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Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13 presented a different order of the temptations Satan offered after Christ completed his forty days fasting in the wilderness


  1. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread
  2. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down . . .
  3. All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.


  1. If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.
  2. ... If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.
  3. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here . . .

So why did they differ? Is it because either one of them forgot the order of the temptations presented? Who is right? Or, is there a theological point that is being highlighted for different purposes between the two Gospel writers?

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I've edited the question with the idea of "Who is right?" really isn't a normal seminary type question. The answer that just about any scholar of hermeneutics would say, "there is no way to determine which event actually happened, and there is no importance to that." – Affable Geek Aug 9 '13 at 13:29
The real question is, what was the point each author had in choosing the layout he did. – Affable Geek Aug 9 '13 at 13:30
@AffableGeek the additional question is fine. – OnesimusUnbound Aug 9 '13 at 13:32
The answer that just about any scholar of hermeneutics would say, "there is no way to determine which event actually happened, **and there is no importance to that.**" does the difference in order of the temptations put the inerrancy of the scriptures in question? – OnesimusUnbound Aug 9 '13 at 13:35
Re: Inerrancy- it does put inerrancy In question, if you mean that it must conform to certain "scientific" facts. (In that a then b cannot also be b then a). But, it does not call preservation of scripture into question, because God uses each perfectly created narrative to convey perfectly what he chooses to convey. Personally, I hold to the perfection and preservation of the scripture, but not inerrancy (really only SBCers and certain evangelicals do). Most scholars do not like that term very much. – Affable Geek Aug 9 '13 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is sort of a combination and customization of several commentaries I perused on the subject, being curious myself. As I am not directly copying any one of them I am not adding individual quotes. The two that most influenced my opinion here is Edersheim and someone called Arthur Sloman.

If you read the verses carefully you will notice Luke does not imply chronology as much as Matthew. Matthew uses the word 'then' a couple times. Luke just uses the word 'and' (i.e. this also happened among these things). At once we should see that the gospel narratives did not have an obsession with chronology as we might have in a modern account. Those who spend years trying to chart the 'true' chronology of the gospel events have various perplexing decisions to make and leave many things under guesswork.

To wonder why Luke may have reversed the potential chronological order of Matthew's account we can only make an educated guess. The 'education' part in a good guess is that we do know that Luke was thinking more of a Gentile audience whereas Matthew was minding a Jewish audience. This is often the only handle we have to try and see why one goes in a certain direction and the other not.

Using this handle of the intended audience I can see one plausible explanation. For a Jewish audience they might instinctively understand that the temptation to 'throw himself down' or to become like a powerful Lord of the earth, are both increasing degrees of the same temptation to obtain a Messianic dream the easy way. That is to prove or force his kingdom without suffering or being rejected by his people. To a Gentile, this order of increasing temptation might go right over their heads. Without digressing and explanation the whole context, possibly Luke was satisfied in getting a less 'deep' understanding of the temptation that might be more applicable to a Gentile audience and their temptations. The First the temptation is just to satisfy hunger, without any direct religious significance in the desire. The Second is then to a Gentile application, to satisfy a desire for raw power (neglecting the Messianic motive to have that power and fulfill the Jewish expectation of the Messiah's rule according the the flesh). Finally to satisfy a desire for renown recognition and fame, which seems the ultimate dream of stardom like the gods of Greece and Rome we find the grand temptation (again avoiding the complexity of the Messianic nuances of the chronological order). Maybe Luke switched the order of these temptations so as to better connect and apply more aptly the gist of the narrative to a heathen audience entirely ignorant of the Messianic nuances that the chronological order introduces. If he used a chronological order he may have had to embark on some digression and side notes of explanation cluttering his evangelical intentions.

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Wow! I really like this answer. I hadn't caught that lack of chronology, and this is really well sourced. But then again, @Mike, you always have great stuff, so I shouldn't be surprised :) – Affable Geek Aug 10 '13 at 16:09
@AffableGeek - thanks. nice to wake up this morning to an encouraging word. – Mike Aug 11 '13 at 1:56

The difference is not because either one of the authors forgot the order of the temptations presented, nor is it a case of one being right and the other wrong. Both authors made extensive use of the hypothetical 'Q' document and both, from time to time, changed some details in Q to suit theological purposes. Because the two gospel accounts are derived from a much older source ('Q'), neither author could be sure of the correct chronological order of the temptations and no doubt they saw no harm in making a change that might suit their respective theologies. For most purposes, the order is of no real concern today.

Raymond E. Brown says,in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 236, the order of the last two temptations in the wilderness is an obvious difference between Matthew and Luke. Brown suggests that if the order in the 'Q' document was the same as in Luke, then Matthew changed it to have the scene end on the mountain, matching the mountain motif of Matt 5:1; 28:16. But if Q order was the same as in Matthew's Gospel, then Luke changed it to have the scene end at the Jerusalem Temple, where the Gospel ends in 24:52-53. Brown says most scholars judge Matthew's order more original.

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