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A $1000 Challenge to Me: Did the Author of Matthew Use Luke?

As some of you know, a member of the blog, Evan, recently offered a $1000 donation to the blog if I would respond to the claims of New Testament scholar, Alan Garrow, that in studying the Synoptic Gospels, a completely compelling case can be made that the author of Matthew knew and used the Gospel of Luke.  This is a view that almost no one in the academy holds.

After a bit of back and forth – which I give below – Evan agreed that if I could find another respected expert in the field to respond to Garrow’s claims, instead of doing it myself, he would still donate the money.

One of the scholars on the blog happens to be my colleague in New Testament studies at Duke, Mark Goodacre, who has spent the majority of his distinguished scholarly career researching, writing, and teaching on the Synoptic Problem.  There is no one better to respond.  And as it turns out, he volunteered to write a response without my even asking!

Many thanks to Evan for offering the contribution, and to Mark for taking up the challenge!  Below are the comments and emails from Evan and me to set the stage.  After that I will give Mark Goodacre’s exposition of Garrow’s views and an explanation of why they simply don’t work.  I find Goodacre’s argument completely convincing, but would welcome any responses.

Alan Garrow’s most popular books are The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache and Revelation

Mark Goodacre’s most popular books are The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem, and The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze.


Evan’s first comment on the Blog:

The British scholar Alan Garrow has compiled an extremely compelling argument that Q never existed. In seven short videos totaling 52 minutes of viewing time he pretty much proves beyond any doubt that Matthew used both Mark and Luke, and what we imagine as the “Q source” was actually Matthew copying and reorganizing Lukan material directly. See these videos here: https://www.alangarrow.com/mch.html. It is virtually impossible to believe in the Q theory once you’ve seen this data. Bart, if you see any holes in his arguments I would be grateful to hear them.


My Response:

I’m afraid I don’t know him or his work. The problem is always that it is very hard for someone without advanced training in a field (whether neuro-science, astronomy, evolutionary biology, philosophy, or biblical studies!) to see the holes in an argument that an expert can see pretty quickly. So we’ll see if he convinces any scholars!  [NOTE: since I wrote this, Alan Garrow contacted me to remind me that in fact we met many years ago at a conference and have had a couple of back-and-forths since then.  Many apologies to him: I should have remembered, but hearing his name out of context I didn’t!]



You are an expert. I will lay a wager that you cannot find any holes in Garrow’s argument, and that in fact you will be convinced of his resolution of the Synoptic Problem. If you are not convinced, document whatever holes you see on this page. If you are convinced, post a statement that you believe he may have a viable solution to the Problem. Either way, once your assessment is posted, I will donate $1000 to your blog as a thank you for the time you invested to view his presentation and formulate a response.


(WHEN I GOT THIS OFFER< I WAS THINKING TO MYSELF that I couldn’t very well pass it up without incurring, in my own mind, a charge of hypocrisy  — I keep asking others to give for the blog, why wouldn’t I belly up to the bar?  On the other hand, it would take me about four or five hours, and I simply don’t have the free time.   So, a dilemma.   But then Mark Goodacre wrote me to volunteer a response!  AH!  A possible solution, even better than my responding myself.  I wrote to Evan to see if it was acceptable, as follows.


My Response:

Would you agree to the $1000 if another internationally known scholar and expert on the Synoptic Problem posted a refutation on the blog?



Yes, I have no problem with that, assuming Alan Garrow and/or I may be granted the right of a reply to whatever response is posted by the scholar you have engaged. Ultimately, I would be grateful to hear whether you are persuaded one way or another by the discussion that ensues, although I would not request of you a public statement on the blog as a condition of the agreement.


SO: That’s where we are.   As I indicated, Mark Goodacre volunteered a response.  I will post it tomorrow.

If you belonged to the blog, you could read ALL the posts, including the one tomorrow!  If you don’t belong yet, why not join?  It won’t cost much, and all proceeds go to charity!


Did Matthew Copy Luke? Mark Goodacre’s Rebuttal
The Pope and the Lord’s Prayer



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 11, 2017

    Very interesting duel!

  2. Avatar
    anthonygale  December 11, 2017

    Do you believe there exists such a thing as an argument with zero holes in it?

  3. Avatar
    rburos  December 11, 2017

    Argh! A great discussion with cudos to Evan not only for the offer but also for the acceptance of the terms–seems to me authentic curiosity is winning the day. But Holy Smokin’ Butts BBQ I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to read the expert’s response!

    This is an excellent thread; thank you for accepting Evan’s offer.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 11, 2017

    I have to say my immediate reaction to this was feeling appalled that someone would use the blog that way. Promising you money if you’ll devote a lot of time and effort to a topic *he’s* particularly interested in? Your going along with it may be setting a bad precedent.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      Not much time involved. To me it seems like a no-brainer: $1000 to help the hungry and homeless in exchange for an interesting intellectual exchange on a topic of direct relevance to the blog?

      • Avatar
        Judith  December 12, 2017

        I agree!

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  December 12, 2017

        …and of great interest to many on the blog; well, me for one.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 12, 2017

        I seem to be alone in my opinion. But I hold that if a person feels able to part with a certain amount of money, and believes enough in a cause to be willing to donate that much to it, he or she should do so without demanding a quid pro quo.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  December 12, 2017

          P.S. Probably, if a person donated $1000 to the blog and you realized he cared that much, you’d give a little extra consideration to his interests *without* being pressured to do so!

          • Bart
            Bart  December 13, 2017

            But I would post something from that person only if it was appropriate to the blog.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 13, 2017

          Fair enough. But this entire blog is a quid pro quo!

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  December 13, 2017

            Only in the sense of any payment for anything being a quid pro quo.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 15, 2017


          • Avatar
            Wilusa  December 13, 2017

            A later thought: I suppose the whole thing makes sense if the person doesn’t give a hoot about your “worthy cause,” and wouldn’t contribute a dime if he wasn’t being compensated for it. I tend not to see “worthy causes” in that light!

        • Avatar
          brianmiller  January 7, 2018

          Why focus on a donor’s intentions which can never be known? Instead focus on the people who benefit from a donation – and who couldn’t care less what a donor’s intentions were.

  5. Avatar
    godspell  December 11, 2017

    Speaking as a total layman, I’m curious what arguments could possibly be made in favor Matthew having relied on Luke. There are so many key differences between their gospels. I would argue those are more significant than the similarities.

    On the basis of the nativity stories each writer tells–and nothing else–I’d reject this out of hand. The progression we see between the three synoptics is that each is more complex than the one before it. But Matthew’s nativity story is much simpler. If he had a copy of Luke, he edited an awful lot out. He also reversed the journey Mary and Joseph took at the time of Jesus’ birth–they’re living in Bethlehem, then flee to Egypt, then move to Nazareth–on grounds that seem extremely specious and contrived.

    Luke’s story–the one that has become accepted as definitive, at least with regards to most religious and dramatic portrayals of the Nativity–famously has them making an arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem on account of the seemingly fictitious pretext of a census where people had to return to their native villages to be counted. (I suppose the inherent peril of such journeys would serve the purpose of population control).

    Neither story makes much sense. I guess you could argue Matthew’s serves a double purpose–to say Jesus was a true Judean, not merely someone whose mother happened to give birth to him in Judea–and his subsequent residence in Nazareth (that would have been well known to all, since Jesus made no secret of it, which would tend to make me think he wasn’t concerned with whether or not people believed he was Messiah) is made to fulfill a prophecy Matthew has more or less concocted out of a misread verse in the OT.

    I’m sure there’s a very elaborate argument as to why Matthew would do all this, and I look forward to reading about it, and about why Mark Goodacre disagrees with it. To me, it seems quite evident–on the face of things, at least–that the two gospels were composed independently of each other. I’m no expert on the specific subject matter, but I consider myself to have a pretty good eye for plagiarism. Maybe they both copied off Q, but Matthew’s gospel is very much his own.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      There is abundant literature on this. I would suggest you read a basic introduction to the Synoptic Problem.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 12, 2017

        There’s abundant literature on everything, and as it happens, I am a man of wide-ranging interests. The upside to which is that I know a little about a lot of things, which makes me harder to con by people hawking theories–easier for me to cross-reference. The downside you are well familiar with. I’ll never be an expert in this field, or probably any other. But I know when something smells bad.

  6. Avatar
    ardeare  December 11, 2017

    Well, if I understand Mr. Goodacre’s position correctly, he will be agreeing with Evan/Garrow that “Q” didn’t exist but arguing that Luke used Matthew as a source and not vice versa. It should be interesting as I don’t see how Professor Ehrman is going to be able to agree with either of their positions. Or, maybe I’m missing something (wouldn’t be the first time).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      Actually, Garrow thinks that Q did exist. Anyway, see today’s post.

  7. Avatar
    Tony  December 11, 2017

    “I find Goodacre’s argument completely convincing, but would welcome any responses.”
    Well, there goes the spoiler alert!

    I find Garrow’s arguments a breath of fresh air. In fact, I may have to eat some of my earlier disparaging remarks about NT scholarship. Garrow, without prejudice, actually creates hypotheses and, using quantitative data wherever possible, determines the best fit models – and consequently finds long standing assumptions lacking.

    The results are remarkable; Matthew uses Luke as a source, the Didache may have been little Q….
    No preconceived ideology, or slavish follower of majority scholarly opinion here. I love it!

  8. Avatar
    turbopro  December 11, 2017

    Prof, this is why your blog is worth its weight in gold.

    I have my peanuts, so, let the jousts begin.

    • Avatar
      JohnMuellerJD  December 12, 2017

      I would very much like to agree, but how much does a blog actually weigh?

  9. Avatar
    anthonygale  December 11, 2017

    Doesn’t Mark Goodacre also believe Q doesn’t exist? Except he thinks Luke used Matthew (and Mark) rather than the other way around? I’ve always wondered why, among those who do not accept the four source hypothesis, that all (until now) seem to argue for the priority of Matthew over Luke. Perhaps that will be part of his response.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      No, he has spent a good part of his career arguing that Q did *not* exist.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  December 12, 2017

        I think I wrote a bad question with a double negative. It was my understanding that Goodacre does not believe in Q. I was just wondering if he might end up articulating why he believed Luke used Matthew rather than the other way around. Perhaps I will read some of his work and find out.

        I didn’t realize that Garrow was arguing Matthew used Luke AND Q. I thought if Matthew and Luke knew each other there would be no need to believe there was a Q. Is that another hole in the argument?

  10. Lev
    Lev  December 11, 2017

    Off topic question – as an agnostic, how do you celebrate Christmas?

    I get the sense that despite not believing that God exists, you have a lot of respect for the historical Jesus, and I understand your wife is a Christian so I imagine you do celebrate Christmas – but I’m curious what intellectual process you go through during this festive season. Like – do you celebrate the historical Jesus was born, and go to a church service? How do you cope with the theological overtones during this season?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      Ah, great question! I’ll address it in the Readers Mailbag in the coming weeks.

  11. Avatar
    jan.kriso  December 12, 2017

    Sounds extremely exciting!

  12. Avatar
    TBeard  December 12, 2017

    If the author of Matthew copied Luke’s work, why would we get 2 completely different Jesus infancy narratives out of both of them?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      I guess he had a better account of that part. (Or his copy of Luke didn’t have it, e.g. I’ve argued on the blog that it was a later addition to Luke)

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 12, 2017

    I love to debate and figure stuff out, but not usually to the tune of $1,000 per argument. I wonder if Evan would be willing to explain why this issue is of that magnitude of concern to him. I just don’t quite get it. What am I missing?
    Where does this lead if he is right about it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Scholars are typically invested deeply in matters that others find completely immaterial. I know people who have invested their entire lives into studying the Latin manuscripts of medieval writings that most of us have never heard of. Doing so has cost them more than $1000! It’s cost their entire working lives! But they are completely invested in it and desperately want others to think that their work is both important and right!

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  December 13, 2017

      You might have noticed (or not) our resident gnostic on the blog has offered to donate $2000 if Bart reads and reviews his book. Publicity is important to some people, and they will gladly pay money for it. Imagine explaining to a homeless person that they can eat tonight because some strange people are debating who copied who 2000 years ago.

      • Bart
        Bart  December 15, 2017

        I think I”ve forgotten that $2000 offer. Do you remember when/who this was?

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  December 15, 2017

          Destination Reign is the nickname I think. I’ve thought about the challenge too. What if you chunked it down and took your time reading it, and as you progress through the book, keep a running record (ex. MS Word) of your responses. You could email them your responses in exchange for *payments* to the blog—maybe $250 at a time, something like that, with a final payment being the biggest (the last $1,000?) after you post your response to the blog. By the time you finish the book, your post will be created and all you have to do is place it on the blog.
          I would set rules down though. No email wars or lengthy email exchanges that take your time. They can reply once it’s placed on the blog. If something goes awry, then you would have at least received some money for charity.

        • Avatar
          dragonfly  December 16, 2017

          I think it was Silencing the Skeptics. Try searching the blog for it.

  14. Avatar
    Jana  December 12, 2017

    Cool ! 🙂

  15. Avatar
    DavidNeale  December 13, 2017

    The Synoptic Problem is so interesting.

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