|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
"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).
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.