The Failed Holiday

Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against gaiety and fireworks, in having a good time and letting loose (all with holding on to God). I believe in enjoying alcohol without going overboard. But to focus on celebrating a purely calendar event and infusing it with mystical notions is crazy.

New Years Day makes nothing new. The same problems are still here for most humans. People make resolutions but overwhelmingly fail to keep them. They were destined to fail since decisions of the human will are ultimately impotent to change us for the better. Of course folks should be disciplined and not lazy, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Ultimately, God’s Kingdom will come into fuller expression when The King returns and makes all things new.

When Mark Goodacre asked ‘Why not Matthew’s use of Luke?’ – SBL Denver 2018 — Alan Garrow Didache – Blog

Here is Goodacre on the Synoptic Problem and a response. I agree with the response and conclusion but do not think much of the “fatigue” theory of editing.

(A review, by Robert K. MacEwen, of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 18 November 2018)

It was standing room only in room 302 of the Denver Convention Center when Dr. Mark Goodacre, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, took his place behind the lectern. Looking around, Goodacre expressed surprise at the size of the crowd. “You do realize this is a session on the Synoptic problem, don’t you?” he asked.

Certainly, Ron Huggins and I, seated in the front row, were not there by accident. We were eager to hear what Goodacre would say in response to our view of the relationships between the Gospels. The Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis (MPH) has often been ignored by scholars, ever since it was first proposed by G. C. Storr in 1786.[1] Therefore, it is gratifying to proponents of the MPH that Goodacre is engaging with their theory. A year ago, Goodacre debated online with Alan Garrow in a “$1,000 Challenge.”[2] More recently, he gave a response to a paper by Garrow at the British New Testament Conference.[3] And now, Goodacre was taking on the MPH in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.[4]

Goodacre is today the most prominent advocate of the Farrer Hypothesis (FH)—the view that Luke used Matthew as well as Mark as sources in composing his Gospel. In defending his preferred solution to the Synoptic problem, Goodacre has primarily engaged with scholarship’s dominant theory, the Two Source Hypothesis (2SH), which argues that Matthew and Luke independently used Mark and the hypothetical “Q” document as sources. The MPH, which is the view that Matthew came third and used Mark and Luke as his sources, is the logical third alternative to the other two hypotheses.

Goodacre’s Arguments against Matthew’s Use of Luke

Goodacre began and ended his paper by praising the MPH for its points of agreement with his own theory. He noted that the MPH correctly builds on the priority of Mark, insists on “a literary solution” to the Synoptic problem, and views Q with skepticism (1-3, 22). Naturally, the bulk of Goodacre’s paper was devoted to arguing that Luke’s use of Matthew explains the phenomena of the Gospels better than Matthew’s use of Luke.

Following his introduction, in a section titled, “First Impressions,” Goodacre set out features of Luke that he feels support dating it later than Matthew. These include Luke’s reference to earlier writings about Jesus (Luke 1:1), his use of the first person (Luke 1:1-4 and the “we” passages in Acts)—characteristic of later Gospels, and the historical references he has in common with Josephus.

The next section of Goodacre’s paper was titled, “Matthew’s Redactional Fingerprints”. Here, Goodacre presents two verses in the triple tradition containing minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark (Matt 14:1322:27; and parr.), arguing that these are examples in which Luke adopted Matthew’s characteristic wording. Next, he displayed the double tradition pericope John the Baptist’s Preaching (Matt 3:7-10//Luke 3:7-9) and argued that its key elements are distinctive of Matthew’s literary and theological features.

Goodacre’s next section presented his argument from “editorial fatigue” (already well-known to his readers[5]), involving passages in which “an author inadvertently betrays his use of a source by making characteristic changes at the beginning of a passage only to revert to the source’s wording later in the same passage”. Goodacre presented the Parable of the Entrusted Money (Matt 25:14-30//Luke 19:11-27) as “[o]ne of the best examples” of Luke fatiguing in his use of Matthew. He also asserts that there are “multiple examples of fatigue” in both Matthew’s and Luke’s use of Mark, “several cases” of fatigue in Luke’s use of Matthew in the double tradition, but no examples of Matthew apparently fatiguing in using Luke.[6]

The following section is on Luke’s “Knowledge of Matthew’s Literary Structures”. Here Goodacre gave the example of Luke 7:1, where Luke concludes the Sermon on the Plain with a construction similar to those used by Matthew at the end of all five of his major discourses of Jesus. Goodacre’s point being that Luke has, in this single instance, adopted a motif that is characteristic of Matthew.

After this, Goodacre discussed “Matthew’s Failure to Include Congenial Lukan Details”. Here the argument is that, since Matthew includes more information about contemporary political leaders than does Mark, it is surprising that he omits Luke’s list of seven rulers in Luke 3:1-2 (cf. Matt 3:1) if Luke were also his source.

Goodacre’s final section was titled, “What is the Appeal of Matthean Posteriority?” Here he states that MPH proponents make use of two “popular arguments for Q” that are actually invalid “old chestnuts, the argument from order, and the argument from Lucan primitivity”. Regarding Luke’s alleged primitiveness in the double tradition, Goodacre makes three substantive points in response. Regarding the argument from order, he suggests that scholars have been hoodwinked by B. H. Streeter’s “rhetoric” and, in a footnote, refers readers to his earlier discussion of this topic.

A Matthean Posteriority Response to Goodacre’s Arguments

Having outlined the contents of Goodacre’s paper, I now offer a Matthean posteriority response. Regarding a second-century date for Luke, the arguments for this are hardly conclusive. Luke’s historical references in common with Josephus do not establish that Luke depended on Josephus; such information could have been known from many sources, including hearsay, in the first century. In favor of a first-century date for Luke, it is possible that some very early Christian writings depended on Luke (cf. Luke 10:17 with 1 Tim 5:18and Luke 24:36-43 with Ign. Smyrn. 3). As for Luke’s similarities to later, non-canonical Gospels, we should not forget that Luke has even greater similarities to Mark and Matthew.

Goodacre’s argument that Luke incorporates Matthean redaction is also not conclusive for his theory; there are also many examples in which Matthew appears to be aware of Lukan redaction.[7] The fact that Matthew uses an expression such as “offspring of vipers” more often than Luke does not necessitate that Luke received it from Matthew. Otherwise, Matthew’s multiple use of Markan items such as the accusation “prince of demons” (Matt 9:3410:2512:24Mark 3:22), the proclamation “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt 3:24:17Mark 1:15), or the title “son of David” (ten times in Matthew, three times in Mark) would prove that Matthew could not have been dependent on Mark. On the contrary, on a Markan priority view, such Matthean repetitions show that Matthew had the tendency to multiply expressions from his sources that he found congenial.

Helping to confirm this Matthean tendency is an interesting feature of several of the expressions that Goodacre regards as Matthew’s characteristic expressions picked up once by Luke. In each case, it is Matthew’s first use of the expression that is parallel to Luke’s use of it: (1) “offspring of vipers”—Matt 3:7//Luke 3:7Matt 12:3423:33; (2) “weeping and gnashing of teeth”—Matt 8:12//Luke 13:28Matt 13:425022:1324:5125:30; (3) “you of little faith”—Matt 6:30//Luke 12:28Matt 8:2614:3116:8; (4) “And it happened when Jesus finished . . .”—Matt 7:28//Luke 7:1Matt 11:113:5319:126:1. This phenomenon suggests that, in each case, Matthew first encountered the usage in Luke, found it congenial, and chose to use where Luke does and again in other appropriate settings.

As for the alleged Matthean character of John the Baptist’s Preaching (Matt 3:7-10//Luke 3:7-9), this could be explained by Matthew’s desire (worked out later in his Gospel) to show Jesus and John as being in agreement. Certainly, this is what Matthew does in his redaction of Mark, when he puts the initial message of Jesus on the lips of John as well (Matt 3:1-2Matt 4:17//Mark 1:15).

Goodacre’s discussion of Matt 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9 would have been more balanced had he mentioned the different target audiences of John’s preaching in the two Gospels. In Luke 3:7 John warns the crowds in general, while in Matt 3:7John polemicizes against the Pharisees and Sadducees. Here Luke’s usage appears to be more primitive, while Matthew’s appears redactional (Matthew is the only evangelist who groups the Pharisees and Sadducees together. See Matt 16:1611-1222:34.).

“Editorial fatigue” is an important argument for the FH, at least if Goodacre is entirely correct in his analysis of the phenomena. More work needs to be done on this issue by a variety of scholars. Questions to be answered include: (1) Is it true that there are no plausible examples of Matthew fatiguing when editing Luke? (2) Could it sometimes be editorial alertness rather than editorial fatigue? That is, could it be Gospel A removing inconcinnities in editing Gospel B rather than Gospel B creating inconcinnities in editing Gospel A?

As for Matthew’s failure to include Luke’s list of seven rulers (cf. Matt 3:1Luke 3:1-2), Goodacre’s argument here may be suggestive, but it is not strong. It is typical for Matthew to shorten his narratives by deleting material from Mark, including material with inherent interest (e.g., cf. Matt 9:1-8 with Mark 2:1-12Matt 9:18-26 with Mark 5:21-43). Matthew never mentions political leaders unless they are part of his story. He could have easily omitted Luke’s seven-name list because it had no theological or narrative significance for him.

Roasting the “Chestnuts”

Goodacre views “alternating primitivity” in the double tradition as a poor argument for Q (one of “two old chestnuts”) that MPH proponents have attempted to co-opt for their theory. I agree that Matthew and Luke’s apparent alternating primitiveness is not sufficient to establish the mutual independence of these two Gospels. Goodacre’s strongest argument here is that Luke could have sometimes replaced the wording he found in Matthew with an expression known to him from oral tradition. Of course, this argument is reversible—one could just as well say, on the MPH, that Matthew could have been influenced by oral tradition while using Luke as a source.[8]

Goodacre is on much shakier ground when it comes to his other “old chestnut,” the argument from order. In accusing MPH proponents of substituting “a repackaging of Streeter for an attempt to engage seriously with his critics” (20), he seems to be engaging in the kind of hand-waving he attributes to others. In fact, the matter of order and arrangement of the double tradition material is a serious problem for the FH, because its proponents must explain why Luke used Matthew in ways that make it look as if it was Matthew who used Luke.

Assuming Markan priority, we can see how both Matthew and Luke used their source Mark. For the most part, Luke does not change Mark’s pericope order, does not recontextualize Mark’s sayings, and does not expand Mark’s discourses. Matthew, however, frequently does all of those things in using Mark. The last four of Matthew’s five major discourses were all created around a smaller core of Markan material, expanded by additional sayings material relevant to each discourse’s theme. Since Matthew’s first major discourse, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7), is a longer version of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49), it is logical to assume that Matthew expanded this Lukan discourse just the way he did the four Markan ones.

On the other hand, if Luke used Matthew as a source, he would have picked apart Matthew’s sermon and distributed small bits of it into multiple new contexts throughout his Gospel (in Luke’s chapters 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16). Such a procedure would have been exceedingly complex for an ancient writer. Even a writer equipped with a modern word-processor would find such an operation extremely taxing. It raises the questions, “Why would Luke have done this?” and “How could Luke have done this?” Admittedly, there is also complexity in Matthew’s composition of his discourses using multiple sources. Yet it is much easier to envision Matthew gathering material from multiple contexts in order to compose a discourse with a single large theme in mind than it is to imagine Luke breaking up a discourse with multiple small contexts in mind. To say this is not to deny that Luke was a “great literary artist”;[9] it is simply to affirm that he was a normal ancient writer.[10]

The Crucial Issue: Verbatim Agreement

My main disappointment with Goodacre’s paper is that he did not discuss the issue of verbatim agreement among the Gospels, except to affirm that the Synoptic problem is a literary problem. Here, briefly, is why MPH proponents believe that the patterns of verbatim agreement support their theory:

As anyone who has spent time coloring a Synopsis knows, there is extensive word-for-word agreement (1) between Matthew and Mark wherever they have common material and (2) between Matthew and Luke in the double tradition. There is much less verbatim agreement between Mark and Luke. So, Matthew is the common factor wherever we find the strongest verbatim agreement among the Gospels.

Research into the practices of ancient writers has shown that it was unusual for them to copy extensively from their sources at length; they preferred to show their skill and creativity by changing their sources’ wording.[11] In light of this, it is somewhat unexpected if one of the evangelists regularly copied his sources verbatim at length. And it is surprising and problematic if more than one of the evangelists did so. Yet this is what both the 2SH and the FH require. On the 2SH, Matthew was a close copier of both Mark and Q while Luke was a close copier of Q—but not of Mark. On the FH, Matthew was a close copier of Mark while Luke was a close copier of Matthew—but not of Mark. Note Luke’s inconsistency on both hypotheses.

In terms of verbatim agreement, the MPH is the simplest and most straightforward hypothesis. On the MPH, only one of the evangelists, Matthew, is required to have behaved unusually in terms of ancient conventions for using sources. Also on the MPH, neither Luke nor Matthew need be seen as behaving inconsistently in their use of sources. Luke consistently paraphrases from his one source that we know, Mark; we are free to assume that he did the same with his sources that we do not know. Matthew is consistent in closely copying from his two sources Mark and Luke.[12]


Goodacre, a noted expert on the Synoptic problem, is exceptionally qualified to identify the problems of the MPH. It is worth pausing to notice, therefore, a genuinely remarkable feature of this discussion: Goodacre’s best arguments against the MPH are either weak, readily reversible or inconclusive. And not only that, they fail to address the point that the phenomena of (1) order and arrangement of material and (2) verbatim agreement in the Gospels uphold the MPH and work against the FH. “Why not Matthew’s use of Luke?” is still a great question.

Despite my criticisms, Goodacre deserves appreciation for his paper. He has advanced the discussion of the Synoptic problem by his willingness to engage with the MPH, the often neglected third alternative to the relationship between Matthew and Luke. May the debate continue!

Robert K. MacEwen is a missionary with Cru and an adjunct faculty member at East Asia School of Theology, Singapore. He received his PhD in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.


What happened when Mark Goodacre addressed the Synoptic Gospels section at SBL Denver? Rob MacEwen (pictured) reports for the Logos Academic Blog.

via When Mark Goodacre asked ‘Why not Matthew’s use of Luke?’ – SBL Denver 2018 — Alan Garrow Didache – Blog

Julius Wellhausen Vs. Joshua Berman

Julius Wellhausen was a sensitive Protestant professor who developed The documentary hypothesis by use of source criticism. This is an Enlightenment effort, the scientific examination based upon human reasoning and standards. Joshua Berman is a Jew who seems to believe the Torah is from God as written. I hold with Joshua Berman the belief in the Old Testament pretty much as written.

Here is an exchange between Dr. Berman and a questioner:

Dear Dr. Berman,

Traditionally, Jews have read the Torah as a unified whole — essentially, as one book. Source criticism, which your book challenges, maintains that the Torah cannot be read as a unified whole, but only as documents woven together. What role, if any, did the traditional way of understanding the unity of the Torah have in your motivation for this project?

Thanks once again for participating in this exchange.



Dear Shmuel,

I studied in a yeshiva for eight years before I began academic Bible study, and the impact of the rabbinic tradition on my scholarly work has been enormous. Obviously, in the academic world you can’t say the text makes sense because Rashi said so, or because God gave the text and so it must make sense. But my extensive yeshiva background has allowed me to come to my academic work with a sense of intellectual humility: things that look obvious to us might be so only because of where we are standing. Let me give an example.

Think of the word religion. That word does not exist in either biblical or rabbinic Hebrew. In fact, no pre-modern culture has a word that parallels our word, religion. But how could that be? Judaism and Christianity have been around for thousands of years; what did people call these, if they didn’t have the word religion?

The answer is that the word religion reflects a very modern concept; it came about because of a secular worldview, one which wanted to limit the role that faith played in public affairs. Religion is what you do in the private sphere; it’s what you believe, the rituals you practice, the prayers you pray. It’s a small corner of your life, and, above all, it’s the realm of the private individual — it cannot be allowed to spill out into the public space. By contrast, classical Judaism, Christianity, Islam and all other ancient “religions” rejected that notion. They were complete systems for understanding all of life, the private and public spheres together. These were systems that encompassed everything, and so it would have been absurd to speak of any of them as belonging to a special category of one small part of life — religions. The greatest joy in my scholarship is when I discover something that is so clear and obvious to us — like the concept of religions — and then discover that those that lived before us often thought about things very differently.

And this brings me to my book. Modern Bible scholars see lots of contradictions in the text of the Torah. And the classic academic way of understanding these contradictions is that they are the result of multiple authors. Now, when I look at traditional views of the text of the Torah, I see that, in fact, the rabbis themselves were troubled by many of these tensions in the text and resolved them with recourse to Midrashsh. But what has always puzzled me is the degree to which traditional rabbinic approaches to the text didn’t seem bothered by many of these contradictions in the first place. And it seemed to me that this was a “religions” moment: just as the absence of the term religions in these texts demonstrates to us that people used to think about things very differently from how we do today, so, too, the fact that the rabbis weren’t bothered by many of the “contradictions” in the text of the Torah might also be because we don’t have a monopoly on understanding what is a unified text and what is a contradictory text.

In fact, scholars have been learning the hard way that their innate sense of contradiction might be failing them. A foundational staple of early Pentateuchal criticism maintained that the disparity of divine names found in the Torah was itself proof positive of composite authorship and a key to determining and delimiting its sources. This axiom had to be walked back in light of evidence showing that the ancients were quite comfortable referring to the same deity by multiple names, even within a single passage. In like fashion, in many texts, God addresses Israel but alternates between addressing Israel as “you” in the singular and “you” in the plural. This was thought to designate various sources or strata in the biblical text. However, the phenomenon is also found in ancient Aramaic treaties, where a king commands his subordinate to hand over fugitives, addressing him, seemingly in random fashion, sometimes in the singular, and sometimes in the plural.

As another example, consider historical inscriptions left to us by Ramesses the Great, who ruled Egypt in the 13th century BCE. To commemorate his greatest achievement, a victory over his arch-enemies the Hittite Empire at the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE, Ramesses inscribed three mutually exclusive and contradictory reports, one right next to the other, each serving a distinct rhetorical purpose, on monumental sites all across Egypt. Not only that, but the longest of these compositions is full of what we would deem internal contradictions as well. These practices are wholly foreign to modern writers, and far from intuitive. If Ramesses could do this, perhaps the Torah could as well. There are two accounts of creation in Genesis 1-2. And, just like the Ramesses inscriptions, they are contradictory, use different vocabulary, and different names for God. Perhaps these, too, are complementary ways in which the Torah introduces the complexity of the human condition.

These examples serve as a warning flag for scholars looking to parse the text on the basis of their own notions of literary unity. The ancient text is a minefield of literary phenomena that are culturally dependent. Of course, the fact that Ramesses composed multiple conflicting accounts of his conquest does not prove that the Hebrew Bible must be read this way as well. But it should, at the very least, place a check on the confidence that a modern scholar can have when approaching the biblical text and encountering literary phenomena that seem inconsistent.

Deliberate Gospel Contradictions

Pete Williams notes the reality of formal contradictions in literature (and, if we think about it, formal contradiction features in everyday speech), yet some are put off studying the bible when they encounter such devices. Its almost if some folks want a tidier communication from God. However, God’s word is perfectly designed to communicate the things His people should know.