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A Final Statement on a Different Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Evan Powell

OK, this will be the last post in this current thread involving the Synoptic Problem.  Some of you will be glad to know that this one is written not at the scholarly but for normal human beings (as opposed to abnormal academics….).   It should be very accessible.   It is written by the blog-member who started this whole thing off with a challenge, Evan Powell.  Thanks to all the participants in the back and forth – Evan, Allan Garrow, and Mark Goodacre.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s been a helpful interchange, and a (nicely) unusual thread for the blog.   ***********************************************   EVAN POWELL – A Solution to the Synoptic Problem The literary relationships between the Synoptic Gospels, and specifically the issue of whether Q existed as a lost sayings gospel, are vitally important questions to anyone who studies the historical Jesus and the evolution of first century Christianity. We all want to know which gospel traditions were early, perhaps originating with Jesus, and which were later ideas incorporated into the movement’s [...]

2020-04-03T01:42:28-04:00December 15th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

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 Many thanks, by the way, to everyone for the fascinating responses to my post, and [...]

2018-01-09T12:32:24-05:00December 14th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Back Again: Did Matthew Use Luke? Alan Garrow’s Reply to Mark Goodacre

As you know, I agreed to allow Mark Goodacre to respond to Alan Garrow’s unusual view of how to explain the “Synoptic Problem,” as part of the $1000 challenge by blog-participant Evan.  Some of you enjoyed going down into the weeds yesterday with Mark; today I post Alan Garrow’s reply to Mark’s Response, and if you like the weeds, here are some more!  If nothing else, these posts show why it is hard to make scholarship simple and accessible to the non-expert, without simplifying it out of recognition --  which is the ultimate goal of this blog. If you prefer other kinds of (less weedy) fields, no worries!  I’m not planning on continuing this back and forth, with one exception.  Evan himself would like to post his views, and I’ve agreed to allow him to do so.  But first I’ll let these two posts settle in for you, and tomorrow get back onto other things. Here now is Alan’s reply to Mark’s response.  See which side you line up with!  (Just one point of clarification [...]

2021-01-29T02:34:46-05:00December 13th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

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 is the author of several books, including The Case Against Q, and Thomas and the Gospels.   ********************************************************* Garrow's Flaw  In a recent comment on this blog, "Evan" suggested that Alan Garrow's arguments are so compelling that he [...]

2021-01-29T02:34:23-05:00December 12th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Could Q Have Been Lost? Readers’ Mailbag December 3, 2017

I have received a lot of questions about Q this week.  If you’re wondering about why blog members are interested in a figure from Star Trek, you may want to review this week’s posts.  Here is a question that I find particularly intriguing.   QUESTION: It is hard to believe that Q, if it existed, circulated enough to be used by both but then dropped off the face of the Earth without so much as a mention by an early church father, while references to so many other documents survived (with some being found).   RESPONSE: Ah, this is an interesting observation and involves a set of questions that I’m very interested in but have never published (much of) anything about.  How much of the early Christian literature was lost?  Could early Christians simply have allowed important writings to disappear (even if independent once knew them)? To the historian’s eternal chagrin, the answer appears to be yes.  My guess is that most early Christians simply didn’t see a need to preserve their writings for posterity [...]

And Then There Was Q

After my post yesterday about the "priority of Mark" (the view almost universally held among scholars that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke used it for many of their own stories) I received a number of queries from readers about the "Q" source.   So I better address that as well. Matthew and Luke obviously share a number of stories with Mark, but they also share with each other a number of passages not found in Mark.  Most of these passages (all but two of them) involve sayings of Jesus -- for example, the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer.  Since they didn't get these passages from Mark, where did they get them?   Since the 19th century scholars have argued that Matthew did not get them from Luke or Luke from Matthew (for reasons I'll suggest below); that probably means they got them from some other source, a document that no longer survives. This came to be known as the "Sayings Source."  The scholars who developed this view were principally German, and [...]

2020-04-03T01:46:15-04:00November 29th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Life After Death in Rome, and other Questions. Readers’ Mailbag May 6, 2016

In this week’s Readers Mailbag I address three rather divergent questions, one on ancient tombstone inscriptions that indicate that many people in the ancient world did not believe in an afterlife, one on the Temptation narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and one on the process of having a book edited in preparation for publication.  If you have a question you would like me to address, just ask – and I’ll add it to the list!   QUESTION: I’m curious…what sort of “inscriptional evidence” on ancient tombstones would seem to rule out belief in an afterlife? RESPONSE This question was asked in response to something I said, that even though in ancient Greek and Roman mythology there are discussions of the afterlife (e.g., in the Odyssey, book 11; Plato’s Myth of Er in book 10 of the Republic; and so on), there are reasons for thinking that most (or at least many?) people in antiquity believed that life was the end of the story.  And I indicated that this is because of inscriptions [...]

Q and the Passion Narrative

This, I think (!), will be my last post for now on the Q source apparently used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings materials, a source that must at one time have existed (since Matthew and Luke appear both to have had access to it), that was written in Greek (otherwise Matthew and Luke could not agree word-for-word in places – in Greek -- in their non-Markan sayings material), and that contained almost exclusively (or exclusively) sayings of Jesus. There are many other issues that we could discuss about Q, but for now I would like to end by mentioning just one.  It is regularly and routinely maintained by New Testament scholars that one of the striking features of Q is that it contains a list of Jesus’ sayings and no passion narrative – no account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Scholars then draw a conclusion: the death of Jesus was not important to the community that produced the Q document. I have to admit, I’m not completely convinced of this claim, [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:23-04:00March 20th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Q and The Gospel of Thomas

Before I move on to discuss other lost books from early Christianity that I would love to have discovered (I know, this thread could go on forever, since I would like *every* early Christian writing to be discovered) I need to answer a couple of queries that I have received about the Q source. First, several people have asked me whether it is possible that the Q source is actually what we now call the Gospel of Thomas, one of the books discovered among the so-called Nag Hammadi Library in 1945.   I don’t want to go into great depth about the Gospel of Thomas here since, well, it has been discovered and this thread is about book s that have *not* been discovered.  But I do need to say some basics about Thomas and its relation to Q. By way of background, let me say something a bit more about the Q-hypothesis.   When 19th century German scholars established with a reasonable level of certainty that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:42-04:00March 18th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

The Lost Q Source

I can now return to my thread dealing with a question asked by a reader:  if I could choose, which of the lost books from Christian antiquity would I want to be discovered?  My first and immediate answer was:  the lost letters of Paul.   My second answer is what I will deal with here.  I would love – we would all love – to have a discovery of Q. Many readers of the blog will know all about Q.  Many will know something about Q.  Many will have never heard of Q.   So here’s the deal. Scholars since the 19th century have worked out the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels with one another.   Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” because they tell many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes in exactly the same words.  Synoptic means “seen together.”   You can “see” these Gospels “together” by laying them side by side and noting their abundant similarities (and differences).   But the only way they could have such extensive similarities (especially the [...]

2020-04-03T13:55:02-04:00March 16th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Historical Certainty and Jesus

QUESTION(S): Evidently the “Q” source is quite authentic, but why? And, other sources of Jesus’ sayings may be related to oral traditions and even to early church teachings that were fed back into the Gospels and are less authentic…. I find it hard to accept that what we have in the New Testament is the authentic material was actually said and done by Jesus (in the strict historic sense). You said that the statement about Jesus relating to God’s Kingdom on earth and who was to rule and that Jesus thought he was the King of the Jews and that Judas reported that to the religious authorities. How do we know that this is historically accurate? How can we know that one item is authentic and others aren’t? I did read your book dealing with the criteria, but I am not convinced…. ***Question*** How do we know, absolutely and historically, that even those sayings of Jesus that meet the criteria you use are authentic and not simply the teachings of the early church fed back [...]

2020-09-15T18:17:45-04:00January 24th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Lost Gospels That Are Still Lost 4: Q

Several respondents on the blog have asked me whether I would consider Q to be a lost Gospel that is still lost. My answer is direct and emphatic: yes I do! And to the question, also asked several times, if I had one lost Christian writing that I could have turn up tomorrow, what would it be? – again, unless someone imagines that there was once something like Jesus’ lost autobiography (!), my answer is: Q! Some members of the blog may not know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Q, so let me explain. In the nineteenth century, some NT scholars became obsessed with the question of why Matthew, Mark, and Luke agreed frequently in so many ways and yet also have so many differences. These three are called the Synoptic Gospels (as opposed to John) this because they do indeed have so many stories that are the same, often in the same sequence, and often with precise word-for-word agreements, so that you can put their stories on the same page and [...]

2020-04-03T19:13:03-04:00November 15th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha, Reader’s Questions|
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