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Thursday, May 25, 2006 

Dale C. Allison and The Gospel of Matthew

Dale C. Allison is one of the premiere, if not the premiere scholar on the gospel of Matthew today. Well known is his three volume set on Matthew in the International Critical Commentary coauthored with his mentor W. D. Davies (though the majority of the work is Allison's). Unfortunately, the commentaries are pretty expensive and are definitely not intended for the lay reader. Those who haven't had at least two years of Greek will have a hard time reading and utilizing this commentary series.

But Allison has published a book entitled Studies in Matthew which functions as a sort of companion volume to his ICC commentary. It is definitely much more accessible for the lay reader who does not have the time nor the academic training to wade through the more indepth ICC volumes. I have just finished it myself and was as usual not disappointed.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section takes certain passages or phrases within the Gospel of Matthew and seeks to provide illumination on them by looking at some of the patristic literature whichAllison rightly points out has been neglected in modern biblical studies. Why this neglect? Dale Allison answers:

"As the literature in the field of biblical studies continues to grow at dismaying rate, we may be increasingly tempted to ignore old writers. How can one keep up with what is going on now if one is still catching up with what went on then-if one is spending time, let us , with books from the fourth or sixteenth centuries? Have not all the good observations and plausible hypotheses been passed down from book to book and from generation to generation and so on to us? We may be disinclined to pay the past keen attention because we are under the illusion that exegesis progresses like the hard sciences. Who among us would read a physics textbook from 1919? Surely today's work makes yesterday's obsolete, so that we do not really have to bother much with writers who have expired. Such a restricted vision, such a condescending attitude toward the past, however, impoverishes exegesis..." (p. 117)

Thus Allison seeks to remedy this by exhibiting some examples of interpretations of certain passages in Matthew from the exegetical past. For example, Allison shows how the earlier commentators were probably correct in their interpretation that the Magi's "star" was probably meant to indicate an angel and not an actually star according to our modern concept that remain inanimate. Other examples include an interpretation of "seeing God" in Matt. 5.8 as referring to actually viewing an embodied deity, Matt. 5:21-25 as an intertextual reference to the Genesis narrative concerning Cain and Abel and others.

Section two of this work concerns various literary and historical issues pertaining to the First Gospel. Here Allison tackles certain questions such as whether or not Matthew was writing a biography of Jesus, what the structure of Matthew is, how to interpret the first two words in Matthew, and much more. He has a lengthy chapter dealing with the structure of the Sermon on the Mount. Since literary studies is a weakpoint of mine this was the most difficult chapter for me to comprehend. At times it seemed like Allison was pressing things a bit too far in trying to formulate a tightly compact structure for the Sermon on the mount. However, since I have not had any training in literary criticism or its cognate disciplines I do not know if this is a valid critique.

The best and most enlightening parts of the book for me were Allison's chapter on the various foreshadowing motifs of the passion and resurrection in the Gospel narrative and the last chapter which dealt with Matthew's theodicy. In particular, Allison convincingly argued that Matt. 10:30 does not refer, as commonly asserted, to God's will or his providence but rather to his knowledge and by inference, the ignorance of humanity in comparison to that knowledge. Says Allison:

"Exgetes have gone astray by reading verse 30 as though it were just a poetic variant of verse 29 ("Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father"). Verse 29 is about God's will, verse 30 about God's knowledge. "the hairs of their head", as has laways been recognized, a divine passive: "(your hairs) are all counted (by God)." The verse then refers to hairs in a way reminiscent of other texts that refer to the stars or to the sands of the sea, namely, in order to stress God's knowledge or human ignorance." (p. 261)

Allison has written a wonderful companion to his ICC commentary series. For those of you who do not have the time or training to read that commentary, this is a good alternative for understanding some of Allison's methodological methods and exegetical insights. Allison is one of the best scholars today in the areas of the historical Jesus and the Gospel of Matthew. I cannot wait for the day when he takes on Pauline scholarship.



Your plugging of Allison has gotten me to finally check out his Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet.

I am on the first third and his skepticism of our ability to scientifically detect the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus is refreshing.

I wish he were equally distrusting of the existence of Q. So far he has referenced Q many times but never mentioned the skepticism of Goulder, Sanders, Goodacre, Wright et al. I hope the existence of Q does not become integral as a witness in Allison's argument of "millenarianism". I suppose Sanders has shown that it is not necessary for a similar conclusion.

Are you similarly committed to Q? I was a student of Sanders at Duke. I took a class on the synoptic problem with him. With Sanders as the teacher (important) Q did not stand a chance. I warmly remember the mocking tone and laughter. He did admit some minor difficulties with the anti-Q argument, but he attributed that to the likely inadequacy of all theories of synoptic relationship.

Are you familiar with Goodacre's The Case against Q? My Q skepticism has, perhaps wrongly, always played a part in preventing me from committing the time to the Davies and Allison work on Matthew.

David,

Thanks for the great comments and questions. Your definitely right that his skepticism over what we can know with certainty regarding the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus is refreshing.

I too share your concern with Allison's use of Q. He has written a book called "The Intertextual Jesus" in which he does defend the 2 documentary hypothesis. I have the book, but have yet to read it so I'm not sure if his arguments are convincing.

As for myself I'm not presently sure where I stand with this issue. What I am sure of is that I've grown quite frustrated with people like Kloppenborg who think they can develop a so-called Q community, a Q theology, and various Q redactional stages. This is ridiculous scholarship in my opinon. So I've committed myself this summer to studying the synoptic problem and to come to a conclusions for myself.

As to Goodacre's "The Case Against Q" I recently purchased it along with several other works dealing with Q (such as Kloppenborg, Christopher Tuckett, and Dale C. Allison's works).

The sad factor here for me is that if I come to side with those who are skeptic of Q's existence and who view Luke's dependence on Matthew a much more reasonable position then this will force me to reevaluate such great works as Meier's "A Marginal Jew" series and even, as you point out, Davies and Allison's ICC commentary.

Re Q:

I have never been able to believe that Luke would break up the sermon on the mount, and otherwise shred Matthew's beautiful literary work. It seems much more plausible that Luke alternated blocks of Mark with blocks of Q material, more or less as he found them.

I agree that Kloppenborg is so speculative that he can't be taken seriously. Although he's also quite insightful at many points.

Have you read Dunn's "Jesus Remembered"? He takes a mediating position that seems quite reasonable to me. There was a Q document, but not all of the material common to Matthew and Luke was in it.

Dunn thinks a Q document is necessary to explain the instances of verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke. After that, he places the spotlight on oral tradition in a way that I found quite helpful. Instances of very general agreement between Matthew and Luke would reflect oral tradition known to each of them in a different form.

It's a speculative solution to the problem, but so are all the alternatives. And Dunn's explanation seems more plausible to me than either Kloppenborg's or Sanders's.

There's another interesting question here: what portion of the "M" material and the "L" material are actually found in Q, but only taken up by one of the Evangelists? Surely that happened in some instances.

Q,

Luke breaking up the masterpiece of Matthew is an aesthetic bias against Luke which a number of literary works on Luke attempt to remedy. One might expect something like this "breaking up" however from someone who begins his gospel with reference to others who have attempted such a work before but botched the proper order.

The verbatim agreements you referred to would seem to be best explained not by Q (against Dunn) but by direct borrowing. Maybe some are reluctant to lose the picture of Luke as an independent affirming witness instead of just a creative, correcter of the tradition.

So many are not exposed to the anti-Q case that I think the Q hypothesis is only being perpetuated by the lazy process of teacher-student tradition-- 'handing down'. It is slowly being questioned and will, I bet, after enough teachers die, also pass away.

The killer of Q for me is the minor agreements of MT and LK against MK in the Triple tradition. Q proponents are forced to either rely on Mark-Q overlaps in that case (rare, since that is used for major agreements) or rely on some shared non-Q oral tradition for such arbitrary minor agreements made at the exact same place and time.

This all seems a desperate attempt to salvage the Q hypothesis by keeping the redaction of the Markan material in MT and LK separate. And of course if they are not independent in the use of Mark, then the need for Q evaporates in the non-Markan sections. And in that case as Goodacre has pointed out the 'minor' agreements are not so minor.

Hi, David. I should start by letting you know that I'm not a scholar; I'm mostly self-taught.

And I don't have strong convictions on the subject. But, since we've taken opposite positions here, I might as well continue to defend my point of view.

One might expect something like this "breaking up" however from someone who begins his gospel with reference to others who have attempted such a work before but botched the proper order.

The question here is, how would Luke know that Matthew had botched up the order? The only way he would know that is if he had an alternative source that put things in a different order. That brings us back to Q again: the pericopes were already strung together (i.e. we're talking about a document) in an order that Luke preferred to Matthew's account.

Maybe some are reluctant to lose the picture of Luke as an independent affirming witness instead of just a creative, correcter of the tradition.

That doesn't enter into it; at least, not for me. Either way, we have two main witnesses to Jesus' life: Mark and Q or Mark and Matthew.

The killer of Q for me is the minor agreements of MT and LK against MK in the Triple tradition.

But, as I've already conceded, both Luke and Matthew were likely drawing from oral tradition in addition to their documentary sources.

One of the reasons that I find Dunn's thesis attractive is that he ascribes a real contribution to the oral tradition. Dunn illustrates the fact that most scholars pay lip service to oral tradition, but as soon as they begin to analyse the tradition, they begin to talk in terms of successive documentary "editions".

In other words, it seems perfectly plausible to me that the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke could be ascribed to an oral tradition that overlaps with Mark.

I wouldn't go beyond "plausible". Your reconstruction is also plausible, except that I still balk at the idea that Luke would chop Matthew up in the way that Sanders presupposes.

The tradition gets more sophisticated with each redaction (e.g. Matthew and Luke smoothed out difficulties in Mark's account), not less so. And you will never persuade me that Luke's Gospel is more orderly than Matthew's!

Q,

I have not yet read Dunn's "christianity in the making" though it's in my library.

As to your assertion that you could never believe that Luke butchered Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" thus Luke had to be using a source independently of Matthew is not, it seems to me, a valid argument. Simply because you do not like the notion of Luke butchering Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is not an argument against Luke using Matthew directly. You do mention that it would make more sense with Luke using blocks of Q and Mark material to construct the Sermon on the Mount. I'm not sure that this helps so I was wondering if you could clarify the point you are making with this assertion.

Simply because you do not like the notion of Luke butchering Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is not an argument against Luke using Matthew directly.

It's not a question of what I like and what I don't like.

The question is, Whose Gospel is more orderly? — Matthew's or Luke's. I think Matthew's Gospel is more orderly. Therefore I don't think Luke was copying Matthew. If he was, he would have refined Matthew's account, he wouldn't have gone from order to disorder.

(a) Matthew's discourses

The orderliness of Matthew's Gospel is particularly obvious with respect to the discourses of Jesus. Matthew presents five discourses, each grouped by theme (the ethics of the kingdom, missionary instruction, parables, interpersonal relations among Jesus' disciples, and eschatology).

In each case, the end of the discourse is marked with the comment, "When Jesus had finished all these sayings …" (7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1).

(b) Matthew's narrative material

To a lesser extent, Matthew does the same thing with narrative material. In chapters 8 and 9, Matthew groups together several miracle stories which were originally separated in Mark (1:29-2:12 and 4:35-5:43).

Also note that Matthew moves the call of the twelve apostles from its position in Mark. (Mt. 12:15-24 parallels Mark 3:7-22, except the call of the twelve apostles has been relocated to Mt. 10:2-4.) Matthew did so in order to provide a suitable introduction for his second discourse, in which Jesus gives the disciples instructions for their missionary activity.

(c) Luke's relatively disorderly account

If Luke copied Matthew, he chopped the sermon on the mount into tiny pieces and scattered them all over the place. The parallels are found (following Matthew's order) in
6:20-23,
14:34-35,
11:33,
16:17,
12:57-59,
16:18,
6:29-30,
6:27-28 then 6:32-36,
11:2-4,
12:33-34,
11:34-36,
16:13,
12:22-31,
6:37-38 and 41-42,
11:9-13,
6:31,
13:23-24,
6:43-46,
13:26-27,
and 6:47-49.

How likely is that sequence, if Luke was copying Matthew?!

A similar result occurs if we look at the missionary discourse (Mt. 9:37-10:39). Luke's parallels (in Matthew's order) are as follows:
10:2,
9:1,
6:13-16,
9:2-5, 10:9, then 10:4-5,
12:11-12,
6:40,
12:2-9,
12:51-53,
14:26-27,
and 17:33.

In both cases, I am carefully following Throckmorton's synopsis to obtain the order of the Lukan passages.

(d) Alternating blocks of material in Luke

You commented, You do mention that it would make more sense with Luke using blocks of Q and Mark material to construct the Sermon on the Mount.

That's not what I meant to say. Luke didn't use Mark as a source for the sermon on the mount. But throughout the Gospel of Luke, Luke alternates blocks of Markan material with blocks of Q material and blocks of "L" material.

According to Kummel's introduction to the New Testament:
• Luke's Markan material is found mostly in three large blocks, 3:1-6:19; 8:4-9:50; and 18:15-24:11.
• Luke's Q material is found mostly in two great blocks, 6:20-7:35 and 9:57-13:34.
• a large block of "L" material is found in 13:35-18:14.
• the one significant exception is Luke's passion narrative, where Luke deviates from Mark's order and, on the whole, provides a very distinctive account of events.

(e) Conclusion
Most scholars conclude that Luke's tendency was to follow the order of each source in turn:

Mark - Luke 3:1-6:19
Q ---- Luke 6:20-7:35
Mark - Luke 8:4-9:50
Q ---- Luke 9:57-13:34
L ---- Luke 13:35-18:14
Mark - Luke 18:15-24:11

Q,

You have argued well and I would definitely have to agree with you that Luke's account is not near as orderly as Matthew. However, I'm wondering, if we were to hypothesize that Luke used Mark and Matthew and then alternated blocks of material from these gospels instead of Mark and Q, could Luke's gospel then have taken on the same, seemingly erratic form? And if this is the case, does the postulation of a Q source then become superfulous?

Strangely, Q, it was one of your posts that has led me to begin doubting that Luke and Matthew wrote independently from one another. In a post not too long ago you attempted to point out some of the theological tendancies in the Gospel writers to change or correct certain problems in the Markan tradition. One of your examples was Mark's mistake (and I agree with you that this was a mistake) in saying that Abiathar was the high priest when David entered the house of God and ate the bread of presence (Mk 2:26;) yet 1 Sam. 21 clearly asserts that it was Ahimelech and not Abiathar that was high priest. You point out that both Matthew (12:4) and Luke (6:4) provide a solution by eliminating this "erroneous detail."

Yet according to the 2DH Matthew and Luke are writing independently of one another. Striking, then, that both, independently would catch Mark's mistake and remedy it in the same manner. Moreover, it is understandable that Matthew would spot the mistake since most scholars now assume a Jewish milieu for this gospel. It would not be suprising that Matthew, if he is a Jewish Christian, would thoroughly know the Hebrew scriptures and so would be able to spot this mistake rather easily. But the author of Luke is another matter. If Luke was a Gentile author as many scholars seem to think then it becomes less plausible that he would likewise catch Mark's mistake. You yourself admit this is not a mistake that one could readily catch as the later manuscript evidences no textual variants concerning this verse. How, plausible, then is it that Luke, if a Gentile author, spotted Mark's error?

What seems, at this time to me, more reasonable is to assume that Luke was using both Mark and Matthew and that when he came across this verse, noticing that Matthew evidently thought something was not quite correct, followed the first gospel and omitted the reference to Abiathar. But this, of course, proves nothing. It only displays a notion of probability. Though I have not studied the synoptic problem near enough (something I plan to do this summer) it seems that this issue can only come down to probability (which is why scholars like Kloppenborg frustrate me endlessly with their theories and reconstructions of Q) You argue that it's more probable Luke used sources independent of Matthew because this better explains the "butchering" of sections like the Sermon on the Mount. But this doesn't prove anything. Maybe Luke was not as literary gifted as we would like to think. Maybe for reasons unknown to use he decided to severely rewrite and break apart the Sermon on the Mount and to displace it throughout his gospel. But my example doesn't prove anything either since maybe even if Luke was Gentile, he had thorough knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and thus would have seen Mark's error and corrected it. This is certainly not impossible, but, I don't think, neither is the possibility that Luke simply butchered Matthew's gospel.

Q (and Chris of course),

No need for apologies about not being a scholar. You have obviously done your homework. As long as we are confessing, I'm a former grad school dabbler/washout.

I won't challenge all the data you offer, but would recommend Goodacre if you haven't already seen it. Interestingly, Kloppenburg and Allison (along with Hays) both have favorable blurbs on the back cover though they clearly don't agree with its conclusions.

That Q is not extant nor referenced by church fathers is always a starting strike against it in my opinion. Also the small window of time that would have been available for Luke to have written something so coincidentally similar to Matthew (Mark + birth narrative + res. appearances + comissioning +expanded teaching-secrecy motif) without knowledge of it is very small. If he waits too long his knowledge of Matthew would be certain as it became widely distributed. It seems like such an unlikely coincidence to have both written at the same time. Add to that that Luke is referring to many other attempts, of which we know none, and his knowledge of Matthew seems even more likely.

Q, you ask how Luke knew Matthew's order was wrong without Q. But I think Luke is referring to how Matthew has altered Mark's narrative in a way he does not entirely like. So he sets out to correctly narrate it immediately.

The idea that Matthew has written something more 'orderly' is difficult. It has always been the strongest, most repeated argument for Q. Streeter began this with his famous quote about Luke needing to be a "crank" to have scattered the sermon on the mount to the four winds. Goodacre shows the tradition of hyperbole and rhetorical questions that are used to make this argument. (Even here Q has asked "How likely....?!") Some of this is clearly embedded in the pedagogical tradition.

But there is some rhyme and reason to Luke's work. It is not fair to chacterize it as "disorderly" because he has broken up Matthew. In writing something more like a biographical connected narrative with movement through time and temporal succession, Luke doesn't like the long discourses of Matthew, so he breaks them up when possible.

The last half of the Sermon on the Mount is seen by almost all commentators to be a random (dis'ordered') collection, "rag bag" of sayings. Luke has placed them in (orderly)contexts that are similar in theme. His narrative then flows better. As Goodacre shows, narrative criticism has provided some vindication for Luke's moves here.

Next, Luke has also done similar things with Markan material, edited, moved, scattered, shortened etc.(Mark 4 and 9). Not to the same degree but a similar pattern of behavior. He is not slavishly following Mark either (again see Goodacre).

Q theorists contend that Luke has followed Mark and Q's order rather slavishly. But why would Luke make such a big deal of improving the order(temporal succession) of many other narrative attempts if he has simply repeated their order. It seems better understood as a clear critique of Matthew whose order he doesn't follow.

Goodacre has also pointed out how 20th century films have all preferred the Lukan 'order' even when the film is 'The gospel according to St. Matthew'. This gives some indication that it perhaps tells the 'story' better or at least isn't the travesty that Q defenders make it out to be.

In Sanders course, we took the synopsis and underlined all the agreements in the synopsis. An invaluable exercise. The minor agreements become overwhelming after awhile. Some can be accounted for perhaps by independent redaction tendencies of the authors, but others simply can't. They may be relying on some similar tradition outside of Mark as you say, but their independent agreement to repeatedly utilize the same words right at the same instant is inexplicable. At least 12 inexcusable instances remain after all excuses have been provided according to Goulder (Luke 22:64, Mark 14:65, Matt 26:67-8, being the strongest case perhaps)

Of course the Baptist and temptation stories agree in order and wording to such a degree that Mark-Q overlaps are needed which introduces narrative into the saying source. These are supposedly just exceptions that prove the rule. I think this is just a failure of the theory.

There are other little things like Mattheanisms in Luke but I have rambled enough.

Unforutnately as you say the arguments are not entirely persuasive and the issue may never be settled. My time with Sanders has perhaps unduly inclined me against Q. It would take something like a conversion for me to accept Q now.

Good points from both of you.

Thanks, Chris, for saying that I've argued well. I'm not sure that's accurate, mostly because I haven't done the kind of detailed work that is necessary to carry conviction on this subject.

David, I suspect that if I had studied under Sanders I would also doubt Q's existence! Sanders is a formidable scholar, not given to irresponsible speculation.

If you set out to change my mind, you would have to demonstrate that Luke's account is, indeed, orderly. For example, consider Luke 6:37-41 —

vss. 37-38, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

vss. 39-40, He also told them a parable: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

vs. 41, Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Verses 37-38 and 41 appear in Matthew's account, in precisely the same order (though Luke has expanded on the saying in vss. 37-38). And they make sense in the Matthean order: vss. 37-38 address the theme of judgement versus mercy; verse 41 continues that theme, with reference to the speck in your brother's eye.

But the middle two verses, 39 and 40, are not in the "sermon on the mount" as Matthew reports it. If Luke was copying Matthew, he took vs. 39 from Mt. 15:14. And he took vs. 40a from Mt. 10:24; vs. 40b is unique to Luke.

My point is, those two verses interrupt the flow of thought — don't they? They don't concern the subject of judgement versus mercy; they are about discipleship.

If Luke is copying Matthew, he has constructed a coherent passage on discipleship from three sources (Mt. 15:14, Mt. 10:24, and whatever the source is for vs. 40b). But why break up the saying about judgement versus mercy by inserting these two verses about discipleship in such a context?

Of course, that's only one example, and you've come up with several examples of impressive (if minor) agreements between Matthew and Luke. So I don't pretend this is the last word on the debate.

I'm only saying, this is the key issue for me: demonstrating that Luke's order makes at least as much sense as Matthew's order. I remain sceptical, but I can see I haven't looked at the subject in sufficient detail to be dogmatic about it.

p.s., Chris:

As for your argument about the Abiathar passage - I'm pleased that you got so much out of that post! I hadn't thought of it from the perspective that you lay out, and I admit you make a good case.

Ah Q, you would play that nasty trump card of Luke 6:39-42! It does seem difficult and it is probably no coincidence that Goodacre does not discuss it, but makes it appear that he does when discussing the surrounding context.

All Goodacre has here is to say that Luke 6:39 characteristically breaks in with brief narration to split up Matthew's long discourse. The previous section of Luke did include 'judging', but Goodacre notes that that misses how Luke has taken Matt 7:1-5 and placed it into a larger section Luke 6:27ff (Matthew 5) of the Sermon about the theme of "reciprocity" or the lack of reciprocity (doing unto others) that the disciples are to expect.

(Incidentally, Matthew's 7:1-5 'don't judge' passage has no corresponding appropriate context since it simply follows the 'consider the lilies' passage. Luke is doing some good grouping here unlike Matthew. Take that, Matthew!)

So if reciprocity(do unto others) was the previous passage theme, then perhaps Luke viewed the 'speck in the eye' passage as now irrelevant to the theme of about reciprocity (since now elaborating the theme about judgement as Matthew did would be unnecessary).

So now Luke needs to use the rest of the judging passage regarding the speck, so he imports some material that he finds relevant from elsewhere in Matthew 10 and 15 about discipleship/leadership.
(Stop laughing for a second)

It is important to note that Luke has the Twelve already being called before the Sermon instead of after as Matthew. They must be the primary focus of the Sermon's lessons to the 'disciples'(Lk6:20) not the multitude. Thus the emphasis on persecution motifs early in the Sermon is probably most relevant to them.

This 'speck' section then now specially applies to them as well as teachers. In this context, the 'fully trained'(v.40) disciples who would be like their teacher (v.40) can not be blinded (v.39) by a log in the eye(v.41) and expect to lead the blind(v.39) and remove the speck from their brothers (42).

It is not about reciprocity or "doing unto others". Jesus does not say don't 'remove specks' (i.e. judge) or you will be judged for your log. But rather it is about competence to train others which now goes well with the previous inserted verses of Matthew pulled from other contexts.

Imagery concerning vision (eye, blind) and teaching (leading, guide, student, teacher, removing specks from the brother) is the focus for the gathering of the verses.

That is my (not Goodacre's)attempt at justifying Luke's thinking. I rather like it.

(Resume laughter)

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