Book Review (part 12: Matthew’s Five Sources?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Festivus greetings to you all. In today’s post I will continue my ongoing recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek by offering what I felt were the highlights of chapter forty-two (entitled “Retelling the Story of Jesus: Mark, Matthew and Luke). This chapter, which is nearly 100 pages in and of itself, contains Dunn’s analysis on how the three Synoptic evangelists used and interpreted the Jesus traditions available to them. What I am going to suggest is that this chapter offers a significant contribution to scholarship pertaining to the (so-called) ‘Synoptic Problem’, which deals with the questions regarding the literary relationships between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

RS57MiwDuring the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the dominant answer to the Synoptic Problem has been to suggest that Matthew and Luke used Q and Mark as their sources (along with their own source material often labeled ‘M’ and ‘L’ respectively). This is generally called the Two-Source hypothesis (sometimes called the Four-Source hypothesis, which admittedly could be confusing). Dunn offers what I feel is a more nuanced answer to this hypothesis based upon careful observation and almost scrupulous research of even the most minuscule pieces of data.  In this post, I want to point out and comment on Dunn’s proposal regarding the fives sources/collections of Jesus tradition available to Matthew.

In regard to Matthew, Dunn suggests these five categories:

  1. Mark’s Gospel – This is an obvious place to start, as Matthew clearly demonstrates literary dependence upon Mark, often polishing up and redacting Mark for his own literary and theological purposes.
  2. Tradition which Mark had transcribed but which Matthew seems to have known in an independent and somewhat different oral form – This means that Matthew had Mark in front of him for various stories, but Matthew was also aware of the same story in another oral form, and it was this alternative which Matthew chose to put into his Gospel instead of copying Mark (cf. Mark 9:43 and Matt. 5:30).
  3. Written Q tradition – Q is the Greek document containing stories and saying of Jesus which both Matt. and Luke utilized (and this can be observed through literary analysis [cf. the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in Matt. 4/Luke 4]).
  4. Q material which circulated in oral form – Dunn suggests this option as the most plausible explanation for the divergences between Matthean and Lukan versions (best explained through understandable differences occurred through oral transmissions [cf. both collections of Beatitudes]). 
  5. Tradition unique to Matthew aka ‘M’ – The birth narratives (chs. 1-2) belonging to Matthew come from his own source.

When Dunn comes to describing Luke’s sources, he offers the same five categories of Jesus traditions (replacing ‘Matthew/M’ with Luke/L’, obviously).

I find this argument to be convincing and very exciting for one interested in the composition of the Synoptic traditions. It also is fascinating because it demonstrates that there was a plethora of Jesus traditions being circulated upon which the Evangelists drew upon to bring about their literary documents exhibited in the pages of the New Testament.

What do you all think? Do you find Dunn’s assessment convincing or a load of rubbish? Leave your comments and subscribe for further updates!




2 thoughts on “Book Review (part 12: Matthew’s Five Sources?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

  1. I’m in the middle of a book claiming that mark could be a redaction of Matthew and Luke, thus eliminating the need for a proto-Mark and Q. It seems (somewhat) convincing to me, since when you look at it that way it explains why often mark will follow a Lukean reading one place and a matthean reading another place.

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