Table of Contents of Latest Issue
Index of All Issues
Index of Book Reviews
Instructions for Contributors
Subscribe to
Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 61, 2013

B. WARD POWERS, The Progressive Publication of Matthew: An Explanation of the Writing of the Synoptic Gospels (Nashville TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010). Pp. v + 611. Paperback. $34.99.

Over the past two and a half centuries, the discernment and explanation of the relationship of the three Synoptic Gospels among themselves has proved a continuing challenge, with no single approach claiming universal assent. A glance at the “Synoptic Problem” by Frans Neirynck in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (587–95), with its accompanying diagrams and proposed solutions, indicates that at the time of its publication (1990), no definitive solution held sway. Twenty years later, a new proposal has been presented by Powers, which interacts with the many hypotheses and sets forth a fresh solution. This latter is achieved by way of five propositions (7–12):
  1. Matthew responded to a growing need with initial written accounts of Christ’s life.
  2. These Matthean accounts would not be the only ones, since Luke said “Many have taken in hand to write” (Luke 1:1).
  3. Luke collected his own material that he eventually incorporated into his own Gospel.
  4. The two major Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, were the first ones published.
  5. Mark produced a special-purpose Gospel.
In successive chapters the differences from other explanations are treated: the dating of Matthew and Luke is earlier than that of Mark, which is about 65; Markan priority is replaced by Markan posteriority; Mark, characterising his approach by stories of Jesus’ actions rather than his teachings, selected from both Matthew and Luke, producing a kerygmatic accompaniment for preachers, since Jesus’ teaching is readily available in the didactic material of Matthew and Luke; the order of pericopes in the three Gospels is treated at some length; Luke did not know Matthew directly, but only through the Matthean preliminary accounts; the hypothetical Q source is not required; extensive statistics are recorded to which one can refer in exploring or verifying the approach taken.

The approach is attractive, conversational and personal, with humorous touches helping the reader along the way through a very long presentation, the explanation interacting with and negating the varied hypotheses—Griesbach, Two Gospel, Two Source, Complete Independence, Successive Dependence and others.

Powers accepts uncritically that the three evangelists are precisely the tax-collector-become-apostle (Matt 9:9–13), John Mark, son of Mary and temporary companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary voyage (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:13; 15:37–39), and the companion of Paul on his second and third voyages and on his arrival in Rome (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16). In the case of Matthew, particularly, he sees one who, by practices associated with his trade, was literate in both Aramaic and Greek, and could have circulated notes (pericopes?) about his Master. Subsequently, he collected these notes and gave them a unity in the Gospel which today bears his name; this he accomplished in Jerusalem. Luke, in accordance with the opening statement of his Gospel, would have utilised written accounts, including these notes of Matthew. Luke’s Gospel would have been written in Rome. Mark’s was the third Gospel to be composed, and the author drew from both Matthew and Luke. In addition, as Papias relates, Mark was Peter’s “interpreter”: the evangelist’s style and language might well reflect patterns of speech drawn from Peter’s preaching.

Some questions that the hypothesis raises for me are: (1) the assumption that the authors of the Gospels are precisely those whose names were associated with those Gospels only a century later than the texts themselves; (2} the early dating of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (ca. 60–62); (3) the reliance completely on Papias for the somewhat ambivalent connection of Mark with Peter; (4) the impossibility of viewing a saying recorded of Jesus as coloured by later events, even a tradition of the early Church; e.g. the saying of the “triple tradition” about taking up one’s cross (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34;Luke 9:23).

The Progressive Publication is a very substantial work whose proposal is original, and whose interaction with the other synoptic hypotheses enables one to have an experience of widely divergent “solutions” and the latest proposal to the intriguing question of the interrelationship of the first three Gospels. Whether it is destined to supplant the Two-Source Theory with its insistence on Markan priority and accepted currently by most scholars remains to be seen.

Review by
Catholic Theological College, East Melbourne