|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
The purpose of Revelation is to open our eyes to the wider realities of the present, rather than to 'predict the future'. Nevertheless, a better understanding of 'what is' will always enable a clearer picture of 'what is to come'. Ultimately, the message of Revelation is that 'Jesus is Lord' - in the present and the future. This means that any future prediction that does not culminate in Christ's ultimate victory will always, according to the logic of Revelation, be proven inadequate.
Revelation was written at a time when Nero, an infamous persecutor of Christians, had died but was expected by some to return to recapture his empire. This context provides, I believe, compelling reasons for seeing the Beast whose number is 666 as Nero, rather than the Roman Empire more generally. The following 10 minute video makes this case:
If the First Beast, who comes from the sea (Rev 13.1-10) is Nero, then this has very awkward implications for the common assumption that the Second Beast (the Land Beast/False Prophet) is the agent of the Imperial Cult. Put bluntly, it is plainly incredible that a sitting emperor (the head that 'is living' even while the beast 'is not' cf. Rev 17) could have sought to promote, let alone enforce, the worship of a figure whose sole aim would have been to recapture, through violence, that sitting emperor's throne. So, if the Second Beast is not the agent of the Imperial Cult, who could it be? Who might have seen a returning Nero as someone worth worshipping - and forcing others to worship?
'For much of the population of the eastern provinces of the empire, it seems (especially from Dio Chrysostom's comment [written in Asia Minor, probably at the end of the first century, "Even now everyone wishes he were alive, and most believe that he is" (Drat. 21.10)]) that Nero's return was not merely the object of expectation but an object of eager hope. The philhellene emperor, friendly to the Parthians, had acquired the mythic image of a messianic saviour figure, who would wreak the vengeance of the east on the west and re-establish the rule of the east‘. Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, pp. 449-500 (emphasis added)
The answer is nationalists. For those fed up with the present regime, and who looked back with fondness to a previous age (dominated by Greek, rather than Roman, culture) a returning Nero would have represented the only credible (even if actually entirely fanciful) hope of a return to 'the way things ought to be'.
The question then becomes, why might the hopes of some delusional nationalists have been of particular concern to John? The only credible answer is that members of this group were also members of his churches. So - what is the evidence that John was having to battle Christian, or pseudo-Christian, Nero supporters? Two features of the Land-Beast point in this direction. First it has two horns 'like a Lamb' (13.11). This suggests that it looks like 'the Lamb' even while actually be an agent of the Dragon (13.11). Second, it is also described as 'The False Prophet' (16.13; 19.20). Very occasionally Christian texts describe an 'outsider' prophet as a false prophet but in the vast majority of cases this term refers to those who claim to be Christian but who are nevertheless deemed false. And - what is the evidence that John was having to battle such false-prophet Nero supporters in his churches? Evidence for this is provided by the attention John gives to those he names 'Jezebel' and 'Balaam' in the Seven Messages. Balaam, a prophet, is specifically charged with leading Israel into false religion (2.14). Jezebel, explicitly described as someone who 'calls herself a prophetess' (2.20), also leads members of her church into false religion (2.20). These two figures, Jezebel especially, appear to have loomed large on John's horizon - the message to Thyatira, which is longer than the others despite the relative insignificance of the town in question, stands at the focal point of the sequence of Seven Messages.
If John really means us to identify Jezebel and Balaam with the Land-Beast/False-Prophet, then it is reasonable to ask: how could these individuals have controlled trade (13.17) or enabled the execution of those who refused to worship Nero (13.15)? The answer to the first question is simpler than the second - because of the importance of trade guilds:
‘[Thyatira’s] most obvious peculiarity was then its unusually large number of influential trade-guilds ...Their prominence in Thyatira is quite exceptional.'
To trade it would have been necessary to belong to a trade guild, and those who belonged to such guilds would have been bound to participate in guild feasts. If these feasts were somehow bound up with expressions of hopefiul allegiance to the returning 'divine' Nero, then Christians who refused to eat at these feasts would have been excluded from trade. Being prevented from trading is, however, not the same as being sentenced to death. Nevertheless, if the rhetoric of these false prophets included the expectation that, when Nero returns, all who refuse to worship him will be killed, then the threat of execution would then have been obvious for any faithful Christian determined never to worship a false god.
When the First Beast is seen as Nero, and the Land-Beast/False-Prophet is seen a Jezebel + Balaam, the message of Revelation is clear: no matter the supposed benefits for economic wealth and political power, allegiance to pseudo-deities who promise whatever it takes to win our support, leads to ultimate destruction. The crown of life will only be recieved by those who remain faithful in their exclusive allegiance to Christ - a position which, as Revelation constantly reminds us, is necessarily accompanied by persecution.
Let anyone who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
"Hamilton College prepared me for New Testament studies with four years of Greek and strong training in English Literature. I arrived at Union Theological Seminary in 1963 with a passion to support those who suffered racial injustice. The Civil Rights Movement relied on the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ concern for the poor, but countless white Christians, especially in the Bible Belt, refused to repent of America’s original sin. I hoped to find the real Jesus beyond conflicted church practices.
Union Seminary introduced students to historical critical study of scriptures: first, sources of the Pentateuch, then the Synoptic Problem. One key text was B.H. Streeter’s seminal 1924 book, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins. Streeter defined Q — Quelle, or source — by listing material common to Matthew and Luke that did not appear in Mark.
Marcion and the Synoptics
During my first two years at Union, Professor John Knox encouraged me to examine the history and editing of the Synoptic Gospels. He had published Marcion and the New Testament in 1942, but amid the turmoil of World War II, his book got little attention. Knox described deeply human struggles that shaped the New Testament.
Marcion had preached that the harsh God of the Torah could not be the loving Father that Jesus proclaimed. The Church destroyed Marcion’s scriptures, but Tertullian and Epiphanius refuted him in such detail that scholars have used their attacks to recreate most of the lost gospel. Knox thought it contained the bulk of Luke between Jesus’ baptism and his resurrection. Few doubted that Marcion’s version of Luke had once existed, but Q remained a literary ghost.
During a year I took at Cambridge University, 1965-66, Professor C.F.D. “Charlie” Moule guided my study, and I relied on his 1962 volume The Birth of the New Testament. He urged me to examine the Synoptic Problem in its ecclesiastical context, including whether Matthew might have copied from an early version of Luke, rather than Q.
I recognized Matthew as a brilliant editor. It appeared that he used Mark as a framework, then gathered material into a topical gospel that was superbly suited for preaching. It appeared that he condensed Marcan pericopes to save space. If he hoped to have his gospel copied and circulated, he needed to fit his material onto a standard size scroll or codex.
William R. Farmer had offered a contrarian view in his 1964 study, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis. He argued that Matthew wrote first, that Mark copied from Matthew, and Luke adapted material from both. Farmer built his argument for Matthean priority in sixteen steps, but he never asked why Luke or Mark — if they used Matthew — would have dismembered Matthew’s five magnificent topical discourses, only to scatter the fragments in sometimes jarring catchword groups. Nor did Farmer explain why Mark or Luke might have omitted cogent parables that appear only in Matthew: the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:25-35), Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), the Two Sons (Mt 21:28-32), and the Wise and Foolish Wedding Guests (Mt 25:1-13).
I wondered why Farmer dedicated his 1964 book to John Knox but never mentioned Knox’s work on Marcion. Nor did he explore what part Marcion’s version of Luke might have played in gospel editing.
The evidence lay in contested ground between Streeter, Farmer, Knox, Moule, Austin Farrer, B.C. Butler, George Kilpatrick, Rudolf Bultmann, and other scholars.
Questions about Omissions — Women
Streeter listed one condition under which Matthew might have omitted material from Q: “To feel confidently that any at all notable saying in Q was omitted by Matthew one must see clearly that the saying would lend itself to an interpretation by the faithful which he definitely disliked.”
Both Streeter and Bultmann were baffled by the possibility that Matthew had seen and rejected the story of the Widow’s Mite (Mk 12:41-44/Lk 21:1-4). The poor widow had not served Jesus, shown faith in him, or humbled herself before him, yet he singled her out for high praise. Jesus said she had given more than rich men who contributed large sums.
Over the centuries, commentators had noted Luke’s interest in women. In fact, Mark, Luke and John all show Jesus responding empathetically to women and welcoming them among his followers. Such practice would have been extraordinary for a traveling rabbi in Palestine, and it would have shocked male leaders in the early Church.
Under the principle of lectio difficilior potior, I believed it more plausible that Jesus dealt with women in ways described by Mark, Luke and John than that these three gospels all embellished Jesus’ treatment of women.
If Matthew edited Mark, his editing reduced personal detail about women to a minimum. In the stories of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with chronic bleeding (Mt 9:18-26/Mk 5:21-43/Lk 8:40-56), Mark tells readers that the woman had suffered under many doctors and spent all she had, but her condition worsened. In the Marcan story of Jairus’s daughter, the mourners express anguish over the child’s death. Matthew drops these dramatic details. By sheer word count, he trims Mark’s nested narratives by more than half. Similarly, in the empty tomb narratives (Mt 28:1-10/Mk 16:1-8/Luke 24:1-11), Matthew drops the plaintive question the women ask in Mark: “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb?”
I could not find any example in Matthew where Jesus heals unless the sufferers, their relatives, or friends approach him humbly and with faith. Both Marcion’s reconstructed gospel and canonical Luke both show Jesus responding empathetically to women, even though they showed no prior faith, devotion, or humility. In the Widow’s Son at Nain (Lk 7:11-17) and the Woman Healed on the Sabbath (Lk 13:10-17), Jesus approaches the women involved and performs miraculous cures.
I wondered how Matthew and his congregation would have reacted to the Lucan story, which appeared in Marcion, where Martha wants Jesus to send Mary to help her prepare dinner (Lk 10:38-42). “Martha, Martha,” Jesus replies, “you are worried and upset about many things. One thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” In a similar vein, the parable of the Unjust Judge (Lk 18:1-8) affirms a widow’s relentless demand for justice, while comparing God to a cynical magistrate.
None of this proves that Matthew actually saw these stories in Q or an early version of Luke, or that he decided to exclude such pericopes from his gospel. But if Matthew held traditional views on the place of women, he would probably have found Jesus’ treatment of women disturbing, particularly the stories of the Sinful Woman with Ointment (Lk 7:36-50) and the women who traveled with Jesus (Lk 8:1-3). These pericopes appear in both Marcion’s Gospel and canonical Luke. They satisfy Streeter’s criterion: sayings or stories that lent themselves “to an interpretation by the faithful which [Matthew] definitely disliked.”
Professor Moule welcomed my approach and shared insights he would soon publish in his introduction to a collection of scholarly papers: The Significance of the Message of the Resurrection for Faith in Jesus Christ (1968). In all four gospels the Empty Tomb narratives name the women who went to do the traditional women’s work of washing and anointing a body. Moule argued that this unanimous record of women as first witnesses provided striking proof of the resurrection. He noted that since Jewish and Roman rules of evidence discounted or barred women’s testimony, anyone perpetrating a hoax would have produced male witnesses.
Scholars writing about the Synoptic Problem in the 1960s were all men, and I shared their blind spots about women. During my senior year in college, several of us went to hear a woman preach. One joked afterward by quoting Samuel Johnson’s comment about a female preacher: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Now my work on the Synoptic Problem forced me to face my own prejudices. I recognized that gender bias had played a decisive but overlooked role in gospel editing.
Streeter made what seemed to be two dubious assumptions: first, that all the material in Q was as useful and as acceptable to Matthew as Mark was; second, that Q had no greater proportion of sayings which Matthew found offensive than was to be found in Mark.
I asked how Matthew might have reacted if his second source resembled what we knew of Marcion’s Luke. It seemed unlikely that Matthew would have used anything like Marcion’s gospel as fully as he used Mark. I wondered what other biases might have affected Matthew’s editing.
Disputes over Law
Streeter and Bultmann were baffled by Matthew’s apparent omission from Mark of the Widow’s Mite. Nor could either explain Matthew discarded Mark’s story of the Strange Exorcist (Mk 9:38-41/Lk 9:49-50). This apparent deletion alerted me to another apparent bias in Matthew’s editing. In contrast to Marcion and others who rejected the Hebrew scriptures, Matthew shows Jesus fulfilling the law and commanding his followers to obey it. In verses peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus insists on keeping the Law, down to the tiniest letter or pronunciation mark. He also commands his followers to surpass the scribes and Pharisees in fulfilling it. Only Matthew quotes Jesus warning against those who relax the commandments and teach others to do so (Mt 5:17-20). He calls them “false prophets . . . wolves in the clothing of sheep,” and “evildoers” (Mt 7:15-6, 23). These unique Matthean texts took direct aim at antinomian Christians who shared Marcion’s approach.
I wondered how well-documented disputes between Jewish Christians and gentile converts over keeping the law might have influenced Matthew’s editing. It appeared that Matthew inserted a peculiar comment in Mark’s story of the Canaanite woman. He quotes Jesus telling her he was sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30). This idiosyncratic theme appears again in Matthew’s Mission Discourse where Jesus commands the disciples: “Do not take the gentile road, and do not enter a Samaritan city, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). Only Matthew explicitly opposes a mission to the Samaritans and Gentiles.
I could not believe that both the anti-Samaritan and pro-Samaritan elements in the Gospels were authentic from the ministry of Jesus. It seemed to me that either Jesus refused to deal with Samaritans and commanded his disciples to do the same, or he dealt with them and allowed his disciples to do so. Although Mark reveals nothing about this, Luke and John are fully aware of the mutual loathing between Jews and Samaritans, yet both show Jesus deliberately establishing contact. Matthew’s opposition to the Samaritans includes only isolated sayings, but Luke and John include vivid narratives of Jesus shattering anti-Samaritan stereotypes.
In one Lucan story, residents of a Samaritan village refuse to receive Jesus and his followers as they walk toward Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-6). James and John offer to call down fire on them — in Marcion’s text, they cite the example of Elijah — but Jesus rebukes them. Luke also shows Jesus telling an unforgettable parable about a Samaritan who fulfills the high command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:29-37). The parable’s torque springs from the fact that the Samaritans had no status under Jewish Law, yet this Samaritan far surpasses religious leaders. This struck me as precisely what Streeter would have considered “an interpretation by the faithful which [Matthew] definitely disliked.”
Wealth and Poverty
A third major difference between Matthew and Luke — or Marcion’s version of Luke — involved questions of wealth and poverty. G. D. Kilpatrick argued in 1950 that Matthew was compiled for use in a wealthy urban Jewish Church. Kilpatrick demonstrated how Matthew modified material he found in Mark and other sources, making it more palatable to rich Christians. Few commentators asked whether the radical blessings and curses in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26) might represent words of Jesus more accurately than the highly spiritual beatitudes in the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3-11). It seemed to me that the rhetorical power of Matthew’s sermon concealed its tolerance of wealth. This visible editorial bias provided a second reason for Matthew to pass over Mark’s story of Jesus praising the poor widow for giving more than the “many rich people.”
Tension between Luke and Matthew over wealth may also appear in their editing of Mark’s story of the Rich Young Man (Mt 19:16-22/Mk 10:17-22/Lk 18:18-23). Luke shows Jesus telling the devout young man to sell everything he owns and give to the poor. Matthew softens that challenge when he quotes Jesus saying: “If you want to be perfect (teleios), go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…” Matthew apparently inserted this notion of aspiring to perfection through radical sacrifice. That concept took root in the early church and continues both in Roman Catholic and Methodist traditions. Of four questions John Wesley asked candidates for ministry, three were about “going on to perfection . . . [being] made perfect in love in this life,” and “earnestly striving after it.” Matthew admits that Jesus occasionally asked his followers to renounce possessions, but he does not suggest that all Christians must surrender all wealth. He calls for charity but shuns pericopes that equate possessions with evil.
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) seems, at first glance, as deserving of a place in Matthew’s Gospel as the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mt 25:31-46). Both demand charity for the poor, and both threaten hell for those who refuse. But here, as in other Lucan parables, judgement falls harshly on the rich man “who dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury,” while sympathy flows to the poor beggar outside his gate. In Matthew’s parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the judgement has nothing to do with the distinction between the rich on one hand and the poor on the other. The only Matthean criterion is whether they have cared for least of these.
Beyond My Biases
Research into what appeared to be Matthew’s editorial bias helped me see the way I and other men routinely undervalued women. Only days before my first term at Cambridge, I married a family friend. On our ocean voyage to England, she practiced signing her new name “Mrs. H. Philip West Jr.” During our year there, she struggled with depression and her identity as a woman.
Back in New York, marriage and motherhood seemed to make her feel worse. At that point, we recognized parallels between the self-loathing of many blacks who lived with the legacy of chattel slavery and women who had long been treated as their husbands’ property. Slaves and women were routinely given their masters’ names, denied educational opportunities, treated as inferiors, and beaten into submission. Many blacks and women internalized a sense of inferiority, even self-hatred.
My wife and I joined the National Organization for Women. As she began advocating for equal treatment under law, her depression lifted, and our marriage improved. She went back to using her birth name, Anne Grant. She worked for girls’ equal education and produced award-winning programs on women’s history. Her graduate thesis explored how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a committee of women who were barred from voting challenged male supremacy and started publishing The Woman’s Bible in 1895.
In 1971, Professor Leonard Swidler published his persuasive declaration that “Jesus was a Feminist.” He argued that women in Jesus’ time were segregated in an outer court of the Temple, forbidden to pray publicly, and not counted toward a quorum for worship. Swidler quoted one First Century rabbi who declared that “the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman.” He concluded: “Jesus vigorously promoted the dignity and equality of women in the midst of a very male-dominated society: Jesus was a feminist, and a very radical one.”
I remain grateful that Professor C.F.D. Moule proposed my paper, “A Primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew,” for publication in New Testament Studies. He and Professor John Knox encouraged me to continue this scholarship, but in the turbulent 1960s I felt an urgent call to urban ministry.
I spent 22 years in church work, then 18 years leading a secular reform group, Common Cause Rhode Island. In retirement, I wrote a first-person account of how scandals shook a state that was notorious for public corruption. Coalitions of angry citizens rallied to demand changes in the system of government, and historic reforms followed.
Recently, I reviewed current research on the Synoptic problem. I was delighted to find scholars challenging the existence of Q and presenting evidence that Matthew had copied from Mark. I applaud the work of Ronald V. Huggins, Evan Powell, Erik Aurelius, Robert MacEwen, and Alan Garrow.
During more than fifty years since my paper about Matthew’s likely omissions from an early version of Luke appeared in NTS, scholars have wrestled over Q and largely reconstructed Marcion’s gospel. In 2015, Dieter T. Roth published an exhaustive historical recreation of Marcion’s Gospel. It shows Jesus embracing women, people outside the law, and the poor. Even a quick reading shows why Matthew would have found this portrait of Jesus disturbing.
I recently found David Inglis on the Internet. He describes himself as a computer professional, not a scholar. But he has created a comprehensive website on the Synoptic Problem. His research on Marcion includes a chapter-by-chapter parallel layout of Marcion and Luke. Inglis proposes what he calls “MwEL: A New Synoptic Hypothesis,” which goes far beyond what I proposed in 1967.
One dynamic remains clear: those who proclaim Jesus often tailor their message for particular audiences. As the gospel spread across the Roman Empire, evangelists inevitably colored Jesus and edited his words for congregations they cherished. It appears that Matthew reworked his material to soften Jesus’ shocking empathy for women, poor people, antinomians and those outside the fold.
Some may object that my research revealed what I wanted to find. I would counter with a metaphor of digging for fossils. The challenge for paleontologists is to uncover and recognize evidence that has been hidden from view. Only further study will tell whether Matthew edited material from an early version of Luke. For now, it appears that scholars who argue that Matthew edited and compiled material from Mark and other sources will prevail.
I can say with certainty that Jesus’ responses to women helped me break out of cultural assumptions I had absorbed in the 1950s. His example made me a better pastor and advocate. Since our year at Cambridge, Anne Grant and I have become equal partners in a liberating marriage adventure of nearly 55 years.
I regret that many men who govern major Christian denominations still claim scriptural authority for excluding women from power. I long for the day when all church leaders will follow Jesus’ example in breaching historic animosities, and I believe Jesus would rebuke those who twist his words as they preach the Prosperity Gospel."
 Knox, John, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1942) 110.
 Farmer, William R., The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis, (New York: Macmillan, 1964) 199-232.
 B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, (London: Macmillan, 1924) 290.
 Rev. Letty Russell was one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (1958) and a founder of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, where she trained church leaders.
 2 Kings 1:10
 Kilpatrick, G. D., The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1950) 124-26.
 Swidler, Leonard, “Jesus was a Feminist,” Catholic World, Jan. 1971.
 West, H. Philip, Jr., “A Primitive Version of Luke in the Composition of Matthew,” NTS, Oct. 1967.
 West, H. Philip, Jr., Secrets and Scandals: Reforming Rhode Island, 1986-2006, (East Providence: Rhode Island Publications Society) 2014.
 Roth, Dieter T., The Text of Marcion’s Gospel, (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill) 2015
 Inglis, David, “MwEL: A Mew Synoptic Hypothesis,” https://sites.google.com/site/inglisonmarcion/Home/the-synoptic-problem/mwel-theory (accessed 5/13/2020).
In his ETL 2017 article F Gerald Downing takes aim at what he sees as a fatal weakness in the case for Matthew's use of Luke. According to my response, in ETL 2020, this attack does not leave a scratch. I think my assessment of ancient compositional practices is more realistic than Downing's, but perhaps my grip on reality is less firm than the Black Knight's?
Once Markan Priority is accepted three simple solutions to the Synoptic Problem become available:
1. Luke used Matthew;
2. Matthew used Luke; or
3. Matthew and Luke both independently used Q.
The adoption of Option 1 requires the demonstration of its superiority to Option 2.
The adoption of Option 3 requires the elimination of both Option 1 and Option 2.
Regrettably, almost every attempt to solve the Synoptic Problem over the past 200 years has assumed the non-viability of Option 2 – but without direct investigation.
The recent resurgence of interest in the case for Matthew’s use of Luke (Huggins, Powell, Hengel, MacEwen, and Garrow) has brought this embarrassing omission to light.
This paper asks the long overdue question: Why not Matthew’s use of Luke?
Videos of previous BNTC Seminar Papers are available here:
BNTC 2015 - Making Jesus' Sayings
BNTC 2017 - The Didache: Key to the Acts-Galatians Conundrum
BNTC 2018 - Reflections on the $1,000 Challenge
In 1947 Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, attempted to prove the viability of his theory that ancient Peruvian people had traversed vast tracks of ocean to colonise Polynesia. Using only the technology of the time, Heyerdahl and five companions sailed a balsa wood raft for 101 days over 4,300 miles across the Pacific Ocean until they made landfall in French Polynesia. All returned safely.
The Kon-Tiki movie charts the extraordinary challenges faced by Heyerdahl and his crew - but he proved his theory was physically possible. Could the supporters of the various Synoptic Hypotheses do the same?
I put this question to highlight the physical challenges faced by every Synoptic Hypothesis - and, most particularly, those faced by the Farrer Hypothesis. We have no example of anyone using a text in the way that Luke is required to use Matthew under this theory. Using only the technology of the time, could the supporters of this theory demonstrate that Luke's handling of Matthew is physically possible?
This poster serves as an abstract for a paper due to be delivered at this year's British New Testament Conference. The text version is available here.
If you enjoy spot the difference:
In a recent Facebook exchange a well-informed conversation partner made an observation along the lines: isn't it remarkable that supporters of the Farrer Hypothesis, Two Document Hypothesis and Matthew Conflator Hypothesis (FH, 2DH and MCH) can all look at the same data and confidently read it as pointing to their favoured solution to the Synoptic Problem - and not their opponents'? I'd like to try to explain how this happens using the illustration of Brexit.
The case for Brexit is clear. A country wishing to have control over its own destiny cannot afford to be governed by other people in another country, etc. - it's obvious!
The case for the UK remaining in the European Union is clear. Our economic systems are inextricably linked with that of our European partners. To rip away from those systems would be economically disastrous, etc. - it's obvious!
Depending on whether you find the political or the economic argument more compelling, you choose your side in the debate. Having made that decision this then provides the lens through which all further data is viewed. Those who disagree with you seem increasingly blind and obtuse. 'Why can you not see the negative effects of your position!' - we scream as the divide gets wider. At the same time, the weaknesses of our own position go through a process of minimisation; they pale into insignificance beside the monstrous problems with the other side of the argument.
Something similar has happened, I think, in the debate between supporters of the 2DH and the FH. The former are usually open about the fact that their hypothesis doesn't perfectly resolve every bit of data - but they stick with it because they are so convinced that Luke's use of Mathew is impossible. Farrer supporters, on the other hand, are frustrated by the fact that their opponents continue to wave away evidence that, in any other context, would be taken as a clear indication of direct copying between Matthew and Luke.
So long as we are forced to choose between binary options, 2DH or FH, Leave or Remain, there is a tendency to focus on one piece of data, form a position on that basis, and then read all the other data through that lens - constantly highlighting the difficulties of the opposite view while seeking to minimise or explain away the problems in our own back yard.
In the case of Brexit, unfortunately, we can't wind back the clock. If we could, then we might be able to take different decisions to avoid the mess we're in now.
In the case of the Synoptic Problem, however, we do have that luxury. In my article "Streeter's 'Other' Synoptic Solution: The Matthew Conflated Hypothesis" I wind back to some false decisions made by BH Streeter and scholars of his generation - which have been repeated (and thereby consolidated) ever since. Streeter made two critical logical errors. 1) He assumed that arguments against Luke's use of Matthew amounted to arguments against Matthew's use of Luke. 2) He assumed that evidence that Matthew and Luke shared a source or sources (other than Mark) amounted to evidence that Matthew and Luke had no direct contact with one another. Both these assumptions are false. We will never escape the Synoptic Problem's binary bind until we reckon with these simple, unavoidable errors.
When the errors of the Streeter generation are acknowledged, the log-jam eases. A third option, which preserves all the benefits of the 2DH and also the benefits of the FH, comes into view. It is no longer necessary to choose an option that is 'not as bad' as the binary alternative, it is possible to choose an option that resolves all the data while allowing every player, Mark, Luke and Matthew, to behave in a consistent manner. Mark wrote first, Luke incorporated Mark in blocks, Matthew used Mark as a spine and conflated in related material from Luke and other sources (some of which were also known and used by Luke) to create his thematically arranged gospel.
That, then, is my explanation of why three scholars can look at the same data with such variable results. The first two are caught in a binary contest where both sides have significant strengths as well as significant weaknesses. When, however, the basis of that binary set-up is challenged, a third way of looking at things can come into view.
In scholarship we have the freedom to retrace our steps and untangle the mistakes of our predecessors. Most unfortunately, we don't have the same privilege in politics.
Tobias Hägerland's recent article, "Editorial Fatigue and the Existence of Q", NTS (2019), 190-206, makes an important contribution to the debate by calling into question Mark Goodacre's assertion that there are instances where Luke shows fatigue in his handling of Matthew, but none where Matthew shows fatigue in his handing of Luke. Having called into question cases where Luke supposedly shows fatigue in relation to Matthew, Hägerland goes on to conclude:
Against Goodacre's claim that editorial fatigue does not occur in Matthew's handing of the double tradition, I have developed Allison and Davies' suggestion that Matt 3.7-12 provides an example of 'imperfect editing' of Matthew's source material, which in this case cannot be limited to the Markan source. When compared to Luke's handling of the same material, Matthew can be seen to exhibit fatigue. As Matthew's use of Luke remains unlikely on other grounds, it appears most reasonable to postulate Q as Matthew's source here.
Thus, Hägerland claims to have found an occasion when the differences between Matthew and Luke are best explained by Matthew working from Luke but failing to be entirely consistent in his editing of Luke. This might seem like a good time to propose that Matthew used Luke directly. Nevertheless, Hägerland steers away from this conclusion on the basis that: 'Matthew's use of Luke remains unlikely on other grounds'. When these 'other grounds' are taken into account, Hägerland suggests, the only way to explain the data is to propose that Matthew and Luke both used Q.
This line of reasoning would be legitimate if the 'other grounds' for believing that Matthew did not use Luke were either self-evident or well known. Truly, they are not. The assumption that Matthew could not have used Luke was based, in the initial instance, on an appeal to Alternating Primitivity. However, as demonstrated in Video 1, Alternating Primitivity is entirely irrelevant to the question. Since Streeter made the assumption that Matthew's use of Luke may safely be ignored other scholars have followed suit. For example, Robert Stein, in Studying the Synoptic Gospels (2001) assures the reader that Matthew's use of Luke faces 'insurmountable problems' (p. 76) - but the only problem he cites is Alternating Primitivity. Similarly, Chris Tuckett, in Q and the History of Early Christianity (1996) muses: 'For various reasons ... Matthean dependence on Luke is hardly ever advocated, though one sometimes wonders why given the tendency of many to believe that Luke's versions is very often more original.' (p. 4). Thus, Tuckett shows a flicker of awareness, but not enough to break his stride. Paul Foster's objections to Matthew's use of Luke, in, "Is it Possible to Dispense with Q?" NTS (2003) also include Alternating Primitivity. In addition, Foster cites Matthew's omission of Special Luke material. This would only be problem, however, if it could be shown that there is some element of Special Luke that Matthew would have been bound include. Foster's third and final objection is pleasingly ironic. He notes that there are occasions when Matthew appears ignorant of Luke’s additions to Mark. If Matthew were to duplicate Luke's additions to Mark this would create a very real problem for the Two Document Hypothesis. It might even be worth trying to give a name to such a phenomenon. How about 'Minor Agreements'?
A more creative attempt to find a reason for rejecting the case for Matthew's use of Luke was offered by F Gerald Downing in, 'Plausibility, Probability, and Synoptic Hypotheses', ETL (2017). Downing's approach rests on the idea that ancient authors would have scoured their sources to find sequences of thirty letters or more where those sources agreed verbatim and, having done so, they would have felt compelled to include these phrases (no matter how incidental) into their own narrative regardless of the impact on the style, theology, economy of their own creation. Downing finds the fact that Matthew fails to comply with this supposed norm a compelling reason to suggest that he could not have used both Mark and Luke. That Downing resorts to such an extraordinary approach might be considered revealing in itself.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Mark Goodacre's reasons for rejecting Matthew's use of Luke, which are reviewed here, and also in Rob MacEwen's report of Goodacre's paper at SBL Denver in 2018. Perhaps most important among them is his identification of instances where Luke shows fatigue in his handling of Matthew (but not the reverse). This, however, is precisely the argument that Hägerland's article is concerned to undermine.
So, where does this leave us? Worn out in the search for those 'other grounds' or not yet quite fatigued?
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SIIBS at the University of Sheffield.