Religion Magazine

How Similar is Luke to Matthew? Reflections Stimulated by Larsen

By Goodacre
I have recently been enjoying reading Matthew Larsen's Gospels Before the Book (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) and have been reflecting on elements in its thesis. In one sense, I was predisposed to find the book appealing since I have myself flirted with the idea of Mark as an "unfinished" gospel (NT Pod 71), though I am less certain about some of Larsen's broader claims. In due course I hope to comment on his scepticism about our ability to do source- and redaction-criticism, but first, in this post, a couple of positive observations.
In Chapter 6 of Gospels Before the Book, Larsen reflects on how his thesis impacts on synoptic relations, which is a topic of interest to me. Larsen argues that we should not see Mark and Matthew as distinct "books", each with their own author. Each is an instantiation of a fluid textual tradition. To develop this point, he writes:
Viewed from within a different framework, we begin to see another picture. If one assumes the texts we now call the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark are not both part of the same fluid textual tradition, then to my knowledge there are no two works from the ancient world more similar to each other than the Gospel according to Mark and the Gospel according to Matthew, a fact often overlooked (101).
This perspective reminded me of the strong 20th century (mainly British) scholarly tradition of seeing Matthew as a kind of "second edition" of Mark. The tradition goes back, I think, to F. C. Burkitt in 1910, who described Matthew as "a fresh edition of Mark, revised, rearranged, and enriched with new material” (The Earliest Sources for the Life of Jesus (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1910). Streeter echoed the judgment in his famous Four Gospels, and there's a fairly strong continuing tradition of seeing Matthew this way, e.g. by Graham Stanton, James D. G. Dunn, and more recently Francis Watson.
But a further thought on reading Larsen here occurred to me, and that thought was, "What about Luke?" Larsen is arguing that Mark is so similar to Matthew that there are no two works in the ancient world that are anything like as close as these two. But the point becomes stronger if one draws in Luke too. If Matthew and Mark are two of the most similar works from antiquity, surely Matthew and Luke are even more so.
The difficulty here is that decades of two-source thinking, with its insistence on Luke's independence from Matthew, have tended to immunize us against noticing the extent of the similarity between these two gospels. We allow Q to mediate their non-Marcan similarities, and then we stress their differences in attempting to underline their independence. But the similarities between Matthew and Luke are not limited to the two-hundred or so verses of double tradition. It is a question of their entire gospel projects.
I have been attempting press the point about the macro-similarities between the two works, in addition to the micro-similarities, for some years. If Matthew is effectively a kind of fresh edition of Mark, could Luke be seen still more as a fresh edition of Matthew? I don't know if I want to go that far, but I do think it worth pointing out once again just how similar these two works are. Unlike Mark, both begin with Infancy Narratives; both end with resurrection appearances & commission to "the eleven"; both feature a lot of additional identical sayings material, frequently with very close verbatim agreement.
It turns out that we can quantify the similarity between the two in a rough-and-ready way. Larsen does an interesting experiment in quantifying the degree of agreement between Matthew and Mark by using the index of Aland's Synopsis, and it's something we can extend to Matthew and Luke. Larsen's figures are as follows (pp. 103-4):
Mark: 115 “stories”.
Matthew: 178 “stories".
Overlapping: 107 “stories”. Thus, Larsen says:
93% of Mark is paralleled in Matthew.
60% of Matthew is paralleled in Mark.
I checked Larsen's numbers and they came out the same way for me. I then did a count on the Lucan parallels, and they come out like this:
Luke: 185 "stories"
Overlapping with Matthew: 137. Thus:
74% of Matthew is paralleled in Luke.
77% of Luke is paralleled in Matthew.
It is of course a clunky and imprecise way of doing things, and my own preference would be to do it on the basis of sentences or verses rather than Aland units, but it is interesting nevertheless to see just how quantifiably "similar" Matthew and Luke are to one another, at least according to this metric.

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