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Editorial Fatigue in Luke: More from Blog Guest Mark Goodacre

Yesterday I published the first of two guest posts by Mark Goodacre fellow blog member and long time  colleague and New Testament scholar (at rival Duke) (Yes, we still are talking to each other here at the nearing climax of the basketball season) (Go Heels!).

Mark has devoted a good chunk of his life to exploring the Synoptic Problem, and is completely committed to the idea that Mark was the first of the three Gospels to be written, used later then, independently, by Matthew and Luke.  In addition to the standard arguments that have been widely persuasive for over a century, Mark had developed a new insight from what he calls “editorial fatigue.”

Yesterday he explained what it is and shows how it works with Matthew.  To show that it solves the problem of both Matthew *and* Luke, of course, he needs to demonstrate with examples it from the latter as well.  That’s what he does here, in another passage taken from his important book The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze.

As I indicated yesterday, Mark will be happy to answer questions you raise of him in the comments.


But to be sure about Markan Priority, we will need examples of the same thing from Luke’s alleged use of Mark.  We will not be disappointed. First, the Parable of the Sower and its Interpretation (Matt 13.1-23 // Mark 4.1-20 // Luke 8.4-15) present exactly the kind of scenario where, on the theory of Markan priority, one would expect to see some incongruities. The evangelists would need to be careful to sustain any changes made in their retelling of the parable into the interpretation that follows.

On three occasions, Luke apparently omits features of Mark’s Parable which he goes on to mention in the Interpretation. First, Mark says that the seed that fell on rocky soil sprang up quickly because it had no depth of earth (Mark 4.5; contrast Luke 8.6). Luke omits to mention this, yet he has the corresponding section in the Interpretation, ‘those who when they hear, with joy they receive the word . . .’ (Luke 8.13; cf. Mark 4.16).

Second, in Luke 8.6, the seed ‘withered for lack of moisture’. This is a different reason from the one in Mark where it withers ‘because it had no root’ (Mark 4.6). In the Interpretation, however, Luke apparently reverts to the Markan reason:

Mark 4.17: ‘And they have no root in themselves but last only for a little while.’

Luke 8.13: ‘And these have no root; they believe for a while.’

Third, the sun is the agent of the scorching in Mark (4.6). This is then interpreted as ‘trouble or persecution’.  Luke does not have the sun (8.6) but he does have ‘temptation’ that interprets it (Luke 8.13).

In short, these three features of the parable of the Sower show clearly that Luke has an interpretation to a text which interprets features that are not in that text. He has made changes in the Parable, changes that he has not been able to sustain in the Interpretation. This is a good example of the phenomenon of fatigue, which only makes sense on the theory of Markan Priority.

For a second example of Lukan fatigue, let us look at the Healing of the Paralytic (Matt 9.1-8 // Mark 2.1-12 // Luke 5.17-26).  Here, Luke’s introduction to the story of the Paralytic (Mark 2.1-12 // Luke 5.17-26) is quite characteristic. ‘And it came to pass on one of those days, and he was teaching’ (Luke 5.17) is the kind of general, vague introduction to a pericope common in Luke who often gives the impression that a given incident is one among that could have been related.  But in re-writing this introduction, Luke omits to mention entry into a house, unlike Mark in 2.1 which has the subsequent comment that ‘Many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door’ (Mark 2.2). In agreement with Mark, however, Luke has plot developments that require Jesus to be in a crowded house of exactly the kind Mark mentions:

Mark 2.4: ‘And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.’

Luke 5.19: ‘Finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.’

Continuity errors like this are natural when a writer is dependent on the work of another. Luke omits to mention Mark’s house and his inadvertence results in men ascending the roof of a house that Jesus has not entered.

It might be added, as further evidence from the same pericope, that Luke has the scribes and the Pharisees debating not, as in Mark, ‘in their hearts’ (Mark 2.6) but, apparently, aloud (Luke 5.21). This is in spite of the fact that Jesus goes on to question them, in both Luke and Mark, why they have been debating ‘in’ their ‘hearts’ (Mark 2.8 // Luke 5.22). The latter phrase seems simply to have come in, by fatigue, from Mark.

This evidence of editorial fatigue provides, then, some strong evidence for Markan Priority.  Matthew and Luke apparently re-write in characteristic ways the beginning of pericopae taken over from Mark, only to lapse into the wording of the original as they proceed, creating minor inconsistencies and betraying the identity of their source.  It is just the kind of evidence one might wish for – a clear, decisive indicator of Markan Priority which will not make good sense on the assumption that Mark wrote third.  It seems that we have the fingerprints on the gun.


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Who CARES if Mark was the First Gospel Written?
A New Argument that Mark Was the First Gospel (Editorial Fatigue): Guest Post by Mark Goodacre!



  1. Avatar
    AstaKask  February 13, 2019

    Sean Carroll talks about how it’s a disgrace that after 70 years they still have no clear consensus about the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. What do you two (Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Goodacre) think about your field – is there something fundamental that should have been resolved by now but for which there is no real consensus?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      Mark Goodacre would probably say: the non-existence of Q!

      (I would say that I don’t understand why there’s not a consensus on *everything* I think. 🙂 )

      • Avatar
        James Chalmers  February 15, 2019

        I’d say there’s TOO NEAR a consensus on Q (see, e.g., the major textbook in the field), and there should be many more non-believers. I wish there were a survey of NT scholars like there is Leiter’s of philosophers, but if it’s even 25% that dispense with Q and hold that Luke had Matthew, I’d be surprised.
        How many nowadays dissent from the Weiss-or-Reimarus-on realization that Jesus was an apocalypticist?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 17, 2019

          There were lots of dissenters twenty years ago or so, when the Jesus Seminar tried to make an intervention. But my sense is that the attempt by and large failed.

  2. Avatar
    J.J.  February 13, 2019

    Hi Mark, great examples. I need to get your Sheffield book on this. So just curious, you are one of the major proponents of Luke’s use of Matthew instead of advocating a hypothetical Q document. Do you find examples of editorial fatigue of Luke using Matthew?

  3. Avatar
    nbraith1975  February 13, 2019

    Isn’t “editorial fatigue” similar to what can be found in written depositions from multiple people regarding something they all either witnessed, read or heard about?

  4. Avatar
    nbraith1975  February 13, 2019

    Maybe more important than evidence that large portions of both Luke and Matthew were plagiarized from Mark is what was the motive of the authors of Luke and Matthew? If they both had access to Mark, but knew of other credible stories about Jesus not found in Mark, why didn’t they just write their own original narratives? To me, this would have been more convincing evidence of Jesus’ life than plagiarizing Mark along with their “original” stories.

    • Avatar
      godspell  February 15, 2019

      Point of order–there was no such thing as ‘plagiarism’ in that time period. The concept did not exist. The idea of authorship was radically different, and there was no legal principle of copyright. You might as well say Aeschylus plagiarized Homer (who probably didn’t create all those stories either).

      Many famous stories in world mythology (which I believe the gospels qualify as, even though I also firmly believe they are based on real people and events) have multiple versions, which differ greatly from each other. We have many versions of the Arthurian Cycle, for example–or the Mahabarata. A story worth telling is worth retelling, and each storyteller has his or her own points to make, drawing on the same basic framework of historical and/or confabulated occurrences.

      The reason Matthew and Luke would draw on Mark is that they found the stories in Mark powerful, believed that they were mostly accurate, and had no other sources for them. The reason they often rewrote them was because they had different points to make with them. They are not authors of fiction, and neither are they historians. They are best described, perhaps, as biographers, in the ancient sense of that word. Plutarch never worried about copying off someone else’s paper. Or rewriting what someone else had written first, if he thought he could do it better.

      It’s because the gospels have been elevated so far above all other books in the western canon (even though they originated in the Middle East), that we overreact to such revelations as this, and throw the baby out with the bathwater. They are all great books, they all have some powerful truths to tell, and underneath those truths are a certain number of facts. We can’t usually be certain of the latter, and we’ll doubtless spend the rest of history arguing about the former.

      No doubt they are also copying directly from sources we don’t have anymore. Actually, as I’ve learned from Joel Marcus’ book Bart just recently mentioned, it’s possible Luke’s account of Jesus’ nativity may be partly borrowed from a story originally told to establish the special holiness of John the Baptist. They were almost certainly not just drawing on Mark and Q (whatever Q was). Each did create a unique work, but none of them worked in a vacuum. Neither do any writers today.

      • Avatar
        nbraith1975  February 17, 2019

        I used the term plagiarize because it most accurately describes the actions taken by the authors of Matthew and Luke in today’s era.

        You may note that there was no such thing as “forgery” in that time period either.

        1570s, “a thing made fraudulently,” from forge (v.) + -ery. Meaning “act of counterfeiting” is 1590s. The literal sense of the verb tended to go with forging (late 14c. as “act of working on a forge,” 1858 as “piece of work made on a forge”).

        I expect maybe you though Bart should have considered a more “period” relevant title to his book.

        Also, I admire your confidence regarding the reasons why the authors of “Matthew and Luke would draw on Mark.”

        • Avatar
          godspell  February 18, 2019

          True forgery refers to copying someone’s handwriting for the purpose of fraud. I can understand Bart using it as a title (which gets attention), but presumably people did originally know who really wrote those gospels, and the intent was not to deceive, but to stake out a tradition within the growing faith. I would certainly say the false Pauline epistles were forgeries, in that sense. But not Matthew or Luke, and neither are they plagiarism. Mark would have been a plagiarist too, since he had certainly sources he doesn’t credit. If everybody is naked, nobody is naked, and if everybody plagiarizes, then there’s no such thing.

          In any event–“Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” T.S. Eliot.

          And in the immortal words of Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky–


          At least Matthew and Luke let Mark publish first.

          They can share credit (well, to the extent people whose real names we’ll never know can get any credit at all, which truly destroys the plagiarism argument).

          You know, like Darwin and Wallace shared credit for Natural Selection (even though Wallace technically published first–pity he sent his paper to Darwin).


  5. Telling
    Telling  February 13, 2019

    Hi Mark,

    Mark 8:27 (and Luke 9:18) tells of Jesus asking, “Who do people say I am?”. Yet Matthew 16:13 replaces “I” with “Son of man”, as: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

    Even more curious, King James translations, and only King James translations, qualify the same passage with (unquoted): Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

    It looks to me that the King James scribes perhaps saw some ambiguity in the Matthew translation, that it may appear that Jesus is speaking of someone else, not himself, in this phrase and so qualified it with the added “I”.

    In full, Matthew non King James versions Matthew reads:

    13 …he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (NIV)

    In full, Mark reads:
    On the way, He questioned His disciples: “Who do people say I am?” 28They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29“But who do you say I am?” He asked. Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 And Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.…

    Wondering if you can shed some light on the Matthew variation on Mark, and King James variation on Matthew.


  6. Avatar
    william.thomas.cox  February 13, 2019

    Is this same idea used elsewhere? Is it used elsewhere in the Bible when comparing Ephesians/Colossians or 2 Peter/Jude? Is it applied in modern cases of plagiarism, or automated checks on originality of student work?

    Also, how are these ideas tested or calibrated? Are analyses done on known cases of copying or retellings?

  7. Avatar
    Matt2239  February 13, 2019

    “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?”

    Reads okay. The very next sentence clarifies that they were reasoning in their hearts. It’s not a good example of discontinuity. Just the opposite of inclusion by fatigue, it could be an example of poetic license to convey equivalent meaning with fewer words.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  February 13, 2019

    To the average person it doesn’t matter in what order the gospels were written, but the evidence for Mark being the first seems strong. Is there a philosophical/religious reason for some scholars to argue otherwise?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      For the reason it matters: see today’s post. I don’t sense any religious or philosophical reasons for the disagreement; it’s mainly a historical question involving the use of our sources and how to interpret them.

  9. epicurus
    epicurus  February 13, 2019

    I’ve never heard of this argument before. Fascinating!

  10. Avatar
    Tm3  February 13, 2019

    Dr. Goodacre,
    Do you have any new insights on the authorship of Mark in addition to what Dr. Ehrman has published on the subject? Most clergy still state the Gospel was written by Mark, the companion of Peter.

  11. Avatar
    JohnKesler  February 13, 2019

    Regarding Mark 2:4/Luke 5:19, it appears that Luke has changed the type of roof on the house. The New American Bible says, “Luke has adapted the story found in Mark to his non-Palestinian audience by changing ‘opened up the roof’ (Mk 2:4 a reference to Palestinian straw and clay roofs) to *through the tiles*, a detail that reflects the Hellenistic Greco-Roman house with tiled roof.” Given that Luke made this change, is it accurate to say that Luke’s reference to a house is really editorial fatigue? It seems that Luke was aware of what he was doing and didn’t see any continuity error.

  12. Avatar
    godspell  February 13, 2019

    What would be some established examples of editorial fatigue? In other words, we know for a fact a given text was copied from an earlier one, and we see the same tendencies occurring?

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  February 13, 2019

    Did the Oral Tradition at July 64 CE not include God taking the Kingdom away?

    Textual critics have identified Jesus’ foretelling the loss of the kingdom as not legitimate and therefore date the gospels at and after the beginning of Jewish Revolt.

    The Oral Tradition of Jesus’ crucifixion seems to be at play at the time Rome was set on fire July 64 CE because Tacitus mentions the Chrestians believing in the mischievous superstition of Pilate crucifying Jesus.

    In 64 CE, the Oral Tradition included the notion of God taking the kingdom of God and giving it to a different people because the Oral Tradition narrative would include Jesus foretelling this before his crucifixion. Yes or no?

    (It would be good to have 64 CE as a marker for what was in the Oral Tradition at that time versus what would be added later.)

    Scholars, in effect, are saying the Oral Tradition at July 64 CE did not include God taking the kingdom away and did not include the foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem?

    What is an explanation for not agreeing with the following?

    With the Son of Man appearing after the tribulation of the destruction of Jerusalem, if Jesus was the Son of Man, he could no longer be Jewish because the kingdom would have been taken from the Jewish people, including a Jewish Son of Man.

    Even if Jesus was not the Son of Man, whoever the Son of Man was, appearing after the destruction of Jerusalem, he would not be Jewish because that post-destruction kingdom would not be under Jewish rule.

    Even if the Son of Man is not in human incarnation as Jesus as Son of Man was, the punishment, on earth as it was in heaven, was loss of Jewish rule and occupancy.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  February 16, 2019

      Nobody knows?

      No one can tell by the Letters of Paul? We should be able to tell by the letters of Paul what the Oral Tradition narrative was at AD 64. Sure, Paul does not seem to know much about biography of Jesus, but does Paul talk about the loss of God–he was an apocalyptic prophet also?

  14. John4
    John4  February 14, 2019

    Great posts on “editorial fatigue”!

    In thinking about how I might suggest this argument to an adult Sunday School class, two thoughts occur:

    1. “Editorial *inattention*” might be a better term for me to use with them.

    2. I should anticipate an argument that editorial *meticulousness* on the part of Mark prompted him to *fix* problems he found in Matthew’s or Luke’s accounts.

    I don’t think, really, that an argument of editorial meticulousness could in fact be coherently maintained in detail. But, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it raised in some form in a non-scholarly setting.

    Many many thanks for the posts! 🙂

  15. Avatar
    Roman Folk  February 14, 2019

    Prof Goodacre,
    It has been noted by Prof Ehrman and others that there are numerous errors in the manuscripts we have available at this time, almost all of which may be attributed to mistakes made by the scribes who copied an older text. Instead of “editorial fatigue”, might not the differences between the Markan text and the Matthew/Luke words be – possibly – due to copyist errors? As we don’t know the time period which elapsed between the original composition of Mark and the days when Matthew and Luke were written, how can we know the number of copies created during that time period? The more copies in the line from original to the manuscript we presently know would seem to indicate an increased number of errors. Then there is the question: Would a scribe copying an earlier text necessarily have been a Christian or might he have been a ‘professional’ hired to create copies?

  16. Avatar
    joncopeland  February 14, 2019

    Drs. Goodacre and Ehrman, thank you for these posts. I’ve enjoyed them very much.

    Where and when do you locate Mark? Do your findings have any bearing on the dates of authorship for the gospels?

  17. Avatar
    seahawk41  February 14, 2019

    This concept seems to me to be very plausible. It is not difficult to imagine Matthew or Luke writing away, pulling in stuff from Mark, editing the beginning to fit their goals, then getting impatient toward the end of a quote, wanting to get back to their major themes, and not checking to make sure they had edited everything. A question that came to me was “Is there any evidence of this phenomenon in their use of Q?” I realize that the problem is much more difficult, since we don’t have a copy of the original Q. I just wonder if there is any way to see this phenomenon there. E.g., in a long Q passage (admitting that I don’t know whether there are such!), are there cases where Matthew and Luke both change the beginning of the passage according to their goals, but the later parts are much more similar, even identical?

  18. Avatar
    forthfading  February 14, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Would you consider asking Dr. Goodacre to post about his theory on “Q”? I know it is a position not supported very widely but I think it would give some insight into how scholars work through the same texts but end up with different conclusions.

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      I thought he did before — but now I can’t see that he did. Interesting idea. thanks.

    • Avatar
      Rthompsonmdog  February 15, 2019

      If you are interested, Dr. Goodacre has an episode on why he does not think there was a Q source on his podcast NT pod.

      See Episode 26, The Case Against Q. He makes good arguments, but he is, nonetheless, in the minority with this opinion.

  19. Avatar
    mannix  February 16, 2019

    My NRSV (Harper Collins Study Bible) Gospels of Mt and Lk are each about 51 pages long…and that includes copious footnoting. I have read a number of Bart’s books, each multiples of that length. (I have not read any of Dr. Goodacre’s, but I’m sure the same applies to him) I cannot imagine them not proofreading and double-checking each chapter for grammar, accuracy, etc. So why does “editorial fatigue” exist in the evangelists, who write in only short novella lengths? Is it because they were not, nor intended to be regarded as, scholars? Perhaps historical facts and coherence in their writings were transcended by a message or theological “truths”.

    Having said that, I find the above discussions quite interesting. Thanks!

  20. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 16, 2019

    This is more than a little complicated, but it’s helpful to learn how scholars work out such things. Thanks

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