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):
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.
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:
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:
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):
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. >>
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
Back to Apologetics Articles
Back to Home Page
About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links