Markan (Marcan) vs. Matthean Priority


This one is about the debate over whether or not Matthew or Mark's Gospel was written before the other. Part 2 cites from Dungan's A History of the Synoptic Problem which argues for Matthean Priority and discusses the origins of the historical-critical method of studying the Bible. From the RCatholic-L list of Yahoo Groups.

<< But I want to express some caution even here. So many Catholic scholars adopted the Markan Priority theory and the unfounded notion of the "Q" source that all 20-century Catholic biblical scholarship must be read with a caveat. >>

Ah! Now you're getting into deep waters which I feel hesitant about wading into! <g>

But, I don't object per se to thinking it's likely Mark's Gospel was the first to be written. And, that Matthew and Luke drew on Mark as a source. I don't consider such a view to contradict any teachings of the Church.

<< The Protestant scholars who came up with the Q theory had an agenda: to discredit the Church's tradition (since apostolic times) that Matthew was the first-composed Gospel. That is because Matthew most strongly presents the case for the Church as a body led by Peter, and for the Eucharist as the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. >>

But, in matters where it comes down to questions of historical priority, what counts is judging on the basis of the known evidence which Gospel was written first. (What happens now is that the Oxford Fragments of St. Matthew's Gospel will have to be dated 15 years earlier than usually thought.)

After all, the EARLIEST written testimony to the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass is not from any of the Gospels but in St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (11.23-32). The letter may have been written around AD 56. Before any of the four Gospels were written. (Unless St. Mark's Gospel already existed in AD 55 or 56.)

<< Two contemporary scholars who argue effectively for Matthean priority are Dom Bernard Orchard, OSB, and Scott Hahn. >>

Haven't heard of Dom Orchard, But I'll keep him in mind. And, I do have some of Dr. Hahn's stuff: ROME SWEET HOME and his book about the Mass: THE LAMB'S SUPPER.

<< I think _any_ program of Scripture study must take into account the faulty Markan Priority viewpoint in many Catholic sources and balance it with readings from those who (correctly) argue that Matthew's is the first Gospel. >>

But, I think when it comes to merely historical questions like priority of composition, we are free to judge as best we can on the known evidence. I do not agree that accepting Markan Priority means casting doubt on the Real Presence or Petrine Primacy.

As for the question of Markan Priority, I'll quote what the late Fr. Raymond E. Brown wrote on pages 164-165 of AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT (Anchor/Doubleday, 1997):

"(1) As explained in Chapter 6, This INTRODUCTION works with the thesis that Matt and Luke used Mark. Yet for many centuries the dominant view was Augustine's thesis that Mark was little more than an epitome of Matt; and recently attention has been given to the (modified) Griesbach hypothesis wherein Mark drew on Matt (p. 113 above). It is instructive to test the theological consequences of positing Marcan dependence on the other Synoptics. For instance, Mark would have omitted the Lord's Prayer and the four beatitudes that Matt and Luke agree upon. As for christology, if Mark was written after Matt and drew on it, at a period when the title "God" for Jesus was becoming more common, Mark 10:17-18 would have complicated Matt 19:16-17 by gratuitously introducing an objection to giving Jesus a title that belonged to God alone. Mark 6:5 would have introduced the idea that Jesus could not do miracles at Nazareth, changing the statement of Matt 13:58 that he did none.

"Some claim that Matthean priority and Marcan dependence support traditional Roman Catholic positions, but Mark's presentation of Mary and Peter becomes all the more difficult if the evangelist knew Matt and/or Luke. Mark would have deliberately omitted the infancy narratives of Matt and Luke, even the details in which they both agree, including the conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Mark would have consciously added two items lacking in Matt and Luke pertinent to Mary, namely, that Jesus' own family thought he was "beside himself" (3:19b-21) and that he received no honor from his own relatives (6:4). As for the Marcan view of Peter and the apostles, Mark would have deliberately omitted both Matt 16:16-19 that makes Peter the rock on which the church was built, and Luke 22:31-34 that has Peter strengthening his brothers after his own failure. (Even though those are not passages shared by both Matt and Luke, Mark can scarcely not have noticed the impact of omitting such positive passages.) Mark would have deliberately omitted the promise of Jesus to the disciples in Matt 19:28 and Luke 22:29-30 whereby they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mark 4:38 would have made the disciples more rude to Jesus than they were in Matt 8:25. Using a book with the Gospels in parallel columns, readers are invited to test other examples of Marcan thought and procedure in the Griesbach hypothesis."

As you can see, I think the hypothesis of Matthean Priority has its own weaknesses!

Moreover, to paraphrase Vern Humphrey (of the RCatholic-L list), if the Four Gospels are divinely inspired, does it matter which was written first? All four complete and supplement each other's depiction of Christ.


Part 2

Vern Humphrey is VH>, Sean is SMB>

Hi, Vern. Hope you're well. Thanks for this note.

SMB> But it doesn't surprise me! This kind of "logic" goes back a LONG way. Ultimately, straight back to Luther's claim that only the INDIVIDUAL can decide what is right or wrong. That is, denying that Truth can exist independently of one's personal wishes. That's what I think, anyhow. >>

VH> Which is the precursor of "situational ethics" -- a method of rationalizing whatever you want to do, on the grounds that, however wrong it USUALLY is, it's right in this particular situation. >>

Yep! And also called "moral relativism." My comments above were inspired by reading David Laird Dungan's A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM (Anchor/Doubleday: 1999).

This is a truly amazing, even COUNTER revolutionary book. Far too briefly, Dungan analyzes the origins of the historical criticism method of studying the Bible. He argues that this method goes back to anti-religious philosophers or skeptics like Baruch Spinoza and John Locke--who raised questions about the history, languages, canon, etc., of the Bible to deny it's supernatural origins and purposes. Plus, trying to prevent people from letting the Bible speak for itself. Spinoza and Locke wanted to "reinterpret" the Bible to force into it their preferred political and economic beliefs. AND refuse to let the Bible speak for itself.

Here's a small example of Dungan's argument from page 7 of THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM:

"The chapter on Spinoza is especially significant in the overall design of this book, since it lays out for the first time, as far as I can tell, the POLITICAL agenda animating the modern historical-critical method. Few modern biblical scholars realize that their biblical scholarship serves a definite political agenda, namely, the creation and maintenance of political democracy. Even rarer is the realization that Spinoza's main purpose for inventing the historical-critical method was to destroy the Bible's usefulness for traditional religious and political purposes. Since this claim will undoubtedly strike my colleagues as unlikely in the extreme, I have laid out the evidence from Spinoza's writings with particular care."

Dungan wrote that Spinoza was motivated by hostility to the supporters of the house of Orange in the Netherlands.

Also, Dungan wrote that the late Fr. Raymond Brown was one of the few major biblical scholars who were aware of the anti-religious bias of the inventors of the historical-critical method. As I understand Dungan from a hasty skimming, part of Fr. Brown's work was in showing how the historical-critical method can be LEGITIMATELY used independently of the anti Christian/Jewish prejudices of its inventors.

This was far too brief. Dungan also discussed the work of Origen and St. Augustine. The author even casts doubt on Markan priority. But I haven't gotten that far in his argument!

Pax tecum. Sean

SMB> Because Luther's relativizing of the conscience inevitably undermined confidence in long existing institutions? >>

VH> Empirically, that is clearly the case. Look at the fragmentation of Protestantism, the different sects totally opposed to each other. Luther acted as a centripidal force, and his legacy is a still fragmenting system of churches so diverse in their beliefs that the message is unrecognizable. >>

Correct! And not merely a tragic fragmenting of Christianity, but also a fragmenting of European unity. Think of the civil wars in 16th cent. France between Catholics and Prots. And of how Protestantism led directly to the shattering of the Holy Roman Empire in the Thirty Years War.

VH> In fact, as we have seen in the last year, Matthew may well be the oldest of the gospels, after all. >>

SMB> Seems like that! In fact, after reading Dungan's review of the works of scholars like John Chapman, B.C. Butler, and W.R. Farmer, etc., I'm no longer so sure Matthew was not the first of the canonical gospels to be written. >>

I was esp. interested by Dungan's comments about Fr. Chapman because I already have some of his other works. He was one of the scholars who dared to criticize the Two Source Hypothesis. I'll quote again from A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM, pages 369-370:

"In England, opposition to the Two Source Hypothesis was not lacking either. In 1915, E.W. Lummis published HOW LUKE WAS WRITTEN, an attack on the view that Luke and Matthew had been composed independently of each other. A few years later, H.G. Jameson published THE ORIGIN OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS. He said that the mere comparison of the orders of pericopes in all three Gospels was quite inconclusive, being open to at least four simple interpretations. Jameson preferred Augustine's solution. Moreover, he said that the numerous agreements between Luke and Matthew against Mark, not only in passages where they are supposedly following Mark but differ slightly from him in precisely the same way in hundreds of cases (the minor agreements), but also in passages where Matthew and Luke share large blocks of identical material not found in Mark constituted prima facie evidence that Luke knew and used the Gospel of Matthew. Neither Lummis nor Jameson was ever adequately answered.

"Opposition tended to be muted for a time after Canon Burnett Hillman Streeter published his landmark study on the Two Source Hypothesis, THE FOUR GOSPELS: A STUDY OF ORIGINS, TREATING OF THE MANUSCRIPT TRADITION, SOURCES, AUTHORSHIP, AND DATES (1924). Indeed, this massive book effectively silenced the opposition for decades. When, in 1937, the research of a former abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Downside, John Chapman, was published posthumously under the title MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE: A STUDY IN THE ORDER AND INTERRELATION OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS, it was met with a resounding silence. Chapman decided that the arguments of Lummis and Jameson pointing away from Markan priority to a hypothesis similar to Augustine's was right, but there was little academic response."

SMB> Too briefly, many of the early advocates of Markan priority were guilty of using circular arguments, inadequate evidence, or sheer dishonesty in their support for Markan priority. Many 19 cent. German liberal biblical scholars favoring the Two Source Hypothesis had very partisan axes to grind. That is, hatred of Jews and Catholics. >>

VH> Indeed -- which is why such criticism should always be regarded with suspicion. >>

Absolutely correct! To say nothing of how that kind of skepticism is exactly what scholars NEED. Here's another bit from Dungan's A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM showing how politics distorted biblical scholarship (from page 327):

"This brings us to a side of Heinrich Julius Holtzman not mentioned in previous histories of the Synoptic Problem: the contribution Holtzman's synthesis [of the Two Source Hypothesis] made to the national political agenda. From his earliest days as a student and young faculty member at Heidelberg, Holtzman had been active in the tumultuous political struggles of the time. A central national issue was whether the numerous small German estates should align themselves with Protestant Prussia, shutting out the huge Roman Catholic Austria-Hungary to form a Protestant dominated "Small Germany" or whether they should strive for unity with all the German states, including Roman Catholic Austria-Hungary to form a "Greater Germany." In 1863 (the same year his book was published), Holtzman helped found an organization known as the Protestant Union (opposed to Catholic tendencies) and he ran for office in the Baden provincial parliament, where he advocated liberal educational policies. In 1866, the great Prusso-Austrian War broke out over the question of German unification. Holtzman immediately took the lead in his faculty to plead in favor of Prussian hegemony and a Protestant dominated Small Germany."

Rather interesting to think that if the Austrians had won the very hard fought and narrowly lost battle of Koniggratz the Two Source Hypothesis might have faded away!

VH> Look at the argument that Matthew mistranslated "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son" (Mt 1,23), mistaking a Greek for "virgin" for the hebrew word meaning "young woman." >>

In strict fairness, depending on context, "young woman" probably did mean "virgin" in some cases.

VH> Among many problems with this interpretation is that the translation was done by the famous 70 scholars who translated the Septaugent -- and they SURELY knew what the words meant. >>

I agree.

VH> Also, it assumes that Matthew collected scriptural prophesies and constructed a gospel around them -- when the opposite is obvious what happened; he wrote a gospel, and inserted scripture as he saw it apply. He didn't think Mary was a virgin because of an Old Testament prophesy, he inserted the Old Testament prophesy because Mary was a virgin. >>

Again, I agree. And, in fact, the NAB does have the word "virgin" in Matthew 2.23 (quoting the LXX of Isaiah 7.14).

SMB> So, while I think it is possible to defend Markan priority, scholars will have to start over and do a much better and HONEST job doing that. Also, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls had the ironic effect of forcing scholars to face the fact of the JEWISH origins of Christianity. >>

VH> Jesus was obviously very unthinking in being who He was, and saying what He said -- He's made it inconvenient for those with private agendas. :-) >>

VERY inconvenient! I'm reminded of how many 19th cent. German liberal biblical scholars DETESTED Matthew 16.17ff. Far too CATHOLIC. <g> I'm also reminded of how some of the Muslims I debated with were most unwilling to admit Our Lord was a Jew. Hmmm, maybe Protestantism and Islam have some similarities???

Pax tecum. Sean

SeanMBrook@aol.com


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