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Luke’s Use of Matthew, Q, and Papias? Alternative Synoptic Solutions

In the previous post, I noted how a handful of scholars are carving out a middle path between the Two Source and Farrer hypotheses. Does Luke alternate between Mark’s Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel, and a lost third source? Dennis MacDonald’s Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord adds a twist. In his view, the bishop of Hierapolis Papias referred to Mark’s Gospel and plural translations of Matthew’s Gospel (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16). MacDonald reasons that Papias was attempting to account for the dissimilarity between Matthew and Q by chalking it up to translation differences. He adds that Luke knew Papias’s work, making Papias a fourth source for Luke.

Papias was writing in the first quarter of the second century; many scholars date him on the earlier end of this time frame (see Robert Yarbrough’s article). His work survives in fragments quoted in other writers and some exhibit parallels with Luke-Acts such as the concern for tradition handed down and for orderly composition (Luke 1:1-4), the activities of Justus Barsabas and Philip’s prophetic daughters (Acts 1:23; 21:8-9), the death of Judas (Acts 1:18), the woman accused of sins before the Lord (Luke 7:36-50), the death of James and John (Mark 10:39; Acts 12:1-2), and the connection of John Mark and Peter (Acts 12:12). When I was wrestling with how to relate the data about John Mark in the book of Acts to other references to Mark in the New Testament and Papias, MacDonald graciously sent me an advanced preview of his book. The question is whether Luke was dependent on Papias, Papias was dependent on Luke, or both were near contemporaries drawing on shared oral traditions (I take the last view in my article).

If you are interested further in MacDonald’s interpretation of Papias, his case for dating Luke-Acts later than Papias, or the criteria he offers for reconstructing a Q source after conceding Luke’s use of Matthew, here are some resources. Someone set up a Wikipedia page to discuss MacDonald’s proposal. His monograph has been critically reviewed by James McGrath and John Kloppenborg in the Review of Biblical Literature (regrettably unavailable to non-members). Finally, Martin C. Arno has written “A Critical Review of MacDonald’s Two Shipwrecked GospelsASE 31.2 (2014):41-62. Check these out and see whether you think MacDonald’s new theory will sink or swim.

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