A lack of attention to sayings?
- In his blog recently Mark Goodacre claimed that the Farrer Theory
"dispenses with the need to posit a hypothetical document, Q, to explain the
extensive verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke that is not mediated
Now while I entirely agree that the aforementioned extensive verbatim
agreement is indeed the result of Luke's use of Matthew, and also that
theories which posit hypothetical documents should be viewed with a high
degree of suspicion, Luke's use of Matthew does not necessarily lead to the
conclusion that there was no early written collection of the sayings of
This provides a suitable opportunity to review the evidence.
1. Grouping of aphorisms
All three synoptic writers tend to present aphorisms attributed to Jesus in
groups. In Matthew this is abundantly clear. In Luke it is moderately clear.
For Mark, see Riches et al., "The Synoptic Gospels" (2001), p.159. The
grouping suggests a written source because it cuts down the effort involved
in looking up the sayings. At the very least, such grouping is something
which would be expected if there were a written source.
According to Papias, Matthew arranged the logia in order in the
Hebrew[/Aramaic] language, and each person interpreted [/translated] them
according to his ability. Does this statement match the evidence? Not
according to Kloppenborg. But his negative assessment is ultimately based on
his simplistic assumption that the Double Tradition was all derived from Q,
which led him to conclude that its sayings originated in Greek. Looked at
from a broader perspective, Papias' statement looks much more credible. It
perfectly matches the evidence of occasional mistranslations in Matthew and
Luke - but not in Mark who was more familiar with Aramaic (Mk 5:41 etc.).
"logia" most naturally refers to sayings rather than narrative. Signs of the
orderly arrangement ("in order") can be readily seen in Matthew, but they
should become blatantly obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to
reconstruct the source based on the doublets but without the presumption
that all Double Tradition material must derive from that source. Moreover
whereas it is widely accepted nowadays that an original disciple of Jesus
did not compose the 'Gospel of Matthew', Matthew cannot be automatically
disqualified as the editor of his master's sayings.
So a written Aramaic collection of Jesus' sayings is not hypothetical like
Q, but backed by ancient testimony.
3. Alternating primitivity
Here is a serious weakness of the Farrer Theory. For example, how is it that
given their 'free choice' between Matthew's "poor in spirit" and Luke's
"poor", 2ST scholars almost invariably choose the latter as the more
original? Actually "Blessed are the poor" perfectly matches the Sitz im
Leben of the original followers of Jesus (c.f. Gal 2:10). Of course on the
topic of alternating primitivity the popular resort to oral tradition by
Farrer supporters in certain cases erodes the simplicity claimed for their
Why do Matthew and Luke have significantly more doublet aphorisms than Mark?
This is easily explained if one accepts that the former two authors each
made use of a written sayings source as well as Mark's gospel. It is true
that some doublets cannot be so explained. But there remain over 30 which
*can* be so explained.
5. Accurate retention
How did Matthew and Luke, writing 50 years or more after Jesus' death,
manage to preserve so well upwards of fifty of his sayings? This phenomenon
can best be explained by their use of a written source predating the
dramatic events of the Jewish war ca. 65-70 CE.
6. Hints of a sayings collection in Paul
There are about 30 allusions to Jesus' sayings in the letters of Paul. In 1
Cor 1-4 the allusions are more concentrated than in the rest of his
correspondence, leaving the impression that Paul was there trying to combat
someone's preaching which had been based on the sayings collection:
"plausible words of wisdom" (1 Cor 2:4), c.f. ³Jesus is presented in the
synoptic Gospels as a wisdom teacher ... The many logia (sayings) attributed
to him are cast in the aphoristic style of the sages ...² [Achtemeier,
"Bible Dictionary" (1996) p.1215].
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