|Alan Garrow Didache
the problem page
Ron writes: "In response to this question, it must first be asked, ‘“biggest weakness” according to whom?’ The obvious answer, of course, is according to me. But the shape given my thinking on the subject involves a great deal more than just me. It is in fact very much contingent on my belief regarding who might be right if I turn out to be wrong. And there the answer is clear. If my view, Matthean Posteriority (Luke depending on Mark and Matthew depending on Mark and Luke), is wrong, then the closest one to being right will be something like the dominant two-source theory (Matthew and Luke depending on Mark and Q, but not on one another). I use the words “something like,” because even though I am firmly convinced that the two-source theory is far superior than its other competitors (see below), I still think it is in need of correction and clarification at certain crucial points. It’s just a simple fact that holding a dominant consensus view puts one at one’s ease in such a way that it becomes easier to allow oneself the luxury of becoming less critical and of confidently repeating arguments whose force are perhaps more presumed than real. And in my view, this has been the case with the two-source theory as it is has been traditionally presented and defended. But let me turn to those “other competitors” mentioned above.
I find it incredible that anyone who really understood the explanatory force of the dominant two-source theory would abandon it in favor of either the Griesbach Hypothesis (Matthew first, Luke used Matthew, Mark used both) or the Farrer Hypothesis (Mark first, Matthew used Mark, Luke used both). Those who do abandon the two-source theory often admit that the reason they’d adopted it in the first place was that they’d been taught that it was the ‘right’ view, the one ‘most scholars’ embraced in introductory text books they’d read in the early stages of their scholarly formation or teachers they respected. Typical of this is the story of prominent Griesbach reviver William R. Farmer, who tells how at the beginning of his career he both embraced and taught Markan priority not because he understood the force of the arguments underpinning it, but because “it was an unquestioned part of an unquestioned tradition passed on to me by my teachers, whom I knew personally to be trustworthy and had good reasons to believe were professionally competent.”
This way of coming to a particular position on the Synoptic Problem of course applies to the embracing of other solutions as well. All of us tend to want to believe those we respect and admire. We saw this influence in action in this very blog in the past week or so as Alan Garrow and Rob MacEwen wrote of the impact of non-two-source theorists R. T. France and Harold Hoehner on their early thinking.
I believe as well, that some reject the two-source hypothesis without understanding it because they are naturally endowed with a contrarian spirit which inclines them toward rejecting consensus views simply because they are consensus views, and equally inclined to reject any solution they’d been taught by what they deemed an authoritative voice. One can often recognize refutations coming from such personalities by their unshakable confidence, absolute dismissiveness, and incendiary rhetoric. They often express absolute certainty that there is nothing to commend the two-source theory at all. Perhaps no better example of this can be given than a remark made last year by the historical-Jesus denier Richard Carrier, who wrote: “Q never existed. And there is no rational reason to believe it did. Instead, it is defended with a panoply of lies and blatant violations of logic. A lot like the historicity of Jesus.” In this type of two-source denier we detect a species of the character St. Augustine described who was habitually inclined to “receive what is false as if it were true, reject what is true as if it were false, and cling to what is uncertain as if it were certain.”
Now to be sure, the counterpart of the contrarian is the person who does the opposite, who embraces the consensus view and sticks with it no matter what, not because they understand it, but because it is the consensus view. But I am not talking about them here.
The reason that abandoning the two-source theory in favor of Griesbach or Farrer makes no sense is that the former thesis is simple, elegant and has considerable explanatory power, while the latter both require an elaborate supporting superstructure consisting of a multiplicity of ad hoc arguments just to keep them afloat. They are the sort of theses my old professor Bruce Waltke once described by saying: First you decide what your thesis is, and then you spend the rest of your time inventing arguments to dismiss all the evidence that stands against it. Long story short, Griesbach and Farrer aren’t simple, nor elegant, and they lack sufficient explanatory power. I experienced this first-hand when I tried to convince myself of the validity of each of the two views in turn. The problem is well put by Richard Bauckham only a few days ago on this blog in reference to the Farrer Hypothesis:
“Francis Watson in his book Gospel Writing has now made the best available attempt to explain and account for Luke’s compositional procedure. I doubt if anyone could do better, but I ended reading it with the conclusion: This is unbelievably complex. It is also completely unparalleled in the way that other ancient authors worked with their sources.”
The point is that if Matthean Posteriority is ever toppled by weaknesses detected in it, it will still remain a better solution, simpler, more elegant, and with more to commend it, than the Farrer or Griesbach Hypotheses. Unlike those solutions, I believe it commends itself to those who have already grasped the inner workings of the two-source theory, understood its strengths, and yet from time to time bumped up against certain issues and blind spots in its defense and application. The result is that a move over to Matthean Posteriority feels more like taking an additional step in the same direction, rather than slamming one’s synoptic logic into reverse, backing all the way out to the main road, and heading off in an entirely different direction. Matthean Posteriority affirms many of the insights of the two-source theory which Farrer and Griesbach positively deny."
Part 2 of Ron's piece will be published tomorrow.
William Farmer, “The Case for the Two Gospel Hypothesis,” Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (ed. David Alan Black and David R. Beck (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 97.
Richard Carrier, “Why Do We Still believe in Q,”(April 26, 2017): https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12352.
Augustine, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love21.
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.