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Did Matthew Copy Luke? Mark Goodacre’s Rebuttal

Here now is Mark Goodacre’s response to Alan Garrow’s attempt to show that the author of Matthew had access to and used the Gospel of Luke in constructing his own account of Jesus’ life.   This kind of argument, to carry any weight, has to get down into the weeds a bit.  So brace yourself!   I consider it a compelling response.

Many thanks to Evan for issuing this challenge and for making such a generous donation to the blog.   And many thanks as well to Mark Goodacre, who could resist dealing with an intriguing thesis that sits comfortably in his wheelhouse.

I have told Evan and Alan Garrow himself that I would be happy to post a reply to Mark’s post.

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.


Garrow’s Flaw

 In a recent comment on this blog, “Evan” suggested that Alan Garrow’s arguments are so compelling that he effectively “proves beyond any doubt that Matthew used both Mark and Luke”. He says that it is “virtually impossible to believe in the Q theory once you’ve seen this data”. The same commenter goes on to offer $1,000 for the charities on the blog in return for an assessment of Garrow’s case, asking in particular for “holes in his arguments.” As a self-confessed synoptic nerd, and as one who has spent some time with Garrow’s work, I thought I would offer this critique by way of response. Since “Evan” is particularly interested in holes in Garrow’s case, I thought I would focus on one particular flaw that places a major question mark over this model.

I should point out that while Bart and I are on different sides on the Synoptic Problem, he a staunch supporter of the Two-Source Theory and I an advocate of the Farrer Theory, we are both agreed that Matthew did not know Luke, which is what is under discussion here. I have enjoyed reading Bart’s recent blog entries (and the multiple comments!) on these issues, and I hope to find a moment to respond, even if just to provide an excerpt from something I have written. But back to the immediately pressing issue.

Alan Garrow has made his case …

The Rest of this Post is for MEMBERS only.  If you don’t belong yet, you can easily join.  It won’t cost much, every penny goes to charity, and you’ll learn so much that your friends won’t be able to stand it.  So JOIN!

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Back Again: Did Matthew Use Luke? Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre
A $1000 Challenge to Me: Did the Author of Matthew Use Luke?



  1. Avatar
    godspell  December 12, 2017

    Having read all this, I’m still confused.

    Garrow says Matthew copied Luke.

    Who did Luke copy? He needed a source other than Mark. Are we supposed to believe everything he wrote that isn’t found in Mark came from his imagination? I can well believe some of it did, but not all. If he had a source other than Mark, or several, then why couldn’t Matthew have had access to it as well?

    It’s a bit like those theories that life exists on earth because aliens came and seeded the planet–okay, who seeded their planet? Life had to start somewhere. So did the story of Jesus of Nazareth–with an actual Jesus of Nazareth. And then people who knew him telling stories about him, as of course they would, and the stories starting to diverge, as ditto.

    Luke and Matthew disagree in so many critical ways. They agree on the virgin birth (an idea that must have pre-existed both of them), but not how it happened. They agree Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea (which he almost certainly was not) but not how that came to pass, or what happened afterwards. If Matthew was drawing upon Luke, why would he come up with such a different nativity story? Knowing as he would that the conflict between what he and Luke were saying would be problematic.

    They both agree with Mark that Jesus was baptized by John, but Matthew uniquely has John trying to persuade Jesus to baptize him instead, then Jesus coming up with a circular argument for why John should baptize him anyway, and then Matthew makes it seem like everybody present heard God call Jesus his son.

    I realize this would probably be explained both of them elaborating on Mark, rather than Q, but I don’t see such extreme divergence in the material related to Q. They come across as two independently written books drawn from earlier material, all of which can’t come from Mark.

    There were stories, it would seem, that everybody agreed upon what had happened, but not exactly how or why or what it all meant. And there were stories that were controversial in the larger Christian community, that had to be justified by those who wanted to believe them. And there were stories that were just fraught with difficulty, because of the questions they raised.

    Most of us will never have the time and training to engage in the thorough cross-textual analysis that could let us properly evaluate Garrow’s arguments, but the fact is, his arguments don’t seem to be persuasive to scholars who have that training, and speaking as someone without it, I don’t see much meat here.

    • Telling
      Telling  December 13, 2017


      Some few years back I was having a conversation about God with a fellow engineer, and second engineer was listening in but not volunteering anything to the discussion.

      I told my friend my idea as to how the world was created, and he replied that he believes the earth was seeded by aliens.

      I shot back with the question: “So who created the aliens?”

      Right here, the other engineer who had been just listening quietly, jumped into the conversation pointing his finger toward us and he exclaimed: “Not our problem!”

      You may have to be an engineer to appreciate the humor in it. I think it was the funniest line I had ever heard.

      (In the engineering business we are always looking to limit our responsibility to our particular portion of the project. The first engineer had offered a suitable solution (aliens). As to who created the aliens is the aliens problem, not ours.)

      Just passing that along for the fun. It is a true story.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 12, 2017

    Whew! Over my head for sure! Although the idea that the Didache might be “Q” is interesting.

  3. Avatar
    Jon1  December 12, 2017


    Has anyone ever considered the possibility that some or all of the Gospels are written by the same person, each Gospel being a draft for the Gospel that came next? If so, how did this possibility get ruled out? (I know my writing style changes from my earliest drafts to more refined work.)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      No, not really. Their differences, discrepancies, contradictions, different writing styles, different views of important matters, different theologies, etc. almost certainly rule it out as an option.

  4. Avatar
    modelthry  December 12, 2017

    Commissioned scholarship! Many have inquired about Marcan priority, O Theophilus…

  5. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  December 12, 2017

    I find that the notion of the Didache being Q intriguing. Do you think that this could be true?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Nope, not a chance. By far most of Q is not in the Didache and by far most of the Didache is not in Q.

  6. Avatar
    Leovigild  December 12, 2017

    Thanks, Marc, for the response. I have a couple of comments to add:

    1) Garrow doesn’t necessarily believe in a single document Q, as per the Two-Document Hypothesis, which is why he calls the source(s) of the Double Tradition ‘Q’ in single quotes. He does argue that the Didache is an extant example of ‘Q’, but not that it is the entirety of ‘Q’.

    2) As someone who works in ancient material culture, my biggest problem with Garrow’s hypothesis is his section where he argues that Luke wrote and used scrolls, while Matthew wrote and used codices, and that this difference can be seen in their respective redactional approaches. There are several problems with this idea. First, Matthew is generally placed in the late 1st century, which is rather early for the widespread use of codices. Even if he were an early adopter, this would make more sense if Matthew were writing in the 2nd century or later, which Garrow doesn’t argue. A second problem is that Luke and Matthew are generally put rather close together in date, and according to Garrow are using the same sources (except Matthew is using Luke), but Luke has these all in scroll form and Matthew has them all in codex form, including Luke! That is surely too much of a coincidence to accept. If all of these sources are coming to Luke in scroll form, surely some of them would come to Matthew in scroll form as well, particularly Luke himself. Maybe Matthew was a codex fanatic and had them all copied to the new format, but that’s a stretch.

    3) Neither Garrow or Goodacre discuss the rather significant issues that would arrive if Matthew had Luke. By Garrow’s argument, Matthew followed Luke closely and often verbatim. But then why doesn’t Matthew include Luke’s infancy narrative? Even if he had a different narrative that he trusted, why not conflate the two as he did with Luke and ‘Q’ and as so many later Christian writers would do with Luke and Matthew? There are other areas where, on Garrow’s hypothesis, Matthew would be conflating or copying one source verbatim where such a decision wouldn’t really make sense given Garrow’s reconstruction of Matthew’s approach. I consider these rather significant potential flaws that would need to be addressed. Perhaps an explanation can be found, but is the project of explaining the Minor Agreements worth introducing these other difficulties?

  7. Avatar
    rburos  December 12, 2017

    So until I can read Greek, this is way over my head. . .

  8. Avatar
    dankoh  December 12, 2017

    Thank you, Dr. Goodacre! I followed most of your argument, and this sums it up: “it has to be said that high verbatim agreement is simply not diagnostic of an author working from only one source, just as low verbatim agreement is not diagnostic of an author working from more than one.”

    I would just add, on my own, that anyone in this business who makes an absolute declarative statement about some aspect of the Bible is immediately suspect.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 12, 2017

    I am still trying to figure out why someone would invest $1000 in the discussion of this interesting, but somewhat esoteric, issue. Is this issue of such intense interest primarily because if the author of Matthew used Luke as a source, then he used part of the Bible as a source and if he used “Q,” then he uses something that was not part of the Bible as a source and I would speculate that conservative Christians would be invested in the author of Matthew having used a Biblical source, making the book seem more inspired and authentic, rather than his having used a non-Biblical source which might seem less inspired and more of human origin? Is this the issue?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Ha! Yes, I get your confusion. But really, they are donating money to charity and simply have an issue that they want to see addressed more broadly, taken more seriously by scholars. May their tribe increase!!

  10. Avatar
    fishician  December 12, 2017

    I just reviewed the Farrer hypothesis. Clearly the Supreme Intelligence’s main priority in constructing the Gospels was to keep scholars busy and employed! Are there solid reasons for dating the Didache after the Gospels? (which would eliminate it as being “Q”)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Almost certainly the Didache used the Gospels, not vice versa. It’s a long argument. 🙂

  11. Avatar
    dankoh  December 12, 2017

    Regarding the Didache, I have seen comments that suggest it contains no datable material, so, as far as that goes, it could have been based on Matthew (and the others) as the other way around.

    I note that Didache 15:1 speaks of bishops (episkopes) and deacons in a way that suggests a more organized structure and thus more likely dates the Didache to the second century or at any rate after Matthew. (1 Tim. 3 also uses the term this way, but I believe there is general agreement that this is late first century or early second century. Acts 1:20 is more ambiguous, being a quote from Ps. 108:9 and unrelated to church organization. Uses of this word in Luke and 1 Peter do not refer to a person.)

    Does that sound reasonable?

  12. Avatar
    stokerslodge  December 12, 2017

    Bart, some recent comments below by Dr William Lane Craig. He makes a case for an early date for Mark’s Gospel. Would you care to comment?
    “Since it is generally agreed that Mark was one of the sources used by Matthew and Luke, it follows that if Mark was written around AD 70, then the other Gospels must have been written later. So the usual dating of the Gospels depends crucially on Mark’s date.

    By contrast, if we begin with Luke and Matthew and work backwards, then the date of Mark is pushed back well before AD 70. The evidence that Acts was written prior to AD 70 (e.g., Paul’s being still alive under house arrest in Rome, no mention of significant events during the AD 60s such as the martyrdom of James, the persecution of Nero, the siege of Jerusalem, etc., and the disproportionate emphasis on Paul’s recent voyage to Rome) strikes me as very persuasive. Since Acts is the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, Luke must have been written in the AD 50s, and accordingly, Mark even earlier. Such a dating makes eminently good sense. It is incredible that the early church would have waited for decades before committing the Jesus story on which it was founded to writing.

    So why do scholars find the evidence for a later date of Mark so compelling? The answer seems to be that Jesus in his Olivet Discourse describes the destruction of Jerusalem by her enemies, and so Mark’s narrative must date from the time of this event. But this argument cannot bear the weight placed on it. For the distinctive features of the Roman siege of Jerusalem as described by Josephus are conspicuously absent from Jesus’ descriptions of Jerusalem’s predicted destruction. His predictions resemble more closely the Old Testament descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonian army than descriptions of the Roman destruction in AD 70. Again, this makes such good sense. As a prophet Jesus would naturally draw upon the Old Testament for his predicted judgement upon Jerusalem. If this argument for a later date of Mark falls, so do all the dates dependent upon it. While the historical credibility of the Gospels in nowise depends on this earlier dating, still such an early date strengthens all the more the case for their historical reliability. William Lane Craig”


    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      One major flaw is his view that Acts was written before 70. For very good reasons, that is not a view shared among critical scholars. The tendency, in fact, these days is to date it much later, to around 120 CE (partly based on the conclusion that the author made use of the wriitngs of Josephus; I’m not sure I buy this myself, but don’t think it can be dated before 80 or so.)

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 13, 2017

        I had not heard the suggestion that Acts uses material from Josephus; who says that? Even if so (which I doubt), that would not necessarily push the date of Acts to 120. Certainly, 80 is reasonable.

        On the same subject, I find that in the only material we can conclusively say is pre-70, Paul’s (7) letters, there is no suggestion of impending destruction, nor do I see Paul suggesting that the Temple had been or was about to be replaced by Jesus as atonement for sin. Am I reading him correctly?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 15, 2017

          One of the major proponents has been one of the leading scholars on Acts, Richard Pervo, in a number of his books. YOu might look at his book Dating Acts.

      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  December 13, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, do you agree that “it is generally agreed” that Mark is approximately dated to 70 CE? Thank you.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 15, 2017


          • Avatar
            DavidNeale  December 15, 2017

            I was intrigued (though not necessarily convinced) by the Casey-Crossley argument for dating Mark c. 40 AD. It was the first time I’d seen someone who wasn’t a conservative Christian make the case for a really early date. But I haven’t read Crossley’s book, only Casey’s summary of it in Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 17, 2017

            Yeah, not a lot of people who buy that one. I personally don’t know a single soul who does!

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  December 13, 2017

        I take Luke at face value when he says that “many have undertaken to draw up an account.” At the moment, I’m thinking more fully developed accounts were written after 70, but earlier written sources, such as Q, existed. I’m not entirely convinced that Mark didn’t have at least one written source as well or obtained some of his apocalyptic information from an aged eyewitness.

        If the Sheep and the Goats teaching derived from Jesus himself, then I don’t see how there couldn’t have been a Q.

        As for the Luke and Josephus parallels, I think they both could have used an already existing and well-known, historical document that was floating around the first century. I would even go as far as to say that Matthew had access to the same document.

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  December 14, 2017

          Follow-up to my previous comment:
          The sheep and goats teaching being in Q—I don’t know where I got that one. Apparently, I made it up.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 15, 2017

            I was wondering about that! (It’s “M”)

        • Avatar
          DavidNeale  December 15, 2017

          I think Mark *could* be pre-70 – Casey makes a persuasive case that the prediction of the destruction of the Temple isn’t accurate enough in its details to have been written after the fact. But as ever, I’m agnostic on the issue, not being a professional scholar.

        • Avatar
          joemccarron  October 29, 2019

          I just ordered Pervo’s book so I assume he will address why he believes that is not the case that both Josephus and Luke worked off of the same source material and it must have been Luke copying Josephus.

          Later you say the sheep and the goats could not have been from Q. Is Q defined as those accounts that are shared by Matthew and Luke? (by that definition the Didache could not possibly be Q) Why do you think it is unlikely it came from Q and Luke just didn’t include it?

          Also I like what you quote from Luke. “many have undertaken to draw up an account.”

          It seems some scholars think “many” means “two” Mark and Q. I realize writings were rare at the time but its also rare for writings to survive – especially if they were incorporated in other works. I never understood why people always seem so confident that outside of Q and Mark it must have all been oral tradition (which they then try to equate to the “telephone game”).

          Dr. Ehrman says it is worse than the telephone game. But all of that takes for granted there was no prior writings and the Q hypothesis says there was at least one other writing (assuming Q is only one author). But what might have been in Q is piling speculation on top of speculation. But taking for granted that “many” means “only two” and therefore Mark and Q are the only written sources seems speculative at best.

          I just never heard solid arguments that establish there were no other written sources or that Q must have been limited to what is in Luke and Matthew.

      • Avatar
        Jim Cherry  December 14, 2017

        Additionally, William Lane Craig is trained in philosophy, so he is not an expert in the field he is tryng to comment on, namely Biblical scholarship. His ideas sometimes are interesting, but he often speaks authoritatively on issues outside his areas of expertise.

        • Avatar
          turbopro  December 17, 2017


          I’d say more like oftentimes.

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 12, 2017

    This certainly seems reasonable. But…couldn’t you, Bart, have pointed out to Evan that he was wrong in saying Garrow claimed Q “didn’t exist”? Especially since the name “Q” is derived from the German word for “source,” its possibly being something other than scholars had assumed is very different from its not existing.

    Could you please give us a brief explanation of the “Two-Source Theory” and the “Farrer Theory”? I can’t, of course, make any guesses about the latter. But also, we can’t make any guesses about Mark’s possible sources. Are Matthew and Luke each being referred to here as having two sources because Matthew had Q and M, Luke Q and L – even though both M and L may have involved a number of different sources? (And both Matthew and Luke also had Mark!)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Two source: Matthew and Luke used Mark and Q; Farrer: Matthew used Mark and Luke used both Matthew and Mark.

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 12, 2017

    Question for Dr. Garrow: If the author or editor of Matthew used Luke as a source, why then is the genealogy of Jesus given In Matthew different than the one given in Luke????

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      I don’t think he’s saying that everything in Matthew that overlaps with Luke came from Luke. Matthew would have had other sources of informatoin covering similar/the same topics (such as JEsus’ birth)

    • Avatar
      Jim  December 13, 2017

      Ronald T: When I was young, I could come up with an excuse for anything … like the time my parents came home to find a broken window … So tapping into that skill along with some armchair opinions, if the version of Luke-Acts that we have, i.e. version 2.0, was from the 2nd century, and Matt used version 1.0 of Luke-Acts (the earlier one without Jesus’ genealogy), maybe it’s possible that Matt didn’t lose any sleep over his genealogy if (big if) he copied Luke. I’m almost willing to bet a beer on my view. 🙂

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 18, 2017

        So what’s your story for how Matthew having Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem when Jesus was born? Matthew was reading Luke in a mirror? Don’t think he’d have had one.

        It’s all a lot of big ifs, exactly right. If the idea is “This will resolve the problems of the other theories” I think we have to acknowledge it creates quite a few new ones.

        Matthew and Luke continue to feel like entirely different books with some overlapping chapters to me.

        • Avatar
          Jim  December 20, 2017

          I’m not in favor of the Matt conflator hypothesis, so all I was really doing was proposing a possible solution to Ronald T’s question re MCH wrt differing genealogies (i.e. Luke v1.0 possibly didn’t have a genealogy).

  15. talmoore
    talmoore  December 12, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, off-topic question. I’ve notice many parallels between Ephesians and Colossians. Do you think they come from the same author?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      It’s been a long standing qeustion. In Forgery and Counterforgery I argue that they were two different authors, the author of Ephesians patterning his letter on Colossians.

  16. Avatar
    john76  December 12, 2017

    I’d like to see Dr. Goodacre do a guest post about the ‘Q’ hypothesis.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      I’ve asked him to — he’s considering it. We’re at a busy time just now, those of us who continue to organize our lives by semesters!

  17. Avatar
    J.J.  December 12, 2017

    Interesting analysis, Mark. One very minor critique, regarding this statement in the last paragraph: “It may be worth adding that there are plenty of low verbatim passages in Matthew and Luke where there is no parallel in Mark or the Didache, i.e. Matthew is perfectly capable of producing a low verbatim passage on his own with just one source.”

    Technically, we don’t know if in such passages (i.e., Mt-Lk parallels sans parallel in Mk or Didache) Matthew was using only one source (according to Garrow’s theory). We really don’t know what other sources were possibly used… we only know that Mark and Didache don’t have a parallel at that point… and Luke does… but that doesn’t preclude Matthew from using some other unknown source to cause Low Verbatim there.

    Like I said, very minor point to make. Doesn’t really affect your overall analysis.

  18. Avatar
    4Erudite  December 12, 2017

    Do we know if Q, or Didache, was a one single document…or do we think there were multiple copies…if so, they (Matthew and Luke authors) could have been faced with the same problems we have today…maybe they too had “incomplete” copies of Q (Didache), of Mark, of other unknown texts…with pages missing or damaged and the copy they had may have been copies of copies that had variances resulting from errors, editing due to regional audience, etc that differed from the original…granted they would have only been dealing with such problem over a 50 or 100 year period…but the preservation and protection of any document would have been a challenge at that time in history…and from the “original” document, copies could have traveled to different regions with copies of copies never being compared to each other or the ‘original’. Is there any evidence that this may account for some of the Synoptic Problem?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      We don’t know about Q. The Didache is a patchwork of several documents, stitched together. I talk about it in my Loeb edition of the Apostolic Fathers, if you’re interested. Maybe I should post on that.

  19. Avatar
    Gary  December 13, 2017

    Ok, so the majority of scholars do not believe that Matthew and Luke were familiar each other’s gospels. Both used Mark as a source and possibly “Q”.

    But what about the author of the Gospel of John? Is there evidence that he was familiar with all three Synoptic Gospels? If so, is it possible that the author of John blended the Matthew and Luke Resurrection stories to create a Resurrection story with appearances in Galilee AND Jerusalem/Judea?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      It’s debated and has been for a very long time. Mark Goodacre is writing a book now arguing that John used the Synoptics. My view is that he did not. Good scholars on both sides.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  December 26, 2017

        We may never know whether John was aware of the Synoptics or not, but an argument can be made that his gospel was written in opposition to them. John’s gospel is an elegant,sophisticated tale invented out of the whole cloth. John’s Jesus is an erudite Greek philosopher who propounds a new theology in grand perorations that cannot possibly be attributed to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. John’s work must be noted, however, as a classic text of Jew-hating

  20. Avatar
    ardeare  December 13, 2017

    I watched the videos and it appears Evan is suggesting the traditional “Q” is the Didache, but in an attempt to abbreviate his correspondence, left this part a bit ambiguous. Can we assume that the Didache is Q? If so, it would appear to butt against the traditional view of most scholarship I’ve read, due to the fact that the Didache gives instructions on such things as baptism, morals, ethics, behavior, and the sacrament; not only sayings and possibly a few parables.

    I’m also awestruck that Professor Garrow believes Matthew was written much later. This is clearly implied. The graphic of cars depicting Mark as an old jalopy, Luke as a mid-20th century convertible, Matthew as a modern state-of-the-art sports car, and the mention of codex technology used by Tatian (120-180CE). If this is true, in terms of when they were penned, then Matthew should have also had the Gospel of John at his disposal .

    I’m surprised that Richard Bauckman gives a glowing review. Oh well, that will give me something else to look into, on another day. I’m not throwing away the impressive work of Professor Garrow, but I am wrestling with it. I felt the strongest argument Professor Goodacre inflected into the debate came rather haphazardly toward the end, “It may be worth adding that there are plenty of low verbatim passages in Matthew and Luke where there is no parallel in Mark or the Didache.”

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