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Matthew uses the Greek word 'seismos' (σεισμὸς) in 8:24. This word is used 9 times in the NT and 8 of the 9 times it is translated as "earthquake." In Matthew 8:24 most translations translate it "storm" (NIV,NLT, NASB). Assuming that Matthew had Mark as his source, he would have had to intentionally use a different word.

Mark and Luke use the Greek 'lailaps' (λαῖλαψ) meaning fierce gale.

Obviously most Biblical translators assume 'seismos' to mean storm but is there possibly a deeper meaning? What would be Matthew's goal in using a different word?

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  • What evidence do you have to make the assumption that 'Matthew had Mark as his source' ? –
    – Nigel J
    Jan 8 '20 at 2:27
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    Obviously we cannot know for sure, but:
    – S. Broberg
    Jan 9 '20 at 14:50
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    got timed out - Obviously, we cannot know for sure, but: 1. approx. 90% of Mark is either in Matthew or Luke. It seems unlikely that Mark would have edited down (unlike scribe behavior), rather Matt. or Lk. expand for explanation. 2. Mk leaves out a large amt. of important material that Mt./Lk. include. 3. When Mt. or Lk. differ from Mk they almost never agree with each other. 4. Mt./Lk. tend to alter difficult, offensive, or theologically difficult readings. They smooth them out. These come from Dr. Mark Strauss. His commentary on Mark can be found here: tinyurl.com/vx6o962
    – S. Broberg
    Jan 9 '20 at 15:10
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    Another explanation is that Matthew, as is far more likely historically, is much earlier (about 40 AD) and Mark, later, read Matthew and saw, astutely, within it, another book. Mark saw within the pages of Matthew that another, distinct facet of the Person of Christ could be expressed with very much the same material but differently presented.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 9 '20 at 16:47
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    @HoldToTheRod Thank you. I agree with your post and find especially useful the Patristic Citations, which also agree that Matthew comes first. Matthew shows the Kingdom of the heavens and the Son of man who shall take the kingdom. Mark shows the Messenger of the Covenant, evident from his very first two verses in the book. (In my own understanding.)
    – Nigel J
    Apr 15 at 5:06
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"What would be Matthew's goal in using a different word?"

Matthew 8:24 specifies that it was only the sea that became violent, so the "result" was a tempest, not an earthquake. The earth is not mentioned. Clearly, the Greek, "seismos" covers that result. Moreover, Verse 26 instructs us that the "causation" of that result was the wind, not an upheaval of the earth:

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

In each of the other NT occasions that "seismos" was translated as "earthquake", the result, the causation, or both mandated the use of the word "earthquake", because the earth actually quaked in each of those cases.

Re: Matthew:27:54, verse 51 states:

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

Likewise, Matthew 28:2, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11, Acts 16:26, and Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13; and 16:18 clearly indicate an upheaval of the earth, not the sea.

Even in Revelation 11:19, though the temple of God was opened in heaven, it cannot be taken that there was a shaking of that temple, or of that heaven where that temple was located.

Although translators and commentators may vary in strictness and understanding, there does not appear to be a difficulty between the INSPIRED WRITERS PERSONAL CHOICE OF INSPIRED WORDS and the INSPIRED WORDS USED--ALL IS WELL.

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Both Mark and Luke use the phrase λαῖλαψ ἀνέμου (lailaps anemon) rather than the single word λαῖλαψ (lailaps) - meaning literally storm of wind. Both the King James and NASB retain the literal phrase in their translations - storm of wind in the KJV, gale of wind in the NASB.

I point this out because I think it is the wind that is important here in understanding Matthew's choice of words. In the Greek Septuagint, σεισμός (seismos) represents variously the unvocalized Hebrew words רעש (r's), סערת (s'rt), and עור ('wr). Not all of the usages of these Hebrew words represent earthquake. Take Jeremiah 23:19, for example:

הִנֵּ֣ה׀ סַעֲרַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה חֵמָה֙ יָֽצְאָ֔ה וְסַ֖עַר מִתְחוֹלֵ֑ל עַ֛ל רֹ֥אשׁ רְשָׁעִ֖ים יָחֽוּל׃

ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς παρὰ κυρίου καὶ ὀργὴ ἐκπορεύεται εἰς συσσεισμόν, συστρεφομένη ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀσεβεῖς ἥξει.

Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath, Even a whirling tempest; It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.

The understanding in antiquity was that Matthew first composed his Gospel in Aramaic and that it was later translated into Greek (see, e.g. Eusebius Church History, 4th c., or Theophylact's introduction to his commentary on Matthew, 10th c. Byzantine), though modern western scholars dispute this. Accepting the earlier hypotheses, however, one might conclude that whatever Matthew originally put down in Aramaic was understood to be identical in meaning to what Mark and Luke wrote in Greek. It would also seem that whoever eventually translated Matthew's Gospel into Greek, assuming this is what happened, did so possibly without consulting what Mark or Luke had put down.

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The answer here is simpler that it appears.

σεισμός (seimos) means a "great shaking" (see Thayer, NAS, Strongs, etc.)

Such a shaking on the land we call and earthquake.

Such a shaking on a lake or see we call a storm.

Mark and Luke's account focuses on the cause, namely the wind; while Matthew focuses on the result, nameley the waves shaking and tipping the boat.

Thus, translating σεισμός on a lake as "storm" is entirely consistent with its meaning.

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Let's consider 3 possibilities:

1. If Mark were first

I think this is the more difficult option, as Matthew's use of the word σεισμὸς would be unexpected. However, this needn't be conclusive evidence against the priority of Mark on its own.

As Mark Goodacre has observed:

[L]iterary style is a personal thing, and it is never surprising when given writers choose not to use their source's literary idiosyncrasies. It is unreasonable, therefore, to expect either Matthew or Luke to have carried over every piece of Mark's literary narration. As writers, we are all familiar with avoiding certain terminology in the way we structure our prose. (The Synoptic Problem Four Views, pp. 129-130)

It may simply be that Matthew didn't like the word λαῖλαψ; it never does appear in his Gospel.

2. If Matthew were first

The word λαῖλαψ appears only twice in the entire New Testament--in these two passages in Mark & Luke (a variation of the word also appears in 2 Peter--see Strong's 2978 here). This certainly strengthens the case for a literary relationship between Mark & Luke--a rare word is used in exactly the same place.

On balance though I suggest the evidence from borrowed words comes down in favor of Matthean priority.

Eduard Zeller's study of this phenomenon suggested that for every example of a favorite word/phrase where it looks like Matthew is doing the borrowing from Mark, there are 2 examples going the other direction—that Mark is doing the borrowing.

Zeller's work on borrowed words didn't presuppose which Gospel was first, and concluded Mark borrowed from both Matthew & Luke. An excellent summary in English is in the Introduction to One Gospel from Two Mark's Use of Matthew and Luke.

This would mean that Matthew used an odd word--as noted in the OP, σεισμὸς, though grammatically permissible, is an unusual choice--and whoever came second chose to replace the odd σεισμὸς with the more clear λαῖλαψ.

3. If Greek Matthew is a translation

Shem Tob Matthew (a corrupted but potentially never-translated Hebrew copy of Matthew from the 14th century) is sometimes helpful in understanding the underlying Semitic thought behind the Gospels. If this document is a corrupted version of something originally written in Hebrew (as many who study it, most prominently George Howard, have suggested), then the word of interest in Matthew 8:24 is סער, a word used dozens of times in the OT to refer to a storm (see here)

If Matthew was originally composed in Hebrew, as Origen and other early church scholars attest, then, as user33515 already noted, it is the translator of Matthew who picked an odd word. This again could be because, as noted in the section on Markan Priority, the writer simply didn't like the word λαῖλαψ.

Or it could be that the translator was influenced by the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 29:6...this observation goes a little more out on a limb, but I find it interesting that the word in Shem Tob Matthew (סער) is used in Isaiah 29:6. In Hebrew this passage refers to earthquake, storm, and tempest separately, as three distinct nouns (see here), but the Greek of the Septuagint just has a single noun. And what is that noun? None other than σεισμοῦ, a form of our friend σεισμός.

The Septuagint uses σεισμός in a relevant passage describing the Lord's power over the elements. If Matthew was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the translator clearly knew the Septuagint well. Greek Matthew may well have σεισμός because of what it conveys in the Septuagint.

Conclusion

Any of these options are possible. Because I believe on separate grounds that Matthew was written first and in Hebrew, the third possibility intrigues me the most. But on the evidence of this single passage I wouldn't rule out the other two explanations.

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