Did Everyone Copy Mark?

20 Jan

Many scholars (but not all) claim the New Testament manuscripts (Synoptic Gospels) were copied from one another and were probably written late in the 1st century CE—after the destruction of Jerusalem, or even early in the 2nd century CE. If we assume as reasonably true the tradition of the Christians of the 2nd century, that Mark is actually Peter’s Gospel, written by Mark who traveled with Peter, then we can see how both Matthew and Luke could be very similar to Mark in many places without actually having a copy of Mark before them. How so? Well, if, as is presumed by many, the Gospel accounts were an oral tradition for a number of years, then both Matthew and Luke could be very similar to Mark without their having a copy before them as they wrote their accounts. After all, would any American Christian really need a copy of the hymn, Silent Night, before him or her if one wished to write it out for a friend?

Therefore, if the presumption of oral tradition is true, all of the Gospel narratives could have been written independently of each other, and any one of them could have been written first, although even Christian tradition puts John last. Each writer, if he were not an Apostle, would certainly have had to interview the eyewitnesses and construct their accounts accordingly. Luke tells us in the first four verses of his account that he was diligent in tracing out his records to their sources. This would have to have included Peter (traditional source of Mark), whom all the Gospel accounts claim to have been a chief Apostle. Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe any Gospel narrative bearing the name and written by an Apostle wouldn’t have been corroborated by several other Apostles before copied for distribution.

Personally, I don’t hold to the oral tradition assumption (at least not in the manner that is presently assumed by many of its advocates), so I want to be upfront about that, but, even if the oral tradition is assumed to be exactly like many of its advocates perceive, why couldn’t things have occurred just as I argue above? Is there something in the accounts themselves that would belie my reasoning? If so, do you care to discuss it?


Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Textual Criticism


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4 responses to “Did Everyone Copy Mark?

  1. youthguyerik

    January 21, 2012 at 11:01

    I think there’s a decent case to be made for the late authorship of John. However, I do not suggest that based on any of the crazy liberal nonsense about authorship, dates and communities. I’d argue that john lived to the second century and as such was able to write later. It doesn’t diminish the texts as eye witness accounts in any way. But, I guess that is off-topic for they discussion.

    • Ed Bromfield

      January 21, 2012 at 17:16

      I understand that it wasn’t long ago that nearly everyone believed John wrote his Gospel, epistles and Revelation very late in the century, but the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal similar language that John uses in his works. So, there isn’t a point in holding to this theory in order to allow John to develop a theology of light and darkness etc. It already existed in Judaism. John’s Revelation could have come anytime. That depended upon Jesus alone. John could have been on the isle of Patmos “for the work of God” indicating evangelism or fleeing the persecution in Palestine after the death of his brother (cir. 43). Perhaps I like nice neat little packages, because it makes me feel good! :-)

      I just liked Clement’s testimony since the first I read it. I have found no reason to doubt it, but I understand that just because he said it doesn’t mean the “truth” is set in cement. He could be wrong, but I haven’t heard (or read) a good challenge of his remarks.

  2. youthguyerik

    January 20, 2012 at 22:12

    Well, if the objective is discussion, here’s my 2 cents:

    The almost unanimous opinion of the early church fathers place Matthew as earliest of the gospels. The general consensus also places Luke as an earlier gospel than Mark. The reason Mark is generally argued as the first book now is that it is the shortest. There isn’t any support for the Markan priority outside of the text and there is no direct support within the texts. Its all based on conjecture.

    So, if we go by external evidence Matthian Priority has a strong claim. Its a chunk of evidence that anyone who supports Markan priority would need to address.

    • Ed Bromfield

      January 21, 2012 at 09:01

      Hi Eric,

      I completely agree. I go along with Clement of Alexandria that **all** of the NT was written between the reigns of Tiberius and Nero. The above comes from a discussion I am involved in elsewhere. I have taken a “worse case scenario” to prove my point. Clement says that the Gospels with the birth accounts came first and Mark (Peter’s Gospel) developed at the request of Roman brethren that Mark write down what Peter said. More is coming. :-)

      Lord bless you,



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