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Full text of "The synoptic problem: a way through the maze"







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THE SY 

A Way Through the Maze 



Mark Goodacre 



tS.ti 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2011 with funding from 
Duke University Libraries 



http://www.archive.org/details/synopticproblemwOOgood 



The Synoptic Problem 



The Synoptic Problem 

A Way Through the Maze 



Mark Goodacre 



^continuum 

• %% LONDON • NEW YORK 



Copyright © 2001 T & T Qark International 
A Continuum imprint 

Published by T & T Clark International 

The Tower Building, 1 1 York Road, London SEl 7NX 

15 East 26th Street, Suite 1703, NYl 

www.tandtclark.com 
www.continuum-books.com 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in 
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, record- 
ing or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing 
from the publishers. 

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Typeset by Sheffield Academic Press 

Printed on acid-free paper in Great Britain by The Cromwell Press, Trowbridge, 

Wiltshire 

Reprinted 2005 



ISBN 0-567 080 56 



Contents 



List of Figures and Tables 7 

Preface 9 

Abbreviations 12 

Chapter 1 

ENTERING THE MAZE: 

STUDYING THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM 13 

Chapter 2 

EXPLORING THE MAZE: THE DATA 33 

Chapter 3 

MARKAN PRIORITY 56 

Chapter 4 

BUILDING ON MARKAN PRIORITY 84 

Chapter 5 

Q 106 

Chapter 6 

THE CASE AGAINST Q 1 22 

Chapter 7 

EMERGING FROM THE MAZE 162 



Further Reading 169 

Glossary 171 

Bibliography 174 

Index of Authors 1 76 

Index of Words 1 77 



List of figures and tables 



Figures 

1 . The Two-Source Theory 20 

2. The Farrer Theory 22 

3. The Griesbach Theory 23 

4. Scale of Matthaean Influence on Luke 150 

Tables 

L Triple Tradition 35 

2. Double Tradition 40 

3. Special Matthew (M) 43 

4. Special Matthew in Triple Tradition Contexts 44 

5. Special Luke (L) 45 

6. L Material Similar to Matthew and Mark 46 

7. When Mark Is Not the Middle Term 53 



PREFACE 



For many New Testament scholars, studying the Synoptic Problem is 
something to avoid at all costs. It is thought to be both complex and 
irrelevant. Those who do study it are warned not to allow themselves to 
be dragged into a quagmire from which they may never emerge, and 
into which they might drag their unwitting students. But those who 
have devoted time to studying it find the image of a quagmire unsatis- 
factory, and a more appropriate one that of a maze. Mazes are indeed 
sometimes complex, but they present a challenge that encourages the 
excited adventurer to have some fun. And ultimately they promise, 
after some extensive exploration, that there is a way through. I think 
that I have found a way through this special maze, and I would like to 
take you with me. 

Though I hope to provide students with a fresh way into a topic that 
is often thought to be impenetrable, this book is written for anyone 
with an interest in entering, exploring and emerging from this maze. I 
have attempted to make it as accessible as possible by translating all 
the Greek and by being liberal with the use of examples, synopses and 
summaries, and providing a glossary at the end. This book also has an 
associated web site (at http://www.ntgateway.com/maze), which pro- 
vides extra work materials like coloured synopses, links to articles and 
other materials discussed in the book, and the chance to discuss this 
book and the issues raised. 

The problem will be taken step by step. We begin by looking at what 
the Synoptic Problem is and why it is worth studying it (Chapter 1), 
laying out the data as clearly as possible (Chapter 2). The case for the 
Priority of Mark's Gospel will then be made (Chapter 3) and its ramifi- 
cations explored (Chapter 4). The intriguing, popular 'Q' hypothesis 
will be introduced (Chapter 5) and the case against Q presented at the 
end (Chapter 6). 

Readers should be warned that the solution to the Synoptic Problem 
favoured here (the Farrer Theory) is partly orthodox and partly 



10 The Synoptic Problem 

unorthodox. It argues strongly that Mark's Gospel was the first to be 
written, but it also argues against the existence of the Q source. This 
unorthodox stance directly affects only the last third of the book (Chap- 
ters 5 and 6), but my hope is that everyone will read the whole book. 
There are plenty of introductions to the Synoptic Problem that take the 
standard view for granted, often failing to give an adequate airing to 
alternative viewpoints. Now, whether or not you are sympathetic to the 
Q-sceptical view contained here, at least the case against Q is laid out 
in a sympathetic and straightforward manner. 

Finding a way through the maze has been enjoyable for me not least 
because of my partners on the journey. Long before I began work on 
this book, my thinking on the Synoptic Problem was strongly influ- 
enced by three figures, without any of whom it could not have been 
written, Ed Sanders, Michael Goulder and John Muddiman. When I 
was an undergraduate in Oxford, Ed Sanders's lectures on the Synoptic 
Gospels were fascinating, and I blame him for generating an enthusi- 
asm in me for studying the Synoptics that gets ever stronger. He intro- 
duced us to the Synopsis of the Gospels and encouraged us to do lots of 
colouring, probably the ideal way to immerse oneself in the study of 
the Synoptics. (I'll be encouraging my readers to do this themselves in 
due course.) But I am also influenced, far more strongly than he is 
likely to realize, by my doctoral supervisor Jolin Muddiman of the Uni- 
versity of Oxford. And since I began working at the Department of 
Theology in the University of Birmingham in 1995 I have been lucky 
enough to spend time talking to and learning from Michael Goulder, 
who had retired from the Department of Continuing Studies the previ- 
ous year. My first book, Goulder and the Gospels, was all about his 
ideas. Although I continue to disagree with Michael over several ele- 
ments in the discussion of the Synoptic Problem, our agreement is much 
more fiandamental. On more than one occasion I have discovered that 
some great new idea I have had is actually one of Michael's ideas that 
I'd read once and since forgotten. 

The encouragement and intellectual stimulation I have received from 
others, John Ashton, Stephen Carlson, David Parker, Jeff Peterson, 
Chris Rowland and Barbara Shellard has also been invaluable. 

There are those too with whom I enjoy different yet complimentary 
journeys, my family and friends, and especially my wife Viola who has 
helped me to develop many of the insights that are key to my thinking, 
while at the same time providing me with a route to sanity and a means 



Preface 1 1 

by which I can be sure to keep my feet on the ground. And the fact that 
our daughters Emily and Lauren always provide the most enjoyable 
distraction from my academic work leaves me with no other choice but 
to dedicate this book to them. 



ABBREVIATIONS 



ABD 

DBI 

ETL 

JBL 
JSNTSup 

NTS 
SNTSMS 



David Noel Freedman (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary 

(New York: Doubleday, 1992) 

Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation 

Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses 

Journal of Biblical Literature 

Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supplement 

Series 

New Testament Studies 

Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 



Chapter 1 

ENTERING THE MAZE: 
STUDYING THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM 



1 . Harmonies and Synopses 

The traditional Nativity Play is a familiar part of Christmas — little girls 
dressed as angels with tinsel halos, shepherds with head-dresses made 
from tea-towels, kings with glittering crowns made of foil, the Virgin 
Mary dressed in blue holding a doll, and Joseph, in his dressing gown, 
looking on. What all such plays have in common is that they are 
harmonies of the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus. They take 
some details from Matthew and others from Luke. It is Matthew who 
stresses the role of Joseph and Luke who concentrates on Mary. It is 
Matthew who has the magi, Luke the shepherds and angels. Only Matt- 
hew has the star in the east; only Luke has the census and the manger. 
In the Nativity Plays, and for that matter on Christmas cards and advent 
calendars too, the distinction between Matthew's Gospel and Luke's is 
an irrelevance. There is one story of the birth of Jesus, and that story is 
produced by harmonizing the details of each account together. 

This is the popular way to read the Gospels. The interest is in the 
story of Jesus and not in the peculiarities of each of our four canonical 
Gospels. Most of the Jesus films adopt the same course — they har- 
monize the events recorded in the Gospels in the attempt to produce a 
coherent, dramatic narrative. King of Kings (1961), The Greatest Story 
Ever Told (1965), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Jesus of Nazareth 
(1977) and The Miracle Maker (2000) all, alike, carefully combine 
events and details from different Gospels in the service of their nar- 
rative. To take just one example, Jesus Christ Superstar features a 
scene in which Mary Magdalene, who is characterized as a prostitute, 
anoints Jesus not long before his death, and Judas complains about the 
cost. This draws together several elements from all four Gospels, an 
anonymous woman anointing Jesus in Mark 14 and Matthew 27; an 



14 



The Synoptic Problem 



anonymous 'sinner' woman anointing Jesus in Luke 7; a mention of 
'Mary, called Magdalene' just afterwards in Lk. 8.2; Mary of Bethany 
anointing Jesus in John 12; and Judas complaining about the cost in the 
same chapter. In watching the simple scene, one would hardly have 
guessed the extent to which the sources for its several strands are 
scattered in our canonical Gospels. 

This way of reading the Gospels is not simply a recent and popular 
development. It is the way in which they have been read for most of 
their history. It proceeds in part from an embarrassment that there 
should be four Gospels in the Bible and not one. If we are to think of 
'gospel truth' and the reliability of Scripture, there might seem to be a 
problem in the fact that the first four books in the New Testament 
announce themselves as the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, 
Luke and John. 

This was a problem that was keenly felt from the earliest times and 
the Church Fathers, from the second century onwards, often engaged in 
the attempt to 'apologize' for the difficulty. One such character was the 
apologist Tatian, who dealt with the difficulty at the end of the second 
century by composing a harmony of all four Gospels entitled the 
Diatessaron, in which details from all four Gospels were woven 
together with painstaking care. This was the first of many down the 
centuries. Indeed the heyday of such harmonies was probably the nine- 
teenth century, when bookshelves were awash with books that were, 
essentially, harmonies of the Gospel accounts presented as The Life of 
Jesus. Even Charles Dickens wrote a pious Life of our Lord. 

But since the late eighteenth century, the harmonies have had a very 
important rival. For in 1776, a German scholar, Johann Jakob Gries- 
bach, produced the first Synopsis of the Gospels.' A Synopsis is a book 
in which parallel accounts in the Gospels are placed side by side for the 
sake of comparison, like this: 



Matthew H. 2 


Mark]. 40 


Luke 5.12 


And behold, a leper 


And a leper 


. . .And behold, a man 
full of leprosy; and having 


having approached Jesus 


came to him. 


seen Jesus, 


worshipped him. 


beseeching him and 


he fell before his face. 


saying. 


bending his knee, saying. 


saying. 



1. J.J. Griesbach, Synopsis Evangeliorum Matlhaei, Marci et Lucae (Halle, 
1776). 



1 . Entering the Maze 1 5 



'Lord, if you will, you are 
able to cleanse me'. 



to him, 'If you will, you 
are able to cleanse me'. 



'Lord, if you will, you are 
able to cleanse me'. 



Now, far from harmonizing the discrepancies, the Synopsis actually 
draws attention to them. One can see at a glance here what is similar in 
Matthew, Mark and Luke and what is different. Whereas Matthew and 
Mark talk about 'a leper', Luke refers to 'a man full of leprosy'; 
whereas in Mark the leper 'beseeches' Jesus, 'bending his knee', in 
Matthew he 'worshipped him', and so on. 



Summary 

The popular tendency when reading the Gospels is to har- 
monize them. 

The Gospels have been read in this way since the second 
century. 

The Gospels can be read in Synopsis, that is, in such a way 
that different accounts can be compared and contrasted. 



2. The Synoptics and John 

Viewing the Gospels in Synopsis has had two key consequences. The 
first is the birth of the term 'Synoptic Gospels'. The first three Gospels, 
Matthew, Mark and Luke can be arranged in columns so that they 
might be 'viewed together' {syn = with; opsis = look at). The account 
of the healing of the Leper, quoted above, is not in John. Indeed John 
features few of the incidents shared by the other three Gospels, and 
when he does feature a parallel story, such as the Feeding of the Five 
Thousand (Jn 6), the wording varies so greatly that setting up columns 
is a very complex matter. 



Summary 

• Viewing material in Synopsis involves Matthew, Mark and 
Luke but not John. Matthew, Mark and Luke are therefore 
called ''Synoptic Gospels'. 



16 



The Synoptic Problem 



3. The Literary Relationship of the Synoptics 

The second, related consequence of the appearance of the Synopsis is 
the birth of the Synoptic Problem and it is no coincidence that J.J. 
Griesbach, the scholar who produced the first Synopsis, was also the 
first to provide a critical solution to the Synoptic Problem.- Before 
considering the solutions, however, let us look at the problem. The 
Synoptic Problem might be defined as the study of the similarities and 
differences of the Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain their 
literary relationship. 

It is a fundamental assumption of the study of the Synoptic Problem 
that the first three Gospels share some kind of literary relationship. In 
other words, there is some degree of dependence in some direction at a 
literary level. Occasionally a dissenting voice will sound, but, on the 
whole, this is a firm consensus in scholarship, and perhaps the last one 
in the subject — for after this, as we shall see, opinions begin to diverge. 
This consensus is based on the fact that there is substantial agreement 
between Matthew, Mark and Luke on matters of language and order. 
One sees the agreement in language in the example of the leper 
(above). Often the agreement is close, as in our next example.^ 



Matthew 9. 9 


Mark 2. 14 


Luke 5.27 


And having passed on 


And having passed on 


And 


from there, Jesus saw a 


he saw Levi son of 


he saw a tax-collector 


man 


Alphaeus 


named Levi 


seated in the tax-office, 


seated in the tax-office, 


seated in the tax-office, 


named Matthew, and he 


and he 


and he 


says to him, 'Follow me'. 


says to him. 'Follow me'. 


said to him, 'Follow me'. 


And 


And 


And having left everything 


having arisen, he 


having arisen, he 


and having arisen, he 


followed him. 


followed him. 


followed him. 



2. Commentatio qua Marci Evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commen- 
tariis decerptum esse monstratur (A demonstration that Mark was written after 
Matthew and Luke) (Jena, 1789-90), in Bernard Orchard and Thomas R.W. 
Longstaff (eds.), J.J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 103-35. 

3. The term 'says' in both Matthew and Mark here is known as 'the historic 
present', a device whereby the evangelists (especially Mark) write about past events 
in the present tense. I have preferred to keep the translation in the present tense in 
order that one can see differences between use of tense in the synoptics. 



1 . Entering the Maze 



17 



Some have argued that the closeness in agreement between the Synop- 
tics could be due to faithful recording of the committed-to-memory 
words of Jesus, but significantly, in cases like this, close agreement is 
not limited to the words of Jesus, and it will not do to argue on this 
basis that the Gospels are linked only orally. There is agreement in 
both narrative material and in sayings material. 

It is, nevertheless, worth noting just how close some of the agree- 
ment in records of speech is among the Gospels — and records not just 
of Jesus' words. This example comes from the preaching of John the 
Baptist, this time found only in Matthew and Luke, and so in two 
columns: 



Mt. 3.7-10 



Lk. 3. 7-9 



'Offspring of vipers! Who warned you 
to flee from the coming wrath? Bear 
fruit therefore worthy of repentance and 
do not presume to say in yourselves. 
"We have Abraham as father"; for I say 
to you that God is able from these stones 
to raise up children to Abraham. Already 
the axe is laid at the root of the trees; for 
every tree not producing good fruit is cut 
down and cast into the fire'. 



'Offspring of vipers! Who warned you 
to flee from the coming wrath? Bear 
fruit therefore worthy of repentance and 
do not begin to say in yourselves, 
"We have Abraham as father"; for I say 
to you that God is able from these stones 
to raise up children to Abraham. Already 
the axe is laid at the root of the trees; for 
every tree not producing good fruit is cut 
down and cast into the fire". 



The wording is virtually identical — only the word for 'presume' (Matt- 
hew) and 'begin' (Luke) differs. Nor is this an isolated instance. The 
reader who picks up the Synopsis will quickly find at random plenty of 
examples of close agreement between two or three of the synoptic par- 
allel accounts of given instances. 

The thesis that this agreement is due to some kind of literary depend- 
ence seems to be quickly confirmed by the matter of order. It is striking 
that Matthew, Mark and Luke all have substantial similarities in the 
way in which they structure their gospels. It is not just that they share 
the broad framework of events, John the Baptist — Baptism — Tempta- 
tion — Ministry in Galilee — journey to Jerusalem — crucifixion — resur- 
rection. What is noticeable is the extent to which incidents and sayings 
follow in parallel across two, or sometimes all three Synoptics. Some- 
times, these include events that are not in an obvious chronological, 



18 



The Synoptic Problem 



cause-and-effect relationship. The following sequence illustrates the 
point.'* 



Matthew 


Mark 


Luke 


Event 


16.13-20 


8.27-30 


9.18-21 


Peter's Confession 


16.21-23 


8.31-33 


9.22 


Prediction of the Passion 


16.24-28 


8.34-9.1 


9.23-27 


On Discipleship 


17.1-8 


9.2-8 


9.28-36 


Transfiguration 


17.9-13 


9.9-13 




Coming of Elijah 


17.14-20 


9.14-29 


9.37-43a 


Healing of an Epileptic 


17.22-23 


9.30-32 


9.43b-45 


Second Passion Prediction 


17.24-27 






Temple Tax 


18.1-5 


9.33-37 


9.46-48 


Dispute about Greatness 




9.38-41 


9.49-50 


Strange Exorcist 


18.6-9 


9.42-48 




On Offences 



This example, covering just over a chapter in Matthew and Mark, 
and a little less than a chapter in Luke, is typical. In incident after inci- 
dent, two or three of the Synoptics agree on order. There is variation, of 
course. Luke's account of the Rejection at Nazareth is earlier in his 
Gospel (4.16-30) than the parallel account in Mark (6.1 -6a) or Matthew 
(13.53-8). Matthew's version of the Healing of the Paralytic comes 
later on (9.1-8) than does that incident in Mark (2.1-12) or Luke (5.17- 
26). But the order of accounts, or pericopae, always converges again 
after a while. It is usually held that this state of affairs is simply too 
great either for coincidence or for an orally remembered record. The 
explanation has to be, on some level, a literary one. 

Some, no doubt, will feel that a firmly fixed oral tradition behind the 
Gospels could explain these data, claiming perhaps that the obsession 
with written texts is a modem preoccupation. Here, though, we need to 
notice that there are hints in all three Synoptic Gospels themselves that 
the connections between them are of a direct, literary kind. First, both 
Matthew and Mark agree with each other on the interesting narrator's 
aside in the apocalyptic discourse, 'Let the reader understand' (Mt. 
24.15//Mk 13.14, the same three words in Greek). This points clearly 
and self-consciously to texts that are read^ and to some kind literary 
relationship between these two Gospels. 



4. Where a space is left, this means that the incident is not in parallel here in 
the Gospel concerned. 

5. 1 do not think, however, that we should rule out the possibility, even 



1 . Entering the Maze 1 9 

Further, Luke's Gospel begins with a literary preface in which he 
mentions the 'narratives' of his predecessors, implying he sees his task 
'to write' a Gospel as being influenced by and critical of their attempts 
(Lk. 1.1-4). If there is one thing that seems clear, it is that there is some 
kind of literary relationship among the Synoptic Gospels. 



Summary 

Viewing material in Synopsis has given birth to the Synoptic 

Problem. 

The Synoptic Problem is the study of the similarities and 

differences of the Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain 

their literary relationship. 

The Synoptics feature some very close agreement in both 

wording and order. 

The scholarly consensus is that this suggests a literary 

relationship between them. 



4. The History of the Investigation 

This literary relationship is what constitutes the Synoptic Problem. As 
soon as one has noticed the similarities and the differences among the 
Synoptics, one is naturally eager to find an explanation. Why the 
varieties in agreement in language and order among them? Could any 
of the evangelists have known the work of one (or more) of the others? 
Are they dependent on older, now lost written sources? It is the attempt 
to answer these questions that has been meat and drink to Synoptic 
scholars for the last two hundred years or so. Indeed, it could be said 
that the history of the investigation of the Synoptic Problem is the 
history of proposed solutions to it. 

J.J. Griesbach, as we have already seen, not only produced the first 
Synopsis but also produced the first real solution to the Synoptic 



likelihood, that the Gospels were primarily designed to be read aloud to groups of 
people, in which case the reference here to 'the reader" is a direct address to the one 
reading aloud to the people, perhaps encouraging him or her to place special stress 
on this part of the text. The point about these being texts with a literary relationship 
of course remains even if these texts were read aloud. We are still talking about text 
to text relationship rather than about oral tradition to text relationship. 



20 



The Synoptic Problem 



Problem, the solution that bears his name^ and which has recently been 
revived, as we will see in more detail later on. It is not his theory, 
though, that has dominated the discipline. Rather, the history of the 
study of the Synoptic Problem is largely identical with the history of 
the emergence of what came to be the dominant hypothesis, the Two- 
Source Theory. 



a. The Two-Source Theory 

The Two-Source Theory has two facets: the Priority of Mark and the Q 
hypothesis. It solves the Synoptic Problem by postulating independent 
use of Mark's Gospel by both Matthew and Luke, who are also held to 
have had independent access to a now lost document that scholars call 
'Q'. Roughly speaking, Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark in 
all those passages where there is agreement between Matthew, Mark 
and Luke; and they are dependent on Q in all those passages where 
there is agreement between just Matthew and Luke. It is represented 
diagrammatically like this: 



Mark 




Fig. 1 . The Two-Source Theory 

The two facets of this theory, Markan Priority and Q, both emerged 
relatively early in the history of the discipline. That is, they were 
already well established by the beginning of the twentieth century. 
Although Markan Priority is really the older of the two, advocated 
already at the end of the eighteenth century, Q was well established by 
the end of the nineteenth century and often at this stage called 'Logia' 
(Sayings), in German Logienquelle (Sayings Source). Indeed the term 



6. See n. 2 above. But to complicate matters, it is now thought that the 'Gries- 
bach Theor>'' was actually conceived first by Henry Owen, Observations on the Four 
Gospels (London: T. Payne, 1 764). 



1 . Entering the Maze 21 

'Q' is thought to have originated as the first letter of the German word 
Quelle, meaning source.^ 

Right down to the present, this has remained the most popular way to 
solve the Synoptic Problem. It has been finely tuned, has been given 
many variations, and has been challenged fi-om many quarters, but this 
basic two-pronged hypothesis has remained fairly effectively intact. In 
Germany it is still very much what one might call 'critical orthodoxy'. 
Famously, in the mid 1960s, one biblical critic spoke about abandoning 
use of the term 'hypothesis' to describe it altogether. 'We can in fact 
regard it as an assured finding', he said.** 



Summary 

• The Two-Source Theory is the most popular way of solving 
the Synoptic Problem, especially among German scholars 

• According to the Two-Source Theory, Matthew and Luke 
independently used two sources, Mark and an hypothetical 
source called Q. 

b. The Farrer Theory 

The Two-Source Theory has had a rougher ride, though, in Great 
Britain and the United States. In Great Britain a steady challenge has 
been mounted over the last half century or so fi"om those who, while 
accepting Markan Priority, are doubtful about Q. For this group, Luke 
reads not only Mark but also Matthew: 



7. Those interested in pursuing the history of the investigation of the problem 
in more detail might find W.G. Kiimmel. Introduction to the New Testament (ET; 
London: SCM Press, 1966), pp. 37-42, a good starting-point. For the pre-history of 
the Synoptic Problem broadly conceived, see David L. Dungan, A History of the 
Synoptic Problem: The Canon, the Text, the Composition and the Interpretation of 
the Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1999). 

8. Willi Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament: An Approach to its 
Problems (ET; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968), p. 1 18. 



22 The Synoptic Problem 

Mark 




Luke 

Fig. 2. The Farrer Theory 

This movement began with the Oxford scholar Austin Farrer, whose 
seminal article 'On Dispensing with Q' appeared in 1955.^ Farrer 
claims that if it can be shown to be plausible that Luke knew Matthew 
as well as Mark, then the Q theory becomes superfluous to require- 
ments — one can 'dispense' with Q. But Farrer only wrote the one 
article on this topic. Michael Goulder, originally a pupil of Austin 
Farrer, has become the key advocate for this theory, devoting two 
books and many articles to arguing the case with vigour.'" Over the 
years, the theory has gathered a handful of prominent supporters. In 
Great Britain it is this thesis that has become the Two-Source Theory's 
greatest rival. 

c. The Griesbach Theory 

In the United States, the main contemporary challenger to the Two- 
Source Theory is currently the Griesbach Theory, already mentioned, 
which was revived by William Farmer in his book The Synoptic Prob- 
lem in 1964." This theory dispenses with both facets of the Two- 
Source Theory, not only Q but also Markan Priority. Mark therefore 
comes third and uses both Matthew, written first, and Luke, who read 
Matthew. It might be represented diagrammatically like this: 

9. Austin Fairer, 'On Dispensing With Q', in D.E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in 
the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R.H. Lighlfoot (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955), 
pp. 55-88 (reproduced on-line at Mark Goodacre led.], The Case Against Q: A 
Synoptic Problem Web Site, http://NTGateway.eom/Q). 

10. Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (London: SPCK, 
1974) and Luke: A New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 20; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic 
Press, 1989). For further bibliography on the Farrer Theory, see Goodacre, The 
Case Against Q (previous note). 

11. W.R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (Macon, GA: 
Mercer University Press, 2nd edn, 1 976). 



1 . Entering the Maze 23 

Matthew 




Mark 

Fig. 3. The Griesbach Theory 

A weighty and vocal minority continue to advocate this hypothesis 
with energy and application. 



Summary 

The two most important rivals to the Two-Source Theory are 

the Farrer Theory and the Griesbach Theory. 

The Farrer Theoty advocates Markan Priority but dispenses 

with Q by postulating Luke's knowledge of Matthew as well 

as Mark. 

The Griesbach Theoty advocates neither Markan Priority nor 

Q, but postulates Matthean Priority, Luke's use of Matthew 

and Mark's use of both. 



d. The Contemporary Situation 

It is worth stressing, though, that however vocal the minorities are that 
present these alternative hypotheses, these do nevertheless remain 
minority theories. Even in Great Britain and the United States, where 
the Synoptic Problem is still often openly discussed, the Two-Source 
Theory is accepted without question by the vast majority of scholars in 
the discipline. If one were to take off the shelf at random almost any 
contemporary book on the Gospels, that book is likely to assume the 
correctness of the Two-Source Theory. It is a matter that is simply 
taken for granted in much of the scholarship, a mind set that does not 
often get suspended, even for a moment. 

There is actually an interesting phenomenon in contemporary Gospel 
scholarship, a division between those who have written books and 
articles directly dealing with the Synoptic Problem and those who have 
not. Among those who might be called experts on the Synoptic 



24 The Synoptic Problem 

Problem, there is a variety of opinion — a good proportion believe in 
the Two-Source Theory but an equally high proportion question at least 
some aspect of it. On the other hand, among those who write books on 
the Gospels not dealing directly with the Synoptic Problem, there tends 
to be a kind of blithe confidence, almost a complacency over the cor- 
rectness of the Two-Source Theory. It is a interesting state of affairs. It 
will be exciting to see whether in this new century the dissenting 
voices will be stilled by the weight of an overwhelming consensus 
opinion, or whether the doubters' views will steadily impinge on, and 
gradually transform their opponents' determined stance. 



Summafy 

The vast majority of New Testament scholars accept the Two- 
Source Theory. 

Among experts on the Synoptic Problem, the Two-Source 
Theory is still controversial. 



5. Why Study the Synoptic Problem? 

The thought that this kind of question will continue to rage on for many 
years may of course fill some with horror. Surely, after all this time, a 
final solution ought to have been settled upon? Or, since a solution that 
satisfies everyone has not been found, it might be said that it is time to 
surrender the hope of achieving a complete consensus and to devote 
one's labour to more profitable enterprises. But the Synoptic Problem 
will not go away. It continues to exert a fascination and an importance 
like nothing else in biblical studies. One might say that there are, 
broadly, four reasons — historical, theological, cultural and literary — 
that make the study of the Synoptic Problem worthwhile. 

a. History 

One of the main reasons for the continued interest is undoubtedly the 
matter of historical enquiry. For most New Testament scholars, in spite 
of the rise of new, sometimes profitable ways of reading texts, histori- 
cal questions remain important and interesting. How historically accu- 
rate are our Gospels? Is one more reliable or authentic than any of the 
others? Is there any way of locating traditions within the Gospels that 



1 . Entering the Maze 



25 



may represent a more dependable strand than others? Questions like 
this, whether consciously or otherwise, have always been at the heart of 
study of the Synoptic Problem. 

Many have used the Synoptic Problem as a means to help in the 
quest of the historical Jesus. First one finds the most reliable sources 
and then one uses them to reconstruct Jesus' life. This has been particu- 
larly the case in relation to the Two-Source Theory. In much of the 
older scholarship, for example, Mark's Gospel was stressed as a valu- 
able, primitive historical source. More recently, in some American 
scholarship there has been a great stress on Q as the most primitive 
'lost gospel', reconstructions of which provide an especially valuable 
source of information on the historical Jesus. 

It does need to be noticed, though, that there are difficulties with this 
quest. Its basic assumption, that earliest is best, is open to challenge. A 
truer word may be spoken by one who long post-dates the events he or 
she is describing than by one who writes closer to those same events. 
Further, given the variety of opinion on the Synoptic Problem, one is 
really walking across a minefield if one relies on one particular theory, 
whether the Two-Source Theory or another, in reconstructing the life 
of the historical Jesus. Some recent studies on Jesus thus avoid com- 
mitting themselves on synoptic theories altogether. 

Nevertheless, doing historical study of the New Testament period is 
not simply a matter of looking at the historical Jesus. There are other 
historical questions that are interesting. The issue of whether or not 
Mark preceded Matthew is itself a fascinating question. Let us illustrate 
this with another example, an example that, incidentally, illustrates 
nicely the way in which different evangelists produce different infor- 
mation on the same character — all say that the man in this story is rich, 
Matthew alone says that he is young and Luke alone says that he is a 
ruler: 



Matthew 19.16-17 


Mark 10.17-18 


Luke 18.18-19 


And behold. 


And as he was setting out 


And 


one having 


on the way, one having 


a certain ruler 


approached him 


run and knelt before him 




said. "Teacher. 


asked him, "Goot/ teacher. 


asked him, ' Gooc^ teacher. 


what ^'ooJ shall I do in 


what shall I do in 


what having done 


order that I might have 


order that I might inherit 


shall I inherit 


eternal life?' And he 


eternal life? And Jesus 


eternal life?" And Jesus 


said to him, 'Why do 


said to him. 'Why do you 


said to him, 'Why do you 



26 



The Synoptic Problem 



you ask me concerning 
good? One there is who 
is good'. 



call me 

good? No-one is 

good except God alone' 



call me 

good? No-one is 

good except God alone' 



What is interesting is the position of the first 'good' in Matthew on 
the one hand and Mark and Luke on the other. Most believe that 
Matthew is using Mark here and that he is troubled by the implication 
of the question 'Why do you call me good?' Matthew therefore re- 
phrases (very slightly) in such a way as to change the question and 
avoid the difficult implication that Jesus might be admitting to not 
being wholly 'good'. Here, perhaps, we witness an interesting moment 
in the development of Christian doctrine, for in the change from the 
unembarrassed brashness of Mark to the more measured, reverential 
Matthew, we see perceptions of Jesus' identity subtly changing.'^ 

But then if one believes instead in Matthaean Priority, the matter is 
reversed — Mark (or Luke and then Mark) makes the earlier, reverential 
Matthew more 'gritty' and realistic. The move from one form of words 
to another, though perhaps more surprising, remains just as interesting. 
And there are many such striking differences between the Synoptics. 
Let us take another illustration: 



Matthew 8.25-26 


Mark 4.38-39 


Luke 8.24-25 


And the disciples, having 


And they 


And having 


approached him. 




approached him they 


awoke him saying, 


awake him and say to him. 


awoke him saying, 


'Lord, save! 


'Teacher, do you not care 


'Master Master, 


We are perishing!' 


that we are perishing?" 


we are perishing!' 


* Then, having got up, he 


And having awoken, he 


And having awoken, he 


rebuked the winds and 


rebuked the wind and said 


rebuked the wind and 


the sea. 


to the sea, 'Be silent! Be 


the raging of the water. 




muzzled!' And the wind 


And they 


and there was 


ceased, and there was 


ceased, and there was a 


a great calm'. 


a great calm. 


calm. 


*And he says to them. 


And he said to them. 


And he said to them. 


Why are you afraid. 


'Why are you so afraid? 




ye of little faith? ' 


Have you still no faith?* 


"Where is your faith?' 



12. For an excellent discussion of these issues, see Peter Head, Christology and 
the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Markan Priority (SNTSMS, 94; Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 



1 . Entering the Maze 27 

One cannot help noticing a contrast here between Mark on the one 
hand and Matthew and Luke on the other. Mark's Jesus shows no 
respect for the disciples: 'Have you still no faith?' And the disciples, 
apparently, show no respect for Jesus: 'Do you not care...?' In both 
Matthew and Luke there is more reverence. In Matthew they have 
'little faith', not none, and in Luke the question is, 'Where is your 
faith?', as if this is but a temporary lapse. Likewise, in neither Matthew 
nor Luke do they ask the insulting question, 'Do you not care. . .?' 

Again, then, one finds significant differences revealed as soon as 
parallel accounts are placed in Synopsis. It is seeing the accounts in 
parallel that focuses important issues. And one inevitably finds oneself 
asking interesting historical questions: Why are Matthew and Luke 
more reverential in their portrait of Jesus? Why does Mark apparently 
paint the disciples of Jesus in such a negative light? 





Summary 




• Scholars use the 


Synoptic Problem in 


an attempt to solve 


historical puzzles. 






• The Two-Source 


Theory is sometimes 


used to help in the 


quest of the historical Jesus. 




• The Synoptic Problem asks interesting 


historical questions 


about the Gospel 


s and their place in 


the development of 


Christianity. 







b. Theology 

Such questions are not, of course, only of historical interest, for clearly 
they have important theological dimensions. Indeed synoptic study, by 
accentuating the differences between the Gospels, can help to sharpen 
important theological questions. To follow on from the above 
examples, what does synoptic study tell us about shades of first-century 
Christology? What does it tell us about the way the disciples, some of 
whom became the leaders of the Church, were viewed? 

The way in which the Synoptic Problem can help to focus theologi- 
cal issues might be illustrated from a famous synoptic comparison. The 
institution of the Eucharist is found not only in the Synoptics but also 
in Paul (1 Cor. 1 1). This is an excerpt: 



28 



The Synoptic Problem 



Matthew 


Mark 14.25-24 


Luke 22.20 


/ Corinthians 


26.27-28 






11.25 


And after he had 


And after he had 


And likewise (he 


And likewise (he 


taken the cup and 


taken the cup and 


took) the cup after 


took) the cup after 


given thanks, he 


given thanks, he 


supper, 


supper. 


gave it to them 


gave it to them 






saying, 'Drink 


and they all drank 


saying. 


saying. 


from it, all. 


from it. And he 
said to them. 






For this is my 


'This is my 


'This cup is the 


'This cup is the 


blood of the 


blood of the 


new covenant in 


new covenant in 


covenant which is 


covenant which is 


my blood, which 


my blood. Do this, 


shed for many /or 


shed for many'. 


is shed for you'. 


as often as you 


the forgiveness of 






drink, in my 


sins'. 






memory". 



There is a complex web of interrelated material here, perhaps largely 
because we are dealing with a liturgical text, something that has been 
repeated over and over again, with variations, in different locations, 
from the thirties onwards. The comparison between the four accounts 
draws attention to several interesting theological points. Matthew alone 
has 'for the forgiveness of sins'. Luke and Paul alone have 'new cove- 
nant' and Paul alone here has 'in my memory'. It is the analysis of this 
kind of passage, and the attempt to explain both the similarities and the 
differences, that gives the study of the Synoptic Problem one of its 
great attractions. 

At the very least, one notices that there is not one unanimous picture 
of 'the Eucharist' or 'Christology' in early Christianity. The agree- 
ments and disagreements draw attention to the fact that there was a 
dialogue going on in the first century, a dialogue that spawned the 
controversies of future years, and which, more importantly, can help us 
to focus some of our own theological questions. 

Thus the use of the Synopsis is potentially a powerful tool for aiding 
proper theological reflection. The harmonizing of texts can be a damag- 
ing means of interweaving subtle personal agendas into the rephrasing 
of disparate elements — and robbing the texts of their vitality. What is 
exciting about studying texts in Synopsis is the matter of stressing the 
differences between them, and asking how one might react theologi- 
cally to them. 



1 . Entering the Maze 29 



Summary 

The Synoptic Problem draws attention to historical questions 
that in turn give rise to theological questions. 
The Synoptic Problem, by drawing attention to differences 
between parallel texts, can stimulate theological reflection. 



c. Cultural Factors 

The difficulty with such perspectives, however, is that they will appear 
somewhat old-fashioned to the reader interested in contemporary, post- 
modem ways of reading the Gospels. Recent years have seen the rise, 
for example, of reader-response criticism, which tends to place stress 
on the recipient of the text (the contemporary reader) rather than the 
originator of the text (the author). Does the Synoptic Problem have 
anything to offer to such readers? Or is it only for those still stuck in 
the antiquated enterprise of doing historical-critical work on the New 
Testament? 

The answer to this question is that as traditionally defined, the 
Synoptic Problem has very little to offer to those interested in contem- 
porary approaches. In other words, those writing on the Synoptic Prob- 
lem tend to focus on historical-critical questions. For them the goal is 
to provide a perfect solution to the problem of who wrote first, who 
copied from whom, and whether there are any lost documents. 

But this need not remain the status quo. Contemporary, culturally 
relevant study of the Synoptic Problem may take off in other directions, 
and it is may be that this is where the future of the discipline lies. It is 
worth noting, for example, that, in spite of the proliferation of narra- 
tive-critical, reader-response and literary-critical readings of each of 
our Gospels, at present there is little that attempts to apply such meth- 
ods to parallel texts in Synopsis. This is a weakness of the current 
scene, in which scholars have become so besotted with responding to 
texts in isolation from one another that they have forgotten that the texts 
have, and have always been perceived as having, an intimate interrela- 
tionship. 

Of course, at this stage it is difficult to know what study of the 
Synoptic Problem that is sympathetic to contemporary methodologies 
might look like. For those interested in the way that the Bible is used in 
culture one obvious starting point might be the realization with which 
we began this chapter, that the popular perception of the Gospels still 



30 The Synoptic Problem 

involves a tendency towards the harmonizing of different texts. The 
writing of harmonies of the Gospels did not, after all, die a death as 
soon as Griesbach produced the first Synopsis. On the contrary, one 
only needs a passing acquaintance with contemporary representations 
of 'the Jesus story' to notice that harmonizing is alive and well. In such 
circumstances, there is a wealth of research waiting to be done on the 
way in which Jesus films, for example, have combined and conflated 
synoptic (and Johannine) data, study that will no doubt prove not only 
to be generated by awareness of the Synoptic Problem, but which may 
also, in turn, shed fresh light on it. 

The application of newer approaches to the Synoptic Problem may 
be the best hope for its future, particularly if we are to avoid the 
endless repetition of some mistakes, going round in the same circles, 
investigating the same texts in the same way. This is a challenge for the 
new century, and we will return to the question in the Conclusion 
below. 



Summary 

Scholars of the Synoptic Problem rarely engage with new 
methods of reading the Gospels, like narrative-criticism. 
The application of contemporary critical methods to the 
Synoptic Problem is potentially exciting and challenging. 



d. The Literary Puzzle 

But if the historical dimension of the Synoptic Problem is what has 
exercised the minds of scholars for the last two hundred years, it is 
worth noting that this study is worth doing for its own sake, and needs 
no other reason than that it is enormously good fun. In other words, the 
Synoptic Problem is an intriguing phenomenon for study in its own 
right — and it is a form of study that needs no apology. For in the 
Synoptic Problem one has, without doubt, one of the most fascinating 
literary puzzles in world history. There are plenty of examples in litera- 
ture from all cultures of different accounts of similar events, of com- 
plex interweaving of sources and of uncertainties about origin and 
dependence. Indeed, there are good examples of these phenomena 
elsewhere in the Bible, as in the overlap in the Old Testament between 
Kings and Chronicles, or between Isaiah 36-39 and 2 Kings 18-20. 



1 . Entering the Maze 3 1 

Yet there is nothing to match the Synoptic Problem for the sheer con- 
tours, variations, depths and shape of the discipline. Those who think 
that they have mastered it regularly discover fresh complications. Those 
who believe that they can explain all the data then come across an 
argument that appears more plausible than their own. 



Summary 

Above all, the Synoptic Problem is interesting in its own right 
as a fascinating literary enigma. 



6. Summary and Conclusion 

At the end of each chapter in this book there is a summary in which all 
the most important elements in the discussion will be underlined. So 
far, we have discovered the following: 

(a) The popular way to read the Gospels has been to harmonize 
them with one another. However, for the last two hundred 
years. Gospel harmonies have been rivalled by Synopses of 
the Gospels, in which the Gospels are placed side by side for 
the purposes of careful comparison. 

• The Synopsis gives birth to the term Synoptic Gospels, 
Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is because there are 
extensive agreements between Matthew, Mark and 
Luke, but much less agreement between these Gospels 
and John. 

• The Synopsis also gives birth to the Synoptic Problem, 
an enterprise that studies the similarities and differ- 
ences among the Synoptic Gospels in a bid to find an 
explanation for their interrelationship. 

(b) The dominant solution to the Synoptic Problem is the Two- 
Source Theory, which supposes that Matthew and Luke both 
used Mark {the Priority of Mark), but that they also used an 
hypothetical source, 'Q '. 

• The two major alternatives are the Farrer Theory, 
which affirms Markan Priority but dispenses with Q, 
and the Grieshach Theory, which rejects both Markan 
Priority and Q. 



32 The Synoptic Problem 

(c) Several reasons might be given for engaging in the study of 
the Synoptic Problem: 

• Historical: solving the Synoptic Problem helps one to 
answer historical questions, questions about reliable 
sources of information on the historical Jesus and 
questions about the development of early Christianity. 

• Theological: examining the Synoptic Problem encour- 
ages theological reflection about the interaction 
between the Gospel texts. 

• Contemporary: although not currently popular, there 
are ways in which the Synoptic Problem might profita- 
bly interact with contemporary approaches to the New 
Testament, like narrative-criticism. 

• The Literary Puzzle: the Synoptic Problem is probably 
the most fascinating literary enigma of all time. 

Let us, then, having entered the maze, begin to explore it. Before 
doing this, though, readers should be warned. They should not be under 
any illusions. Study of the Synoptic Problem sometimes feels like 
walking through a maze that is in a constant state of change. Workers 
are busy constructing new walls even as one is finding the way through. 
But despite this, entering the maze is more than worthwhile. It is a 
challenging yet rewarding academic puzzle. And that this most fasci- 
nating of literary enigmas should happen to concern accounts of one of 
the most important historical figures ever to have lived gives the 
Synoptic Problem, to say the least, an addesd thrilling dimension. 



Chapter 2 
EXPLORING THE MAZE: THE DATA 

1 . Introduction 

Before looking any further at attempts to solve the Synoptic Problem, it 
is essential to be clear about the basic data. What kind of material does 
one find in the Synoptic Gospels? Is it easily classifiable? Is there a 
great deal of variety? Is it impossibly complex? The reader anxious 
over such questions will be glad to hear the good news that the 
majority of the material is easily classified into four major types, each 
of which is fairly self-explanatory. The types of material tend to be 
called Triple Tradition, Double Tradition, Special Matthew and Special 
Luke. There are some complications, and we will come to these in due 
course, but for the time being it is important to grasp that the vast 
majority of material in the Synoptics is easily classified into one of 
these four types. In a moment we will begin to take each kind of 
material in turn. But first, let me recommend a task to all newcomers to 
the Synoptic Problem, a task that will help familiarize you with the 
Synopsis, introducing you to the different kinds of agreement and 
disagreement among them. 

2. Task: Colouring the Synopsis 

In order to do this task, you need a Synopsis of the Gospels' and some 
coloured pencils or crayons. If you cannot get hold of a Synopsis 

1 . If you can read Greek there are essentially two choices for Synopses of the 
Gospels: Albert Huck. Synopsis of the First Three Gospels (fundamentally revised 
by Heinrich Greeven; Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 13th edn, 1981) — this 
is known as 'Huck-Greeven': or Kurt Aland. Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum 
(Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 15th edn, 1996. 1997). For those without 
Greek. I recommend either K. Aland (ed.). Synopsis of the Four Gospels (English; 
Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 1985) or Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr, Gospel 



34 The Synoptic Problem 

straight away, try photocopying some of the sample Synopses in this 
booic, or, if you have access to the Internet, you can print sample 
Synopses from there. Indeed, if you have access to the Internet, you 
will also be able to look at some samples of coloured Synopsis on this 
book's web site." 

Find a parallel passage, print or photocopy it and look at similarities 
and differences between Matthew, Mark and Luke. You might like to 
begin straight away on the passages we will be using as examples in 
this chapter. These are: 

Mt. 9.9//Mk 2.14//Lk. 5.27 (Levi) 

Mt. 3.7-1 0//Lk. 3.7-9 (John the Baptist's Preaching) 

Mt. 7.3-5//Lk. 6.41-43 (Log and Speck) 

Mt. 3.13-17//Mk 1.9-Il//Lk. 3.21-22 (Baptism) 

Mt. 14.34-36//Mk 6.53-56 (HeaHng at Gennesaret) 

Mk 12.41-44//Lk. 21.1-4 (Widow's Mite) 

Mt. 13.31-32//Mk4.30-32//Lk. 13.18-19 (Mustard Seed) 

Now begin colouring. Use one colour for words found only in 
Matthew, one colour for words found only in Mark and one colour for 
words found only in Luke. You should use one colour for words found 
in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, one colour for words found 
in Mark and Luke but not in Matthew, one colour for words found in 
Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, and one colour for words found in 
all three. 

Different individuals have different tastes and so use different 
schemes, but the one that I have found most usefial in several years of 
intensive Synopsis colouring is based on the three primary colours, one 
for each Synoptist, and the secondary colours that arise from com- 
bining them. I strongly recommend that you use this system in your 
colouring of the Synopsis, not least because I will illustrate how the 
different kinds of data appear in the rest of this chapter by drawing 
attention to these colours, but also because it is a system that anyone 
who has done any elementary mixing of paint will be familiar with: 

Matthew: blue 
Mark: red 
Luke: yellow 



Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 
1993). 

2. http://www.ntgateway.com/maze. 



2. Exploring The Maze 



35 



Matthew + Mark: purple [i.e. blue + red ] 
Matthew + Luke: green [i.e. blue + yellow ] 
Mark + Luke: orange [i.e. red + yellow ] 

Matthew + Mark + Luke: brown [ i.e. blue + red + yellow ] 

The look of your Synopsis will depend very much on which passage 
you have chosen to colour. And the spread of colours in each of the 
passages will help you to see the characteristics of each of the different 
kinds of material that we are now ready to discuss. So, having begun to 
familiarize ourselves with the Synopsis, let take a closer look at the 
different kinds of material we find there. 



3. Triple Tradition 

The first kind of synoptic material tends to be called Triple Tradition 
and we have already, in Chapter 1, seen several examples of it. It 
involves cases where a pericope is featured in all three Synoptics. 
Hence the Synopsis has at these points three columns — as above in the 
case of the Leper, the Call of Levi/Matthew (for which see also below), 
the Stilling of the Stonn and the Rich Young Ruler. 

There are many famous examples of Triple Tradition material and 
they include the following: 

Table 1 . Triple Tradition 



Matthew 


Mark 


Luke 


Event 


8.1-4 


1.40-45 


5.12-16 


Leper 


9.1-8 


2.1-12 


5.17-26 


Paralytic 


9.9-13 


2.13-17 


5.27-32 


Call of Levi/Matthew 


9.14-17 


2.18-22 


5.33-39 


Fasting, New Wine. Patches 


12.1-8 


2.23-28 


6.1-5 


Plucking Grain on the Sabbath 


12.9-14 


3.1-6 


6.6-11 


Man with Withered Hand 


10.1-4 


3.13-19 


6.12-16 


Choosing of the Twelve 


12.46-50 


3.31-35 


8.19-21 


Jesus* Mother and Brothers 


13.1-23 


4.1-20 


8.4-15 


Parable of the Sower 


8.23-27 


4.35-41 


8.22-25 


Calming of the Storm 


8.28-34 


5.1-20 


8.26-39 


Gerasene Demoniac 


9.18-26 


5.21-43 


8.40-56 


Jairus's Daughter and Woman 


14.13-21 


6.30-44 


9.10-17 


Feeding of Five Thousand 


16.13-20 


8.27-30 


9.18-21 


Peter's Confession 


17.1-8 


9.2-8 


9.28-36 


Transfiguration 


17.14-20 


9.14-29 


9.37-43 


Epileptic Boy 



36 



The Synoptic Problem 



Matthew 


Mark 


Luke 


Event 


19.13-15 


10.13-16 


18.15-17 


Little Children 


19.16-30 


10.17-31 


18.18-30 


Rich Young Ruler 


20.29-34 


10.46-52 


18.35-43 


Blind Bartimaeus 


21.1-9 


11.1-10 


19.28-38 


Triumphal Entry 


21-28 


11-16 


20-24 


Passion Narrative 



This is a large body of material. It contains a substantial amount of 
sayings material, including the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of 
the Wicked Husbandmen (Mt. 21.33-46//Mk 12.1-12//Lk. 20.9-19). It 
also contains much narrative material — it is especially rich in healing 
and miracle stories (Leper; Paralytic; Bartimaeus; Feeding of the Five 
Thousand; Stilling of the Storm, to mention just a few). 

Let us then remind ourselves of how this material appears in the 
Synopsis: 



Matthew 9.9 


Mark 2.14 


Luke 5.27 


And having passed on 


And having passed on 


And 


from there, Jesus saw a 


he saw 


he saw 


man 


Levi son of Alphaeus 


a tax-collector named 
Levi 


seated in the tax-office, 


seated in the tax-office, 


seated in the tax-office. 


named Matthew, 






and he says to him. 


and he says to him. 


and he said to him. 


'Follow me'. And 


'Follow me'. And 


'Follow me'. And having 


having 


having 


left everything and having 


arisen, he followed him. 


arisen, he followed him. 


arisen, he followed him. 



If you have not already done so, now is the time to colour this piece 
of Synopsis. This will help you to see the way in which the Synoptics 
agree and disagree. Most fundamentally, there is substantial agreement 
between all three (for example, 'seated in the tax-office'; 'Follow me'; 
'having arisen, he followed him'). If you are using the colouring 
scheme suggested earlier, these passages will be brown. It is also the 
case, however, that Matthew and Mark sometimes agree together 
against Luke (purple). They both begin 'And having passed on', but 
Luke does not. Similarly, they both have 'he says to him' but Luke has 
'he said'. Further, Mark and Luke agree together against Matthew on a 
key point of the story, naming the man Levi rather than Matthew 
(orange). Matthew and Luke also agree together against Mark, but less 



2. Exploring The Maze 



37 



obviously — ^they have 'named' and omit some of the same material 
('son of Alphaeus', etc.). 

This general phenomenon is a key feature of the Triple Tradition — 
Mark is the middle term among the Synoptics. There is substantial 
agreement between all three Synoptics, some agreement between 
Matthew and Mark against Luke, some agreement between Mark and 
Luke against Matthew, but less agreement between Matthew and Luke 
against Mark. When the Synopsis has been coloured, the pattern con- 
tains lots of brown, some purple, some orange but little green. The 
pattern therefore looks like this: 



MATTHEW 


MARK 


LUKE 


MATTHEW 


MARK 






MARK 


LUKE 



That is to say (to repeat) that we have agreements between Matthew, 
Mark and Luke, between Mark and Luke alone and between Matthew 
and Luke alone. If you have done your colouring, you will see in Triple 
Tradition fair amounts of brown, purple and orange, but much less 
green. It is Mark, then, that tends to be the common element, the 
'middle term'. 

This situation is true not just in the wording but also in the arrange- 
ment of material. Triple Tradition has broadly the same order across the 
three Synoptics, and this order tends to be identical with Mark's order. 
On occasions, Luke places an incident differently. Mt. 12.46-50//Mk 
3.31-35//Lk. 8.19-21 (Mother and Brothers), for example, is Triple 
Tradition material that occurs before the Parable of the Sower in 
Matthew and Mark, but a little while after it in Luke. On other occa- 
sions Matthew places an incident differently. The Healing of Jairus's 
Daughter and the Woman with the haemorrhage (Mt. 9.18-26//Mk 
5.21-43//Lk. 8.40-56), for example, is placed just after the Question 
about Fasting in Matthew (9.14-17), the parallel to which comes much 
earlier in both Mk (2. 1 8-22) and Luke (5.33-39). 



38 



The Synoptic Problem 



The striking thing about Triple Tradition is, however, that it is rare 
for both Matthew and Luke to place the same incident differently. One 
thus has the following pattern in the order of Triple Tradition: either 
Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree, or Matthew and Mark agree to- 
gether against Luke, or Mark and Luke agree together against Matthew. 
It is unusual to find Matthew and Luke agreeing together against Mark. 
In other words, Mark is also the middle term in the question of the 
order of Triple Tradition material, just as it was in the question of the 
wording of parallel pericopae. Again, this is the pattern: 



MATTHEW 


MARK 


LUKE 


MATTHEW 


MARK 






MARK 


LUKE 



A corollary of this is the most striking feature of Triple Tradition 
material, that if one were to isolate this material from all the rest, one 
would have something closely resembling a complete Gospel, and this 
Gospel would look similar to Mark. One finds John the Baptist, Jesus' 
Baptism and Temptation; the announcement of the kingdom and the 
call of the disciples (all Mk 1 with parallels in Mt. 3-4 and Lk. 3-4); a 
ministry in Galilee (Mk 1-9 with parallels in Matthew and Luke); a 
journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10-11 and parallels) and ministry in Jeru- 
salem (Mk 1 1-13 and parallels); followed by a Passion Narrative (Mk 
14-15 and parallels) and Resurrection account (Mk 16 and parallels). 
The same is not true of any of the other kinds of material that we will 
be isolating for comment below. This is therefore a feature that needs 
to be strongly noted. Every solution of the Synoptic Problem must take 
this feature of the material seriously. Indeed it is the Triple Tradition 
that is the necessary starting point in any investigation of the Synoptic 
Problem, and it will be the main subject of Chapter 3 below, on the 
theory of Markan Priority. 



2. Exploring The Maze 



39 



Summary 



three 



Triple Tradition pericopae are those found in all 
Synoptics. Here, the Synopsis will be in three columns. 
The order and wording of this material is similar across the 
three Synoptics. 

This means that there are substantial agreements in wording 
and order between Matthew, Mark and Luke, between Mark 
and Luke and between Mark and Matthew. There are only 
minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark. 
Mark is, in other words, the middle term. If the colouring 
scheme suggested above is followed, the Synopsis will feature 
a good deal of brown, some purple and some orange. There is 
usually relatively little green. 



4. Double Tradition 

The second kind of synoptic material is found in Matthew and Luke but 
not in Mark. It is called 'Double Tradition' or sometimes 'Q material', 
the latter term used without necessarily prejudicing the issue of the 
origin of the material. We have encountered this once already, above, 
when looking at the preaching of John the Baptist. The Synopsis here 
has two columns and, let us remind ourselves, looks like this: 



Matthew 3.7-10 



Luke 3. 7-9 



'Offspring of vipers! Who 
warned you to flee from the 
coming wrath? Bear fruit 
therefore worthy of repentance 
and do not presume to say in 
yourselves. "We have Abraham 
as father"; for I say to you that 
God is able from these stones to 
raise up children to Abraham. 
Already the axe is laid at the root 
of the trees; for every tree not 
producing good fruit is cut down 
and cast into the fire". 



'Offspring of vipers! Who 
warned you to flee from the 
coming wrath? Bear fruit 
therefore worthy of repentance 
and do not begin to say in 
yourselves. "We have Abraham 
as father"; for I say to you that 
God is able from these stones to 
raise up children to Abraham. 
Already the axe is laid at the root 
of the trees; for ever>' tree not 
producing good fruit is cut down 
and cast into the fire". 



Don't forget to photocopy or print out this passage and colour it. 



40 



The Synoptic Problem 



You will see a striking difference in your colours from the colours 
found in Triple Tradition passages above. Where there there was very 
little green, here we have the opposite — almost entirely green. This is a 
typical example of Double Tradition material. Like most of 'Q', it is 
not narrative but sayings. The Double Tradition overall is made up of 
somewhere between 200 and 250 verses of such sayings material, 
usually, of course, Jesus' own speech. Often the material is as close in 
agreement as the example here — there is nothing exceptional about 
close agreement. Take, for example, this excerpt from the Sermon on 
the Mount/Plain: 



Matthew 7.3-5 



Luke 6.41-43 



And why do you see the speck that is in 
your brother's eye, but the log which is in 
your eye you do not consider? Or how 
can you say to your brother, 

'Allow me to take out the speck from 
your eye', and behold 
the log in your eye! Hypocrites! First take 
the log out of your eye, and then you will 
be able to see to take out the speck from 
your brother's eye. 



And why do you see the speck that is in 
your brother's eye, but the log which is in 
your own eye you do not consider? How 
are you able to say to your brother, 
'Brother, 

allow me to take the speck that is in 
your eye', when you yourself do not see 
the log in your eye! Hypocrites! First take 
the log out of your eye. and then you will 
be able to see to take out the speck from 
your brother's eye. 



There are little variations between the accounts — Luke has a character- 
istic 'Brother...' and Matthew a characteristic 'behold', but overall the 
agreement is very close. Again, the colour most used here will be 
green. 

These are some of the most famous Double Tradition pericopae: 

Table 2. Double Tradition 



Matthew 


Luke 


Event 


5-7 


6.20-49 


Sermon on the Mount/Plain 


8.5-13 


7.1-10 


Centurion's Servant 


11.2-19 


7.18-35 


Messengers from John the Baptist 


11.20-24 


10.12-15 


Woes on the Cities of Galilee 


11.25-27 


10.21-22 


Jesus' Thanksgiving to the Father 


12.43-45 


11.24-26 


Return of the Evil Spirit 


13.33 


13.20-21 


Parable of the Leaven 


18.10-14 


15.3-7 


Parable of the Lost Sheep 



2. Exploring The Maze 



41 



Matthew 


Luke 


Event 


22.1-14 


14.15-24 


Parable of the Marriage Feast/Great Supper 


25.14-30 


19.11-27 


Parable of the Talents/Pounds 


23.1-36 


11.37-54 


Discourse Against Scribes (Law>'ers) and Pharisees 


23.37-39 


13.34-35 


Lament Over Jerusalem 


24.45-51 


12.39-46 


Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant 



Several features of interest are evident from a glance at this table. 
First, one will see tliat, althiough Double Tradition material is largely 
sayings material, there are apparent exceptions, the most obvious of 
which are the Centurion's Servant (or, more accurately, the Centurion's 
Boy — only Luke definitely identifies him as a servant) and the Mes- 
sengers from John the Baptist. Nevertheless, although they have a 
narrative setting, even these pericopae are mainly made up of sayings. 

Another matter of interest here is the range of agreement between 
Matthew and Luke. We saw above that often agreement is very close in 
the Double Tradition, illustrated by the examples of the Preaching of 
John the Baptist and the Log and the Speck. However, in the case of 
the Parable of the Talents/Pounds, or the Parable of the Marriage Feast/ 
Great Supper, the agreement is much more slight — indeed, one even 
has to give the parallel accounts different names in each Gospel. 

Further, one quickly notices a major difference between this material 
and the Triple Tradition. For, whereas in that material there is a sub- 
stantial similarity in the order of pericopae between the three Synop- 
tics, here there is major variation. While there are some similarities in 
order — such as the placing of the Centurion's Servant just after the 
Sermon on the Mount/Plain (with the Leper intervening in Mt. 8.1-4) — 
there are big differences too. The Parable of the Faithful and Wise 
Servant occurs roughly halfway through Luke's Gospel, in ch. 12, but 
it occurs towards the end of Matthew's, in ch. 24. Likewise, there are 
major differences over the positioning of the Lament over Jerusalem 
(Mt. 23.37-39//Lk. 13.34-35), the Discourse against the Scribes and the 
Pharisees (Mt. 23.1-36//Lk. 1 1.37-54) and the Parable of the Wedding 
Feast/Great Supper (Mt. 22.1-14//Lk. 14.15-24). Much, too, of the 
material found in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is located differ- 
ently in Luke — the passage on Care and Anxiety, for example ('Con- 
sider the lilies...') is in the middle of Matthew's Sermon (ch. 6) but 
much later on in Luke (12.22-34). Similarly, the Lord's Prayer, also in 
Matthew 6, is found at the beginning of Luke 1 1. 



42 The Synoptic Problem 

The phenomenon of order is, as I have already hinted, one of the key 
areas for the study of the Synoptic Problem. Whole books have been 
devoted to this topic alone. ^ Much of the discussion revolves around 
the matter of the Double Tradition and the fact that it seems to be 
placed so differently in Matthew and Luke. The problem becomes par- 
ticularly intense when one asks about the placement of the Double 
Tradition in relation to the placement of the Triple Tradition in 
Matthew and Luke. The relationship between the Triple Tradition and 
the Double Tradition is something that the Two-Source Theory in 
particular attempts to address directly — and we will look at this issue in 
more detail in due course. 



Summary 

Double Tradition pericopae are those found in Matthew and 

Luke alone. Here, the Synopsis will be in two columns. 

There are about 200 verses of Double Tradition, most of 

which is made up of sayings material, but some of which is 

narrative. 

The wording of this material is very similar in Matthew and 

Luke. If one has coloured the Synopsis, there will be lots of 

green in these passages. 

Although there are some similarities, overall the order of this 

material is different in Matthew and Luke. 



5. Special Matthew 

The third kind of synoptic material is even more obviously self- 
explanatory than is Triple Tradition or Double Tradition. 'Special 
Matthew', or 'M' material, is that which is unique to Matthew among 
the Gospels. Although this material is an important aspect of the 
Synoptic Problem, it is not, strictly speaking 'synoptic', for here there 
are of course no columns, and the Synopsis will revert to printing the 
text like that of a normal book. There is no need to colour these M 
passages, but if you do you will simply have lots of the colour blue. 

3. See the excellent study by David J. Neville, Arguments from Order in 
Synoptic Source Criticism: A History and Critique (New Gospel Studies, 7; Macon, 
GA: Mercer University Press, 1994). 



2. Exploring The Maze 



43 



Like all other strands of material, Special Matthew features some 
famous pericopae. This is a list of the most well-known: 

Table 3. Special Matthew (M) 



Matthew 


Event 


Mt. 1.1-17. though cfLk 


3.23-38 


Genealogy 


Ml. 1-2. though cf. Lk. 1- 


-2 


Birth Narratives 


Mt. 11.28-30 




'Come to me all those who labour..." 


Mt. 13.24-30. 36-43; but cf. Mk 


Parable of the Tares and its 


4.26-9 




Interpretation 


Mt. 13.44-46 




Parables of Hidden Treasure and the 
Pearl 


Mt. 13.47-50 




Parable of the Drag-net 


Mt. 17.24-27 




Coin in the Fish's Mouth 


Mt. 18.23-35 




Parable of the Unmerciful Servant 


Mt. 20.1-16 




Parable of the Labourers in the 
Vineyard 


Mt. 21.28-32 




Parable of the Two Sons 


Mt. 25.1-13; but cfLk. 1 


2.35-36 


Parable of the Ten Virgins 


Mt. 25.31-46 




Sheep and the Goats 


Mt. 27.3-10 




Death of Judas 


Mt. 27.62-66 




Guard at the Tomb 


Mt. 28.9-10 




Appearance to the Women 


Mt. 28.11-15 




Bribing of the Soldiers 


Mt. 28.16-20 




Great Commission 



It should perhaps be added that soine of the Sermon on the Mount 
(Mt. 5-7) constitutes M material, especially the first half of ch. 6. One 
should also note that it is often difficult to distinguish between what 
might be called M inaterial and what might be regarded simply as fuller 
versions of Triple Tradition pericopae. In the baptism of Jesus by John, 
for example, there are two verses of inaterial that appear only in 
Matthew (3.14-15) and not in the parallel accounts in Mark (1.9-11) 
and Luke (3.21-22). Here the Synopsis will look like this: 



Matthew 3.13- r 


Mark 1.9-11 


Luke 3.21-22 


Then 


And it came to pass in 


And it came to pass that 


Jesus came 


those days that Jesus came 


while all the people were 


from Galilee to the Jordan 


from Nazareth in Galilee 


being baptized, Jesus also 


to John to be baptized by 






him. But John prevented 







44 



The Synoptic Problem 



him, saying, 'I need to be 






baptized by you, and yet 






you come to me?" And 






Jesus answered him. 'Let 






it be so now; for thus it is 






fitting for us to fulfil all 






righteousness". Then he 






allowed him. 






And when Jesus 


And 




had been baptized. 


was baptized in the Jordan 


having been baptized was 




by John. And immediately. 


praying, and 


he arose immediately 


having arisen 




from the water; and 


from the water, he saw the 




behold, the heavens were 


heavens 


the heaven 


opened to him... 


torn apart. . . 


was opened... 



Two whole verses have no parallel in either Mark or Luke, so they 
are, in this sense, Special Matthew — they are unique to his Gospel. On 
the other hand, though, the verses only make sense in the narrative 
context provided by Triple Tradition material, that is, the surrounding 
verses that are paralleled in both Mark and Luke. Much of the special 
material is like this — unique to Matthew yet couched in a Triple 
Tradition narrative context — compare, for example, the following 
passages: 

Table 4. Special Matthew in Triple Tradition Contexts 



Matthew 


Event 


14.28-31 


Peter's attempt to walk on the water 


16.17-19 


Commendation of Peter 


2L14-16 


Healing and children's praise in the temple 


27.19 


Pilate's wife's dream 


27.52-53 


Graves opening at Jesus' death 



This feature is another one that needs to be taken into account in 
attempts to solve the Synoptic Problem. The kinds of questions that 
inevitably arise are: has Matthew added these verses to an already 
existing account in Mark (or Luke, or both), or have these verses been 
omitted from the account by Mark (or Luke, or both)? 

It is worth noting one or two characteristics of the special material. 
Like Double Tradition, it is rich in sayings material, especially par- 
ables. There is some narrative but it is usually said that it tends towards 



2. Exploring The Maze 



45 



a more blatantly 'legendary' character than the bulk of narrative mate- 
rial elsewhere in the Synoptics — the coin in the fish's mouth, for exam- 
ple, or the characters rising from the dead at Jesus' death in Jerusalem. 



Summary 

Special Matthew pericopae are those found only in Matthew. 
Some Special Matthew material is intimately connected with 
the Triple Tradition contexts in which it is embedded. 
Some Special Matthew material is said to have a 'legendary' 
character. 



6. Special Luke 

There is, then, a good amount of material unique to Matthew. There is 
a greater bulk of material, however, that is unique to Luke. This is 
known as Special Luke or 'L' material. The reader will be familiar with 
much of this material — it is a favourite with preachers and it is the 
mainstay of many a school assembly. These are the most prominent of 
its pericopae: 

Table 5. Special Luke (L) 



Luke 


Event 


l-2;butcf Mt. 1-2 


Birth Narratives 


2.41-52 




Jesus as a boy in the Temple 


3.23-38; but cfMt. 1.1-19 


Genealogy of Jesus 


7.11-17 




Raising of the Widow of Nain's Son 


8.1-3 




Ministering Women 


9.51-56 




Samaritan Villages 


10.17-20 




Return of the Seventy-Two 


10.29-37 




Parable of the Good Samaritan 


10.38-42 




Martha and Mary 


11.5-8 




Parable of the Friend at Midnight 


11.27-28 




Blessednessof Jesus" Mother 


12.13-21 




Parable of the Rich Fool 


13.1-5 




Tower of Si loam 


13.6-9 




Parable of the Fig Tree 


13.10-17 




Healing of the Bent Woman 


14.1-6 




Healing of the Man with Dropsy 



46 



The Synoptic Problem 



Luke 


Event 


14.7-14 


Invitations to Feasts and Dinners 


15.8-10 


Parable of the Lost Coin 


15.11-32 


Parable of the Prodigal Son 


16.19-31 


Parable of Dives and Lazarus 


17.7-10 


Parable of the Servant of All Work 


17.11-19 


Healing of Ten Lepers 


18.1-8 


Parable of the Unjust Judge 


18.9-14 


Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector 


19.1-10 


Zacchaeus 


22.35-38 


Two Swords 


23.6-12 


Trial before Herod 


24.13-35 


Road to Emmaus 


24.36-49 


Appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem 



L material shares one of the complications that was a feature of the 
M material — sometimes, though less often than in Matthew, it appears 
in a Triple Tradition narrative context, for example the discourse for 
'the daughters of Jerusalem' when Jesus is on the way to the cross (Lk. 
23.27-32), or the conversation with the two thieves when Jesus is on 
the cross (Lk. 23.40-43). 

L material has an extra complication shared hardly at all by M. It is 
sometimes difficult to judge whether one should ascribe a piece to L or 
whether one should call it a different version of Triple Tradition 
material. The key examples of this are in the following table: 

Table 6. L Material Similar to Matthew and Mark 



Luke 


Similarity 


Event 


4.16-30 


Similar to Mt. 13.53-58//Mk6.1-6a 


Rejection at Nazareth 


5.1-11 


Similar to Mt. 4. 1 8-22//Mk 1.16- 
20; John 21.1-11 


Call of the first disciples 


7.36-50 


Similar to Mt. 26.6-1 3//Mk 14.3-9; 
John 12.1-8 


Woman who anoints Jesus 



In each case the incident is placed differently from its (partial) parallel 
in Matthew and Mark and in each case the account is a much ftiller 
one. Further, on two of the occasions (Call, Anointing), there are inter- 
esting parallels too in the Gospel of John. 

It may not have escaped the reader's notice that much of Luke's 
special material is parable material, and that many of the most famous 



2. Exploring The Maze 47 

parables are here — the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Dives and 
Lazarus, the Pharisee and the Publican, the Unjust Judge, the Friend at 
Midnight, the Rich Fool. Furthermore, some of the non-parable mate- 
rial is equally as rich in its colour as are the parables — it is here that 
one finds some of the most three-dimensional, human touches in the 
Gospels — the Ten Lepers, where one returns thankful; the Widow of 
Nain, whose only son is brought to life; Martha and Mary, where Mary 
is commended for listening at Jesus' feet; and the Road to Emmaus, in 
which the two travellers recognize their travelling companion when he 
breaks bread with them. 



Summary 

Special Luke pericopae are those found only in Luke. 
Some Special Luke material is similar to pericopae in Mark. 
Special Luke contains many of the best-known materials in 
the Gospels (e.g. Road to Emmaus) and it is rich in parables 
(e.g. Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son). 



7. Summary and Complications 

It is important but straightforward to grasp the data set out thus far. 
Having opened a Synopsis, readers should ask themselves what kind of 
material is in front of them. Is it Triple Tradition? If so it will appear in 
three columns, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Is it Double Tradition? If so 
it will appear in two columns, Matthew and Luke. Is it Special 
Matthew? If so it will appear only in Matthew. Is it Special Luke? If so 
it will appear only in Luke. 

These kinds of material make up the great bulk of the Synoptic 
Gospels. Each pericope will, in some measure, fall into one of these 
four categories. And one will notice, on each occasion, that the Triple 
Tradition material seems to revolve largely around Mark, its 'middle 
term'; Double Tradition seems to be largely sayings material, often 
with near-verbatim agreement, and not so similar in its order as Triple 
Tradition; Special Matthew contains some (so-called) legendary ele- 
ments and Special Luke is full of great stories, especially parables. 

This much is straightforward and it is this that the student should be 
careful to grasp. When looking at those most simple kinds of material, 
Special Matthew and Special Luke, however, we saw that difficulties 



48 



The Synoptic Problem 



can arise in classifying material. Do certain verses, like Jesus' encoun- 
ter with John the Baptist in Mt. 3.14-15, fit more obviously in the 
category 'Special Matthew' or are they, rather, a special Matthaean ele- 
ment embedded in the midst of Triple Tradition? 

Further, do pericopae like Luke's Rejection at Nazareth (Lk. 4.16- 
30), the Call of the First Disciples (Lk. 5.1-1 1) and the Woman Who 
Anoints Jesus (Lk. 7.36-50) sit more easily in the L category or should 
they really to be regarded as distinctive Lukan versions of material that 
also occurs in Matthew and Mark? 

Thus we notice that there is some blurring across the categories. It is 
usually straightforward to classify a pericope into one type of material 
or the other, but sometimes the categories are shown not to be water- 
tight. In addition to the issues connected with M and L, the reader 
should be aware of a further two matters relating to Triple Tradition 
and Double Tradition. 



a. Not Quite Triple Tradition 

First, there is another kind of material that is not, strictly speaking. 
Triple Tradition but which is, nevertheless, very closely related to it. 
We saw above that a great deal of Mark is covered in the general cate- 
gory of Triple Tradition. This means, in other words, that much of 
Mark is paralleled in both Matthew and Luke. The fact that now needs 
to be added to this is that some of Mark is paralleled in Matthew but 
not in Luke and some (but less) of Mark is paralleled in Luke but not in 
Matthew. Let us take an example of each. This pericope occurs in 
Matthew and Mark but not in Luke: 



Matthew 14.34-36 



Mark 6.53-56 



And when they had crossed over, they 
came upon the land, to Gennesaret. 
And when the men of that place 
recognized him, 
they sent to the whole of that 
surrounding region, and they brought 
to him all those who were ill, 



and they 

exhorted him that they might only 
touch the fringe of his garment. And as 
many as touched were made well. 



And when they had crossed over, they 
came upon the land of Gennesaret and they 
moored. And when they got out of the 
boat, immediately, having recognised him, 
they ran about the whole of that 
region, and began to bring those 
who were ill, wherever they heard that he 
was. And wherever he came into villages 
or into cities or into the country, in the 
market places they laid the sick and 
exhorted him that even the fringe of his 
garment they might touch; and as many as 
touched it were made well. 



2. Exploring The Maze 



49 



When coloured this passage has a good deal of purple, in all the 
places where Matthew and Mark agree. 
This pericope occurs in Mark and Luke but not Matthew: 



Mark 12.41-44 


Luke 21.1-4 


And having sat down opposite the treasury, 


And having looked up, 


he watched how the crowd puts money into 


he saw the rich putting their gifts into 


the treasury; and many rich people were 


the treasury. 


putting in much. And one poor widow, 


And he saw a certain penniless widow. 


having approached, put in two copper coins. 


putting there two copper coins. 


which is a penny. And having called his 


and 


disciples to him. he said to them: 'Amen I 


he said: "Truly I 


say to you that this poor widow has put in 


say to you that this poor widow put in 


more than all who have put money into the 


more than all of them; 


treasury; for all put in 


for these all put into the gifts of God 


from their abundance, but she from 


from their abundance, but she from 


her lack 


her lack has 


put in all that she has. her whole life". 


put in all the life that she has'. 



When coloured this passage is largely orange — places where Mark and 
Luke agree. 

Material like this, though in two columns and not three, has its 
closest affinity with Triple Tradition and not, as one might have 
thought, with Double Tradition. This state of affairs is not as strange as 
it sounds. Double Tradition, as we saw above, is the technical tenn 
used to describe the body of material found in Matthew and Luke hut 
not in Mark — so these kind of pericopae, occurring in Matthew and 
Mark alone, or Mark and Luke alone, are nothing like it. It is much 
more like Triple Tradition, for Mark is the common element. In colour- 
ing terms, both have a 'red' component, Matthew//Mark (blue + red = 
purple) and Mark//Luke (red + yellow = orange). These passages have 
no green at all, the characteristic colour of the Double Tradition with 
its extensive agreement between Matthew and Luke. 

This is actually another aspect of Mark's status as the middle term 
between Matthew and Luke. Nearly all of the material in his Gospel is 
paralleled in Matthew or Luke or both. The tendency has therefore 
emerged to think of passages like these (in Matthew and Mark alone, or 
Mark and Luke alone) as close relatives of pure Triple Tradition pas- 
sages, especially as the order in these passages remains Mark's order. 

In Table 1 above (pp. 35-36), when looking for the first time at the 



50 The Synoptic Problem 

phenomenon of order, we saw a striking pattern across a sample stretch 
of the Synoptics — an unbroken Markan column in the middle (except 
for Matthew's M pericope, 17.24-27). This is a key aspect of what it 
means to say that Mark is the middle term in the Synoptics. Most of the 
passages in this sample section appear in all three Synoptics — these are 
pure Triple Tradition — and, what is more, they appear in the same 
order. Two of the passages (Coming of Elijah; On Offences) occur in 
Matthew and Mark but not Luke. One (Strange Exorcist) occurs in 
Mark and Luke but not Matthew, yet all three of these passages, the 
kind we are considering at present, appear in the Markan sequence. The 
common thread throughout is Mark. 

The same pattern is repeated regularly in the Synoptics. Some schol- 
ars have attempted to crystallize the phenomenon into a formula and to 
say that wherever Matthew departs from Mark's order, Luke keeps to 
it, and that wherever Luke departs from Mark's order, Matthew keeps 
to it. There has, however, been a great deal of debate about the use of 
such formulas. It is difficult to state them neutrally, that is, without 
assuming one of the solutions to the Synoptic Problem, especially Mar- 
kan Priority. Further, all too often they tend towards an unhelpful over- 
simplification of the data. The student may find it more straightforward, 
therefore, simply to continue to remember the rule that Mark tends to 
be the middle term among the Synoptics. 



Summary 

Some material appears in Matthew and Mark but not Luke; 
some material appears in Mark and Luke but not Matthew. In 
colouring terms, these are the passages that feature either lots 
of purple (Matthew//Mark) or lots of orange (Mark//Luke) and 
no green at all. 

This material has its closest affinity with the Triple Tradition, 
because it always appears in Markan order in Matthew and the 
Markan order in Luke. It is another element of Mark as the 
middle term. 



b. When Mark Is Not the Middle Term 

Unfortunately, however, there are several very important exceptions to 

the basic rule. On a handful of occasions, Mark is not so clearly the 



2. Exploring The Maze 



51 



middle term. As always, the best introduction to the data is illustration. 
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a classic example of a passage 
occurring in all three Synoptics in which Mark is not the middle term: 



Matthew 13.31-32 


Mark 4.30-32 


Luke 13.18-19 


He put another parable 


And he was 


Therefore he was 


before them, saying: 


saying. 


saying: 


^The 


'How shall we liken the 


'What is 


kingdom of heaven is 


kingdom of God, or in 


the kingdom of God like, 




what parable shall we put 


and to what shall 1 liken 


like a grain of 


it? Like a grain of 


it? It is like a grain of 


mustard seed, which a 


mustard .seed, which when 


mustard seed, which a 


person, having taken it. 




person, having taken it. 


sowed in his field: which. 


it is sown upon the earth 


put in his own garden and 


thouRh it is the smallest of 


is the smallest 




all the seeds. 


of all the seeds on the 




when 


earth and when it is sown. 




it has grown is the 


it grows and becomes the 


it grew 


greatest of the 


greatest of all the 




vegetables, and it 


vegetables, and it 


and it 


becomes a tree. 


produces great branches. 


became a tree. 


so that the birds of heaven 


so that the birds of heaven 


and the birds of heaven 


come and nest 


are able to nest 


nested 


in its branches". 


under its shade'. 


in its branches". 



Those who have done their colouring will notice a different pattern 
here from the pattern observed in the standard Triple Tradition pas- 
sages discussed above. Where there there were only very little amounts 
of green, representing the agreement between Matthew and Luke 
against Mark, here the surprising difference is that there is a great deal 
more green, representing some substantial agreement between Matthew 
and Luke against Mark. 

The surprise here is that Mark is not the middle term, or, in colouring 
terms, that there is not a monopoly on brown, purple and orange, the 
common colours for the passages in which Mark is middle term. There 
is some clear agreement between all three Synoptics ('like a grain of 
mustard seed'; 'the birds of heaven', brown), some agreement also 
between Matthew and Mark alone ('the smallest of all the seeds... the 
greatest of all the vegetables', purple) and some agreement between 
Mark and Luke alone ('How shall we liken the kingdom of God, or in 
what parable shall we put it?', orange), but what is striking is that there 



52 



The Synoptic Problem 



is also important agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark 
('which a person, having taken it... becomes/became a tree... 
branches', green). 

Also interesting is the placement of this pericope. Normally, as we 
saw above, this is the pattern: 



MATTHEW 


MARK 


LUKE 


MATTHEW 


MARK 






MARK 


LUKE 



Mark is usually the common element, which means that one tends 
not to find agreements in order between Matthew and Luke against 
Mark. Matters are different here, however, since both Matthew and 
Luke pair this parable with that of the Leaven (Mt. 13.33//Lk. 13.20- 
21 ), a parable that does not appear at all in Mark. 

Passages like this, then, Triple Tradition passages in which Mark is 
not the middle term, appear in all three Synoptics and they feature 
substantial agreement, either (or sometimes, both) in order and 
wording, between Matthew and Luke against Mark. Such passages are 
not very common and isolating them is not always straightforward, not 
least because the matter of agreement between Matthew and Luke 
against Mark is simply a question of degree. Every Triple Tradition 
passage features some agreement between Matthew and Luke against 
Mark. What the interpreter has to decide is whether to call the agree- 
ment major (as in the handful of passages currently under discussion) 
or minor (as in the majority of Triple Tradition passages). These are the 
passages in which scholars have taken the agreement to be major and 
not minor, and which therefore constitute examples of Triple Tradition 
passages in which Mark is not the middle term. 



2. Exploring The Maze 
Table 7. When Mark Is Not the Middle Term 



53 



Matthew 


Mark 


Luke 


Event 


3.11-12 


1.7-8 


3.15-17 


John the Baptist 


3.13-17 


1.9-11 


3.21-22 


Jesus' Baptism 


4.1-11 


1.12-13 


4.1-13 


Temptations 


12.22-37 


3.22-30 


11.14-23 


Beelzebub Controversy 


13.31-32 


4.30-32 


13.18-19 


Parable of the Mustard Seed 


10.1-15 


6.6b-13 


9.1-6; 10.1-12 


Mission of the Disciples 



Each of these pericopae features material common to all three 
Synoptics in addition to some substantial agreement between Matthew 
and Luke against Mark. In the case of the Temptations and the Mission 
of the Disciples, the greater bulk of the material is common only to 
Matthew and Luke. 

These passages in which Mark is not the middle term constitute the 
most difficult phenomenon in the Synoptic Problem. The complexity 
lies in the fact that this category so blatantly blurs the basic distinction 
between Triple Tradition and Double Tradition, thus more than any- 
thing else preventing the easy classification of everything into the con- 
venient, straightforward categories that would otherwise be possible. 
Furthennore, scholars are not agreed about the number of these pas- 
sages, and one's judgement is, as we shall see later, strongly influenced 
by one's own solution to the Synoptic Problem. 



Summary 

There are some Triple Tradition passages in which Mark is 
not the middle term. 

In other words, there are some passages occurring in all three 
Synoptics in which there are substantial agreements (not just 
minor agreements) between Matthew and Luke against Mark 
in wording and/or order. Such passages, when coloured, have 
much more green than is usual in Triple Tradition passages. 



8. Conclusion 

Let us conclude this preliminary exploration by outlining the different 
kinds of Synoptic material: 



54 The Synoptic Problem 

(a) Triple Tradition: pericopae found in all three Synoptics. The 
Synopsis is in three columns. The order of this material is 
similar across the three Synoptics. 

(b) Double Tradition: pericopae found in Matthew and Luke but 
not in Mark. The Synopsis has two columns. The order of this 
material tends to be different in Matthew and Luke. 

(c) Special Matthew: pericopae found in Matthew alone. 

(d) Special Luke: pericopae found in Luke alone. "^ 

Most of the material in the first three Gospels is easily classified into 
one of these four types. There are, however, some complications: 

(e) Special Matthew in Triple Tradition contexts: some material 
unique to Matthew is embedded in Triple Tradition material 
and would make no sense outside of that context. 

(f) Special Lukan versions of Triple Tradition: three pericopae 
(Rejection at Nazareth; Call of the First Disciples; Anointing) 
have partial parallels in Matthew and Mark and might be 
described as special Lukan versions of Triple Tradition 
material. 

(g) Not quite Triple Tradition: some pericopae feature in Matthew 
and Mark but not Luke and some (though fewer) in Mark and 
Luke but not Matthew. These pericopae are not, strictly speak- 
ing. Triple Tradition because they occur in only two Gospels, 
but they are akin to Triple Tradition because they always 
appear in the Markan order. 

(h) When Mark is not the Middle Term: there is some material that 
is halfway between Triple Tradition and Double Tradition. It 
appears in all three Synoptics but, unlike pure Triple Tradition, 
features substantial (rather than minor) agreement between 
Matthew and Luke. 

One of the threads that runs through this is, then, that Mark is often 
(but not always) the middle term. This can be represented like this: 



4. It should be added that there is no separate category 'Special Mark'. There is 
only a handful of verses that occur in Mark alone — chiefly 7.33-36 (Healing of a 
Deaf Mute); 8.22-26 (Blind Man of Bethsaida); and 14.51-52 (the young man 
fleeing naked). See further on these pericopae below, pp. 59-61 . 



2. Exploring The Maze 



55 



MATTHEW 


MARK 


LUKE 


MATTHEW 


MARK 






MARK 


LUKE 



This phenomenon involves the following: 

(a) In Triple Tradition passages, there are usually substantial 
agreements in wording between Matthew, Mark and Luke, 
between Matthew and Mark alone and between Mark and 
Luke alone. There are only minor agreements between Matt- 
hew and Luke against Mark. 

(b) The order of Triple Tradition passages and 'not quite Triple 
Tradition' passages is usually the same as Mark's order. Matt- 
hew and Luke less often agree together in order against Mark. 



Some stress, then, needs to be placed on Mark as the middle term if 
one is to understand the interrelationship of the Gospels. It is a striking 
phenomenon and it is this issue that provides the most useful starting 
point in attempting to solve the Synoptic Problem. Now that it is time, 
then, to turn from describing the data to accounting for it, let us look 
first at the most common way to account for Mark as the middle term: 
the theory that his was the first Gospel to be written and that it was 
used by both Matthew and Luke, the theory known as the Priority of 
Mark. 



Chapter 3 

markan priority 

1 . Introduction 

The estabUshed canonical order of the Gospels, as many a schoolchild 
knows, is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, an order that has been set in 
stone for a very long time. By happy chance, this order is most 
conducive to synoptic study, for, as we saw in our previous chapter, 
Mark is usually the 'middle term' among the Synoptics. Thus, where 
three columns need to be used, Mark appears in the middle and Matt- 
hew and Luke on either side, a situation that often facilitates useful 
comparison, helping one to see ways in which Mark manifests itself as 
'the middle term' among the Synoptics. 

Yet this convenient situation masks a more troubling state of affairs, 
for not only has Matthew long been the first in order among the 
Gospels, but also his Gospel has been regarded, for most of Christian 
history, as the earliest Gospel (two matters that are themselves related). 
This is in stark contrast to more recent history, in which the consensus 
of scholarly opinion has pronounced strongly in favour of the Priority 
of Mark. What is it about the internal evidence from the Synoptic 
Gospels that convinces the majority of scholars that the traditional 
opinion is wrong? In this chapter we will look carefully at the internal 
evidence, the Synoptic Gospels themselves, in an attempt to judge the 
plausibility of the case for Markan Priority. At the end of the chapter 
we will return briefly to the external evidence. 

The procedure will be as follows. Several arguments for Markan 
Priority will be explained and illustrated and some attempt will be 
made to point towards the strongest arguments. Before beginning, how- 
ever, two matters should be noted. First, this chapter does not aim to be 
exhaustive, but attempts rather to focus on the arguments that are either 
common, current or in some way compelling. The student looking for a 
way through the maze should find this approach congenial, for it avoids 



3. Markan Priority 57 

unnecessary paths that might tempt one away from the key issues. 
Second, it is important that students know their guide. This book is not 
a detective novel in which the mystery is solved only at the end of the 
book, with clues left along the way for the sharp-eyed reader to find. I 
will not, therefore, hide from the reader where I stand on this, the most 
important issue in Synoptic studies — strongly on the side of Markan 
Priority. 

2. Additions and Omissions 

When we are thinking about Markan Priority, there is one question that 
we need to ask ourselves again and again and it is this: Does the 
evidence make better sense on the assumption that Mark is writing first, 
and that his Gospel was used by Matthew and Luke, or does it make 
better sense on the assumption that he is writing third, and is dependent 
on Matthew and Luke? These are the two dominant alternatives in 
Gospel studies, Markan Priority or Markan Posteriority. 

One question that naturally arises is whether Mark's Gospel makes 
better sense on the assumption that its unique elements are matters that 
Mark has added to Matthew and Luke (Markan Posteriority) or whether 
its unique elements are matters that Matthew and Luke have each 
omitted from Mark (Markan Priority). Equally, is the material that is 
absent from Mark better explained as material that Mark has omitted 
from Matthew and Luke (Markan Posteriority) or as material that Matt- 
hew and Luke have added to Mark (Markan Priority)? 

The matter is not an easy one to settle, particularly as one's answers 
will inevitably be determined by one's perspective on other, prior 
issues. It often used to be assumed, for example, that the evangelists 
would have omitted very little of substance from their sources. If they 
did not include a given pericope or a particular chunk of material, it is 
because they did not know about it. Mark could not have known about 
the Birth Narratives (Mt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2) or the Sermon on the Mount 
(Mt. 5-7) or he would have included them. Indeed this was one of the 
major presuppositions behind the acceptance of Markan Priority, one 
that still sometimes makes its presence felt today. 

However, in recent years scholars have been more confident about 
appealing to the creativity of the evangelists, and those with sharp 
minds can often think of all sorts of reasons that an evangelist may 
have omitted this or added that. Perhaps, for example, Mark omitted 
the Sermon on the Mount because it is not consonant with his fast- 



58 The Synoptic Problem 

moving, dramatic narrative, its focus on Jesus as a New Moses hardly 
congenial to Mark's Jesus, who sits so much more lightly towards the 
Law. Perhaps he omitted the Birth Narratives because he saw them as 
similarly surplus to requirements. 

Yet a closer, less superficial look at the question of supposed Markan 
omissions and additions may be more revealing, and may indeed point 
towards Markan Priority. It will be worth paying special attention, in 
particular, to the key issue of the relationship between the supposed 
additions and omissions, asking ourselves whether a coherent picture 
of Mark the redactor emerges on the assumption that Mark wrote third, 
using Matthew and Mark as his sources. There are several ways in 
which Markan Priority explains this data better than does Markan 
Posteriority. Let us take them in turn. 

a. Apparent Omission of Congenial Material 

If Mark wrote third, using both Matthew and Luke, one will want to 
know why it is that he omitted so much material from his predecessors. 
For while there is much material that is common to the three Synoptics 
(Triple Tradition), there is also a substantial body of material that is in 
Matthew and Luke alone (Double Tradition). Since the rationale for the 
writing of Mark has sometimes been stated, by those who think that he 
wrote third, as being the retaining of concurrent testimony in Matthew 
and Luke, the question of the omission of Double Tradition material 
becomes all the more striking. Or, to put it another way, why, on the 
assumption that Mark wrote third, is there any Double Tradition at all? 

Of course the natural answer to this question would be that the 
Double Tradition pericopae must have been material that was in some 
way uncongenial to Mark. Our question will therefore be to ask 
whether the Double Tradition indeed has the character of material that 
looks uncongenial to the author of Mark's Gospel. Is it defined, on the 
whole, by 'un-Markan' elements? 

It has to be said that the Double Tradition does not obviously have a 
clearly un-Markan profile. Indeed, there are places in Mark where the 
insertion of double-tradition might have been highly conducive to his 
purposes, both literary and theological. Of the several examples that 
could be given, the clearest is the apparent omission, if one thinks that 
he knew Matthew and Luke, of the Lord's Prayer. For in Mk 1 1.20-25, 
after the fig tree has been withered, there are some Jesus sayings about 
prayer, including the following: 



3. Markan Priority 59 

'So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have 
received it, and it will be yours. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if 
you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may 
also forgive you your trespasses'. 

This might have been an ideal location for Mark, to have inserted a 
version of the Lord's Prayer. The general theme, even some of the 
specific language is paralleled in Mt. 6.6-13//Lk. 11.2-4. What Mark 
has done, on the assumption that he knows Matthew, is to take the 
explanatory words ('if you forgive others...') from Mt. 6.14-15 without 
taking over the prayer beforehand. In other words, this data does not 
make good sense on the assumption of Markan Posteriority. 



Summary 

• Currently the two most popular ways to explain the fact 
that Mark is usually 'the middle term' are Markan Priority 
(Matthew's and Luke's use of Mark) or Markan Posteriority 
(Mark's use of Matthew and Luke). One has to ask whether 
the evidence makes best sense on the assumption of Markan 
Priority or Markan Posteriority. 

• Some of the material not in Mark makes better sense on the 
assumption that it has been added by Matthew and/or Luke 
than on the assumption that it has been omitted by Mark. 

b. Apparent Addition of Elements Not Congenial to Matthew and Luke 
There is little material that is present in Mark but absent in both 
Matthew and Luke. This is in stark contrast to the substantial amount 
of material unique to Matthew and the even greater amount of material 
unique to Luke (see previous chapter). This state of affairs makes the 
handful of verses that Mark shares with neither of the other Synoptics 
all the more interesting. The main examples are the following: 

Mk 7.33-36: Healing of a Deaf Mute 
Mk 8.22-26: Blind Man of Bethsaida 
Mk 14.51-52: Man Running Away Naked 

The question that we inevitably find ourselves asking is whether it 
seems more likely that these are passages that have been omitted by 
Matthew and Luke (Markan Priority) or whether these are passages that 
have been added by Mark to Matthew and Luke (Markan Posteriority). 



60 The Synoptic Problem 

It has to be said that Markan Priority seems more Hkely. The healing of 
the Deaf Mute features some rather graphic details of Jesus' healing 
techniques: 

He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers 
into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to 
heaven he sighed and said to him 'Ephphatha", that is, 'Be opened" (Mk 

7.33-34). 

Similarly, the Blind Man of Bethsaida is a somewhat bizarre story: 

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind 
man. and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the 
hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spat on his eyes 
and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And 
he looked up and said, 'I see men; but they look like trees, walking'. 
Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and 
was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his 
home, saying, 'Do not even enter the village' (Mk 8.22-26). 

As in the healing of the Deaf Mute, Jesus' healing technique 
involves the use of saliva. Mark's Jesus here contrasts somewhat with 
both Matthew's and Luke's Jesus. Nowhere in Matthew or Luke do we 
find healings of this type, using physical agents like saliva. It may well 
be that they both had distaste for this kind of depiction of Jesus. But we 
have other features too that are more straightforwardly explained on 
Markan Priority than they are on Markan Posteriority. Notice the 
element of secrecy involved in both healings. 'Do not even enter the 
village', Jesus tells the healed blind man, just as he had told the healed 
deaf-mute 'to tell no-one' (Mk 8.36). These elements of secrecy are 
much more scarce in Matthew and Luke than they are in Mark. 

Furthermore, this story might seem to place some kind of limit on 
Jesus' ability — the healing is not instantaneous but takes time. This is 
not the only time that Jesus' power appears to be limited in Mark's 
Gospel. Similarly, in 6.5, after the incident at the synagogue in his 
home country, we read 'And he could do no mighty work there, except 
that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them', a pas- 
sage that reads differently in Mt. 13.58 where Jesus 'did not do many 
deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. The Markan Jesus is a 
more human Jesus, a more earthly and realistic Jesus, and it is reason- 
able to imagine Matthew (and Luke) amending and omitting what was 
before them. And Christian history has, on the whole, been much more 
strongly influenced by their picture of Jesus than by Mark's. 



3. Markan Priority 61 

Could Mark have added this material to Matthew and Luke? Of 
course he could. Perhaps he was eager to correct the more reverential 
picture of Matthew and Luke, thus in a sense 'reprimitivizing' the 
tradition. The question, however, is whether this view, on which Mark 
adds only a small number of archaizing traditions at the expense of 
much congenial material in Matthew and Luke, is more plausible than 
the alternative possibility, that these incidents are ones omitted by 
Matthew and Luke in accordance with their general redactional poli- 
cies. Most would feel that Markan Priority makes better sense of the 
data than does Markan Posteriority. 

It might added that in this category, as in several of the others, we 
consistently run into difficulties over the question of Mark's profile. 
For if Mark's purpose is to include in his Gospel those stories to which 
his predecessors bear concurrent testimony, then we find ourselves 
asking what it is about these stories, the Blind Man of Bethsaida and 
the Deaf Mute, that is so important that they beg to be added. If, on the 
other hand, Mark is eager to add material that he considers of interest, 
without concern over the united testimony of his predecessors, why 
does so little else make it into the Gospel? Is it that Mark did not know 
of any other useful stories? 



Summary 

The material unique to Mark makes better sense as material 
omitted by Matthew and Luke than it does as material added 
by Mark. 



c. The Place of Oral Tradition 

This problem is illustrated and so compounded fijrther by questions 
over the place of oral tradition in Christian origins. On the assumption 
that Matthew is writing first, there appears to be a wealth of material 
available to him. Similarly for Luke, on the assumption that he has 
used only Matthew, there appears to be a large amount of additional 
tradition available. Then, however, when Mark writes, as we have seen, 
there seems to be a striking lack of additional material available to the 
author. All he adds is a small handful of stories, none of which is 
particularly striking. And he adds virtually no fresh sayings material at 
all. Those who believe that Mark came third therefore have to make 



62 The Synoptic Problem 

sense of a situation in which Mark stands out from much of early 
Christianity. For after Mark, in the early second century, Papias reports 
that he prefers what he calls 'the living voice' to the written word.' 
And the recent discovery (in 1945) of the Gospel of Thomas,- which 
features a good deal of material independent of the Synoptics and 
apparently gleaned from oral tradition would seem to confirm further 
that oral tradition did not die a death somewhere in the late first 
century. Why does Mark apparently rely on this oral tradition so little? 
Were the stories of the Blind Man of Bethsaida and the Deaf Mute the 
best he could manage? 

This troubling situation is intensified by a striking feature of Mark's 
style. For of all the (canonical) Gospels, Mark's is the most blatantly 
colloquial, the most 'oral' in nature. His Gospel often sounds like it is 
directly dependent on oral traditions, with its lively pace {and immedi- 
ately...), its present tenses {and Jesus says...), its love of visual detail 
('the green grass', Mk 6.39; 'he was in the stem, asleep on the 
cushion', 4.38) and its abrupt ending (16.8). It is perhaps for these 
reasons, as well as for reasons of length, that Mark has been the Gospel 
that has lent itself most readily in modem times to oral performance. In 
other words, it would be odd if the most 'oral' of the Synoptic Gospels 
tumed out also to be the third Gospel, dependent almost entirely (save 
for a handfiil of verses) on two much more literary predecessors, both 
of whom, like those who also came later, apparently had rich access to 
oral traditions of Jesus' actions and sayings. 

Summary 

• If Mark has only added the material that is unique to him, then 
his Gospel becomes an anomaly in early Christianity, with 
relatively little contact with oral tradition in comparison with 
Matthew, Luke, Thomas and others. 



1. Papias is quoted by the fourth century Church historian Eusebius, 
Ecclesiastical History 3.39. 1 -7, 14-17. 

2. Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas probably dating to the early third 
century were found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in 1897. A complete copy of the same 
Gospel in Coptic, dating from the fourth century, was found at Nag Hammadi, 
Egypt, in 1945. The Gospel is a collection of Jesus' sayings and it originated some- 
where between the late first and mid second century. 



3. Markan Priority 



63 



d. The Relationship between Omissions and Additions 
The question of Mark's alleged omissions and additions can be most 
clearly focused by asking about the relationship between them. Does a 
consistent or coherent picture of Mark the redactor emerge when we 
consider his Gospel from the perspective of the Griesbach Theory, in 
which Mark utilizes Matthew and Luke? 

As we have seen, Mark, on this theory, apparently adds material that 
would have been in any case uncongenial to Matthew and Luke (Blind 
Man of Bethsaida, etc.), material that seems an odd selection from what, 
one presumes, would have been available to him from his oral tradition. 
These few additions are balanced by the omission of congenial material 
like the Lord's Prayer, for which Mark has an obvious context into 
which it might have been slotted. The picture that is emerging does not 
seem to favour the posteriority of Mark. But this negative judgment is 
compounded still further by noticing that on the Griesbach Theory, 
Mark's tendencies pull very much in opposite directions. 

If Mark is the third evangelist to write and not the first, then we need 
to find a way of making sense of two features of his Gospel. First, he 
has a tendency, on occasions, to add clarificatory material to his 
sources in Matthew and Luke, as here for example: 



Matthew 9.10 


Mark 2. 1 5 


Luke 5.29 


And as he sat at table in 


And as he sat at table in 


And Levi made him a 


the house, behold. 


his house. 


great feast in his house; 


many 


many 


and there was a large 


tax collectors 


tax collectors 


company of tax collectors 


and sinners came and sat 


and sinners were sitting 


and others sitting at table 


down with Jesus and his 


with Jesus and his 


with them. 


disciples. 


disciples; /f)/- there were 
many who followed him. 





Mark often adds little explanatory clauses like this. At 11.13, for 
example, the narrator says, 'When he came to it, he found nothing but 
leaves, ybr it was not the season for figs'. At 16.4 we hear, 'And 
looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back, for it was very 
large\ And right at the beginning of the Gospel Mark explains that 
Jesus 'saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea for 
they were fishermen'' (1.16).^ 



3. The \for...' clauses do not occur in Matthew's parallels to Mk 11.13 (in 



64 



The Synoptic Problem 



The adding of these somewhat redundant clarificatory clauses would 
appear to bear witness to an evangelist who is eager to spell out things 
very carefully for the reader. This looks like someone who, on the 
assumption of the Griesbach Theory, is editing Matthew and Luke to 
draw out what often appears to be transparently obvious. It is striking, 
therefore, that elsewhere Mark — again on the assumption of his use of 
Matthew and Luke — appears to be doing precisely the opposite thing, 
and making his sources more enigmatic, more darkly ironic, especially 
in the Passion Narrative. 

One thinks, for example, of the following passage, in which there is 
a subtlety about Mark's account that is lacking in Matthew and Luke: 



Matthew 26.67-68 


Mark 14.65 


Luke 22.64 


Then they spat 


And some began to spit 


Now the men who were 


into his 


on him, and to cover his 


holding Jesus mocked him 


face, and struck him; and 


face, and to strike him. 


and beat him; they also 


some slapped him, saying, 


saying to him, 


blindfolded him and asked 


"Prophesy to us, you 


'Prophesy!' 


him, 'Prophesy! 


Christ! Who is it that 




Who is it that 


struck you? ' 


And the guards 
received him with blows. 


struck you? 



Mark's account here has a wonderful, dark dramatic irony, an irony 
that we can only perceive when we view this passage in context. 
People are spitting on Jesus, striking him and saying 'Prophesy!', little 
realizing that they are in the act of fulfilling Jesus' own prophecy of 
10.34, 'they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill 
him'. Likewise, as this action is going on, Peter is in the act of fulfilling 
the prophecy of 14.30 ('this day, this very night, before the cock crows 
twice you will deny me three times'). 

In Matthew and Luke there is none of this irony, and the mocking 
charge to 'Prophesy!' is explicated by means of a clarificatory question, 
'Who is it who smote you?' (Mt. 26.68; Lk. 22.64), the 'prophesying' 
relating now purely to the issue of second sight. This makes good sense 
on the assumption of Markan Priority but less sense on the Griesbach 
Theory, for which Mark avoids the concurrent testimony of Matthew 
and Luke and subtly creates a more darkly ironic scene. The latter is of 



Mt. 21.19) and Mk 16.4 (in Mt. 28.4), but it is present in Matthew's parallel to Mk 
1.16 (in Mt. 4.18). 



3 . Markan Priority 65 

course possible, but it is at variance with the view of Marie that we pick 
up elsewhere from his addition of somewhat banal clarificatory ele- 
ments. There is an interesting, apparently inconsistent combination of 
subtlety in omission and editing with the more banal and redundant 
kind of clarificatory addition. 

The difficulty, in short, for the Griesbach Theory in dealing with 
Mark's alleged omissions and additions is that so many contrasting 
features of Mark are placed into such very sharp relief. Mark is a fasci- 
nating Gospel, in some ways mysterious, in other ways banal, often 
prosaic, frequently profound. Is it more likely that this is a work of 
brutish genius, the first attempt to write a 'gospel of Jesus Christ' (1.1) 
by imposing a narrative on disparate traditional materials, or is this the 
complex product of contradictory elements in a redactional procedure, 
utilizing Matthew and Luke, that is rarely easy to fathom? Often, on the 
theory that Mark wrote third, there seems to be a deliberate rejection of 
the concurrent testimony of Matthew and Luke that on the Griesbach 
Theory he is supposed to value, in order simply to add almost redun- 
dant clarificatory clauses, something that appears to be contradicted by 
his very careful and subtle work elsewhere. In this category, Markan 
Priority is the preferable option. 



Summary 

If one assumes Markan Posteriority, the relationship between 
the supposed omissions and additions does not make for a 
coherent picture of Markan redaction. The addition of banal 
clarificatory additions is not consonant with the generally enig- 
matic, ironic tone of Mark's Gospel. It is more likely that 
Mark was the first Gospel to be written, a work of brutish 
genius, which was subsequently explicated by both Matthew 
and Luke. 



3. Harder Readings 

If the evidence from supposed additions and omissions therefore tends 
to point in the direction of Markan Priority, is this tendency supported 
in other ways? When Mark parallels material in Matthew and/or Luke, 
for example, who among the three has what one might call the 'harder' 



66 



The Synoptic Problem 



reading? This will be a case, once more, of the individual reader's 
judgment, and of asking whether Mark looks more like the document 
from which Matthew and Luke worked, or more like a document based 
on Matthew and Luke. 

In this category, most scholars have concluded that Mark often has 
the more difficult reading, the kind of text that was more difficult for 
later Christians to accept, and so more likely to have been corrected by 
others than to have been a correction of others. As always, it is easier to 
see the point when it is illustrated. Let us look then at a handful of 
examples of Triple Tradition (or 'not quite Triple Tradition' passages) 
that make the point clearly. 



Matthew 8.16-17 


Mark 1.32-34 


Luke 4.40-41 


That evening 


That evening. 


Now when the sun was 




at sundown. 


setting. 


they brought to him many 


they brought to him all 


all those who had any that 


who were 


who were sick or 


were sick with various 


possessed with demons; 


possessed with demons. 


diseases brought them to 




And the whole city was 


him; 


and he cast out the spirits 


gathered together about 




with a word, and healed 


the door. And he healed 


and he laid his hands on 


all who were sick. This 


many who were sick with 


every one of them and 


was to fiilfil what was 


various diseases, and cast 


healed them. And demons 


spoken by the prophet 


out many demons; 


also came out of many, 


Isaiah, 'He took our 




crying, 'You are the Son 


infirmities and bore our 




of God!' But he rebuked 


diseases' . 




them, and would not 




and he would not permit 


allow them to speak. 




the demons to speak. 


because they knew that he 




because they knew him. 


was the Christ. 



There are several features of interest in this pericope (which also has 
parallels in Mt. 12.15-16, Mk 3.10-12 and Lk. 6.17-19 and elsewhere), 
one of which is the distinction between the number of people healed in 
the different accounts. In both Matthew ('all') and Luke ('each one'), 
everyone is healed, whereas in Mark it is 'many' who are healed. What 
one has to ask under such circumstances is, once more, what is more 
likely? Has Mark, writing third, changed the clear indication that Jesus 
healed everybody who came to him to the more ambiguous line that 
Jesus healed 'many'? Or are we to think that Matthew and Luke have 
both clarified their source by making clear all were healed and that 



3. Markan Priority 



67 



there was no one who missed out? Most will think that Markan Priority 
provides the more likely scenario here. 

The following example is in some ways similar. Although the gen- 
eral pericope is paralleled in Luke (Mt. 13.54-58//Mk 6.1-6ay/Lk. 4.16- 
30), his Gospel has no specific parallel to this verse. This example 
therefore comes in two columns: 



Matthew 13.58 



Mark 6.5 



And he did not do many mighty works 
there, 

because of their unbelief 



And he could do no mighty work 
there, except that he laid his hands upon a 
few sick people and healed them. And he 
marvelled because of their unbelief 



As often, Matthew's differences from Mark here are slight but signi- 
ficant. Whereas in Mark the clear impression is that Jesus is unable to 
do mighty works there, in Matthew we hear rather that Jesus simply 
'did not' do any mighty works. It is a small but striking point that is 
usually held to point towards Markan Priority. It is straightforward to 
imagine Matthew making the change here, but stranger to think of 
Mark making the change in the opposite direction. 

In a way this category is an extension of the previous category, for 
the reader is being called upon to ask about direction of dependence. Is 
it more plausible that Mark is creating his text on the basis of Matthew 
and Luke? Or is it more plausible that Matthew and Luke are creating 
their texts on the basis of Mark? Most think it more likely that Matthew 
and Luke have omitted a handful of strange Markan pericopae than that 
Mark added the odd pericopae to his united witness in Matthew and 
Luke. So also here most think it more likely that Matthew and Luke 
have rewritten the 'harder' Markan material than that the reverse hap- 
pened. As in the previous category, therefore, this evidence is sugges- 
tive rather than decisive, plausible if not provable. 



Summary 

• In several difficult passages, it is more straightforward to see 
Mark as the source for Matthew and Luke than it is to see 
Matthew and Luke as the sources for Mark. 



68 



The Synoptic Problem 



4. 77?^ Dates of the Gospels 

It is a notorious difficulty in Synoptic Studies to work out precisely 
when the Gospels were written. It is clear that they were all in exis- 
tence by the early to mid second century, when we begin to hear quota- 
tions from them, but we would like to be able to pinpoint the date more 
accurately. If it were clear, for example, that the best evidence placed 
Mark's Gospel earlier than Matthew's or Luke's, we would have a 
useful additional reason for thinking that his Gospel was the first to be 
written. 

Although the evidence is inconclusive, the few hints that we have are 
that Mark's Gospel is earlier than Matthew's and Luke's. The most 
decisive pointer is the question of whether or not the Gospels refer, 
however obliquely, to the key events of 70 CE, when Jerusalem was 
overrun by the Roman army after the Jewish War beginning in 66 CE. 
Matthew and Luke both seem to provide hints that they know of the 
events of 70. These are the clearest examples: 



Matthew 23.37-39 


Luke 13.34-35 


'Jerusalem. Jerusalem, killing the 


'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the 


prophets and stoning those who are sent 


prophets and stoning those who are sent 


to you! 


to you! 


How often would I have gathered your 


How often would I have gathered your 


children together as a hen gathers her 


children together as a hen gathers her 


brood under her wings, and you would 


brood under her wings, and you would 


not! 


not! 


Behold, your house is forsaken and 


Behold, your house is forsaken. 


desolate. For I tell you, you will not see 


And I tell you, you will not see 


me again, until you say, "Blessed is he 


me until you say, "Blessed is he 


who comes in the name of the Lord!" ' 


who comes in the name of the Lord!" ' 



Here Matthew and Luke, in a Double Tradition passage (note the 
close verbal agreement), seem to have Jesus prophetically announcing 
dramatic events to take place in Jerusalem, and these are words that 
would have much more poignancy in a post-70 situation. 'Your house', 
Jerusalem's house, clearly refers to the Temple, which in the post-70 
period indeed lay 'forsaken' and in ruins. That does not necessarily 
mean that Matthew and Luke, or their tradition, were putting words 
into Jesus' mouth, but it may mean that both evangelists have taken 



3. Markan Priority 



69 



care to include material that will have a special poignancy for their 
hearers. 

But is there anything more specific than this? Well, the Parable of the 
Great Banquet in Matthew's Gospel (which has a parallel also in Lk. 
14.15-24 and Thomas 64) features an interesting verse that may allude 
to the events of 70 CE: 

Again he sent other servants, saying. 'Tell those who are invited, 
'Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are 
killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast'.' But they 
made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 
while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed 
them. The king, was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those 
murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The 
wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy' (Mt. 22.4-8). 

The thing that is so striking here is the extent to which this element 
intrudes into a story that can be told quite adequately without it (as in 
Luke and Thomas). It may be that Matthew is thinking here of the fall 
of Jerusalem. 

Such elements appear to be lacking, on the other hand, in Mark. 
Indeed, where Mark is in parallel to Matthew and Luke, it appears 
likely that Matthew and Luke have redacted Mark in the light of the 
events of 70: 



Matthew 24.15; 21-22 


Mark 13.14: 19-20 


Luke 21.20-21: 23-24 


'So when you see 


'But when you see 


'But when you see 


the desolating sacrilege 


the desolating sacrilege 


Jerusalem surrounded by 


spoken of by the prophet 




armies. 


Daniel, standing in the 


set up where it ought not 


then know that its 


holy place (let the reader 


to be (let the reader 


desolation has come near. 


understand), then let those 


understand), then let those 


Then let those 


who are in Judea flee to 


who are in Judea flee to 


who are in Judea flee to 


the mountains... 


the mountains... 


the mountains... 


For then 


For in those days 


For 


there will be great 


there will be such 


great distress shall be 


tribulation, such as has 


tribulation as has 


upon the earth and wrath 


not been from the beginning 


not been from the beginning 


upon this people; 


of the world 


of the creation which God 




until now. no, and 


created until now. and 


they will fall by the edge 


never will be. And if those 


never will be. And if the 


of the sword, and be led 


days had not been 


Lord had not shortened 


captive among all 


shortened, no human 


the days, no human 


nations; and Jerusalem 



70 



The Synoptic Problem 



being would be saved; but 


being would be saved; but 


will be trodden dowTi by 


for the sake of the elect 


for the sake of the elect. 


the Gentiles, until the 


those days will be 


whom he chose, he 


times of the Gentiles are 


shortened." 


shortened the days." 


fulfilled." 



It is clear that Luke in particular is more specific than Mark. Whereas 
Mark's Jesus speaks obliquely about the 'desolating sacrilege set up 
where it ought not to be', Luke's Jesus prophesies a Jerusalem sur- 
rounded by armies and downtrodden by 'the Gentiles'. It would seem 
that of all the evangelists, Mark is the least explicit about the events of 
70. This is, of course, only a potential indicator of Markan Priority. It is 
not decisive. The point is that, as usual, in so far as there is any indi- 
cator present, it goes in the direction of Markan Priority over Matthew 
and Luke. 

Are there then any other internal indications of Mark's age that 
might help us? One hint is the note, which does not appear in either 
Matthew or Luke, that Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus' cross, was 
'the father of Alexander and Rufus' (Mk 15.21): 



Matthew 27.32 


Mark 15.21 


Luke 23.26 


And after coming out. they 


And they are compelling a 


And as they led him away. 


found a man from Cyrene, 


certain passer-by, Simon of 


seizing a certain Simon of 


named Simon; 


Cyrene coming from the 


Cyrene coming from the 




country, the father of 


country. 




Alexander and Rufus, 




they compelled this man 






in order that he might 


in order that he might 


they laid the cross on him 


carr)' his cross. 


carry his cross. 


to carry behind Jesus. 



This passing reference to 'Alexander and Rufus' is interesting in that 
it is not standard practice to mention a given individual's children. 
Usually characters are identified by the name of their father (James and 
John as 'sons of Zebedee', for example). The only obvious reason for 
mentioning a character's children is that the children are expected to be 
known by the reader. Here, then, we have a hint that Mark's Gospel 
does not perceive itself to be a long way, in time, from the events it is 
relating, for the sons of one of the characters in the story are apparently 
known to Mark's readers. There are no such indications in Matthew or 
Luke. Of course this may not count for a great deal, but once more it is 



3. Markan Priority 71 

the case that, in so far as there are any indicators at all, they go in the 
favour of Markan Priority. 



• 



Summary 

In so far as there are any internal indications of the dates of 
composition of the Gospels, they suggest that Matthew and 
Luke are later than Mark. 



5. Circumstantial Evidence 

So far we have seen that a variety of indicators seem to point towards 
Markan Priority. When looking at patterns of omission and addition, it 
seems more likely that Matthew and Luke postdate Mark than that 
Mark postdates Matthew and Luke. Mark also tends to include the 
'harder' readings when we compare it with Matthew and Luke and, 
further, where there is evidence of the dates of the Gospels, what we 
have points in the direction of Markan Priority. However, there is a 
troubling feature in all of this discussion. All of these features are 
merely suggestive. Not one of them appears decisive. 

The difficulty is this. Most scholars feel that because Markan Priority 
explains so much of the data so well, it is without doubt the 'chief 
suspect' in the case. Yet when it comes to looking for clear and deci- 
sive indicators, all that scholars, on the whole, have been able to find is 
circumstantial evidence. What we would like is something that does 
not merely point the finger, but actually secures the conviction. We 
need something decisive. We need fingerprints on the gun. Happily, 
there is one fresh category left to consider, that of editorial fatigue in 
Matthew and Luke. Previous scholars had seen hints of this but until 
recently its potential for solving the Synoptic Problem had not been 
realized. 

6. Securing a Conviction: Editorial Fatigue 

When one writer is copying the work of another, changes are some- 
times made at the beginning of an account that are not sustained 
throughout. The writer lapses into docile reproduction of the source. 
Like continuity errors in film and television, editorial fatigue results in 
unconscious mistakes, small errors of detail that naturally arise in the 



72 



The Synoptic Problem 



course of constructing a narrative. This phenomenon of 'fatigue' is thus 
a telltale sign of a writer's dependence on a source. The best way to 
explain the phenomenon is to illustrate it. Let us therefore return to one 
of our examples from Triple Tradition material, the story of the Leper: 



Mat the^v 8.1-4 


Mark 1.40-45 


Luke 5.12-16 


1 . When he came down 




And it came to pass while 


from the mountain, many 




he was in one of the cities 


crowds followed him: 






2. and behold, a leper 


40. And a leper 


and behold, a man fiill of 
leprosy; and having seen 


came to him and 


came to him, 


Jesus, 




beseeching him and 


he fell before his face 


knelt before him. saying. 


bending his knee, saying, 


saying. 


"Lord, if you will, you can 


to him, 'If you will, you 


"Lord, if you will, you 


make me clean'. 


are able to cleanse me'. 


are able to cleanse me'. 


3. And 


41 . Moved with anger. 


13. And 


he stretched out his hand 


he stretched out his hand 


he stretched out his hand, 


and touched him, saying. 


and touched him, and said 


and touched him, saying. 


'I will; be clean'. 


to him, 'I will; be clean'. 


i will; be clean'. 


And immediately his 


42. And immediately the 


And immediately the 


leprosy 


leprosy left him, and he 


leprosy left him. 


was cleansed. 4. And 


was made clean. 43. And 


14. And 


Jesus said to him, 


he sternly charged him. 
and sent him away at 
once. 44. and said to him. 


he charged him 


'See that you say nothing 


'See that you say nothing 


to tell no one; 


to any one; but go, show 


to any one; but go, show 


but 'go and show 


yourself to the priest, and 


yourself to the priest, and 


yourself to the priest, and 


offer the gift 


offer for your cleansing 


make an offering for your 
cleansing. 


that Moses commanded. 


what Moses commanded. 


as Moses commanded. 


for a proof to the people'. 


for a proof to the people'. 


for a proof to the people'. 



In Matthew's version of the story there are two elements that are 
difficult to reconcile: many crowds at the beginning of the narrative 
(8.1) and the charge 'See that you say nothing to any one' at the end of 
it (8.4). A miracle that has been witnessed by many is apparently to be 
kept secret. This is in contrast to Mark where there are no crowds. The 
Markan leper meets Jesus privately and the command to silence is 
coherent. 

This odd state of affairs can be explained by the theory of Markan 



3 . Markan Priority 73 

Priority, for which this is therefore evidence. This is what seems to 
have happened. Matthew has just featured three chapters of largely 
non-Markan teaching material (Mt. 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount) and 
here he is returning to Triple Tradition (Markan) material. He resets the 
scene by making a characteristic Matthean change, introducing 'many 
crowds' (Mt. 8.1; cf. 4.25; 13.2; 15.30; 19.2; never found in Mark). But 
as he goes on telling the story, docile reproduction of his source, or 
editorial fatigue, causes him to reproduce a feature not consonant with 
his new introduction to it. This example is particularly striking in that 
the 'secrecy theme' ('See that you say nothing to any one') is such a 
vivid and major theme in Mark's Gospel (e.g. 1.34; 3.12; 5.43; 7.36; 
8.30), but is much less common in Matthew. It seems likely that 
Matthew has made characteristic changes to Mark at the beginning of 
the pericope, changes that lead the account into inconsistency when 
Matthew reproduces the characteristically Markan wording at the end 
of the pericope. 

And this is not an isolated example. One that seems similarly persua- 
sive is the story of the Death of John the Baptist (Mk 6.14-29//Mt. 
14.1-12). For Mark, Herod is always 'king', four times in the passage 
(Mk 6.22, 25, 26, 27). Matthew apparently corrects this to 'tetrarch' 
(Mt. 14.1). This is a good move: Herod Antipas was not a king but a 
petty dependent prince and he is called 'tetrarch' by the Jewish histo- 
rian Josephus {Ant. 17.188; 18. 102, 109, 122). This kind of precision 
is typical of Matthew. Later, he will specify that Pilate (Mk 15.1, 4, 9, 
12, 14, 15, 43, 44) is properly called 'the governor' (Mt. 27.2, 11, 14, 
15, 21, 27, 28.14), and 'the high priest' (Mk 14.53) is 'Caiaphas the 
high priest' (Mt. 26.57). Earlier, in his Birth Narrative, Matthew tells 
us that Herod the Great is a 'king' (2.1, 3) and that Archelaus is not 
(2.22). More is the shame, then, that Matthew lapses into calling Herod 
'the king' halfway through the story of John the Baptist's death (Mt. 
14.9), in agreement with Mark (6.26). 

There is, further, a more serious inconsistency in the same verse. The 
story in Mark is that Herodias wanted to kill John because she had a 
grudge against him: 'But she could not because Herod feared John, 
knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. 
When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen 
to him'. (Mk 6.19-20). In Matthew's version of the story, this element 
has dropped out: now it is Herod and not Herodias who wants him 
killed (Mt. 14.5). When Mark, then, speaks of Herod's 'grief at the 



74 



The Synoptic Problem 



request for John's head, it is coherent and understandable: Herodias 
demanded something that Herod did not want. But when Matthew in 
parallel speaks of the king's grief (Ml. 14.9), it makes no sense at all. 
Matthew had told us, after all, that 'Herod wanted to put him to death' 
(14.5). 

The obvious explanation for the inconsistencies of Matthew's 
account is that he is working from a source. He has made changes in 
the early stages that he fails to sustain throughout, thus betraying his 
knowledge of Mark. This is particularly plausible when one notes that 
Matthew's account is considerably shorter than Mark's: Matthew has 
overlooked important details in the act of abbreviating. 

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 disap- 
pointed. First, the Parable of the Sower and its Interpretation (Mt. 13.1- 
23//Mk 4.1-20//Lk. 8.4-15) present exactly the kind of scenario where, 
on the theory of Markan Priority, one would expect to see some incon- 
gruities. 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 
that 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 (Mk 4.5; cf Lk. 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' (Lk. 8.13; cf. Mk 4.16). 

Second, in Lk. 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' (Mk 4.6). In the Interpretation, however, Luke apparently 
reverts to the Markan reason: 



Mark 4. 17 



Luke 8.13 



'And they have no root in themselves but 
last only for a little while'. 



'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 (Lk. 8.13). 

In short, these three features of the Parable of the Sower show clearly 
that Luke has an interpretation to a text that interprets features that are 



3. Markan Priority 



75 



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 exam- 
ple 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 (Mt. 9.1-8//Mk 2.1-12//Lk. 5.17-26). Here, Luke's intro- 
duction to the story of the Paralytic (Mk 2.1-12//Lk. 5.17-26) is quite 
characteristic. 'And it came to pass on one of those days, and he was 
teaching' (Lk. 5. 1 7) is the kind of general, vague introduction to a peri- 
cope common in Luke who often gives the impression that a given 
incident is one among that could have been related. But in rewriting 
this introduction, Luke omits to mention entry into a house, unlike 
Mark in 2.1, which has the subsequent comment, 'Many were gathered 
together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the 
door' (Mk 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 


Luke 5.19 


'And when they could not get near him 


'Finding no way to bring him in. 


because of the crowd, they removed the 


because of the crowd, they went up on the 


roof above him; and when they had 


roof and 


made an opening, they let down the 


let him down with his bed through the 


pallet on which the paralytic lay'. 


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 heaits' (Mk 2.6) but, apparently, aloud (Lk. 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' (Mk 2.8//Lk. 5.22). The 
latter phrase seems simply to have come in, by fatigue, from Mark. 

This evidence of editorial fatigue provides, then, some strong evi- 
dence for Markan Priority. Matthew and Luke apparently rewrite 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 



76 The Synoptic Problem 

just the kind of evidence one might wish for — a clear, decisive indi- 
cator of Markan Priority that will not make good sense on the assump- 
tion that Mark wrote third. It seems that we have the fingerprints on the 
gun. 



Summary 

The most decisive indicator of Markan Priority is evidence of 
editorial fatigue in Matthew and Luke. It seems that as Matt- 
hew and Luke rewrote passages from Mark, they made charac- 
teristic changes in the early part of pericopae, lapsing into 
Mark's wording later in the same pericopae, so producing an 
inconsistency or an incoherence that betrayed their knowledge 
of Mark. 



7. The Patristic Evidence 

However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there is some- 
thing rather troubling about the case for Markan Priority, a niggling 
difficulty that contradicts the scholarly consensus: the external evi- 
dence. All the early Christian writers who expressed an opinion, from 
the late second century onwards, pronounced in favour of the priority 
of Matthew. Perhaps most importantly, Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, 
who was writing towards the end of the second century, clearly dates 
Matthew before Mark. In the earliest surviving statement concerning 
the order in which the Gospels were composed, he says that 'Matthew' 
was written among Hebrews and in their language 'while Peter and 
Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome', whereas Mark 
wrote 'after their departure' (or 'decease', Greek: exodos).^ Likewise, 
Clement, Origen, Augustine and Jerome, writing in the third to the fifth 
centuries, all witness to Matthaean Priority. There is a genuine consen- 
sus here, a consensus far stronger than the current scholarly one con- 
cerning the Priority of Mark. Given this unanimity, and given the rela- 
tively early nature of this evidence, would it not be foolish to ignore it? 
Adherents of the Griesbach Theory have stressed this unanimity in 
the Patristic evidence and it is undoubtedly one of the strongest ele- 
ments in favour of their theory. It is not enough, however, to overturn 

4. Against Heresies 3. U .7; quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.8. 



3. Markan Priority 77 

the weight of the internal evidence, for several reasons. First, we need 
to notice that in this kind of context, the internal evidence has to be 
key. Of course we should not ignore the external evidence, but in criti- 
cal scholarship we should not be afraid of cross-examining it or of 
looking to see whether it is corroborated by the internal evidence. The 
point is best made by means of an analogy. If present-day students do 
what the evangelists did in the first century, copying large stretches of 
the work of others without acknowledging their sources, we call it 
plagiarism, and it is regarded as a serious offence in higher education 
because one wants to be sure that it is indeed a student's work and not 
somebody else's when one is assessing it. Now if one student were to 
accuse another of plagiarism, we would listen to the charge but we 
would not institute disciplinary proceedings unless we were quite sure 
of the plagiarism on the internal evidence generated by the student's 
piece of work itself In other words, we would take the (external) evi- 
dence of the accusation seriously, but we would not think of penalizing 
the student concerned unless we were able to find clear evidence of 
plagiarism in the piece of work itself It is the same with the Synoptic 
Gospels. We listen to the external evidence, but if it does not square 
with the overwhelming internal evidence, we have no choice but to 
place a question mark against it. 

Leaving the situation like this, though, is not adequate. There are still 
unanswered questions. The good historian needs to ask how the sources 
came to say what they say. Why do these sources pronounce in favour 
of the priority of Matthew? Did they know what had happened? It is 
usually assumed that these fathers did not have a special knowledge of 
the order of the composition of the Gospels. Originally, someone made 
some inferences from the knowledge they did have, and these infer- 
ences soon became the basis for a steady, repeated tradition, itself con- 
firmed by the Fathers making similar inferences from the same material. 

The major concern in this early period was not so much the one that 
concerns us when we are looking at the Synoptic Problem, the question 
of when the Gospels were written and how they were related to one 
another. Their major concern was the question of who wrote the Gos- 
pels, without any pressing interest in how they related to one another. 
Given a plethora of other gospels, the fathers wanted to establish 
grounds for maintaining the authority of these four, and the key issue 
became the one of apostolic authorship or connection. The fathers 
wanted to demonstrate that the four Gospels they favoured were written 



78 The Synoptic Problem 

by the apostles, or, at the very least, under the influence of the apostles. 
The relative dates given to the Gospels then arose largely as a conse- 
quence of prior decisions on the identity of the authors. From the 
second century onwards, Matthew was not only the most popular 
Gospel but it was also the one that bore the name of an apostle. Mark 
and Luke, on the other hand, did not bear the names of apostles and 
were thought to have been written by the companions of Peter and Paul 
respectively. The Priority of Matthew was a natural consequence of the 
belief that his Gospel was the one directly written by an apostle. 
Likewise, the idea that Mark and Luke both postdated Matthew was the 
natural consequence of the belief that their Gospels were in a way 
secondary, written not by but under the influence of the apostles.'' 

Scholars now doubt quite strongly that the Gospels were written by 
or even under the direct influence of the apostles. It is likely that the 
Gospels were originally anonymous and that the ascriptions 'According 
to Matthew', 'According to Mark', 'According to Luke' and 'According 
to John' were only added later, and perhaps based only on inferences 
derived from the New Testament texts themselves.^ Only Matthew tells 
the story of the Call of Matthew (9.9-10; the same character is called 
'Levi' in Mark and Luke) and the ascription to that apostle may have 
been inferred from this. Similarly, Mark's link to Peter may have been 
the result of an inference based on 1 Pet. 5.13, in which Peter refers to 
'my son Mark'; and Luke is linked to Paul because of the 'we' pas- 
sages in the second half of Acts combined with references to a Luke in 
Colossians and Philemon. 

But however the fathers came to decide on these names (and there is 
no tradition of any variation), there is an interesting distinction 
between Matthew on the one hand and Mark and Luke on the other. 
The one Gospel bears the name of an apostle where the other two do 
not. Could it be that priority was accorded to the Gospel that was 
apostolic? If so, we might expect to see some disagreement over the 
relative priority of Mark and Luke. And this indeed is what we do see. 
For while Irenaeus (above) does not pronounce on the relative order of 

5. Although John's Gospel, which also bears the name of an apostle, was 
usually thought of as the last of the four, there was also a strong tradition that the 
apostle John lived to an old age, and that the Fourth Gospel was relatively late. 

6. Note, however, Martin Hengel's spirited defence of the notion that the 
ascriptions kata Matthaion (according to Matthew) etc. are early and reliable 
{Studies in the Gospel of Mark [ET; London: SCM Press, 1985], pp. 64-84). 



3. Markan Priority 79 

Mark and Luke, later writers did do so. Origen, writing in the middle of 
the third century, seems to place Mark before Luke: 

The first written [gospel] was that according to Matthew, who was once a 
toll-collector but later an apostle of Jesus Christ. He published it for 
those who became believers from Judaism, since it was composed in the 
Hebrew language. The second was that according to Mark, who wrote it 
according to Peter's instructions. Peter also acknowledged him as his son 
in his general letter, saying in these words: 'She who is in Babylon, 
chosen with you. sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark" [1 Pet. 
5.13]. And the third was that according to Luke, who wrote for those 
who were from the Gentiles, the gospel that was praised by Paul. And 
after them all, that according to John. 

Augustine, writing at around 400 CE, places the Gospels in this same 
order, and is explicit that this is regarded as the order of composition: 

So these four evangelists, well-known throughout the entire world (and 
perhaps they are four because of this, since there are four parts of the 
world, through the whole of which, they have proclaimed, in a certain 
manner by the very sacrament of their own number, that the church of 
Christ has spread) are regarded to have written in this order: first 
Matthew, then Mark, third Luke, and last John. Hence, there is one order 
to them in learning and preaching, and another in writing {De Consensu 
Evangelistarum 1.3). 

Clement of Alexandria, on the other hand, wrote as following: 

And, again in the same books [Hypotyoseis 6], Clement has inserted a 
tradition from the primitive elders with regard to the order of the Gospels 
as follows: he said that those Gospels were written first which included 
the genealogies, and that the Gospel according to Mark came into being 
in this manner...*^ 

The Gospels 'which included the genealogies' are Matthew and Luke 
(Mt. 1.1-17; Lk. 3.23-38). Thus we have competing traditions, one that 
places Mark second (Origen, Augustine) and one that places Mark third 
(Clement). This state of affairs is interesting. It is an annoyance to 
adherents of the Griesbach Theory, who are keen to stress that the 
evidence from Clement provides support for their theory, but who have 
to acknowledge that there is this contradictory witness in Origen. But 

7. Origen. quoted by Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History 6.25. "The gospel that 
was praised by Paul" is a reference to 2 Cor. 8.18. It was thought that Paul was here 
referring to Luke's Gospel. 

8. F,usebius, Ecclesiastical History 6. 1 4.5-7. 



80 77?^ Synoptic Problem 

further, it tends to confirm the notion that, for the earliest writers, Matt- 
haean Priority was a reflex of the (for them) related fact that Matthew 
was directly apostolic, whereas Mark and Luke were only indirectly 
apostolic. Priority is accorded to the Gospel penned by the tax-collec- 
tor. Either of the Gospels composed by companions of the apostles, 
Mark or Luke, may have been third. In other words, we have to treat 
the patristic evidence with great caution — their agendas and assump- 
tions in attempting to calculate priority are very different from ours. 

Before we leave the question of the patristic evidence, we should 
note one final key piece of evidence. While it is indeed true that there is 
unanimity about Matthaean Priority among those who commit them- 
selves on the order of the Synoptics, it also needs to be noticed that our 
earliest testimony on synoptic traditions, from Papias, the bishop of 
Hierapolis (early to mid second century) does not, as far as we can tell, 
give any support to Matthaean Priority. In the quotations given to us by 
the fourth-century church historian Eusebius, Papias is quoting his own 
source, 'the Elder', who apparently mentions both that Mark is an inter- 
preter of Peter and that Matthew compiled 'the logia' (reports, oracles) 
in Hebrew, but in the extant passages there is no statement of relative 
priority.^ 

The patristic evidence, therefore, is not marked enough to encourage 
us to disregard the overwhelming internal evidence for Markan Priority. 
Just as we would have to test the student's accusation of plagiarism by 
looking carefully at the internal evidence presented by the essay in 
which the alleged plagiarism had taken place, so too it is important for 
critical scholars to pay carefiil attention to the internal evidence of the 
Gospels. And just as we would want to know why the student had 
made the accusation, we are keen to know the origins of the external 
evidence about the Gospels. Here it seems that the fathers were more 
concerned with the 'who' than they were with the 'when' of Gospel 
composition; and when they did pronounce on the 'when', there are 
some disagreements over the all-important relative order of Mark and 



9. On Papias, see n. 1 above. I have left to one side here the traditions about 
John's Gospel, also regarded by the fathers as directly apostolic. It seems that here 
there was an unassailable tradition from early on that it was written relatively late, 
the kind of tradition apparently lacking for the Synoptics. But again one can see the 
importance for the fathers of direct, apostolic authorship in that some canonical 
orders placed John second rather than fourth, and this in spite of the traditions that it 
was written after Matthew, Mark and Luke. 



3. Markan Priority 81 

Luke, key to the Griesbachian scholars, who, on the whole, are so keen 
to value patristic testimony. Thus where our earliest witness is (as far 
as we can tell) noncommittal and where our later evidence shows such 
a clear desire to give priority to the Gospel it thought written by an 
apostle, and all this in contradiction with the weight of the internal evi- 
dence, it will be most prudent to continue to treat the Patristic witness 
with a pinch of salt. 



Summary 

• The patristic evidence provides support for Matthaean Priority 
and it needs to be taken seriously. However, the Fathers were 
more concerned with the question of the authorship of the 
Gospels than they were with relative dates. Matthew was 
thought to have been written by the apostle. When it came to 
the Gospels bearing the non-apostolic names Mark and Luke, 
the patristic consensus breaks down and there is disagreement 
over which Gospel came third. Furthermore, our earliest 
evidence, Papias, does not tell us either way. Critical scholars 
will inevitably prefer the overwhelming internal evidence. 



8. Conclusion 

We will take the best route through the maze if we decide firmly in 
favour of Markan Priority. This is for the following reasons: 

(a) Mark as the middle term: It was the conclusion of our last 
chapter, which made a survey of the data, that the key Synop- 
tic fact is that Mark is the middle term. Both in matters of 
order and wording, Matthew and Luke often agree with Mark. 
It is less usual for Matthew and Luke to agree with each other 
against Mark. The two common ways for this to be explained 
have been Markan Priority (the majority) or Markan Posteri- 
ority (a minority). In other words, Mark may be first, and used 
by both Matthew and Luke; or Mark may be third, so using 
Matthew and Luke. There are several indications that Markan 
Priority is the preferable means of explaining the data, includ- 
ing the following. 



82 The Synoptic Problem 

(b) Omissions and additions: 

• Some of the material not in Mark makes better sense on 
the assumption that it has been added by Matthew and/or 
Luke than on the assumption that it has been omitted by 
Mark. 

• The material unique to Mark makes better sense as mate- 
rial omitted by Matthew and Luke than it does as material 
added by Mark. 

• If Mark has only added the material that is unique to him, 
then his Gospel becomes an anomaly in early Christianity, 
with relatively little contact with oral tradition in compari- 
son with Matthew, Luke, Thomas and others. 

• The relationship between the omissions and additions does 
not make for a coherent picture of Markan redaction: the 
addition of banal clarificatory additions is not consonant 
with the generally enigmatic tone of the Gospel. 

(c) Harder readings: It is more straightforward to see Mark as the 
source for Matthew and Luke than to see it redacting them in 
its difficult passages. 

(d) Dates: In so far as there are any internal indications of date in 
the Synoptics, they suggest that Matthew and Luke are later 
than Mark. 

(e) Editorial fatigue: The most decisive indicator of Markan Pri- 
ority is evidence that Matthew and Luke made characteristic 
changes in the early part of pericopae where they were rewrit- 
ng Mark, lapsing into the wording of their source later in the 
same pericopae, so producing an inconsistency or an incoher- 
ence that betrayed their knowledge of Mark. 

One apparently major witness to the opposing theory of Matthean 
Priority needs to be taken seriously, the patristic evidence, but we 
cannot help noticing that their judgment was influenced by what was to 
them a key element, the idea that Matthew was composed by the apostle 
of that name. When it came to the Gospels bearing the non-apostolic 
names Mark and Luke, the patristic consensus breaks down and there is 
disagreement over which Gospel came third. Furthermore, our earliest 
evidence, Papias, does not tell us either way. 

Though a decisive and important step, the all-important postulation 
of Markan Priority will not, however, take us all the way through the 
maze. In particular, we need to ask the next logical question: Did 



3. Markan Priority 83 

Matthew and Luke use Mark independently of one another or did one 
of them also know the other? And if Matthew and Luke used Mark 
independently, how do we explain the origin of the non-Markan 
material that they share, namely the Double Tradition? We will need to 
think, in other words, about what kind of literary relationship will best 
explain all the agreements between Matthew and Luke. This question is 
a vital one for Synoptic studies and we will consider it in detail in 
Chapters 5 and 6. But let us not hurry away from the topic of Markan 
Priority too quickly, for its interest does not consist only in the extent 
to which it solves one element of the Synoptic Problem. The theory has 
huge relevance for New Testament study. Next, then, we will explore 
the ramifications of Markan Priority, in historical, theological, text- 
critical and redaction-critical terms. It is time to have a look at the role 
Markan Priority plays in New Testament scholarship. 



Chapter 4 
BUILDING ON MARKAN PRIORITY 

1 . Introduction 

Having touched on the fascination of engaging in Synoptic study 
(Chapter 1), and having surveyed the data (Chapter 2) and found a 
compelling explanation for some of it in the theory of Markan Priority 
(Chapter 3), it is time to consider the relevance of Markan Priority for 
the study of the New Testament more broadly. For this is a theory that 
has been honoured by time, and one of the reasons that it is held in 
such high esteem in the academy is its explanatory power. Markan 
Priority helps to make sense of so much of what we see in early Chris- 
tianity, the Gospels and Jesus. It has been an indispensable prerequisite 
of much that has taken place in New Testament scholarship and we 
should not let this pass by without comment. There are several ways in 
which the theory has helped scholars to reflect profitably on the biblical 
text. We will deal with them under the following headings: redaction- 
criticism, the study of the historical Jesus and Christian origins and 
textual criticism. 

2. Redaction-Criticism 

The theory of Markan Priority has been at the heart of redaction- 
criticism, one of the most important methods for studying the Gospels 
developed in the previous half-century. Broadly speaking, redaction- 
criticism might be defined as the study of the tendencies, nature and 
distinctive emphases of a text with a view to ascertaining the theologi- 
cal and literary standpoint of its author. On the whole redaction-criti- 
cism eschews interest in the oral origin of units of tradition (pericopae) 
that make up the Gospels (more the preserve oi form-criticism) in order 
to concentrate attention on the process by which the evangelists created 
their books. The focus is clearly on the authors of each Gospel. For 



4. Building on Markan Priority 85 

convenience, the authors are usually called Matthew, Mark and Luke, 
but without our necessarily thinking that the original authors of these 
books bore these names. 

Redaction-criticism both assumes and builds on the theory of 
Markan Priority in several ways. First, in assuming Markan Priority, 
some of the key works of redaction-criticism have looked at Mark 
without making reference to Matthew and Luke. In other words, it is 
assumed that Mark was working without knowledge of any other 
gospel, but was the first to draw together traditional materials about 
Jesus into a coherent, written whole — his is the first gospel not only in 
that it was the source of Matthew and Luke but also in the sense that he 
was the originator of the genre, the first to write this kind of life of 
Jesus that culminated in an account of his Passion and resurrection. 

The task for the redaction-critic of Mark is therefore to find a 
coherent and plausible explanation of how Mark redacted the materials 
at his disposal, asking how the distinctive features of his text might be 
explained by the theological viewpoint of its original author. The quest 
has generated some fascinating proposals — redaction-criticism of Mark 
has become something of a rich industry within biblical scholarship. 
Perhaps Mark, for example, is the first person to forge together into a 
coherent whole the Pauline kerygma (preaching) of the crucified Christ 
with the traditions that were circulating concerning Jesus' life and 
ministry, beginning his Gospel with accounts of Jesus' teaching ability 
and healing power and, as the story progresses, taking the reader on a 
journey, 'the way of the Lord', towards a kingdom constituted by the 
cross of a crucified Messiah. 

The obvious difficulty that redaction-criticism of Mark introduces is 
the question of Mark's source material. On the assumption of Markan 
Priority, we do not have any of Mark's sources extant and one of the 
dangers in redaction-criticism of Mark is the potential circularity of 
reconstructing Mark's sources on the basis of a reconstruction of what 
one thinks Mark might have done with them. On the Griesbach Theory, 
one does not have the same difficulty, for Mark is redacting his Gospel 
on the basis of Matthew and Luke, omitting, reworking and entwining 
sources that we have in front of us. But this, unfortunately, is one of the 
genuine problems that scholars continue to confront in coming to terms 
with the Griesbach Theory, the lack of a convincing redaction-critical 
explanation for the choices that Mark makes, a lack that competes with 
so many plausible and intriguing studies of Mark that work on the 



86 The Synoptic Problem 

assumption that he was responsible for the origin of the Gospel genre 
as we know it. 

But the anxiety about our inability to compare Mark with extant 
sources has produced different results that both build on and react 
against redaction-criticism of Mark. While the newer, emerging disci- 
pline of narrative-criticism pronounces itself firmly uninterested in the 
matter of sources, focusing purely on the individual text at hand, narra- 
tive-criticism of Mark nevertheless aligns itself with redaction-criticism 
of Mark in avoiding comparison with the other Synoptics. It is prob- 
ably no coincidence that Mark has particularly lent itself to narrative- 
critical analysis given the legacy of redaction-criticism that bases itself 
on the priority of Mark, likewise not having to be concerned about 
comparison between Mark the other Synoptics. 

What then of redaction-criticism of Matthew and Luke? It too has 
been developed on the assumption of Markan Priority, but in different 
ways from redaction-criticism of Mark. For here we have one of the 
sources of Matthew and Luke on the table in front of us ready for 
analysis. It is one of the most clear and straightforward ways in which 
study of the Synoptic Problem interacts with Gospel studies more 
generally. Many of the insights that have been gleaned from the study 
of Matthew and Luke are the product of comparison between Matthew 
and Mark and between Luke and Mark. Where one can watch what a 
writer is doing with a source, one can gain a much clearer profile of 
that writer. It is true on both the level of the overarching designs of 
Matthew and Luke and on the detailed level of their individual sen- 
tences — the redaction-critic analyses Matthew and Luke in the light of 
the assumption that they were using Mark, an assumption that tends 
towards the notion that Matthew and Luke were both attempts to 'fix' 
Mark, to supplement, rewrite and correct (what they saw as) its inade- 
quacies while at the same time drawing on it. 

As we have seen already, Matthew and Luke both incorporate the 
basic structure of Mark, John the Baptist — Temptation — teaching and 
healing ministry in Galilee — Passion in Jerusalem, but both appear to 
find this structure in need of major supplementation. Thus both Matt- 
hew and Luke rework Mark by adding Birth Narratives at the begin- 
ning of their respective Gospels, and resurrection appearances at the 
end. Perhaps then, like many a modem reader, they found Mark to be 
lacking — rather shorter than one might expect — beginning too late and 
ending too early and in the middle missing many of the matters that 



4. Building on Markan Priority 



87 



might be regarded as essential, the Lord's Prayer for example, or the 
Beatitudes. Indeed Matthew and Luke both feature a great deal more 
sayings material than does Mark — proportionally more space is taken 
up in both Matthew and Luke with teaching material than it is in Mark, 
something that itself substantially alters the picture of Jesus we receive 
from Mark. 

On the assumption of Markan Priority, then, the first readers of Mark 
found it to be inadequate. And this is true not only of questions of 
structure and content — the questions concerning what Mark did not 
include — but also on the more detailed level of its individual pericopae 
and sentences within them. Its language is somewhat colloquial. Some 
might even call it sloppy. There are broken sentences, the obsessively 
frequent use of 'and' or 'and immediately' and the regular use of the 
historic present, 'he says', 'he goes', 'he enters'. For both of the later 
evangelists, this style wanted some substantial modification. Both make 
major changes and Luke in particular recasts Mark in a much more 
'literary' Greek style, omitting all of Mark's historic presents and 
eliminating many of the regular 'and's. 

The key matter, though, is to see that Matthew and Luke differed 
from Mark in theology and Christology. Their conceptions of what 
God, Jesus and the disciples were like overlapped with Mark's 
conception but were not identical to it. Thus, for example, we might 
remember that Matthew apparently altered Mark's comment that 'Jesus 
could do no mighty work' in Nazareth (6.6) to a statement that 'Jesus 
did not do there many mighty works' (Mt. 13.58). Likewise, we might 
recall that the gradual healing of the blind man, no doubt seen to be 
implying some limit on Jesus' power (Mk 8.22-26) is omitted in 
Matthew and Luke. Nor, again, is Jesus so enigmatic in Matthew and 
Luke. The elements of secrecy recede into the background and the edge 
is taken off that darkly ironic Markan portrait (see above, pp. 64-65). 
Where there are questions in Mark, there is explication in both 
Matthew and Luke. Consider, for example, the following passage: 



Matthew 17.9-13 



Mark 9.9-1 3 



9. And as they were coming down the 
mountain. Jesus commanded them. "Tell 
no one the vision, until the Son 
of man is raised from the dead". 



9. And as they were coming down the 
mountain, he charged them to tell 
no one what they had seen, until the Son 
of man should have risen from the dead. 



88 



The Synoptic Problem 





1 0. So they kept the matter to 




themselves, questioning what the rising 




from the dead meant. 


10. And the disciples asked him. "Then 


1 1 . And they asked him, 


why do the scribes say that first Elijah 


'Why do the scribes say that first Elijah 


must come?" 1 1 . He replied. 


must come?' 12. And he said to them, 


'Elijah does come, and he is to restore all 


"Elijah does come first to restore all 


things; 


things; and how is it written of the Son of 




man. that he should suffer many things 




and be treated with contempt? 


12. but 1 tell you that 


13. But I tell you that 


Elijah has already come, and they did not 


Elijah has come, and they did to him 


know him. but did to him whatever they 


whatever they 


pleased. So also the Son of man will 


pleased, as it is written of him'. 


suffer at their hands'. 




13. Then the disciples understood that he 




was speaking to them of John the Baptist. 





This example falls into the 'not quite Triple Tradition' category (see 
above, pp. 48-50, occasions where material is common to Matthew and 
Mark alone or to Mark and Luke alone). Typically, Mark's text is 
allusive: it implies a knowledge both of the Hebrew Bible and of itself, 
leaving the reader to do a good deal of the work. Here, we are expected 
to have read the earlier part of the Gospel carefully, noticing that John 
the Baptist's appearance resembled that of Elijah (Mk 1.6; cf. 2 Kgs 
1.8) and that the story of John the Baptist, Herod and Herodias is 
fashioned after and alludes to the stories of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel 
(Mk 6.14-29; 1 Kgs 17-22). Now careful readers of Mark who know 
their Hebrew Bible will at this stage in Mark make a link, encouraged 
by the saying of Jesus here recorded. They will see that Elijah has 
indeed come, in John the Baptist, and that this confirms the messianic 
identity of Jesus that the disciples are now beginning to perceive 
(8.30). Further — and this is the key element — the sharp reader is 
expected to see that Jesus will meet an end that is similar to that of 
John — 'they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him' 
and so too the Son of Man will 'suffer many things', also as 'it is 
written'. The reader of this passage in Mark, who reads in the context 
of both the Gospel and the Hebrew Bible, is left reflecting on the 
relationship between John the Baptist, the scriptures, Jesus' identity, 
suffering, messiahship and the disciples' perception. 



4. Building on Markan Priority 



89 



Now Matthew, whose account differs little from Mark's, nevertheless 
adds a concluding comment not paralleled in Mark: 'Then the disciples 
understood...' This is typical of Matthew. He knows his Scriptures and 
he has been reading Mark and getting to know the book for some time. 
He sees what Mark is doing here but is concerned that his readers 
might miss it. So the allusive Mark, which prefers to keep things as 
subtle as possible, gets reworked when it is absorbed into Matthew, 
where matters are stated strongly and unambiguously. The same thing 
happens again when Matthew is redacting the Markan incident con- 
cerning bread on the boat (Mk 8.13-21//Mt. 16.4-12). The Markan 
account is bizarre and somewhat difficult to fathom, ending on an open 
question, addressed no doubt to the reader as well as to the disciples in 
the Gospel: 'Do you not yet understand... ?' Equally as typically, Matt- 
hew by contrast adds one of his clarificatory sentences, 'Then they 
understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, 
but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees' (16.12). Where 
Mark has questions, and disciples who cannot fathom the answers, 
Matthew has clear statements, and disciples who understand. 

Thus Matthew, Mark's first reader, perceives what Mark is doing, 
but decides to make it absolutely clear for his readers. Indeed one of 
the reasons for the current scholarly fascination with Mark is, no doubt, 
that this is a text that leaves the interpreter with plenty of work to do. 

Let us have a look at another example of the way in which redaction- 
criticism of Matthew and Luke can work within a single pericope. 
Earlier we noticed some interesting differences in the story of the still- 
ing of the storm. Now let us explore the differences in a little more 
detail. 



Matthew H.25-26 


Mark 4.38-39 


Luke 8.24-25 


And the disciples, having 


And 


And having 


approached him. 


they 


approached him they 


awoke him saying. 


awake him and say to him. 


awoke him saying, 


'Lord, save! 


'Teacher, do you not care 


'Master Master, 


We are perishing!' * 


that we are perishing?" 


we are perishing!' 


Then, having got up, he 


And having awoken, he 


And having awoken, he 


rebuked the winds and 


rebuked the wind and said 


rebuked the wind and 


the sea. 


to the sea, 'Be silent! Be 


the raging of the water. 




muzzled!' And the wind 


And they 


and there was 


ceased, and there was 


ceased, and there was 


a great calm*. 


a great calm. 


a calm. 



90 The Synoptic Problem 



*And he says to them. 


And he said to them. 


And he said to them. 


"Why are you afraid. 


'Why are you so afraid? Have 


"Where is 


yeofUttlefaith?" 


you still no faith?' 


your faith?" 



Where Mark's Jesus is harsh towards the disciples ('Have you still 
no faith?') and the disciples have no respect for Jesus ('Do you not 
care...?'), both Matthew and Luke have a little more reverence. In 
Matthew they have characteristically 'little faith' (cf Mt. 14.31; 16.8), 
not none, and in Luke the question is 'Where is your faith?' as if this is 
but a temporary lapse. And the insulting question 'Do you not care...?' 
is omitted by both. This is the kind of pattern that one finds throughout. 

The redaction-critic will also notice places where the style of Matt- 
hew and Luke characteristically differs from that of Mark. Luke, ever 
the master of writing a lively story, adds the doubled vocative 'Master 
Master' just as, elsewhere, Jesus says 'Martha Martha' (Lk. 10.41), 
'Simon Simon' (Lk. 22.31) and 'Saul Saul' (Acts 9.4). Matthew, often 
regarded as the most liturgical of the Gospels, has the disciples sound- 
ing like they are in church chanting a confession, 'Lord, save!' just as 
elsewhere those who 'approach' Jesus say 'Lord, have mercy!' (17.15). 

Redaction-criticism is not very difficult once one gets used to prac- 
tising it. Indeed this kind of redaction-criticism is a lot of fiin and gives 
students with even the most basic knowledge of the Gospels a feeling 
of empowerment as they practise a form of exegesis directly involving 
the biblical text. It is one of the best ways of becoming familiar with 
the Synoptic Gospels generally and the Synoptic Problem specifically. 
For those who have not practised it themselves before, here is how to 
go about it: 

(a) Get hold of a Synopsis of the Gospels and start looking at 
parallel passages. 

(b) Choose a passage, preferably from the 'Triple Tradition' 
(occurring in all three Synoptics), and begin to find the 
similarities and differences between Matthew, Mark and Luke. 
One of the best ways of doing this is by photocopying the 
relevant page in your Synopsis and then doing some colour- 
ing — see the suggested scheme above in Chapter 2. 

(c) Focus on the differences between the Gospels and attempt to 
find places where Matthew or Luke do the same thing else- 
where in their Gospels. This is easier to do these days because 



4. Building on Markan Priority 91 

of the advent of useful electronic Bible search tools,' but the 
more familiar you become with the Gospels, the more you will 
be able to think of the parallels without having to look them 
up. In the example above, for instance, it would be straight- 
forward to look for other occurrences of the term 'little faith' 
in Matthew, 
(d) Find an explanation for the kinds of change you have isolated. 
In the example above, you might notice that the disciples in 
Matthew appear to be those of 'little faith' and that this con- 
trasts to their total lack of faith in Mark. 

As one becomes more and more familiar with the Gospels, one finds 
redaction-criticism based on the assumption of Markan Priority easier 
and easier to do. It is a popular discipline and on the whole it has been 
extraordinarily successful, so much so in fact that it is now sometimes 
said that it functions itself as an argument for Markan Priority, the 
logic being that redaction-criticism has been so fruitful that it estab- 
lishes the usefulness and plausibility of the starting point, the assump- 
tion of Markan Priority. This is a difficult proposition to test, though, 
because so many works have been written assuming Markan Priority 
that it generates a kind of momentum of its own, and there is no coun- 
terbalance. Nevertheless, it also needs to be said that so far Griesbach- 
ian scholars are not generally regarded as having made a strong enough 
case for the reinvention of redaction-criticism on the assumption that 
Mark used Matthew and Luke. Perhaps in time the demonstration will 
be forthcoming — but they have got a lot of stubborn academic minds to 
change and victory does not look imminent. For the time being at least, 
this kind of redaction-criticism based on Markan Priority will continue 
to be practised extensively and profitably by Gospel exegetes. 



Summary 

• Redaction-Criticism: The process by which scholars analyse 
the tendencies, nature and distinctive emphases of the Synoptic 
Gospels with a view to ascertaining the literary and theological 



1. I have gathered together several such tools, all available for free on the 
Internet on a site called AU-in-One Biblical Resources Search (created November 
1 999). http://wvv^.ntgateway.coni/multibib.htni. 



92 The Synoptic Problem 



standpoint of their authors. In study of Mark, Matthew and 
Luke, the theory of Markan Priority has been key. 
Mark's Gospel: Because of the theory of Markan Priority, 
most scholars have assumed that Mark was the first writer to 
forge together the traditional materials about Jesus into a 
narrative framework with a specific agenda. The Gospel genre 
was bom here. For many, the birth of the genre was the result 
of Mark's attempt to couch the Jesus tradition in the frame- 
work of a Passion that is anticipated from the beginning, 
subordinating the materials about Jesus' life to a narrative of 
suffering and death. 

Matthew and Luke: Markan Priority helps us to notice the 
extent to which Matthew and Luke are attempts to 'fix' Mark, 
to fill it out by adding birth and infancy tales at the beginning, 
fiiller resurrection stories at the end and lots of fresh teaching 
material in between. Direct comparison between Mark and 
Matthew and between Mark and Luke quickly reveals each 
evangelist's distinctive emphases, encouraging us to extrapo- 
late to an hypothesis about the evangelists' literary and 
theological agendas. 



3 . Historical Jesus and Christian Origins 

Markan Priority has also been the cornerstone of a great deal of work 
on the historical Jesus and Christian origins. After all, it is in the job 
description of a sound historian to sift sources, looking in particular for 
the earliest material and the most primitive traditions. If Mark is first, 
and if the Triple Tradition material is directly derived by Matthew and 
Luke from Mark, then it follows that the historian will want to spend 
more time — for the triple tradition material at least — with Mark than 
with Matthew and Luke. And this, on the whole, is the course that 
study of the historical Jesus and Christian origins has taken. When 
looking at Triple Tradition pericopae, Mark is accorded an exalted 
position. 

The special place that Markan Priority has in historical Jesus work is 
largely justified. It is natural, for example, for scholars to spend more 
time looking at Mark's account of the Passion of Jesus (Mk 14-16) 
than at, say, Matthew's largely derivative version (Mt. 26-28). Or there 
is a natural tendency in research into Jesus' parables to prefer the 



4. Building on Markan Priority 93 

Markan versions of Triple Tradition parables to the Matthean and 
Lukan versions derived from them. Or on Christology, we might note 
the differences between the Synoptics and extrapolate to an hypothesis 
about the development of views about Jesus. We looked at a good 
example of this in our first chapter above, the story of the Rich Young 
Ruler in which Matthew's account differs at just the point where there 
is potential ambiguity about Jesus' divinity (Mt. 19.16-17//Mk 10.17- 
18//Lk. 18.18-19, pp. 25-26 above), something which, on the assump- 
tion of Markan Priority, is due to Matthew's deliberate removal of 
ambiguity and embarrassment. 

Nevertheless, it does need to be added that the privilege accorded to 
Mark in the study of the historical Jesus and Christian origins can 
easily become excessive. Since here we touch on a point that is seldom 
mentioned, and since it will also be important later when we investigate 
the Double Tradition, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider this 
carefully. The basic concern is this: while it seems clear that Markan 
Priority is a fine working principle for historical enquiry, the obsession 
with positing it above all else has sometimes resulted in a kind of 
mechanical adherence that negates the possibility that Matthew and 
Luke, in their rewriting of Mark, might also have been interacting with 
oral traditions independent of Mark. We should ever be wary of the 
assumption that 'earliest' is necessarily best, that the text closest in 
time to the events being related is always and inevitably the most 
reliable. We only need to think of our own distance from leading 
events in the twentieth century to see the point. We might well write a 
better biography of Elvis Presley or John Lennon today than anyone 
was able to write in 1981, even though we might be directly dependent 
on that biography of 1981 for some of our material. It is not just that 
more research uncovers more sources. It is also a question of perspec- 
tive and context — sometimes the years intervening between events and 
accounts of them can generate a more critical, a more nuanced perspec- 
tive. The analogy is not perfect, of course, but it does help us to remem- 
ber not to allow an undue obsession with Matthew's and Luke's literary 
dependence on Mark to affect our historical Jesus scholarship. 

The point can be illustrated with a general example and a specific 
one. First, the general example. It is worth noting that Matthew's Jesus 
is a much more blatantly Jewish Jesus than is Mark's. Now in this, it 
seems likely that Matthew is effectively closer to the historical Jesus 
than is Mark. For it is a consensus of good historical Jesus scholarship 



94 The Synoptic Problem 

of the last generation or so that we need to take seriously Jesus' 
Judaism and Jewish context. If this is right, then one of the things that 
Matthew is doing in his Gospel is not just to 'Judaize' Jesus but to 're- 
Judaize' the Jesus of Mark's Gospel. Perhaps it was one of the things 
that led Matthew to write this Gospel, with its desire to draw from the 
treasure-chest both 'the new' and 'the old' (Mt. 13.52). The evangelist 
found much in Mark's Gospel that was of great worth to him, but he 
was concerned about its general Gentile bias in which Jesus sits lightly 
to the Law. 

Second, a specific example. In order to understand this, we need to 
remember that, from the earliest days of the Christian movement, oral 
traditions of Jesus' sayings and deeds were circulating. The first Chris- 
tians no doubt told one another, as well as new converts, about the 
Jesus story and Jesus' sayings. The apostle Paul witnesses to this — he 
reminds the readers of his letters of several of Jesus' sayings (for exam- 
ple 1 Cor. 7.12 on divorce; 9.14 on mission; and 11.23-26 on the 
Eucharist). Now it is hardly likely that oral traditions of the Jesus story 
died out as soon as the evangelists committed them to papyrus. Indeed 
the later evidence shows us that oral traditions of the Jesus story con- 
tinued for a considerable time after the Canonical Gospels first became 
known. Thus when Matthew and Luke were writing their Gospels, it 
seems highly likely that they will have interacted with oral traditions of 
some of the same material that they found in their primary literary 
source, Mark. This will mean that on occasion, Matthew and Luke will 
inevitably bear witness to different, sometimes more original versions 
of Jesus material than the versions found in Mark, their literary source. 

Since the point is seldom seen and might not be immediately grasped 
by people immersed in purely literary ways of thinking, I will attempt 
to illustrate it from our own culture. Most of us will be familiar with 
popular children's stories like Snow White and Aladdin, which continue 
to be told and retold in multiple different versions with local variations, 
expansions and colour. Many of us will also know the Disney versions 
of these stories. Now when Disney produced their version of Snow 
White in 1937, other retellings of the Snow White story did not immedi- 
ately die a death. Many later versions of Snow White were strongly 
influenced by the Disney version, but the latter did not obliterate other 
ways of telling the same story. So too, after Aladdin appeared in 1992, 
other versions of the Aladdin story continued to be told, even though 
many versions now tended to depict the genie along the same lines as 



4. Building on Markan Priority 



95 



in the Disney film. In other words, a new, apparently definitive version 
of a story even in our own culture strongly influences but does not 
obliterate other versions of the same story in subsequent retellings. 

It is likely that Matthew's and Luke's treatment of Mark worked 
along similar lines. Since they were already familiar with other ver- 
sions of some of the stories that they subsequently encountered in liter- 
ary form in Mark, they redacted Mark in interaction with these oral 
traditions. But how can we be sure that this is the case? Is there any- 
thing more than just general likelihood? What we need is a good 
example that will illustrate the point. We are lucky that we have an 
example of a pericope that we will suspect to have been particularly 
prone to influence from oral tradition, the words at the institution of the 
Eucharist. This is a useful pericope in this context because we will 
expect passages that fomied part of early Christian liturgy to have been 
well known, repeated in differing versions across a wide geographical 
stretch. Thus this is the kind of passage where we will expect to see 
Luke showing signs of knowledge of a different or more primitive than 
the one appearing in Mark. Have a look again at the Synopsis: 



Matthew 26.27-28 


Mark 14.23-24 


Luke 22.20 


/ Corinthians 
11.25 


And after he had 


And after he had 


And likewise (he 


And likewise (he 


taken the cup and 


taken the cup and 


took) the cup after 


took) the cup after 


given thanks, he 


given thanks, he 


supper. 


supper, 


gave it to them 


gave it to them and 






saying, 'Drink 


they all drank from 






from it, all. 


it. And he said to 


saying, 


saying. 


For 


them, 






this is my blood 


'This is my blood 


This cup is the 


'This cup is the 


of the covenant 


of the covenant 


new covenant in 


new covenant in 






my blood. 


my blood. Do this. 


which is shed for 


which is shed for 


which is shed for 


as often as you 


many for the 


many'. 


you'. 


drink, in my 


forgiveness of 






memory". 


sins". 









What is so interesting about this passage is that Paul's version is 
very early — the words of institution occur in 1 Corinthians, normally 
dated to the early fifties, well within a generation of the original event 
that is being related. Now Luke, in spite of the fact that we know him 
to have been literarily dependent on Mark, is nevertheless apparently 



96 The Synoptic Problem 

influenced by something resembling the very early tradition also known 
to Paul. Luke, in other words, seems to be rewriting Mark in interaction 
with a version of the same story known to him from his oral tradition.^ 
It is possible that Matthew too is reworking Mark in line with a version 
of the Eucharistic words more familiar to him. While the words unique 
to Matthew, 'for the forgiveness of sins', may simply be the evangel- 
ist's own creative addition, it is equally possible that these are words 
Matthew has added from his own oral tradition. 

In short, observations like this do not compromise the theory of the 
literary Priority of Mark, but they do have importance for studying the 
history of traditions. It appears to be quite plausible that both Matt- 
hew's and Luke's knowledge of oral tradition interacted with and 
affected their reading of Mark's Gospel, something that is always 
worth bearing in mind when we engage in the study of Christian 
origins. 

This important qualification having been made, the general point 
nevertheless remains absolutely vital, that studies of the historical Jesus 
and of early Christian origins will continue to build on the theory of 
Markan Priority. Perhaps most important of all, and so a good way to 
conclude this section, is the way that Markan Priority helps us to 
understand the very origin of the Gospel genre. For if Mark is indeed 
the first Gospel, then we inevitably find ourselves reflecting on how 
this Gospel was generated. If Matthew and Luke are primarily attempts 
to 'fix' Mark, to use it as a backbone but to correct it and fill it out, the 
question of the origin of Mark's Gospel presses itself on us forcefully. 
Is there anything in the book's structure, theology, outlook, appear- 
ance, that helps us to understand what caused the first evangelist to 
produce what we are now used to calling a 'Gospel'? The question 
might sound odd to us because we are so used to the idea of lives of 
Jesus of the kind Mark was the first to write. But it seems to have been 
by no means self-evident in the first Christian generation that a Gospel 
book of this kind was necessary or desirable — at least 30 years, and 
probably more, separate Mark's Gospel from the events it is relating. 

The fascinating thing about Mark's Gospel is that it does yield up 
answers to our questions about the origin of the Gospel genre. There 
are three interesting features of Mark's Gospel that give us clues: 

2. Michael Goulder. however, argues that Luke is dependent here on 1 Corin- 
thians and not on the oral tradition also known to Paul {Luke: A New Paradigm, 
ch. 4). 



4. Building on Markan Priority 97 

(a) there is a marked element of secrecy, enigma and mystery con- 
nected with Jesus' identity and activity; (b) in spite of this, icey ele- 
ments in the narrative strongly affirm that Jesus is Messiah and Son of 
God; and (c) Jesus' messiahship appears to be understood in line with a 
major stress on his suffering and death. A popular and plausible schol- 
arly explanation of these striking features is as follows. Mark's Gospel 
was generated by the desire to marry the traditional materials the evan- 
gelist knew with his own strongly held belief that Jesus was the Mes- 
siah, and, furthermore, that the key to and culmination of his Messiah- 
ship was suffering and death. Mark's means of stamping this belief on 
the disparate materials at his disposal, materials that were not always 
conducive to Mark's interests, was first, a 'mystery' motif and second, 
a related stress on Jesus' suffering and death. 

The mystery motif is a narrative device, a means by which Mark is 
able to affirm Jesus' messianic identity by placing confessions in the 
mouths of the narrator (1.1), God (1.11) and demons (1.24; 1.34; 3.11- 
12), while at the same time most of the characters in the drama — 
particularly the disciples, on whom Mark places special stress — remain 
blissfully ignorant of who Jesus is. What Mark seems to have done is to 
marry his traditions — stories and sayings that were often non-messianic 
or uninterested in the notion of Jesus' messiahship — with his strongly 
held belief that Jesus was indeed Messiah. And this marriage is 
perfonned by means of the narrative device of irony and enigma. The 
readers can see what the characters in the drama cannot see. We are 
allowed to hear God's perspective, the demons' perspective, and the 
narrator's perspective, but they cannot. 

But this is not the whole story — the messiahship of Jesus is nuanced 
and qualified by Mark in the direction of suffering and death. The first 
half of the Gospel, in which Jesus' messiahship is established, is sub- 
ordinated to the second half of the Gospel in which his destiny — suffer- 
ing and death — is predicted (three times, Mk 8.31; 9.31; 10.31-32), 
anticipated (Mk 10.35-45; 12.1-12) and then enacted (Mk 14-16). The 
pivot is the mid-point in the Gospel, the moment when Simon Peter 
correctly confesses that Jesus is Messiah (Mk 8.29), but fails to accept 
the key point, that Jesus will suffer, leading to the famous rebuke, 'Get 
thee behind me Satan!' (Mk 8.31-33). In the end, the disciples never 
manage to make the vital connection between suffering and Messiah- 
ship, but others do. First an unnamed woman 'anoints' Jesus for his 
'burial' (Mk 14.1-9; bear in mind that 'Messiah' means 'Anointed') 



98 The Synoptic Problem 

and then, after the Twelve have variously denied, betrayed and fled 
from Jesus, a group of women replace them as the true disciples at the 
cross, having 'followed' him and 'ministered' to him from the begin- 
ning (Mk 15.40-41). 

Mark is all about a Messiah who suffers. It is the relentless theme of 
his Gospel, increasing in intensity as the narrative reaches its goal. It 
seems clear that the writer of this Gospel had an ulterior motive. Many 
see him as in the legacy of the apostle Paul, for whom the crucified 
Messiah was the heart of 'the gospel' message (e.g. Gal. 6.14). Accord- 
ingly, given the mystery motif connected with Jesus' messiahship, 
especially in the first half of the Gospel, and given Mark's stress on 
Jesus as a messiah who was crucified in the second half, it seems likely 
that the Gospel genre originated in Mark's attempt to take Paul's mes- 
sage and marry it to the traditions about Jesus' life and death that he 
knew. Or, to use somewhat old-fashioned, technical terminology, he 
has generated his Gospel by 'Paulinizing the kerygma'} 

Without the theory of Markan Priority, a theory that emerges directly 
from the careful study of the Synoptic Problem, none of these reflec- 
tions would be possible. We would have to paint a radically different 
picture of Christian origins. There seems little doubt, then, that the 
Synoptic Problem in general and Markan Priority in particular have an 
enormous impact on the way we do New Testament scholarship. It is a 
useful reminder that having some idea of the Synoptic Problem is 
simply indispensable for reflection on the identity of the historical 
Jesus and the development of Christian doctrine. One should not be 
persuaded by the rhetoric of those who say that the Synoptic Problem is 
boring or irrelevant! 

Summary 

• Markan Priority has caused scholars of the historical Jesus to 
pay special attention to his accounts. In historical Jesus 



3. Discussions of the Gospel genre abound, and various suggestions have been 
made about ancient parallels for the Gospel genre. My point here is, not withstand- 
ing that there are helpful parallels in other ancient materials, these are the factors 
that probably led Mark to produce what most agree to be the first 'Gospel'. For 
discussion of the secrecy motif in Mark, a good starting point is CM. Tuckett (ed.), 
The Messianic Secret (London: SPCK; Philadelphia: Fortress Press Press, 1983). 



4. Building on Markan Priority 99 



research, Mark is therefore of key importance. Nevertheless, it 
also needs to be noticed that literary priority is not everything, 
and reflection on parallel Synoptic accounts sometimes leads 
to the observation that Matthew and Luke may have interacted 
not only with Mark but also with oral traditions as they 
composed their Gospels. 

The theory of Markan Priority encourages fruitful investiga- 
tion of the origin of the Gospel genre. It is plausible to think 
of Mark as the first author to compose a gospel, gathering 
together the traditions at his disposal and subordinating mate- 
rials about Jesus' life to a narrative focused on the Passion, so 
stamping his book with a stress on a Pauline theology of a 
suffering messiah. 



4. Textual Criticism 

This is the study of the actual physical manuscripts that are our wit- 
nesses to the text of the New Testament, and it can interact with the 
theory of Markan Priority in some fascinating ways. For if we place 
Mark first, then Matthew and Luke become two of Mark's earliest 
editors. Like later scribes copying out the text of Mark they inevitably 
make corrections, additions, omissions and changes. And the changes 
Matthew and Luke made as they rewrote Mark's material are especially 
interesting in that they often parallel changes made by scribes copying 
Mark. Sometimes this will be because the Markan scribes have been 
influenced by the very changes that Matthew and Luke made in their 
'versions' of Mark; sometimes it will be because the thought processes 
that were influencing Matthew and Luke will have influenced Markan 
scribes too; and sometimes it will be both factors, interacting with one 
another. 

To understand the point, we need to remember that we do not 
possess the original autographs of the Gospels, but we work, instead, 
from the many manuscript 'witnesses'. One of the text critic's key tasks 
is the attempt to reconstruct the original text of each Gospel as accu- 
rately as possible on the basis of careful analysis of these manuscripts, 
a job that is particularly interesting in the case of the Synoptic Gospels, 
where the material is often so similar. It is clear, for example, that 
scribes who copied texts of Mark were often influenced by the parallel 
texts in Matthew and Luke. They 'assimilated' to the more familiar 



100 



The Synoptic Problem 



text, harmonizing to the version that they knew best. Consider the 
following text, for example: 



Matthew 12.3-4 


Mark 2.25-26 


Luke 6.3-4 


He said to them. 


And he said to them. 


And Jesus answered. 


'Have you not read 


'Have you never read 


'Have you not read 


what David did, when 


what David did, when 


what David did when 


he 


he was in need and 


he 


was hungry, and those 


was hungry, he and those 


was hungry, he and those 


who were with him: how 


who were with him: how 


who were with him: how 


he entered the house of 


he entered the house of 


he entered the house of 


God 


God, when Ahiathar was 
high priest. 


God. 


and ate the 


and ate the 


and took and ate the 


bread of the Presence, 


bread of the Presence. 


bread of the Presence, 


which it was not lawful 


which it is not lawful 


which it is not lawful 


for him to eat nor for 


for any but the priests to 


for any but the priests to 


those who were with 


eat, and also gave it to 


eat, and also gave it to 


him. but only for the 


those who were with 


those with 


priests? 


him?' 


him?' 



The words in italics here, 'when Abiathar was high priest' (Mk 
2.26), are an error. The incident related (1 Sam. 21.1-6) involves not 
Abiathar but his father Ahimelech. On the assumption of Markan 
Priority, Matthew and Luke realized this and omitted the words (for 
there are no manuscripts of Matthew and Luke that feature the words 
'when Abiathar was high priest'). It is of interest that certain scribes of 
Mark made the same excision, perhaps under the influence of the more 
familiar versions of the account in Matthew and Luke, perhaps (like 
them) perceiving the error. Both Codex Bezae ('D'), an important 
manuscript of the Gospels and Acts produced in about 400, and the 
Freer Gospels (or Codex Washingtonianus, 'W'), an important manu- 
script of the Gospels copied in the late fourth century, do not feature 
these words in their copy of Mark. 

In cases like this what one really needs is a three-dimensional 
Synopsis.^ Normally, we look at two-dimensional synopses that show 
us how critical, reconstructed texts of the Gospels relate to one another. 



4. I am grateful to my colleague David Parker for some of these observations 
{The Living Text of the Gospels [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997], 
ch. 7). 



4. Building on Markan Priority 



101 



This is what we have done in each example in this book so far. But one 
of the difficulties with this standard approach is that it can lull one into 
a false sense of security about the state of the text of the respective 
Gospels, and in many cases something more elaborate would be more 
appropriate. Perhaps, one day, someone will invent an electronic synop- 
sis that enables one to view not just critical texts of Matthew, Mark and 
Luke in parallel but also different texts of each of the Gospels, layered 
on top of one another. In the meantime, we can at least add an extra 
column to our threefold synopsis to illustrate the point a little further. 
Here columns 1, 2 and 4 represent the usual 'critical text' of the Synop- 
tics on which we have relied elsewhere in this book. This critical text is 
a reconstruction, the best approximation that the experts can make to 
what the original versions of the New Testament looked like. Column 3 
shows how the same text looks in Codex Bezae, the early manuscript of 
the Gospels mentioned above. 



Matthew 8.3 


Mark 1.41 


Mar li 1.41 


Luke 5.13 


(Critical Text) 


(Critical Text) 


(Codex Bezae) 


(Critical Text) 


And 


And having, been 


And having been 


And 




moved with 


moved with 






compassion, and 


anger, and 




having stretched 


having stretched 


having stretched 


having stretched 


out the hand, he 


out his hand, he 


out his hand, he 


out the hand, he 


touched him. 


touched (him). 


touched him. 


touched him, 


saying. 


and says to him. 


and says to him. 


saying. 


i will; be clean'. 


'I will; be clean'. 


i will; be clean'. 


'I will; be clean'. 



One of the fascinating elements about the text here is the dis- 
agreement over whether to read 'compassion' or 'anger'. Given that the 
latter is in many ways the more difficult reading — scribes are likely to 
have preferred the idea of a compassionate Jesus to an angry Jesus — it 
may be that Codex Bezae has the authentic reading. This is then a 
different but equally interesting case of textual criticism interacting 
with the theory of Markan Priority. For here one cannot help thinking 
that Matthew and Luke are more likely to have changed a text that read 
'moved with anger' than they were to have changed a text that read 
'moved with compassion', especially as Matthew has that very phrase 
in a similar context elsewhere (Mt. 20.34). In this example, then, tex- 
tual criticism helps us to reconstruct the text that may have been in 



1 02 The Synoptic Problem 

front of Matthew and Luke, and to discover a reason for their mutual 
omission of words in Mark. 

Textual criticism can, then, interact profitably with Synoptic Problem 
scholarship, and in particular with the theory of Markan Priority. In the 
story of the Leper, it can help us to speculate on the text of Mark from 
which Matthew and Luke were working, adding an extra, fascinating 
dimension to our Synoptic comparison and helping us to remember that 
when we open the Bible we are looking not at the evangelists' original 
words but at a modem scholarly reconstruction of what they may have 
written. 

And in our first example, the story of the Cornfield on the Sabbath, 
text criticism can help us to see how scribes were influenced by Matt- 
hew's and Luke's redaction of Mark. This does not necessarily consti- 
tute an argument for the Priority of Mark, for it is a fact that scribes of 
Mark oft;en 'assimilated' to the other Gospels, and especially to Matt- 
hew, thus rewriting Mark, largely unconsciously, in the light of the 
more familiar and much preferred Matthew. But to press this would be 
to miss the point that Markan scribes are on what we might label a 
'trajectory', which begins, on the assumption of Markan Priority, with 
Matthew's and Luke's rewriting of Mark. Thus Matthew's and Luke's 
interaction with Mark ultimately changed Mark too. It is arguably a 
mark of the success of their rewriting of Mark that they so influenced 
the textual tradition. And in their interaction with Matthew and Luke, 
such Markan scribes take a position tantamount to correcting Mark, 
tacitly siding with the later Gospels in their desire to correct and 
improve it. 



Summary 

• Textual criticism, the study of the manuscripts of the New 
Testament, reminds us that the differences between Matthew, 
Mark and Luke are differences between modem, critical texts 
of the Synoptics, texts that have been reconstmcted. It is 
fascinating and informative to view Markan Priority through 
the multiple lenses provided by textual criticism. Sometimes 
we see signs of a text of Mark that perhaps Matthew and Luke 
also saw; sometimes we see texts of Mark that have been 
influenced by the changes made by Matthew and Luke. 



4. Building on Markan Priority 1 03 



5. Conclusion 

Markan Priority remains at tlie heart of a great deal of New Testament 
study. Our reflections on Marican Priority have helped us to see just 
how relevant and valuable the study of the Synoptic Problem has 
become as a building block for other elements in Gospel scholarship. 
We have looked in this chapter at three important areas where reflec- 
ting on Markan Priority can help us to discuss the New Testament and 
Christian origins. Let us briefly summarize: 

(a) Redaction-criticism: This has been one of the key critical 
methods in New Testament scholarship, analysing the tenden- 
cies, nature and distinctive emphases of the Synoptic Gospels 
with a view to ascertaining the theological standpoint of their 
authors. In study of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the theory of 
Markan Priority has been key: 

• Mark 's Gospel: Because of the theory of Markan Priority, 
most scholars have assumed that Mark was the first writer 
to forge together the traditional materials about Jesus into 
a narrative framework with a specific agenda. The Gospel 
genre was bom here. For many, the birth of the genre was 
the result of Mark's attempt to couch the Jesus tradition in 
the framework of a Passion that is anticipated from the 
beginning, subordinating the materials about Jesus' life to 
a narrative of suffering and death. 

• Matthew and Luke: Markan Priority helps us to notice the 
extent to which Matthew and Luke are attempts to 'fix' 
Mark, to fill it out by adding birth and infancy tales at the 
beginning, fuller resurrection stories at the end and lots of 
fresh teaching material in between. Direct comparison 
between the Synoptics quickly reveals each evangelist's 
distinctive emphases, encouraging us to extrapolate to an 
hypothesis about the evangelists' literary and theological 
agendas. 

(b) Historical Jesus and Christian Origins: 

• Markan Priority has caused scholars of the historical Jesus 
to pay special attention to Mark's accounts. In historical 
Jesus research, Mark is therefore of key importance. Never- 
theless, it also needs to be noticed that literary priority is 



1 04 The Synoptic Problem 

not everything, and reflection on parallel Synoptic accounts 
sometimes leads to the observation that Matthew and Luke 
may have interacted not only with Mark but also with oral 
traditions as they composed their Gospels. 
• The theory of Markan Priority encourages fruitful investi- 
gation of the origin of the Gospel genre. It is plausible to 
think of Mark as the first author to compose a Gospel, 
gathering together the traditions at his disposal and sub- 
ordinating materials about Jesus' life to a narrative focused 
on the Passion, so stamping his book with a stress on a 
Pauline theology of a suffering Messiah, 
(c) Textual criticism: the study of the manuscript tradition of the 
Gospels reminds us that the differences between Matthew, 
Mark and Luke are differences between modem, critical texts 
of the Synoptics, texts that have been reconstructed by means 
of textual criticism. It is fascinating and informative to view 
Markan Priority through the multiple lenses provided by 
textual criticism. Sometimes we see a signs of a text of Mark 
that perhaps Matthew and Luke also saw; sometimes we see 
texts of Mark that have been influenced by the changes made 
by Matthew and Luke. 

These are just some of the ways in which we might reflect profitably 
on the theory of Markan Priority. For our purposes, the most important 
corollary of our decision in favour of Markan Priority is, however, the 
one that builds on it to help us understand properly the data for which 
we have not yet accounted on our way through the maze. Markan 
Priority has profound implications for how we solve the remainder of 
the Synoptic Problem. When in Chapter 2 we looked carefully at the 
data, we divided it up into four major types, Triple Tradition, Double 
Tradition, Special Matthew and Special Luke. The Triple Tradition 
material, the pericopae that feature in all three Synoptics, seems to be 
more than adequately explained by the theory of Markan Priority. In 
each case, Matthew and Luke are literarily dependent on Mark. Let us 
turn next, therefore, to the Double Tradition material, the pericopae 
shared by Matthew and Luke alone. 

There are two ways to explain the Double Tradition material by 
taking for granted and building on Markan Priority. The first of these 
theories we will look at next, the theory that Matthew and Luke used 
Mark independently of one another, and thus that they could only have 



4. Building on Markan Priority 1 05 

taken over the Double Tradition from another, hitherto undiscovered 
source. The second theory we will look at in the final chapter, in which 
we will consider the weaknesses of the Q hypothesis, and build on 
Markan Priority by suggesting that Luke knew Matthew as well as 
Mark. 



Chapter 5 

Q 

1 . Introduction 

'Q', the letter used for the hypothetical source that allegedly lies behind 
much of Matthew and Luke, sounds mysterious and intriguing. On our 
way through the maze, here is something that has a sense of the 
thrilling. To many, the term Q quickly conjures up images from James 
Bond or Star Trek. Perhaps, the reader thinks, this Q will be like the 
James Bond character Q, played by Desmond Llewellyn, ever able to 
provide some suitable new gadget appropriate to the occasion, equip- 
ping us against implausible yet dangerous situations. Or perhaps it will 
be like the Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an ever powerful, 
strangely illusive, oddly irritating presence always lurking on the side- 
lines to divert us from conducting our affairs in the way we would like. 

Without doubt, the study of Q does carry a thrill for many scholars 
and students of the New Testament. Some think that this lost source 
provides us with a window onto the earliest years of the Christian 
movement, and the work of uncovering Q is now often likened to the 
work of excavating material in an archaeological dig. Not surprisingly, 
the 'discovery' in modem times of this lost document has led to some- 
thing of an industry in New Testament scholarship, attempting to recon- 
struct its wording, its theology, its history, its origin. But before any of 
this is possible, there is a prior question, a question sometimes ignored, 
that requires careful attention; What is the evidence for this hypotheti- 
cal document? How do we know that Q existed? Is the hypothesis 
based on solid ground or might the Q of Gospel scholarship turn out to 
be as fictional as the Qs of James Bond and Star Trek? 

When beginning to explore the maze, we encountered two key 
synoptic phenomena. The first and most striking kind of material that 
we met was the 'Triple Tradition', material that is common to Matthew, 
Mark and Luke. It is this material that was our primary focus in 



5.Q 107 

Chapter 3, for the standard explanation of the Triple Tradition is 
Markan Priority, the theory that Mark was used by both Matthew and 
Luke. The second kind of material we encountered was the phenome- 
non of 'Double Tradition', material that occurs in both Matthew and 
Luke but not in Mark. The standard explanation for this material is the 
'Q' hypothesis, the notion that Matthew and Luke took the Double 
Tradition from a source now lost to us. 

Markan Priority and Q are the two aspects that make up the con- 
sensus view, the Two-Source Theory (see Fig. 1 , p. 20 above). 

Having looked at the first facet of this theory, Markan Priority, it is 
now time to progress to the second, Q. As before, it is important that 
the readers know their guide. While I think that Markan Priority is 
rightly the consensus view, my view on Q attempts to challenge the 
consensus. It can be shown that the standard arguments for the exis- 
tence of Q are flawed and that the hypothesis is simply unable to bear 
the weight of the evidence against it. This demonstration, though, will 
have to wait largely until our next chapter. Before that, it will be nec- 
essary to explain the grounds for the postulation of Q so that the reader 
can see clearly why it is usually regarded as necessary. 





Summary 








• Q is the name given to an hypothetical 


source 


commonly 


invoked to 


explain the existence 


of the 


Double 


Tradition. 


Mark and Q 


are Matthew and Luke 


's 'two 


sources' 


, hence the 


term the Twc 


)-Source Theory. 









2. The Double Tradition 

First, we should revise our acquaintance with the Double Tradition. 
Double Tradition is the name given to material that is common to 
Matthew and Luke but which is not found in Mark. There are between 
200 and 250 verses of such material and these verses are characterized 
by a relative lack of narrative material. These verses include the Lost 
Sheep, the Lord's Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Parable of the Talents (or 
Pounds), the Centurion's Servant (or Son), and many other well-known 
passages. 

Double Tradition appears in the Synopsis (naturally) in two columns, 
one for Matthew and one for Luke. The degree of agreement in wording 



108 



The Synoptic Problem 



between Matthew and Luke varies. Sometimes there is almost a hund- 
red per cent verbatim agreement, as with John the Baptist's preaching: 



Matthew 3.7-10 



'Offspring of vipers! Who warned 
you to flee from the coming 
wrath? Bear fruit therefore worthy 
of repentance and do not presume 
to say in yourselves, "We have 
Abraham as father"; for I say to 
you that God is able from these 
stones to raise up children to 
Abraham. Already the axe is laid 
at the root of the trees; for every 
tree not producing good fruit is 
cut down and cast into the fire'. 



Luke 3. 7-9 



'Offspring of vipers! Who warned 
you to flee from the coming 
wrath? Bear fruit therefore worthy 
of repentance and do not begin 
to say in yourselves, "We have 
Abraham as father"; for 1 say to 
you that God is able from these 
stones to raise up children to 
Abraham. Already the axe is laid 
at the root of the trees; for every 
tree not producing good fruit is 
cut down and cast into the fire'. 



Here, only the Greek words for 'presume' and 'begin' differ. 

Though on other occasions (for example the parables of the Great 
Supper and the Talents/Pounds, Mt. 22.1-14//Lk. 14.16-24) the word- 
ing is not so close, the verbatim identity in passages like this indicates 
some sort of literary link between Matthew and Luke, a literary link in 
addition to their common dependence on Mark. The Double Tradition 
material of this kind might then be explained in any of three ways: 

1 . Matthew used Luke. 

2. Luke used Matthew. 

3. Matthew and Luke both used a third document now lost to us. 

Of these three options for explaining the origin of the Double 
Tradition material, option 3 is by far the most popular. The third docu- 
ment postulated is given the name Q, probably originating from the 
German for 'source'. Quelle. Q is thought to be necessary for several 
reasons. In this chapter our main task will be to look at these reasons. 



Summary 

The Double Tradition is non-Markan material common to 
Matthew and Luke. The frequent near verbatim identity points 
to some kind of literary link. The usual explanation is that 
Matthew and Luke were both dependent on a lost source, Q. 



5.Q 109 



3. The Case for Q 

Q is a derivative hypothesis. It is the result of a prior assertion, that 
Matthew and Luke used Mark independently of one other. As soon as 
one has postulated that Matthew and Luke are independent of each 
other but at the same time dependent on Mark, it is the natural next step 
to suggest that their common non-Markan material comes from a 
third, otherwise unknown source. Therefore many of the traditional 
arguments for Q are actually — quite naturally — arguments against the 
dependence of one evangelist (usually Luke) on another (usually 
Matthew). In other words, arguments against option 2 in the list above, 
Luke's use of Matthew, are constituted as arguments in favour of 
option 3, mutual dependence on a hypothetical document. The theory 
that Matthew has read Luke (option 1 ) is rarely put forward by sensible 
scholars and will not be considered here. 

The first four arguments below are of this type: they are arguments 
against Luke's use of Matthew, and so in favour of the Q hypothesis. 
But there are also, especially in more recent literature on the Synoptic 
Problem, arguments that are more positive. The fifth and sixth argu- 
ments below are like this. In other words, the first four arguments 
below give the same negative reason for believing in Q: that the alter- 
native, Lukan knowledge of Matthew, is untenable. The fifth and sixth 
arguments below are positive: that Q is a helpful hypothesis. 



Summary 

The case for Q depends largely on the prior assertion that 
Matthew and Luke are independent of one another. Thus 
arguments in favour of Q are often, in effect, arguments 
against the primary alternative, Luke's direct use of Matthew. 



Argument 1. Luke's Order 

Many argue that Luke's arrangement of Double Tradition material is 
inexplicable on the assumption that he has used Matthew. While a lot 
of the Double Tradition appears in Matthew in five nicely structured 
blocks of thematically related discourse (Mt. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), 
the same material appears in Luke in a radically different format, much 
of it in a big central section (sometimes called The Travel Narrative', 



1 1 The Synoptic Problem 

Lk. 9.51-18.14). The point is felt so strongly that scholars have charac- 
terized Luke's treatment (on this assumption) as the work of a 'crank', 
or as one who has 'demolished' his source, or who has 'unscrambled 
the egg with a vengeance'. Graham Stanton, for example, says that if 
Luke read Matthew, he 'has virtually demolished Matthew's carefully 
constructed discourses'' and Christopher Tuckett asks, 'If Luke knew 
Matthew, why has he changed the Matthean order so thoroughly, dis- 
rupting Matthew's clear and concise arrangement of the teaching mate- 
rial into five blocks, each concerned with a particular theme?' ^ 

An important aspect of this argument is that Matthew often seems to 
find an appropriate Markan context for Double Tradition material while 
Luke does so more rarely. The John the Baptist material and the Temp- 
tations, which feature both Markan and Q elements, occur in the same 
context in all three Synoptics, but after this, Matthew and Luke usually 
diverge in their placement of Q pericopae. Matthew and Luke differ 
fairly consistently in their placing of this material. 

There is one passage that is regarded as making the point with 
special clarity, the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), for if Luke used 
Matthew, he cut the length of his Sermon considerably, writing the less 
memorable Sermon on the Plain (Lk. 6.17-49), omitting much and 
distributing the remainder at many different points in the Gospel. Fitz- 
myer, for example, asks, 'Why would Luke have wanted to break up 
Matthew's sermons, especially the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating 
only a part of it into his Sermon on the Plain and scattering the rest of it 
in an unconnected form in the loose context of the travel account'.^ 

Since Matthew's Sermon is widely regarded as one of the finest 
pieces of religious writing of all time, most have felt it to be unlikely 
that Luke would have disturbed, rewritten and spoilt his source. It is 
seen as more plausible that Matthew composed the Sermon using the 
shorter discourse in Q, best represented now by Luke's Sermon on the 
Plain, at the same time incorporating elements from elsewhere in Q as 
well as adding fresh material. 



1 . Graham N. Stanton, 'Matthew, Gospel of, DBI, pp. 432-35 (434). 

2. Christopher M. Tuckett, 'Synoptic Problem', ABD, VI, pp. 263-70 (268). 

3. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke: Introduction, Translation and 
Notes. I-IX (Anchor Bible, 28 A, New York: Doubleday, 1981), p. 74; cf. Tuckett, 
'Synoptic Problem', ABD, VI, p. 268. 



5.Q 



111 



Summary 

Luke's order of Double Tradition material, and especially his 
rearrangement of the Sermon on the Mount, seems inexplica- 
ble on the assumption that he used Matthew. 



Argument 2. Luke 's Ignorance of Matthew 's Additions to Mark 
Another German scholar, Werner Georg Kiimmel, wrote an Introduc- 
tion to the New Testament in the 1960s that is still widely used today. 
He has a short discussion of the Q hypothesis in which he asks, is it 
conceivable that Luke would have taken over none of the Matthean 
additions to the Markan text?'^ If Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark, 
he must have paid little attention to Matthew's versions of Mark's 
material. If Luke knew only Mark and Q, on the other hand, this failure 
to feature Matthew's additions to Mark is entirely explicable. 

Mt. 12.5-7 is typical of the examples given. It is an insertion into Mk 
2.23-28 par. (Cornfield), which features additional justification for the 
breaking of the Sabbath, including a quotation from Hos. 6.6. Or 
14.28-31 is mentioned, where Peter walks on the water, in the middle 
of the Markan pericope in which Jesus walks on the water (Mk 6.45- 
52//Mt. 14.22-33). Or there is 16.17-19, in which Jesus commends Peter 
in the middle of the pericope of his Confession at Caesarea Philippi 
(Mk 8.27-30, par.): 



MatlheM- 16.15-19 


Mark 8.29-30 


Luke 9.20-21 


15. He said to them. 


29. And he asked them. 


20. And he said to them, 


'But who do you say that I 


'But who do you say that I 


'But who do you say that I 


am?" 16. Simon Peter 


am?" Peter 


am?" And Peter 


replied. 'You are the 


answered him, 'You are 


answered, 'The 


Christ, the Son of the living 


the Christ". 


Christ of 


God". 




God'. 


1 7. And Jesus answered 






him. 'Blessed are you. 






Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh 






and blood has not revealed 






this to you. but my Father 






who is in heaven. 18. 






And I tell you, you are 







4. Kiimmel. Introduction to the New Testament, p. 50. 



112 



The Synoptic Problem 



Peter, and on this rock I 






will build my church, and 






the powers of death shall 






not prevail against it. 19. 






I will give you the keys of 






the kingdom of heaven, and 






whatever you bind on earth 






shall be bound in heaven. 






and whatever you loose on 






earth shall be loosed in 






heaven'. 20. Then he 


30. And he 


21. But he 


strictly charged the 


charged 


charged and commanded 


disciples to tell no one that 


them to tell no one 


them to tell this to no one. . . 


he was the Christ. 


about him. 





One can see the point at a glance. There is some interesting, non- 
Markan material in Matthew 16.17-19 that has no parallel in Luke. The 
question always asked is, Why, on the assumption that Luke used 
Matthew as well as Mark, would he have omitted this fresh Matthaean 
material? 

Other examples might be given, but the point seems clear. If Luke 
knew Matthew, it is regarded as strange that he apparently shows no 
knowledge of such Matthaean additions to Mark. And if Luke was 
ignorant of Matthew in passages like these, he was ignorant of Matt- 
hew everywhere, and so the Q hypothesis becomes necessary in order 
to make sense of the Double Tradition. 



Summary 

• Luke appears to be ignorant of Matthew's modifications of 
Mark. This is inexplicable on the assumption that he knew 
Matthew. 



Argument 3. Luke 's Lack of 'M' Material 

As we saw when surveying the data in Chapter 2 above, there is a large 
body of material that occurs only in Matthew, the material that is 
known as 'special Matthew' or 'M'. Those who question Luke's use of 
Matthew point out that this material is entirely absent in Luke and thus 
that he must have been ignorant of his Gospel. Fitzmyer, for example, 
asks, 'If Luke depended on Matthew, why did he constantly omit 



5.Q 113 

Matthean material in episodes lacking Markan parallels, e.g. in the 
infancy and resurrection narratives?'^ 

The argument sounds circular — Luke does not feature the M material, 
the passages found only in Matthew, by definition. But the point gen- 
erally made is that it seems unlikely that Luke would have omitted so 
much of this rich Matthaean material. Luke's omission of the visit of 
the Gentile magi (Mt. 2.1-12) in Matthew's Birth Narrative, for exam- 
ple, is thought unlikely for an evangelist like Luke who was so inter- 
ested in the Gentile mission. It is added more broadly that Luke's Birth 
Narrative (Lk. 1-2) is so radically different from Matthew's (Mt. 1-2) 
that again it is unlikely that Luke knew of it. 

This argument is related to the previous one, not least given that 
some of Matthew's special material (M) seems to occur in Triple Tradi- 
tion contexts (as we saw in Chapter 2, above). Both of these arguments 
focus on what is present in Matthew but lacking in Luke, just as with 
Markan Priority one looks at what is present in Matthew and Luke but 
lacking in Mark. 



Summary 

• Matthew's special material ('M') does not feature at all in 
Luke, a sign that Luke did not know Matthew's Gospel. 



Argument 4. Alternating Primitivity 

The argument against Luke's use of Matthew, and so in favour of the Q 
hypothesis, is strengthened further by a fourth consideration. If Luke 
read Matthew, his versions of Double Tradition material ought always 
to be secondary to Matthew's versions of the same material. On that 
theory he would, after all, always be writing after Matthew and thus 
with earlier versions of sayings in front of him, something that, accord- 
ing to most, is manifestly not the case. Rather, it seems to be the case 
that sometimes Matthew preserves the more original form of a saying 
appearing in the Double Tradition; sometimes Luke preserves the more 
original form. This, it is thought, would be inexplicable if one evangel- 
ist (Luke) is following the other (Matthew). 

Thus, sometimes Luke seems to be secondary to Matthew, as here, 
for example: 

5. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, p. 75. 



114 



The Synoptic Problem 



MaltheM ~.I1 


Lulie 11.13 


•If you, then, who are evil, know- 


"If you, then, who are evil, know 


how to give good gifts to your 


how to give good gifts to your 


children, how much more will 


children, how much more will 


your Father who is in heaven give 


your Father who is in heaven give 


good gifts to those who 


ihe Holy Spirit to those who 


ask him'. 


ask him'. 



Most believe that Q featured the term 'good gifts', which makes 
good literary sense of the material that has preceded this conclusion, 
which talks about 'good gifts'. Luke, with his special interest in the 
Holy Spirit, is then thought to have changed the Q version that is now 
better represented by Matthew. 

Points like this, Matthaean Priority in Q material, cause no problems 
for the thesis of Luke's knowledge of Matthew, but the situation does 
not always seem to be like this. The Q theory seems to be demanded by 
the presence on other occasions of more primitive wording in Luke's 
form of Double Tradition material. Perhaps the most popular examples 
of supposed Lukan priority in Q material are the Lord's Prayer (Lk. 
11.2-4; cf. Mt. 6.9-13), the Beatitudes (Lk. 6.20-23; cf Mt. 5.3-12) and 
the doom oracle (Lk. 11.49-51; cf. Mt. 23.34-36). Luke's Lord's 
Prayer, to begin with, is more terse than Matthew's. It is thought 
unlikely that Luke would have reworked the (now more popular) 
Matthaean version: 



Matthew 6.9-13 


Luke 11.2b-4 


9. Our Father who art in heaven. 


Father, 


Hallowed be thy name 


Hallowed be thy name. 


10. Thy kingdom come. 


Thy kingdom come. 


TTiy will be done, 




On earth as it is in heaven. 




11. Give us this day our bread for 


3. Give us each day our bread for 


the morrow; 


the morrow; 


12. And forgive us our debts. 


4. And forgive us our sins. 


As we also have forgiven 


For we ourselves forgive every one 


our debtors; 


who is indebted to us; 


13. And lead us not into temptation. 


And lead us not into temptation. 


But deliver us from evil. 





It is thought unlikely that Luke would have abbreviated the Matt- 
haean version that is now so familiar to us, omitting lines like 'Thy will 



5.Q 115 

be done, On earth as it is in heaven' and 'deliver us from evil'. The Q 
version of the prayer, then, will probably have looked more like Luke's 
version, and the extra Matthaean parts (including 'Our Father who art 
in heaven') will be distinctively Matthaean additions. 

Likewise the Beatitudes. Luke's 'Blessed are the poor' (Lk. 6.20) is 
thought likely to be the original Q form from which Matthew devel- 
oped his 'spiritualized' version 'Blessed are the poor in Spirit' (Mt. 
5.3). The reverse direction, the notion that Luke derived his down-to- 
earth 'Blessed are (you) poor' from Matthew's 'Blessed are the poor in 
spirit' is thought to be quite unlikely. 

In all these and other cases, it is felt that the Lukan version is less 
characteristically Lukan than the Matthean version is characteristically 
Matthean, a situation easily explicable if both are independently redact- 
ing an unknown source, Q, but implausible if Luke is redacting 
Matthew. 



Summary 

• Sometimes Matthew, and sometimes Luke seems to have 
the more primitive form of Double Tradition material. If Luke 
had used Matthew, one would have expected Matthew always 
to have the more primitive form, and Luke always to be 
secondary. 

Argument 5. The Distinctive Character ofQ 

Forms of these four arguments (order; the lack of Matthaean additions 
to Mark in Luke; Luke's lack of M material; and alternating primitiv- 
ity) have been important in the establishment of the Q hypothesis. They 
have been repeated many times over at least the last century or so. The 
four arguments work on the assumption that by demonstrating the 
implausibility of Luke's use of Matthew, one establishes the plausibil- 
ity of the Q hypothesis. 

It would be a mistake, however, to think of Q as depending solely on 
negative reasoning. The hypothesis is not simply about the unlikeli- 
hood of Luke's knowledge of Matthew. It is also about the probability 
of Q. There is, therefore, a second category of argument concerning the 
existence of Q and it is based on the notion that Q makes its presence 
felt in the Gospels. It distinguishes itself from the other material in the 



1 1 6 The Synoptic Problem 

Synoptics not purely because it provides a preferable explanation for 
the phenomenon of the Double Tradition but also because it is held to 
have a special theology, vocabulary, history, structure and style. Q is 
not the same as Matthew and it is distinct from Luke. 

The importance of this argument for Q should not be underestimated. 
Indeed, if anything, it has grown stronger in recent years. Though 
sometimes spelt out explicitly, this argument is more often an implicit 
one. There is now a vast amount of literature studying Q as a document 
in its own right. Just as scholars have investigated the origins, char- 
acteristics, theology, community and genre of each of the Synoptic 
Gospels, so too they are now investigating Q along the same lines. The 
research, like similar research into the Gospels, is wide-ranging, and Q 
scholars argue among each other about their conclusions. But one 
implicit consensus emerges: that Q is a document in its own right that 
does not look like Matthew, Mark or Luke. Its distinctiveness is 
becoming an important argument in its favour. 



Summary 

There are also two more positive arguments for the existence 
of Q, which do not focus on the implausibility of Luke's use 
of Matthew. 

The first of these arguments is that Q has a distinctive char- 
acter. Q is very different from Matthew and from Luke. There 
is 'space' between the theology, history, genre and character 
of Q and the theology, history, genre and character of the 
Synoptics. Q makes its presence felt. 



Argument 6. The Redaction-Critical Case 

There is, further, a third category of argument, in addition to those from 
the unlikelihood of Lukan use of Matthew and from the distinctiveness 
of Q. Like the latter argument, this one has surfaced relatively recently. 
It depends on the success of a related discipline, redaction-criticism, a 
tool — let us remind ourselves — that might be defined as the study of 
the way in which an author 'redacts' (edits) his source material with a 
view to ascertaining the theological standpoint of the text and its 
author. But in order to study the ways in which an author uses his 
source material, one has to have an idea of what that source material is. 



5.Q 117 

On the whole, scholars have worked with the assumption that Matthew 
and Luke were using Mark and Q. It is then thought that the success 
with which the redaction-critics' work has been done provides a 
corroboration of the starting-point, the postulation of Matthew's and 
Luke's independent use of (Mark and) Q. The argument is stated 
succinctly by Graham Stanton: 'The success of redaction criticism in 
clarifying the literary methods and distinctive theological emphases of 
Matthew and Luke on the assumption of dependence on Mark and Q is 
an important argument in favour of the two-source hypothesis'.^ This 
argument is perhaps the consideration that is most weighty in the mind 
of the majority of contemporary scholars. What it amounts to is a 
laissez-faire argument in favour of a conservative position: one ought 
to maintain the status quo in the light of the fine scholarship that the 
consensus has produced. As the popular saying goes, 'If it ain't broke, 
don't fix it'. 

Though the fifth argument, from the distinctiveness of Q, is 
important, this one is more important still, for many believe in Q but 
(relatively) few write books about it. This large, Q-believing majority, 
takes the hypothesis for granted in its books on the New Testament, 
and every time it is presupposed, the argument for Q apparently gains 
more ground. In other words, if Q consistently makes sense in so many 
different studies on the New Testament, it would seem to be a workable 
hypothesis. And a workable hypothesis might well seem to be a plausi- 
ble hypothesis. 



Summary 

Those who have assumed the Q hypothesis have produced 
plausible redaction-critical studies of Matthew and Luke. This 
is therefore a sign that the Q hypothesis is helpful and 
plausible. 



4. Conclusion 

There are, then, six key arguments that tend to be used in the attempt to 
establish the Q hypothesis. The first four of these are essentially nega- 
tive arguments, arguments against Luke's use of Matthew. The other 

6. Stanton, 'Matthew, Gospel of , p. 35. 



1 1 8 The Synoptic Problem 

two arguments are positive arguments that attempt to establish the 
usefulness of the Q hypothesis. Let us summarize: 

(a) It is unlikely that Luke knew Matthew: The source for the non- 
Markan material that they share (Double Tradition) must 
therefore be a third, otherwise unknown source. It is unlikely 
that Luke knew Matthew for the following reasons: 

• Luke's order is inexplicable on the assumption that he 
knew Matthew. 

• Luke 's ignorance of Matthew 's modifications of Mark: 
This too would be inexplicable on the assumption that he 
knew Matthew. 

• Luke's lack of M material: Matthew's special material 
('M') does not feature at all in Luke, a sign that Luke did 
not know his Gospel. 

• Alternating primitivity in the Double Tradition: Sometimes 
Matthew and sometimes Luke seems to have the more 
primitive form of Double Tradition material. If Luke had 
used Matthew, one would have expected Luke always to 
be secondary. 

(b) Q has a distinctive character: Q is very different from Matt- 
hew and from Luke. There is 'space' between the theology, 
history, genre and character of Q and the theology, history, 
genre and character of the Synoptics. Q makes its presence 
felt. 

(c) Q aids the task of redaction-criticism: Scholars who have 
taken the Q hypothesis for granted have been successful 
redaction-critics of the Synoptic Gospels. 

Of course, all these arguments work together in the attempt to 
demonstrate the plausibility of the Q hypothesis, mutually supporting 
and illustrating one another. It is particularly difficult, for example, to 
distinguish between the first two arguments above, the question of 
Luke's order and the question of Luke's ignorance of Matthew's modi- 
fications of Mark. Indeed they might simply be seen as two aspects of 
the same basic argument, an argument that might be summarized in the 
following way: 

• It is difficult to believe that Luke knew Matthew given his 
treatment of the Double Tradition material in relation to his 
treatment of the Triple Tradition material. 



5.Q 119 

Or, to state the same thing more positively: 

• The Two-Source Theory makes good sense of Luke's Gospel, 
explaining both the way that the Double Tradition appears in 
it and also the way in which the Triple Tradition appears in it. 

Further, this takes for granted the argument from redaction-criticism, 
for redaction-criticism is, as a discipline, all about 'making good sense' 
of the Gospels. 

How plausible, though, are these arguments? They have certainly 
been influential and are often repeated. Versions of at least some of 
these will be found in all introductions to the Synoptic Problem that 
argue in favour of the Two-Source Theory. What is less often found is 
a clear statement of the case against Q, or of an attempt to explore the 
above points more carefully. In the next chapter, then, we will focus on 
the case against Q, attempting to see whether the points above are 
capable of a plausible answer and, furthennore, whether the alternative 
case — for Luke's use of Matthew — might be more plausible still. 

Before doing this, though, let us pause for a moment to consider the 
language in which the arguments tend to be presented — the manner is 
striking because the language is so strong. It seems that scholars are 
unable to talk about the hypothesis of Luke's use of Matthew without 
resorting to strings of rhetorical questions, with exclamation marks, 
joke quotation marks, humorous imagery and, at times, even ridicule. 
In most of the examples above, especially in the first four arguments, 
the rhetoric is forceful. There are questions that do not require answers 
(is it conceivable... ?'; 'What could have moved Luke... ?') and plenty 
of rhetorical flourishes ('unscrambling the egg with a vengeance'). 
Matters do not seem to be implausible, unlikely or improbable. Rather, 
they are 'untenable', 'inexplicable' and 'incomprehensible'. Likewise, 
Luke does not disturb or alter Matthew's arrangements— he 'destroys' 
or 'demolishes' them. 

Why, then, is the language is so strong? Part of the answer is that it 
is often a function of its context. The arguments for the existence of Q 
tend to occur in introductory pieces, Bible dictionaries, introductions to 
commentaries and similar, in which the scholar has word-limits to 
worry about and the reader's patience at stake. Because of the limited 
space, rhetorical questions and overstatement stand in for patient 
argumentation. But this is not the whole picture. 

A second reason for the inflated rhetoric is probably the conscious 



1 20 The Synoptic Problem 

imitation and unconscious influence of the most marked use of such 
language, B.H. Streeter's famous attempt to dispose of the theory that 
Luke used Matthew, an attempt that dates back to a seminal volume 
called The Four Gospels published in 1924. Here Streeter wrote the 
following paragraph: 

If then Luke derived this material from Matthew, he must have gone 
through both Matthew and Mark so as to discriminate with meticulous 
precision between Marcan and non-Marcan material; he must then have 
proceeded with the utmost care to tear every little piece of non-Marcan 
material he desired to use from the context of Mark in which it appeared 
in Matthew — in spite of the fact that contexts in Matthew are always 
exceedingly appropriate — in order to re-insert it into a different context 
of Mark having no special appropriateness. A theory which would make 
an author capable of such a proceeding would only be tenable if, on other 
grounds, we had reason to believe he was a crank. 

This statement is often quoted and frequently echoed. Its influence 
has been overwhelming. This is not surprising since the wonderftil 
rhetoric is instantly memorable. No one wants to believe that Luke is a 
'crank': they neither want to slander Luke nor to risk the charge of 
being stupid themselves. Nor does anyone, with the slightest acquain- 
tance with Luke's Gospel, want to feel that it could have been made up 
of a perverse combing, tearing up and inappropriate restructuring of 
Matthew. Streeter wins the day before the reader has even opened up 
the Synopsis. As we will go on to see, however, the rhetoric is empty: 
not only is the statement based on a rather dubious judgment of taste 
(preferring Matthew's mechanical, thematic arrangements to Luke's 
orderly, narrative-sensitive arrangements) but also Streeter misrepre- 
sents the facts (Luke does not, on the assumption that he is using Mark 
and Matthew, reinsert non-Markan Matthean material into 'a different 
context of Mark'). 

Leaving that aside for a moment, one might guess at a further reason 
for the excessive rhetoric. I suspect that for many there is a certain 
feeling of frustration that debates over the Synoptic Problem continue 
to rage on from year to year, that Q sceptics obstinately refuse to 
acknowledge the supposed triumph of the Two-Source Theory. There 
is the attitude that these are issues that were settled long ago — the 
foundations were laid successfully and scholars have been building on 

7. B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan, 
1924), p. 183. 



5.Q 121 

them without trouble ever since. Not only are Q sceptics a nuisance, 
but they also appear to have a certain arrogance, the surprising and 
implausible notion that they might be able to overturn the consensus of 
a century. 

Conversely, it is easy for Q sceptics to underestimate the sheer 
persuasive force that the consensus, simply by virtue of its being the 
consensus, continues to exert. This is particularly the case in relation to 
the redaction-critical argument. In book after book, and article after 
article, reasonable sense seems to be made of Matthew and Luke on the 
assumption that they utilized Mark independently of one another. What 
are a handful of publications, however erudite, against an avalanche of 
books and articles making good literary, theological and historical 
sense of Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of Christian origins more 
broadly, on the assumption of Q? 

It is worth seeing, though, that the rhetoric does communicate some- 
thing important. While caricature and overstatement may not be the 
way to truth, the language used in the standard arguments for Q per- 
forms a function — it is attempting to show the student in an instant just 
how implausible the thesis of Luke's knowledge of Matthew is held to 
be. It is saying, in effect, 'Can you really believe thisT That is why the 
rhetoric is most strident when one is dealing with the negative argu- 
ments (1-^ above). There is less reason for it when calmly stating 
positive reasons for believing in Q. 

What we will want to know is whether the extremity of this reaction 
against Luke's use of Matthew is justified. Is it obvious that matters 
like alternating primitivity or the order of Double Tradition material 
firmly establish Matthew's and Luke's independence from one another? 
Are the data described accurately by opponents of Luke's use of Matt- 
hew and Mark? If so, can Q-sceptical answers be credible? Let us take 
a little time to investigate these issues with a clear head and a sharp 
eye, leaving behind the excesses of rhetoric, and proceeding through 
the maze with sobriety and care. 



Chapter 6 
THE Case against Q 

1 . Introduction 

Let us take stock and see where we have arrived. So far, we have seen 
that the key to synoptic interrelationships is the consensus theory of 
Markan Priority. This theory, which states that Matthew and Luke both 
made direct use of Mark, makes better sense of the data than does its 
main competitor, the theory that Mark wrote third, utilizing Matthew 
and Luke. We have also had a look at the arguments in favour of its 
sister theory, the Q hypothesis. The Q hypothesis is primarily depend- 
ent on the notion that not only did Matthew and Luke use Mark but that 
they also used Mark independently of one another. As soon as one has 
stated this, Matthew's and Luke's independent use of Mark, the Q 
hypothesis is the logical corollary: a text is needed that can explain the 
close, verbal agreements between Matthew and Luke in passages that 
are not in Mark (namely 'the Double Tradition'). Most of the argu- 
ments for Q therefore tend to be arguments in favour of Matthaean and 
Lukan independence from one another, though — as we have seen — 
other kinds of argument for the existence of Q are also beginning to 
emerge. 

Now it is my view, as I have already hinted, that each one of the 
standard arguments for Q is capable of refiitation. Not only has the per- 
suasiveness of the standard arguments been greatly overestimated by 
many scholars but the same scholars have also tended to underestimate 
the positive evidence in favour of Luke's use of Matthew. Let us 
proceed through the next part of the maze, then, following this route. 
First, we will look at answers to the arguments for Q that were laid out 
in the previous chapter, noting that not one of them is strong enough to 
make the case. Then we will look closely at evidence in favour of 
Luke's use of Matthew and will conclude by reflecting on the possi- 
bility of a world without Q. This chapter will be a little longer than 



6. The Case Against Q 123 

previous ones because the task is larger: to look at both the problems 
with the standard case for Q and to make the positive case for Luke's 
use of Matthew. 

First, though, let us remind ourselves of the shape of the theory that 
is defended here (see Fig. 2 above, p. 22). 

Q has no part to play in the Farrer Theory, which is also known as 
'the Farrer-Goulder theory', 'Mark without Q' or 'Markan Priority 
without Q'. The notion that Luke has direct access to the Gospel of 
Matthew as well as to the Gospel of Mark enables one, as Austin Farrer 
(the scholar responsible for the theory) put it, to 'dispense with Q'.' 
Second, one should notice that Mark remains at the top of the diagram: 
Markan Priority is strongly affinTied. The Farrer Theory should not be 
confused with the Griesbach Theory, which rejects not only Q but also 
Markan Priority. Reputable scholars have been known to confuse the 
two theories or even to be ignorant of any difference between them. 
Indeed it is still often assumed, especially in American scholarship, that 
the case against the Griesbach Theory is identical with the case in 
favour of the Two-Source Theory, a state of affairs that helps to 
supervise the dominance of the consensus position on Q. It is some- 
times assumed that arguments in favour of Markan Priority themselves 
constitute arguments in favour of Q, a position that is quite mistaken. 



Summary 

• 77?^ Farrer Theory affirms Markan Priority but suggests that 
Luke also knew and used Matthew, which enables one to 
dispense with Q. 



2. Responding to the Arguments for Q 

Argument L Luke 's Order 

How, then, does a scholar convinced of Luke's use of Matthew respond 
to the point so strongly and commonly made that Luke simply could 
not have destroyed Matthew's fine ordering of material? The problem 
with the argument can be seen most clearly if we return to Streeter's 
influential formulation of it and take a careful look at it: 



1 . Farrer, 'On Dispensing with Q". 



1 24 The Synoptic Problem 

If then Luke derived this material from Matthew, he must have gone 
through both Matthew and Mark so as to discriminate with meticulous 
precision between Marcan and non-Marcan material; he must then have 
proceeded with the utmost care to tear every little piece of non-Marcan 
material he desired to use from the context of Mark in which it appeared 
in Matthew — in spite of the fact that contexts in Matthew are always 
exceedingly appropriate — in order to re-insert it into a different context 
of Mark having no special appropriateness. A theory which would make 
an author capable of such a proceeding would only be tenable if. on other 
grounds, we had reason to believe he was a crank.' 

Apart from the inflated rhetoric, there are important problems with 
this statement, not least that Streeter misrepresents an important fact.^ 
As it stands, the statement appears convincing because the process 
described would indeed make Luke into something of a 'crank'. But 
the process is inaccurately described. Most of the pieces of Luke's 
Double Tradition do not appear in a 'different context of Mark', 
whether appropriate or otherwise, because very little of Luke's Double 
Tradition occurs in a Markan context at all. That is, whereas Matthew 
often features Q in Markan contexts, Luke rarely does. Most of Luke's 
Q material occurs in two sections, 6.20-8.3 and 9.51-18.14, and in 
these sections there is very little use of Mark."^ Therefore the question 
we should be asking is not. Why does Luke place non-Markan material 
from Matthew in different Markan contexts? but rather, Why does 
Luke, on the whole, place non-Markan material from Matthew in non- 
Markan contexts? 

When we frame the question accurately, the answer comes forth 
naturally, but in order to see it we need to notice a second major 
problem with Streeter' s statement: it is based on a rather dubious value 
judgment, one that prefers Matthew's order and arrangement to Luke's. 
It is a judgment that we are not required to share. For while there is no 
doubt that Luke's ordering of the Double Tradition material is often 
strikingly different from Matthew's, one should not think of difference 

2. Streeter, The Four Gospels, p. 183. 

3. For the following, cf Goulder, Luke, p. 39, and E.P. Sanders and M. Davies, 
Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM Press; Valley Forge, PA: Trinity 
Press International, 1989), pp. 114-15: Streeter's argument "depends on one value 
judgment and some incorrect generalisations' (p. 1 14). 

4. The only exceptions to this general rule are the John the Baptist — Tempta- 
tions material in Lk. 3^ and the Parable of the Pounds in Lk. 19.1 1-27, the former 
incidents in the same Markan context and the latter a different one (from Matthew). 



6. The Case Against Q 125 

from Matthew as inferiority to Matthew. After all, 'Matthew's order' is 
precisely that, Matthew 's order and if one pauses to think about it, it is 
easy to see why Luke might have wanted to alter it. Matthew's re- 
ordering of Mark has a particular, distinctive structure: there are five 
great edifices in chs 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount), 10 (Mission Dis- 
course), 13 (Parables), 18 (Church instructions) and 24-25 (Eschato- 
logical Discourses), each a large block of Jesus' sayings, each one 
marked off with 'When Jesus had finished these sayings [etc.]...'. 
Material from Mark occurs to varying degrees in each of these 
structures. For example, Matthew 13 is clearly based on the shorter 
parable chapter in Mark 4, and Matthew 24-25 is clearly based on the 
shorter eschatological discourse in Mark 13. Other material from Mark 
is interspersed between each of these discourses. Now, what we need to 
ask is whether it is plausible that Luke, having come across this major 
restructuring of Mark by Matthew, would feel himself obliged to 
follow it. The answer is that Luke is highly unlikely to have wanted to 
follow this more rigid arrangement that we find in Matthew, in which 
one cannot help thinking that the narrative flow is severely and fre- 
quently compromised. From what we know of Luke's literary sensitiv- 
ity and artistic ability, we are bound to conclude that Luke would not 
have found Matthew's restructuring of Mark congenial. 

The point is reinforced in several ways. First, we can already see 
from Luke's use of Mark that he has a certain reticence over lengthy 
discourses, a reticence that suggests that he will have been more con- 
cerned still about the excessively lengthy Matthaean discourses like the 
Sermon on the Mount. For while Mark's Gospel does not contain any- 
thing as long as the Sermon on the Mount, there are some fairly size- 
able discourses, one of which is the Parable chapter, Mark 4. Where 
Matthew, typically, increases the length of the chapter from Mark's 34 
verses to his 52 verses (Mt. 13.1-52), Luke, equally typically, shortens 
it, so that his discourse is less than half the length of Mark's, only 15 
verses. Mark's discourse consists of the Sower (4.1-9), its interpret- 
ation (4.13-20), the Purpose of Parables (4.10-12), the Lamp under a 
Bushel (4.21-25), the Seed Growing Secretly (4.26-29), the Mustard 
Seed (4.30-32) and a summary (4.33-34). Matthew 13 contains all this 
and much more. Luke, on the other hand, treats it in just the same way 
that, on the Farrer Theory, he treats the Sermon on the Mount. Some of 
it is retained, the Sower and its Interpretation (Lk. 8.4-8, 11-15), the 
Purpose of Parables (8.9-10) and the Lamp (8.16-18); some of it is 



1 26 The Synoptic Problem 

omitted, the Seed Growing Secretly and the summary; and some of it is 
redistributed, the Mustard Seed (Lk. 13.18-19). Let us have a look at 
this in summary format: 



Mark 


Luke 


4.1-9: Parable of the Sower 


Paralleled in 8.4-8 


4.10-12: Purpose of Parables 


Paralleled in S.9-\0 


4.13-20: Interpretation of the Sower 


Paralleled in %.\\-\S 


4.21-25: Lamp Under a Bushel 


Paralleled in %.\6-n 


4.26-29: Seed Growing Secretly 


Omitted 


4.30-32: Mustard Seed 


Redistributed: 13.18-19 


4.33-34: Summary 


Omitted in Luke 



Nor is this an isolated example — the same feature is observable 
again with Luke's treatment of the discourse in Mk 9.33-50, Luke's 
parallel to which is only five verses long (Lk. 9.46-50). The point, then, 
is this: given Luke's clearly observable reticence over retaining long 
discourses in his acknowledged source Mark, it is scarcely a major leap 
of imagination to see the same reticence at work in his treatment of his 
alleged source Matthew. On the Farrer Theory, Luke here treats Matt- 
hew in the same way that we can see him treating Mark: retaining some 
of the substance of the discourse and omitting and redistributing the 
rest.^ 

Second, literary critics have now been making good sense of the 
order and literary design of Luke for some time. As appreciation for 
Luke's literary ability and for the narrative coherence of his Gospel 
intensifies, so too it will seem less necessary to appeal to the Q theory 
to explain the quirks of his order. As we saw above, Streeter's state- 
ment implies a negative value judgment on Luke's order in comparison 
with Matthew's, a judgment that is becoming increasingly difficult to 
sustain in the light of contemporary narrative-critical studies of Luke. 
To take just one good example, Luke places the Double Tradition peri- 
cope 'Care and Anxiety' (Mt. 6.25-34//Lk. 12.22-34), in an excellent 
and appropriate literary context following on from his unique parable 
of the Rich Fool (Lk. 12.15-21), the parable warning those members of 
the crowd (who still have possessions, 12.13-14) that life does not 

5. This point is developed from Goulder. Luke. pp. 39-41 . For an answer from 
the perspective of the Q theory, see Christopher Tuckett, Q and the History of Early 
Christianity (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996), pp. 26-27. 



6. 77?^ Case Against Q 127 

consist of the abundance of possessions, and ttie latter exhorting 'the 
disciples' (12.22) not to be anxious about their lack of possessions, 
something that is a prerequisite for discipleship in Luke (e.g. 5.11; 
5.28; 14.33). This kind of sensitive narrative arrangement, so typical of 
Luke, gives some indication of how overstated it is to speak of Luke 
'demolishing' Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and 'scattering the 
ruins to the four winds'. 

Third, the idea that Luke is conservatively following the order of Q 
has always had difficulty with one of the most important pieces of 
evidence, the Lukan Preface, which seems to emphasize so strongly the 
matter of order. He appears to be critical of predecessors' attempts to 
write narratives of the Jesus story (Lk. 1.1) and he goes on to say that 
he has investigated everything carefiilly (1.2) so that he might write to 
Theophilus accurately and in order {\.?)). On the Q theory, there is little 
reason for this overt stress on order, since Luke's order is usually taken 
to replicate the orders of material in his two main sources, Mark and Q 
order and Q's order. But on the Farrer Theory, the stress is understand- 
able: Luke is making clear that he is critical of his predecessors' work 
and that his radical reordering of Matthew is in Theophilus's best 
interests. 

Fourth, and finally, if Markan Priority is correct, it is likely that Luke 
has known Mark for longer than he has known Matthew. Let us say 
that the standard dating for Mark, somewhere in the late sixties, is 
correct (see above) and that the standard dating for Matthew, around 
80, is also correct. Under these circumstances, Luke may well have 
been familiar with Mark's Gospel for some years longer than he has 
been acquainted with Matthew. Perhaps, let us speculate, Matthew 
provided the direct catalyst for Luke's reworking of Mark. He sees 
what Matthew has done: he has reworked Mark by adding birth and 
infancy narratives at one end of the Gospel, a resurrection story at the 
other end and adding lots of sayings material in the middle. Perhaps, 
Luke thinks, he can do the same kind of thing, but do it better, retain- 
ing Mark's essential narrative outline but expanding it by adding birth 
and infancy narratives at one end of the Gospel and resurrection stories 
at the other, adding extra material — especially sayings — in between. 
Indeed, not only can he use Matthew's basic idea of 'fixing' Mark in 
this way but he can also utilize some of this fine new Matthaean 
material in his own restructuring of Mark. In other words, it is easy to 
imagine an historical scenario that might give birth to a Gospel in 



1 28 The Synoptic Problem 

which an evangelist essentially follows Mark but is at the same time 
influenced by and critical of Mark's first corrector. But if this kind of 
scenario is on the right lines, we run straight into one of the major 
arguments in favour of Luke's independence from Matthew, the ques- 
tion of Luke's alleged lack of Matthew's additions to Mark, to which 
we turn next. 



Summary 

Luke's order: It is said that Luke's order of Double Tradition 
material is inexplicable on the assumption that he has taken 
it from Matthew. There are several difficulties with this 
argument: 

• Dubious value judgments: The standard argument assumes 
that Matthew's arrangement of Double Tradition, with its 
lengthy discourses, is preferable to Luke's with its emphasis 
on narrative movement. 

• Comparison with Luke's use of Mark: Luke treats 
Matthew's lengthy discourses in the same way that he treats 
Mark's discourses: he keeps some, omits some and redistri- 
butes the rest. 

• Narrative-Criticism of Luke: This helps us to dispense with 
the idea that Matthew's arrangements are superior to 
Luke's — Luke's rearrangements make excellent narrative- 
critical sense. 

• Luke's preface (1.1-4): This implies a critical attitude to his 
predecessors' order, which makes good sense on the 
assumption that Luke is working with Matthew as well as 
Mark, but less sense on the Q theory, on which Luke largely 
keeps Q's order. 

• Markan Priority: If Luke has known Mark for longer than 
he has known Matthew, this may well have encouraged him 
to prioritize its order over Matthew's. 



Argument 2. Luke 's Ignorance of Matthew 's Additions to Mark 
Let us proceed to the second major argument for Q and see whether it 
fairs better than the previous one. It will be useful to look at an 
important recent statement of the argument. This is how it is put by one 
of Q's most formidable defenders, Christopher Tuckett: 



6. The Case Against Q 1 29 

Luke never appears to know any of Matthew's additions to Mark in 
Markan material. Sometimes, in using Mark. Matthew makes substantial 
additions to Mark. of. Mt. 12.5-7; 14.28-31; 16.16-19; 27.19, 24. If Luke 
knew Matthew, why does he never show any knowledge of Matthew's 
redaction of Mark? It seems easier to presume that Luke did not know 
any of these Matthaean additions to Mark and hence that he did not know 
Matthew.^ 

There are two things wrong with this argument. First, the examples 
given are not strong enough to make the case. Mt. 14.28-31 (listed by 
Tuckett second above), for example, is a Matthaean addition in the 
middle of the story of the Walking on the Water (Mk 6.45-52//Mt. 
14.22-33), a story that is wholly absent from Luke, in either its Markan 
or Matthaean form. One can hardly be surprised that Luke lacks the 
Matthaean additions to a story that does not feature at all in his GospeL 
The other examples mentioned have such a characteristically Matthaean 
stamp that it is straightforward to imagine why Luke might prefer the 
Markan version that had been more familiar to him over a longer 
peiiod of time. In particular, we should not be surprised to see a Lukan 
version of the confession at Caesarea Philippi that does not feature that 
material about the ascendancy of Peter (to see the passage in synopsis, 
see above, pp. 111-12). After all, Luke's Gospel is not as positive 
about Peter overall as is Matthew's, and the narrative development of 
Luke-Acts — in which Peter progressively recedes further and further 
into the background — would seem to exclude the possibility of Luke's 
inclusion of the Matthaean statement. It's exactly the kind of Matthaean 
addition to Mark that we would expect Luke to omit. 

The second problem with the argument is that it is based on a fallacy. 
Why does Luke not feature any of Matthew's modifications of Mark? 
Well, he does! On the assumption that he knows Matthew as well as 
Mark, Luke prefers Matthew's version to Mark's in several Triple 
Tradition incidents: the whole John the Baptist complex (Mt. 3; Mk 1; 
Lk. 3); the Temptation (Mt. 4.1-1 1//Mk 1.12-13//Lk. 4.1-13), the Beel- 
zebub Controversy (Mt. 12.22-30//Mk 3.20-27//Lk. 11.14-23) and the 
Mustard Seed (Mt. 13.18-19//Mk 4.30-32//Lk. 13.18-19) among them. 
On all of these occasions, the parallels between Matthew and Luke are 
more extensive than those between Mark and Luke. Indeed the early 
parts of each Gospel are particularly rich in examples of Luke appar- 
ently following Matthew's modified versions of the shorter Markan 

6. Tuckett, Q, pp. 7-8. 



130 



The Synoptic Problem 



pericope. Take John the Baptist's prophecy about Jesus, for example, 
which appears in all three Synoptics: 



Matthew 3.11-12 


Mark 1. 7-H 


Luke 3.16- r 




7. 'And he preached. 


16. 'And John answered. 




saying. 


saying to all. 


11. ' "I. on the one hand. 




"I. on the one hand. 


baptize you in water for 




baptize you in water 


repentance, hut the one 


'The one 


but the one 


who is coming after me is 


who is stronger than me 


who is stronger than me 


stronger than me. 


comes after me, the thong 


comes after me. the thong 


the shoes of whom 


of whose sandals 


of whose sandals 


I am not worthy 


I am not worthy, having 


I am not worthy 


to untie. 


stooped down, to loose. 
8. 1 baptized you in water 
[cf Mt. 3.11 //Lk. 3.16], 


to loose. 


He will baptize you in 


but he will baptize you in 


He will baptize you in 


holy spirit and fire. 12. His 


holy spirit".' 


holy spirit and fire. 17. His 


winnowing fork is in his 




winnowing fork is in his 


hand and he will clear his 




hand to clear his 


threshing floor and he will 




threshing floor and to 


gather his wheat into his 




gather the wheat into his 


granary, but the chaff he 




granary, but the chaff he 


will burn with 




will burn with 


unquenchable fire^\^ 




unquenchable flre^\'' 



The words in italics are particularly noteworthy in that they seem 
clearly to represent substantial addition to Mark by Matthew, material 
then paralleled in Luke, quite clearly refuting the claim that such mate- 
rial 'never' occurs. The same is true in the nearby story of the Tempta- 
tion of Jesus. Mark's version (Mk 1.12-13) is only two verses long, 
whereas Matthew (Mt. 4.1-11) and Luke (Lk. 4.1-13) both have an 
extended story featuring a major dialogue between Jesus and the Satan 
with the three famous temptations and rebuttals. Once again, it will 
seem to the scholar assuming Markan Priority without Q that the simple 
Markan story has been elaborated by Matthew and copied by Luke. Or, 
to put it another way, Luke has here preferred to use Matthew's 
substantial modification of the Markan story. The argument from 
Luke's lack of Matthew's modifications of Mark seems to be refuted by 
a simple glance at the Synopsis. 

Why then is the argument still made? Surely Q theorists know about 



6. The Case Against Q 131 

such features? Indeed they do, but their force tends not to be felt for 
two reasons. First, some of the most impressive examples of this fea- 
ture come, as we have seen, in Luke 3^, covering material like John 
the Baptist and the Temptations. This is usually admitted as a major 
exception to the rule, an exception that is not then allowed to cause 
doubt about the basic proposition. Second, the difficulty for the Q 
theory tends not to be spotted because examples of this kind are placed 
in a special category described as 'Mark-Q overlap'. 'Mark-Q overlap' 
passages might be more neutrally described as passages occurring in all 
three Synoptics in which Mark is not clearly the middle term, or, to put 
it another way, as the category of passages that blur the usually more 
straightforward distinction between Triple Tradition' and 'Double 
Tradition' (see further Chapter 2). The sharp reader will be quick to see 
the fallacy at the base of this argument for Q. For where Luke (on the 
assumption of Markan Priority without Q) prefers the Matthaean 
version of a pericope shared with Mark, this automatically goes into 
the 'Mark-Q overlap' category. And where Luke prefers the Markan 
version of a pericope shared with Matthew, this is held to demonstrate 
his lack of knowledge of the Matthaean versions of Markan pericopae. 
This argument is particularly weak and it should be dropped from 
future defences of the Q theory. 



Summary 

The argument from Luke's ignorance of Matthew's additions 

to Mark runs into insurmountable problems: 

The examples given are weak: Luke's omissions are quite 

natural when one looks at them in line with his redactional 

interests. 

The argument is based on a fallacy: wherever Luke features 

Matthew's additions to Mark, these are placed in the category 

'Mark-Q overlap' and, as far as this argument is concerned, 

they are ignored. 



Argument 3. Luke 's Lack of M Material 

In some ways, the third argument for the existence of Q, Luke's lack of 
Matthew's Special Material ('M') is weaker still. There is an obvious 
circularity in this argument: of course Luke does not include 'M' mate- 
rial. Any substantive material he included from Matthew would auto- 



132 



The Synoptic Problem 



matically have become, to use the Two-Source Theory's nomenclature, 
'Q' material. Or, to put it another way, any of Matthew's Special 
Material used by Luke would cease to be Matthew's Special Material 
and would become instead Double Tradition. This objection is largely 
conceded by Q theorists, but they add that Luke's Birth Narrative is so 
radically different from Matthew's that it is unlikely he knew of it; and 
they claim in addition that Luke would not have rejected the very rich 
material that M constitutes. 

Several important points need to be made here. First, one has to note 
that knowledge of a source is not the same as direct use of a source, 
and the important question is whether there are any signs of Luke's 
knowledge of Matthew in the Birth Narrative. He may well, after all, 
have been inspired and informed by it without necessarily utilizing it in 
any extensive way. Now there are indeed some signs that Luke knows 
Matthew's Birth Narrative. Not only do they agree on matters unique to 
the two of them within the New Testament, like Jesus' birth in Bethle- 
hem, the name of Jesus' father (Joseph) and, most importantly, the 
Virginal Conception, but they even share words in common, including 
this key sentence: '^ 



Matthew 1.21 


Luke 1.31 


She will give birth to a son and 
you shall call him Jesus. 


You will give birth to a son and 
you shall call him Jesus 



Perhaps Matthew's Birth Narrative gave Luke the idea of writing a 
Birth Narrative of his own. Because of our familiarity with the Birth 
Narratives, we assume that prefacing a Gospel with a Birth Narrative is 
a self-evidently obvious thing to do, but neither Mark nor John thought 
that it was such an obvious thing to do, and, all things considered, the 
presence of a Birth Narrative in Luke is probably a sign that Luke 
knows Matthew. Moreover, if, as seems likely, Luke thought that he 
could improve on Matthew's account, then subsequent history, devo- 
tion and liturgy have agreed with him. It is from Luke that we get our 
shepherds, our choir of angels and our manger; it is from Luke that we 



7. I am grateflil to Jeff Peterson for this point. The phrase is identical in the 
Greek. Note how in both cases it is a singular verb, 'You (sg.) shall name him 
Jesus.' This is addressed to Joseph in Matthew, who then indeed 'named him Jesus' 
(1.25), but not so appropriately to Mary in Luke, who is not going to be solely 
responsible for naming him (cf 1.59-66; 2.21). 



6. The Case Against Q 133 

derive our picture of Mary; and it is from Lulce that we take our 
canticles, the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis.^ 

If this explains the differing Birth Narratives, what of the rest of 
Matthew? Why did Luke omit so much of it? If one has a look again at 
the 'M' material (see above. Chapter 2), one cannot help noticing that it 
is largely defined by very particularly Matthaean interests. In other 
words, this is like the question raised in the previous section. One will 
expect Luke to include only the 'Luke-pleasing' elements from Matt- 
hew, and the more one looks at the M material, the more one notices 
just how little it fits with Luke's literary and theological interests. We 
will return to this issue below. For the time being, let us note that this 
argument for the existence of Q is an unpersuasive one. 



Summary 

Luke lacks Matthew's Special Material by definition. Where 

Matthew's non-Markan material appears in Luke, it is called 

'Double Tradition'. 

Although he does not utilize it extensively, there are signs that 

Luke knows Matthew's Birth Narrative. 

The 'M' material all looks like 'Luke-displeasing' material, 

just what we would expect on the Farrer Theory. 



Argument 4. Alternating Primitivity 

The argument that works from the allegation that sometimes Matthew, 
sometimes Luke has the more original form of Q sayings is perhaps the 
most influential of the arguments in favour of Q. It is certainly one of 
the arguments most regularly cited by those attempting to establish Q. 
However, careful analysis of the argument shows that there are weak- 
nesses in using it as if the data under discussion inevitably point to the 
existence of Q. The data are at least equally well explained on the 
assumption of the Farrer Theory. Since this does not tend to be seen in 
the literature, I will attempt to explain why by taking it in four steps. 

8. The point about Luke's not including the Magi is particularly unconvincing. 
Yes indeed, these are Gentiles, and yes. Luke is interested in the Gentile mission, 
but we need to consider the whole spectrum of Luke's interests and avoid looking at 
only one of them. Luke is highly suspicious of magi, as we know from one of the 
chief villains in Acts. Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24). 



134 



The Synoptic Problem 



1 . Where Luke Is Agreed to Be Secondary. There is no problem for the 
Farrer Theory in occasions where the Matthaean wording of a Q saying 
is thought to be more original than the Lukan wording, as in our 
example above (p. 114), where Matthew's 'good gifts' (Mt. 7.11) is 
almost universally regarded as more original than Luke's 'Holy Spirit' 
(Lk. 11.13). Here, the verdict of scholarship will be congenial to the 
thesis of Luke's use of Matthew. 

2. The Question of Matthaean Language. When scholars say that 
Luke's versions of Q sayings are prior to Matthew's versions of those 
same Q sayings, they are often basing their decision on the presence of 
'Matthaean language' in the Matthaean versions of the Q sayings. 
Where Matthew's versions feature language characteristic of Matthew, 
it is assumed that Matthew has added this wording to a Q saying that 
lacked it. Where Luke's versions lack this Matthaean wording, it is 
claimed that his versions are the more original ones. Such logic only 
works, however, once the Q hypothesis has been assumed. For if Luke 
used Matthew, one will expect to see Luke rewording the Matthaean 
original and, in the process, eliminating some of that Matthaean lan- 
guage. After all, one of the things that (on the Farrer Theory) will make 
such language distinctive of Matthew is the omission of such language 
by Luke. Luke's omission of the Matthaean language ultimately has the 
effect of making the Lukan version look more 'original'.^ 

As usual, the point is best made by means of an illustration. The 
following beatitude is thought to have been in Q because it is present in 
both Matthew and Luke: 



Matthew 5. 6 



Luke 6.21 



Blessed are those who hunger and 
thirst for righteousness, for they 
shall be satisfied. 



Blessed are those who hunger 
now, for you 
shall be satisfied. 



9. This is an element in a broader phenomenon labelled the 'Matthean vocabu- 
lary fallacy' by Michael Goulder. See Goulder, Luke, pp. 11-15; but modified in 
Mark Goodacre. Goulder and the Gospels: The Examination of a New Paradigm 
(JSNTSup, 133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), pp. 83-85. For a 
related issue, see Michael Goulder, 'Self Contradiction in the IQP', JBL 118 (1999), 
pp. 506-17. 



6. The Case Against Q 135 

Many scholars have correctly pointed out that 'righteousness' is a 
characteristically Matthaean word. It has figures of 7/0/1, which means 
that it occurs seven times in Matthew, never in Mark and only once in 
Luke (Mt. 3.15; 5.6; 5.10; 5.20; 6.1; 6.33; 21.32; Lk. 1.75). Indeed the 
theme of seeking righteousness appears to be a major theme in Matt- 
hew's Gospel (see, for example, Mt. 6.33). Q theorists then infer that 
Luke better represents the original Q version of the saying, which 
Matthew has 'glossed' with one of his favourite themes. This, then, is 
held to be one of the occasions on which Luke's version of Q material 
is more 'primitive' than Matthew's version, and so closer to Q. 

But the inference that Matthew is glossing a Q text better represented 
in Luke's version is not the only possible inference. It is just as possi- 
ble, and arguably more plausible, to see Luke following Matthew and 
omitting his reference to 'righteousness', not least given the fact that 
one of the very things that will make a word specifically characteristic 
of Matthew is omission of that word by Luke. Under such circum- 
stances, what we have to ask is whether the Lukan version of a given 
saying appears to be in line with Luke's observed practices elsewhere. 
And here, in Lk. 6.21, we could hardly want for a more Lukan theme 
than a blessing on those who 'hunger now'. This blessing is paired with 
a 'Woe on those who are already filled, for you will be hungry' (Lk. 
6.25). Not only is the theme of 'eschatological reversal' in general one 
of Luke's favourites (see further on this below), but also he seems fond 
of the specific application to 'the hungry' being 'satisfied' and 'those 
already filled' getting nothing. The theme is at the heart of one of 
Luke's most famous and distinctive parables, the Rich Man ('who 
feasted sumptuously every day', Lk. 16.20) and Lazarus ('who longed 
to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table', Lk. 
16.21), but also it is there right at the beginning of the Gospel, in one 
of the key, characteristic Lukan passages, the Magnificat: 

1.53: 'He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away 
empty.' 

There is little difficulty, then, in seeing Lk. 6.21 as being derived 
from Mt. 5.6. Luke rewrites the beatitude by eliminating the character- 
istically Matthaean stress on 'righteousness', instead stressing one of 
his own favourite themes of eschatological reversal, the hungry filled, 
the rich sent away empty. It is often similarly the case elsewhere that 
presence of characteristically Matthaean language in Matthew's versions 



136 



The Synoptic Problem 



of Q material causes people to overestimate the evidence in favour of 
the Q theory. 

One might also draw attention to a related feature. The calculation 
that Lukan forms of Q sayings are sometimes more original than their 
Matthaean counterparts is also based on a feature of Luke's style. Luke 
is a subtle and versatile writer with a large vocabulary and a tendency 
to vary his synonyms. Matthew, on the other hand, has a more pro- 
nounced, easily recognizable style, and he does not have so rich a voca- 
bulary. It is consequently much less straightforward to judge Lukan 
redactional activity than it is to pick out where Matthew has edited 
sources, and it is correspondingly easy to jump to the conclusion that 
an apparently 'un-Lukan' form is a 'pre-Lukan', Q form. Frequently 
one sees claims that a given word is 'un-Lukan and therefore pre- 
Lukan'. '« 

The appearance of more original Lukan forms in Q material is partly 
a consequence, therefore, of the way in which Q theorists calculate 
these supposedly more primitive versions. They do not pay due atten- 
tion to the fact that Luke's style is so much more difficult to pin down 
than is Matthew's, and they do not consider the fact that the Matthaean 
language present in Matthew's versions might equally well tell in 
favour of the Farrer Theory. 

3. Neglected Arguments for Lukan Secondariness. Regularly, argu- 
ments in favour of Lukan secondariness are simply overlooked by Q 
theorists. A classic example of this is the first beatitude. Let us have a 
look at it in synopsis: 



Matthew 5. lb- 3 


Luke 6.20 


'His disciples came to him, and he 


"Looking at his disciples. 


opened his mouth and taught them. 


he said: 


saying: 




"Blessed are the poor in spirit. 


"Blessed are the poor. 


for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".' 


for yours is the kingdom of God".' 



It is almost universally held that Matthew's 'in spirit' here is a 
secondary, 'spiritualizing' gloss on the more primitive Q version best 
represented by Luke. Indeed, it is a text book example of the very argu- 
ment we are currently considering. But the standard view actually has, 



1 0. This matter is dubbed 'the Lukan priority fallacy' by Goulder, Luke, pp. 1 5- 1 7. 



6. The Case Against Q 137 

to say the least, no more going for it than does the alternative view that 
Luke's version is secondary, simplifying and 'secularizing' his source 
in Matthew. There are at least four reasons to find it plausible that Luke 
removed 'in spirit' from his version of the beatitude: 

1. Luke's is commonly regarded as the Gospel of the poor, the 
destitute, the outcast, the widow, the underdog. It would be 
entirely in character for Luke to revise his source in the way 
proposed. 

2. This beatitude stands at the agenda-setting outset of Jesus' 
second major discourse in Luke. The first major discourse, in 
the synagogue at Nazara (4.16-30), also begins with a blessing 
('good news') on 'the poor' (4.18), where Jesus announces 
himself to be the one anointed to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah 
61. 

3. Unlike Matthew, the beatitude in Luke has a corresponding 
'woe' on 'the rich' (Lk. 6.24). This kind of thing is classic 
Luke and is usually given the name 'eschatological reversal', 
which means that the roles in the present world order are 
reversed in the kingdom of God. As we saw above, it has a 
particularly famous statement in the Magnificat (Lk. 1.46-55), 
and it is given special treatment in the parable of 'the rich 
man' and 'the poor man' (Lazarus) in Lk. 16.19-31, which one 
might almost regard as a narrative version of this (and the 
next) beatitude. 

4. The narrative-critic will be sensitive to both the audience and 
the narrative context of this beatitude in Luke. It is spoken to 
'disciples', who, in Luke, have 'left everything' (Lk. 5.1 1, 28) 
to follow Jesus. Since in Luke poverty appears to be a prereq- 
uisite for discipleship, we will hardly be surprised to see the 
disciples blessed as 'the poor'. Indeed we hear in 14.33, that 
'None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all 
your possessions' (cf. also pp. 126-27 above). 

In short, a pause to consider Luke's characteristic procedure con- 
firms that we should not be at all surprised with a change from 
Matthew's 'poor in spirit', a phrase, incidentally, that is found nowhere 
else in Matthew, to 'the poor', as distinctive a Lukan interest as one 
can find. This is one example among many of the existence of good 



1 3 8 The Synoptic Problem 

arguments for Lukan secondariness in a passage where his primitivity 
is usually taken for granted. 

4. The Living Stream of Oral Tradition. The issue is further 
complicated by the likelihood that on occasions Luke may well have 
preserved elements from different versions of Jesus' sayings in his oral 
tradition. When we were looking at Matthew's and Luke's relation to 
Mark, we noted the absurdity of assuming that oral traditions of the 
Jesus story died out as soon as the evangelists committed them to papy- 
rus and, consequently, the likelihood that the later evangelists redacted 
Mark in the light of their knowledge of such oral traditions. This means 
that on occasion, Matthew and Luke inevitably bear witness to differ- 
ent, sometimes more original versions of Jesus material than the ver- 
sions found in their literary source, Mark. Consequently, it is scarcely a 
major leap of the imagination to see Luke occasionally bearing witness 
to different or more original versions of sayings found in his literary 
source, Matthew. 

Some Q sceptics feel a little uncomfortable with this scenario since it 
might at first sight appear to allow Q to creep in through the back door. 
Is this, to use another image, a kind of 'closet Q', believing in a form of 
the Q hypothesis but not owning up to it? I don't think so. I would 
prefer to call it Luke's creative, critical interaction with Mark and 
Matthew in the light of the living stream of oral tradition. Let us be 
clear: the notion that Luke was influenced by oral traditions of Jesus 
materials in no way compromises the theory of his literary dependence 
on Mark and Matthew. Unless we also believe that Matthaean versions 
of Triple Tradition pericopae are always and inevitably secondary to 
their Markan parallels, we should not find the thesis of occasional 
Lukan Priority in Double Tradition materials strange. Just as Matthew 
and Luke interacted with Mark in the light of their knowledge of 
similar stories from oral tradition, so too 1 propose that Luke interacted 
with Matthew in the light of his knowledge of similar material in oral 
tradition. 

The example we used above (pp. 95-96) to see this phenomenon at 
work in Luke's use of Mark was the words at the institution of the 
Eucharist. One of the values of this example was that it was concerned 
with words used in early Christian liturgy, precisely the kind of place 
where one would expect to see this kind of thing happening, influence 
on Luke from oral traditions of the material he also knew from Mark. 



6. The Case Against Q 139 

Now one of the clearest examples given of the Lukan version of 
Double Tradition being prior is a similar example, the Lord's Prayer, 
again the kind of material that we will expect to have been subject to 
variation in oral tradition. Even today, where the Lord's Prayer is often 
known primarily orally and not in dependence on a written text, one 
finds local variation. The same kind of thing seems highly likely to 
have been the case when Luke comes to write his version of the prayer 
in 11.2-4. He looks at the Matthaean version but re-writes it in line 
with the version more familiar to him from frequent recitation in his 
own tradition. Just as many Catholics today end the prayer where 
Matthew ends it, at 'Deliver us from evil', not adding 'Thine be the 
kingdom, the glory and the power, for ever and ever Amen' (which is a 
scribal addition to Matthew, perhaps also influenced by oral tradition), 
so Luke ends his prayer with 'Lead us not into temptation' and not with 
'But deliver us from evil', in spite of the fact that the latter is present in 
his text of Matthew. Just as Catholics today know of the existence of 
the 'Thine be the kingdom...' clause, but choose not to use it because 
of familiarity and loyalty to their own tradition, so too it is hardly diffi- 
cult to think of Luke knowing the clause 'But deliver us from evil' but 
not using it for the same kind of reason. 

The observation that both Matthew and Luke sometimes appear to 
have the more original forms of the Double Tradition material does not, 
then, serve to establish the existence of Q. Not only has the extent of 
Luke's supposed primitivity been greatly overestimated, based partly 
on misconstrued assessments of the presence of Matthaean language, 
but even on the occasions where Luke does show possible signs of 
primitivity, this is only evidence for Q if one is prepared to deny a role 
to the living stream of oral tradition in the composition of Luke's 
Gospel. 



Summary 

• The A rgument from alternating primitivity 
the following steps: 

• There are many places where all 
secondary. 


can be countered 
agree that Luke 


in 
is 



140 



77?^ Synoptic Problem 



Matthaean language: The presence of Matthew's favour- 
ite expressions in Q material is regularly taken to indicate 
that his versions are later than Luke's versions. But the 
same evidence is congenial to the thesis that Luke is 
using Matthew: Matthew composes the non-Markan mate- 
rial using characteristic expressions and Luke sometimes 
eliminates such expressions. Further, Luke has a much 
larger vocabulary than Matthew and he uses many more 
unusual expressions. It is a fallacy to assume that 'un- 
Lukan' expressions are necessarily 'pre-Lukan' expres- 
sions. 

Neglected arguments for Lukan secondariness: Some- 
times scholars have greatly underestimated the arguments 
for Luke's redaction of Matthew (e.g. the Beatitudes). 
The living stream of oral tradition: Oral traditions did not 
die a death as soon as the evangelists set pen to papyrus. 
Just as Matthew creatively interacted with Mark in the 
light of oral traditions, so too did Luke with Matthew and 
Mark. 



Argument 5. The Distinctiveness ofQ 

The idea that Q is distinctive, that it makes its presence felt by means 
of its content, genre and theology, is becoming one of the major 
arguments in favour of its existence. Indeed the reconstruction of Q, 
the analyses of its text, the studies of its supposed literary history, are 
all now making a major contribution to the study of the Synoptic 
Problem and one ignores them at one's peril. It is generally thought 
that it would be impossible for such convincing studies of Q as a text in 
its own right to be written if Q never actually existed. 

It is difficult to answer this argument succinctly. Providing a 
carefully documented response to the many studies of Q currently 
circulating would require something of a major monograph itself 
Nevertheless, the reader will be wise to bear in mind the following 
points: 

(a) Studies that assume Q inevitably cause a re-entrenchment of 
the notion that Q is distinctive. The repeated analysis of the 
Double Tradition material in isolation from its Matthaean and 



6. The Case Against Q 141 

Lukan contexts generates a momentum of its own, the ten- 
dency of which is to reinforce the starting point, which was 
the isolation of the Double Tradition material from its con- 
texts in Matthew and Luke. It is rare to see Q scholars pausing 
to reflect on how the same evidence appears on a Q sceptical 
theory, and ultimately this is the kind of thing that is needed in 
order to test claims that the distinctiveness of the Q material 
implies the existence of a Q document. 

(b) Claims about the distinctiveness of Q tend to underestimate 
the degree of overlap that exists between the Double Tradition 
(Q) and special Matthew (M). It is impossible, for example, to 
distinguish between the style of some of the units of M 
material and some of the units of Q. 

(c) It is sometimes said that Luke must have taken over some 
pericopae from Q that Matthew did not also take over. In other 
words, the hypothetical document Q overlaps with but is not 
identical with the Double Tradition material. It is a notorious 
difficulty, however, to isolate alleged Q pericopae in Luke 
outside of the Double Tradition, something that is odd given 
the claims about the distinctiveness of Q's thought and style. 
Indeed the candidates most commonly suggested, like Lk. 
1 1.27-28 (Woman in the Crowd), Lk. 12.15-21 (Parable of the 
Rich Fool) or Lk. 15.8.10 (Lost Coin) all have an uncannily 
Lukan ring about them — their Lukan style is, if anything, as 
marked here as anywhere. 

(d) We need to bear in mind that the Double Tradition does have 
a distinctive profile on the Farrer Theory as well as on the Q 
theory. For if one assumes the Farrer Theory, Q is constituted 
by those parts of Matthew's non-Markan material that most 
appealed to Luke. Or, to put it another way, they are the 
'Luke-pleasing' elements in Matthew's extra material. If one 
wanted to put this into an equation, it would look like this: 

Q = (Matthew minus Mark) divided by 'Luke-pleasingness' 

And this is something that we can test, for if Q is indeed the result of 
the selections from Matthew's non-Markan material that Luke found 
'pleasing', then we will expect the material he left behind to be in some 
way Luke-displeasing. Now the material that, on the Farrer Theory, 



142 



The Synoptic Problem 



Luke left behind is the M material or 'Special Matthew', the pericopae 
that are in Matthew alone. So does the Q material generally have a 
'Luke-pleasing' profile and the M material a 'Luke-displeasing' profile? 
Indeed they do. The Q pericopae are precisely the ones we would 
expect Luke to take over fi-om a book like Matthew, Jesus' ethical 
teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the Centurion's Boy, the Lost 
Sheep, teachings about discipleship and the rest, and there is not a peri- 
cope in M that looks congenial to Luke: several have an oddly 'legend- 
ary' character (e.g. Mt. 17.24-27, Coin in the Fish's Mouth) and others 
are in direct conflict with Luke's theology (e.g. Mt. 25.31-46, the 
Sheep and the Goats). Indeed it has long been recognized that the Q 
material has something of a pro-Gentile profile whereas the M material 
tends to be inspired by and focused on the Jewish-Christian mission 
and interests. In other words, the general profiles of Q and M turn out 
to be precisely what we would expect them to be if the Farrer Theory is 
correct. 



Summary 

The argument from distinctiveness ofQ is not decisive: 

• The isolation of the Double Tradition from its context in 
Matthew and Luke inevitably generates a distinctive 
profile for Q. 

• The overlap between Q material and M material partly 
undermines the claim. 

• It is difficult to discover good candidates for material that 
might have derived from Q among Luke's special 
material. 

• The Double Tradition has a distinctive profile on the 
Farrer Theory, namely: (Matthew minus Mark) divided by 
'Luke-pleasingness' . 



Argument 6. The Success of Redaction-Criticism 
Redaction-criticism of Matthew and Luke has progressed, on the whole, 
on the assumption that the Two-Source Theory is correct. The apparent 
success of this kind of redaction-criticism, which was one of the most 
important enterprises in Gospel criticism in the latter half of the 
twentieth century, appears to corroborate its basic premises, the priority 



6. The Case Against Q 143 

of Mark and the existence of Q. There are, however, major difficulties 
with using this as an argument in favour of the existence of Q: 

(a) Those using this argument tend to state it in terms of the 
success of the Two-Source Theory generally and not in terms 
of Q specifically. This is problematic, for while an argument 
of this kind might legitimately be used in favour of Markan 
Priority, for which we have an extant text with which we can 
compare Matthew and Luke, it is much less straightforward to 
use it in favour of Q, which is hypothetical. As often, Q is 
allowed to piggy-back onto Markan Priority, and to gain 
credibility by association with it. 

(b) The Q theory gains an unfair advantage over the Farrer 
Theory here because it has, as an hypothetical document, a far 
greater degree of flexibility. When we work with Luke's 
knowledge of Matthew, we are always looking at comparison 
between known texts. But Q, by contrast, can be manipulated. 

(c) We only have any idea of the contents of Q by attempting to 
reconstruct the document. And the primary means by which Q 
is reconstructed is by means of redaction-criticism. There is 
thus an unavoidable circularity in using this argument in 
favour of the existence of Q — a tool that has been used to 
generate a document is said to corroborate the existence of the 
document that has been generated. 

(d) Also related is, once more, the issue of entrenchment. 
Repeated studies of Matthew and Luke assume Q, thereby 
making those studies normative. It does not take long before 
one of the very tools for the study of Matthew and Luke is Q. 
The argument from the status quo then becomes little more 
than an assertion about the status quo. 

It appears, then, that of the several arguments that are put forward to 
defend the Q theory, not one of them is adequate to the task. Indeed, in 
several of these categories, we cannot help thinking that the evidence 
in favour of the alternative position, Luke's use of Matthew, is stronger. 
In themselves, though, the answers to these arguments are not enough. 
It is true that, in the absence of good arguments for Luke's independ- 
ence from Matthew, we might find ourselves drawn towards the Farrer 
Theory, but what we would like ideally is some concrete evidence. Is 
there anything that points directly to Luke's use of Matthew? The good 



144 



The Synoptic Problem 



news is that there is plenty of evidence in favour of Luke's use of 
Matthew, evidence that is repeatedly underplayed, misconstrued or 
ignored in Gospel scholarship. 



Summary 

• The argument from the success of redaction-criticism is also 
unconvincing: 

• Sometimes Q is allowed to gain credibility by association 
with Markan Priority, for which this argument is more 
legitimately used. 

• As an hypothetical document, Q has a degree of flexi- 
bility that gives it an unfair advantage. 

• Since Q is reconstructed by means of redaction-criticism, 
it can become a circular argument to assert Q on the basis 
of redaction-criticism. 

• An inevitable entrenchment of Q occurs the more it is 
assumed. 



3. Evidence of Luke 's Use of Matthew 

Speculation and critical reflection on Luke's potential objectives in 
reworking Matthew will sound hollow if we are short of positive 
evidence that Luke knew and used the Gospel of Matthew. The 
evidence under consideration in this final, major section of our journey 
through the maze is therefore of vital importance. For here we will be 
considering the grounds for believing that Luke was familiar with 
Matthew. The decisive evidence can be considered under four head- 
ings, three of which we have already encountered in other contexts. We 
will take the most well known of these first, the Minor Agreements 
between Matthew and Luke against Mark. 

a. The Minor Agreements 

If Luke is dependent on Matthew, we will expect him to show 
knowledge of Matthew not only in the Double Tradition passages, that 
is, those passages usually attributed to Q, but also in the Triple 
Tradition passages, that is, those passages where he is dependent on 
Mark. Even if Mark is his primary source for the Triple Tradition 
material (see above. Chapters 3^), we will nevertheless expect him to 



6. The Case Against Q 



145 



show some knowledge of Matthew's versions of this same material. 
This is indeed what we find. 

The term 'Minor Agreements' refers to those agreements between 
Luke and Matthew against Mark in the Triple Tradition material. Their 
importance as evidence for Luke's use of Matthew should not be 
underestimated. For if Luke sometimes agrees with Matthew against 
Mark in important ways, then Matthew and Luke were not written 
independently of one another. And if they were not written independ- 
ently of one another, Q is no longer required to explain the Double 
Tradition material^ — -for this, Luke can be dependent primarily on 
Matthew." 

There are many, many Minor Agreements between Matthew and 
Luke against Mark. A good number of them can easily be explained on 
the assumption that Matthew and Luke are independently redacting 
Mark, coinciding in their attempts to polish up his literary style, to alter 
his harsh view of the disciples, his less reverential view of Jesus and so 
on. However, there is an irresolvable rump of agreements that simply 
will not go away. One of the most interesting occurs in a passage to 
which we have referred already, when Jesus is being mocked: 



Matthew 26.67-68 


Mark 14.65 


Luke 22.64 


Then they spat 


And some began to spit 


Now the men who were 


into his 


on him, and to cover his 


holding Jesus mocked him 


face, and struck him; and 


face, and to strike him. 


and beat him; thev also blind- 


some slapped him, saying. 


saying to him, 


folded him and asked him. 


'Prophesy to us, you 


'Prophesy!' 


'Prophesy! 


Christ! Who is it that 




Who is it that 


struck you?' 


And the guards received 
him with blows. 


struck you?' 



1 1 . Frans Neirynck. has attempted to counter this argument by pointing out that 
if the Minor Agreements were to demonstrate subsidiary Lukan dependence on 
Matthew in the Triple Tradition, then by analogy they would only demonstrate sub- 
sidiary dependence on Matthew in the Double Tradition. In other words, Q could 
still be postulated as the main source for the Double Tradition material. However, 
this misses the fact that the Farrer Theory's argument from the Minor Agreements is 
not and has never been an argument from analogy. Rather, it is an attempt to point 
to concrete evidence of Luke's knowledge of Matthew, evidence that inevitably 
undermines the major premise of Q. which is that Matthew and Luke are inde- 
pendent of one another. For details see Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels, 
pp. 126-29; for Frans Neirynck's most recent statement, see 'Goulder and the Minor 
Agreements', ETL 73 (1997), pp. 84-93. 



1 46 The Synoptic Problem 

The passage is a helpful one for several reasons. Since this passage 
occurs in the Passion Narrative, the Minor Agreement cannot be due to 
use of Q. Q does not have, according to any of its contemporary 
defenders, a Passion Narrative. Moreover, five words in Greek, the 
words here translated as Who is it that struck you?, occur in both 
Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. One of the words, the verb to strike 
(in Greek paiein) is rare — it occurs only here in Matthew and only here 
in Luke. It is not, then, the kind of agreement for which common oral 
tradition is likely to be an explanation. 

The most obvious scenario is that Matthew is here typically attempt- 
ing to clarify the rather darkly ironic Markan scene, in which Jesus is 
taunted with the demand 'Prophesy!' as his tormentors are in the very 
act of fulfilling his prophecy (see further above, p. 64). Luke then fol- 
lows Matthew in adding the clarificatory words, betraying his knowl- 
edge of Matthew. 

How do Q theorists deal with this evidence? On the whole, they are 
troubled by it since they realize that it challenges the notion of Luke's 
independence from Matthew, the premise behind the Q theory. The 
leading defence here is that Matthew did not originally contain the 
words Who is it that struck you? The theory is that these words were 
added by Luke and that scribes of Matthew then interpolated them into 
their versions of Matthew. This is a process known as 'conjectural 
emendation', where a scholar proposes an emendation to the text with 
no warrant anywhere in the textual tradition — no known text of Matt- 
hew is without these words. Conjectural emendation is usually prac- 
tised sparingly by Gospel scholars, and it is particularly problematic 
here, where the primary reason for practising it is to defend an already 
troubled synoptic theory, the Q hypothesis.'- 

There is some further evidence from within the category of the 
Minor Agreements that points not just to some contact between Matt- 
hew and Luke but specifically suggests the direction of dependence, 
Luke's knowledge of Matthew. For there is a small rump of Minor 
Agreements that bear the unmistakable marks of Matthew's character- 
istic style or vocabulary, indicating that Luke might have inadvertently 
betrayed his knowledge of Matthew. Let us look at an example of this: 



12. For further details on this, see my Goulder and the Gospels, pp. 101-107, 
and the literature cited there. 



6. The Case Against Q 1 47 



Matthew 22.27 


Mark 12.22 


Luke 20.32 


Later than all, 
the woman died. 


Last of all also 
the woman died. 


Later also 

the woman died. 



This verse comes in a stoiy in which some Sadducees question Jesus 
about the resurrection. The woman marries seven brothers in sequence, 
each of whom dies, and then at the end she dies herself. Where Mark 
expresses this by saying that she died 'last' (Greek eschaton), Matthew 
and Luke both use the word 'later' (Greek hysteron). Now this might 
not look, at first sight, particularly remarkable. But the interesting thing 
about the choice of this word is that it occurs regularly in Matthew — 
seven times — but never in Luke (or Acts) outside of this parallel with 
Matthew. Furthennore, it is a word that Matthew appears to use in a 
distinctive way, to mean the last in a series (cf. both Mt. 21.37 and 
26.60-1). On another occasion he again writes 'later' {hysteron, Mt. 
21.37) where Mark writes 'last' {eschaton, Mk 12.6). In other words, it 
seems likely that Matthew has made a change to his Markan source in 
characteristic Matthaean manner, and that Luke has followed him, 
inadvertently betraying to us that he knows Matthew. 

Nevertheless, one difficulty remains. Are not these Minor Agree- 
ments problematic for the case against Q in that they are, on the whole, 
so very minor? Should we not, if the Farrer Theory is correct, expect 
some more substantial agreement between Matthew and Luke against 
Mark? Indeed we should, and the mistake made by those pressing the 
point is that there is evidence for more substantial agreement between 
Matthew and Luke against Mark, evidence that is ignored in this con- 
text because it is placed in a different category of its own, usually 
labelled 'Mark-Q overlap', and we will turn to this next. 



Summary 

The Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against 
Mark point to Luke's knowledge of Matthew in the Triple 
Tradition material. 

Strong Minor Agreements occur in the Passion Narrative, 
where no one can appeal to influence from Q. 



148 



The Synoptic Problem 



Several Minor Agreements show the marks of Matthew 's 
distinctive style, suggesting that Matthew has modified 
Mark and that Luke has followed Matthew. 



b. Passages in Which Mark Is Not the Middle Term 
When we began exploring the maze, in Chapter 2, taking a basic 
itinerary of all the available data, we found that there was one inter- 
esting class of material that defied straightforward categorization. Sev- 
eral pericopae appeared to object to the standard rule that Mark is the 
middle term. These pericopae did not allow themselves to be described 
either as Double Tradition (since they had parallels in Mark) or as 
Triple Tradition (since they featured major and not minor agreements 
between Matthew and Luke against Mark). Now another way of 
describing passages like this, in which Mark is not the middle term, is 
as pericopae occurring in all three Synoptics that feature substantial 
agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark. This is a scenario 
that is problematic for the Q theory but highly congenial to the idea that 
Luke knew both Mark and Matthew and I will attempt to explain why. 

First, this kind of passage is problematic for the Q theory because the 
material attributed to Q (i.e. the major agreements between Matthew 
and Luke against Mark) appears to presuppose the material present in 
Mark. This is much less congenial to the Q theory, which usually holds 
that Q was independent of Mark, than it is to the Farrer Theory, on 
which Matthew (and Luke) are presupposing Mark. To see the point, 
have a look again at one of the key 'Mark-Q overlap' passages, the 
John the Baptist complex: 



Matthew 3. II -12 


Mark 1. 7-8 


Luke 3.16-17 




7. 'And he preached. 


16. 'And John answered. 




saying, 


saying to all, 


11.' "I, on the one hand. 




"I, on the one hand. 


baptize you in water for 




baptize you in water 


repentance, but the one 


"The one 


but the one 


who is coming after me is 


who is stronger than me 


who is stronger than me 


stronger than me, 


comes after me, the thong 


comes after me, the thong 


the shoes of whom 


of whose sandals 


of whose sandals 


I am not worthy 


I am not worthy, having 


I am not worthy 


to untie. 


stooped down, to loose. 8. 


to loose. 



6. The Case Against Q 



149 





I baptized you in water 






[cf. Mt. 3.11//Lk. 


3.16], 




He will baptize you in 


but he will baptize you in 


He will baptize you in 


holy spirit and fire. 12. His 


holy spirit".' 




holy spirit and fire. 17. His 


winnowing fork is in his 






winnowing fork is in his 


hand and he will clear his 






hand to clear his 


threshing floor and he will 






threshing floor and to 


gather his wheat into his 






gather the wheat into his 


granary, hut the chaff' he 






granary, but the chaff he 


will burn with 






will burn with 


unquenchable fir e''\ ' 






unquenchable fire''.'' 



Now what is so interesting here is the sheer degree of overlap 
between Mark, and Q, overlap that amounts apparently to verbatim 
agreement between them. For we simply cannot imagine, for example, 
that Q just featured the words 'and fire' (Mt. 3.11//Lk. 3.16). These 
words require an antecedent, something exactly like 'he will baptize 
you in holy spirit', the very words that do appear in Mark (Mk 1.8 and 
parallels). On the Q theory, the Q document would appear to pre- 
suppose precisely the material that we can see to be present in Mark, 
which is more than a little odd if Mark and Q are (as most hold them to 
be) independent. On the Farrer Theory, by contrast, we can see 
Matthew simply presupposing his Markan source and elaborating on it, 
and subsequently getting followed by Luke. It is a much more straight- 
forward theory. 

There is, further, some additional corroboration for the Farrer 
Theory's perspective here. For if Matthew has added this fresh material 
to Mark, subsequently to be copied by Luke, we will expect the fresh 
material to feature some characteristically Matthaean language and 
themes. And this is exactly what we do find. For if any Gospel is par- 
ticularly fond of the language of judgment, with Jesus separating the 
good and the evil, the wise and the foolish, the wheat and the weeds, 
often expressed using harvest imagery, it is Matthew's (cf., for exam- 
ple, Mt. 7.16-20; 12.33-37; 13.24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25.31-46). It would 
be entirely in character here for Matthew to have introduced elements 
like judgment, separation and hell-fire. 

But the existence of these passages is further troubling for Q because 
they contradict the assertion that Matthew and Luke only agree 
together against Mark in minor ways. This is important because it is 
sometimes said that the problem with the Minor Agreements (see 



150 



The Synoptic Problem 



above) is that they are 'too minor' to make the case for Luke's use of 
Matthew strongly enough. We need to see that this is simply not the 
case — there are several passages that feature major agreements between 
Matthew and Luke against Mark. Similarly, as we saw above, the 
existence of these passages simply contradicts one of the major argu- 
ments for Q, that Luke never takes over Matthew's additions to Mark 
in Triple Tradition material. 

Along with the Minor Agreements on the one side and the 'pure 
Triple Tradition' passages on the other side, this kind of passage 
establishes the existence of a continuum that makes good sense on the 
Farrer Theory, for if Luke has both Mark and Matthew as primary 
sources, we will expect this to have resulted in a sliding scale of 
Matthaean influence on Luke, from pure Triple Tradition passages that 
feature Minor Agreements, to Mark-Q overlap passages that feature 
major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark, to Double 
Tradition passages where Luke is dependent solely on Matthew. We 
might represent this scenario as in Fig. 4: 



Greater 



Influence 

from 

Matthew 



Less 



Pure 

Double 
Tradition 

(Q) 



Mark-<3 Overlap 



Triple Tradition 
passages with 
Minor Agreement 



Greater 



Influence from 
Mark 



Less 



Fig. 4. Scale of Matthaean Influence on Luke 



Here we note that there is a continuum in Luke's use of Mark and 
Matthew, from passages where Luke is primarily dependent on Mark, 
with only minor or subsidiary influence from Matthew, to passages 
where Luke is more strongly influenced by Matthew (the so-called 
'Mark-Q overlap' passages currently under discussion) to passages 
where Luke has Matthew as his sole source ('pure Double Tradition' or 



6. The Case Against Q 151 

'Q' passages). In short, the existence of these passages causes some 
major difficulties for the Q theory while they are precisely what we 
would expect if Luke has used both Mark and Matthew. 



Summary 

• Major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark: 
although commonly placed in a category of their own labelled 
'Mark-Q overlap', the difficulty these passages pose for the Q 
theory should not be underestimated: 

• They contradict the assertion that Luke never features 
Matthew's modifications of Mark in Triple Tradition 
material. 

• They illustrate the mid point on a continuum of Luke's 
use of Matthew, from greater (pure Double Tradition) to 
lesser (Triple Tradition). 



c. The Narrative Element in Q 

It is commonly said that Q provides us with a 'sayings source' or a 
'Sayings Gospel' in which there is 'no narrative frame'. At first sight, 
this indeed seems to be the case: we saw when first exploring the maze, 
for example, that much of the Double Tradition material is sayings 
material — beatitudes, parables, aphorisms, exhortation and teaching 
material of different kinds. But on closer inspection, we find something 
very revealing, evidence that suggests that we should be cautious over 
talking about Q as a 'sayings source' or a 'Sayings Gospel', evidence 
that points, once more, to the plausibility of the Farrer Theory. 

The feature of Q that is not commonly noticed is that its first third 
apparently has a marked narrative sequence in which the progress of 
Jesus' ministry is carefully plotted. In outline the sequence goes as 
follows: 

(a) John the Baptist appears in the region of the Jordan (Mt. 
3.6//Lk. 3.3). 

(b) John baptizes people with 'his baptism' (Mt. 3.7//Lk. 3.7), a 
baptism apparently connected with 'repentance' (Mt. 3.8//Lk. 
3.8). 

(c) John preaches about a 'coming one' (Mt. 3.1 l//Lk. 3.16). 



1 52 The Synoptic Problem 

(d) Jesus appears on the scene and there is a baptism involving 
the 'spirit' in which Jesus is recognized as a 'son' (Mt. 3.13- 
17//Lk. 3.21-22). 

(e) Jesus is led into the wilderness by 'the spirit' to be tested as 
'son'(Mt. 4.1-1 1//Lk. 4.1-13). 

(f) Jesus appears in a place called 'Nazara' (Mt. 4.13//Lk. 4.16). 

(g) Jesus preaches a great Sermon (Mt. 5-7//Lk. 6.20-49). 

(h) Jesus finishes his Sermon and goes to Capernaum where a 
Centurion's Boy is healed (Mt. 7.28-29; 8.5//Lk. 7.1). 

(i) Messengers come fi*om John the Baptist, asking whether Jesus 
is indeed 'the coming one' (Mt. 11.2-19//Lk. 7.18-35).'^ 

One of the most interesting features of this is that it seems to be a 
narrative sequence — each event clearly proceeds from the previous 
one. John appears, preaches about his baptism, prophesies 'the coming 
one', who then appears, is baptized in connection with the 'spirit' as a 
'son', is then led by the 'spirit' to be tested as a 'son' and so on. This is 
problematic for the Q theory in two ways. First, it contradicts the 
assertion that Q is a 'Sayings Gospel' or 'sayings source' without 
narrative frame. An extant example of a genuine 'Sayings Gospel' has 
come to light this century, the Gospel of Thomas, a full copy of which 
was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. The disappointing 
news for the Q theory is that the document looks nothing like Q as it is 
commonly reconstructed. Thomas is quite lacking in the kind of 
ordered arrangements that characterize Q, especially the all-important 
narrative sequence in Q's first third. Thus, far from corroborating the 
existence of documents like Q, the blatant contrast between Thomas 
and Q gives one major pause for thought. 

This contrast is intensified by the fact that it finds a ready explana- 
tion on the Farrer Theory. Q's narrative sequence makes sense when 

13. Please note that 1 am not here maximizing material that might be attributed 
to Q. Rather, I have only mentioned material that is agreed to belong to Q by the 
hitemational Q Project, whose critical text of Q is the end result of over ten years of 
hard work by experts in the area. For example, the sharp eye will notice that items 
(a) to (e) are partly 'Mark-Q overlap' material discussed above. In deference to the 
experts, I have only included Mark-Q overlap material that occurs in the Interna- 
tional Q Project's critical text. See James M. Robinson, Paul Hoffmann and John S. 
Kloppenborg (eds.). The Critical Edition of Q: Synopsis Including the Gospels of 
Matthew and Luke, Mark and Thomas, with English, German and French Transla- 
tions ofQ and Thomas (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press; Leuven: Peeters, 2000). 



6. 77?^ Case Against Q 



153 



one notices that it corresponds to the places at which Matthew departs 
from Mark's basic order (in Mt. 3-1 1) and where Luke, in parallel, also 
departs from that order (in Lk. 1-9). In other words, the narrative 
sequence is generated by a feature in the structuring of the Gospels. On 
the whole, Matthew departs regularly from Mark in the first third of his 
Gospel (Mt. 3-11), restructuring and adding fresh material to the 
Markan outline, but he is much more conservative with Mark's order in 
his second two-thirds. 

If a further indication was needed, we might notice that at least one 
of the elements in this narrative sequence bears the unmistakable mark 
of Matthew's hand: 



Matthew 7.28-29: 8.5 


Luke 7.1 


And it came to pass that when 


When Jesus had fulfilled all 


Jesus had completed these words. 


these sayings in the hearing of 


the crowds were amazed at his 


the people. 


teaching... and when he had 


he 


entered into Capernaum, a 


entered into Capernaum. And a 


centurion came... 


certain Centurion's Servant. . . 



What is so striking about this narrative segue, absent of course from 
Mark, is that it is well known as Matthew's own particular formula. It 
is the form of words he uses every time he ends one of his five major 
discourses, here (the Sermon on the Mount) and then again on these 
four occasions: 

Mt. 11.1: "After Jesus had finished instructed his twelve disciples...' 

Mt. 13.53: "When Jesus had finished these parables...' 

Mt. 19.1: 'When Jesus had finished saying these things...' 

Mt. 26.1: 'When Jesus had finished saying all these things...' 

In short, it seems that once again we can detect Matthew's hand in 
what is nonnally held to be inaterial derived from Q. The narrative 
sequence seen in the standard reconstructions of Q's first third is highly 
congenial to the Farrer Theory but is problematic for Q. 



Summary 

The Q material seems to exhibit a narrative sequence, found 
especially in the first third of the alleged document: 



54 The Synoptic Problem 



This contrasts with markedly with anything in the one extant 

example we have of a Sayings Gospel, the Coptic Gospel of 

Thomas. 

It makes good sense on the assumption that it is generated by 

Luke's use of non-Markan material in Matthew's Gospel, the 

first third of which often departs from Mark. 

Elements in the narrative sequence show the clear signs of 

Matthew's redactional hand. 



d. Editorial Fatigue 

When we were looking at the Priority of Mark in Chapter 3 we found 
one of the most decisive factors to be the phenomenon of 'editorial 
fatigue'. There were places where Matthew and Luke seemed to have 
made initial, characteristic changes to their Markan source, but had 
then apparently lapsed into docile reproduction of that source, resulting 
in some minor incongruities. Now it is revealing that the same phe- 
nomenon also seems to occur in the Double Tradition, revealing 
because it is always in the same direction, in favour of Luke's use of 
Matthew. As usual, illustration will be the best form of explanation, so 
let us have a look at a good example, the Parable of the Talents/Pounds 
(Mt. 25.14-30//Lk. 19.11-27). 

When I was at school, the Matthaean version of this parable was 
always the one read in assembly, partly because it had the desired word 
'talent' in it (we needed to be encouraged to 'use our talents', that is, to 
play in the school band, to act in the school play or to play for the 
school football team), but also because it is the simpler, more coherent, 
easier to follow version. There are three servants; one receives five 
talents, one two and the other one. The first makes five more talents and 
is rewarded, the second two more and is rewarded; the other hides his 
talent and is punished. 

By contrast, the Lukan version begins with ten servants, all of whom 
receive one pound. It is an adjustment typical of Luke, the evangelist 
most fond of the ratio often to one (ten coins, one lost in Lk. 15.8-10; 
ten lepers, one thankful, in Lk. 17.1 1-17, and so on). However, when 
the nobleman returns, he summons the servants, and, instead of hearing 
about the ten earlier mentioned, we hear about 'the first' (Lk. 19.16), 
'the second' (Lk. 19.18) and amazingly, 'the other' (Greek ho heteros, 
Lk. 19.20). It turns out, then, that Luke has three servants in mind, like 
Matthew, and not ten after all. Further, in Luke's parable, the first two 



6. The Case Against Q 



155 



servants receive 'cities' as their reward (19.17, 19), the first ten and the 
second five, whereas in Matthew they are 'put in charge of much' 
(25.21 , 23). Yet towards the end of the parable, Luke seems to corrobo- 
rate not his own earlier story line but Matthew's: 



Matthew 25.28 


Luke 19.24 


'So take the talent from him and 
give it to him who has the ten 
talents". 


'Take the pound from him and 
give it to him who has the ten 
pounds". 



The account lacks cohesion: the man in Luke actually has ten cities 
now, so a pound extra is nothing and, in any case, he does not have ten 
pounds but eleven (19.16: 'your pound made ten pounds more'; con- 
trast Mt. 25.20). 

Luke's version of the parable, then, does not hold together well and 
there is a straightforward explanation to hand: Luke has atteinpted to 
reframe Matthew's parable but editorial fatigue leads him to drift into 
the story line of his Matthaean source, inadvertently betraying his 
knowledge of Matthew. 

Nor is this parable an isolated example — there are several clear cases 
of Double Tradition material in which Luke appears to show editorial 
fatigue in his copying of Matthew, as when he begins talking about the 
Centurion's 'slave' (Greek doulos, Lk. 7.2; cf. 7.10) in contrast to 
Matthew's Centurion's 'son' or 'servant' (Greek pais, Mt. 8.6), only 
subsequently to drift into Matthew's wording {pais, Mt. 8.8//Lk. 7.7). 
Or one might look at Lk. 9.5 in which Jesus speaks about when the 
disciples leave 'that town'. No town has been mentioned in the previ- 
ous verses, Lk. 9.1-6 (Mission Charge, cf. Mk 6.6b-13//Mt. 10.5-15). It 
seems, then, that Luke has copied the words from Matthew (10.14), 
who does have the appropriate antecedent (Mt. 10.11, 'and whatever 
town or village you enter...'). 

It could, of course, be the case that Luke is simply fatigued in such 
cases with a Q source better represented by Matthew. The difficulty 
with this idea, however, is that it seems impossible to find reverse 
examples, cases where Matthew has apparently become fatigued with 
Q, something that would be very odd given his clear tendency to 
become fatigued in his copying of Mark (see above. Chapter 3). This is 
more evidence, then, that the Double Tradition material is due not to 
Matthew's and Luke's independent copying of Q but rather to Luke's 
use of Matthew. 



1 56 The Synoptic Problem 



Summary 

Just as there appear to be cases where Matthew and Luke 
become fatigued in their versions of Triple Tradition (copying 
from Mark), so too there appear to be cases where Luke 
becomes fatigued in his copying of material in the Double 
Tradition. 

Since there are no counter-examples of apparent Matthaean 
fatigue in Double Tradition material, the obvious explanation 
is that Luke becomes fatigued not with Q but with Matthew. 



4. Conclusion 

a. Summary 

As we draw to the end of our journey through the maze, in this, that 
longest chapter so far, we have looked at the case against the existence 
of Q. This has been a two-part process: 

(a) The standard arguments for existence of Q appear to be 
inadequate — indeed close consideration of them in each case 
leads us directly to the plausibility of Luke's use of Matthew: 
1 . Luke 5 order: It is commonly said that Luke's order of Double 
Tradition material is inexplicable on the assumption that he 
has taken this material from Matthew. However, this runs into 
the following difficulties: 

• Dubious value judgments: The standard argument assumes 
that Matthew's arrangement of Double Tradition, with its 
lengthy discourses, is preferable to Luke's with its empha- 
sis on narrative movement, but this is an unnecessary, 
subjective assumption. 

• Redaction-criticism of Luke 's use of Mark: Luke treats 
Matthew's lengthy discourses in the same way that he 
treats Mark's discourses: he keeps some, omits some and 
redistributes the rest. 

• Narrative-criticism of Luke: This helps us to dispense with 
the idea that Matthew's arrangements are superior to 
Luke's — Luke's rearrangements make excellent narrative- 
critical sense. 

• Luke's preface: Luke 1.1-4 implies a critical attitude to his 
predecessors' order. This critical attitude makes good 



6. The Case Against Q 157 

sense on the assumption that Luke is woricing with 
Matthew as well as Mark. 

• Markan Priority: If Luke has known Mark for longer than 
he has known Matthew, this may well have encouraged 
him to prioritize its order over Matthew's. 

2. Luke's ignorance of Matthew's additions to Mark: this argu- 
ment runs into insurmountable problems: 

• Strength of evidence: The examples given are not strong 
enough to make the case. Luke's omissions are quite 
natural when one looks at them in line with his redactional 
interests. 

• Fallacious argument: The argument is based on a fallacy: 
wherever Luke features Matthew's additions to Mark, 
these are placed in the category 'Mark-Q overlap' and 
ignored for the purposes of this argument. 

3. Luke's lack of 'M' material: Luke lacks Matthew's Special 
Material by definition — where Matthew's non-Marcan mate- 
rial appears in Luke, it is called 'Double Tradition'. Further: 

• Matthew 's Birth Narrative: There are signs that Luke 
knows the narrative even though he does not utilise it 
extensively. 

• 'A/' material: The 'M' material all looks like 'Luke- 
displeasing' material, just what we would expect on the 
Farrer Theory. 

4. Alternating Primitivity: A phenomenon that can be explained 
in the following steps: 

• Lukan secondariness: There are many places where all 
agree that Luke is secondary. 

• Matthaean language: The presence of Matthew's favourite 
expressions in Q material is regularly taken to indicate that 
his versions are later than Luke's versions. But the same 
evidence is congenial to the thesis that Luke is using Matt- 
hew: Matthew composes the non-Markan material using 
characteristic expressions and Luke sometimes eliminates 
such expressions. Moreover, Luke has a much larger 
vocabulary than Matthew and he uses many more unusual 
expressions. It is a fallacy to assume that 'un-Lukan' 
expressions are necessarily 'pre-Lukan' expressions. 



158 The Synoptic Problem 

• Neglected arguments for Lukan secondariness: Sometimes 
scholars have drastically underestimated the arguments for 
Luke's redaction of Matthew (e.g. the Beatitudes). 

• Oral tradition: The living stream of oral tradition did not 
dry up as soon as the evangelists set pen to papyrus. Just 
as Matthew creatively interacted with Mark in the light of 
oral traditions, so too did Luke with Matthew and Mark. 

5. The Distinctiveness of Q: Here the following points are rele- 
vant: 

• Isolation of Double Tradition from its context: this isola- 
tion of the Double Tradition from its context in Matthew 
and Luke inevitably generates a distinctive profile for Q. 

• Overlap between Q and M: this overlap between Q 
material and M material partly undermines the claim. 

• L Material: it is difficult to discover good candidates for 
material that might have derived from Q among Luke's 
special material. 

• A Distinctive Profile: the Double Tradition has a distinc- 
tive profile on the Farrer Theory, namely (Matthew minus 
Mark) divided by 'Luke-pleasingness'. 

6. 77?^ Redaction-critical Argument: 

• Association with Markan Priority: Q is allowed to gain 
credibility by association with Markan Priority, for which 
this argument is more legitimately used. 

• Flexibility of Q: As an hypothetical document, Q has a 
degree of flexibility that gives it an unfair advantage. 

• Redaction-criticism: Since Q is reconstructed by means of 
Redaction-Criticism, it is circular to argue in favour of Q 
on the basis of redaction-criticism. 

• Entrenchment: an inevitable entrenchment of Q occurs the 
more it is assumed. 

(b) Direct evidence: There is direct evidence for Luke's use of 
Matthew, evidence that on the whole has been ignored or 
explained away: 
1 . Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark: 
These seem to point to Luke's knowledge of Matthew in the 
Triple Tradition material: 



6. 77?^ Case Against Q 159 

• Passion Narrative: Strong Minor Agreements occur in tlie 
Passion Narrative, wliere no one can appeal to influence 
from Q. 

• Matthew 's Style: Several Minor Agreements show the 
marks of Matthew's distinctive style, suggesting that he 
was the composer of this material. 

2. Major Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark: 
Although commonly placed in a category of their own labelled 
'Mark-Q overlap', the difficulty these passages pose for the Q 
theory should not be underestimated: 

• Contradiction: They contradict the assertion that Luke 
never features Matthew's modifications of Mark in Triple 
Tradition material. 

• Continuum: They illustrate the mid point on a continuum 
of Luke's use of Matthew and Mark, from greater (pure 
Double Tradition) to lesser (Triple Tradition). 

3. Narrative Sequence in the Q material: This is found 
especially in the first third of the alleged document: 

• Contrast with Thomas: The narrative sequence contrasts 
with anything found in the one extant example we have of 
a Sayings Gospel, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. 

• Non-Markan narrative in Matthew: The narrative sequence 
makes good sense on the assumption that it is generated by 
Luke's following the non-Markan material in Matthew, the 
first third of which oft;en departs from Mark. 

• Matthew 's Redactional Hand: Elements in the narrative 
sequence show the clear signs of Matthew's redactional 
hand. 

4. Editorial fatigue: 

• The Double Tradition: Just as there appear to be cases 
where Matthew and Luke become fatigued in their versions 
of Triple Tradition (copying from Mark), so too there 
appear to be cases where Luke becomes fatigued in his 
copying of material in the Double Tradition. 

• No Counter-Examples: Since there are no counter-exam- 
ples of apparent Matthaean fatigue in Double Tradition 
material, the obvious explanation is that Luke became 
fatigued not with Q but with Matthew. 



160 The Synoptic Problem 

b. Occam 's Razor 

Having earlier accepted the theory of Marican Priority as by far the best 
explanation of much of the data, we find at the end of this chapter that 
we are left with two competing theories that build on Markan Priority 
in order to explain the remainder of the data. We have a problematic 
theory in which the existence of an hypothetical document, Q, is 
postulated, and an unproblematic one in which it is not. Under such 
circumstances, we are left with little choice but to appeal to an old 
principle known as Occam 's Razor. The British mediaeval philosopher 
William of Occam suggested a fine working principle: that entities 
should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary.'"* In other words, 
there is no point in continuing to appeal to an hypothetical document to 
explain data that is better explained without it. Or to put it another way, 
the plausibility of the theory of Luke's use of Matthew enables us to 
dispense with Q. 

Many scholars naturally balk at this suggestion because Q has been 
an important part of the landscape of New Testament scholarship for a 
long time. A great deal has been staked in Q. Books and articles con- 
tinue to be produced in abundance. Scholars continue to appeal to Q to 
help them to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus and to explore 
Christian origins. But attachment to the familiar because it is familiar, 
and fondness for an entity that has been honoured by time, should play 
no role in helping us to make our mind up about the Synoptic Problem. 
If the evidence demands that we dispense with Q, then that is what we 
will have to do. 

There are, however, important compensations that make taking leave 
of Q worth the pain that is inevitably generated by the break-up. For 
one thing, it enables us to be people of the twenty-first century. It is 
arguable that Q belongs to another age, an age in which scholars solved 
every problem by postulating another written source. The evangelists 
were thought of as 'scissors and paste' men, compilers and not com- 
posers, who edited together pieces from several documents. Classically, 
the bookish B.H. Streeter solved the Synoptic Problem by assigning a 
written source to each type of material — Triple Tradition was from 
Mark; Double Tradition was from 'Q'; special Matthew was from 'M' 
and special Luke was from 'L'. It is now rare to see scholars appealing 



14. The Latin formulation is enlia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, 
'entities should not be multiplied without necessity'. 



6. The Case Against Q 161 

to written 'M' and 'L' documents. Perhaps at last the time has come to 
get up to date, and to dispense with Q too. 

This brings with it the advantage to which we have alluded several 
times in this chapter, that dispensing with Q allows us to appreciate the 
evangelists' literary ability. Q has caused many scholars to be unduly 
obsessed with the isolation of the precise wording of Matthew's and 
Luke's hypothetical source, leading them away from a full appreciation 
of the way in which they creatively interacted with Mark, the Hebrew 
Bible and the living stream of oral tradition. The impediment provided 
by Q to the proper appreciation of Luke's literary ability is felt particu- 
larly strongly. His distinctive ordering of the Double Tradition material 
has traditionally been explained on the assumption that he was conser- 
vatively following a Q text. But, as we have begun to see, it is quite 
conceivable that Luke should have imaginatively and creatively re- 
ordered material from Matthew. Luke avoids his predecessor's more 
rigid, thematic approach in order to develop a plausible, sequential 
narrative of the events he sees as having been fulfilled in the midst of 
his readers. 



Chapter 7 
EMERGING FROM THE MAZE 



The journey is almost over. It is time to emerge from the maze. Let us 
review our way through it. 

1 . Preliminaries 

The fundamental presupposition for the study of the Synoptic Problem 
is that there is a distinction between Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the 
one hand, and John, on the other. Once one has aiTanged Matthew, 
Mark and Luke in a Synopsis, these Synoptic Gospels can be seen to 
have a literary interrelationship. The Synoptic Problem is all about 
working out precisely what kind of relationship is involved. 

2. Types of Material 

The use of the Synopsis enables one to work out the different kinds of 
material present in the Synoptic Gospels. Broadly speaking, there are 
four different kinds of material: Triple Tradition (shared by Matthew, 
Mark and Luke), Double Tradition (shared by Matthew and Luke 
alone). Special Matthew (material only in Matthew) and Special Luke 
(material only in Luke). To arrive at a solution to the Synoptic Prob- 
lem, one needs to account plausibly for the origins of these different 
strands of material, especially the material shared by two or more 
Gospels. The common explanation for the origin of Triple Tradition is 
the theory of Markan Priority, the idea that Mark was the first of the 
Gospels to have been written and that it was used by both Matthew and 
Luke, who in this material copied from Mark. 

3 . Markan Priority 

For a variety of reasons, Markan Priority emerges as the most plausi- 
ble, major element in the solution to the Synoptic Problem. Its main 



7. Emerging from the Maze 163 

rival, the theory of Markan Posteriority (the Grieshach Theory), 
whereby Marie malces direct use of both Matthew and Lulce, is less 
plausible. Markan Posteriority, for example, requires Mark to have 
made substantial omissions of congenial material from Matthew and 
Luke at the expense of adding material of an almost banal clarificatory 
nature, additions that do not seem consonant with his concern else- 
where to create a darkly ironic, mysterious narrative. Mark has too 
many 'harder readings' for Markan Posteriority to be plausible, and 
where there are indications of dates, the indications are that Matthew 
and Luke postdate the fall of Jerusalem in 70 Ci;, whereas Mark does 
not. There seem, further, to be clear cases of Matthew and Luke becom- 
ing 'fatigued' in their copying of units from Mark, making characteris- 
tic changes at the beginning of pericopae and not managing to sustain 
such changes throughout. 

4. Two-Source Theory or Farrer? 

But once one has decided in favour of Markan Priority, one needs to 
ask a second key question: Did Matthew and Luke use Mark independ- 
ently of one another or are there signs that one of them also knew the 
other? The standard position, The Two-Source Theory, maintains that 
Matthew and Luke were indeed independent of one another. This 
means that the only possible explanation for the Double Tradition mate- 
rial, in which there is major agreement between Matthew and Luke, is 
that they were both dependent on an otherwise unknown source, for 
convenience called Q. However the standard arguments for the Q 
hypothesis are weak, and the Farrer Theo/y, which maintains both 
Markan Priority and Luke's knowledge of Matthew, is preferable. 

It is commonly said, for example, that Luke's order of the Double 
Tradition material is inexplicable on the assumption that he has taken it 
from Matthew. But such a perspective does not take seriously Luke's 
desire to interweave sayings material with narrative in order to create a 
plausible, sequential account, rather than to have gigantic monologues 
of the kind Matthew favours. To give another example, it is commonly 
said that Luke shows no knowledge of any of the Matthaean additions 
to Mark in Triple Tradition material, something that is manifestly not 
the case. Matthew's additions to John the Baptist's preaching, for 
example, with their characteristic Matthean emphases, are reproduced 
verbatim in Luke. 



164 The Synoptic Problem 

Indeed, the value of the Fairer Theory is that it is able to point to 
strong evidence that Luke knew not only Mark but also Matthew's 
version of Mark. Both the Minor Agreements and the Major Agree- 
ments between Matthew and Luke against Mark (the Major Agreements 
are more commonly called 'Mark-Q overlap') are thorns in the side of 
the Q theory, for they seem to present evidence that Luke knows 
Matthew's specific modifications of the Markan material. Where Jesus 
is being mocked, in Mark he is simply told to 'Prophesy!' (Mk 14.65), 
a darkly ironic taunt from those who are in the very act of fulfilling 
Jesus' prophecy that he will be struck and spat upon. Matthew typically 
explicates and simplifies the ironic scene by adding a five word 
question, 'Who is it who smote you?', and he is followed by Luke, as 
clear a sign as one could want that Luke knows Matthew. 

Further, the Farrer Theory explains plausibly elements of editorial 
fatigue that appear in Luke over against Matthew, like the disappear- 
ance of seven of Luke's ten servants in the Parable of the Pounds. And 
it makes good sense of the clearly traceable narrative sequence that 
makes up the early part of the Double Tradition in both Matthew and 
Luke, a narrative sequence that contradicts the standard characteriza- 
tion of 'Q' as a 'Sayings Gospel', and which presupposes elements in 
the Triple Tradition, a sign that the material was crafted by someone 
like Matthew for this very narrative context. 

5. What Makes a Good Solution? 

The ideal solution to the Synoptic Problem is one that is able explain 
the origin and nature of all three Synoptics in the most plausible way. 
The solution proposed here helps one to reflect critically on the growth 
of the Gospel genre and the development of early Christianity. If one 
assumes the Farrer Theory, whereby Mark writes first, Matthew writes 
in interaction with Mark and Luke writes in interaction with both, the 
following, plausible scenario emerges. Of all the Gospels, Mark's is the 
one that makes the most sense as standing at the genesis of the Gospel 
genre. If Mark's Gospel was written first, he was the first to forge 
together oral traditions concerning the life of Jesus into a story begin- 
ning with John the Baptist and culminating with the Passion and Resur- 
rection. Mark was therefore generated by the evangelist's desire to 
marry disparate materials concerning Jesus' life with his fervent belief, 
no doubt influenced by acquaintance with Paul and Paulinism, that the 



7. Emerging from the Maze 165 

Crucified Christ is the heart of the good news about Jesus Christ, which 
should be at the centre of Christian faith. 

Matthew partly embraces and partly reacts against Mark. It is the first 
attempt to 'fix' what he sees as lacking, both in content and outlook, in 
Mark's Gospel, thus 'drawing from the treasure both new and old' (Mt. 
13.52). Matthew thus reinscribes Jesus' Jewish identity, making much 
more explicit use of the motif of Old Testament fulfilment, enhancing 
the role of Jesus the teacher, systematically explicating and ironing out 
the Markan oddities, and adding a birth and infancy narrative at one 
end and more resurrection material at the other end. 

Luke, who has already known Mark for some years, comes across a 
copy of Matthew and can see immediately what it is — an attempt to 
'fix' Mark in the ways just mentioned. This provides Luke with a 
catalyst — it gives him the idea of trying to improve on Mark himself, 
imitating Matthew's grand plan but at the same time attempting to 
better it. Thus Luke, like Matthew, writes a new version of Mark, 
making it a similar length to Matthew's Gospel, framing it in the same 
way, with birth narratives at the beginning and resurrection stories at 
the end, and in between adding a substantial amount of sayings 
material as well as some more fresh narrative. As Luke, like Matthew, 
attempts to fix Mark, he utilizes many of Matthew's own materials to 
do the job, especially the rich quarry of sayings material. But not for 
Luke are huge monologues like the Sennon on the Mount. He is 
attempting to write a plausible, sequential narrative of 'the events that 
have been fulfilled among us' (1.1) and this means avoiding Matthew's 
wooden structures, instead choosing to interweave deeds and sayings 
and to create a feeling of movement and progress, a progress that is not 
halted until, at the end of his second volume (the Acts of the Apostles), 
Paul is in Rome. 

The advantage that the Farrer Theory has over its rivals is that it can 
provide a strong reason for the genesis of each of the Synoptic Gospels. 
The Synoptics turn out not only to provide source material for one 
another, Mark for Matthew and both for Luke, but also to be catalysts 
for one another, Mark for Matthew and both for Luke. Mark makes 
good sense as the first Gospel; Matthew makes good sense on the 
assumption that it represents a reaction against, and to some extent an 
embracing of, Mark. Luke makes fine sense on the assumption that it 
imitates but also improves on Matthew, utilizing some of his very 
material. By contrast, the other major theories have difficulties here. 



166 The Synoptic Problem 

The Griesbach Theory struggles to explain the genesis of Mark on the 
assumption that the evangelist is conflating Matthew and Luke — it is 
not easy to see why, on this theory, Mark would have written this book, 
and why, having chosen to write it, he creates a book that is so ill at 
ease with its own editorial policy, sometimes pushing in one direction, 
sometimes going in another. Likewise, the Two-Source Theory has 
trouble explaining how Matthew and Luke independently came up with 
the same plan at the same time but in ignorance of one another, both 
deciding to produce a fresh version of Mark, of the same length, 
framed in the same way, adding much of the same substance, oft;en 
making similar alterations. Of course it is possible that they did indeed 
hit on the same plan at just the same time, but all in all it is not as 
satisfactory or as plausible a theory as one that assumes that one was 
the direct catalyst for the other. In the end, we should settle for the 
theory that has the fewest problems. 

6. 77?^ Future 

What, though, is the future for the study of the Synoptic Problem? Will 
it be abandoned by scholars who see it as too complex and too dull or 
is there hope for a brighter future? While making predictions is danger- 
ous, there are several avenues that might be explored further, which 
suggests that there are still reasons to be optimistic. First, it would be 
encouraging to see scholars dispensing with wooden models in which 
the evangelists remain scissors-and-paste people in favour of a proper 
appreciation of their literary abilities. This goal may be on its way to 
being achieved in that recent years have seen many useful literary- 
critical appreciations of individual Gospels. The rise of the discipline 
known as 'narrative-criticism', whereby a book's narrative is carefiilly 
analysed on its own terms, without recourse to theories about seams 
and sources, can only help scholars of the Synoptic Problem to pay 
more attention to the literary artistry that is such a major element in the 
Gospels, books that have, after all, enchanted generations of readers. 

Second, recent scholarship has paid much more attention to the role 
played by oral tradition in Christian origins. Where scholars in the past 
have tended to paint the evangelists in their own image, as bookish 
people writing in their studies, primarily using literary resources, future 
scholars may well attempt to appreciate more accurately the way that 
the evangelists dealt with their materials. If we take all the evidence 



7. Emerging from the Maze 167 

seriously, from Luke's Preface (Lk. 1.1-4) onwards, we cannot avoid 
the conclusion that the evangelists were involved in a creative, critical 
interaction with oral traditions as well as with literary sources. 

Third, it would be a wonderful thing if interest in the Synoptic 
Problem could be refreshed and so restored to a place of prominence 
and interest within New Testament scholarship. In recent times it has 
become stagnant, often regarded as one of the least exciting or profita- 
ble areas to research or study. Yet some contemporary developments 
within New Testament scholarship are highly congenial to a renais- 
sance for the Synoptic Problem. The study of the New Testament in 
film and fiction, for example, is now a topic of interest to New Testa- 
ment scholars, and here there is fertile ground for interaction with 
Synoptic Problem studies. Instead of engaging only with Luke's use of 
Matthew, why not also look at Pier Paolo Pasolini's treatment of the 
same source in the film The Gospel According to St Matthew? Who 
knows? — fresh conversation partners might have fresh insights to bring. 

Finally, one of the recent advances in historical Jesus study is the 
attempt to push back canonical boundaries. The canonical Gospels, 
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, should not be privileged as historical 
sources purely by virtue of their inclusion in the canon. Scholars are 
now recognizing that they should at least be open to the possibility that 
reliable material about the historical Jesus might be located in other, 
non-canonical sources. It might also be a good idea to take non- 
canonical sources seriously in the study of the Synoptic Problem, not 
least because of the discovery in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, of a 
complete Gospel in Coptic with many parallels to the Synoptic Gospels, 
a Gospel that must have been written by the end of the second century, 
and that may well be earlier. The question of the dating and reliability 
of Thomas as a source for very early Jesus material is controversial, but 
one thing is clear — studying its parallels with the Synoptic Gospels is 
rewarding and it may well end up shedding some fresh light on the 
Synoptic Problem. 

Whatever the future holds for the Synoptic Problem, though, it is 
clear that it remains worthy of continued attention. Those who take 
time to reflect on it find the Synoptic Problem an enormously reward- 
ing and still crucial area of New Testament studies. Indeed, for as long 
as it is called a 'problem' in need of a solution, scholars and students 
will persist in talking to each other about Jesus, the Gospels and Chris- 
tian origins, continuing a conversation that has already begun within 



168 77?^ Synoptic Problem 

the canon of the New Testament itself. For when we look at the 
Gospels side by side, it is difficult to avoid asking fascinating questions 
about the similarities and differences, the tensions and interactions, 
between Mark, who gives us 'the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus 
Christ' (Mk 1.1), Matthew, who 'draws from his treasure chest both the 
new and the old' (Ml. 13.52) and Luke, who has 'investigated every- 
thing carefully from the beginning' in order to reassure Theophilus of 
'the truth concerning the things about which he has been instructed' 
(Lk. 1 .1-4). Our choice is to ignore that conversation, taking refuge in a 
harmonizing process that robs the texts of their individuality, or to take 
the agreements and the disagreements seriously, engaging in a critical 
discussion that has the potential not only to be educational but also, in 
the end, to be ftin. 



Further reading 



1 . Texts and Synopses 

If you have enjoyed finding your way through the maze, you will want 
to do some more reading. The most important thing is to read the 
Gospels themselves. If you know Greek, or are planning to learn 
Greek, get hold of a Greek New Testament as soon as you can, ideally 
Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland 27th edition, 1993). If you 
can't find one in the shops, you can get hold of it from your local Bible 
Society (details on the web at http.//www. biblesociety.org). If you are 
planning to use an English translation, the most popular one among 
scholars is probably the New Revised Standard Version. But other 
useful translations include the New International Version, the New 
American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version and the 
New Jerusalem Bible. You might also want to look at the many avail- 
able on-line Bible versions and translations — for details go to The New 
Testament Gateway at http://www.NTGateway.com. 

There is one thing, however, that is key to grasping the Synoptic 
Problem and that is to get hold of a Synopsis of the Gospels. If you 
have Greek, there are two possibilities, the first of which is now much 
more popular among scholars than the second: 

Kurt Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1 5th 

edn. 1996, 1997). 
Albert Huck, Synopsis of the First Three Gospels (fundamentally revised by Heinrich 

Greeven; Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 13th edn. 1981). 

If you would like a combined Greek and English Synopsis: 

K. Aland (ed.). Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Greek/English; Stuttgart: Deutsche 
Bibelgesellschaft, 10th edn, 1994). 

Or, for purely English Synopses there are two main options: 

K. Aland (ed.). Synopsis of the Four Gospels (English; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibel- 
gesellschaft, 1985). 

Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr, Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels 
(Nashville. TN: Thomas Nelson. 1993). 



1 70 The Synoptic Problem 

If you cannot find them in the shops, you should be able to find 
the Aland Synopses at your local Bible Society (see http://www. 
biblesociety.org). 

2. Some Useful Literature 

William Farmer. The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem 
(Louisville. KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1994). This is probably the best 
place to go to get a handle on the Griesbach Theor>, written by its chief exponent. 

Michael Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 20: Sheflfield: Sheffield Academic 
Press, 1989). Extensive and always engaging exposition of Luke's Gospel from the 
Farrer theory's leading exponent. 

Peter Head. Christology and the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Markan Priority 
(SNTSMS, 94; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997). Head's book is one 
of the best books recently published on the Synoptic Problem. It takes two theories, 
Two-Source and Griesbach, and looks at how plausible they are in using specific 
themes and passages connected with Christology. 

Luke Johnson. 77?^ Writings of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress; 
London: SCM Press, rev. edn, 1999 [1986]). Lucid introduction to each book in the 
New Testament, Johnson's book has established itself as a key student textbook. 

J. Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel 
(Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000). Latest book 
from one of the leading international defenders of the Q hypothesis. 

Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (London: 
SCM Press; Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1990). Fascinating study 
that refuses to limit itself purely to canonical te.xts, Koester's book has discussions of 
all early Christian Gospels, including even fragmentary and hypothetical ones. 

E.P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM; Philadelphia: 
Trinity Press International, 1989). Introduction to key aspects of studying the 
Synoptics, including sections on the Synoptic Problem, form-criticism, redaction- 
criticism and historical Jesus research. An ideal student textbook. 

Robert Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 
1987). Introduction to the Synoptic Problem written from the perspective of the Two- 
Source Theory. 

Christopher Tuckett, Q and the History of Early Christianity: Studies on Q (Edinburgh: 
T. & T. Clark, 1996). Provides a defence of the Q theory and an extensive series of 
excellent studies on its place in early Christianity. 



3. On the World Wide Web 

For a directory of good, online resources on the Synoptic Problem, as 
well as for all other New Testament materials, visit The New Testament 
Gateway at http://www.NTGateway.com. 



Glossary 



Double Tradition 



Evangelists 



Farrer Theory 



J.J. Griesbach 



Griesbach Theorj' 



Harmony 



L (Special Luke) 



Luke-Acts 



M (Special Matthew) 



Material that is found in both Matthew and Luke but not 
Mark. Sometimes called "Q material' because of the 
alleged source of this material (q.v.). 
In this context, the word 'evangelists" always refers to the 
authors of the Gospels and not to contemporary preachers. 
The evangelists are called for convenience Matthew, 
Mark. Luke and John without assuming necessarily that 
these were the names of the authors of the books that 
now bear those names. 

Theory originating with Austin Farrer that Matthew used 
Mark and that Luke used Mark and Matthew. Also 
known as *the Farrer-Goulder Theory', 'Mark-without- 
Q" and 'Markan Priority Without Q\ 
(1745-1812). He produced the first Synopsis of the 
Gospels (q.v.) and the first critical solution to the Synop- 
tic Problem, the Griesbach Hypothesis (q.v.). 
The theory that Matthew was the first Gospel, that Luke 
used Matthew and that Mark used them both. It was 
revived by William Farmer in 1964 and is still main- 
tained by some scholars today, who usually call it the 
Two Gospel Hypothesis. 

A book that harmonizes the Gospel accounts into one. 
Harmonies of the Gospels have been composed since at 
least the second century (Tatian's Diatessaron) but since 
the eighteenth century its chief rival has been the 
Synopsis (q.v.). 

Material that is found in Luke alone. Sometimes '1/ (or 
German. SonJergul) is the name of the hypothetical 
source(s) for this material. 

A term used in contemporary scholarship to. refer to 
Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles as a two- 
volume work by the same author. 

Material that is found in Matthew alone. Sometimes 'M' 
(or German Sander i^ul) is the name of the hypothetical 
source(s) for this material. 



172 



The Synoptic Problem 



Markan posteriority 
Markan Priority 

Mattbaean Priority 
Middle term 

Narrative-criticism 

Patristic evidence 
Pericope (pi. pericopae) 

Q 



Redaction-criticism 

Synoptic Gospels 

Synoptic Problem 
Synopsis 

Textual criticism 
Triple Tradition 



The theory that Mark knew and used Matthew and Luke 
(the Griesbach Theory, q.v.). 

The theoiy that Mark was the first Gospel and that this 
was used by both Matthew and Luke. Markan Priority is 
the key component of both the Two-Source Theory (q.v.) 
and the Farrer Theory (q.v.). 

The theory' that Matthew's was the first Gospel and that it 
was used by Mark and Luke. It is a key element in the 
Griesbach Theory (q.v.). 

Used to describe the Gospel (usually Mark) that at given 
points stands in a mediating position among the Synop- 
tics, that is, which agrees in major ways with the wording 
and order of both the other two Synoptics. 
The study of the way in which narratives are constructed, 
paying attention to matters of sequence, character and 
plot. 

The evidence from the Patristic Period (second-fifth 
century CE) 

A 'unit' of text, for example. Mt. 8.1-4 (the Cleansing of 
the Leper). The term was first used in Torm-criticism" to 
delineate the units that were passed on in the oral 
tradition. 

A hypothetical written source that, according to the Two- 
Source Theory (q.v.), was used independently by both 
Matthew and Luke alongside the Gospel of Mark. Q is 
also used as a synonym for the term 'Double Tradition' 
(q.v.). 

The study of the way in which authors "redact" (edit) 
their source material with a view to ascertaining the 
literary, theological and historical viewpoint of the text 
and its author. 

Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not John. They are called 
'Synoptic' because they can be viewed {opt) together 
{syn), and thus can be arranged straightforwardly in a 
'Synopsis* (q.v.). 

The study of the similarities and differences of the 
Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain their literary 
relationship. 

A book that arranges Matthew, Mark and Luke in parallel 
columns so that the reader can analyse the degree of 
agreement and disagreement between them. Hence the 
term "Synoptic Gospels' (q.v.). 

The study of the manuscripts and the textual tradition of 
the New Testament. 
Material that is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. 



Glossary 173 

Two-Gospel Hypothesis An alternative name for the Griesbach Theory (q.v.), 
coined by its contemporary defenders. The idea is that 
Matthew and Luke are the 'Two Gospels" that were the 
source of Mark. 

Two-Source Theory The dominant solution to the synoptic problem, whereby 
Matthew and Luke are held to have independently used 
two sources. Mark and thes hypothetical 'Q' (q.v.). 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 



Aland. K., Synopsis Quattuor Evangelinrum (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 15th 

edn, 1996. 1997). 
Aland, K. (ed.). Synopsis of the Four Gospels (ET; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 

1985). 
Dungan, D.L.. A Histoty of the Synoptic Problem: The Canon, the Text, the Composition 

and the Interpretation of the Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1999). 
Farmer. W.R.. The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (Macon. GA: Mercer University 

Press. 2nd edn, 1976). 
Farrer, A., 'On Dispensing with Q'. in D.E. Nineham (ed.). Studies in the Gospel: Essays 

in Memory of R.H. Lightfoot (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955). pp. 55-88. 
Fitzmyer, J. A., 77?^ Gospel According to Luke: Introduction, Translation and Notes. I-IX 

(Anchor Bible. 28A; New York: Doubleday. 1981 ). 
Goodacre. M.. Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 

133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996). 
—'Fatigue in the Synoptics', yV7:S'44 (1998), pp. 45-58. 
— The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, 

PA: Trinity Press International. 2001). 
Goulder, M.D., Luke: A New Paradigm (JSNTSup, 20; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic 

Press, 1989). 
— Midrash and Lection in Matthew (London: SPCK, 1974). 
—'Self Contradiction in the IQP\ JBL 118 (1999), pp. 506-17. 
Griesbach, J.J., Synopsis Evangeliorum Matthaei, Marci et Lucae (Halle, 1 776). 
— Commentatio qua Marci Evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commentariis 

decerptum esse monstratur (A demonstration that Mark was written after Matthew 

and Luke) (Jena. 1789-90), in Bernard Orchard and Thomas R.W. Longstaff (eds.), 

J.J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies. 1776-1976 (Cambridge: 

Cambridge University Press, 1978). pp. 103-35. 
Head, P., Christology and the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Markan Priority 

(SNTSMS, 94; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 
Hengel, M., Studies in the Gospel of Mark (ET; London: SCM Press, 1 985). 
Huck, A., Synopsis of the First Three Gospels (rev. H. Greeven; Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr 

[Paul Siebeck], 13th edn, 1981). 
Johnson, Luke, The Writings of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress; 

London: SCM Press, rev. edn, 1999 [1986]). 
Kloppenborg Verbin. J., Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel 

(Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000). 
Koester, Helmut, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (London: 

SCM Press; Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1990). 



Bibliography 1 75 

Kummel, W.G., Inlroduction to the New Testament {ET.. London: SCM Press, 1966). 
Marxsen, W., Inlroduction to the New Testament: An Approach to its Problems (ET; 

Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968). 
Neirynck, F., 'Goulder and the Minor Agreements', ETL 73 (1997), pp. 84-93. 
Neville, D.J., Arguments from Order in Synoptic Source Criticistn: A History and Critique 

(New Gospel Studies, 7; Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1994). 
Owen, H., Observations on the Four Gospels (London: T. Payne. 1 764). 
Parker, D., The Living Text of the Oospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 

1997). 
Robinson, J.M., P. Hoffmann and J.S. Kloppenborg (eds). The Critical Edition of Q: 

Synopsis Includin^i the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark and Thomas, with 

English. German and French Translations of Q and 7"/7o/;;as (Philadelphia: Fortress 

Press; Leuven: Peeters, 2000). 
Sanders, E.P., and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM Press; Valley 

Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1989). 
Stanton, G.N.. 'Matthew, Gospel of, DBL pp. 432-35. 
Stein, Robert, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 

1987). 
Streeter, B.H., The Four Gospels: A Study in Origins (London: Macmillan, 1924). 
Throckmorton, Burton H. Jr. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospel 

(Nashville. TN: Thomas Nelson. 1993). 
Tuckett. CM.. Q and the History of Early Christianity: Studies on ^(Edinburgh: T. & T. 

Clark. 1996). 
—'Synoptic Problem", ^fiD. VI, pp. 263-70. 
Tuckett, CM. (ed.). The Messianic Secret (London: SPCK; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 

1983). 



INDEX OF AUTHORS 



Aland. K. 33 

Davies, M. 124 
Dungan, D.L. 21 

Fanner. W.R. 22 
Fairer, A. 22, 123 
Fitzmyer, J.A. 110, 112, 113 

Goodacre, M. 22, 134, 146 
Goulder, M.D. 22,96. 124, 126, 134, 

136, 145 
Griesbach, J.J. 14. 16, 19,30 

Head, P. 26 
Hengel, M. 78 
Hoffmann, P. 152 
Huck, A. 33 

Kloppenborg, J.S. 152 
Kummel, W.G. 21, 111 



Longstaff, T.R.W. 16 

Marxsen, W. 21 

Neirynck, F. 145 
Neville, D.J. 42 
Nineham, D.E. 22 

Orchard, B. 16 
Owen, H. 20 

Parker, D. 100 

Robinson, J. M. 152 

Sanders, E.P. 124 

Stanton, G.N. 110, 117 

Streeter, B.H. 120, 123, 124, 126, 160 

Throckmorton. H. 33 

Tuckett, CM. 98, 110, 126, 128, 129 



INDEX OF WORDS 



Alternating primitivity 113, 115, 118, 
121 

Christology 27. 28, 87, 93, 170 
Codex Bezae 100, 101 
Colouring 33-37, 39. 40, 42, 49-5 1 , 53. 
90 

Dates of Gospels 68. 71, 78. 81, 82 
Double Tradition 33, 39, 40-42, 44, 47- 
49, 53, 54, 58, 68, 83, 93, 104, 105, 
107-116, 118, 119. 121. 122. 124, 
126, 128, 131-33, 138-42, 144, 145, 
148. 150. 151. 154-64 

Editorial Fatigue 71, 73, 75. 76. 82. 154, 

155. 159 
External Evidence 76. 80-82 

Farrer Theory 21-23,31, 123, 125-27, 
133, 134, 136, 141-43, 147-53, 157, 
158, 163-65, 170 

Fatigue, see Editorial Fatigue 

Four-Source Theory, see Two-Source 
Theory 

Freer Gospels 100 

Genre, see Gospel genre 

Gospel genre 85, 86. 92, 96, 98. 99, 103. 

104. 164 
Griesbach Theory 20. 22. 23. 3 1 . 63-65, 

76,79,85, 123. 163. 166. 170 

Harmonies of the Gospels 13-15.30.31. 

100 
Historical Jesus 25. 27. 32. 84. 92, 93, 

96,98. 103. 160. 167. 170 



Internet resources 34.91, 169. 170 
Irony in Mark 64. 65. 87. 97. 146. 164 

Jesus films 13,30, 167 

John's Gospel 14,15,31,46.78.80 

L (Special Luke) 33,45-48. 54. 104. 158, 

160-62 
Luke-pleasingness 133. 141, 142, 158 
Luke's order 1 09, 1 1 1 , 1 1 8, 1 23, 1 24, 

126-28, 156, 163 

M (Special Matthew) 33, 42-48. 50. 54. 

104, 112, 113. 115. 118, 131-33, 

141, 142, 157, 158. 160-62 
Manuscripts, see Textual criticism 
Mark-Q Overlap 131,147-51.157-59, 

164 
Markan Posteriority 57-61.65.81. 163 
Markan Priority 20-23. 31. 38. 50. 56-61, 

64, 65. 67. 70-76. 80-87. 91-93. 96. 

98-105, 107, 113, 122, 123, 127, 

128, 130, 131, 143, 144, 157, 158, 

160, 162, 163 
Matthaean language 134-36. 139. 140. 

149. 157 
Matthaean Priorit> 26. 76. 77, 80, 81. 1 14 
Mark as Middle Term 37-39.47.49-55, 

131. 148 
Messianic Secret, see Secrecy Motif in 

Mark 
Minor Agreements 39, 53. 55. 144-50. 

158, 159, 164 
Mystery motif, see Secrecy Motif in Mark 

Narrative-Criticism 29.30,32,86, 126, 
128. 137. 156. 166 



178 



The Synoptic Problem 



Occam's Razor 160 

Oral tradition 18, 19, 61-63, 82, 93-96, 

99, 104. 138-40, 146, 158, 161, 164. 

166, 167 



Special Luke, see L 

Synopsis of the Gospels 14-16. 18. 19. 

31,33,90,91,95.99-101, 103. 107. 

162. 169 



Patristic evidence, see External Evidence 
Paul 27. 28. 76. 78. 79. 94-96. 98. 164, 
165 



—Arguments for 25,109-21 
— Arguments against 21-23,31, 122-61 
—Distinctiveness of 115-18, 140-42, 158 
— Narrative element in 151 -54 

Redaction-Criticism 83-86.89-91, 103. 
116-19. 121. 142-44. 156. 158. 170 

Secrecy Motif in Mark 60, 73, 97, 98 
Special Mark 54 
Special Matthew, see M 



Tatian 14 

Textual criticism 99-102,104 

Thomas, Gospel of 62, 69, 82. 152. 154, 

159, 167 
Triple Tradition 33, 35. 37-55. 58. 66. 72. 

73.88.90.92.93. 104. 106. 107. 

113. 118. 119, 129. 131. 138. 144. 

145, 147, 148. 150. 151. 156. 158- 

60, 162 
Two-Gospel Hypothesis, see Griesbach 

Theory 
Two-Document Hypothesis, see Two- 
Source Theory 
Two-Source Theory 20-25, 27, 3 1 , 42, 

107, 117, 119, 120, 123, 132, 142, 

143, 163, 166, 170 






THE BIBLICAL SEMINAR 

1 John W. Rogerson, Anthropology and the Old Testament 

2 Athalya Brenner, The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in 

Biblical Narrative 

3 J.H. Eaton. Kingship and the Psalms 

4 Mark Kiley, Colossians as Pseudepigraphy 

5 Niels Peter Lemche. Ancient Israel: A New History of Israelite Society 

6 J. Hogenhaven. Problems and Prospects of Old Testament Theology 

7 Benedikt Otzen. Judaism in Antiquity: Political Developments and 

Religious C 'urrenis from Alexamder to Hadrian 

8 Bruce D. Chilton. God in Strength: Jesus ' Announcement of the Kingdom 

9 Albrecht Alt, Essays on Old Testament History and Religion 

10 Jack M. Sasson. Ruth: A New Translation with a Philological Commentary 

and a Formalist-Folklorist Interpretation (Second Edition) 

1 1 Douglas A. Knight (ed.). Tradition and Theology in the Old Testament 

12 J. P. Fokkelman. Narrative Art in Genesis: Specimens of Stylistic and 

Structural Analysis (Second Edition) 

1 3 Elizabeth Struthers Malbon. Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark 

14 S. Mowinckel. The Psalms in Israel's Worship 

1 6 Dean W. Chapman. The Orphan Gospel: Mark 's Perspective on Jesus 

1 7 Larry J. Kreitzer. The New Testament in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the 

Hermeneutical Flow 

18 Daniel C. Fredericks. Coping with Transience: Ecclesiastes on Brevity in 

Life 

19 W.D. Davies. Invitation to the New Testament: A Guide to its Main 

Witnesses 

20 Terence Collins. The Mantle of Elijah: The Redaction Criticism of the 

Prophetical Books 

22 Cecil Hargreaves. A Translator's Freedom: Modern English Bibles and 

their Language 

23 Karel van der Toom. From Her Cradle to Her Grave: The Role of Religion 

in the Life of the Israelite and the Babylonian Woman 

24 Larry J. Kreitzer. The Old Testament in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the 

Hermeneutical Flow 

25 W.D. Davies. The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish 

Territorial Doctrine 

26 Michael Prior. CM. Jesus the Liberator: Nazareth Liberation Theology 

(Luke -f. 1 6-30) 

27 Neil Elliott. Liberating Paul: The Justice of God and the Politics of the 

Apostle 

28 Jane Schaberg. The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological 

Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives 

29 Volkmar Fritz. The City in Ancient Israel 

30 Frank Moore Cross. Jr. The Ancient Library ofQumran (Third Edition) 



31 Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (eds.). The Synoptic Gospels: A 

Sheffield Reader 

32 Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans (eds.). The Johannine Writings: A 

Sheffield Reader 

33 Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (eds.). The Historical Jesus: A 

Sheffield Reader 

34 Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans (eds.). The Pauline Writings: A 

Sheffield Reader 

35 Daniel Smith-Christopher (ed.). Text and Experience: Towards a Cultural 

Exegesis of the Bible 

36 James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Qumran Questions 

37 Andrew Parker, Painfully Clear: The Parables of Jesus 

38 Stephen H. Smith, A Lion With Wings: A Narrative-Critical Approach to 

Mark 's Gospel 

39 John W. Rogerson (ed.). The Pentateuch: A Sheffield Reader 

40 J. Cheryl Exum (ed.). The Historical Books: A Sheffield Reader 

41 David J. A. Clines (ed.), The Poetical Books: A Sheffield Reader 

42 Philip R. Davies (ed.), The Prophets: A Sheffield Reader 

43 Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (eds.). New Testament Backgrounds: A 

Sheffield Reader 

44 Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans (eds.). New Testament Text and 

Language: A Sheffield Reader 

45 Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans (eds.). New Testament Interpretation 

and Methods: A Sheffield Reader 

46 Michel Desjardins, Peace, Violence and the New Testament 

47 David J. Chalcraft (ed.), Social-Scientific Old Testament Criticism: A 

Sheffield Reader 

48 Michael Prior, CM, The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique 

49 Alexander Rofe, Introduction to the Prophetic Literature 

50 Kirsten Nielsen, Satan — The Prodigal Son? A Family Problem in the Bible 

51 David J. A. Clines, The Bible and the Modern World 

52 Robert Goldenberg, The Nations that Know Thee Not: Ancient Jewish 

Attitudes towards Other Religions 

53 N. Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit: The Words of Ilimilku and his 

Colleagues 

54 Luis Alonso Schokel, A Manual of Hermeneutics 

55 Detlev Dortmeyer. The New Testament among the Writings of Antiquity 

57 Louis Stulman, Order amid Chaos: Jeremiah as Symbolic Tapestry 

58 Alexander Rofe, Introduction to the Composition of the Pentateuch 

59 James W. Watts, Reading Law: The Rhetorical Shaping of the Pentateuch 

60 Yairah Amit, History and Ideology: Introduction to Historiography in the 

Hebrew Bible 

61 Larry J. Kreitzer, Pauline Images in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the 

Hermeneutical Flow 

62 Sandra Hack Polaski, Paul and the Discourse of Power 



64 R.S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Biblical Hermemutics and Postcolonialism: Con- 

testing the Interpretations 

65 Harold C. Washington, Susan Lochrie Graham and Pamela Thimmes (eds.). 

Escaping Eden: New Feminist Perspectives on the Bible 

66 Norman K. Gottwald, The Tribes ofYahweh 

67 Alec Gilmore, A Dictionary of the English Bible and its Origins 

68 Roman Garrison. Why are you Silent. Lord? 

69 Allan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus 

70 Ferdinand E. Deist, The Material Culture of the Bible: An Introduction 

(edited with a preface by Robert P. Carroll) 

7 1 Tod Linafelt (ed. ). Strange Fire: Reading the Bible after the Holocaust 

72 Edwin D. Freed. The Stories of Jesus ' Birth: A Critical Introduction 

73 M.E.J. Richardson. Hammurabi 's Lom's: Text, Translation and Glossary 

74 Larry J. Kreitzer and Deborah W. Rooke (eds.). Ciphers in the Sand: Inter- 

pretations of The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7.53-8.11) 
76 Peter J. Tomson, //" this be from Heaven: Jesus and the New Testament 
Authors in their Relationship to Judaism 

78 Francis Schmidt, How the Temple Thinks: Identity and Social Cohesion in 

Ancient Judaism 

79 Dan Cohn-Sherbok and John M. Court (eds.). Religious Diversity in the 

Graeco-Roman World: A Survey of Recent Scholarship 

80 Mark Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze 

85 Nicolas Wyatt, Space and Time in the Religious Life of the Ancient Near 
East 



t AND ITS WORLD 



'?rJes is designed w'^^^P^HI^^B^KIHpevel students in mind, it will 
>eai to general readers ^^^^^Wl^^^i^^ffnWrnod about the latest advances 
r understanding of the Bible and o f the intellectual, p olitical and religious world in 
Which it was formed. .^^^^^^^^^m 

The authors in this series bring to light the methods and ^^Hjtt^l' a whole range of 
disciplines - including archaeology, history, literary criticis^flTO The social sciences - 
while also introducing fresh insights and approaches arising from their own research. 

THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM MarkOoo^^ 

Perhaps the greatest literary enigma in history, the Synoptic Problem has fascinated 
generations of scholars who have puzzled over the agreements, the disagreements, 
the variations and thepeculiarities of the relationship between the first three of 
our canonical GosjJto'"^ f^ 



Yet the Synoptic Problem remains inaccessible to students, who often bee 
quickly entangled in its apparent complexities. Now Mark Goodacre offers a 
through the maze, explaining in a lively and refreshing style exactly what stuc* 
the Synoptic Problem involves, why it is important and how it might be sal 
this readable, balanced and up to-datc guide. 

Mark Goodacre is Senior Lecturer in New Tosiamont, Department of Theo^ 
University of Rirmingha««. v 



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