On (not) having Dunn Q

Dunn-QI’m currently reading James D G Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek. Like the first two volumes of his Christianity in the Making project, it’s a careful and broadly conservative account of early Christian history, with this volume taking us into the second century, with Irenaeus as a kind of horizon, but the biblical books as a primary focus. (By conservative I mean both in many of his conclusions (e.g. the broad trustworthiness of Acts) but also his attachment to a traditional behind-the-text historical approach to the texts as sources.

But this morning I imagined Mark Goodacre spluttering over his cornflakes as I read this sentence:

“[T]here are no persuasive indications either that Matthew knew Luke’s Gospel or that Luke knew Matthew’s Gospel.” (p.246)

There is an unstated protasis which this sentence desperately needs: “If you are convinced of the existence of Q, then …”

Broadly speaking, there are exactly the same indications, exactly the same evidence that a) Matthew and Luke used Q, b) Luke used Matthew and c) Matthew used Luke. The difference is not in the evidence itself, but in the framework used to interpret the evidence. Only a Q-shaped framework allows Dunn to say what he says.

Now it so happens I largely agree with the heart of Dunn’s position: there is a literary source Matthew and Luke share, but there are also other oral sources, some of which they share and some of which they don’t. It may also be that there are occasions when either one of Matthew or Luke make use of their shared literary source while the other doesn’t. If there is (as I think) some sort of Q, we can have no certain knowledge of its upper or lower limits.

However, I hold this theory not because of any persuasive character of any individual piece of evidence, but because it seems to me that an untidy theory such as this makes better sense of the variegated nature of the evidence as a whole. The theories which try to produce a single explanatory model, whether an over-confident Q, the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre theory, or a version of Matthean posteriority, all seem to me too tidy for the nature of the evidence, even if I can sometimes feel the force (almost thou dost persuade me) of say, Goodacre’s Case Against Q, or Alan Garrow’s brilliant series of video presentations of the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis.

It just seems to me more than pedantry to keep a sense of what belongs to the theory that makes sense of the evidence, and what is a property of the evidence itself. The evidence is only evidence of some kind of interrelationship. But which interrelationship it is belongs to the theory. And that in the end is a judgement about what makes greatest amount of sense of the greatest amount of the evidence.

It’s like all the best detective stories, really. And it wasn’t Luke in the library with the scissors and paste.

9 Replies to “On (not) having Dunn Q”

  1. I am inclined to agree with Jimmy Dunn (and not just because he was my doctoral supervisor!).

    The key word is “persuasive.” For a number of years I have been a Q sceptic and mostly remain one, but try as I might to be persuaded that Luke knew Matthew (let alone the converse) I remain unpersuaded. It is not that there is no evidence pointing towards such knowledge, cue the common material. Nor is it intrinsically unlikely that Luke could have deliberately complemented the Matthew he knew with (e.g.) his Marian-not-Josephine take on the birth and infancy narratives, or deliberately scattered Matthean material according to a different plan of composition. My problem is bits of Luke which correspond to bits of Matthew and for the life of me I cannot understand why Luke would awkwardly mangle (“recompose”) what he hypothetically finds in Matthew (e.g. the Pounds parable is an awkward story compared to the Talents parable). (I know, I know, Mark Goodacre posits “editorial fatigue” as an explanation for some differences between Luke and Matthew, but I am not persuaded by that for all such differences). To give just one other example, why doesn’t Luke follow Matthew’s brilliant tweak of Mark re the disciples “following” Jesus into the boat which heads into the storm? Luke is pretty keen on discipleship …

    So, the jury remains out, for me!

    1. Is that the evidence that’s persuasive, or the theory, though? But as I say, I also broadly agree with Dunn’s core position; it’s this statement I have a problem with.

      But given the arguments against Luke’s use of Matthew which you push, what about Matthew’s use of Luke?

      1. Not sure that either evidence or theory is persuasive!
        Have never given Matthew knew Luke much thought. It is certainly a possibility because Matthew would then smooth out Luke’s rough edges. I can immediately think of questions, however, such as why wouldn’t Matthew then include something about Jesus’ infancy and why not include the Emmaus story with its great sense of Jesus as fulfilment of OT.

  2. Great last line, Doug! I am sorry that you are still not persuaded, but I’m thick-skinned. I can live with it. 🙂 I would comment on the idea, though, that complex reality requires complex theory. We are all agreed (of course) that history is complex. But the idea that a a complex model will necessarily describe that complex reality better than a coherent simple model does not seem to me to be persuasive. The issue with the Synoptic Problem is in fact pretty simple — what’s the direction of literary dependence between the three? Once we’ve established literary priority, of course there are complex variations to be admitted when it comes to how each evangelist appropriated his source(s), including interactions with other traditions.

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      I generally agree with your point about models and explanations. However, in this case, I think the competing theories all leave remainders, as it were: places where it seems to me they are (at best) straining to explain the evidence, and not quite persuading their hearer as much as they’ve persuaded their advocate! What I think I was trying to say (perhaps badly) is that in this case the evidence seems more complex than the theory (theories) allow(s).

      Thanks for providing me to thought, though, as always.

  3. Dunn has not been persuaded that Luke knew Matthew’s gospel. He is wrong. He did know it, and I will quote from my web site another reason that augments the usual arguments in favour: “Excluding three special cases involving quotations from Isaiah 40, Psalm 118 and Psalm 110 respectively, there are 11 cases in the Triple Tradition where Matthew and Luke have 10 or more consecutive identical words in the NA27 Greek text. The predominant synoptic theory would lead us to expect these 11 cases to be the result of both evangelists accurately copying Mark. Yet in only 2 of them does Mark have the identical text.”

    If the real issue with the synoptic problem were simple, why aren’t critical scholars in agreement about the solution? No, it is one step more complicated than most investigators realize. The clue is to ask the right question. We should not ask the simplistic: “Did Luke use Matthew or some other written source?” but the more rational: “Did Luke use Matthew, or some other written source, or both?” This immediately opens the door to recognizing, in addition to Mark, two Lukan sources which differ greatly from each other. For Luke undoubtedly copied e.g. the typically Matthean Temptation story from Matthew. On the other hand we are now free to see the other written source as containing only sayings (or more accurately, aphorisms), to see them as most likely written in Aramaic, to see them as reflecting the viewpoint of Jesus and the original disciples, and even to see them as edited by the apostle Matthew as Papias claimed.

    1. Thanks, Alan, for that info. I’ve changed the link to the videos to the one on your site.

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