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Did Matthew Copy Luke or Luke Matthew?

In this thread, which is supposed to be on the lost writings of early Christianity that I would most like to have discovered, I can’t seem to get away from Q,   Several readers have asked a pointed question about Q.  If you recall, Q is the hypothetical document that contained principally sayings of Jesus, that was evidently used by Matthew and Luke (but not by Mark) in constructing their Gospels.  The logic is that if Matthew and Luke both used Mark (which the vast majority of scholars agree about), then one has to explain why they have so many other materials (mainly sayings) in common not *found* in Mark.

I have pointed out that Matthew does not seem to have gotten those sayings from Luke or Luke from Matthew, and so they both most have gotten them from some other one-time-existing source.  That is what we call Q (for the German word Quelle: Source).  But some readers have asked WHY it is unlikely that Matthew got these sayings from Luke or Luke from Matthew.   It’s a bit tricky, and I need to simplify a bit.   But I’ll try to explain as follows.

This is partly drawn from my discussion in my textbook on the New Testament.   The argument that follows is actually used (in the book) to establish Markan Priority – that is, the view that Mark was prior to the other two Synoptics and was used by them as a source.  But as I’ll explain, the same argument is often appealed to as evidence that neither Matthew nor Luke got its sayings material from the other.  It has to do with the sequence in which this sayings material appears in both Gospels.

Here is what I say in the book:

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Q and the Passion Narrative
Q and The Gospel of Thomas



  1. Avatar
    Scott  March 19, 2015

    One interesting question: why would Luke keep the Markan sequence so religiously (pun intended) but insert the Q material wherever he saw fit? If Luke were concerned over honoring all his sources one would expect to find the Mark material in one section with the Q in its own section. On the other hand if he held Mark in special reverence over a “mere” list of sayings, he might keep much of Mark’s structure and augment it with Q as appropriate. Could this reverence for Mark be applied to a situation where Luke is using Matthew? Luke would again use Mark’s skeleton and apply the M material as the context allowed. This might also help explain why so little material is shared by Luke and mark but not Matthew.

    If you blogged more about Jesus movies like Dr Goodacre I might be willing to buy this Q thing 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      We don’t know the order in which Q material was found (in Q), but it is usually thought that Luke *does* pretty much keep to the Q sequence, and that it was Matthew who clumped Q sayings together thematically (e.g., in the Sermon on the Mount)

      • Avatar
        fabiogaucho  November 28, 2015

        That makes sense. But it also makes sense to remember that Q might have been a document much like the Gospel of Thomas: a pretty much random list of sayings where the order doesn’t mean anything. So both Matthew and Luke are just picking from here and there and putting in places where it would look nice to have a saying (and also, maybe, only keeping the sayings they personally like). Even if they both held Q in high regard, there was still no logical “order” to be followed.

        As an exercise, take the gospel of Thomas and think of “inserting” some of it in the Gospel of Mark. Would it make sense to follow the order the sayings are given?

  2. Avatar
    Scott  March 19, 2015

    All kidding aside this is the first time I have seen such an understandable explanation for the two source hypothesis. Thank you

  3. Avatar
    Gib  March 19, 2015

    Could you get Mark Goodacre in as a guest blogger to argue for the Farrer hypothesis (ie that Luke used Matthew) ?
    Be good to see a different take on the material.
    His argument for editorial fatigue is interesting.

  4. Avatar
    Kevin  March 19, 2015

    The argument for both Luke and Matthew using Mark is right on.
    But to further argue for Q, that Luke didn’t have Mark AND Matthew in front if him is really just aesthetic. You just don’t think Luke would order things from Matthew that way. You’re free to disagree with Luke’s choices but to make up another document is just unnecessary. If we don’t need Q why have it?
    And what about when the wording in both Luke and Matthew agree with eachother in the material rewritten from Mark? Would the both rewrite Mark with the same words or did one just read the other?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      It’s not that. I think on practical terms it doesn’t make sense that Luke had Mark and Matthew in front of him, and whenever he ran across a saying in Matthew he checked to see if the same saying was in Mark, and if *not* then (and only then) he relocated it to a different part of the narrative.

      • Avatar
        Dirk_Wahlberg  August 15, 2016

        Could it be that the reason the author of Luke was willing to reorder Matthew’s unique parts as opposed to Mark’s is because the author of Luke knew that Matthew used Mark as a source and simply added his own elements to it? Therefore, Luke was willing to play around with those added elements but not the “original” source itself.

        I could imagine that one would be more willing to manipulate elements they know have been inserted into a pre-existing document, while hesitating to rearrange the order of the original story itself.

        Just a thought.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2016

          It seems unlikely that Luke would know what sources Matthew used. In fact, I don’t think he even knew Matthew!

    • Bethany
      Bethany  March 20, 2015

      Re: Matthew and Luke agreeing against Mark: I’ve read that many of these are places where Matthew and Luke both corrected Mark’s bad Greek wording/grammar with the (same) correct word/grammar. Don’t know how widespread that argument is among scholars, though.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  March 19, 2015

    Do you plan to discuss what hypothetical communities might have produced such a sayings gospel? Do you think there were really early Christians who were more interested in Jesus’ teachings than in the meaning of his death?

  6. Avatar
    GStevenson  March 19, 2015

    Hi Bart, I’ve just discovered your blog and am really enjoying exploring the postings. Thanks!

    As I understand it, in the Triple Tradition Mark is very often (almost always?) the middle term. If that is the case, presumably those arguing for Luke’s use of Matthew would not envisage it in the way you describe above (i.e. Luke working through Matthew and then inexplicably reordering non-Markan material). The fact that Mark is often the middle term for the Triple Tradition would suggest that, for the Farrer theory, Luke would be primarily working with Mark. In that case, can the Farrer theorist not say that Luke is at liberty to rework the additional material he takes from Matthew into his Markan framework in any order he pleases?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      The question is how it would *work*. Does he have Mark and Matthew on his lap and a pen on his desk and he’s searching around in Matthew to see if a story is not in Mark? Seems a bit convoluted I think! If he is simply plugging sayings from another source into the Markan outline, it is a much easier mode of production.

      • Avatar
        Kevin  March 20, 2015

        Luke’s gospel reads just fine with themes and narrative. He clearly composed exactly as he intended using all his sources. This is still an aesthetic argument.

      • Avatar
        Kevin  March 20, 2015

        I understand you are also saying that mechanically it’s easier to have Mark, hypothetical Q, and hypothetical other in front of him for a kind of mash-up draft. I don’t see it. Luke/Acts is well composed and thought out. I don’t think he banged it out as you seem to imply.

  7. Avatar
    toejam  March 19, 2015

    The ‘numbers and letters’ analogy is a great teaching illustration for Markan priority.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  March 20, 2015

    It is now amazing to me that when I was a practicing fundamentalist I was totally oblivious to these matters. I fooled myself into thinking I was a real Bible scholar but all I was really doing was rehearsing the traditional teachings about the Gospels. Your writings and others have helped me realize what real “Bible study” is.

    • Avatar
      @manx  March 30, 2015

      I know what you mean, as a young Catholic schooled by Jesuits I was also fooled into thinking I was a real biblical scholar. It took been dragged into the “born again” crowd and seeing a different viewpoint to start my brain asking questions that led me to “atheism”.

  9. Avatar
    daveagain  March 20, 2015

    Luke writes about other sources that he has viewed in Luke 1:1 but he doesn’t reference them. Of course, neither Mark nor Matthew referenced their sources. I am presuming it was a common practice at the time not to reference one’s sources compared to today where footnotes are used to acknowledge the use of the writings of someone else?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      Yes, it was common. Some authors in antiquity would have considered it plagiarism, although, since the earlier accounts were anonymous rather than named, it’s not clear if that charge would apply or not.

      • Avatar
        Lawyerskeptic  March 27, 2015

        Biblical plagiarism has puzzled me for years. In “Forged”, you discuss how, even in the First Century, the Gospels might have been considered plagiarism. However, plagiarism only fools readers who do not know the copied source. Did Matthew’s author write for a congregation that did not know Mark? Or, was Matthew an ancient equivalent of a movie remake, and the readers understood it was not original? What would First Century Christians think about the fundamentalist claim that St. Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew? Is there any memoir, either ancient or modern, in which an eyewitness copies so much from previous source?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 29, 2015

          My guess is that matthew was seen as a fuller more complete version of the Gospel than the bare-bones Mark that was also in circulation.

          No, I don’t know of any eyewitness reports at any period that rely on someone else’s text verbatim and extensively.

          • Avatar
            Lawyerskeptic  March 29, 2015

            Thanks. Good answer to a long question.

          • Avatar
            Adam Beaven  April 19, 2015

            when mark said “they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid”
            is it possible that in marks time there would be nothing to contradict marks words about the women saying nothing to anyone?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 20, 2015

            I suppose Mark’s own Gospel would contradict it!

  10. talitakum
    talitakum  March 20, 2015

    Very interesting! I’d need a clarification, though.
    You say that “the numbered stories are usually in the same sequence of Matthew and Luke”. What about Mark? Are the numbered stories in the same sequence also in Mark?
    Also, you specify that such stories are *usually* in the same sequence: are there exceptions?
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      Yes, the stories get their numbers from Mark’s sequence. There are some stories that Matthew relocates; and some that Luke does. The point is that when they *agree* on sequence it is always stories from Mark.

  11. Avatar
    tom.hennell@btinternet.com  March 20, 2015

    But doesn’t that rather beg the question Bart? You are assuming that Luke would work primarily from Matthew – only supplemented from Mark. But if Luke were using both Mark and Matthew directly; then for Luke, Mark would be a ‘narrative’ source, and Matthew would be a supplementary ‘sayings’ source that also happened to contain most of Mark at second-hand. It is not wholly implausible that this hypothetical Luke would treat the sequence of his ‘narrative’ source with much more respect than that of his ‘sayings’ source. Which would quit likely result in the sequence characteristics you observe. Not that I actually think that to be the case; but only saying.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      That would mean that every time Luke ran across a saying in Matthew he would read through Mark to see if the saying was there as well and if not relocate it to a different place of his narrative. That seems a bit unlikely to me!

      • Avatar
        tom.hennell@btinternet.com  March 20, 2015

        But why would Luke read the account of an event in his secondary source in Matthew, when he could go to the original in Mark? Part of the attraction of the ‘Q’ theory for faith-driven textual critics, is that it gets over the question of why Luke should produce a gospel in the first place, if Matthew was already written. Esentially, both Matthew and Luke are Mark + teaching (and mostly the same teaching). If Luke did take the teaching matter from Matthew, then that implies that he didn’t trust Matthew (or otherwise strongly disagreed with his theological interpretations) but did trust Mark. So only using Matthew when Mark was deficient, would be a logical strategy; as would keeping Mark’s narrative sequence, but strongly reworking Matthew’s.teaching sequence. For faith-driven critics, it is surely more congenial for Luke to be unaware of Matthew, than for him to be rejecting him?

  12. Avatar
    Samuel Riad  March 20, 2015

    Very interesting post. I think you never explained it this way in the books (which I mostly read).
    Thank you.
    Reminder about my question: Is the passion narrative in Mark and John related?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      It’s debated. They obviously have a lot in common, but there are few verbal parallels (word-for-word). If John *is* roughly based on Mark, he certainly changed a lot!

  13. Avatar
    thelad2  March 20, 2015

    Hello, Bart. A bit of an off topic question for you. Just saw the following book recommended on Larry Hurtago’s blog. It ain’t cheap, so before purchasing, I wonder if you have any thoughts on it. “James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions. The Second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research.”


    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2015

      I don’t know the book. Usually these kinds of volumes are collections of essays based on lectures that were given, and most of the time the quality of the essays is very uneven with usually only a couple being outstanding. Whether that’s the case here or not, I can’t say. But if you’re interested in historical research it would not be the first place to turn, I should think.

  14. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 23, 2015

    I read Mark Goodacre’s article on editorial fatigue, using it to argue for markan priority, and against the existence of Q. I find the argument for markan priority a very persuasive one, but against Q I find it much less so. It seems to make sense on the surface: Luke shows evidence of editorial fatigue in double tradition material, Matthew doesn’t, therefore Matthew isn’t copying, so Luke must be copying Matthew. But the more you think about it the less it makes sense. Firstly, this implies Matthew was making it up. He was either using a written source, an oral source, or he was making it up. I think he was likely using some sort of source, and therefore could still be susceptible to editorial fatigue… if he tried to change it. Editorial fatigue shows the author was not just copying, but *changing* a source. Maybe Matthew was more careful in changing his source, or maybe he didn’t try to change it. Whatever source he used, Luke could have used as well, instead of copying Matthew. Therefore whatever source this was, we would call it Q. I think there’s too many holes for Goodacre’s theory to hold water. And you still have to explain the order of the stories.

    • Avatar
      nathanielhusker  April 27, 2020

      I really appreciate this take. Have you considered it further the past five years? I know I’m a bit late in responding, but I’m incredibly interested.

  15. Avatar
    Jim  March 23, 2015

    Great analogy using numbers and letters to explain the priority of Mark.
    I will use this in our Bible study class this coming Sunday morning.

  16. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  November 27, 2015

    Are you going to discuss the minor agreements at some point? I am very curious.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2015

      Not any time soon. It’s pretty complicated stuff. My sense is that most of the minor agreements are accidental agreements (where, e.g., both Matthew and Luke omit the very same unimportant detail independently of one another); others may be because the form of Mark available to both Matthew and Luke was different from ours (no reason to think it was just like our own reconstructed text, which is a text that doesn’t even exist in any manuscript)

  17. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  November 28, 2015

    It stands to reason that Q is bigger than what was left in Matthew and Luke! M (only Matthew) and L (only Luke) have, I assume, sayings of the kind you see in Q (parables, prayers, etc). Are there passages in M and L that have a Q “flavor”, and were probably taken from Q by only only Matthew or only Luke?That would take us farther in reconstructing the document, I suppose. Do you have some personal guesses in that regard (which passages)?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2015

      Yes, Q scholars often claim that material found in only one of the Gospels goes back to Q. It’s obviously a very tricky business, since our only knowledge of Q is in material common to matthew and luke not in mark.

  18. Avatar
    Luke9733  December 1, 2016

    I have two questions:
    1. How would the Q-hypothesis account for instances of triple-tradition with agreements between Luke and Matthew *against* Mark (I don’t mean the *really* minor agreements that could be editorial coincidence, I mean the instances several consecutive words of agreement like Mark 4:30-32 against Luke 13:18-19 // Matt. 13:31-32, or Mark 14:65 against Luke 22:64 // Matthew 26:68)?

    2. I know there’s been some popularity of the Farrer hypothesis that Luke used Matthew and Mark. I’ve found other solutions to the synoptic problem out there (the Augustinian Hypothesis, the Griesbach Hypothesis, even theories that incorporate the Gospel of the Hebrews). But I can’t find any that suppose that the order was actually Mark – Luke – Matthew. This seems odd to me because there are a number of instances in which it seems like Luke preserves a more primitive version of the Q sayings and that Matthew makes a slight redaction to them. It seems much more likely to me that, if either one was copying from the other, it would have been Matthew copying from Luke instead of the other way around.

    My question is: Are you aware of any scholars who have proposed solutions in which Luke relies on Mark and Matthew relies on both Mark and Luke?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 2, 2016

      1. Those are usually called Mark-Q overlaps — traditions recorded (differently) in both sources. It’s not implausible that on occasion they would have the same material; 2. No I don’t, but I’m not sure why this is never propounded (actually, I’m sure it must be — but one never hears about it…)

  19. Avatar
    James Cotter  August 12, 2017

    Dr Ehrman

    why is it very unlikely that both mark and luke used the same source and thats why there is 41 % common material ?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 13, 2017

      I’m not sure what you’re asking exactly. Luke did use the same source, in a sense, since Mark *was* one of his sources.

      • Avatar
        James Cotter  August 14, 2017

        i will try to explain what i meant Dr Ehrman

        i learned that luke has 51 % of markan material in his account.

        some are trying to assume that luke did not have mark as a source but OLDER material than mark for that 51 %

        so this would mean both mark and luke were faithful to the older material by reproducing 51 % of it.

        how would you refute this?

        1. there is no OLDER material , we only have the synoptics.

        2. when we observe the copying habits of matthew and luke, we note that they are NOT ALWAYS faithful to ALL the stories in mark. i heard that there is one story where both are changing it in different ways and agreement is only 33 % .

        • Bart
          Bart  August 15, 2017

          The problem with saying the Luke was using a pre-Markan source rather than Mark is that it would be more difficult to explain the massive verbatim agreements after both Mark and Luke had edited the source. It’s simpler simply to say that Luke used Mark.

  20. Avatar
    Hngerhman  April 6, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    Question: If the high agreement in Luke and Matthew (away from Mark) is evidence of lost Q, why is triple-agreement Mk/Mt/Lk generally only counted as evidence for Markan priority and not for a lost common source ‘X’ for the three?

    Backdrop: Q theory is clearly the more compelling thesis in isolation (sorry Prof Goodacre, though I really do love your work and resulting scholarly work/lineage in Ken Olsen et al), but on solely this *one dimension* the standards feel a bit unbalanced regarding Q theory and Markan priority theory (which also seems the more cogent solution in isolation). It seems that the deciding factor for Markan priority (vs a lost source X) is primarily a matter of Occam’s razor – turning on the fact that we have Mark (and not a hypothetical X). However, when evaluated at the same level of analysis (entities in hand vs. in hypothesis), applying OR consistently would seem to cut in favor of Farrer (or any similar non-Q MtLk source theories) vs. Q. At the same level of analysis for OR: granting Markan priority suggests Farrer (or the like); and congruently, granting Q suggests a source X.

    In trying to hold the macro level of analysis constant, I’m probably missing something nuanced and ultimately dispositive in the data – thanks in advance for helping sort me out!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 7, 2019

      It’s because you don’t need to posit a hypothetical source X for the agreement of the three, when you can explain the same phenomenon based on sources you already have. Once you start with hypothetical sources that are not needed, there’s no possible end to it. So, the simpler explanation is the more likely one (unless, of course, the simpler explanation can’t really explain it)

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 7, 2019

        Perfect, got it, thank you!

        Re: Q vs Farrer, when put on that same footing:
        Arguing from a posited Q explains the data more easily when put head-to-head against a theory that has Luke treat Mark as a quasi-sacrosanct source but Matthew as an a la carte source. That said, while Q seems the superior theory, it doesn’t quite seem the knock-out victory in the way Markan priority does (it’s persuasive, elegant and we actually have Mark), primarily because one has to hypothesize a document we don’t have (while we do have Mt).

        Follow-up Questions:
        (1) In your opinion which are the decisive points that Farrer theory (or similar) fails to adequately address when put head-to-head against Q? (sequencing, paring down or neglecting material, etc.)
        (2) Relatedly, why in your view do (i) ‘these stronger arguments but with a hypothetical entity’ satisfy Occam’s razor better than (ii) ‘weaker Farrer arguments but without an additional entity’? (I guess 2 is really a philosophical question about, when two foundational levels of analysis are in conflict, how does one justifiably discern which level prevails)?
        (3) tying back to the current and excellent Papias thread, are (i) the Papias statement about “Matthew” plus (ii) the existence of the Gospel of Thomas additive to the argument for Q (if not directly, then by analogy that such sayings compilations did/do exist and our Matthew *could* have some genealogical connection to one; thus Q tracks reality and isn’t “just made up as purpose-fit”)?

        NB – Thanks for your patience in addressing these. Much like when folks ask me to explain how securitized debt contributed to the global financial crisis, I can understand when something that is obvious to you but explaining it repeatedly might become less fun over time.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 8, 2019

          Long stories. But yes, Occam’s razor is the best argument against Q. The problem is that sometimes the razor hits something really hard that breaks it. For me, in this case, it is the sequencing of the stories in Matthew and Luke for material *not* in Mark versus the material that *is* in Mark.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  April 8, 2019

            Awesome, thanks a ton!

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