This post continues my foray into the Synoptic Problem debate; the first being found here. As mentioned earlier, the view of Markan priority is integral to “solving” the Synoptic Problem. In general, I accept the basic twofold premise that 1) the Synoptic Gospels have similarities and difference and 2) that these can be explained by some type of sharing of material–whether it be the Synoptics themselves or other sources (or both). However, because Luke’s Gospel is the only one that expressly mentions reliance on other sources (Lk 1.1-4–especially 1.1-2), I am approaching the debate by only focusing on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and their relationship. Specifically: on the basis of internal (i.e. textual) evidence, can either Matthean or Markan priority be established? Or: who used whom? Or, more controversially: can it be proven that one even used the other?
Moreover, I am coming at this debate without committing myself to any one explanation about either the details or the whole. In other words, I am not presuming literary or oral dependence as either dichotomous or exclusively adequate explanations for the similarities and differences in Matthew and Mark. If it turns that one option happens to explain the evidence better, then so be it. My point is that I am not going to consider the evidence in a “Literary dependence is the best method, so let’s apply it to the Gospels” sort of way. That seems to presume the adequacy of the method before it is even tested. Alternatively, if both options (i.e. literary and oral dependence) sufficiently account for the evidence, then that possibility must also be allowable.
For my study of this debate, I decided to take the (rather unpopular) tack of questioning Markan priority. Before rocks are snatched up and arms cocked, let me qualify that statement: specifically, I am concerned with the particular arguments commonly employed by scholars for Markan priority.¹ Accordingly, my focus is primarily an investigation of the arguments used to get to Markan priority, and I take this as my focus because a number of questions/problems seem to arise from within the arguments themselves. In saying this I am not suggesting that all of the arguments are questionable or problematic; some of them are quite good. I am merely pointing out that some are not so good. Thus, any disagreements with specific arguments should not be read as attacks on the whole of Markan priority.
The interlocutor for today’s post is Udo Schnelle and one particular argument he provides in his, History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (1998). After briefly tracing the history of solutions to the Synoptic Problem, and implicitly denying each one along the way (see 162-66), Schnelle launches into a discussion on the “Two-Source Hypothesis” (see 166-72). For those unaware, this hypothesis operates on two key assumptions: 1) Mark’s Gospel was written first, and 2) Matthew and Luke used Mark and another source–i.e. “Q”–when composing/compiling their respective accounts. To address both of these points, and having already hinted at it in his historical survey (see 164), thus anticipating the discussion here, Schnelle contends:
One compelling argument for the priority of Mark is the order of pericopes in the Synoptics. (166–emphasis original)
Personally, this specific claim is a bit problematic. I say that partly because this particular line of argument is not the best place to start, and partly because the order of pericopes–in and of itself–says nothing about textual priority. Something more fundamental needs to be established before making this type of claim or before this argument carries any weight.² But I’ll let it stand for now. As a supporting example, Schnelle immediately follows this contention by pointing out:
From 12.1 on, Matthew clearly follows the Markan order of pericopes when he takes over Markan material. (166-67)
In saying “Matthew clearly follows the Markan order” and “he takes over Markan material” (my emphasis) Schnelle is asserting the pre-existence of Mark and its use by Matthew at the literary level. However, this supporting example only works if Markan priority is already assumed and being used, yet Markan priority is what is (supposedly) being established by this supporting example. By arguing in this way, a methodological (and logical) flaw is exposed: the argument must rely on or assume Markan priority in order to establish Markan priority via Matthew’s use of Markan material. This smells like petitio principii. Thus, I do not find this particular argument “compelling”.
¹ In the spirit of E.P. Sanders (i.e. Paul and Palestinian Judaism), though not agreeing with all he says, I think it is a good thing to reconsider the long-standing arguments and to test their adequacy.
² To measure consistency or divergence when following an order is to assume the existence of a pre-existing and established order, but the reasons for that assumption are conspicuously absent.