|This interesting bit of text will be analyzed assuming that Luke has three sources, Mark, Matthew, and an Aramaic saying list, sort of a “Q-lite”. I think this is demonstrated by other evidence not discussed here, but at the end, I will discuss how this pericope helps support that idea.
First let’s inventory some relevant texts.
Dt 5:14 …the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals…
Mark 3:1-6 1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." 4Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. 5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Matthew 12:9-14 9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
Luke 6:6-11 6On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there. 9Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" 10He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Luke 14:1-6 1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. 5Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" 6And they had nothing to say.
The above reflects the reading of Luke found in B, supported by P45 and P75. We also have in Aleph “donkey or ox” instead of “son or “ox”. Then in D we have “sheep or ox”, and there are additional minor readings.
It turns out that one simple alliterative Aramaic saying will helps us make sense of the relationships between all these texts. The saying was probably something like: “But if your son (BeRA) or beast (Be'IRA) falls into a pit (BERA) on the Sabbath then which of you would not pull them out". It is alliterative in Aramaic. Notice that it forms a somewhat amusing reply to Dt. 5:14. If someone were to quote the law involving beasts and your son not working on the Sabbath, one could reply with this alliteration.
Next we turn to Mark, but other than to say it precedes the other synoptics we will have little to say about it here. Its origin may be interesting as well, but that is not our focus here.
Next we turn to Matthew. Matthew is using both Mark and this saying and decides to combine them. Matthew wants to make the point that if you could help and animal on the Sabbath you certainly could help a person which is more important. But in order to make this fit Matthew has to drop the part about the son being in the hole. The text in Matthew then is about one beast, a sheep.
Now we need to trace Luke’s behavior. Luke (based on other arguments) regards Mark and his saying source as good sources. He will use them extensively. On the other hand, Matthew he regards as contemporary, and he dislikes the Theology. This is one of the main reasons he is writing this gospel in the first place. After his prolog, Luke will start working through his material from Mark, organizing his saying material into two long interruptions in Mark. Luke gets to Mark 3 and simply takes it over into Luke 6 for the most part. Later, Luke is working through his saying list and comes to the beast in the pit saying. He then looks to see what Matthew did with it and discovers that Matthew combined it with Mark 3. Luke likes the placement but does not want to backtrack and re-write so he just goes forward and creates a similar story here. Luke places it in the home of a Pharisee at dinner, a typical setting for Luke. He changes the withered had to dropsy, a swollen condition. He uses the basic issue from Mark 3, includes the saying in its full form, and concludes.
We then turn to the text variants. The combination of son with ox looked odd to some later copyists and they replaced the son. In Aleph a donkey is used. An in D, Matthew’s sheep is brought in to replace the son.
Thus this one alliterative Aramaic saying can explain a lot. So, let’s compare this to what other hypotheses would look like here. The standard two source hypothesis would need to be augmented with an Aramaic Q in addition to the Greek Q, so this is more complex in terms of the number of documents involved. On the other hand, if we try a “Mark-without-Q” scenario, we don’t have any written Aramaic link, nor do we have any obvious motivation for Luke to create a duplicate here.
So, while I think the 3-source idea is quite sound based on other evidence, I also think this pericope lends it support.
See also -
Matthew Black, "An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts"
Ron Price's 3-source hypothesis