|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
It struck me as a remarkable exchange at the time. In about 1998 the late Eric Franklin, an advocate of the Farrer Hypothesis, was a guest at the Oxford graduate research seminar. During questions a member of Faculty remarked in an inquiring manner, ‘I’ve never been sure why Matthew could not have used Luke.’ Franklin responded with a rapid expulsion of air (something like) ‘Ppppfffft!!’. And there the matter lay. Nothing more was said.
Since then more sustained and articulate engagements with the case for Matthew's use of Luke have been a distinct rarity. It is a welcome development, therefore, that F Gerald Downing has now published, ‘Plausibility, Probability and Synoptic Hypotheses' ETL (2017) 313-337, a detailed critique of what he calls Matt3rd (Matthew used Luke and Mark). The abstract reads:
Scholars assert their reconstructions are possible, probable, plausible. Even Matthew and Luke quite independently agreeing against Mark in Markan contexts is agreed by sceptics to be possible, if not really plausible. Can “possibility” or “plausibility” be quantified? Perhaps our judgement between hypotheses is inescapably subjective. However, if some proposed reconstruction can be shown to be impossible, then any that are merely possible surely hold the field, alone or “complausible” with others. One evangelist writing third (whether
What Downing sets out to prove, in short, is a basis for suggesting that Matthew’s use of Luke (and Mark) is, in an absolute sense, ‘impossible’. If he can succeed, then it necessarily follows that Matt3rd may be eliminated from the field – leaving only those hypotheses that are ‘possible’. This is, in effect, a version of the ‘least worst option’ argument sometimes favoured by 2DH supporters. That is to say, while admitting that there is some data that their solution does not resolve very well, they nonetheless maintain that these difficulties are relatively slight compared with the alternatives (by which they have, in the past, meant the FH and 2GH).
Downing thus sets himself an admirable target. There will be no pussyfooting around with 'ifs', 'buts' and 'maybes', he will demonstrate that Matt3rd is straightforwardly and absolutely ‘impossible’. To this end he identifies a behaviour in Matt3rd that could not have happened by chance of deliberately. His language is enjoyably emphatic:
The probability of this [Matthean behaviour] occurring ... by chance or deliberately, must be judged simply nil, zero, zilch. (p. 335)
If Gerald Downing has indeed found a reason absolutely to discount the possibility that Matthew used Luke, then we all owe him a debt of gratitude, because the categorical elimination of any one option will greatly speed our progress towards a full and fruitful solution to the Synoptic Problem.
Let me attempt to explain his logic a clearly as I'm able.
1. There are occasions when Mark and Luke agree verbatim (or very close to verbatim) for ‘extensive sequences’. Downing defines an extensive sequence as a string of letters 30+ letters long - which usually amounts to a sequence of between six and thirteen words.
2. About forty of these strings or agreement between Mark and Luke occur in passages outside the following categories: words of Jesus, words addressed to Jesus, words of the Baptist, words of God, and challenges issued to Jesus. That is to say, they fall into passages that might be described (by me) as incidental.
3. When these types of strings of agreement occur, Matt3rd ‘assiduously avoids’ or ‘refuses’ these strings, even though he is sometimes willing to copy Luke's or Mark's solo witness (in the adjoining text) very closely.
NB. Care needs to be taken over what Downing means by Matthew 'refusing' such passages. He states that: '[Matt3rd] appears to have refused to include such further common matter as it stands, or, on occasion, even refused to paraphrase it' (p. 320 emphasis original). It is important to recognise, therefore, that Downing does not use the term ‘refuse’ in the sense of ‘wholly omit’. Rather, Mathew is said to have refused such a string of words if he has chosen not to reproduce it exactly as it stands. Thus, Matthew is said to ‘refuse’ such a string if he alters it by: omission, partial omission, emendation, abbreviation or expansion.
Downing's central contention is that there is, 'nil, zero, zilch' (p. 335) possibility of Matt3rd consistently ‘refusing’ (as in, not copying exactly) these strings of incidental words when they are doubly attested by Mark and Luke.
Before getting down to cases, two general observations:
1. On every occasion where Matthew ‘refuses’ (omits, alters or expands) these verbatim strings shared by Mark and Luke this has no detrimental effect on Matthew's narrative and theological agenda. This point is demonstrated by the fact that supporters of the 2DH never feel the need to explain why Matthew has treated Mark as he has. All such editorial changes are seen as unproblematic for a model where Matthew makes use of Mark alone.
2. Matthew's treatment of these passages only becomes extraordinary, in Downing's perception, when Matthew 'refuses' (omits, alters or expands) material that is common to both Mark and Luke.
It is critical to Downing's case, therefore, that Matthew should feel compelled exactly to preserve every string of 30+ letters that is common to Mark and Luke - no matter how incidental, redundant or detrimental to Matthew's theological agenda this material may be. In defence of this suggestion Downing quotes Tacitus, "Where the authorities are unanimous, I shall follow them" and Arrian, "Whenever Ptolemy son of Lagus and Aristobulous son of Aristobolous have both given the same accounts ... it is my practice to record what they say as completely true" (p. 322). This is disingenuous. Tacitus and Arrian were not describing their policy in relation to 30+ long strings of letters. Rather, they were speaking about their attitude to the reliability of whole incidents (which they would then go on to recount in their own words).
In short, Downing imposes an entirely arbitrary requirement on how Matthew must behave (if he is aware of both Mark and Luke). And, when Matthew fails to conform, Downing announces that Matt3rd is ‘impossible’.
In the next post I will provide a little more detail as to what Downing means by 'refuse' and 'avoid'.
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.