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Brief Reply to Garrow

I’m taking the day off from the blog (a vacation day!), but received this comment from Mark Goodacre and didn’t want it to be lost in the comment section, as I think it is important.  (And for balance, I will indeed be posting, later,  blog-member Evan’s assessment of the whole thing, since he started it!).  Here is Mark’s response to what Alan Garrow’s post.


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 from 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!

A Final Statement on a Different Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Evan Powell
Back Again: Did Matthew Use Luke? Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre



  1. Avatar
    godspell  December 14, 2017

    Rule of thumb: If a lot of experts say one thing, and one or two say another, and you lack the training to fully understand their methodology, believe the many over the few, unless there’s a very compelling reason not to. If the few have the right end of the stick, and that does happen now and then, they will prevail over time.

    But because anybody who puts a lot of time and effort into crafting a thesis that challenges the status quo is going to believe he/she has the right end of the stick (because obviously), they’re all going to say “Posterity will bear me out.” And it usually doesn’t. We only tend to remember the ones whose ideas became influential to later generations of scholars, and thereby filtered out into popular understanding of the question at hand.

    And the good news is that even a failed thesis may expand our understanding of the subject at hand. Einstein famously said he would not object to all his theories being disproven, if that would lead to a greater understanding of the working laws of the universe. To which there may be no final definitive answers. And that may be true in this field of study as well, but don’t we all know more than we did before we tried to understand what really happened in Palestine, two millennia ago?–seemingly inconsequential events relating to seemingly inconsequential people, that had ramifications which continue to impact world history, in good ways and bad.

  2. Avatar
    davitako  December 14, 2017


    You should once write an article on time management. Unless you sleep only 2 hours a day, I can’t imagine how you manage to publish lengthy posts, answer all comment questions every day, read lectures at the university(including all the academic responsibilities there: quizzes, exams etc.), read books/papers (both scholarly and others) and of course write them!

    And that’s only the academic part of your life. That’s both amazing mysterious!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      Yeah, and don’t forget Monday Night Football…. But I’m crazily efficient, going back to my grad student days when I *had* to be….

      • Avatar
        AggieGnostic  December 16, 2017

        I’d love to see a post on your time management techniques. I have a 14 year old who could use a tip or two! He is that one kid we all remember from childhood who, more often than not, was always chasing after the school bus as it drove off, simultaneously pulling on his shoes in the chase and streaming his school work behind him from an unzipped backpack. Very bright child with no concept of time or effort needed to accomplish a task!

        • Bart
          Bart  December 17, 2017

          See today’s post!

          • Avatar
            AggieGnostic  December 18, 2017

            Haha, perfect! 🙂

    • Avatar
      mathieu  December 17, 2017

      Even god can’t seem to manage to answer all requests for comment.

  3. Avatar
    nichael  December 14, 2017

    Dr Ehrnan: This is unrelated to the current topic, but…

    I see that The Great Courses has just issued a course on “The History of Christianity, part 2”, taught be Molly Worthe (who I believe, like you, teaches at UNC, Chapel Hill. Note: ”Part 1″‘ which was issued some time ago, was taught by Luke Timothy Johnson.)

    I was wondering, if you wouldn’t mind, if you had any comments on or thoughts about the course?

    (OTOH, if you’d prefer not to comment on this issue, please feel free to ignore the question.)


    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      I haven’t seen the course yet, but I know my colleague Molly Worthen, and she is *terrific.” Really bright, knowledgeable, interesting, and clear. I’m sure the course is spectacular.

  4. Avatar
    Seeker1952  December 15, 2017

    On another topic, I’m trying to evaluate an interpretation of the first part of the Great Commandment, the part about loving God with your whole heart, etc. In a book that is almost entirely about non-religious ethics, the authors say that, at least in part, loving God is to love your neighbors as God loves them, with agape love. I find that interpretation very congenial but doubt that is what the historical Jesus had in mind.

    Offhand, I would guess that, by love of God, Jesus meant something more like loyalty, obedience, submission, gratitude, profound admiration, dependence, something like a child might have for a very good father or a servant/slave might have for a very good master. However, I’m also thinking that the emphasis on obedience might imply something like the “subject” interpretation. Obeying God is to do God’s will which is to love neighbors as God loves them.

    I guess my question is whether the interpretation of love of God in this book on secular ethics has any purchase, or how much, on what the historical Jesus likely meant. Secondly, even if the subject interpretation isn’t what Jesus meant, does it coincide to any significant extent with early Christian understandings of love of God.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      One could argue that what God wants in obedience, loyalty, admiration, and dependence involves emulating his own character in giving good things to those who need them. So, yes, I would say the view does have some purchase.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 15, 2017

    I am lost in wonder about how Bart does it all as well.

    I think Bart has written on this blog in the past about how the first two chapters of Matthew may have been added by a later editor. If that is the case, then my past discussion about the discrepancies between Matthew and Luke, regarding both the birth story of Jesus and the genealogy of Jesus, is obviously less of an issue.for this debate about whether the author/editor of one of these Gospels could have used the other as a source.

    I also need to sincerely apologize to Evan about my wondering why he is so interested in this question. It now just seems like an interesting question and I am glad he raised it. Who in the world am I to wonder why he is interested in this or that? In my defense, being raised in the Bible belt where everyone, and I mean everyone, was a conservative Christian, I have learned that I have much less tolerance of anything that even sounds conservative than my friend Bart. I wish it were otherwise. I am working on it.

  6. Avatar
    Seeker1952  December 16, 2017

    Thanks for the response. I find yours congenial too.
    Is this question a lot longer than it needs to be? (I’m sure it’s at least a little to long.) I do try to keep them brief as i can. And I admit that I enjoy expressing my own ideas. But I’m also trying to make it clear what my question is, to narrow the focus so it’s more specific, and i suppose trying make clear what my my questions is NOT about so it’s more clear what it IS about.
    I value your answers and understand your time is very valuable. I want the answers to keep coming and to do my part in facilitating that.

  7. Avatar
    AGarrow  December 16, 2017

    I have posted a further response to Mark Goodacre on my blog https://www.alangarrow.com/blog/the-1000-challenge-5-garrow-responds-to-goodacre

    • Avatar
      Edward  January 16, 2018

      I doubt discussing particular lines shared and not shared between Gospel authors can solve the synoptic problem. Because… Verbatim lines copies from earlier written sources can be mixed together with lines the author has recalled only in paraphrased form from those same sources but didn’t consult the text to cite verbatim, and those can be mixed with memories of things the author heard, and further mixed with the author’s grammatical changes, and also mixed with the author’s imaginative additions to the narrative. Therefore one should probably take a step back from the Gospel landscape and survey wider aspects of the relationships between Gospels.

      For instance, why not take a broader look at how Matthew and Luke differ in relationship to Mark?

      If Mark is the earliest Gospel, then which Gospel, Matthew or Luke. is the nearest to the earliest Gospel, Mark? Matthew wins such a comparison hands down, and was most probably composed earlier than Luke:

      1) Matthew reproduces the most Markan stories, including both of Mark’s feeding miracles (Luke reproduces only one feeding miracle and is also missing a whole block of Mark).

      2) Matthew reproduces nearly all of Mark’s miracles except for two, but preserves the number and types of Markan miracles by conflating two of Mark’s miracles, i.e., adding TWO people to an exorcism, and TWO blind men to a healing, instead of separating those stories as Mark had done. So Matthew reproduced Mark’s total and types of miracles (adding others as well of course) See this handy chart: http://www.textexcavation.com/miraclepattern.html

      Luke on the other hand is missing a block of Mark’s miracles, mostly because he is missing a block of Mark to begin with:
      6.53-56 The healings in Gennesaret.
      7.24-30 The healing of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman.
      7.31-37 The healing of a deaf-mute man.
      8.1-10 The feeding of the four thousand.
      8.22-26 The healing of a blind man with spittle.

      Of course both Matthew and Luke add miracles before Jesus’ baptism and after Jesus’ death, i.e., during Jesus’ ministry, the period that Mark covers.

      Matthew alone adds to the Markan tale the following miracles:
      The healing at the request of a centurion
      The healing of a dumb man
      The inquiry of John the baptist (a mere summary of healings in 11.5, no individually narrated miracles)
      The controversy over Beezebul (healing of a blind and dumb man in 12.22)
      Adding Peter to Walking on the Water
      Catching a fish with a coin in its mouth (the miracle is assumed, not narrated)

      But some of the miracles that Luke alone adds to Jesus’ ministry are even more spectacular than those added by Matthew, and probably of later vintage:
      The Miraculous Catch of Fish (not just one fish, but many, and narrated, unlike the fish and coin story in Matthew)
      Healing a Possessed Crippled Woman
      Healing of A Man with Dropsy
      Cleansing of TEN Lepers at once (not just a single leper)
      Healing of Servant’s Ear (reattaching a body part that had been cut off with a sword)
      And the most spectacular freshly added miracle to Mark,
      The raising of a widow’s son while the son was being taken to be buried, which is more spectacular than the raising of a person’s daughter out of the public’s eye, inside the family house, very soon after she has died. The raising of the widow’s son, found in Luke but not in Mark or Matthew, is set in full public view and perhaps a few days after death because the son has been dead so long he is on the way to being buried. This new miracle found only in Luke was probably drawn from the Septuagint story of a very similar miracle in the OT, reworked and added to Jesus’ ministry.

      3) Luke adds lengthy new parables, highly original, not simply expanding on Markan parables as Matthew often does. Luke features “the Good Samaritan,” “The Prodigal (Lost) Son,” “The Friend at Midnight,” “The Persistent Widow.”

      4) A matter of angels. In Matthew an angel appears to Joseph twice, but only “in a dream.” And an angel ministers to Jesus in the garden (Luke shares that story, but in neither Gospel does it say the apostles saw the angel). Matthew does add at the very end of his Gospel a visible sighting of a single angel by Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb. But Luke outdoes Matthew and has angels that appear visibly on numerous occasions to different people and even carries on a conversation with Zacharias, and Mary. And not just one angel but “a multitude of the heavenly host” visibly appear to shepherds and deliver a verbal message to them. And not just one angel but two appear at the empty tomb scene in Luke. So Luke appears to have upped the angel-ante so to speak over Matthew.

      (Note that Matthew’s one angel at the empty tomb is the same in quantity to Mark’s “young man” at the empty tomb, but in the case of Mark that “young man” might be the same “young man” who was the last to flee from Jesus’ captors on the night of his arrest, rather than angel).

      5) Luke’s genealogy and also his entire nativity story is lengthier, going even beyond Jesus’ birth to an incident in his childhood in the Temple. Luke also adds three prayers to his nativity story that are so finely written they could almost be sung, Luke the musical! I daresay it takes time to come up with something like that, more time than simply to play off of OT passages like Matthew does in his nativity story.

      For the above reasons it appears like Luke was completed later than Matthew.

  8. Avatar
    Luke9733  January 26, 2018

    Is there any possibility that, in the future, you might have a blog post about your personal thoughts on the Farrer theory – or more specifically, why you find the two-source, Q hypothesis more persuasive than the Farrer theory? Thank you!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 26, 2018

      Ah, I should add this to a list. I’d have to figure out how to do it without getting too deep into the weeds. Especially since those are weeds I personally do not much like….

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