Longer is later? Not Necessarily.
by Stephen E. Schlarb
A favorite assumption of many Bible scholars is that when there are two or more versions of a particular New Testament text, the shorter version is closer to the unaltered event, while the longer version contains later interpretations and additions.
One glaring case of this is in the Beatitudes delivered by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12 (or on the level place in Luke 6:20-23). Specifically, we will examine the first Beatitude,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 5:3) and
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20).
The usual modern scholarship gives the nod to Luke for writing the Beatitudes in their more primitive, therefore more original content – i.e., without spiritual interpretation which is considered a later add-on. Matthew is interpreted to have added the “in spirit” to the “poor”, and to have added Beatitudes beyond the supposedly original four given in Luke. (Refer to The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, 1971, page 682).
Why could it not be reasoned that Matthew was a witness to this sermon of Jesus, and that he accurately recorded what Jesus said? Luke came many years later (with Paul’s mission to Jerusalem) to interview people with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-hand recollections.
Matthew (Levi) wrote careful reports to the authorities on his tax collections. It is reasonable to conclude that Matthew recorded Jesus’ teachings accurately and even meticulously in writing at the time Jesus delivered them.
Later, in Matthew 9:9, Jesus calls to Matthew to “Follow me”, and Matthew immediately gets up and follows him. This indicates that Matthew had previously heard and was familiar with Jesus’ teachings.
In the Qumran Scrolls (part of the Dead Sea Scrolls), there is Thanksgiving Hymn 33 which contains the following:
“Blessing to the humble, troubled of spirit, and those who mourn.”
In 1QM (14,7) there is the term, “needy in spirit” or “poor in spirit”. This is interpreted by experts in Hebrew as meaning “needy of God”, regardless of how much money a person has.
The Qumran scrolls are dated from approximately 250 B.C. to about 65 A.D. They are in Hebrew and Aramaic, and were solely in the possession of Jews. The references to “poor in spirit” were phrases already known to Jews, such as Jesus, and were obviously not invented by some Christian author of Matthew.
Considering all facets of this matter, it is reasonable to conclude that Matthew recorded Jesus’ statements accurately.