Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why not Matthew's use of Luke?

Over on Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath asks Did Matthew use Luke? A Neglected Angle on the Synoptic Problem. It is one of the rarer theories to come up in Synoptic studies and it has no detailed published case from recent times. It has been floated by Martin Hengel (alongside Q) and Ronald Huggins and it is now being explored fully in a PhD dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary by Robert Macewen. I occasionally get asked myself about this view, presumably because it reverses the direction of dependence for which I argue, in The Case Against Q, and so, perhaps, it helps us to think through the plausibility of the case for Luke's familiarity with Matthew. Since James specifically tags me, as it were, in his post, and since it is difficult to resist a good, old-fashioned Synoptic Problem post, I will make a few comments.

My initial reaction when asked about this is usually simply to say that it's a radically different theory from the one I argue for (it reverses the key thing). Sometimes Q theorists imagine that the big issue for Q sceptics, like me, is dispensing with Q at all costs, and that Luke's use of Matthew just happens to be the way we have chosen to do it. On the contrary, I actually quite like Q, but I am unpersuaded that it exists because I think Luke knew Matthew. In other words, I, and others like me, have not begun from the premise, "We must get rid of Q at all costs. Now, what's the strategy?" We begin from finding Luke's use of Matthew, alongside Marcan Priority, to be more persuasive than the alternatives, and that theory entails the end of Q.

It is true that the rhetoric of our case often brings up Q, Farrer's "On Dispensing with Q", my Case Against Q, Goulder's "On Putting Q to the Test", and so on. But the reason for this is largely strategic. In a world where the vast majority of scholars are wedded to Q, one needs to gain their attention somehow. Would my book have been as successful if I had called it "Luke's use of Matthew", or "The Farrer Theory"? I doubt it.

Let me underline then that I really think that Luke knew Matthew. It's not just a game; I actually think that the Farrer theory explains the data far better than the opposing theories. Like others, I frame the case by arguing with Q theorists because that is the dominant alternative. Similarly, when arguing for Marcan Priority (Case Against Q, Chapter 2; Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, Chapters 3-4, etc.), I frame the case by arguing with adherents of the Griesbach Hypothesis because they have been the dominant group in the academy that opposes Marcan Priority.

But what about the case for Matthew's use of Luke? Could there be anything in it? Certainly it shares many of the strengths of the Farrer theory; it doesn't struggle over the Minor Agreements; it can explain the close verbatim agreement in double tradition material, and so on. But my main difficulties with it would be the following:

(1) Matthean language and imagery. Here it will be easiest if I borrow from an older blog post. The language, imagery and rhythm of the double tradition material can be Matthean through and through, often to the extent that we would not hesitate to ascribe it to Matthew if it were in Matthew alone. Matthew 3 and Luke 3 provide particularly clear examples:

(a) Matt. 3.7 // Luke 3.7: γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς; ("Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"). Matthew will use this offensive vocative + rhetorical question (labelled an echidnic by Michael Goulder) twice again in remarkably similar forms, 12.34, γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς δύνασθε ἀγαθὰ λαλεῖν πονηροὶ ὄντες ("Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil?") and 23.33, ὄφεις, γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης ("Snakes, brood of vipers! How can you flee from the judgement of gehenna?"). I think we should resist the temptation to play these links down. We are not dealing with everyday phrases. The imagery (snakes' offspring), the rhythm (echidnic) and language (wrath / judgement / gehenna) is strikingly Matthean and tells us in which direction the borrowing is going.

(b) 3.10: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται ("Therefore every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire"). Virtually the identical sentence occurs again in 7.19. Once again it is not just the language but also the imagery that is Matthean. Even my introductory New Testament class knows that Matthew's is the Gospel that exploits harvest imagery to the tell the story of judgement and hell-fire. The Matthean apocalyptic scenario, here appearing for the first time in the Gospel, will be repeated at regular intervals: (a) Demand for good fruits / good works; (b) Separation at the Eschaton; (c) Burning of those whose deeds are evil.

(2) Fatigue in the Synoptics: There are several examples of Luke's secondary nature with respect to Matthew in double tradition here -- see "Fatigue in the Synoptics". In researching that article, I found several good examples of Lucan fatigue in double tradition but none of the opposite. One of the best examples is, I think, the Parable of the Talents / Pounds, where Luke makes characteristically Lucan initial changes to the plot of Matthew's parable (ten servants, one pound each -- typically Lucan 10:1 ratio) but then steadily reverts to the Matthean plot, with its three servants ("the other", 19.20) and money (not city) rewards. In the article, I argue that since we know that Matthew is often fatigued in his rewriting of Mark, it is odd that he is apparently never fatigued in the double tradition material. The reason is that Luke is using Matthew, not vice versa.

(3) Luke's Preface with its "many" inclines one towards a Luke who is self-consciously second generation in a way that is less clear with Matthew. The general indications of date also tend to favour a later Luke.

(4) Luke is almost never the middle term: Mark is usually the middle term among the Synoptics, a scenario easily explained on the assumption of Marcan Priority. Sometimes Matthew is the middle term, a fact that Farrer theorists explain on the assumption that these are triple tradition passages where Luke is focusing on Matthew rather than Mark. It would be odd, if Matthew were the third evangelist, that his use of Luke never results in Luke-as-middle-term.

(5) Order: Why would Matthew break up Luke's superb ordering of the sayings, which are in highly appropriate contexts in Luke, tearing every little piece out of its context, only to lump them together in a wooden fashion in huge, unwieldy discourses? Such a theory would only tenable if we had reason to think that Matthew was a crank.

OK, admittedly my number 5 is a parody, but the other reasons sketch some first thoughts on why I would not find Matthew's use of Luke plausible, but the bottom line is that I am already persuaded by another theory that, in my opinion, explains the data much better.


Michael F. Bird said...

I think Martin Hengel might have entertained the prospect of Matthean usage of Luke, esp. in his argument that where Matthew and Luke overlap, Luke seems to be the earliest version. See his "The Four Gospels" pp. 68-70

Richard Godijn said...


I love number 5! :)

What about Goulder's argument that the minor agreements are more Matthean than Lukan?

Alan Garrow in his "The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache" has also proposed Matthean knowledge of Luke.

I think it's good that somebody is trying to work out this hypothesis in a thesis, although it seems hard to make a good case for it. What are the difficulties in the Farrer hypothesis for which Matthean knowledge of Luke provides a better solution? I don't really see them. Yes, Luke sometimes "seems" more primitive or more original than Matthew, but that can be explained by Luke's skill as an author, since he sometimes also "seems" more primitive or more original than Mark when he's editing Mark (assuming Markan priority).


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Could you explain what you mean by "middle term"? I'm not familiar with that, err, term.

The rest of this made sense to me, though!

James F. McGrath said...

Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to reply in such detail. I've offered an initial response on my blog, in which I also acknowledge that your "kung-q" is superior to mine.

You'll be glad to hear that this is driving me to put your book on the top of my pile of things to read!

Stephen C. Carlson said...


Given three sources, A, B, and C, if (1) A and C (almost) always agree with each other only when they also agree with B, (2) A and B often agree with each other against C, and (3) B and C often agree with each other against A, then B is the middle term.

Among the synoptic gospels, Mark is usually the middle term in the passages all three have in common. However, in about 10% of the passages Matthew, not Mark, is the middle term. Luke, on the other hand, is (almost) never the middle term.

Any viable solution to the synoptic problem has to account for the middle term phenomena. The Mark-Q (Two Source) theory holds that Mark is the source for Matt and Luke of the passages where Mark is the middle term, and that, where Matthew is the middle term, Mark and Q overlap, which Matthew conflating Mark and Q and Luke following Q.

The Mark-Matthew (Farrer) theory holds that when Luke used Mark, Mark becomes the middle term; when Luke used Matthew, Matthew becomes the middle term. (Note that in this regard, the Matthew-Mark [Augustinian] theory has a similar explanation.)

The explanation under the Matthew-Luke (Griesbach) theory is different: The passages where Mark is the middle term occurs where Mark conflated Matthew and Luke, and where Matt is the middle term is where Mark followed Matt to the exclusion of Luke.

I suppose for the view that Matthew used Luke with Markan priority, such as what James McGrath was wondering about (and what I like to term the "Mark-Luke theory"), one would have to posit that the Markan middle term phenomenon is due to Matthew's use of Mark without regard to Luke, and the Matthean middle term phenomenon is due to Matthew's conflation of Mark and Luke.

To some extent, all viable theories can account for the middle term phenomenon, but with varying degrees of plausibility. Personally, I feel that conflation is less likely than using one source at a time, so I would tend to favor the solutions that minimize conflation.

Frank McCoy said...

Mark, you note that the echidnic in Mt 3:7 has a partner in Mt 12:34 and that Mt 3:10 almost has a replica in Mt 7:19.
Mt 12:34 and 7:19 represent two of the basic seven sentences out of which Matthew constructed Mt 7:16-20 and Mt 12:33-35.
The third basic sentence has three variations: (1) 7:17 So every good tree produces good fruit, but the rotten tree produces bad fruit, (2)7:18 A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit, nor a rotten tree to produce good fruit and (3)12:33 Either make the tree good and fruit of it will be good or make the tree rotten and the fruit of it will be rotten.
The fourth basic sentence also has three variations: (1) 7:16a, By their fruits you will know them, (2)7:20, Therefore, by their fruits you will know them and (3)12:33b, For the tree is known by the fruit.
Each of the remaining three basic sentences has a parallel in Th 45. The first is 7:16b, Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? It has a parallel in Th 45.1, Grapes are not harvested from thorns, nor are figs gathered from thistles. The second is Mt 12:35, The good man out of the good treasure brings forth good and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil. It has a parallel in Th 45.2-3a, A good man brings forth good from his storehouse, an evil man brings forth evils things from his evil storehouse, which is his heart. The third is Mt 12:34b, For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. It has a parallel in Th 45.3b-4, And says evil things--for out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil things. Note the characteristically Matthean love of triads. There are three variations for the third basic sentence as well as for the fourth. Th 45 is divided by Matthew into three units: (1) 45.1, (2) 45.2-3a, and (3) 45.3b-4. He divides the saying in Mt 3:7-10 into three units: (1) 3:7, (2) 3:8-10a and (3) 3:10b. The echidnics in Mt 3:7 and Mt 3:10 have a third partner in Mt 23:33.
Matthew bases 12:34 on 3:7 and 7:19 on 3:10 to show that Jesus carries on the message of John--something he also shows in the duplets of 3:2 and 4:17. Matthew bases 7:16b on Th 45.1 because it confirms the immediately preceding 7:16a, "By their fruits you will know them." Matthew bases 12:34b on Th 45.3b-4 and 12:35 on Th 45.2-3a because they demonstrate that what one speaks reflects the kind of person you are--making them an ideal lead-in to Mt 12:36-37, where, it is stressed, you will be judged by what you say.
Note Matthew's deliberate symmetry of, in 7:16-20, placing the parallel to the beginning of Th 45 before the parallel to the ending of 3:7-10, while, in 12:33-35, placing the parallel of the beginning of 3:7-10 before the parallel to the ending of Th 45.

Alan Garrow said...

Hi Mark,
1) Matthew may take elements from his sources and multiply the ones he likes. Your point is reversible.
2) Fatigue is one possibility but it is not the only one. E.g. In the talents Luke has ten servants and then three. Matthew may notice this discrepancy and create a tighter version.
3) Luke's preface suggests that he had many sources. This doesn't demonstrate that one of them was Matthew.
4) The concept of the Middle Term is not especially helpful because there are too many different ways that this arrangement can be produced
5) No need to comment!
Some videos of the case for Matt's use of Luke now available at

Paul D. said...

Dr. Goodacre, I did an analysis of the Parable of the Talents/Pounds with your claim of editorial fatigue in mind. My conclusion is that — in this case at least — the claim of Lucan posteriority is weak, and it's more likely that Matthew used Luke. I'd welcome your comments.

Unknown said...

dr good acre
why is it highly unlikely that luke and mark used the same source which caused 41 % commonality between them?