In a recent post, I attempted to explain A Flaw in McIver and Carroll's Article about detecting the existence of written sources in the Gospels. The difficulty is that they did experiments with students in English and then applied the resulting criterion (16 or more words suggests copying) to texts in Greek, a problem given the fact that Greek invariably users fewer words to convey similar material. The difference is usually substantial and sometimes overwhelming. In one case, a 24 word conjoined sequence in Greek is represented in standard English translations by a 42 word conjoined sequence (Matt. 7.7 // Luke 11.9). In other words, the 16 (or 18) word criterion is far too restrictive as a criterion of copying, and should have been greatly reduced to adjust for differences in language.
The difficulties with illegitimate transfer between English experiments and Greek texts does not end there. In this post, I would like to draw attention to a further, related issue that is not considered by McIver and Carroll: they are comparing results from experiments using a non-inflected language (English) with an inflected language (Greek). This is important because their experiments focus specially on conjoined sequences of words. A non-inflected language like English is far more likely to retain word order across two parallels because word order is often intrinstic to the meaning. In Greek, by contrast, word order is less important in the determination of meaning. This has the effect of diminishing the likely extent of parallel conjoined sequences in Greek.
The point can be illustrated with a simple look at the Synopsis. Matt. 9.5-6 // Mark 2.9-10 // Luke 5.23-4 features an eighteen word triple agreement in English translation, the kind of agreement that would satisfy even the stricter McIver and Carroll criterion. Here's the passage in the RSV of Mark, with the triple sequential agreement of eighteen words underlined:
. . . 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic . . .
In Greek, however, there is no such lengthy agreement because of differences in the ordering of the elements translated above as "has authority" and "Son of Man" and "upon the earth". Take a look at the texts:
Matt. 9.5-6: . . . Ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, ἢ εἰπεῖν· Ἔγειρε καὶ περιπάτει; ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας, τότε λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ . . . .
Mark 2.9-10: . . . . Ἀφέωνταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, ἢ εἰπεῖν· Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει; ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ . . .
Luke 5.23-4: . . . . Ἀφέωνταί σοι αἱ ἁμαρτίαι σου, ἢ εἰπεῖν· Ἔγειρε καὶ περιπάτει; 24 ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας, εἶπεν τῷ παραλελυμένῳ . . .
What this illustrates is that the chances for conjoined sequence in parallel passages is greater in contemporary English than it is in first century Greek. Where English translations of this passage have eighteen words in conjoined sequence across all three Synoptics, the Greek has just eleven (Matthew // Mark) or five (Mark // Luke and Matthew // Luke).
The same kind of thing is easy to illustrate from elsewhere. Take the following parallel from Matthew and Mark, for example, in which there is conjoined sequence for nineteen English words of the NRSV translation:
Matt. 26.13 (NRSV): Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Mark 14.9 (NRSV): Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Now contrast this with the Greek texts (NA27) of Matthew and Mark:
Matt. 26.13: ἀμὴν, λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅπου ἐὰν κηρυχθῇ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦτο ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ, λαληθήσεται καὶ ὃ ἐποίησεν αὕτη εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτῆς.
Mark 14.9: ἀμὴν δὲ, λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅπου ἐὰν κηρυχθῇ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον εἰς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον, καὶ ὃ ἐποίησεν αὕτη λαληθήσεται εἰς μνημόσυνον αὐτῆς.
The differing position of λαληθήσεται ("will be told") in Matthew and Mark generates a shorter conjoined sequence of words in Greek than one sees in English translation, only four words in the comparison with the nineteen in the English of the NRSV.
In other words, English is more likely to feature a lengthy conjoined sequences of words given that it is a non-inflected language with fewer options in relation to the ordering of words. This should have been factored into McIver and Carroll's attempt to transfer their contemporary English experimental results to ancient texts written in Greek.