Why can't there be an early Hebrew Matthew, then a Greek Mark, and then a re-written Matthew in Greek, followed by Luke?

I am aware of a number of points on the topic of the priority of the gospels:

  • Early Church Father writings seem to think Matthew was written first, and in Hebrew (which may or may not be Aramaic, but we won't get into that)
  • The Greek of Matthew does not seem to be directly translated.
  • Matthew and Luke share material that Mark does not.
  • The general assumption by source criticism seems to be that more information means it was added later, favoring a simpler source.
  • There is a Two Source Theory that Q combined with Mark to produce Matthew and Luke.

There are a number of other factors about Matthean or Markan Priority that are discussed here: What are the arguments in favor of Matthean Priority? and What are the arguments in favor of Markan priority?

Most of the arguments against Matthean Priority seem to argue against the Greek Matthew or a Hebrew Matthew that was directly translated into the Greek. This assumes the Matthew being argued against is the one we have today, but that is not the theory I am looking for evidence against. Rather, can't an early Matthew have been quickly written in Hebrew for the Jews (who are widely agreed as being the target audience) and then a fuller version was written in Greek for wider distribution. The Synoptic problem is then no longer linear, but would align with Two Source Theory. Mark writes influenced by Proto-Matthew and Matthew writes a complete gospel in Greek influenced by himself and now by Mark as well.*

The Q source argument has been described as such:

This certainly suggests that Q evolved over time, with a more primitive version existing before the version known to the authors of Matthew and Luke, and probably before Mark's Gospel. (1)

Why can't a Q Source, likely, but not necessarily of Two Source Theory, be a primitive or Proto-Matthew written in Hebrew?

Has this specific theory been directly argued for or against before?

*I'm sorry to go on about it, but I am trying to specify exactly what I'm looking for arguments against, instead of arguments against a theory I'm not positing.


Although it is not directly proposed in the question that Matthew was either the source for Mark or that it was developed in parallel with Mark, it is worth pointing out there is substantial evidence that Matthew was actually based on Mark in the Greek language. If we propose a proto-Matthew written in Hebrew, then that document must have been written and translated into Greek before the addition of material from Mark. So much of Matthew is based on Mark that there could scarcely have been a 'proto-Matthew' that existed before the inclusion of material from Mark and Q, the sayings source believed to have been shared by Matthew and Luke.

Q and the Gospel of Thomas are so similar that when GThomas was first discovered, scholars thought they had found Q. GThomas is considered to have been written in Greek; in fact there is no reason for a document written for Gnostics to have been written in Hebrew. The close similarities between GThomas and Q have led some scholars to perceive a common source for them. If so, and if GThomas was written in Greek, then Q was most likely written in Greek, based on an even earlier Greek source. At some even earlier stage, we could go back to a Hebrew or Aramaic source, but any such source would be stylistically and theologically more primitive than the Q material in Matthew and Luke, so therefore not a 'proto-Matthew'.

The uniquely Matthean material that is not at least framed by Mark and Q includes the nativity and the genealogy of Jesus, but not a lot else. A good deal of uniquely Matthean material is placed within material from Mark and Q as elaborations of the original. The provenance and reliability of this material are matters for a separate question, but they do not have extant links that could tie them together into a readable document.

A good example of the similarities that point to both synoptic gospels copying from a Greek version of Q is Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. Where Matthew and Luke differ in their use of material from Q, most scholars say that textual analysis indicates that Luke is nearly always closer to the original. This could never be the case if Matthew was the original source of what is generally regarded as 'Q' sayings material.

If 'proto-Matthew' was largely the sayings material we now know as Q, with some additional uniquely Matthean material, then we need to explain why the author of Luke might have relied on proto-Matthew for so much sayings material, yet did not copy Matthew's context for that sayings material. In most cases, the Q sayings are placed in different contexts in Luke than in Matthew, evidence that Q consisted of sayings but not narrative or context.

Luke's 'Missing Block' is contrary evidence for reliance on Matthew, at least after the inclusion of the narrative material from Mark. It is possible for a few pages to have been missing from the copy of Mark that the evangelist was using, but not credible that the same passages were missing from a copy of Matthew.

It is true that a few scholars, such as Dennis R. MacDonald, have toyed with the notion of Luke being based on Mark and Matthew, but in this proposal MacDonald sees Matthew as a Greek source for Luke and also sees Matthew as a more or less final, 'post-Mark' version when the author of Luke could have used it. In any case, there are enough problems with this proposal that it has not won many adherents.

Any argument for an original Hebrew version of Q, even as a proto-Matthew, only adds an extra layer of complexity without solving any unexplained problems. Occam's razor tells us not to do this.

  • @Joshua Thank you for your feedback. I wrote my answer in a bit of a hurry last night, so I have added some further arguments that may be of interest to you. Dec 20 '16 at 20:11
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    If the supposed PMatthew did not have the 600 verses that were copied from Mark and did not have the Matthean context for the Q sayings, it would have been no more than Q itself and should therefore be called Q, not PMatthew. After all, there is no reason even to see the author of Q to be the same as the author of Matthew. When you look at the evidence or arguments I have provided, there is also no reason to see a Hebrew Q that is translated into Greek before the authors of Matthew and Luke make use of it. Dec 22 '16 at 6:31
  • @Joshua Happy New Year to you too! At your suggestion, I have tried to remove material about Q, as long as it does not obscure what I am saying about a putative proto-Matthew. Some of the material I have removed includes the Wikipedia citation and my summary of it, but also other material mostly about Q, so I have rearranged the paragraphs so that what is still there continues to make sense. I hope this helps. Jan 1 '17 at 23:27
  • I'm accepting it as an answer since, technically, it is what I asked for, the arguments that Q Source critics would make against the proposed theory. Even though I strongly disagree with the rational for several of them. Primarily the idea that because Greek Matthew is based on Greek Mark that an earlier Hebrew Matthew couldn't be the material source for the Greek Mark AND the source of the Greek for the Greek Matthew. Both can be true. As for why bother calling it Proto Matthew when it is basically Q, that's actually the whole point. And we have historical mention of a Hebrew Matthew.
    – Joshua
    Jan 2 '17 at 0:40
  • @Joshua If there was a Hebrew Proto Matthew which was a source for Greek Mark, then it really sounds like you're proposing Proto Mark not Proto Matthew.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 2 '17 at 13:56

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