I got quite a lot of interaction on my earlier post on this subject (did Matthew try to replace Mark?). It just happened that today I read a relevant section of Francis Watson’s new Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013).
Watson argues that “redaction criticism” appropriately treats the evangelists as creative authors in their own right (not merely cut-and-paste specialists). But in the minds of many scholars, according to Watson, their authorial interests are limited to “situational factors.” Watson proposes a deeper and more dynamic process for the evangelists as interpreters of Jesus tradition. Here is where it gets interesting:
Any new gospel rewrites it predecessors, whether that rewriting takes the form of revision, supplementation, or substitution. Matthew rewrites Mark both as he revises Markan material and as he supplements it with new narrative and sayings material. Luke rewrites Matthew both in his revised account of Jesus’ temptation and in his substitution of a new birth narrative, inspired by and responsive to the Matthean one. The outcome of Matthean or Lukan rewriting is nothing less than a new interpretation of the figure of Jesus, qualitatively different from its precursor although the object of interpretation remains recognizable the same. Rewriting assumes that earlier gospel writing is not definitive, and that the traditions it embodies need to be articulated again in the light of new interpretative insights. Rewriting responds to an imperative perceived to stem from the tradition itself, and is not the autonomous act of the creative individual…In the tradition, Jesus himself calls for the new interpretative activity that seeks to communicate his significance afresh. The interpretative dynamic underlying gospel writing and rewriting originates in the risen Lord who is also the earthly Jesus of the tradition. That is the context in which the ‘dependence’ of one gospel on another is to be understood. (286-287)