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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
    RonaldTaska  December 14, 2017

    This remains quite a bit over my head, but, to simplify it, if either the author of Matthew used Luke or the author of Luke used Mathew why then are there different birth of Jesus narratives, different genealogies, different empty tomb accounts, and other contradictions in the two books? So, doesn’t it seem more likely that the authors of the two books used some similar sources, as well as some different sources, and did not use the work of each other? Otherwise, how do you account for the differences between the two books?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Because Luke wasn’t his only source of information. He had multiple choices, and was constantly choosing among them (and probably coming up with some “takes” of his own).

      • Avatar
        RonaldTaska  December 15, 2017

        Thanks. I need to watch the Garrow video. Once again, I am thinking about stuff that had never previously occurred to me. I guess I could do worse.

  2. Avatar
    Tony  December 14, 2017

    I never realized that, unlike their use of Mark, Luke and Matthew use of “Q” is often verbatim. That settles it. The only explanation is direct copying between Matthew and Luke. Why would anybody hang on to Q?

    The answer is obvious. Once we realize that Matthew and Luke are largely a mixture of mutual, and Marcan sourced, copying we’ve lost these gospels as independent attestations for an historical Jesus. Forget about the Gospel of John. That leaves only two sources for Jesus – Paul and Mark.

    Despite desperate arguments by historicists, there is no evidence that Paul writes about an historical figure, so that leaves Mark. The Gospel of Mark is an elaborate and sophisticated attack by the early Petrine sect of Christianity. Mark’s contemporary readers would have recognized the demotion of Peter (Cephas), from a “Jerusalem pillar” to the slow witted Galilean fisherman who ends up betraying Jesus, for what it was. Mark wrote on behalf of the Pauline sect and he was good at it.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      But they do copy Mark verbatim, in numerous places.

      • Avatar
        Tony  December 15, 2017

        I got that notion from this post when Alan Garrow states:

        “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.”

        So, my “verbatim” comment may not have been on the Mark (ha). It’s relative shared agreement. Obviously, I’m taking Alan’s analysis at face value. But, if both Luke and Matthew copy sometimes verbatim from Mark, why should they not verbatim copy from each other? Never mind the directional flow – that’s another issue.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 17, 2017

          Yes, I don’t think it’s true. Matthew and Luke often copy Mark verbatim. Just pick a passage — e.g., the rich young ruler.

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 17, 2017

            And I agree. Both Matthew and Luke often copy verbatim from from Mark. It’s the “Q” material that’s in question. Here too we see some identical verbatim text in both Matthew and Luke, not originating in Mark. That leave two hypothetical scenarios:
            1) The Q material originates either with Matthew or Luke and the other one copies;
            2) The Q material originates from an external source.
            The simpler solution seems 1). It also conforms to the proven precedent of copying from an existing known Gospel, (Mark).

          • Bart
            Bart  December 18, 2017

            It’s simpler on the surface, but it creates enormous other problems, in particular why Luke decided to alter the sequence of all the non-Markan materials he found in Matthew and how he actually went about doing so (physically/mechanically)

          • Avatar
            AGarrow  May 7, 2018

            Hi Bart, you say: “Matthew and Luke often copy Mark verbatim. Just pick a passage — e.g., the rich young ruler.” You are missing the central point. In the rich young ruler Luke copies Mark relatively closely (65% agreement) but Matthew does not. The upshot is that there are only two places where Matthew, Luke and Mark all have exactly the same words in exactly the same order for more than three words in a row – there are two such Strings of Verbatim Agreement (SVA), one of 4 words one of 5.

            Compare this with, for example, John’s Preaching on Repentence. Here Matthew and Luke share SVAs of 12 words, 21 words and 20 words. For Q to be at play in this passage Luke would have to copy Q’s version with more than 96% accuracy and so would Matthew – and, incidentally, they would have had to use virtually identical copies of Q. Is this realistic, or is there a more credible explanation?

            A much more credible explanation is that there is direct copying between Matthew and Luke. Matthew very commonly copies Mark verbatim (Luke copies Mark verbatim relatively rarely). It makes sense to suggest, therefore, that very high agreement in the Double Tradition is due to Matthew simply copying Luke. And, as Martin Hengel pointed out back in 2000, there is no obstacle to this explanation.

          • Avatar
            AGarrow  May 7, 2018

            Hi Bart, In response to Tony’s observation that direct copying between Matthew and Luke is the simplest explanation for the High Agreement passages in the Double Tradition you respond:

            “It’s simpler on the surface, but it creates enormous other problems, in particular why Luke decided to alter the sequence of all the non-Markan materials he found in Matthew and how he actually went about doing so (physically/mechanically)”.

            Here you betray a serious blind spot (one you share with plenty of other scholars!). You restrict yourself to talking about the impracticality and improbability of Luke treating Matthew in a particular way. I couldn’t agree with your point more – so far as it goes – but it doesn’t work in reverse. There is no difficulty in explaining why Matthew would have wanted to alter the sequence of Luke (to create his Discourses) and no difficulty in demonstrating that he was capable of the mechanics required, since he sometimes treats Mark in the same way.

            May I urge you to step out of the inherited rut? Arguments against Luke’s use of Matthew are not arguments against Matthew’s use of Luke.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 15, 2017

      There is absolutely no doubt Paul is writing about somebody who was alive at the same time he was (whose brother he met much later). He also believes that Jesus was more than human.

      I mean, look at the way some people talk about Elvis Presley. Does this sound like a mere mortal to you? The people who actually knew him talk about him like he was just a really talented singer who could be a bit of an asshole sometimes, but people who only know him through more second-hand sources like records, concerts (live or taped), articles in the supermarket tabloids–their take is a sometimes a bit different.

      They know he walked the earth in bodily form. (Some claim he still does). But his significance to them is iconic, inspirational–it might not go too far to say it’s religious for some. So if you ONLY had enconiums by such people to go on, with no other materials to back that up, you might well conclude he was not an historical figure. No more real than Bat Boy or those little grey aliens that keep showing up at the White House.

      Paul is very clearly writing about Jesus in that sense–as somebody he knows walked the same earth as him, he’s talked to people who met him, but on some level, he can’t quite believe Jesus was made of the same mortal stuff as him.

      People do this kind of thing. You know people who do this kind of thing. You just need to make the connection. Don’t be so literal. That’s where fundamentalists go wrong.

      • webo112
        webo112  December 18, 2017

        Yes I agree…..Bart I just noticed that you can now rate comments too, great upgrade. I presume you didn’t announce this?

  3. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  December 17, 2017

    One statement Garrow makes that baffles me, is that authors did not copy one another verbatim much. Without saying how much is much, it seems obvious that, reading the synoptics in parallel, two of them at least did just that a good bit, unless all 3 were doing it with an unknown source (Q’?) My main question has to do with the physical limitations of writing without a desk. Which hypothesis requires the least juggling of sources by all 3 synoptic evangelists while writing on their laps? I’m asuming their sources were strewn about them on the floor and they were trying not to step on them!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2017

      Yes, it’s worth thinking about — but there’s not an easy answer. All the theories necessarily require three or more sources.

      • Avatar
        Tony  December 18, 2017

        Bart December 18, 2017
        “It’s simpler on the surface, but it creates enormous other problems, in particular why Luke decided to alter the sequence of all the non-Markan materials he found in Matthew and how he actually went about doing so (physically/mechanically)”
        Perhaps. But, if we date Matthew and Luke turn of the first century – early second, then they may have been able to use codices. Also, the problem does not stop there, because besides Mark and each other (or Q), copying the LXX was another favorite pastime. How many scrolls were being juggled?


        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2017

          I’m not sure you’re seeing the difference between using a sayings source and using two Gospel by extracting stories found in only one of them and shifting their place in the other.

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 20, 2017

            I understand your point and it may be a better fit for an external source. But my point is that the source inputs of say Matthew, is far more complex because the sources are both direct and indirect. With the importation of Markan material into Matthew we also get a portion of Mark’s source inputs, such as Mark’s LXX material, Paul, Homer, and possibly Josephus, tossed in as a bonus. Not to mention material originating in Mark’s very fertile mind plus, according to your theory, Q.

            Mark was a Pauline, and an anti – Petrine, literary attack, aimed at Jewish Christians – and maybe Rome. Matthew was the answer to Mark. Once we understand the sectarian Gospel war they represent the documents make more sense. I’m not the first one to observe this – as you know. Btw, I do believe Matthew is secondary, and does not copy from the later Luke. In my mind it makes for a better fit if Luke did that, and it also explains Acts better.

  4. Avatar
    Partominoo  June 10, 2020

    Which language Matthew is written originally

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