The Genius of Farrer

“The literary history of the Gospels will turn out to be a simpler matter than we had supposed. St. Matthew will be seen to be an amplified version of St. Mark, based on a decade of habitual preaching, and incorporating oral material, but presupposing no other literary source beside St. Mark himself. St. Luke, in turn, will be found to presuppose St. Matthew and St. Mark, and St. John to presuppose the three others. The whole literary history of the canonical Gospel tradition will be found to be contained in the fourfold canon itself, except in so far as it lies in the Old Testament, the Pseudepigrapha, and the other New Testament writings.”

And

“The surrender of the Q hypothesis will not only clarify the exposition of St. Luke, it will free the interpretation of St. Matthew from the contradiction into which it has fallen. For on the one hand the exposition of St. Matthew sees that Gospel as a living growth, and on the other as an artificial mosaic, and the two pictures cannot be reconciled.”

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13 Replies to “The Genius of Farrer”

  1. “Many have undertaken to give an account of the things that have happened among us” said Luke. I presume it was more than just Matthew and Mark. The Gospel of Thomas is not Q, but it is Q-like in structure. Kloppenburg posited three layers for Q. I remember thinking that hypothesis was pretty audacious and a stretch. However, GThom only has sayings from the first two layers (according to Burton Mack). Curious.

  2. Farrer was hardly a genius. He saw two important truths, namely that Luke made use of Matthew as well as Mark, and that Q as it stands is quite ridiculous (and therefore probably never existed). His solution was to eliminate Q altogether. But this was simplistic, for it cannot account for the observation that the earliest version of an aphorism frequently occurs in a later gospel. It never seems to have occurred to him to posit that some pericopes were derived from a (smaller) sayings source, while others such as the narratives might have become part of the Double Tradition (and hence part of ‘Q’) as a result of Luke copying Matthew. In this way the narrative lop-sidedness of Q would be eliminated and we could end up with a source consisting solely of sayings attributed to Jesus: precisely the genre of the extant Gospel of Thomas. We might even discover that the sayings were actually written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his first followers!

    1. No, Ron. Thomas is later and draws from the Synoptics.

      Again, a sayings source is a later postulate that does not have need.

      Also, I doubt Aramaic was used.

      1. Joel, I’ve known for nearly 50 years that Thomas was later, and drew from the synoptics. I did not mean that the sayings source used by the synoptics was the Gospel of Thomas, but that it was of the same genre as the Gospel of Thomas. A pre-synoptic sayings source written by the apostle Matthew in Hebrew/Aramaic was probably what Papias meant when he referred to the “logia”. So it is not a modern invention. Also I’ve already explained the “need” – your dismissive comment does not address the point I made about aphorisms.

        1. Ron, but the idea of Papias’ logia is still disputed. His language is a bit rhetorical. I have serious doubts as to an Aramaic original.

          What I can show, and others as well, is that Mark would not need an original to compose. Matthew would need only Mark. And Luke, Matthew and Mark. And John… Well… John used Mark as well. A lot.

          1. What I find especially incredible is that the author of Matthew’s gospel, writing around 60 years after the crucifixion, could have been so familiar with the detailed wording of around 70 aphorisms of Jesus, unless these aphorisms had been written down. The alternative of positing reliable oral tradition makes no sense when we observe the extent to which Matthew made use of Mark’s gospel for the stories and longer parables of Jesus.

  3. Well, Joel, that’s certainly a possibility to be considered. But if Matthew created the aphorisms wholesale, then he did a great job in making so many of them look like the products of the early Jesus movement prior to the inclusion of Gentiles and the influence of Paul.

    1. Let me restate this. Let’s say Matthew takes maxims/chreia from Mark and his Jewish-Christian community and through Deuteronomy and Stoicism (latent in Mark) develops a kerygma in the mouth of Jesus? This is well within the realm of rhetorical composition and builds upon what Mark has done.

      Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Mark created everything wholesale. I think he creatively represented the story of Jesus – whom he knew.

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