wording of the Greek Logia be largely reconstructed?

Yes. As discussed in the previous question and answer, the wording and order of the double tradition material of the Greek Logia can be largely reconstructed. Also, if we assume the LTH, it is clear that any material in similar wording in more than one synoptic gospel must have come from the Greek Logia, since it is extremely unlikely that two synoptists would have composed the same material in the same wording, and that any such material in similar order is very likely to have been in that order in the Greek Logia. Furthermore, material in Mark and in the other synoptic gospels in the same order, forms a "Markan framework" in all three synoptic gospels. This framework must have been in the Greek Logia. Relative to this common framework there are apparently fifteen places at which Matthew and Luke agree in having non-Markan material. On the LTH, Mark must have selected fourteen blocks of material from the Greek Logia to form his gospel. Generally non-Markan material was taken by Matthew and/or Luke from the non-Markan "slots" in the Greek Logia. On the basis of the LTH, following this type of reasoning, the Greek Logia can be largely reconstructed using all the material in the synoptic gospels (apart from the dedicatory preface at the beginning of the gospel of Luke).

It should be noted, however, that such a reconstruction is bound to be provisional and incomplete. For it is very probable that coincidentally in some instances all three synoptists independently omitted the same word, or phrase, or sentence, or paragraph, or section of material from the Greek Logia. It is also very probable that in some instances Matthew and Luke independently made the same alteration or omission to wording from the Greek Logia so that it is not always the case that where two synoptic gospels agree against the third, they have both followed the wording of the Greek Logia. Moreover, it is probable that some of the wording of the text of the synoptic gospels as we have received them is the result of assimilation of the original wording of the text of one synoptic gospel to the wording of another. The agreements of wording so formed will not necessarily indicate the wording of the Greek Logia at these points, therefore. Moreover, some of the pieces of material special to Matthew may well have been moved by the writer of the gospel of Matthew from their original Greek Logia position, so preventing us from reconstructing the Greek Logia order in these instances. Although the Greek Logia can be largely reconstructed, therefore, any reconstruction will, in the last resort, be incomplete and provisional.

(7) What were the contents of the beginning the Greek Logia?

The Greek Logia probably began with:

(a) The Genealogy of Jesus as found in Lk 3.23b-38

(b) The Birth Stories of John the Baptist and Jesus and the account of Jesus at Twelve Years, as found in Lk 1.5-2.52

(c) The Genealogy (or table of descent) of Jesus as found in Mt.1.1-17

(d) The Birth Stories of Jesus and the Coming of John the Baptist each shown to fulfil a quotation from the scriptures - Mt 1.18-25, 2.1-12, 2.13-18, 2.19-23, 3.1-6 // Mk 1.1-6 // Lk 3.1-6.

Notice that this includes the beginning of the Gospel of Mark and parallel material in Matthew and Luke.

(e) John’s preaching concerning repentance, and his ethical teaching - Mt 3.7-10 // Lk 3.7-9 and Lk 3.10-15.

(f) John heralds the Messiah - Mk 1.7a, 8, 7b. Note that Matthew and Luke retain the original order of Greek Logia material here, agreeing in order of material against Mark.

(g) John heralds the Messiah (continuation in Matthew and Luke but not Mark) - Mt 3.11b-12 // Lk 3.16b-18

(h) Herod imprisons John - Lk 3.19-20

(i) John hesitates to baptize Jesus - Mt 3.13-15

(j) Baptism of Jesus - Mk 1.9-11

(8) Does the Logia Translation Hypothesis throw any light on the text-critical question of how Mark ended his gospel?

Text-criticism of the manuscripts of the gospel of Mark is agreed that the "endings" to Mark found in some manuscripts are not original to the gospel itself. Either Mark deliberately very abruptly ended his gospel at Mk 16.8, or the original ending of the gospel of Mark has been lost. Many scholars who consider that the Two Document Hypothesis is the best available solution to the synoptic problem, would affirm that it is feasible, and indeed probable, that Mark ended his gospel abruptly at Mk 16.8 with a "final irony", leaving readers to decided for themselves whether Jesus did, or did not, rise from the dead. This is compatible with the Two Document Hypothesis.

If, however, we accept the LTH, the text-critical situation is changed. For according to the LTH, the Greek Logia were in circulation as teaching notes before any synoptic gospel was written, and were held in high regard as the fundamental document of Greek-speaking Christianity. Moreover, the Greek Logia included the resurrection appearance narratives found in Matthew and Luke. In this case, it is almost inconceivable that Mark would have deliberately omitted all the resurrection appearance narratives present in the Greek Logia. Also, the ending of the extant text of Mark at Mk 16.8 is extremely abrupt, finishing with the conjuction "for". Although this is not unprecedented or grammatically impossible, it is improbable as a a deliberately-intended ending to a book. The most natural understanding of the Greek is that it is an unfinished sentence, that the gospel of Mark did not end at this point, and that the original ending has been lost. In this case, according to the LTH, Mark originally very probably indeed included some of the resurrection appearance material found in Matthew and Luke. On this view, the original ending of Mark was lost at an early stage in the transmission of the text of Mark. Thus the LTH throws some light on the text-critical question of how the gospel of Mark originally ended.

(9) Was the Greek Logia a literal translation of the Aramaic Logia?

In passages where two synoptic gospels agree almost verbatim, it is clear that the Greek is not a woodenly-literal translation of Aramaic, although some Aramaic idioms, including Aramaic words transliterated into Greek, are clearly present. According to the LTH, the translator of the Aramaic Logia produced the Greek Logia in lively Greek so that the material was suitable for teaching Jesus tradition to Greek-speaking Christians.

Also, there is considerable duality observable in each synoptic gospel. The LTH entails that this duality was created by the translator of the Aramaic Logia as he produced the Greek Logia. Frequently, the translator came across a piece of material in the Aramaic Logia that he felt needed to be expanded. He deliberately looked back to material he had already translated and re-used some of the wording of that material in order to produce the required expansion and make the material more suitable for teaching Jesus tradition. There are many examples of "two-fold repetitions" (or "doublets") in each synoptic gospel, including "story dualities". These are the consequence of the repetition of the translator of the Aramaic Logia as he expanded pieces of material by re-using wording from earlier in his translation. For example, in the gospel of Mark, the Feeding of the Four Thousand contains two feedings, two prayers and two distributions. One was with bread (Mk 8 .1b, 2b, 4-6, 8-9a, 10) and the other with fish (Mk 8.1a,c, 2a, 3, 7, 10a). According to the LTH, the translator came across a short story of feeding with fish in the Aramaic Logia and decided to expand this. He used some wording from the Feeding of the Five Thousand to do this, so producing the Feeding of the Four Thousand with its two feedings. The writer of the gospel of Mark only lightly edited the wording of the Feeding of the Five Thousand the Feeding of the Four Thousand, so that the duality created by the translator of the Aramaic Logia is largely preserved in Mark. This accounts for the duality between the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Feeding of the Four Thousand in Mark, and is a further example of the translator of the Aramaic Logia not writing a woodenly-literal Greek translation of the Aramaic Logia. Many other instances of duality in the synoptic gospels are similarly, according to the LTH, the consequence of the translator of the Aramaic Logia deliberately re-using wording of material he had already translated in order to expand other pieces of material. On this, see the graphs in the paper on "Synoptic Format Phenomena" presented at the 2001 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. [CLICK HERE to download this talk].

(10) How did Mark form his gospel from the Greek Logia?

See the answer to question 8 above on the question of the text of the ending of the gospel of Mark. Basically Mark omitted fourteen blocks of material from the Greek Logia, editing very slightly the wording and order of material he retained. In particular, Mark omitted many narratives that did not show Jesus or John the Baptist as the dominant figure, and also many lengthy passages of mostly discourse. To a limited extent only, Mark impressed his own style and understanding on the material he selected from the Greek Logia. He very largely retained the wording and order of material he used from the Greek Logia. The agreements of wording between Matthew and Luke against Mark in the triple tradition passages are "minor" because Mark only slightly edited the wording of the blocks of material he chose to use. The Greek Logia were the equivalent of about 1637 verses in length. Mark therefore omitted about three fifths of the material in the Greek Logia. As many commentators have pointed out, Mark does not have a clear outline. This may well be because Mark formed his Gospel basically by truncating a set of notes which had no clear outline either.

(11) How did Luke form his gospel from the Greek Logia?

The first four verses of the gospel of Luke are clearly a dedicatory preface supplied by the writer himself. Beyond this, if we assume the LTH, then basically Luke must have formed his gospel by omitting about three tenths of the material of the Greek Logia. It seems that Luke also provided brief editorial introductions to some pieces of material, particularly if they were discourse. Luke occasionally departed from the order of the material of the Greek Logia. He edited the wording of the material he used more radically than did Mark. Luke impressed his own style, and to some extent his own understanding, on the material he used from the Greek Logia. He omitted Greek Logia material of little interest to Gentiles or seemed to require a particularly Jewish approach, for instance the ceremonial washing of hands before meals, or material which seemed to be based on a string of "proof texts" from the Old Testament. Luke’s overall aim was to produce a continuous book of Jesus tradition for all Greek-speaking Christians.

(12) How did the gospel-writer Matthew (not the apostle Matthew) form his gospel from the Greek Logia?

On the LTH, basically the gospel-writer Matthew formed his gospel by omitting about one third of the material of the Greek Logia. The gospel-writer Matthew must have retained especially material which seemed to relate to Jewish customs and beliefs, and to omit some material which seemed to relate to non-Jews. The gospel-writer Matthew must have edited the order of the material he used, particularly the order of the discourse material, so that his gospel partly consists of a series of alternate blocks of discourse and narrative provided with introductory formulas. He also edited, more drastically than Mark, the wording of the material he took from the Greek Logia. The gospel-writer Matthew to some extent impressed his own style and understanding onto the material he selected from the Greek Logia. In his editing, the gospel-writer Matthew supplied some "proof texts" from the Old Testament, though others were taken from the Greek Logia.

(13) Is there a feasible life-setting in which the Greek Notes might have been compiled?

Yes. The Greek-speaking Gentile Christian movement seems to have begun at Antioch in Syria around 38 CE as indicated in Acts 11.19-26. See also Acts 13.1-3. Men originally from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch in Syria and preached to Jews (possibly in Aramaic) but with little success, and then in Greek to Greek-speaking Gentiles so that a great number of these believed in Jesus as Lord. The preachers from Cyprus and Cyrene suddenly found that they had an enormous pastoral task. Many, possibly thousands (Antioch was the third largest city of the Roman empire), had received the proclamation of Jesus who went about doing good, had been crucified, had risen as Lord who leads his followers and who would be the Judge at the end. These believers in Jesus would have wanted to know about what he did, who were his helpers, why the authorities wanted to kill him, who witnessed his death and resurrection, and so on. They would have needed Jesus tradition. One of the bi-lingual preachers from Cyprus and Cyrene produced a translation into Greek of the Aramaic Logia of the apostle Matthew for use in teaching the many Gentile-Christians. This would have been copied and circulated for use amongst the various groups of Greek-speaking Christians in Antioch, and eventually copied and used in other places as the Gentile-Christian movement spread rapidly to Rome, Corinth, and so on.

 

This page was last updated on 23 Feb 2002.

Brian E. Wilson (deceased)

© 1998-2001, B.E.Wilson