Thursday, January 15, 2015

B. H. Streeter, Tell Us How You Really Feel about Competing Synoptic Problem Hypotheses

B. H. Streeter's work, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan, 1930), may be the single most consequential work of 20th century biblical scholarship for establishing what is now widely known as the "Two-Source Hypothesis": the idea that Matthew and Luke are literarily independent of one another and that they both relied on Mark and "Q" as two key sources for their respective Gospels.
                                                                     B. H. Streeter

Streeter: Sure, Augustine's Theory Works, if Mark was a "Lunatic"

In The Four Gospels, Streeter has some remarkably harsh words for Augustine's (much earlier) theory that Mark published his Gospel after Matthew and was in fact Matthew's "abbreviator" (Latin breviator):

"Augustine did not possess a Synopsis of the Greek text conveniently printed in parallel columns. Otherwise a person of his intelligence could not have failed to perceive that, where the two Gospels are parallel, it is usually Matthew, and not Mark, who does the abbreviation.... [O]nly a lunatic would leave out Matthew's account of the Infancy, the Sermon on the Mount, and practically all the parables, in order to get room for purely verbal expansion of what was retained." (Streeter, The Four Gospels, 158).

Streeter: Sure, Luke Could have Used Matthew and Mark, if He Was a "Crank"

We find similarly rhetoric when Streeter turns his guns on the theory that Luke used both Matthew and Mark (a form of what is today known as the 'Farrer' Hypothesis). 

"If then Luke derived this material [the Temptation narrative] from Matthew, he must have gone through both Matthew and Mark so as to discriminate with meticulous precision between Marcan and non-Marcan material; he must then have proceeded with the utmost care to tear every little piece of non-Marcan material he desired to use from the context of Mark in which it appeared in Matthew--in spite of the fact that contexts in Matthew are always exceedingly appropriate--in order to re-insert it into a difference context of Mark having no special appropriateness. A theory which would make an author capable of such a proceeding would only be tenable if, on other grounds, we had reason to believe he was a crank." (Streeter, The Four Gospels, 183)

I can't help but wonder if such hyperbolic rhetoric played a key role in making it very unfashionable to hold any theory that posited Mark or Luke's uses of Matthew as a source. 

After all, who wants to side with a "lunatic" or a "crank"? 

For a response to the latter criticism, see Marc Goodacre's brilliant study, The Case Against Q (London: T. & T. Clark, 2002).


Thomas Renz said...

I think you'd enjoy Alan Garrow's presentation of two logical mistakes Streeter made at

Brant Pitre said...

Thanks so much for the link! I haven't finished watching them all, but it looks to be fascinating.

MarkV said...


One thing I have always wondered is why doesn't anyone give credence to the idea that each author gave their own account as an eye witness? Thus there is no common source. This would make sense why they are all similar but not exact.

Additionally I have not read any writings that claim that Q was Jesus? All the Q Source info that I have read are written with implicitly suggesting there was an intermediate source between the author and the events instead. If Jesus is Q, then it is similar to my question above, but it removes the idea of an intermediary which everyone seems convinced exists.

Can you comment? Thanks.


Michael Barber said...

I'll let Brant chime in here for himself but I wanted to make a couple of my own observations.

1. Yes, there are some important differences but in many places the similarities between the Synoptics are far too numerous and too specific to think there isn't some literary relationship. This is why, going back to the early Church, people like Augustine insisted there must have been some amount of literary dependence.

2. There does seem to be some literary (not just oral) dependence I think it's hard to imagine that Jesus wrote a document that was subsequently lost.

MarkV said...


Thanks for the comment. I didn't mean to imply that Jesus wrote anything. My point was that the source was verbal, not written. At some point it seems to me that if we agree that these were real things that really happened, there needs to be an eye witness. The presumption of the use of Q means that Matthew and Mark were not eye witnesses and additionally that Luke did not interview eye witnesses (as he claims) but the everyone had this written Q source as their primary source.

To restate my questions (hopefully better), why doesn't anyone assume that Luke is telling the truth that he interviewed eye witnesses? Or that Matthew was an eye witness? Or that when Eusebius claims that Mark dictated for Peter, that Peter was an eye witness? And that this presumed "written" source Q was the actual primary first hand observers of Jesus? (thus no intermediary Q?)

J_Bob said...

In looking at the Chronology time line in my Jerusalem Bible, It noted the Aramaic Matthew, ~ 50 AD.

That would seem to put Matthew as the 1st of the Gospel writers.

Irenaeus of New York said...


Most of the early Church Fathers would agree that Matthew wrote first. As for the Hebrew version of Matthew, Jerome saw it with his own eyes in Caesarea, and even wrote a letter to Pope Damasus where he translated a portion of it (a portion which wasn't even in Greek Matthew). In my opinion, it is likely the source of all the confusion with Q and who borrowed from whom.

Mark Vacha said...

I noticed my clarification did not get posted. I was not asking if Jesus wrote a gospel. I know that not to be true. But what I was asking is Why can't Q be Jesus? The authors are describing real events! Why do scholars presume that their must have been some intermediate source all the authors took from? Why does the scholarly world not give credit to Matthew for the possibility that he witnessed these events? Why do the scholars not give Luke credence for actually interviewing first hand witnesses then writing it down? And why not believe Eusebius when he says Mark faithful wrote down what Peter told him?

If there was a car accident at an intersection, you would get slightly different accounts from each person on the street corner due to their age, upbringing, biases, as well as vantage point viewing the accident. But we wouldn't assume that since each gave a slightly different account based on some intermediate "source" document. So what is it about the Gospels that lead scholars to presume an intermediate source?

There also seems to be a bias that Jesus only stated things once, and never ever again. What is the evidence that there wasn't both a Sermon on the Mount AND a Sermon on the Plain. The one that resonated more with Matthew, he would remember and write. The one that resonated more with Luke, he would write. And maybe there were just other things that stuck with Peter that he has no written account. But he never says there were no such Sermons, Matthew never says there was not a Sermon on the Plains, and Luke never says there wasn't a Sermon on the Mount.

Either Michael or Brant: If I was in your classes, how would you respond? This has always fascinated me and I never got a good answer from the priests. The presumption is always Q.... but none seem to know why. We just seem to "know" that the Gospels can't be first hand -- they must be second.

Michael Barber said...


I think there are some scholars who are open to the idea that Mark somehow received his information from Peter. Others such as Richard Bauckham and Samuel Byrskog are also open to the idea that eye-witness testimony lies behind the Gospels.

At the end of the day, though, it does seem that the verbal similarities are far too exact to be explained apart from some literary dependence. I happen to agree with that.

J_Bob said...

Irenaeus of New York

A couple of interesting Biblical scholars you might look at, in this area are:

Bernard Orchard

Fr. Jean Carmignac's "The Birth of the Synoptics"

Claude Tresmontant's "The Gospel of Matthew"

Do a search on Fr. Jean, & at his site, there is a summary of his book.

J_Bob said...

Irenaeus of New York,

here is a link to a friend of the late Bernard Orchard, in which the author shows his thoughts on how Mark's gospel was drawn from Matthew & Luke.

The Clementine Gospel Tradition:

MarkV said...


Thank you! That makes far more sense to me. The idea of Q, or the hint that all writers took from some other missing source, for me was a tacit implication that the Gospels were not genuine but borrowed. They were second hand and not first.

The Clementine Tradition makes far more sense as a strong and emphatic YES that these are genuine first hand accounts from those there! Matthew WAS an eyewitness, Luke DID interview eyewitnesses, and with Peter being asked to verify Luke because he too WAS an eyewitness makes perfect sense to me. It also makes sense that Luke, compiling an accurate account, would have at some point logically asked Peter for his opinion!

Very enlightening! Thanks, J_Bob!!

J_Bob said...


here is a link to Dennis Barton's booklet "Authors of the Bible" [Clementine tradition]. In chapter VI, he gives a graphical presentation of how Mark could have been blended from Matthew's & Luke's Gospel.

Barton's web site has more info on this area:

It would be interesting to exapand this graph, to include the actual verses, & see how they fit Barton's & Orchard's thoughts.

The thing is, it does seem to make the most simple explaination, that Matthew used a "shorthand", common at the time to records speeches.