|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
[The following was originally posted on Bart Ehrman's blog on December 13th 2017]
First of all I’d like to thank Evan Powell. Evan is a particularly incisive and original thinker. You can find more about his ideas at http://synoptic-problem.com. Evan’s $1000 challenge has injected fresh energy into a tired and moribund debate. Evan’s particular concern is to dispense with Q – which creates an amusing irony: to keep the flame of Q burning brightly, Ehrman accepts the services of Mark Goodacre, a man who has worked harder than any living scholar to put it out. Evan will offer his own response to Goodacre in due course.
Before getting onto the substance of Mark’s critique I need to offer a very important – but perhaps confusingly subtle – clarification. When I use the term Q (*without* quotation marks) I mean the document as conceived by the International Q Project (IQP). This is a hypothetical/reconstructed entity of about 4,500 words, which Bart Ehrman, and many other scholars, believes actually existed. By contrast, I use the term “Q” (*with* quotation marks) to refer to a basket of resources (written or oral) known and used by both Luke and Matthew (not including Mark’s Gospel). I have had cause to regret the subtlety of this distinction more than once – with more, no doubt, to come! Nevertheless, against this background it is significant that the title of my article is ‘An Extant Instance of “Q”’ not ‘An Extant Instance of Q’. This is important when it comes to addressing Mark Goodacre’s initial complaint that, far from compiling a compelling argument that Q never existed: ‘Garrow is actually arguing that Matthew and Luke did use Q’. This is not the case. My approach has no place for the IQP-style Q. What I do allow, however, is that Mark’s Gospel need not be the only source shared by both Luke and Matthew – even if there is also direct contact between those two Gospels. In the video/article ‘An Extant Instance of “Q”’ [https://www.alangarrow.com/extantq.html] I back up this suggestion with a concrete example provided by a handful of sayings in the Didache. For reasons too complicated to go into here it would be exceptionally unwise to claim that what is true of one part in the Didache must be true of all parts. That’s why I do *not* claim, as Goodacre states, that: ‘Q is, in fact, the Didache!’
So now to the substance of Goodacre’s rebuttal …
A good solution to the Synoptic Problem is one that allows each Evangelist to behave in a consistently plausible manner. To rebut my thesis, therefore, Goodacre must show that, under my proposal, Matthew is required to do something that is essentially implausible. The unbelievable behavior he identifies is that Matthew (according to me) sometimes very closely conflates two or more related sources (e.g. The Sin against the Holy Spirit, where Matt. 31.31-32 conflates Mark 3.28-30, Luke 12.10 and Did. 11.7), sometimes switches between sources at intervals (e.g. the Beelzebul Controversy, where Matt. 12.22-30 alternates between Mark 3.22-27 and Luke 11.14-23), and sometimes decides to forego the labor of conflation where the rewards for doing so are limited (e.g. John’s messianic preaching and the sign of Jonah: Matt. 3.12 // Luke 3.17 and Matt. 12.38-42 // Luke 11.16, 29-32 respectively). I must leave you to judge whether this variation is so extraordinary as to justify Ehrman’s view that this is a ‘completely compelling’ reason to declare that Matthew could not have known Luke.
In the space that remains I’d like to focus on the main problem with Farrer Hypothesis (Luke used Matthew – as supported by Goodacre) and Two Document Hypothesis (Matthew and Luke both independently used Q – as supported by Ehrman).
According to the Farrer Hypothesis (FH) Luke indulged in what might be called ‘reverse conflation’ or ‘unpicking’. So, for example, in the Beelzebul Controversy, Goodacre’s Luke is required to follow Matthew 12.27-28 very closely but then, just as Matthew (12.29) starts to follow Mark very closely, Luke stops following Matthew – only to return to following Matthew as soon as, once again, Matthew has no parallel in Mark. This is just one of a series of editorial procedures required of Luke, under the FH, that are exceptionally difficult to achieve from a practical point of view and that are not exhibited in any contemporary literature. This is one of the reasons, I suspect, why Ehrman rejects the notion that Luke used Matthew.
According to the Two Document Hypothesis (2DH) Matthew and Luke sometimes had a virtually identical attitude to a mysterious hypothetical entity called Q. So, despite their differences in theology and geography they sometimes both copied entire paragraphs of this particularly primitive document virtually word for word. This is implausible for two reasons. First, writers of this period tended not to copy verbatim. Second, when observing how Matthew and Luke copy from Mark, they very rarely achieve anything like the levels of shared agreement that, according to the 2DH, they repeatedly achieve when (independently) copying from Q. These passages with very high verbatim agreement are much easier to explain if there is direct copying between Matthew and Luke. This is a point Goodacre makes with force and humor in an essay entitled, ‘Too good to be Q’. (I am puzzled, therefore, by his comment, in the blog: ‘high verbatim agreement is not diagnostic of an author working from only one source’).
So, is it possible simultaneously to avoid the implausibility of ‘unpicking’ while also explaining why Matthew and Luke sometimes agree almost exactly? This may be achieved, I propose, if Matthew is seen as a conflator. This activity has a (more developed) parallel in the Gospel harmonies that became popular from the Second Century onwards.
One pressing problem remains: if Matthew’s use of Luke has such good explanatory power, why has is not had greater exposure? The answer is that the agenda for this particular debate tends to be set by prominent specialists such as Mark Goodacre. And, as Goodacre once famously remarked: "The theory that Matthew has read Luke ... is rarely put forward by sensible scholars and will not be considered here" (The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, 2001, p. 108). It seems, however, that the promise of a $1000 charitable donation is sufficient to persuade Goodacre to, after all, give the theory a little airtime. Perhaps, now, others will do the same.
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.