Fundamental flaws in the Two-Source Theory

"A House Built on Sand"
M.D.Goulder, referring to the predominant paradigm of synoptic gospel origins
Please be aware that one important pillar of the Two-Source Theory is not being challenged here, namely the priority of Mark. [1] This is well-established, and the arguments in its favour are in my opinion overwhelming. They can be found in most of the standard textbooks on New Testament Introduction.
  1. A simplistic assumption

    The prevailing Two-Source Theory ("2ST") posits that the author of Matthew's gospel and the author of Luke's gospel independently used the same two written sources, namely Mark and the sayings source Q. However there has been a growing unease with the 2ST ever since the publication of A.M.Farrer's "On Dispensing with Q". [2] In this he argued that the synoptic similarities can be explained by positing that Matthew used Mark, and Luke used both Mark and Matthew. This became known as the Farrer Theory ("FT"). The most persistent modern supporter of the FT has been Michael D. Goulder, who wrote a two-volume commentary on Luke in order to demonstrate the feasibility of Luke's dependence on these two written sources only. [3] It is frequently assumed that the 2ST and the FT are the only reasonable alternatives given Markan priority. That this assumption is incorrect is clear from the following quotation of C.M.Tuckett:
    "It might be that Luke used Q for most of the 'double tradition', but that he also knew Matthew's gospel and used it occasionally. Such a theory..... is not logically impossible and has had a number of distinguished supporters, past and present." [4]
    Tuckett's observation is a timely reminder of the viability of the Three-Source Theory ("3ST"), though to find the most powerful form of the theory will involve going further than any of those distinguished supporters envisaged. For it will involve a radical reassessment of the nature and contents of the Q source.
    Before we attempt to do this, we must deal with a common objection: if Luke knew Matthew, surely this eliminates the need for a sayings source. This is not the case. For the arguments from doublets and from the relative primitivity of some of the Lukan pericopes (e.g. 6:20b;11:2b-4), do not simply vanish if it is decided on other grounds that Luke knew Matthew. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether mere oral tradition could explain how Matthew, written 50 years after the crucifixion, could contain so many authentic-looking sayings which form the majority within the group normally labelled 'Q'. [5]
  2. Luke's dependence on Matthew

    The main evidence that Luke knew Matthew is as follows:
  3. The incongruity of Q

    Q as normally understood is quite incongruous as a stand-alone document.


1. Markan priority remains a cornerstone for the great majority of synoptic scholars. The main arguments include the following. Firstly Matthew appears to incorporate almost all of Mark. If Mark was an abbreviation of Matthew, his total omission of the birth narratives and resurrection appearances would be incomprehensible, as also the motivation for writing his gospel. Secondly Mark's linguistic skills were inferior to those of Matthew and Luke and it is easier to see the differences in detail as improvements by the latter writers. Thirdly Mark Goodacre has identified a number of apparent slips made by Matthew and Luke when editing Mark's gospel - see his "Fatigue in the Synoptics" in New Testament Studies 44 (1998) 45-54
2. In D.E.Nineham (Ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R.H.Lightfoot (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955) 55-88
3. M.D.Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989)
4. C.M.Tuckett, "On the Relationship between Matthew and Luke", New Testament Studies (30) 1984, 130
5. The role of oral tradition is much disputed, but it is quite unable to explain the genuine sayings of the Jesus tradition. For in addition to the doublets and the sayings blocks (see Luke used Matthew and a sayings source ), both of which point to a written source, the authentic-looking sayings in Matthew must have survived sixty years (ca. 30 CE to ca. 90 CE) without substantial alteration, and that in spite of the intervening traumatic Roman conquest of Jerusalem where the original leaders of the Jesus movement had lived.
6. Goulder refers to "... the many guests at the great dinner in ch. 14, who turn out to be only three" (Ibid., 681). This gives some support to the proposal that Luke referred to the author of Mark plus the author of Matthew as "many".
7. W.D.Davies & D.C.Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988-1997) I, 724
8. U.Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (ET, London: SCM, 1998) 170
9. Ibid., 171-72
10. Ibid., 191f.
11. J.S.Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 326
12. Davies & Allison, ibid., I,121