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Back Again: Did Matthew Use Luke? Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre

As you know, I agreed to allow Mark Goodacre to respond to Alan Garrow’s unusual view of how to explain the “Synoptic Problem,” as part of the $1000 challenge by blog-participant Evan.  Some of you enjoyed going down into the weeds yesterday with Mark; today I post Alan Garrow’s reply to Mark’s Response, and if you like the weeds, here are some more!  If nothing else, these posts show why it is hard to make scholarship simple and accessible to the non-expert, without simplifying it out of recognition —  which is the ultimate goal of this blog.

If you prefer other kinds of (less weedy) fields, no worries!  I’m not planning on continuing this back and forth, with one exception.  Evan himself would like to post his views, and I’ve agreed to allow him to do so.  But first I’ll let these two posts settle in for you, and tomorrow get back onto other things.

Here now is Alan’s reply to Mark’s response.  See which side you line up with!  (Just one point of clarification I’d like to make about my own views in light of what Alan says below; I am not at all committed to the form of Q reconstructed by the International Q Project – not in the least; I simply think there was a Greek document that Matthew and Luke both used for a number of their traditions, and I’m happy to call it Q).

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.


 The $1000 Challenge: Garrow responds to Goodacre

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 …

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Brief Reply to Garrow
Did Matthew Copy Luke? Mark Goodacre’s Rebuttal



  1. Avatar
    jbskq5  December 13, 2017

    Good points made on both sides, to my eye. However, the repeated value judgments made by Garrow against his opponents (absent from Goodacre’s rebuttal) are a complete turn-off. This isn’t the Richard Carrier blog, you know.

  2. Avatar
    mannix  December 13, 2017

    Well, I’m glad that clears everything up (NOT!). I’m looking forward to Bart’s contribution; in the meantime I’ll put my brain to rest by reading something simple, like Neurochemistry!

  3. Avatar
    Leovigild  December 13, 2017


    You say it is unlikely that both Luke and Matthew copied Q, if it existed, verbatim. Yet under your hypothesis you must admit that, in those sections, Matthew is copying Luke verbatim. So either way we have established that Matthew sometimes copies his source verbatim. So we are left with the hypothesis that Luke sometimes copies his source verbatim. Now, maybe that hypothesis is wrong, but we can’t throw it out a priori, since we have just established that at least one Evangelist proceeds in such a manner. It would have to be tackled as a separate question.

    • Avatar
      AGarrow  January 7, 2018

      You are quite right. It is important to consider all the options.
      In video 2 at alangarrow.com/mch I consider all three possible explanations for the high levels of verbatim similarity between Luke and Matthew. I conclude that it is most likely that Matthew used Luke because these patterns of similarity are virtually the same as those between Matthew and Mark. This is not to discount the possibility that Luke used Matthew (I reject this option for other reasons later in the argument). What does seem particularly unlikely however is that Matthew and Luke could have *both* decided to copy the same passages of Q with 90-95% faithfulness- since nothing like this happens when they are both copying from Mark.

  4. Avatar
    gwayersdds  December 13, 2017

    I wish my biblical scholarly background was better because I felt that I couldn’t see the forest for the weeds. The debate was interesting but I had trouble understanding it with all the arcane and esoteric vocabulary. However it was nice to see a very gentlemanly debate between experts which did not degenerate into name calling and insulting repartee. The respect shown by both experts towards each other was obvious. Even though I did not follow all of the arguments it made for interesting reading. Thank you Bart for this set of blogs.

  5. Lev
    Lev  December 13, 2017

    I find it difficult to follow Alan Garrow’s thesis as he undermines his own arguments. In the following passage, he claims 1st-century writers tended not to copy sources verbatim – before proceeding to claim Matthew *did* copy Luke verbatim:

    “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.**”

    Maybe I missed something, but isn’t Garrow contradicting himself here?

    • Lev
      Lev  December 13, 2017

      A further difficulty is that Garrow isn’t a very good communicator. I’ve read the paragraph after “So now to the substance of Goodacre’s rebuttal …” several times and I still don’t understand what he’s trying to say.

      He tries to pull too many complex threads together at once, he argues using double negatives which don’t quite get there and he ends on a cryptic note that baffles me “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.”


      Don’t leave us hanging – just say what you mean.

      I’m not the sharpest knife in the rack, but I’m not the bluntest either. To make a convincing case, he needs to knock it down a level or two for us on the ground floor.

      I’ve watched his videos and he does make some pretty interesting points – especially over his textual analysis – but he moves too quickly, doesn’t allow his points to settle and loses me in the weeds (to borrow Bart’s phrase).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Several people have pointed this out!

    • Avatar
      AGarrow  January 7, 2018

      Responding to gwayersdds.

      The way Matthew treats Luke (and Mark) is rather unlike the way other first century writers seem to have used their sources.
      The way Matthew used his sources is, however, a bit like the way later second century writers used their sources.
      This makes me suspect that Matthew is an early example of the second century style of composition.
      (Luke, on the other hand, treats Mark in a way typical of a first century author)

  6. Robert
    Robert  December 13, 2017

    Bart: “I am not at all committed to the form of Q reconstructed by the International Q Project – not in the least.”

    Now you can’t make a comment like that without following up with (numerous and extensive) posts explaining your disagreements with the IQP reconstruction. Be forewarned. A close friend of mine has been working in this area for more than a few decades. Perhaps I can succeed in getting him to join the blog and scrutinize your views. All in the interests of charity, of course.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      I just don’t subscribe to any one reconstruction of Q in particular. I think it was probably a Greek written document, the contents of some of which we know, and others of which we do not.

  7. Robert
    Robert  December 13, 2017

    Alan: “First, writers of this period tended not to copy verbatim.”

    This works against your theory as well. Only Matthew would have occasionally copied verbatim from Luke, rather than both Mattew and Luke occassionally copying verbatim from Q.

    • Avatar
      AGarrow  January 7, 2018

      Verbatim similarity is occurring between Matthew and Luke somehow. This is an unavoidable aspect of the puzzle we’re trying to solve!
      The question is, therefore, who is most likely to be behaving in this way?
      Is it Matthew – who relatively commonly copied from Mark verbatim.
      Or Luke, who rarely copies from Mark verbatim.
      Or Matthew *and* Luke?
      It’s this latter option that is required by the traditional Q hypothesis. For this to happen, however, we would need Matthew and Luke (who are otherwise rather different) to have a virtually identical attitude to Q for extended passages. This is not, strictly speaking, impossible but, given the other simpler options, is it probable?

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  October 29, 2019

        Ok this makes sense.

        If Luke tends to vary from Mark a bit more, it might be because he has alternative sources he is drawing on and therefore is earlier? Whereas Matthew only has Mark and Luke’s writing and he knows Luke is later so he sticks to Mark more closely when he can.

        But if it is correct that they agree on Q much more closely than Mark that still seems odd.

        Is it possible they were copying from the exact same transcript of Q but of 2 different copies of Mark? Or even a better copy of Q?

        Or is it possible that one would think we can change some wording used to describe what happened (Mark) but they were very particular about what Jesus said (Q). It seems to me though that the variations on Q seem more significant than the variations of Mark. Maybe that is just because I am getting Mark reinforcing Luke and Matthew and we are just sort of left hanging on the differences in reference to Q.

        “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.”

        But aren’t you saying Matthew did this with Luke and Mark? I guess you are saying it is more plausible that Matthew would do this because he tends to be more of a verbatim type of author right?

        Anyway I do think these arguments are very interesting. And as long as the analysis is not written in Greek I am not sure why people can’t follow it.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  December 13, 2017

    If writers did not usually copy verbatim – did they sometimes cut and paste? Any evidence of that? I guess it would be hard to know now, since none of those documents exist (that we know of).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      We do have evidence of cut and paste — but mainly by later editors who took several documents and put them together, such as the letter of 2 Corinthians or the Didache. None of the NT authors themselves would have been doing that, so far as we can tell.

      • Avatar
        Rthompsonmdog  December 15, 2017

        “None of the NT authors…,” here you mean none of the Gospel authors. Right?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 17, 2017

          No, I meant none of the authors of the entire NT. Paul himself didn’t do the cut and paste job that resulted in 2 Corinthians, e.g.

  9. Avatar
    godspell  December 13, 2017

    I dislike academic arguments that contain some variant on “I have found The Truth, and THEY are trying to keep it from you!” I know enough about this field of study to know that many far more revolutionary ideas (like, you know, Jesus just being a man who could be wrong sometimes) have been accepted by mainstream biblical scholars. I see no reason why Garrow’s hypothesis could not be accepted–and not all mainstream scholars believe in Q. So that in itself makes me skeptical.

    I have read Garrow’s argument and still do not grasp it. Okay, so he’s not saying Matthew is just Mark + Luke. There were multiple ‘Q’ sources instead of one. I am not qualified to say whether the textual evidence supports that, but there is nothing inherently objectionable about it.

    However, Garrow is still saying Matthew copied from Luke. There are, of course, many elements in Matthew that are unique to Matthew, so that’s a sticking point right there. He’s not just conflating, he’s innovating. He’s adding things to the story that come exclusively from him, best as we can tell. His virgin birth story doesn’t seem to be copied from Luke, and certainly not from Mark. If both Matthew and Luke had the same sources, why is Matthew so different? Obviously one answer is that Matthew AND Luke are taking stories and changing them to get personal points across. To try and shape their religion, which both did with some success, if not complete success.

    I don’t understand why it’s impossible they could have both copied Q verbatim, but it is possible Matthew could have copied Luke verbatim. If that’s not what he said, sorry. It seemed to me that’s what he said. In any event, Matthew did not just copy Luke, or Mark. But he does seem, in some cases, to have been content to simply reproduce material he’d read elsewhere–and in other cases, to materially reshape the material he had to hand. And perhaps, in some instances, to write something sui generis to himself.

  10. Avatar
    ardeare  December 13, 2017

    A few things I take away from this: Professor Garrow is to be commended for presenting an alternative theory for the ‘Gospel of Matthew.’ Secondly, it’s clear that Evan *and* the videos present the Didache as the source and substitute for a traditional Q. There is ample opportunity, especially when Professor Garrow is producing his own video presentation, to state the Didache is only one of “a basket of sources” but no such declaration occurs. Alas, I think Professor Garrow would be well served to confess that Matthew, as we have in our canon today (produced or reproduced?) came about (according to him) in the mid to late 2nd Century.

    • Avatar
      AGarrow  January 7, 2018

      Each of my videos includes a diagram with three ‘Q’ s. This was my attempt to make it clear that I am only proposing that Didache 1.2-5a is just one example of a set of sayings used by both Luke and Matthew – and many more might have been available. I have to admit that I haven’t been clear enough because intelligent and knowledgeable people have often misunderstood me!
      I am grateful to the person who suggested, in the course of these conversations, that my understanding of ‘Q’ is of a ‘basket of resources – which might be oral or written’. They have understood me perfectly.

  11. Avatar
    gavriel  December 13, 2017

    Assuming that Matthew used a copy of Luke lacking the present day opening material, there is still the problem of explaining why he completely discarded the ending.
    The argument that “writers of this period tended not to copy verbatim” looks suspicious. Obviously Luke or Matthew did this, when excluding the Q-hypothesis. The reason they seldom do this when they use Mark is normally explained by their wish to improve Marks’s Greek ?

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 15, 2017

      I don’t accept Garrow’s argument, nor do I reject out of hand the notion that Matthew’s gospel could have come last–but one could make this argument to explain the differences between Matthew and Luke, though I haven’t seen Garrow make it himself.

      Matthew might have read Luke, and just decided he didn’t like some of the stories. He may have felt Luke’s gospel was too much. If so, I have to say, I agree with him. It is too much.

      Of course, he also must have felt Mark’s (which he definitely read) was too little. He sought the via media. His gospel was juuuuuust right.

      Do you ever wonder if Christians stood on street corners (if there were streets, and they had corners) arguing the relative merits of the gospels? I can’t say I ever heard any Christian doing so myself, away from the internet. Once they were all canon, the Received Word of God, it might be considered scandalous to do so. But maybe when the books were still new, there were arguments about which, if any, to accept.

      At some point, I’ll have to read all three synoptics back to back again, and I will say this much–I’ll be looking for things that might prove Garrow right–but also things that might prove him wrong. I suspect I will find both, and end up confused, as usual.

  12. Avatar
    Jim  December 13, 2017

    So taking your “Q”, I mean your ‘que’, about getting down in the weeds … well I smoked some weed and then reread the arguments from both scholars … and it didn’t help me much. I just ended up agreeing with both of them, and then I got hungry …

  13. Avatar
    3Timothy  December 13, 2017

    I was lost by what SEEMS to be a contradiction in “Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre.”

    Alan writes, “First, writers of this period tended not to copy verbatim.” (Oh? I never read this before.)

    Then Alan writes, “These passages with very high verbatim agreement are much easier to explain if there is direct copying between Matthew and Luke.”

    Is this a contradiction?

  14. Avatar
    Docniacin  December 13, 2017

    There seems to have been numerous documents before and after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What is the possibility that some other documents (known and unknown) may have been the source(s) that were used by Matthew, Mark or Luke. Why do we seem to point out only “Q”, Is there any evidence or suggestion in this direction?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Yes, Q could be several sources; but historians tend not to claim that there were several sources when only one will do the same trick, otehrwise it is building unnecssary hypotheses.

  15. Avatar
    rburos  December 13, 2017

    The idea of this thread at first appeared to have been a good idea. But yesterday’s post was way above my head (achieving a legitimate purpose there as well–showing that experts don’t mess around), and today’s ended with what sounded like a flat earth conspiracy. I didn’t get what I had hoped for.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Maybe today’s will work better for you.

      • Avatar
        rburos  December 15, 2017

        I will take this thread and sit down with Sanders’ & Davies’ Studying the Synoptic Gospels (part two). It has now become a challenge to at least understand the thread (instead of trying to participate in the conversation). I really do appreciate this excursis.

  16. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 13, 2017

    This is definitely in the weeds.

  17. Avatar
    Goodacre  December 13, 2017

    Many thanks to Dr Garrow for his interesting response. I should point out, though, that this does not respond to my point, which is not a question about degrees of plausibility, but a question about the consistency and coherence of Garrow’s model. The issue to which I am drawing attention is straightforward: Garrow claims that high verbatim agreement in double tradition is diagnostic that Matthew is working form Luke alone. I am pointing out that on his model, high verbatim agreement does not illustrate this. I’ve added some additional comments on my blog at https://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2017/12/further-response-to-alan-garrow.html.

    Many thanks, by the way, to everyone for the fascinating responses to my post, and apologies that I am so busy at the moment that I don’t have time to respond to them all. I am lost in wonder at how Bart is able to keep up with the blog!

  18. Avatar
    turbopro  December 13, 2017

    One clarification please prof: when scholars, such as these here engaged in a discussion, use the term theory, is this theory as we understand it from a scientific theory perspective?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      It’s not a technical term for most historians. It usually means simply something like: “an idea that can explain some of our surviving data but which, until now, has not been fully demonstrated.”

  19. Avatar
    Tempo1936  December 13, 2017

    Since this discussion is over my head, I used the time to review posts (using the search function which worked great) from several years ago on the Christmas myths in Matthew and Luke. It’s clear both Matthew and Luke had heard about different prophecies from the Old Testament and the stories that proved Jesus fulfilled them.

    I recommend the study as I learned so much. It’s also interesting to compare Matthew
    And Luke’s stories. They accounts are so different. Do scholars believe that the authors wrote their stories independently?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Yup! OR, even more likely, that they inherited different stories from the oral tradition.

      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  December 15, 2017

        Seems unlikely that two completely different oral traditions would be passed down w/o any overlap.
        It seems more logical that One of the authors. had the other authors stories/traditions and wanted to expand or supplement the traditions to cover even more old testament prophecies.
        Thanks again for the blog it is really educational..

  20. Avatar
    Silver  December 14, 2017

    Forgive me if you have already addressed this in recent blogs (if you have perhaps you can point me to the posting please).
    I can see that the issue of who copied whom is immensely fascinating to scholars but please can you explain why this is important? I can accept that the accounts we have are not completely independent of one another nor produced by eye witnesses but why does it matter who the original author was?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Ah, that will require a blog post. I’ll put it on the mailbag.

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