Credibility of Matthew Part 1, Introduction & Farrer Theory
Credibility of Matthew Part 1, Introduction & Farrer Theory

Credibility of Matthew Part 1, Introduction & Farrer Theory

Credibility of Matthew, Part 1

Matthew has a number of issues that calls its credibility into question. First, introductory notes about Matthew are provided relating to the source material, authorship, and structure. The Farrer theory provides additional rational for holding Matthew with increased skepticism considering the likelihood that Luke excluded much of the content from Matthew. Major contradictions of Matthew with other Gospel accounts are shown in the following section. Most of the contradictions in the New Testament are Matthew conflicting with Mark, Luke, and John. Other issues with Matthew are described in terms of problematic passages and inconsistent language including passages used for Judaizing Christians and used by Muslim apologists. Finally, evidence is provided against the traditional wording of Matthew 28:19 that indicates the trinitarian baptismal formula was added later and is not original to Matthew.

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Introductory Notes About Matthew:

The Gospel of Matthew was written after the Gospel of Mark was written and likely before 70 A.D.[1] (the year of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem). Matthew is clearly dependent on Mark for much of its content since 95% of the Gospel of Mark is found within Matthew and 53% of the text is verbatim (word-for word) from Mark. The Gospel is attributed to Matthew because of the presumption that some of the unique source material may had come from Matthew (a disciple of Jesus who was previously a tax collector) although most of the source material is from the Gospel of Mark as many see it is an embellishment upon Mark. What is clear is that Matthew is the combination of source materials rather than that of a single disciple or source. The attribution on the Gospel “according to Matthew” was added latter. Evidence of Church father’s attribution to Matthew extends to the second century.

Matthew is not structured like a chronological historical narrative. Rather, Matthew has alternating blocks of teaching and blocks of activity. Matthew is an artificial construction embodying a devised literary structure with six major blocks of teaching. The author is likely a Jewish follower of Jesus that was not comfortable using the word “God”. For example, the author circumvents using the word “God” by employing the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” numerous times as opposed to “Kingdom of God” as is used in Mark and Luke. Matthew also raises some issues that only early Jewish Christians would be concerned with. Some scholars believe that Matthew was originally written in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic) and was later translated into Greek. It is possible that there were versions of Matthew both in Hebrew (or Aramaic) in addition to the Greek. These versions may have varied with respect to each other. The earliest complete copy of Matthew that remains is from the fourth century.

Farrer Theory as a basis for increased skepticism toward Matthew:

The Farrer hypothesis (also known as the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre hypothesis) is the theory that the Gospel of Mark was written first, followed by the Gospel of Matthew and then the author of the Gospel of Luke used both Mark and Matthew as source material. This was advocated by English biblical scholars including Austin Farrer, who wrote On Dispensing With Q in 1955[2], and by other scholars including Michael Golder and Mark Goodacre.[3] The Farrer theory has the advantage of simplicity, as there is no need for hypothetical source “Q” to be created by academics. Advocates of the Farrer theory provide strong evidence that Luke used both the previous gospels (Mark and Matthew) and that Matthew predates Luke.[4]

 The insistence on a missing source “Q” stems largely from an assumption that the author of Luke would not have excluded so much of Matthew if he had access to it as a source. However, the author of Luke recognized that there were many narratives before him. His prologue suggests the need, based on his close review of the witnesses, to provide an orderly account for the purposes of providing certainty about the things taught. This implies is that Luke excludes much of Matthew because Matthew largely got things wrong. Another objection to the Farrer Theory is that Luke is more abbreviated in some passages than Matthew and therefore Luke reflects a more primitive text. However if Luke intends to provide a concise and orderly account, it is more likely the case that Luke edited out “the fluff” from the passages in Matthew based on what he believed was most creditable and substantiated attestation of the evidence within his possession. The author of Luke’s expresses this motivation in his prologue:

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

 Primary arguments for believing that the author of Luke had access to both Mark and Matthew prior to authoring Luke are as follows:

  • If Luke had read Matthew, the question that Q answers does not arise (the Q hypothesis was formed to answer the question of where Matthew and Luke got their common material based on the assumption that they did not know of each other’s gospels).
  • We have no evidence from early Christian writings that anything like Q ever existed.
  • When scholars have attempted to reconstruct Q from the common elements of Matthew and Luke, the result does not look like a gospel and would lack narrative accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection while including narrative accounts of about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, and his healing of a centurion’s servant. The theoretical Q would not entirely be a sayings gospel but would be critically deficient as a narrative.
  • The most notable argument for the Farrer hypothesis is that there are many passages where the text of Matthew and Luke agree in making small changes to that of Mark (what is called the double tradition). This would follow naturally if Luke was using Matthew and Mark, but is hard to explain if he is using Mark and Q. Streeter divides these into six groups and finds separate hypotheses for each.
  • Farrer comments that “[h]is argument finds its strength in the fewness of the instances for which any one hypothesis needs to be invoked; but the opposing counsel will unkindly point out that the diminution of the instances for each hypothesis is in exact proportion to the multiplication of the hypotheses themselves. One cannot say that Dr. Streeter’s plea [for “Q”] is incapable of being sustained, but one must concede that it is a plea against apparent evidence”.

Again, The implication that the author of Luke had a copy of Matthew when writing Luke is that the material in Matthew must have deviated from the sound testimony of eyewitnesses and ministers of the word and that some of the material omitted from Matthew must have been erroneous

[1] Gundry, R.H. (1994). Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (Second Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[2] Austin M. Farrer, On Dispensing with Q, in D. E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, Oxford: Blackwell, 1955, pp. 55-88,

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Farrer hypothesis,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 9, 2020).

[4] Michael Goulder’s summary of the hypothesis in “Is Q a Juggernaut?”, Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996): 667-81, reproduced at

Farrer theory in reference to Matthew