Arguments for Marcan priority
Although there are several theories for the interrelationship of the synoptic Gospels, scholarship is mostly agreed on Marcan priority with respect to Matthew.
According to Warren Carter in his book, Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter Evangelist, “Matthew includes all but approximately 55 verses of Mark’s 661 verses. He uses about 8,555 of Mark’s 11,078 words… Matthew transmits, reinterprets, and reformulates Mark in five ways: (1) omitting, (2) adding and expanding, (3) reordering, (4) abbreviating, and (5) improving style.” (Carter, Warren. Matthew (pp. 53-54). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
Carter, on pages 55-57, summarizes the omitting of material by Matthew as follows:
- Omissions of References to Jesus’ Emotions and Limitations The Jesus of the Gospel of Mark experiences human emotions, weakness, and limitations in knowledge and actions. Matthew, however, removes many references to Jesus’ emotions, particularly “unfavorable” indications of Jesus’ impatience or frustration. (Mark 3:5 vs Matt 12:12, Mark 8:12 vs Matt 12:39 and Matt 16:2).
- Matthew generally omits references to Jesus’ inability to do something or to circumstances that seem to limit him. (Mark 6:4 vs. Matt 13:58, Mark 6:48 vs. Matt 14:25, Mark 8:23-25 vs. omitted in Matt)
- Mark’s Jesus displays ignorance by asking questions to elicit knowledge. Matthew omits these questions. He presents Jesus as already possessing knowledge or being sufficiently in control to have no need to know. (Mark 5:30, Mark 8:12, Mark 9:16)
- Matthew’s changes to Mark’s material recast the audience’s knowledge. Matthew’s more exalted presentation of Jesus guides the audience to greater reverence for and trust in Jesus. It decreases his human qualities and emphasizes those which show his control of circumstances.)
- A further set of omissions reformulates the audience’s knowledge of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Matthew recasts the presentation of the disciples found in Mark. Mark’s disciples are frequently uncomprehending, self-seeking, and faithless. Matthew’s disciples, while not ideal figures, more often model the faithful, understanding, and obedient discipleship required of his audience. (Mark 4:13, Mark 9:6, Mark 10:35-37)
Adding and Expanding Material
Regarding the author of Matthew Adding and expanding of material, Carter makes the following observations on pages 58-61.
- Matthew includes five major sections of Jesus’ teaching (chs. 5– 7, 10, 13, 18, 23– 25). Several of these sections expand on Mark’s material (compare Matt 13 with Mark 4; Matt 23– 25 with Mark 13) while the others add to Mark’s narrative (Matt 5-7; 10; 18). This supplies the audience with important teaching about discipleship, the church, and the coming judgment (eschatology). In chapter 18, for instance, the first nine verses follow Mark 9: 33– 50, although with abbreviation (compare Matt 18: 6-9 with Mark 9:42-50), omission (Mark 9:38–40), and relocation (Mark 9:41 with Matt 10:42). At verse 10, however, Matthew departs from Mark to provide further instruction about relationships among disciples. The next twenty-five verses have no parallel in Mark. He picks up Mark 10 again in chapter 19. (p. 58)
- Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5– 7) has no Markan parallel in form or content. Matthew creates this section by interrupting and reformulating Mark’s narrative at 1:21 “… and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught” (lit.).” Matthew changes the synagogue location to a mountain and replaces the synagogue audience with the newly-called disciples (Matt 5:1-2). Many have explained the change to a mountain as an explicit echo of Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The new setting enables the audience to understand Jesus as an authoritative figure who in the tradition of Moses reveals God’s will.
- After adding three chapters of teaching not found in Mark, Matthew picks up Mark 1:22 in Matt 7:28–29 to describe the response to Jesus’ teaching, “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (RSV) Matthew cites this verse word for word, except for two additions: (1) he adds “the crowds” to clarify Mark’s unspecified “they,” and (2) at the beginning of the verse he adds a clause, “When Jesus had finished these sayings” (Matt 7:28). He uses this same clause to close each of Jesus’ five major teaching blocks (see Matt 11:1; Matt 13:53; Matt 19:1; Matt 26:1). The last use, Matt 26:1, repeats the first use in Matt 7:28 word for word, except for the addition of the adjective “all” (“ when Jesus had finished all these sayings” [lit.]). For the audience, the repeated clause and added adjective connect the five teaching sections together and establish the close of Jesus’ teaching ministry before the passion. (p. 58-59)
- Matthew strengthens instruction for the audience about discipleship with the added and expanded teaching discourses. He also makes numerous other smaller additions through adding key words like “little faith,” “hypocrite,” and “lawlessness.” These additions contribute to the presentation of the identity and expected lifestyle of disciples, and indicate Matthew’s particular interest in ethical and faith-full behavior. (p. 61).
- One scholar has identified ninety-five words and phrases that are characteristic of Matthew (Davies and Allison (Matthew, 1.75– 76) list the ninety-five words from Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 4– 8). Other scholars add over a hundred more to the list. (Davies and Allison (Matthew, 1.77– 79) add 143 words. For similar lists, see Luz, Matthew 1– 7, 52– 73; Gundry, Matthew, 1–5, 641– 49.) Not all of these terms are added to Mark’s material; some derive from Matthew’s other sources. But the number of such terms indicates Matthew’s extensive efforts to affirm and reconfigure the audience’s understanding. Davies and Allison note that Matthew’s characteristic language is evidence of the importance of Christology eschatology, ethics, ecclesiology, and the role of the Hebrew Bible in this gospel. (p. 61)
Carter makes the following observations regarding Matthews’ reordering of material on pages 61-64.
- Matthew reorganizes the order of scenes in Mark’s narrative. This reordering is particularly pronounced in Matt 3:1-13: 58 (Mark 1– 6). (Carter, Warren. Matthew (p. 61). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
- To begin chapters 8– 9, Matthew rearranges Mark’s order in Mark 1:23-5 to give prominence to the story of the leper’s healing as the opening story in Matt 8:1-4 (Mark 1:40-45). To achieve this, he omits Mark 1:23-28 and Mark 1:35-39, placing Mark 1:40-45 ahead of the healing stories in Mark 1:29-31 and 32-34. The redaction critic D. J. Harrington sees several reasons for setting the story of the healing of the leper first. Jesus commands the healed leper to show himself to the priest (Matt 8:4) in accordance with Leviticus 14. This command demonstrates Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (5:17-48) that he came to fulfill, not abolish, the law and the prophets. So his followers must do the same. (pp. 62-63).
- Matthew 8 and 9 do not collect miracle stories for the sake of displays of power. Rather, they express Christological and ecclesiological (discipleship) concerns, reflecting the insights of the evangelist and his understanding of the needs and circumstances of his community. One important issue is the community’s relationship to Jewish traditions and heritage (Matt 8:4; Matt 9:13, Matt 9:14-17). The stories emphasize for the audience that this tradition continues, but as defined by Jesus. (p. 64)
Donald Senior, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, presents two major arguments for Marcan Priority. The first is the difficulty of explaining why Mark would have omitted much of the material found in Matthew and Luke if, in fact, Mark used them as a source. The second major argument for Marcan priority is based on content. In a number of instances, Matthew’s gospel appears to enhance the Greek style of Mark. It is more convincing to suggest that Matthew improved upon Mark’s Greek, rather than Mark downgrading Matthew’s superior style. The same holds true for a number of places where Matthew appears to upgrade Mark’s content or to eliminate passages in Mark that were possibly offensive or objectionable by his community. (The Gospel of Matthew, Donald Senior, Nashville : Abingdon Press: (1997), p. 22)
Matthew’s editorial changes to Mark
“The latter and more ecclesiastical standpoint of Matthew comes out definitely in his recasting of the Marcan traditions relating to the disciples and Jesus.” Several editorial changes to Mark exhibited by Matthew are summarized by James Moffatt in his Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament:
- The saying about the spiritual family of Jesus is confined to them (Matt 12:49) instead of being addressed generally to the bystanders (Mark 3:34)
- Matthew minimizes the faults of the disciples (Matt 13:16-18 with Mark 4:13, cp. Matt 13:51, Matt 14:33 with Mark 6:52; Matt 6:9-12 with Mark 8:17-22 ; cp. the significant omission of Mark 9:6 Mark 9:10 Mark 9:32, the smoothing down of Mark 9:33 in Matt 18:1, the change of Mark 10:32 in Matt 20:17 etc.), and endeavors to eliminate or to soften any trait derogatory to the credit of the twelve.
- A similar reverence for the character of Jesus appears Matthew’s omission of words or passages like Mark 1:43, Mark 3:5, Mark 3:21 (charge of madness) Matt 10:14 and Matt 11:3, and in changes like those of Matt 19:16 (Mark 10:17) and Matt 26:59 (cp. Mk 14:58)
- The miraculous power of Jesus is heightened in Matthew (contrast Matt 8:16 with Mark 1:32-33, Matt 17:17-18 with Mark 9:20-26 etc.), and the author shrinks as far as possible from allowing demons to recognize him as the Messiah
- In Matthew, the prophetic power of Jesus is also expanded and made more definite (cp. Matt 7:15, Matt 12:45, Matt 21:43, Matt 24:10, Matt 26:2 etc.)
(James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament Edinburgh, Clark, 1911, p 259-260)
Robert Lindsey: Marcan defects exhibited in Matthew
In his book, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Robert Lindsey describes how he came to discover the primacy of Luke over Mark and Matthew. He did this by comparing the texts side by side using a parallel Greek synopsis of the first three Gospels.
I therefore turned to a story-by-story, word-by-word, study of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke… To my surprise it turned out that Luke’s Gospel contained almost none of the non-Hebraic expressions so common in Mark! On the other hand Matthew, when copying Mark (or if copying Mark), appeared to reject about half the non-Hebraisms of Mark completely, to accept others without question and repeat them in exact Markan contexts, and to reject still others in the earlier chapters of his Gospel only to accept them in later portions.
Having long supposed that Luke, as the non-Jewish companion of Paul, tended to modify his text to make it more understandable to Greeks of pagan background, I was even more surprised to note that the Lukan text was almost always easier to translate to idiomatic Hebrew than was Mark. After several more years of study in which this observation has been confirmed again and again, I today find my early supposition amusing, but the point is that I was quite unprepared to suppose that of all the Synoptists Luke should prove to be the best in preservation of earlier texts.
An even stranger conclusion, if this is possible, began during these early days of research to force its way into my consciousness: where Matthew was parallel to Mark and Luke in any given story or sentence many, but not all, of the Markan translation difficulties reappeared in Matthew in the same or a somewhat modified form. but where Matthew was not parallel to Mark (whether in the stories only Luke and Matthew share or in those given only by Matthew) his text shown the same ease of translation as that of Luke. (Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, Jerusalem, Dugith Publishers, 1973, p.12)
Thus, Lindsey, although skeptical at first, came to the full revelation that Luke is superior and more consistent with original Hebraic source material as compared to Matthew and Mark saying “Luke is best in the preservation of earlier texts.” Regarding the last statement in the quote above, it describes his surprise with respect to Matthew, that it is inferior to Luke but also shares some parallels with Luke that are better than what is carried over from Mark as a source. This is the principal reason why he and others have speculated that Luke was written before Matthew. However, all that is really established by the observation is that a narrative similar to Luke preceded Matthew. This can be understood as Proto-Luke if not the canonical Luke we know today.
Lindsey’s Reassessment of the Synoptic Problem
In coming to terms with Luke Primacy, Lindsey further explores the implications.
Without quite realizing it and quite without intending it, I thus found myself questioning whether our Mark could, in fact, be the principal narrative source standing equally behind Matthew and Luke in their so-called Markan portions. It looked as if Luke had universally copied more faithfully whatever Greek sources he had and that these had been translated earlier from a Hebrew source or sources, or at least from some Semitic document or documents so much like Hebrew that in retranslation it was impossible to tell the difference. It also looked as if Matthew had indeed used Mark’s Gospel with all its redactic expressions but had rejected many of these for some reason I could not yet explain… (Ibid pp. 12-13)
According to his statement above, he supports the view that Matthew uses Mark (as it carries redactic expressions within Mark), yet that Matthew used a source consistent with Luke, implying a type of Luke narrative came before Matthew. Again, this is consistent with the view Proto-Luke preceded both Matthew and Mark.
Minor Agreements are known as consistencies between two of the three Synoptics that one of the Gospels (usually Mark) does not share with the other two. Lindsey realized that he could locate a Minor agreement by reviewing the Greek text and analyzing whether it has a Semitic background by evaluating how translatable it is back into a Hebraic language. What he found was a highly literal Greek translation of a Semitic original he considered coming from a source he called Proto-Narrative. This process led him to believe that Matthew is “dependent on a text like Luke (if not Luke)” and his continued investigation of the phenomenon led him to the following conclusions. (Ibid, p. 17)
1. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the strong dependence of Luke on a non-Markan text.
2. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the redactic methods of Mark, for they show us exactly what some of the words and phrases are which Mark rejects and we are able to study his re- placement terms and expressions in these cases.
3. The Minor Agreements help to clarify the methods of Matthew when faced with more than one parallel account: it is clear that he combines his texts by alternately choosing phrases, first from one text and then from the next, with the result that he achieves a kind of interwoven effect. We may quite rightly call this Matthaean achievement a Weave Effect, though we must not suppose that Matthew’s text alone can be described in this fashion; Mark’s redactive methods produced a similar effect.
4. The Minor Agreements help us to clarify the nature of the early narrative which apparently lies behind all the Synoptic Gospels. This proto-narrative is certainly best seen in Luke but can be partially seen in Matthew in his Minor Agreements with Luke in Markan contexts and may appear in Matthew’s highly Hebraic texts which are consistently found in non-Markan contexts. This undertext shows some signs of annotation and editing by a Greek writer but apparently preserves within it a highly literal Greek translation of a Hebrew original. (Ibid, pp. 17-18)
Corresponding to point 4 above, Lindsey makes the observation that in the Triple Tradition, that is, where text is common to Matthew Mark, and Luke, he observed a “great difference between Matthew and Luke as to the amount of their respective dependence on Mark” affirming again, “the text of Luke turns out to be Semitically better than either Mark or Matthew in the Triple Tradition.” (Ibid, p. 19)
Based on the number of evidences described above, Lindsey was forced after some time to reconsider the order of the Gospels. He acknowledges at first he was inclined to view things differently.
My failure even to ask whether the Mk- Lk relationship had been correctly apprehended undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that I was insufficiently aware of any serious contenders to the theory of Markan Priority and was also probably due to my predilection to think of Luke as the Gentile Christian modifier of the earlier Gospel sources, an idea I must have picked up long ago in the usual ways of untested deduction.
For instance, the fact that Luke preserves a Greek text which normally retranslates easily to Hebrew and almost always fails to give even a hint of an expression which could be interpreted as the remnant of a Markan non-Hebraism should have led me to suspect that Luke is uninfluenced by Mark and derives his usually excellent translation-text directly from a proto-source. I should also have asked why a writer like Mark, who enjoyed re-writing as much as he did, should not have been deliberately changing the wording not only of his proto-narrative but also of Luke, thus becoming the creator of the strange verbal distance between Matthew and Luke. (Ibid. p 26)
The key change in perspective came from observing that Luke has a highly consistent Hebrew-Greek style, while Matthew seemed “to be weaving together Markan redactic phrases and PN expressions.” (p. 27) Here again, a Lukan Proto-Narrative (PN) is implicated.
Summary and Examples
Luke’s gospel is the most accurate and consistent with the Hebraic source material grounding the Synoptic Gospels. It is superior to both Matthew and Mark which has led some to speculate that it was written before Matthew and Mark. In the forward to the Hebrew translation of the Gospel, David Flusser of Hebrew University provides the following example. (Note halachah (also spelled Halakhah) refers to Jewish law. Per its literal translation, “the way,” halachah guides the day-to-day life of a Jew.)
If we follow Lindsey’s of the Synoptic situation it is not surprising that we often find many evidences to suggest that Luke’s version is the most accurate and that Matthew has been too often unduly influenced by Mark, even when he is correcting Mark by his parallel texts. The story of the Man with the Withered Hand (Mk 3:1-6 and parallels) is a case in point. In the story Jesus’ opponents watch to see if he will heal a man on the Sabbath in a way opposed to the halacha. None of the Synoptists suggest that there was any open criticism of Jesus’ action. There is no discoverable reason why there should have been such a criticism, for this kind of healing (by command) was not in opposition to the halacha. Yet both Mark and Matthew, in almost identical words, state that “the Pharisees” (Mark adds also “the Herodians”) took counsel against Jesus “to destroy him”. Luke significantly says only that Jesus’ opponents “discussed among themselves” what to do “to” Jesus…
The incident in the Gospels must have occurred much as Luke has stated it. Jesus looks at the unfortunate man and in provoking challenge to all present says, “Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or destroy it?” He then tells the man to stretch out his hand and as he does so the hand is healed. There is certainly an implied criticism of Sabbath legalism in Jesus’ words but he has done nothing wrong. Luke’s “they discussed what to do to Jesus” may only mean “they discussed what could be done to Jesus.”… Mark, however, takes the phrase to mean that “they counseled with each other” with a view to doing what a later group of high priests would counsel together to do, namely, destroy Jesus. Mark has leapt ahead to a later event and attributed motives of a later time to the detractors of Jesus who.. are unhappy with the seeming imprudence of Jesus. (Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Mark, , Jerusalem, Dugith Publishers, 1973, pp.4-5)
Flusser further outlines the lessons to be learned in comparing the Synoptic Accounts.
The first [lesson] is that any normal philological reasoning would indicate the priority or greater authenticity of Luke’s accounts. Water does not flow uphill. It is simply impossible to believe that the Matthaean-Markan account could be changed secondarily into the Lukan form… The second lesson is that understanding of the language usages of Jesus’ time can quite often throw immediate light on questions of originality in our Gospels. The third is that Matthew is indeed secondary to Mark and Mark to Luke, for only in such an order of dependence can we see how Matthew can accept the secondary oddity of the Markan text. (Ibid, p.5)
In the forward, Flusher provides a couple of additional examples of the primacy of Luke in comparison to Mark and Matthew:
The high originality of Luke and the secondary character of Mark (so often repeated in Matthew) can be further illustrated in one of the most important areas of the Gospel story, the so-called trial of Jesus. Most of the difficulties which have plagued students of the “trial” have come as a result of the concentration of scholars on the Matthaean-Markan version of this event to the neglect of Luke. I want here only to mention two important points connected with the discussion…
In the Gospel of Luke, no mention of a condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish authorities is recorded. This is of special interest in view of the failure of Luke to follow Mark in such a mention either at the point of the “trial” or in the recording of Jesus’ third prophecy of his demise in Jerusalem… Luke does not hesitate to report the delivery of Jesus to Pilate by the Jewish authorities yet does not mention the Markan “condemnation,” and when we note that Mark’s “all judged him worthy of death” (Mark 14:64) can easily be Mark’s interpretation and extension of the conclusion of the high priest’s decision in Luke 22:71.
The second point concerns the Matthaean-Markan agreement that the high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy. Scholars have labored long and lovingly to explain what might have been the nature of this blasphemy… None of our Synoptic materials give any facts which clarify the charge of blasphemy. The accusation of blasphemy is absent from Luke, as it the Markan reference to the tearing of the high priest’s cloths. There is only an interrogation by the high priests and a most remarkable description of Jesus’ dialogue with the priests the rabbinic sophistication of which is not less astounding than the Hebrew word order and idiom of the account. There is every reason to accept the Lukan version in preference to that of Matthew and Mark. (Ibid, p. 6-7)
A statistical review of parallel DT and TT passages indicates Matthew inherited Markan defects
Halvor Ronning, in his second article of four-part series on “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem,” brings into consideration the statistics of “Double Tradition” (DT) and his prior Triple Tradition (TT) analysis outlined in his first article. His use of this general term is regarding all Synoptic Gospel material that is attested by two Gospels but not found in the third Gospel. Ronning’s summary of the conclusion from these results from the statistical analysis is as follows:
This scenario gives a totally consistent picture of Matthew in three of the four contexts. The exception is when Matthew writes a story that has a parallel not only in Luke, but also in Mark. Then Matthew’s average of verbal identity with Mark remains high (48% as just indicated), but Matthew’s average of verbal identity with Luke drops radically from 47% to 20%, just because Mark happens to have the same stories! This is a radical change because it is less than half of Matthew’s average verbal identity with Luke in those parallels shared with Luke alone without the presence of Mark.
This radical change is elegantly explained by the Luke→Mark→Matthew scenario. The dramatic shift between Matthew’s ability to replicate approximately 50% of Luke’s wording when there is no parallel in Mark to a 20% rate when Mark is parallel to Luke is explained as Matthew’s continuing in precisely the same overall steady faithfulness to his sources as always. It becomes clear that it is precisely Matthew’s faithfulness to Mark, the immediate source before him, which was the very cause of the distance from Luke.
Matthew is consistent in his average use of Mark’s wording whether Luke has a parallel or not. It is Mark’s relationship to Luke that causes the distance, not Matthew’s relationship to Luke. It has nothing to do with any change in Matthew’s attitude toward Lukan material. Matthew treats Lukan material the same way he treats Markan material: with the same consistent 50% average—as long as Mark is not present. But since Matthew has chosen (for whatever reason) to follow the Markan material as primary, this decision causes Matthew himself automatically to reflect Mark’s distance from Luke. Indeed it is precisely the amount of distance from Luke that demonstrates the fact that Matthew got nearly all of his Lukan words in Triple Tradition though Mark, because the amount of distance fits so perfectly with what could be predicted from Matthew’s use of Markan wording.
It is most impressive to note the near perfect predictability of the distance between Matthew and Luke precisely because Matthew kept relating exactly the same way to Markan material whether Luke was present or not. Since Mark’s wording has only a 32% relationship to Luke’s TT material, and Matthew has a 50% relationship to Mark’s material, this allowed us to predict that Matthew’s relationship to Lukan material would drop to 16%, because the Lukan material is not coming directly to Matthew, but only through Mark as the intermediary.
(Halvor Ronning, “A Statistical Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Part 2—Double Tradition,” Jerusalem Perspective (2016), https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/15304/)
Conclusion regarding the narratives as presented by Matthew
According to G.D. Kilpatric, in The Origins of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the main grouping of narratives in Matthew are as follows:
(a) The Nativity stories.
(b) Petrine stories: Matt 14:28-31, Matt 16:17-19, Matt 17:24-27 with which we must take Matt 18:15-22; cf. Matt 15:15
(c) Passion and Resurrection stories: 26:52-54, Matt 26:3-10, Matt 27:19, Matt 27:24, Matt 27:51-53, Matt 27:62-66, Matt 28:2-4, Matt 28:9-20
(d) Miscellaneous narrative: Matt 3:14, Matt 4:23, Matt 9:35, Matt 15:22-24, Matt 27:6, Matt 21:10, Matt 21:14-16
In summarizing the first four groupings, he sums up his conclusions as follows:
Traces of the evangelist’s style have been marked. Where it was available, Mark provided the skeleton on which the various additions were built. There is a noticeable increase in the legendary and the marvelous. Apologetic and other motives for the late date appear. Several examples enable us to see the various stages of construction in the development of peculiar elements. All these facts taken together point to the conclusion that for this additional matter the editor had no written source before him. (G.D. Kilpatrick, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2007 p. 55)