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Summary: This is a rather lengthy article in which I reach the conclusion that Matthew's gospel and Mark's were written independently of one another, and that Luke used Mark and an early, Aramaic version of Matthew (that was originally in the same order we now find Mark) as source. I see no need for a Q document.
This matter will be explored further in a future Tekton Building Blocks book.
If ever a minefield existed in NT studies, the dual questions of, "Which Gospel came first?" and "What sources did the Gospels have?" surely qualifies. The literature on this subject is immense; much of it, however, does not actually analyze the data afresh, but takes the twin findings of Marcan priority and a so-called "Q document" (a common source for Matthew and Luke) for granted.
In these television-sensitive times, when we hear the letter "Q" used by itself, we may be inclined to think of the mischievous and omnipotent character known by that name from Star Trek: The Next Generation - or perhaps if we are older, we may think of James Bond's indefatigable and distiguished gadget guru sidekick. Indeed, some may well regard the document called Q as every bit as annoying and elusive as the Q on Star Trek. What is this mysterious one-letter-named document? Does it actually exist?
Many adherents of the "Q" thesis say yes - and say so with such gusto that they act as though they have a copy of Q right in their hands. But of course they have not: No one has ever found an original copy of "Q" (though it may have existed, and its existence is not antithetical to even a conservative view of the NT) or of any of its "layers" which are supposed to have existed as well, according to some of our most recent theorists (Mack, Kloppenborg).
However, dependence on the "Q" theorem has grown to the point where Meier wants form
critics to look in their mirror every morning and repeat to themselves that "Q is a hypothetical
document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known." The Q theory may be right to some extent (a written document? a collection of oral statements?), but it may also be a house built on sand. Critics should exercise due caution in this regard, rather than stack hypotheses on top of hypotheses.
I am still in agreement with what Glenn Miller has written in this regard:
Remember, we have NO ARCHEOLOGICAL or TEXTUAL DATA
WHATSOEVER that supports the BELIEF of 'layers'. When the NT
manuscripts appear in the digs, they are FULLY FORMED as they are today
(read: "NO TRANSITIONAL FORMS"!). This MUST be understood. The one
"HARD" discipline we have in this arena is Textual Criticism, which deals
with archeological 'facts'--real, existing, manuscripts. All speculation about
forms, and sources, and dislocations in the text, and layers are OUTSIDE this
'hard discipline'. The Alands, working in the field for 50+ years, point out this
'control element' quite forcefully:
...the competence of New Testament textual criticism is restricted to the state
of the New Testament text from the moment it began its literary history
through transcription for distribution. All events prior to this are beyond its
scope. To illustrate this from the gospel of John: for purposes of textual
criticism the gospel comprises twenty-one chapters in their present sequence
of 1 through 21. It is only in this form, with the final chapter appended and in
the present order of chapters, that the book is found throughout the
manuscript tradition. Any editing, rearrangement, revision, and so forth it
may have undergone must have occurred earlier, if at all (with the exception
of the Pericope Adulterae, which is lacking in a considerable part of the
tradition.) Similarly, any imagined recomposition of the Pauline
correspondence to form the present corpus of Pauline letters must have
occurred before it began to circulate as a unit, if at all. The question of such a
possibility cannot be discussed here, yet it should be observed that the way in
which chapter 21 has been attached to the Gospel of John argues against any
such complex theories as Rudolf Bultmann's, for example. A redactor needed
only to delete 20:30-31, and the sequence would have been quite smooth--but
this is precisely what was NOT done.
In other words, there is NO HARD EVIDENCE in the manuscript record for
'layers' and 'traditions' and 'redactions' etc.
Interestingly enough, the "layers" theorizers, according to Downing [Down.DTW, 89f], hoist themselves on their own petard, as the sort of composition methods they would of necessity have to propose to knit together these layers are analogous to the sort of methods that they would reject in support of alternatives to the QM thesis (like Griesbach).
And this is far from the only illustratable problem. Recently in an essay for Goodacre's Questioning Q, a writer conducted a "thought experiment" which illustrated the folly of Q theorist technique. Eric Eve [89-114] proposed a scenario in which it was Mark, not Q, we had to reconstruct, based on having Q, Matthew, and Luke. Eve concluded that such a reconstruction would leave us with significant omissions from Mark, which by parallel leads to the conclusion -- like our own -- that "Q could contain both far more Matthean material and far more Markan material than has been supposed -- in which case it could look rather more like a proto-Matthew (!)."  Alternatively, Q by this reasoning could be even farther from the Synoptics than is supposed by theorists.
All of which highlights the truth of Meier's phrase that Q is "what you make it." In addition, Eve's reconstructed Mark ends up seeming "a rather poor indicator of the theology of Mark,"  calling into serious question those who would buind a theology (to say nothing of a community) out of a reconstructed Q.
And what of Marcan priority? Though this does not depend on a phantom document, and is therefore not as subject to criticism, it has become nearly axiomatic, in spite of the fact that it was based upon reasoning developed out of a "logocentric" perspective -- the idea that any similarities MUST have been the result of copying -- out of an anachronistic assumption that "simpler is earlier" rooted in evolutionary thought, and out of anachronistic assumptions about ancient menthods of composition. Even as such logic has been defeated, rather than give up the hypothesis, QM theorists have instead modified the hypothesis as needed.
It is now time to take a closer look at these twin theses, and to do so with a fresh eye towards determining the matter contextually. Theorists of QM (Q and Marcan priority), as noted, inevitably resist findings that undermine their paradigm and merely mold the theory to accomodate the facts. Thus for example, original arguments that certain forms of similarity were only explicable by direct written copying were not abandoned when further research uncovered the reliability of oral transmission in the ancient world; rather, that point has been ignored, or else the correspondences have been re-emphasized as though to make the idea of oral transmission less likely; or else, it has been absorbed into the paradigm only when needed to keep the theory (as Stein, 139, who suggests oral tradition as one way to explain Matthew and Luke agreements against Mark which speak against a Q hypothesis -- if this can be used here, why not to explain differences to begin with?).
To the end of establishing a paradigm of our own, we offer the following guidelines:
- External evidence may not simply be ignored.
What record exists of the matter in later documentation (by the Church Fathers; i.e., Papias) has universally affirmed that Matthew wrote his Gospel first and did so in Aramaic. This testimony has been simply dismissed as wrong (with few exceptions) in the service of the QM thesis, using the theory as fact and evidence to dismiss evidence. We will propose a thesis that respects the external attestation and the internal evidence.
- Oral transmission is a capable transmitter.
For more on this see here.
- Written copying involves practical difficulties which cannot be ignored.
See more on this below.
- Artifical literary structures within each Gospel, and redactive elements, must be taken into account.
For example, Matthew's Gospel is structured around 5 "blocks" of Jesus' teaching; therefore, any argument about the order of Matthew must take this into account. Mark's "sandwich" technique, and Luke's effort to select events such that Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem in one trip, must also be taken into account. One must also account for things like eyewitness reminisces (which we will see much of in Mark).
Our points of hypotheis:
- Matthew (in his Aramaic form) and Mark were independent products of apostolic eyewitness and oral tradition, based on a core of oral tradition used by the Apostles.
- Aramaic Matthew's order was closer to, if not exactly like, Mark's order.
- Greek Matthew is a post-Markan product that was perhaps influenced by Mark (as the classicist Kennedy observed in his evaluation of the Q/Markan priority hypothesis), but with certainty is an artifical construction that rearranged material to suit Greek Matthew's purpose as a teaching manual.
- Luke is a combination of data collection and use of sources, including Matthew and Mark, and in the case of Matthew, relying on the earlier Aramaic version rather than the Greek version we know now.
This would be sufficient to explain:
- Why Luke follows mostly "Markan order";
- Why Matthew, in spite of his differences, still retains much of what is called "Markan order" -- if Aramaic Matthew was also in "Markan order" prior to Mark, then there is no need to wonder why Luke follows Mark's order rather than that of Greek Matthew.
- Correspondences between Matthew and Luke that do not exist in Mark
- Why Luke's version of alleged Q material is sometimes (not always) more Semitic in character than Matthew's
- Why Luke does not reproduce "typically Matthean additions" within the so-called "Triple Tradition", and didactic additions that would have been a product of Greek Matthew's orientation
- Perhaps, why Luke does not use any of Matthew's special material in the infancy narrative and resurrection narrative
Thus the order of composition would be as follows:
- Matthew composed a Gospel first, in Aramaic. In its order it was more like Mark is now.
- Mark composed a Gospel next, or perhaps at the same time or even before, but either way independently of Matthew's, using the same core apostolic tradition all of the apostles had access to (including Matthew and Peter, Mark's source).
Peter and Matthew as apostles would of course transmit the same traditions, and in as much the same order as possible, having been both part of the apostolic ministry. Peter, however, expanded upon the material while preaching by adding eyewitness and personal observations, and it is possible that Peter (as well as Matthew later) did his own thematic arrangement now and then -- as opposed to the idea [Hawk.HS, 126] that Matthew went through deleting so much material, it makes much more sense that Peter added his own touches to a common core he and Matthew shared.
An irony to note here [Farm.SP, 134] is that greater and more specifics in detail are a characteristic of the later apocryphal literature, which would make Mark by this standard a later document than either Matt or Luke.
- Luke came next, using Mark (likely), AND Matthew in Aramaic (definitely).
- Finally we have Greek Matthew, which was not just a Greek compositional original but was also substantially reorganized for use as a teaching tool.
Why Is This Necessary?
Do we really need to analyze this? In some ways the answer is NO. For one thing, evangelical scholars can work with the QM paradigm. More importantly, the problem with current theory is not so much about literary dependence as it is about the theories (especially social theories) that lie behind it. The QM hypothesis has been misused by scholars like Burton Mack and John Kloppenborg, who go as far as not just claiming to have figured out exactly what Q said, but also divide it into sub-layers and create entire communities on that basis.
Is QM at the base of this? No, because as we noted here, David Freidrich Strauss was hypothesizing psychological histories of the Christian church with great resemblances to QM social theories -- and he did so on the basis of the Greisbach hypothesis (Matthew wrote first and Mark used his Gospel).
In modern times, David Dungan, an advocate of the Griesbach hypothesis, suggested that Mark synthesized Matt and Luke as a way of pulling together divergent Matthean and Pauline communities. Inevitably any theory of literary dependence or composition will have to offer reasons why author A wrote one way and author B wrote another; inevitably, in the QM camp many of these "reasons" become abstract psychoanalyses that assume that author B saw a "problem" in author A, or that author B's "community" disliked author A's "community" and their theology, or that all manner of otherwise unattested controversies and rivalries were behind a change.
It is our view that if a change can be explained by more prosaic means (see below), then by the rule that the simpler thesis "wins," theorists with psychoanalytic theories must shoulder the burden of explaining why their theory deserves precedence. Given that most such theories are based on non-data and a begged question of Gospel priority to begin with, that will be a difficult burden to carry.
Note that those like Mack, who can be awarded respect for their hypotheses of documents otherwise unattested, are not at an advantage over our thesis. Unlike Mack's thesis, which lacks an actual document or external evidence that it existed, we work with the external evidence. We also offer nothing that has not been directly hypothesized (the "proto-Matthew" of Vagnay and Benoit) and even in the Q arena has in one sense not already hypothesized, as indeed some have suggested that if Q existed in written form, it was probably the Aramaic source referred to by Papias as being authored by Matthew.
Thus indeed a form of "Matthean priority" within the Q hypothesis has already been proposed. Manson, quoted by Hunter [Hunt.Int, 55], says that "If we wish to put an author's name on the title page of Q, Matthew is the only candidate in the field." Moule [Moul.BNT, 105, 227] adds this more cautious observation along the same lines:
...the likelihood is that Papias meant by logia (the word Papias used to refer
to Matthew's Aramaic work) sayings of Jesus, and that what he is describing
is something like what critical scholarship has labelled 'Q'...that such a
sayings-collection should have been associated with Matthew the apostle is
not a priori unlikely...
Papias' statement points strongly to the theory that the writing in question
was some such document as we associate with Q, though it certainly does not
tie it down to being a collection of nothing but sayings. (see also [Kist.GCS,
This view has been proposed even by liberal scholars such as Kloppenborg [Klopp.FQ, 52], who,
though he refuses the identification, admits that "All of Papias' statements...are quite intelligible if they refer to an Aramaic collection such as Q." I part ways with Kloppenborg both in his
assertion that Q had to be in Greek (he offers no justification for this, and no study of how the translation would work), and in his assertion that Q contained only sayings, a position also held by Streeter in regards to identifying Q with this document, [Stree.4G, 20]; Streeter also
suggests that the Greek Matthew embodies the work of the Aramaic document, which is
amenable within the "Q" arena - ibid., 23 -- and fits in with my thesis above.
This Aramaic document of Matthew certainly
contained sayings of Jesus, but in light of the usage of the word Papias used (logia) to describe
the document [Reic.Root, 7, 158], it probably contained more than just sayings. This makes it ireelevant, incidentally, to the Gospel of Thomas, contrary to some modern theorists -- the same word was also used of narratives from the OT by Philo, and by Papias of what Mark contained.
If it existed as a written document, Q was likely used as an apostolic handbook (see also [Moul.BNT, 14]), and thus was passed on to Paul, who in turn allowed Luke to use it for his Gospel. In line with this, many have noted that Matthew is a "teaching Gospel," [Barc.IFG, 166]; but see esp. [Mine.MTG], functioning as a "manual of instruction": Material in Matthew is easy to locate; it uses memory-aiding devices (as in the genealogies; for several examples of numerical memory aids see Hawk.HS, 163f]), and it serves well as a handbook for neophytes, and a reference for advanced students [Pric.LNT, 72] - exactly what we would expect if it found its roots in a handbook like Q might have been, but also in line with my own thesis of Greek Matthew as a revamped version designed for students in the Diaspora and for Gentile converts.
The difference between our hypothesis and that of Q theorists, or even consevratives like Stein who explain agreements in the triple tradition by Matt and Luke against Mark by proposing that an early version of Mark DID have the agreeing phrase (!) is that we work within external evidence whereas there is no equivalent of a Papias speaking of a Q (as theorists think of it beyond those who identify it with Matt's Aramaic version), or of a Jerome recalling a version of Mark that read at certain points differently.
Above everything else, however, it should be remembered, as Miller and Meier warn us, that Q
and its aspects are all COMPLETELY hypothetical - including whatever suggestions I have
made here, beyond what is allowed by patristic evidence. Even allowing that it is present in Matthew and Luke, all we can truly say is that they
USED the Q document - we can NOT infer what that document contained in its entirety
[Boyd.CSSG, 137], nor that it represented the complete beliefs of the early church, any more than "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" represented the entire theological perspective of Martin Luther King. As Hultgren observes [Hult.RNC, 37]:
It is one thing to describe the theology of Q as a document; it is another to
declare that the community's theology as a whole is represented by it; and it is
still another to say that its theology is fully contained in it.
Now before we go into further detail, here are some more general thoughts on the so-called Synoptic problem:
- QM theorists take almost no account of compositional constraints of the first century.
This point is especially stressed by Wenham and Neville. Theorists practically assumed that means and methods of copying were no different in the first century than they were today. But when we realize how copying was actually done in the first century, differences between texts in terms of order and content suddenly obtain more prosaic explanations not dependent on elaborate and otherwise unattested reasons of theology or "community" dissonance. Thus:
- The first century was an "oral environment".
We have noted the literacy in this day was between 5-10% depending on the location. However, even those who could read were affected by a "residual orality" that colored their writing. This residual orality can be described as "habits of thought and expression...deriving from the dominance of the oral as a medium" [Neville, 115].
This, and that the art of writing had yet to invent such important (to us) visual cues as paragraphs, punctuation, and separation of letters into words, meant that oral-aural cues served a greater purpose, and that documents could be rearranged in context to provide oral "signposts" depending on a writer's purpose. We find, for example, places where Matthew has rearranged a pericope significantly in order to create a chiasm (an artificial poetic structure).
It is also a point that composition was usually done orally, even if you were writing your own material. Reading silently, even when alone, was not unknown but it was rare enough that Augustine marvelled at Ambrose's ability to do so. Other residual features of orality include reptition (thus, Mark's "duplications" like "in the evening, when the sun was down"), introductory or concluding formulae, and inclusio (beginning and ending a pericope with a similar formula, as in a chiasm).
In addition, one cannot underestimate the possibility of oral tradition, obtained independently by a later writer, informing their versions.
- Physical composition involving copying was limited by practical constraints.
It is typically asked, for example, whether Matthew had a copy of Mark "at his elbow" while composing his own gospel. The truth is that Matthew could in no way have had a copy of Mark "at his elbow" to copy it. Critics have invoked such an image, of Matthew (or whoever they suppose was the writer of that Gospel) sitting at some writing desk making feverish notes while glancing back and forth between his work and Mark's Gospel.
In fact, such a feat would be nearly an impossibility. [Wenh.RMML, 206-8] There was no such thing as a writing desk in that time and place; tables were available, but the idea to use them for writing had somehow now yet occured. [Neville, 123; Small, 150f] A copyist had to assume an unwieldy position on the floor or perhaps a stool as he wrote, and to copy from one scroll to another (scrolls had a tendency to roll back up on you - sort of like books do not like to stay open to pages in the middle of the text) would have had to engage in cumbersome acrobatics. The scroll written on had to be put on the floor (back breaking!) or on one's knee of thigh, or sitting cross-legged as the scroll was stretched tightly from the point of one knee to the other.
It is interesting that Downing [Down.DTW] concludes that of all literary hypotheses, the QM version fits best with the above. His conclusions are open to scrutiny (as indeed, they were criticized by Olson in Questioning Q [127ff]), but our own thesis of an Ur-Matthew arranged more like Mark would, by his standards, be even simpler.
Thus it is far more likely that, if one evangelist DID copy another, they used one of several methods that in and of themselves provide more prosaic and more likely explanations for differences in the Synoptics, and thus also render moot much use of the differences as proof of priority. Copying would have been done in one or more of these ways:
- Like Pliny the Elder, who described his own method of compiling a text thusly: He would have
educated slaves read the text aloud form scrolls, then make notes on wax tablets. From these
notes he would later reconstruct an account, incorporating the work of others as he did so. This, we may suggest, is a better picture of how Luke would have incorporated Mark and Matthew (whether the Greek Matthew or, more likely, an Aramaic Matthew), perhaps having willing church members or an educated slave do the reading. It might also be a better picture of how Peter used Matthew's Aramaic material to do his sermons [Burr.4GJ, 9] if oral material was not the origin.
Collaboration of this sort between the parties writing the Gospels is quite plausible and also answers the question, partially, of how Luke would easily be able to break apart Matthew's teachings blocks, or (under our theory) how Matthew himself would break up his own blocks for a revamped Greek version using aural cues. The classicist Kennedy [Walk.ID, 131f] especially stressed the potential of notes in relation to the Synoptic Problem, observing that in a parallel situation:
In Plato's Theatetus (143a)....Euclides of Megara claims to have made notes of Socrates' report and his discussion with Theatetus, to have questioned Socrates about the notes repeatedly, and to have made corrections in them....Apparently note-taking was common and was not even limited to the intelligentsia. Diogenes Laertius reports (2.122) that Simon the cobbler used to make notes of all he could remember after Socrates visited his shop and that he ended up with thirty-three 'dialogues' which were long preserved. Among the Greeks and Romans, note-taking was a widely established custom. The emperor Augustus 'always spoke from notes' even when talking to his wife....An even more extreme example of compulsive note-taking is the elder Pliny's dictation dictation to his secretary of his observations as the ship carried him to his death on the shore beneath the erupting Vesuvius....It seemed natural to Epictetus to assume that Socrates himself wrote extensive private notes in developing his ideas...though this seems unlikely to scholars now....the existence of notes on the preaching of the Apostles would not have surprised a first-century Roman interested in Christianity, and the request for such a record by a Christian group would have been predictable.
One may ask whether differences in the Synoptics might not be attributable to the availability of such notes to each author. Kennedy appeals to a secular analogue  of differences between Cicero's On Invention and Cornificus' Rhetoric to Herennius which report the teaching of the same unnamed master. Cicero apparently attended the master's teachings later that Cornificus, and both apparently took detailed notes; but they ended up with "very close similiarities in content and even some similarities in wording" of the sort Biblical scholars claim form the foundation of literary dependence theories.
Kennedy thus notes: "In his ministry, Jesus surely repeated himself far more often than the individual gospels indicate, but not necessarily in exactly the same words." How many variations in the Synoptics could be the result of this? The mission statement to the Twelve and the Seventy seems a likely example.
- It is also probable that dependence on memory would be greater. Rather than feverishly copying and thus increasing the labor of his work, a scribe would read ahead and try to remember as much as possible, trusting his memory to keep the substance of the material in mind.
Mattila [Matt.Q, 214] reports a classicist's thesis of how Plutarch composed his work using using memory; in another case, Livy shows signs of this procedure, as he seems to make use of Polybius a unit at a time, and the units show signs of "garbling" towards the end, especially longer units -- exactly as we would expect if Livy were operating a bit at a time from memory. However, it is also simply a fact that classical authors, when they had material at their dispoal, tended to paraphrase rather than quote directly [Neville, 128]. Kennedy notes: "When [an ancient writer] was ready to write systematically, they used their memories and their notes, only occassionally going back to the original." The reason was prosaic: Working with scrolls was cumbersome. [Walk.ID, 140]
Memory would also play a role in original composition. Despite modern graphocentrism (preference for writing), Kennedy affirmed that "regular hearers of Jesus or of the Apostles" would have no problem holding in memory "a significant part of the teaching they had repeatedly heard and to recite it or write it down at any time there was a reason to do so...."  Two persons with reasonably good memories could produce slightly different versions of the same events, much as we envision Peter/Mark and to an extent Matthew doing.
Kennedy adds: "Once a gospel had been composed and published and had acheieved wide circulation, it would not be impossible for it to have been virtually memorized by many Christians." Why not also the common core which we suppose was used by Mark and Matthew?
As noted, few QM theorists take these matters into accounts; those few that have (Sanday, Downing) have inevitably done no more than use the data to re-affirm QM without any consideration of whether it could likewise support other literary hypotheses. The example of Livy alternating intact but also paraphrased blocks of Polybius with blocks of another (now lost) Roman source could serve as a parallel to either Luke using Q and Mark, or Luke using Mark and Matthew, or even Mark using Matt and Luke. Dungan has used Arrian's procedure in describing Alexander's conquest as an example that matches the Greisbach hypothesis. What we end up with is that each theory has explanations that must explain differences, and it must be decided which explanation offers the least complex "explanations" while also giving due consideration to external evidence.
- Many arguments in favor of Markan priority have either been long refuted or else should be discarded.
We can find several examples of this, and will deal in specifics as we proceed, but in particular, let us look at the idea that proof of Mark's priority is found in:
- its choppy and clumsy writing style
- its primitive Christology (compared to Matthew and Luke)
- the "argument from order" -- that it makes more sense to see that Matthew violated Mark's order than vice versa
Choppy writing style.
Let it be definitively said: Awkwardness and choppiness, in a literary view, is NOT reason to suppose priority, and if anything, is good reason to suppose a later writing, since it is usually the case that better forms of a work are issued first. Moreover, the brevity and choppiness are better explained by seeing Mark's Gospel as Papias did - as a record of the preaching of Peter. [Reic.Root, 46, 57]
Also, Mark's brevity can be considered a device of rhetorical style -- Mark was an Hellenistic Jew, and demonstrates a close affinity to Greek tragedy style in the gospel. Oral tradition specialist Albert Lord [Walk.ID, 42f.] also notes oral narrative parallels of texts that tell the same story in a longer and shorter variation, which show that "shorter" is not necessarily "earlier" and may in fact be the result of more practical constraints.
In addition, Sanders and Davies [Sand.SSG, 72] make a pertinent point about those who claim, "Mark would not have messed up Matthew's or Luke's good grammar" as a point to Marcan priority (though this would not affect our thesis of Marcan and Matthean independence):
In fact, however, the entire notion of 'improvement' or its reverse is very shaky. People who rewrote material rewrote it in their own style. If a later author liked elegance and knew how to achieve it, the product would be more elegant. But the reverse could and often did happen. Many of the apocryphal gospels of the second and subsequent centuries are written in 'worse' Greek than Mark -- that is, worse by the Attic standard. Many authors, and no dount many readers and hearers, preferred more colloquial and less elegant prose. One can imagine many modern analogies. A sermon or lecture directed to a university audience might not go down very well if given before another audience.
Thus a common argument for Markan priority is a failure in reality.
As for Mark's alleged "primitive" Christology, let us remember that:
- If we wish to argue this, ALL of the Synoptic Gospels contain "primitive" Christologies compared to Paul's letters;
- Mark's "Christology" is far from primitive -- Mark's Jesus offers an advanced Christology that includes claiming divine purview to forgive sins (2:5); enacting the role of divine Wisdom by eating with sinners (2:15), claiming to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7 (2:28, 8:31, 9:9, etc.), walking on water, which the OT says that only God can do (4:35ff; cf. Job 9:8, Ps. 77:19); implicitly acknowldging Peter's identification by not rebuking it (8:29ff), saying that one's soul is dependent on one's reaction to him (8:35) and that God is his Father, and that he will come with God's angels (8:38), a self-reference to the Messiah (9:41),saying belief in him is paramount to eternal life (9:42).
Even in Mark's "action" gospel wher Jesus says comparatively little about anything, let alone about himself, there are ample indications that he knew and proclaimed his own position and that Mark had a Christology as high in essence as John's.
- If Mark is a record of Peter's preaching - well, not to denigrate Peter, but we are not exactly dealing with a top theologian here! Mark could have been drawn from Matthew or Luke just as easily as Billy Graham could borrow from R. C. Sproul.
Argument from order.
This is often considered the most powerful argument in the Markan priority arsenal: It is argued that there is no plausible reason why Mark should have broken up Matthew's order, but there are plausible reasons why Matthew should have broken up Mark's.
The catch to this, which I have not seen considered by QM theorists, is that whatever reason they may give for Matthew breaking up Mark can just as plausibly be attributed to Matthew for breaking up his own Aramaic Ur-Matthew if it was originally in a more "Markan" order. For another, one may construct reasonable hypotheses for any shift in order from one evangelist to another; more often than not arguments from order beg the question of the theory being proposed.
Neville  in a thorough study comparing use of "argument from order" by both QMers and Griesbachians concludes: "at the compositional level, both the Markan hypothesis and the two-gospel hypothesis are able to offer satisfactory explanations for the phenomenon of order."
This relates to an important point. It may be argued that Q and Marcan priority are widely held to be true, and are not to be questioned. Even if this is true - which it is not - it hardly affects whether your point of view is correct. Intelligently-expressed critiques of, and
alternatives to, the QM hypothesis are widely available; and I would add that from my own reading, it
seems that both are more often assumed on the back of Streeter or some other scholar
than it is thought out and justified by the individual writing.
Neville  notes E. P. Sanders' confirming observation that the standard QM hypothesis, though defended by learned advocates, "has been found wanting by most scholars who have studied the problem afresh since Streeter's synthesis." Neville himself concurs : "...most of the literature on the synoptic gospels during the past 150 years has either argued for or tacitly assumed Markan priority without paying attention to alternative perspectives in an even-handed way."
Further, let us look at a few authors who
have broken the "choke chain" of Markan priority and/or out of the the "Q" queue, and dared to
strike out on their own. The reader is encouraged to look up this material for their own study; we will make use of their findings when applicable.
Reicke [Reic.Root] sees no literary dependence at all between the Synoptics, finding that oral
exchange and personal contact between the evangelists explains the Synoptic similarities much
William Farmer has authored many books arguing for Matthean priority.
Butler (see [Kist.GCS, 37-8]) also favored Matthean priority.
Chapman (ibid.) proposed that Peter used Matthew's Gospel as a textbook, and added his own
recollections while preaching (which fits in with our thesis).
Linnemann [Linn.ISP], although quite judgmental and heavy-handed at times, makes a good
case for there having been no literary dependence among the Gospels whatsoever. In a sample
of 35 pericopes, she finds only 22.17% of the words are identical among all three Synoptics.
Allowing that some words will by nature have to appear in all three versions of the story (i.e.,
Jesus, and, he), this makes a very strong case for for her assertion that "[s]uch relatively trivial
word-for-word agreement furnishes no evidence for literary dependence." (129)
Stoldt [Stol.MH] performs a survey of the Marcan priority hypothesis, as well as other major
literary dependence theories, and finds them all wanting.
Rist [Rist.IMM], a classical scholar, finds it simplest to say that Matthew and Mark were independent products, in line with our thesis.
A group of secular and classical scholars in the 1970's (including Northrop Frye, Albert Lord, and George Kennedy) looked closely at the QM literary hypotheses and declared them inferior. Frye favored the Griesbach hypothesis, while Lord, an oral tradition specialist, averred that oral tradition could (as Reicke said) account for the variations.
Finally, there are the several members of the International Institute for the Renewal of Gospel
Studies who do not stand for Markan priority: Lamar Cope, David Dungan, Allan McNicol,
David Peabody, Philip Shuler - all published authors and Ph. D. holders.
One more note in closing is a certain "dirty little secret" about the claim that QM is a majority view: QM is itself only a paradigm within which multiple points of view exist. Those who adhere to a simple "Mark, Matt, Luke, Q and that's it" view are far from all we will find. We will find a veritable alphabet soup (much as in the JEDP theory of the Pentateuch) of sources, layers, and divergences used to explain away this or that problem in the basic QM theory.
Sanders [81-2] notes a problem of "overlap" between Mark and Q which causes theorists to see Matthew and Luke hopping back and forth between Q and Mark for even individual words and phrases. This raises a backlash of issues for QMers, for they must essentially refute their own arguments: the Mark-Q overlaps allow them to say that Matt and Luke copied overlapping sources independently, but it also leads to a conclusion that Mark knew about a large body of teaching material he did not include from Q, which in turn means that the Markan priority argument that "Mark could not have copied Matthew and left out all those teachings in Matthew" is itself refuted.
QMers also resort to a multitude of "saves," to different editions of Mark used by Matt and Luke, or to multiple Q documents, to M and L documents, and so on. If this is so, how can we say that QM is really held by a "majority" of scholars and that this means anything? Sanders concludes: "Few scholars have accepted the simple form of the hypothesis without exception, and once it becomes complicated, and exceptions are made, one is in fact accepting uncertainty." Sanders goes as far as speaking of adherence to the QM theory as "lip-service".
Getting Our Due on Mark and Q
As a preface to discussing specifics, I need to bring up some
general issues surrounding theories of literary dependence and the QM thesis.
- According to our critics, a need to posit direct literary
dependence is seen in that it explains "how the gospels parallel
each other in Greek word-for-word across dozens of passages even
though Jesus did not speak Greek." (Hawkins' Horae Synopticae devotes several pages to illustrating such matches.)
The assertion that Jesus did not speak Greek may not be
entirely true (any denizen of the Empire worth his salt would at least have enough Greek to ask where the bathroom was), but let's assume that it is for the moment. It can
be answered by asking the question: "What else would we
expect on any account?"
Let's say that the evangelists have
the sayings of Jesus in Aramaic (and given the paradigm within Judaism for preservation of teaching material, I see no reason to doubt that they did have these sayings in Aramaic, either in oral or in written form), and set narratives, and so on). If
two or three of them set out to translate the material into Greek,
would we truly expect wildly different results? Or would we expect
results that were very much similar with only minor variations (with variations also of the sort found in oral tradition)?
To use an example cited by Hawkins, there is "patch" (Mark 2:21/Matt. 9:16/Luke 5:36) -- this is used only here in the NT. But how many possible words are there for a patch that one puts over the garment with a tear? Hawkins does not say, so while we are assured that this is one of the "most remarkable" coincidences, we are never told why (even though in one case he admits a parallel is not stressed because they would be "naturally suggested" by the subject matter [59n]).
Nor are we given reasons why any particular parallel is "remarkable" and why it cannot be explained, for example, by Matt and Mark both having preferences established by local customary use of Greek in their common homeland of Palestine (as Hawkins admits of one particular parallel, which is explained by a "Jewish phrase" of which the Greek would be an "obvious rendering" ).
How can we not say that their common use of "patch" is any more remarkable that two Georgians both using the word "grits" rather than "hominy"? What of that within even a few years, the apostles would already have decided how to translate Jesus' words into the common language of the day, and thus to have a consensus on what words to use in many cases?
The argument from similarities in verbiage simply does not meet the burden of providing the only or most reasonable substantiation for the parallels. The only answer to this may be that one or more of the Synoptists deliberately varied the verbiage to disguise their reliance on a source, per standard methods for the day -- but once that premise is accepted, any reason to give Mark priority on such a basis also is lost.
Not too long ago I tried an experiment in which I asked three
native Spanish-speaking persons to translate the same English
passage -- the Gettysburg Address. Without knowing that the others
were doing exactly the same thing, each produced a translation that
was almost exactly the same. The only variations were in spelling;
they chose exactly the same words, in the same order, otherwise.
Now I will not go so
far as to suggest an exact parallel, for English-Spanish and
Aramaic-Greek is obviously not the same sort of species transition.
Nevertheless, every language has constraints of grammar, spelling,
and usage that must be kept to when translating from another
language. In order to show that the parallel Greek among the
Synoptics is a problem, the QMers must show us that there were
significantly different ways that the original Aramaic could have
been changed into Greek.
If the Aramaic used the word "run," and Greek had only one word for "run," then why would there be any variation from independent translation? If there are two words for "run" (maybe one means "running hard" and ther other "running fast"), and if context clues in as to which was intended (he got there fast because he was "running fast"), again we would expect no difference in choice. If context is freer, then we MAY see a variation among options; and ironically, where we do find different choices of terms, it is often because the context is free enough to permit a choice.
Then there are also matters of personal vocabulary of the authors. We do not of course possess the original
Aramaic, but at the very least a theoretical foundation can be laid
-- but I haven't seen it done yet, other than a few attempts by Maurice Casey (Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel) that were not done in service of any QM thesis.
Casey's points that Greek Matthew, however, smoothed out some apparent difficulties in Mark's Greek, caused particularly by Mark's translation of Aramaic material into Greek in a clumsy fashion, speaks very well to the idea of Mark having at his back an Aramaic source like Matthew's original or their common oral source (as even Hawkins admits is possible, and thus acknowledges that it cannot be said that commonalities cannot be accounted for this way ), and Matthew, an educated tax collector, doing a better job at translation.
Naturally this argument also does undermine favorite points of those who think that Matthew was used directly by Luke: for example, that Matt and Luke both use a past tense form of a verb where Mark uses a historical present. Under the current view, this is simply an idiosyncracy of common translation from Aramaic [except perhaps where Luke is improving Mark] and Mark's great use of the historical present is a function of Peter's storytelling technique while preaching.
For another example, take that Matt and Luke use a more correct agein rather than pherein used by Mark [11:2, 7; 15:1; 22]. Greisbach hypothesists like Farmer must rely on the obscure idea that the meaning of the latter encroached on the former; while this is possible, the simpler solution would be that all three, or at least Matt and Mark, independently chose a word from an Aramaic original, and that Peter, less competent in Greek than Matthew, chose a less appropriate word. Luke could have done the same, or indeed rejected Mark's choice.
As a final note, let it be stressed that the composition of Matthew in good Greek does NOT at all reflect that it did not start from an Aramaic original. The example of Lucian of Samasota [Walk.ID, 265], who was born into a poor Syrian family and presumably spoke Aramaic as his native tongue, yet produced works that showed mastery of Attic Greek "that betray nothing of his Aramaic background," warns against using style as too much of an indicator against origins.
One more interesting note is added by Mattila [Matt.Q, 206-9]: in the context of the ancient process of composition, the "word for word agreement" so valued by QM theorists actually points away from literary dependency and towards independent translation of a common original. Mattilla notes that ancient writers when using their sources did not usually copy verbatim, but made every effort to rewrite their sources, keeping the ideas while varying the content.
In this respect Luke is an intelligible rewrite of Mark or even Matt; but Matt is far from an intelligible rewrite of Mark (or Mark of Matthew), and paradoxically, the more similarities the theorists find, the less likely their theory becomes.
Of course theorists may retort that this is an exception, because the Gospel writers probably revered the words they copied more than average, but then they run right back into the signficiant differences in order and verbiage, some of which they claim occur because the Gospel writers hated or "corrected" each other so much. If anything this issue points in favor of a theory of Matthean and Markan independence. It also makes less intelligible any particular theory of order, since shifting of order is an obvious way of "hiding" your source.
- Assuming that Matthew and Luke copied Mark, the differences,
our critics tell us, "reveals an authorial freedom that suggests
material in the oral and written tradition was not as venerated as
we moderns tend to think."
The direction here is wrong: It would be
more accurate to say that the authorial freedom shows that the
tradition was not venerated in the same way as we moderns
would venerate it -- that is, by making sure it was preserved with
100% word-for-word accuracy and with 100% of all facts reported in 100% the same order.
But as Miller has shown
Jewish use of the OT Scriptures (and I'll add here, general literary production, as evidenced by parallel accounts in the major works of Josephus, for example) was quite "free"
as we would see it, and yet one could hardly argue that this
equates with a lack of "veneration." Critics have
apparently assumed a view of inerrancy along the lines
of divine transcription, but in so doing he fail to respect or
appreciate the actual concept of inspiration that is held by most
inerrantists today, not to mention the view of Scripture held by
Jews of the first century.
The upshot is that the "freedom" expressed by the
Synoptists is perfectly in line with their times and cannot be used
to support any kind of dependency theory in particular over
- Critics allege that if dependency of any kind is shown
(whether QM or some other type), then we must admit
that the Synoptists "arranged and composed their narratives for
specific theological purposes."
It seems we've snuck in a premise here: If the
material is arranged differently, then can it only be for a
theological purpose? Why? Could the purpose have not been,
for example, didactic? Literary? Historical? Grammatical?
Linguistic? Stylistic? Personal/experiential/preferential? Or some
combination of the above? And even if they were redacted for this purpose, how does this affect their original composition prior to being aranged and redacted?
Here we see that it is not so much the
theory of dependence that is being stressed (for again, even
inerrantists can work within the QM paradigm), but the "theory
behind the theory" which tries to explain why there are
differences. Defending QM or any literary theory is not the same as
defending the ideology behind it, but that is exactly what is happening. (For more on arrangement paradigms, see here.) If we are to hypothesize, why resort to psychological explanations rather than prosaic explanations such as not having enough paper to report a full story, or a quirk of ancient compositional practices, or Matthew's intent to produce a "teaching Gospel"?
Let us make a point is this as an example: Since there is such a wide divergence in reportage of. i.e., the first sermon of Jesus (on the Mount), either Matthew or Luke are doing some modifying, or both are. Given Matthew's obvious structure as a "teaching" gospel, it is much more likely that it is he who is re-arranging things, for didactic purposes, and any suggestion of a Q document is superfluous, unless it is involving an Aramaic Matthew, for which we DO have direct testimony. Oral teaching firmly implanted in the memory, combined with individual redactions for style, purpose, and so on, serve just as well -- and fit better the present evidence for Q (i.e., none).
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