Concerning the Primacy of Mark

08 Sep
Synoptic Problem - Markan Priority
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In a discussion I had with a Jewish gentleman, we got around to which Gospel might have been written first. His position is that Mark was written first and says he had taken courses that convince him of this position. He made the statement:

“The substance of 606 out of the 661 verses of Mark appears in Matthew, and some 350 of Mark’s verses reappear with little material change in Luke.  Or, to put it another way, out of the 1,068 verses of Matthew, about 500 contain material also found in Mark. Of the 1,149 verses of Luke, about 350 are paralleled in Mark. Altogether, there are only 31 verses in Mark which have no parallel either in Matthew or Luke. From this analysis, one might assume that Mark was in front of Luke and Matthew when they were writing.”

In other words, there is a large portion of each of the Synoptic Gospel narratives that is shared by one or both of the others. The point being, in the case of Markan Priority, it appears that the writers of the other two Synoptics knew about Mark’s Gospel and made use of it while compiling their own, and either Mathew or Luke knew of and copied additional material in his own account that he did not find in Mark. The whole matter of who is first and who is supposed to have copied what is a very complicated matter that keeps a whole lot of Biblical scholars busy investigating and writing books showing what they have found. I have read a few books that either concern how our Bible came down to us or actual criticism of the text—both liberal and conservative. Perhaps I am being a bit simplistic, but I wonder if enough attention is being given to the strong oral tradition of Judaism in the 1st century. I read very little about it when considering the claim that one author copied from another.

I believe much of what we call common material can be accounted for under the strong oral tradition motif of 1st century Judaism. Many of the same ‘witnesses’ that had input into Matthew’s narrative would have been interviewed by Luke (Luke 1:1-4), and if Luke wrote about a common incident that appeared in Matthew’s Gospel, he would not have had to have it before him, if he interviewed the same witnesses who helped develop Matthew’s Gospel. The wording and sentence structure would be almost identical, simply because of the strong Jewish oral tradition tool in teaching. It would be similar to our being able to repeat the words of a song we both know. We don’t have to have ever met, but, because we both like a particular song, we can repeat it verbatim, even write it out as part of a larger composition, and if people later compared our works, it would not be true that either of us copied from the other. It is simply because the same words, rhythm and sentence structure of a single witness was important to both of us.

Peter was one of the preeminent apostles. He was in on practically everything concerning Jesus’ life. All the Gospels seem to show that this is so. Mark was Peter’s secretary and actually wrote out Peter’s Gospel at the request of the Roman church. Peter would have had major input into any one of the Synoptics, and 2nd and 3rd century witnesses tell us Mark was merely writing out Peter’s own words that he preached at Rome. Understanding this and applying it to what would have been the ‘oral’ tradition during the first few years of Church history, would lend support to the idea that Mark does not have to be the Gospel from which the other two Synoptic writers copied. The strong oral tradition that ALL the apostles would have been employing, coupled with the fact that Peter would have played a major role in what that oral tradition included, shows that Matthew and Luke would have had a lot of what Peter would have used in his own Gospel (Mark), without having to wait until Mark wrote it cir. 64 AD. If Peter was using it throughout his ministry, the oral tradition was available most anytime after Pentecost of 31 AD. Therefore, neither Matthew nor Luke have to have had Mark’s Gospel as a written record before them. The 2nd and 3rd century witnesses could be very true and still account for the vast number of similarities found in the Synoptics.

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Posted by on September 8, 2010 in Christianity, Religion, Textual Criticism


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