|Alan Garrow Didache
the problem page
Torsten Löfstedt is Associate Professor at Linnaeus University, Sweden. He is author of Devil, Demons, Judas, and ‘the Jews’ (Pickwick Publications, 2021). Here he tells his MPH Origin Story.
"I first encountered the Matthean Posteriority hypothesis when I was working on The Devil, Demons, Judas, and ‘the Jews’. I had written a several articles relating to the devil in the Gospels and now I hoped to write a larger book on this topic. Inspired by Neil Forsyth’s brilliant work The Old Enemy and by The Origin of Satan, a rather problematic book by Elaine Pagels, I sought to do a redaction critical study showing how portrayals of the devil and his human counterparts developed over time from one Gospel to the next.
My original plan was to follow the two-source hypothesis, as Pagels did. First I would study Mark, then Q, then Matthew, then Luke, and finally John. That however proved impossible. While I had earlier assumed that the two-source hypothesis was unproblematic, the more I looked at the material the more problematic the theory proved to be. The temptation narrative in Matthew and Luke is central to any study of the devil in the Gospels. But this is a narrative and does not have anything in common with the various logia that are said to have made up the bulk of Q. After many false starts I had to admit that a central problem with the two-source hypothesis is knowing how many sources we are actually working with. Since the postulated Q-source has not been preserved there is no way of knowing what it contained. There is therefore no telling how many documents lie behind the various pericopes that Matthew and Luke have in common but are lacking in Mark.
I looked for alternative solutions to the Synoptic problem. At the time I was not acquainted with the term “Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis” (MPH). It’s not a phrase you come up with spontaneously. The classes I had taken on the Gospels long ago and the standard surveys of the Synoptic problem that I initially examined simply ignored this explanation. They would show how unlikely it is that Luke had access to Matthew’s Gospel (why would Luke chop up the Matthean discourses?) and then they would simply assert it is just as absurd to think that Matthew had access to Luke, without actually explaining why it was so absurd. Finally I came upon a blog post by Paul Davidson, a Japanese-English translator, that showed how the MPH could explain unexpected similarities between the versions of the Beelzebul pericope found in Matthew and Luke. This hypothesis seemed to offer the perfect solution.
The MPH is a simple hypothesis: Mark wrote his Gospel first. Luke wrote a new Gospel, using Mark’s Gospel as a basis, but dropping large chunks of material and adding material from other sources. Matthew is an expanded version of Mark’s Gospel, to which he has added material from other sources, one of which was Luke. The simplicity of the hypothesis is appealing. It does not appeal to a hypothetical document to explain those passages that are found in almost identical form in Matthew and Luke but that are not found in Mark. It resolves the problem with the minor agreements. It makes sense of the feeling many scholars had had that where Matthew and Luke shared material that was lacking in Mark, Luke’s version appeared more primitive. The hypothesis also makes sense of the fact that Matthew had a more developed trinitarian theology than Luke.
My book puts the MPH to the test. I found that when it came to explaining changes to the narrative material in the Gospels it worked just fine. This hypothesis gives a better understanding of the distinctive emphases of the different Gospels. The contrast between Luke and Matthew becomes especially clear. Luke’s Gospel reflects an earlier charismatic form of Christianity; Matthew in contrast comes across as institutional and legalistic. In some respects, Luke is more dualistic —the devil actively seeks Jesus’ death for example. But Luke also has a more nuanced picture of Jewish leaders. He is hopeful that they may yet become followers of Christ. Matthew is considerably more judgmental and less forgiving of Jewish religious leaders. He seems to have given up on them. By the time Matthew’s Gospel was written the division between the church and Judaism had hardened.
In future publications I hope to continue to test the MPH on other Synoptic material. This hypothesis promises to revolutionize our understanding of earliest Christianity and the development of Christian theology".
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.