Mark’s Gospel

differences with Schnelle

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.


let the beatings begin

Once this post goes live I’m bound to get an ear-full from Gospels scholars, particularly those of the Markan priority type. But no matter. A little disagreement is good every now and then. As long as it’s constructive.

For the past two weeks I’ve been (re-)exploring the world of Gospels scholarship, specifically the discussions on the so-called “Synoptic Problem” and the priority of Mark. In the majority of cases, the view of Markan priority (i.e. Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written and then used by Matthew and Luke) is integral to “solving” the Synoptic Problem. The two big questions that have bugged me for a while, and they are the ones fueling my (re-)exploration, are: 1) are the arguments for Markan priority really that good/persuasive, and 2) on the basis/assumption that Matthew and Luke used Mark, did Mark use any sources or is he exempt from relying on such things?

To stir the pot a little (with an industrial blender), I am finding myself not being persuaded by most of the arguments for Markan priority–i.e. I don’t think they’re all that good. I’ll have to come back to that discussion later, for it will take a little more time to develop. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I can say the same thing for the case for Mark’s use of source. For this post, I am going to consider one argument (=piece of “evidence”) related to that case. The argument comes from B.H. Branscomb (The Gospel of Mark [1937], xxiii) and runs as follows–with running commentary by yours truly:

The series of conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders narrated in ii.1–iii.6 evidently came to the editor [of the Gospel] in written form. . . .

How this is evident is not clearly defined, but I’ll let it slide for now–unless it’s evident in a petitio principii sort of way.

This is generally accepted. . . .

That’s news to me, but then again I’ve spent the majority of my academic research in Pauline studies. Admittedly, this “generally accepted” remark was made in 1937 and things may have changed since then. Or maybe they haven’t. Anyone?

But the source from which this came also contributed some further material. . . .

So, based on everything said so far, we’re dealing with a (supposed) written source from which the editor of the Gospel of Mark gleaned information. Okie dokie.

For in xii.13 there appears another conflict episode introduced by a reference to the combination of Pharisees and Herodians against Jesus with which iii.6 closes.  The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient literature. . . .

Hang on a minute. You can’t say “The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient literature” after contending that the conflict story which mentions the Herodians is derived from a written source which came to the editor’s attention. Had you said, “The Herodians as a party are not mentioned elsewhere in ancient extant literature” that would be fine, because you already admitted that the other “sources” used are no longer extant. But you didn’t, and that’s not fine–especially if we’re using the details of your argument. In other words: if we accept that the editor used a written source, and that written source mentions the Herodians, then they arementioned elsewhere in ancient literature”, despite the fact we longer possess that source as independent testimony.

Nowhere else does Mark mention this combination of opponents, nor do the contents of either section suggest their names. . . .

Yeah, so? Nowhere else, outside of 7.26, does Mark mention the Syrophoenician race. Are we to assume that Mark (or the editor of) could only obtain knowledge about such people from written sources? I just don’t see the necessity for that assumption, or the one in the previous claim (of Branscomb, that is).

It seems plain that there is a connection between the two passages, and the influence of a written source would seem to be the natural explanation. . . .

“Big deal” to the first half, and “No it doesn’t” to the second. It does only if you’re already assuming the use of a written source, but that’s starting to slide into petitio principii.

But how much more this document supplied, whether the one additional episode only, or the section from xii.13 to xii.34, cannot be said with assurance.

That’s it?! Hardly a convincing case. No real arguments outside of suppositions.

Branscomb’s got seven more pieces of “evidence” that presumably prove the existence of (written) sources behind Mark’s Gospel. If the remaining seven are anything like this one, in the words of Prince Humperdinck: “I’ll shall be very put out.”

undergraduate theft?

To get the mental juices flowing this morning, I decided to skim Marsh-Moyise’s, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction (1999),¹ partly because I’ve never read it and partly because it was the first book I noticed on the shelf. It’s (so far) clear, concise, and useful in its basic summary of the key issues in Gospels scholarship. For those wanting to meander around the field, Marsh-Moyise’s book is a decent place to start.

The only hiccup (so far) is that some details are mentioned as though they are common-coin and therefore unnecessary to footnote. In other words: there is a bit of “assumed knowledge” in what Marsh-Moyise present. This is fine for those familiar with coinage but not entirely helpful for those unfamiliar the currency, the latter being the intended audience of the book.

For example: in the chapter on Mark’s Gospel, Marsh-Moyise point out that “[f]or much of church history, it [i.e. Mark’s Gospel] was thought to be an abbreviation of Matthew” (p.14) but say nothing about who historically held that thought. Again, this is well and good if you know the history but potentially frustrating (or at least unsatisfying) if you don’t.

I could remember from when I took a Gospels course in College (eons ago) that St Augustine maintained the “abbreviated” view of Mark’s Gospel (see De consensu evangelistarum 1.2), but I did not recall anyone else. So, after reading Marsh-Moyise’s chapter on Mark, I decided to dig around (quickly) to see what I could find. This cursory search revealed no other proponents of the “abbreviated” view; Augustine’s name was the only one that continued to emerge.

However, I did discover something that troubled me quite deeply, and that something became the reason for this post. Before stating what that “something” is, let me quote the opening paragraph of Marsh-Moyise’s chapter on Mark (p.14):

Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, beginning at Jesus’ baptism (nothing about his birth) and ending at the empty tomb (no resurrection appearances). For much of church history, it was thought to be an abbreviation of Matthew and hence less important. Over 600 of its 661 verses find a parallel in Matthew, and although early tradition suggests that Mark drew on the memories of Peter (see Appendix), the fact remains that it was not written by an apostle. This probably explains why so few commentaries were written on Mark in the early church and the book fell into neglect.

Now, having read that, have a look at this. Look familiar? My only hope is that the website is unable to show documentation and that this person “mitch106” gave Marsh-Moyise due respect. However, the cynic in me thinks “mitch106” simply lifted the material, changed a couple of words, slightly altered the punctuation, and reordered some of the sentences hoping that the teacher/professor wouldn’t notice.


¹ Yeah, yeah, yeah; I know the link is to the 2nd edition and my reference is to the 1st.