|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
“If we want Q to survive, we need to avoid putting too much into it”. This remark, made at a Q session of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), suggests that Q’s supporters (proponents of the Two Document Hypothesis or 2DH) are feeling under attack. At one level this nothing new, Farrer Hypothesis (FH) scholars, who argue that Luke used Matthew, have been challenging the existence of Q for decades. Now, however, the attacks on Q are coming from two directions at once. At this year's SBL a relatively new hypothesis was debated; the Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis (MPH). This development increases the threat to Q because classic arguments against Farrer (e.g. why would Luke break up Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount) don’t apply if Matthew used Luke. This is because the way Matthew treats Luke under the MPH is largely similar to the way Matthew treats Q under the 2DH. What is more, the MPH does not suffer from the problems, listed below, that cause scholars to question the credibility of Q.
1) The curious genre of Q
Q, as classically conceived, is a curious beast. It starts with elements of narrative (John the Baptist, the Temptations and the Centurion’s Servant) and finishes with a collection of sayings. No other surviving text contains this type of genre bifurcation.
2) The precise sculpting of Q
Q, under the 2DH, must consistently and in every case bridge the gap between Matthew and Luke. Suppose for sake of argument we discovered a text that was very like Q – but which differed in a few key details. This would simultaneously present both a stunning vindication of the Q hypothesis and a threat to a fundamental tenet of the 2DH. To be specific, suppose this newly discovered Q included everything from the Centurion’s Servant onwards – but did not include the material about John the Baptist and the Temptations. How then did Matthew and Luke come to agree in these two sections? The obvious answer is that one copied the other directly. And, if this is so, the possibility of such copying taking place later in the text must also be reckoned with – even while the newly discovered Q is also likely to be in view. It is sometimes said that Q is infinitely flexible and can shape-shift to avoid any presenting problem. An aspect of Q that is brittle, however, is that it must (at minimum) precisely fit the shape of the material shared by Matthew and Luke (the Double Tradition). It may, of course, include more than just the Double Tradition, but the risk here is that the larger Q becomes the more it starts to look like Luke. This dual pressure sculpts Q into a curious shape, as noted above.
3) Sometimes Matthew and Luke agree against Mark
That Matthew and Luke agree for extensive periods when Mark is not present is not a problem for the Q hypothesis – because that is where Q is supposedly in play. The problem comes when Matthew and Luke agree against Mark when Mark is also part of the picture. How could this happen if there is no direct contact between Matthew and Luke? This question has long been a thorn in the flesh of the 2DH – something that must be explained away every time it happens (which is very often).
4) The network breaks down - just once
The more we learn about the world of the first Christians the more reason there is to suspect that, from a very early period, churches were in communication with a wide network of other churches. A study of the travels of named characters in the New Testament would show that these individuals travelled extensively and often. The presence of such a network is also suggested by the fact that Gospel harmonies start to appear from a very early period – as evidenced, for example, in Justin and 2 Clement. Ironically, even the 2DH relies on the presence of such a network since it needs it to deliver both Mark and Q to both Luke and Matthew. What the 2DH also requires, however, is that on just one occasion the network broke down. For some reason Luke never gained access to Matthew, or alternatively, Matthew never gained access to Luke.
5) Sections of Q survived unchanged and/or were changed identically by both Matthew and Luke
Q, as classically conceived, preserves a record of a very early form of Christianity. It is sometimes suggested that Q was written by Galilean village scribes in the 40s CE. This requires, however, that Matthew and Luke (decades later) inherited sections of Q with virtually identical wording, and then decided that this wording was incapable of improvement – or both decided to improve this wording in virtually identical ways. This is particularly improbable in the case of the Beezlebul Controversy since, as the differing versions in Mark and Luke illustrate, this story was vulnerable to significant variation in the retelling (see also the echoes in John 10.19-21 and Thomas 35).
6) If Q was highly valued by Luke and Matthew why has no other record of it survived?
There is no law that says an early Christian text must survive - especially if most of it is incorporated into some other text. Nevertheless, it is surprising that a document filled with the words of Jesus and valued by authors as diverse as Luke and Matthew should disappear completely without any trace.
If Matthew using Luke has all the strengths of the 2DH, but without the above weaknesses, it’s easy to see why someone who loves Q might talk in terms of the need to work to ensure Q’s survival. But why might such a survival be thought of as valuable in the first place? Q, as classically conceived, takes us back to the earliest roots of Christianity. It is said to reveal what Jesus really taught and what his earliest followers believed. Seen in this light, efforts to ensure its survival make sense. My counter-intuitive advice, however, is if you love Q, set it free.
For anyone interested in Christian origins there is everything to be gained, and nothing to be lost, by allowing the old Q to die. In place of the hypothetical Q, which supposedly gave us access to the beliefs of the first Christians, we gain a new view of Luke’s Gospel – a record of the teaching of Jesus before it is deradicalized by Matthew. Not only that, if we remove everything in Matthew that could derive from Luke and Mark, something remarkable emerges; discrete portions of what remains contain dense sets of parallels with James and the Didache. Who knows, if we say goodbye to the old Q, perhaps we will receive back something even more valuable.
"Like many other students of the New Testament, I initially accepted B. H. Streeter’s Two-Document Hypothesis (2DH) without asking too many questions. It seemed to solve many of the puzzles that comprise the Synoptic Problem. First, the 2DH operates with the premise that Mark was written first (Markan Priority), giving a plausible explanation for the triple tradition that is common to all of the synoptic gospels. Second, the postulation that Matthew and Luke were composed independently of each other explained why 1) some of the content found in Matthew and Luke’s gospels were so different from each other (e.g. the birth narrative, genealogy, resurrection narratives, etc.) and 2) why seemingly important materials from each gospel omitted in the other (notable parables in Luke, teaching material in Matthew). To account for the common material that did exist between Matthew and Luke (but not found in Mark), an additional common source, “Q,” was suggested. All this seemed to make sense at the time: Mark was written first, Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q independently, Q was a literary source known to both Matthew and Luke but has not survived past antiquity despite its importance.
It made good sense to me that Mark was written first. Compared to the relatively more “complete” narratives of Jesus’ life found in Matthew and Luke (Mark does not even have an account of Jesus post-resurrection!), Mark’s gospel does appear to be a more primitive version of the gospel with fewer accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds, but told in greater detail. The proposal that Matthew and Luke edited/condensed Mark to make room for their other sources is more plausible than Mark summarizing either by expanding some episodes whilst omitting others (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Birth/Resurrection narratives, etc.) entirely.
Other claims of the 2DH were, however, not quite as airtight. For example, the assumption that Matthew could not have used Luke (and vice versa) because of their contradictory genealogies, birth/resurrection/commissioning narratives and conclusions might be challenged by appealing to the fact that they had at their disposal source materials which better align with their particular biases and emphases. That is to say, the idea of Matthew’s independence from Luke (and vice versa) is not based on literary evidence, but rather a modern assumption about what we think the evangelists were capable or incapable of doing in terms of style and redaction. Observing both Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark, however, tells us that their modus operandi was not just to amass materials about Jesus, but to modify it, adapt it, curate it, and improve upon it for the sake of their communities. Matthew and Luke’s selection, arrangement, abbreviation, and adaptation of Markan materials clearly demonstrates the extent of their innovation and the liberty they exercised in adapting and even omitting source materials. The minor agreements between Matthew and Luke over against Mark further suggest that there may very well be a link between them, contrary to the the 2DH. And if this were true then there would be no need to hypothesize the existence of Q, because the Q material would just be parts of Matthew used by Luke, or parts of Luke used by Matthew. Although it must be conceded that the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, and to some extent, the Didache, raises the likelihood that other early saying sources of Jesus could have circulated.
In any case, if Markan Priority is to be maintained, the interdependence of Matthew and Luke can be explained in two ways: 1) Luke used both Mark and Matthew (the Farrer/Goulder/Drury Hypothesis) or 2) Matthew used both Mark and Luke (the Wilke/Matthew Posteriority Hypothesis). The Farrer Hypothesis, championed by careful and brilliant scholars such as Mark Goodacre, has much to commend it. It is a simpler hypothesis than the 2DH because positing the interdependence of Matthew and Luke takes away the need to depend on Q. It also accounts for the minor agreements between Matthew and Luke. However, if Luke is the final synoptic evangelist, it is odd that his version of the double tradition appears to be more primitive than Matthew’s, and that Luke seems to be unaware of many of Matthew’s additions to Mark. A good example is Luke 11:20 (εἰ δὲ ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ [ἐγὼ] ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια/ “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God..”) where Matthew has: εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια / But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God” (12:28). Luke’s version is more obscure and seems to be unaware of Matthew’s version, whose emphasis on God’s Spirit might have been useful to Luke given his focus on the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the arrangement of the double tradition in Matthew exhibits more refinement than in Luke, raising the question, if Luke was composed last, why he would have taken the time to dismantle a coherent existing literary structure and insert the material in a less intuitive way. An example of this would be the material found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5-7), a neatly packaged collection of Jesus’ notable teachings. In Luke’s gospel, these teachings are broken up and interspersed throughout his narrative throughout chapters 11-16 without any obvious clues regarding their relationship to the surrounding narratives (e.g. Luke 11:33-36). Might it not make more sense to suppose that Matthew collected these loose sayings in Luke and compiled them into a single section dedicated to Jesus’ teaching?
Enter Ron Huggins, Robert McEwen, Alan Garrow, etc. and the revival of the Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis (MPH), which begins as the Farrer Hypothesis does, but instead of Luke being the final redactor, proposes that Matthew is the final redactor (“conflator,” according to Garrow). In particular, the work of Alan Garrow, proposing as he did a solution for the “alternating primitivity” problem, swayed me towards the possibility that Matthew knew Mark and Luke AND Luke’s sources and conflated all these into his own masterpiece. The fact that Matthew’s gospel sometimes contains the more primitive version of double tradition material is a difficulty for the theory that Matthew and Luke knew each other’s work in general, and for the MPH in particular. Robert McEwen has suggested that where Matthew contains more primitive double tradition material, it is because he intentionally preserved a liturgical form known to his community. Alan Garrow proposes that the primitive parts of Matthew are due to a conscious editorial decision by Matthew because he had at hand not only Luke’s gospel but possibly, also Luke’s source(s).
I came across Alan Garrow and his work on the MPH in my own study of the triple tradition passage where Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make use of Isaiah 6:9-10 to explain why Jesus speaks in parables. My own research interest and focus has always been on the NT use of the Hebrew scriptures. The fact that so many NT writers employed citations, allusions, and references to the Hebrew scriptures to make their point fascinated me, because it opened a window into understanding a larger story/worldview that is often implied or assumed, often under the surface but highly important to the meaning of the text. And so, in my doctoral dissertation at Edinburgh University, I explored the influence of the Book of Daniel on Mark’s Gospel by observing the contours and functions of the constellation of Markan references to Daniel. Ever since, I have been trying to apply my expertise in locating and analyzing Hebrew Bible references to other areas of NT research, including the Synoptic Problem.
I believe that triple tradition material that also contained a citation/allusion/reference to the Hebrew Scripture are an invaluable source of information, because in addition to asking how Matthew/Luke used Mark, we can now also ask how they used and understood the reference to a particular Hebrew Bible text in comparison with one another. In other words, the Hebrew Bible citation gives us an extra point of data to triangulate the relationship between the Synoptics. In my work on the Synoptic use of Isaiah 6:9-10, I found evidence to confirm Markan Priority while undermining the 2DH. You can read the article for a fuller discussion, but essentially, I conclude that, while Luke’s use of Matthew is also possible, the MPH is the best explanation for the tangle of literary relationships found in these texts.
Matthew’s tendency is to “correct” Mark’s imprecise uses of the Hebrew Bible:
Throughout his own gospel, Matthew tends to identify Mark’s usage of the Hebrew Scriptures and quoting that text more precisely. For example, when Mark mentions the “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be…” in the Olivet discourse (Mark 13:14), Matthew recognizes this to be a reference to Daniel and mentions him by name (Matt 24:15). In Mark 1:2 when Mark mentions the prophet Isaiah but proceeds to give a composite citation that includes a text from Malachi, Matthew likewise recognizes that the quoted text is not from Isaiah and removes the prophet’s name. In Mark 13:26, where it says that they will see the Son of Man “coming in clouds,” Matthew’s version has “coming on the clouds of heaven” (ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), following more closely the wording of the LXX. 
And Matthew does the very same thing here in Matt 13:13. Mark’s reference to Isa 6:9-10 is a bit jumbled, but Matthew recognizes that Mark is alluding to Isa 6:9-10 and reproduces a fuller and more precise quotation that is identical to the LXX. Matthew also uses the wording of the LXX (ὅτι) to underscore the fact that the people’s hearts are already hardened, softening the jarring ἵνα found in Mark that seems to suggest that Jesus’s parables were intended to harden the hearts of his listeners. It is intriguing to see Matthew disagree with, or at least wanting to clarify, Mark’s use of Isaiah, but the main point I want to make is that if Luke was composed last, he ignored the exegetical and theological legwork that Matthew did in improving upon Mark, because in Luke we find the problematic ἵνα and an even shorter quotation to Isa 6:9-10; so short that it is barely discernible that there is a quotation at all. In fact, Luke’s version looks more like Mark’s than it does Isaiah. It is as if Luke is unaware of Matthew’s version. It is much more logical that Matthew came in as the final redactor, made the citation of Isa 6:9-10 explicit and reinterpreted it using the language and meaning of the LXX for good measure.
In short, my research thus far supports the idea that Matthew knew and made use of both Mark and Luke, as well as other sources. This is, of course, a theory that needs to be tested from as many different angles as possible. I believe that the inspection and comparison of the Synoptic use, interpretation, and adaptation of the Hebrew Bible vis-à-vis one another will yield an important set of data points for use towards this endeavour."
Follow this link for ten more MPH Origin Stories.
 Lo, "The Appropriation of Isa 6:9-10 to the Parables of Jesus: Implications for the Synoptic Problem," 59-60.
“I was raised, so to speak, on the Two-Document Hypothesis (2DH). My undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral courses (at three different universities) all presented the composition of the Synoptic gospels through the lens of the 2DH. In a lot of ways, my brain is still a 2DH brain at its base. Theoretically I’m open to any solution if it helps make sense of the data, but still, when I read studies questioning Q or Matthew’s and Luke’s independence, I have a knee-jerk reaction to think, “Well, but…”
Since many of these studies are anecdotal, there’s ample room for “Well, but…”
As it turned out, my first article was a study questioning Q by undermining one of the pillars in the case for Q as a unified document. The article was a statistical analysis of the “argument from order” for Q, which claims that the sequence of the sayings in the double tradition has too much overlap (roughly 40%) to be coincidental. Matthew and Luke must have each used a document with the sayings in the same order, or so the argument goes. Another student once asked an important but unfortunately overlooked question: is 40%, like, a lot? I didn’t have an immediate answer, so I set out to find one.
Now, I began the study fully convinced that I would find a 40% overlap was significant and Q would be vindicated. It wasn’t. The overlap is insignificant, especially when the placement of material arguably influenced by Mark’s order is removed (e.g. the John the Baptist and temptation material). One has a fairly good chance of getting the same agreement in order (or better) by shuffling cards.
Still, my brain was a 2DH brain. The data didn’t disprove Q; it only showed that this particular argument for a unified document is weak. Maybe Matthew or Luke did not care about maintaining the sequence of the sayings in Q, or “Q” could just denote several shorter documents—but otherwise the model still holds. And it still held in the unconscious way I approached studies on the Synoptic problem.
Over the last few years, I’ve become interested in arguments using the minor agreements (MAs) between Matthew and Luke against Mark. The MAs are used to question the independence of Matthew and Luke on the assumption that if Matthew and Luke edited Mark independently, then we should not see both of them change Mark in the same way—or at least, we should not see this very often. For those who find the MAs significant, there are simply too many for Matthew and Luke to be independent. Defenses of the 2DH against MA arguments often claim the similar changes are coincidental. Statistical hypothesis testing is designed for just these situations: to differentiate between the coincidental and the significant.
So I set out to test the hypothesis that Matthew and Luke adapted Mark independently. I built on the work of previous statistical analyses of the MAs, especially by Andris Abakuks, but in my case counting the alterations according to categories any student would know in the first century: transpositions, subtractions, additions, and substitutions. I then analyzed Matthew’s and Luke’s changes to Mark by category. As with previous statistical studies of the MAs, the overlap of choices was significant. So my data agreed with theirs, which again, wasn’t my expectation. Matthew and Luke make the same editorial choices far more often than we would expect if they were truly independent.
But “not independent” doesn’t mean “directly dependent.” Similar editorial choices could be the result of mutually influential variables like similar ideologies (the culprit usually blamed), or more simply of similar educations. After all, Matthew and Luke both seem more comfortable with Greek than Mark. Without getting too bogged down in the details, I tested again using conditional probabilities to see whether Matthew or Luke were influential variables on the other text. The results surprised me.
In short, when the results are clear (and they are not always so), Matthew is not an influential variable on Luke, but Luke is an influential variable on Matthew. That is an unlikely result on the 2DH, which assumes they adapted Mark independently. It is also unlikely on the Farrer model, which has Matthew as an influential variable on Luke, not vice versa. A holistic statistical analysis of the MAs coheres easily with Matthean Posteriority, but not with any of the other major solutions to the Synoptic problem.
This sort of holistic statistical result has the strongest chance of pushing me away from the 2DH and toward Matthean Posteriority, at least more than any anecdotal or case-by-case study has.
Each of the major models used by Synoptic scholars—and even some models overlooked by them—have the potential to make sense of some passages. That is why the same passages appear over and over in textbooks or arguments for the 2DH or Griesbach or Farrer: in those individual cases, the 2DH or Griesbach or Farrer make the best sense of the data. In others, an explanatory case (but really an interpretive case?) could be made using one of the other models. If the sample is so small, the data is simply unclear, undeterminative, literally insignificant in the sense that it provides no clear sign of the compositional history of the passage. In my mind, we have to look at all the data as a whole, or at least at as much as we can.
Of course, I’m still open to challenges. I’m open to any solution really—Augustine, Griesbach, Lukan Priority, all three are different drafts of the same gospel from the same author playing to different audiences, you name it. I try not to pre-judge. And part of me still hopes the 2DH will win the day, show that that my findings are not as significant as I think they are, if only to satisfy my base 2DH brain. But for now, the evidence has me exploring Matthean Posteriority as the model that makes the best sense of the lexical data."
This post first appeared on the Logos Academic Blog
I first began to think of Matthew as being written later than Luke during my research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. My first idea of a topic for my habilitation was just that: the dead Sea Scrolls, a body of writings that is new to all scholars and that has no traditionally established categories, solutions, criteria, dating, etc. I read them all, and I read almost all literature that was published on them thus far. Trying to analyse various versions of the penal codes that are contained in the so-called Damascus Document and in the so-called Community Rule, I realized how difficult it is to assess the relative priority and posteriority of texts that are quite similar to each other and that have no contextual or traditional relative dating. In particular, I discovered how reversible the criteria to assess such priority and posteriority are: shorter and longer version, elaboration and simplification, development and compactness, one occurrence and numerous occurrences of a given term, etc. In this context, I understood that all our traditional solutions of the Synoptic Problem are in fact based on the sand of such largely reversible criteria.
Moreover, when I studied Luke’s Gospel against this pre-70 CE Jewish background, Luke struck me as being well acquainted with particular Jewish ideas that were not typically biblical and that were somehow discussed in the Dead Sea Scrolls: heptadic calculations of time from the beginning of the world until the present decisive era (Apocalypse of Weeks), saving a man in a body of water/dropsy on the Sabbath day (Damascus Document), etc. On the other hand, I perceived Matthew as generally based on the standard biblical ideas of the Old Testament, with no great acquaintance with the ideas of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Accordingly, I realized that, in contrast to the traditional views, Luke is not typically Greek, and Matthew is not typically Jewish. In fact, Mathew seems to be more distant from the pre-70 CE Judaism of the Dead Sea Scrolls but closer to later Rabbinic Judaism. This led me to entertain the possibility that Matthew was written later than Luke.
Further encouragement to perceive Matthew as later than Luke came with reading Martin Hengel’s English-language paperback book on the Four Gospels (2000), which he published in his own native German language only later, shortly before his death, probably being afraid of the reaction of the conservative Q-oriented German scholars.
The development of my own hypothesis came with the analysis of the Lukan ‘travel narrative’. Having worked many times as a guide in the Holy Land, I realized that the lament over Jerusalem in Lk 13:34–35 could not be uttered in Galilee because of its great distance from Jerusalem, even today in a comfortable air-conditioned bus. Moreover, the following stories on table fellowship in Lk 14 have nothing to do with this lament. Having written my PhD on Paul’s theology, I realized that I knew such a sequence: it originates from Galatians 2: the fierce dispute in Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10) and the following discussion on table fellowship in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14). Consequently, I investigated the Lukan Gospel as a sequentially organized, highly creative (hypertextual) reworking of the contents of Paul’s letters. A similar discovery came later in my analysis of the Gospel of Mark.
As concerns Matthew, I often taught my Catholic seminarians that Peter plays an important role in several stories in its central section. I realized that Peter plays a similarly important role also in the central section of the Acts of the Apostles (esp. Acts 15). This led me to develop my hypothesis that Matthew used the whole Luke: not only his Gospel but also his Acts of the Apostles. Even if the wording of Matthew largely comes from the Lukan Gospel, the order of topics and ideas reflects that of the Acts of the Apostles.
Having read Michael Goulder’s works on his reverse hypothesis (Luke’s use of Matthew), I knew that in order to prove such a non-Q hypotheses, we need detailed commentaries on the whole works, not only publications concerning minor issues, which can always be treated as reversible (Luke influencing Matthew or Matthew influencing Luke). Therefore, the final (thus far) development of my hypothesis has been formulated in a thorough hypertextual commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, in which I argue that Matthew followed the sequence of the contents of the Acts of the Apostles, and used the Gospels of Mark and Luke to illustrate these contents.
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 received by those who remain faithful in their exclusive allegiance to Christ.
"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
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SIIBS at the University of Sheffield.