This approach was first developed by Hans Holtzmann (Hand-Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 3rd ed. [Tübingen, 1901], vol. 1, bk. 1, pp. 45–48), who found the reality behind the three tests (in the order of Matthew) in three episodes of chap. 8 of Mark’s gospel (vv.1–9, vv. 11–13, vv. 31–33). Some 40 years later, Herbert Preisker revived this line of thinking, but he identified the three tests with episodes in John’s gospel (John 4:31–34, 6:15, 7:2–6) (Preisker’s study was published in 1939 in an obscure festschrift that was not available to me; his conclusions were reported in Philippe Menoud, L’évangile de Jean d’aprés les recherches récentes [Neuchätel-Paris, 1947], p. 29). Raymond Brown (“Incidents that Are Units in the Synoptic Gospels but Dispersed in St. John,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 [1961], pp. 152–155) preferred John’s version of the multiplication of the loaves (6:26–34) as the real parallel to the first test.

All these suggestions are far wide of the mark. The two points of contact with the multiplication of the loaves are (a) a miracle, and (b) bread. These are purely material. Jesus refuses a miracle in one case but performs one in the other, which involves the multiplication of bread not the transformation of a stone. Brown goes a step further by evoking the discussion that followed the miracle, in which a contrast is drawn between ordinary bread and God’s teaching as the bread of life (John 6:22–59). Jesus, Brown maintains, is virtually commenting on Deuteronomy 8:3. True, but this proves no more than a common use of Deuteronomy 8:3. Moreover, there is no hint in the multiplication of the loaves that Jesus is being tested. On the contrary, he exhibits sovereign power.