Refutation of the Farrer Hypothesis

Refutation of the Farrer Hypothesis

Overview of the Farrer Theory

The Farrer hypothesis (also known as the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre hypothesis) is the theory that the Gospel of Mark was written first, followed by the Gospel of Matthew and then the author of the Gospel of Luke used both Mark and Matthew as source material. This was advocated by English biblical scholars including Austin Farrer, who wrote On Dispensing With Q in 1955[2], and by other scholars including Michael Golder and Mark Goodacre.[3] This theory has become more popular over time. The Farrer theory has the advantage of simplicity, as there is no need for hypothetical source “Q” to be created by academics. 

Advocates of the Farrer theory provide some arguments that Luke used both the previous gospels (Mark and Matthew)  but this evidence can be explained by a Matthean Posteriority view. However, a principal objection to the Farrer Theory is that Luke is more abbreviated in some passages than both Mark and Matthew and therefore Luke reflects a more primitive text. For more information on how the Matthean Posteriority hypothesis is a better fit of the evidence than the Farrer Hypothesis, see the article Matthean Posteriority &; Matthew’s use of Luke  as well as Robert MacEwen’s book Matthean Posteriority: An Exploration of Matthew’s Use of Mark and Luke as a Solution to the Synoptic Problem, (London : Bloomsburry T & T Clark (2015))

Farrer Diagram

[1] Gundry, R.H. (1994). Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (Second Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[2] Austin M. Farrer, On Dispensing with Q, in D. E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, Oxford: Blackwell, 1955, pp. 55-88,

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Farrer hypothesis,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 9, 2020).

If true, the Farrer Theory substantiates increased skepticism toward Mark and Matthew

The insistence on a missing source “Q” stems largely from an assumption that the author of Luke would not have excluded so much of Matthew if he had access to it as a source. However, the author of Luke recognized that there were many narratives before him. His prologue suggests the need, based on his close review of the witnesses, to provide an orderly account for the purposes of providing certainty about the things taught. This implies that, if Luke was written in reference to Matthew, as the Farrier Hypothesis postulates, then Luke excludes much of Matthean material because Matthew largely got things wrong. The author of Luke would be expressing this motivation in his prologue:

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

If one maintains the Farrer theory, this implies that Luke excludes much of Matthew on purpose. Accordingly, Luke intends to provide a concise and orderly account, and so he edited out “the fluff” from the passages in Matthew based on what he believed was the most creditable and substantiated attestation of the evidence within his possession. Again, The Farrer Hypothesis maintains that the author of Luke had a copy of Matthew when writing Luke. The implication is that the material in Matthew must have deviated from the sound testimony of eyewitnesses and ministers of the word and that some of the material omitted from Matthew is questionable. 

Refutation of the Farrer Hypotheses and Mark Goodacre regarding Luke

One key aspect of the Farrer theory claim to Marcan priority is an argument based on editorial fatigue. Editorial fatigue is a phenomenon that is said to occur when a writer is dependent on another’s work. It happens when a writer makes changes that are not sustained throughout. Examples of fatigue are unconscious mistakes or small errors of detail that arise in reconstructing a narrative.  Below, we look at examples from Mark Goodacre’s article Fatigue in the Synoptics

Herod King or Tetrarch

A commonly cited example of ‘fatigue’, is given by G. M Styler in his notable article on Marcan priority. He draws attention to the comparison of Mark 6:14-29 regarding the death of John the Baptist. For Mark, Herod is always ‘king’, four times in the passage. Matthew, however, uses the term ‘tetrarch’ in several places but also calls Herod ‘the king’ halfway through the story in Matt 14.9, in agreement with Mark 6:26. Some might claim that Matthew seems to be a change that is in compliance with the historian Josephus who calls Herod Antipas ‘tetrarch’ (Ant. 17.188; 18.102, 100, and 122). Luke calls Herod tetrarch in Luke 3.1, Luke 3:19, and Luke 9:7, but Luke also refers to Herod as king of Judea in Luke 1:5. 

The best explanation of this evidence is that it is appropriate to call Herod both ‘tetrarch’ and ‘king’. Luke refers to Herod as being the ‘king’ of Judea which just implies being the ruler of Judea. Clearly, this is no accident, as the same author calls Herod ‘king’ in Acts 12:1. Thus, Luke’s use of the word King is no product of fatigue or accident. This apparent fatigue can easily be explained from a Lukan priority perspective as follows (1) Mark sees Luke in which Herod is generally called ‘tetrarch’ but is called king with respect to Judea.’ Mark is biased toward the most embellished terminology, so he elects to use King in all cases and doesn’t qualify his rulership in making reference to Judea regarding the term king (2) Matthew sees both Luke and Mark. Matthew tends to favor Mark, but sometimes reverts to Lukan words and text. Thus, this isn’t a clear example of fatigue. It turns out this inconsistency isn’t that serious.

Styler does find a more serious inconsistency in Matthew’s version of the story of Herod’s decision to kill John the Baptist. Mark indicates in Mark 6:18-19 that Herod protected John and that it was Herod’s wife that wanted John killed. Matthew changes the story to indicate in Matt 14:5 that Herod, and not Herodias, wanted John killed. Both Mark 6:26 and Matthew 14:9 contain a statement that speaks of the king’s grief. According to Matthew, there is no reason for the King to be grieved if it was his intent to kill John. So, this is an indication of incorporating material from Mark that is inconsistent with Matthews changing the story. Thus, a better example of editorial fatigue. 


The Cleansing of the Leper

The cleansing of the Leper in Matt 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, and Luke 5:12-16 is another example often cited as an example of editorial fatigue. In Matthew, the author is returning to triple tradition material just after the Sermon on the Mount. He resets the scene by introducing ‘many crowds’ in Matt 8:1. Matthew like Mark has the injunction given by Jesus to the leper, “Tell no-one, but go, show yourself to the priest. According to Matthew, the injunction makes no sense because the miracle is witnessed by the crowds. Unlike Matthew, Luke and Mark do not have crowds and the leper meets Jesus privately and the command of silence is coherent. This example of “editorial fatigue” is compatible with the idea that Luke was written first, Mark maintained a similar context as Luke, but Matthew changed the context in reference to crowds despite Luke and Mark. Here is an example of editorial fatigue that reflects negatively on Matthew but not on Luke. 

The Story of Jesus’ Mother and brothers

The story of Jesus’ Mother and Brother is a third common example given of triple tradition material said to exhibit editorial fatigue. This corresponds to Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21. Mark earlier makes reference to a house in Mark 3:20 whereas Matthew and Luke don’t. Some claim there is an incongruity in the progression from one pericope to the next because the most recent scene in Matthew was a departure from the synagogue. Matthew is also problematic because, unlike Luke, there is no mention of a crowd in the direct context of Jesus’ statement regarding his mothers and brothers. 

In Luke 8:19 the direct context is that “his mothers and brothers could not reach him because of the crowd.” So regarding Luke, the statement that “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you” clearly with respect to the crowd and not a dwelling. That is, the crowd was obstructing their access to him, and they were “outside” of it. The Greek word for outside is ἔξω (exō), which has a general meaning of out (literally or figuratively) and can be translated as “out,” “out of”, “forth,” “outward,” or “away”. The use of this word does not necessarily indicate a reference to a home or dwelling. For example, Luke 11:19, “And when evening came they went out of the city,” and Luke 12:8, “and they… threw him out of the vineyard.” Thus, Luke is not problematic without reference to a home because it is the crowd that Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside. 

Mark 3:20-21 is an addition to Mark that neither Luke nor Matthew exhibit. From the perspective of Lukan priority, The explanation of Mark 3:20-21 is that Mark wanted to spice up the story by adding the claims of the crowds being so out of control that they could not even eat in verse 20 and verse 21 indicating his family being astonished by his fame. The reference to home in Mark 3:20 could be indicating Jesus’ hometown or city rather than his house or enclosed dwellings. The Greek word οἶκος (oikos) can mean house, household, family, whole clan or tribe of people descended from, as well as property, possessions, or estate. So, Mark 3:20 isn’t necessarily indicting an enclosed structure but could be speaking of Jesus’ hometown or property. Furthermore, the reference to “home” in Mark 1:20 is not in the direct context of Mark 3:31-34. The immediate context in Mark 3:32 is the direct reference to the crowd (as Luke does). 

Thus, Mark is more consistent with Luke than Matthew is. What makes Matthew the most problematic is there is no reference to a crowd in the immediate context. Matthew modifies the Marcan text in a way that further departs from the Lukan text. It is also notable the number of Greek words in the parallels of Luke 8:19-21 with 54 words, Mark 3:31-35 with 79 words, and Matthew 12:46-50 with 90 words. The indication is increased embellishment from Luke (54) to Mark (79) to Matthew (90). Thus, although it does appear that Matthew is somewhat problematic, there is really no issue with Luke. Rather than being a case of editorial fatigue, it is an indication of Marcan and Matthean embellishments upon the more primitive text of Luke. 

The Parable of the Sower and its Interpretation

This parable that has parallels in Matt 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15 is another case where those who favor the theory of Marcan priority claim editorial fatigue with respect to Luke. They claim that on three occasions, Luke omits features of Mark’s Parable which he goes on to mention in the interpretation.

  1. Mark 4:5 says that the seed that fell on rocky soil sprang up quickly because it had no depth of earth. This is in contrast to Luke 8:6 which doesn’t mention this but has the corresponding section in the Interpretation of Luke 8:14). 
  2. Luke 8:6 says the seed “withered for lack of moisture.” This is a different reason from the one in Mark 4:16 where it withers “because it had no root.” The explanation given in Luke 8:13 for the seed withering in the rocky soil is “and these have no root; they believe for a while.” The claim is that this appears to be more consistent with Mark 4:16 rather than Luke 8:6 and therefore Luke must have neglected to also incorporate the statement in the parable that matches the explanation.
  3. In Mark 4:6 the sun is the agent of the scorching, which is interpreted as “trouble” or persecution”. There is no sun in Mark 8:6, but he does have ‘temptation’ in the explanation that corresponds to Luke 8:13.  

The above differences between Mark and Luke are anything but fine examples of editorial fatigue. Luke is not so blind and negligent that he would omit these details if they were there to begin with. The author of Luke is more aware than the critics give him credit for.  The reason Luke lacks explanatory details in the parable is that they didn’t exist in the parable in the first place. Rather than being an example of Lukan fatigue, it is a prime example of Marcan revision. What later revisers tend to do is to clean up a more primitive version of the story to provide additional clarity and explanation. The fact that Luke has fewer explanatory statements in the context of the parable itself, is an indication that it is conveying a more primitive tradition. An axiom in textual critical scholarship is that the more difficult the text is, the more likely it is the original. What Mark is doing as a reviser is providing more explanatory notes in the Parable to make it less ambiguous. In fact, Mark is making the Parable less of a parable because parables are meant to be somewhat ambiguous.

The argument that Luke 8:4-15 case of editorial fatigue is asinine. Luke is the more primitive tradition of the parable, exactly because it is less self-explanatory. Again, let’s compare a word count with Luke 8:4-15 having 251 Greek words, Mark 4:1-20 having 368 Greek words, and Matthew with 444 Greek words. Here again, we see a process of expansion and embellishment from the most primitive text of Luke (241 words) to Mark (368 words) to Matthew 13:1-23 (444 words). This is strong evidence of Lukan priority.

Healing of the Paralytic

Goodacre gives as a second example of Lukan fatigue, the Healing of the Paralytic which has close parallels in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26. Mark 2:1 mentions entry into a house and, in Mark 2:2, includes a comment “Many were gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door.” Luke does not mention entry into a house. Goodacre claims there are difficulties here in the continuity of Luke because he omits to mention Mark’s house, and his inadvertence results in men ascending the roof of a house that Jesus has not entered. However, Goodacre presupposes that Luke knows of Mark’s house. 

Approximately the same number of words (within 5%) are used in Mark 2:3-12 as compared to the close parallel in Luke 5:18-26. Here Mark is copying Luke with fewer changes than is typical of Mark. However, there is a big divergence between the introductory verse which introduces the scene in comparing Mark 12:1-2 with Luke 5:17. 

Luke 5:17 (ESV) 

  17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

Mark 2:1-2 (ESV) 

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

Luke introduces the story in reference to Pharisees and teachers of the Law being in present and Jesus having the power to heal. Both these factors are directly relevant to the story. From the Lukan priority view, this could be argued as editorial fatigue on account of Mark for omitting such important details. Mark probably thought it was problematic that Luke’s text had not explained the situation that they were in a house and that there was no room to enter the house, so to clarify Mark 2:1-2 was added to indicate that Jesus was at home and there “was no more room, not even at the door.” Thus, this can just as much be argued to be a case of Marcan revision with the intent to clarify as one could argue it is a Lukan revision exhibiting editorial fatigue. With respect to such a sensational story, it makes no sense that Luke would omit details that were a central part of the story if those clarifying details were provided in the primitive tradition he had access to. It is sufficient that Luke 5:19 mentions “finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof.” Going up on the roof implies they are in a house. There is no need to make explicit mention of them being in a house for the story to be understandable.” Luke provides all the detail and more so. Critical details are provided in Luke 5:17 that Mark lacks.    

How is it unreasonable that Luke would incorporate the story without first having to make reference to a house? Luke is not so inept that he would neglect a preliminary framing of the story the way Mark does if it were part of the early tradition he is working with and also directly relevant to the story. Those who argue Lukan fatigue here affirm that Luke not only passed over the reference that Jesus was at home, but also Mark 2:2 that “many were gathered together so that there was no more room, not even at the door.” It is unconscionable that Luke would pass up on these details if it was exhibited in his sources. Rather, it is most likely that the framing of the story as Mark does is not part of the early tradition at all. Luke is not being negligent. Rather, it is Mark who plays fast and loose with his source material. For more on this, see Mark the Re-Write Man.

Goodacre makes a follow-up argument regarding this passage which is totally disingenuous. He sees a problem with Luke 5:21 stating that the scribes and the Pharisees,  ‘began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?”’ as being incongruent with what follows in Luke 5:22: “When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?” He thinks this is also an example of fatigue, as if Luke 5:21 and Luke 5:22 are incompatible because Luke 5:22 matches Mark 2:8 but Luke 5:21 doesn’t match Mark 2:6-7. The saying of Luke 5:21 in the context could be understood as them saying to themselves (metaphorically speaking) or could have been them asking out loud. Jesus perceives their thought could be understood as thoughts that go beyond the obvious implication of their questions. For instance, it can be understood as Jesus being able to perceive the motives behind the question.

Mark 2:8 exhibits “and immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them.” Luke reads simply, “When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them. The difference is Luke 5:22 doesn’t disqualify them from speaking out loud the way Mark 2:8 does. What is clear is that Mark 2:8 is a Marcan revision, as it exhibits the signature Marcan pickup word “immediately” that he added in so many places to maintain suspense throughout the Gospel. What Mark is doing is revising Luke to make the scene more explicitly a case of Jesus engaging in mind reading, with no hints given by verbal speech. According to the more primitive tradition of Luke, one might get the sense that Jesus is only using his intuition based on the words of the scribes and Pharisees. Mark is clearly spicing up the story and making it more action-packed by implying that Jesus knew their thought’s through psychic power alone. That is, Mark eliminates the possibility that Jesus could have inferred their thoughts from their verbal questions. Accordingly, Mark exhibits greater embellishment. k

Feeding of Five Thousand

Goodacre gives a final example of what he thinks is the best example of Lukan fatigue in the Feeding of the Five Thousand that has parallels in Matt 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44 and Luke 9:10-17. Mark 6:31 says that the disciples go away with Jesus into a desert place. The verse of Luke 9:11 that precedes the scene states that he took the apostles, “and withdrew apart to a town called Beshaida.”  Goodacre reads this as indicating the context of the feeding of the five thousand is Beshsaida, and that is in contradiction with a desolate place in Luke 9:12. His conclusion based on this premise is that this causes all sorts of problems. His problem is that his premise that Luke indicates that the feeding of the five thousand took place in Beshaida is wrong. There are a number of ways of interpreting Luke 9:10-11 that don’t cause a problem:

  1. Jesus and his apostles were on their way Bethsaida when the crowds followed him. The activity takes place outside of Bethsaida
  2. After Jesus had arrived at Bethsaida the crowds followed him out into the surrounding wilderness (within its jurisdiction).
  3. The desert place they retreated to was a place belonging to the city called Bethsaida and this desert place was the desert of Bethsaida, a lonely, wild, uncultivated, and desolate place, not far from it. (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible for Luke 9:10)
  4. The Geneva study Bile indicates the word Bethsaida signifies a desert, that it was not in the town Bethsaida, but part of the fields belonging to the town. 
  5. Bethsaida is possibly Bethsaida Julias, a small city named after the daughter of Augustus. Bethsaida, “house of fish” was the name attached to several of the fishing centers on the shores of the lake of Gennesaret. Not very far from Bethsaida Julias there is a secluded plain. (Pulpit Commentary) 
  6. Scholars dispute whether Bethsaida refers to the western shore or western shore of the Lake of Gennesaret (Meyer’s NT Commentary)
  7. There are also variant manuscripts of Luke 9:10. Several of the variants lack the word for “town” or “city” in reference to Beshadia. 

The idea that the Lukan passage presents a real problem is fake news. It is true that Luke may be seen as having a higher level of ambiguity than Mark or Matthew, but this is precisely because it is a more primitive tradition. Later writers made revisions and added interpolations for additional clarification or embellishment. The development of the story as it passes from Luke to Mark to Matthew is telling as we major embellishments in Mark and more slight refinements in Matthew. For instance, the number of Greek words in Luke 9:10-17 is 175 words (Matthew approximately the same) as compared to the parallel of Mark 6:30-44 which contains 252 Greek words.

Here are a few examples of the embellishments of Mark in bold

  • Luke 9:11: When the crowds learned it, they followed him
  • Mark 6:33: Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.


  • Luke 9:13-14: They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 
  • Mark 6:37: And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”


  • Luke 9:14: And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”
  • Mark 6:39-40: Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties


  • Luke 9:16-17: And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
  • Mark 6:41-44: And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Thus, there are more clear examples of Marcan and Matthean embellishment in this passage than there are of Lukan fatigue. Again, a theory that presupposes careless errors by the author of one of the most exceptional books in the New Testament is deeply flawed. The arguments put forward Goodacre are not compelling at all. The preponderance of the evidence points to Lukan priority with respect to both Matthew and Mark. c

What Lukan Fatigue? The evidence points to Marcan Revision

The Farrer Hypothesis espoused by Goodacre is not all that it is cracked up to be. Although some examples of the ‘fatigue’ argument might be valid with respect to Matthews’s use of Mark, we strongly believe this isn’t the case regarding Luke. There is much stronger evidence of Lukan priority with respect to both Mark and Matthew. Robert Lindsey of the Jerusalem school concurs: 

Rather than assuming that Luke used Mark as the basis of his Gospel, as is commonly held by most New Testament scholars, it appears that the opposite is true. Mark employed Luke’s Gospel, along with another early source, and the result is a Gospel that is almost as much annotation and comment as original story. Mark’s principal method was to replace about half of Luke’s earlier and more authentic wording with a variety of synonyms and expressions he culled from certain Old and New Testament books that, today, we can identify usually simply by consulting Greek and Hebrew concordances of the Bible… Like the rabbis, Mark loved to find linguistic parallels to the text he was copying in other, often unrelated, books, and then mix words and phrases taken from these parallels with others of his sources. This method resulted in an amplified text that many scholars had thought gave an authenticity to Mark’s work, but which, in reality, should be described as a fascinating but rather inauthentic dramatization of the Gospel story. Due to Mark’s quite normal midrashic and aggadic Jewish methods, his Gospel is the “first cartoon life of Christ.” Mark was a “re-write man.” (Robert L. Lindsey, “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution,” Jerusalem Perspective (2013))

Clearly, Luke is more primitive than Mark on double and triple traditional material shared with Luke and Mark. This is on account of Mark being an embellishment on Luke and Luke maintaining the Hebraic syntax of his source material, whereas Mark is essentially a remix. Halvor Ronning of the Jerusalem School sees Mark for what it is:

“In relation to … Jewish writers, we can judge that Luke was more steady and less innovative in relation to his sources. Even though we do not have copies of Luke’s sources we can observe how Luke preserved whole blocks of material that are more consistently easy to translate into Hebrew than the parallel material in Mark or Matthew. Luke does not share the same degree of erratic character with respect to Hebrew retroversion as does Mark. Like Luke, Matthew is also generally easier to revert to Hebrew than Mark, except where Matthew has a Markan parallel. Where Matthew has a Markan parallel, Matthew is just as difficult to revert to Hebrew as Mark. These observations are the origin of Lindsey’s insights regarding the dependence of Matthew on Mark, and the independence of Luke from either. Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, exhibits the expansionist characteristics of a Jewish midrashic or targumistic storyteller. Like a targumist, Mark absolutely refused to replicate the wording of Luke… Mark’s editorial activity is not a matter of high theological interference with his sources. As a Jewish author, Mark simply followed in the footsteps of good targumic style: he dramatized his source by substituting synonyms, adding words from elsewhere, and rearranging and reversing word orders; anything to hold the reader’s attention and fascination. (Mark also demonstrates that he had an intensely active associative mind by recalling of words and phrases and ideas from the Septuagint and the writings of Paul and working these words and ideas into his paraphrase of Luke’s text. (Halvor Ronning, “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 4—Non-Linear Hypotheses,” Jerusalem Perspective (2016))


Due to this ‘targumic’ activity the stories Mark told are almost always (literally 80% of the time) longer than the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew. Mark is the longest Gospel, not the shortest in terms of the actual stories he decided to incorporate. Mark is shortest only in terms of overall length, but that is only because of the stories and sayings he chose to omit. Mark’s expansionist style fits his character as a sophisticated targumic story teller. (H. Meijboom A History and Critique of the Origin of the Marcan Hypothesis 1835-1866 (trans. John J. Kiwiet; Macon: Mercer, 1993; Dutch 1866), 105-115.)  (Halvor Ronning, “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 4—Non-Linear Hypotheses,” Jerusalem Perspective (2016))

For comprehensive documentation of Mark’s editorial changes and embellishments, see Mark the Re-write ManEmbellishments of Mark, and List of Markan Stereotypes and Pick-ups

Matthew the Revisionist—Evidence for Matthean Posteriority

Moreover, there is also much evidence to demonstrate that Matthew is essentially a remix of both Luke and Mark. 

When comparing Matthew and Luke, many have noted that Matthew presents a more liturgically refined embodiment of major traditions such as The Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commission, than versions found in Luke. This pattern suggests that a significant amount of time had elapsed between the composition of Luke and Matthew as Matthew contains more sophisticated forms of parallel traditions. 

Evan Powell presents another theory that eliminates reliance on Q yet affirms Matthean Posterity with respect to Luke. In his book ‘The Myth of the Lost Gospel, Powel extensively documents how the author of Matthew is a revisionist.  Powell also observes:

The second noteworthy feature of Matthew is that it contains numerous attempts to reconcile problematic elements in the Jesus story that remain unresolved in Mark and Luke. Matthew methodically corrects and explains aspects of the accounts in Mark and Luke that had led to skepticism and doubt. (p. 28)

In his analysis, Powell identifies seven categories of tradition that shows Matthew is much more expansionist as compared to Luke. Although Luke is 107% as long as Matthew, in all seven categories of tradition, Matthew contains the highest concentration of material. The result as reported on page 41 are not coincidental:

Categories of tradition in Luke as a percent of Matthew:

  1. Supernatural Events: Luke has 77% as many references as those in Matthew
  2. Eschatological content: Luke has 71% as much as Matthew
  3. Ethical sayings: Luke has 73% as many references as those in Matthew
  4. Jesus as Christ: Luke has 75% as many references as those in Matthew
  5. Jesus as Son of man: Luke has 83% as many references as those in Matthew
  6. Kingdom of God: Luke has 75% as many references as those in Matthew
  7. God as Father: Luke has 36% as many references as those in Matthew

Powell sums up these results as follows:

We find that the community that produced Matthew developed a more refined and expansive interpretation of Jesus’ traditions across the entire spectrum of thought. Not only are the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes and the Great Commission presented in more evolved form in Matthew, but the content of Jesus’ ethical message is richer, the visions of the end-time events are more extreme, supernatural mythology is more diverse, and the concept of the intimate fatherhood of God is more developed. Collectively, Matthew contains an enrichment of all prominent aspects of the Jesus story, surpassing the material found in Luke, while Luke contains virtual subsets of the material found in Matthew. 


Therefore, Matthew presents a more mature expression of the Church’s interpretation of Jesus. The statistical distribution of materials between Luke and Matthew, as well as the qualitative enhancements of Matthew over Luke, are consistent with the proposition that Matthew was composed some time after Luke. Moreover, there was an interval of time between the two that would allow for all facets of the Jesus tradition to have evolved into the more sophisticated form that are documented in the Gospel of Matthew…


[Some] theories argue that Luke was dependent on Matthew. Yet, the date we have just reviewed is difficult to explain under such a scenario. We must imagine that Luke, in using Matthew as a source, managed to diminish its traditions across the board both qualitatively and quantitatively, while at the same time producing a Gospel that was longer than Matthew by 7%. In the process he eviscerated the Lord’s prayer and the Beatitudes; he dismantled the Sermon on the Mount and reformulated it as a more anemic Sermon on the Plain; he diminished the ethical vision of Jesus; he removed most of Matthew’s references tot eh intimated fatherhood of God; and finally, he eliminated the decisive command from Matthew’s Great Commission to “go therefore and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and replaced it with a statement that repentance and forgiveness should be preached to all nations, but that the disciples should wait in the city until further notice.


It is difficult to imagine what Luke would have had in mind to have used Matthew in this manner. Yet, as we shall ultimately discover, these are just the first of many editorial eccentricities of which Luke would be guilty were he to have used Matthew as a source. 

(Evan Powell, The Myth of the Lost Gospel (2006), pp. 42-43)

For more on this, see the first two articles on Issues with Matthew: Marcan Priority Regarding Matthew Being a Reconstruction of Mark and Matthean Posteriority & Matthew’s use of Luke. Proponents of the Farrer Hypothesis, such as Goodacre, make the argument of editorial fatigue in claiming Lukan Posteriority. However, the evidence they claim is not as strong as the evidence for Matthean Posteriority.