Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Which was first: Matthew or Mark?

Modern Biblical scholarship generally holds that mark was written first, despite the church tradition.
The majority of NT scholars hold to Markan priority (either the two-source hypothesis of Holtzmann or the four-source hypothesis of Streeter).

Still, as we enter a new century, some form of the Two Source hypothesis continues to be preferred by an overwhelming majority of critically trained New Testament scholars as the theory that is best able to resolve the synoptic problem.

It is the near-universal position of scholarship that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. This position is accepted whether one subscribes to the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis or instead prefers the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

Argument from Grammar

I am no expert in Koine greek, so will just quote a couple of web sites.

Stein lists three broad categories of Mark’s poorer stylistic abilities: (1) colloquialisms and incorrect grammar, (2) Aramaic expressions, and (3) redundancies. The first and second arguments are significant for pericopes which Mark shares with either Matthew or Luke; the third is valuable for considering material omitted in Mark.

But when the word usage of Matthew and Luke is compared with Mark, it is apparent either that Matthew and Luke have in large measure changed the colloquial or Semitic text of Mark into better Greek, and have done so in the same or similar ways, or that only Matthew or Luke has affected any such alteration: cf. the replacement of κραβαττος (Mk. 2:4) by κλινη (Matthew) or κλινιδιον (Luke), or the change of the difficult construction τι ουτος ουτως λαλει; βλασφημει (Mk. 2:7) in different ways by Matthew and Luke.

The Argument From Order

Again, I will quote a web site
To put this another way: in the narratives common to all three, Matthew and Luke agree in sequence only when they agree with Mark; when they both diverge from Mark, they both go in different directions. What best accounts for this? Most NT scholars have assumed that Markan priority does. Some have gone so far as to say that Lachmann proved Markan priority.

The Argument From Developing Godhood

The argument here is that the later work better recognises Jesus as god incarnate, being the product of a more developed theology.
But the best instance is the difficult passage about the purpose (or effect) of parables. Butler's treatment of this leaves me quite unconvinced. Matthew seems here to be trying hard to extract a tolerable sense from the intolerable statement that Mark appears to be making, namely that Jesus taught in parables to prevent outsiders from having a chance of understanding and being converted. He assumes that Mark's "all things are (done) in parables" means "I speak in parables." But recent commentators have suggested a line of interpretation of Mark's text which the present writer finds wholly satisfying; namely that the same teaching is put before all by Jesus, but whereas some by God's grace penetrate to its inner meaning, for others it remains external, a parable and nothing more; and herein the dark purpose of God, as predicted in Isaiah, is fulfilled. Mark may have partly misunderstood what he recorded; but it seems certain to the present writer that his words are closer to the original, and that Matthew's version is an unsuccessful attempt to simplify what he found intolerable.

In this context, it is worth noting that Jesus tends to be called Rabbi in Mark, and Lord in Matthew, consistent with his godhood become more obvious.

Mark begins with Jesus' baptism, which could easily be read as when God adopted Jesus as his son. The later works, Matthew and Luke, recognise that Jesus was divine from birth, so start at the nativity (while John, later still, has Jesus part of the godhead from creation).

The Historical Perspective

The primary evidence that Matthew was written first is the tradition started by the early church fathers, and this seems to stem from this statement by Papias (c. AD 60-140):

"Matthew composed the reports in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could."

This certainly points to a document written by the apostle, but is this the gospel we have today with his name? Modern scholarship suggests that it is not, as the gospel we have was almost certainly originally written in Greek.

It may be that the gospel we have draws on the Hebrew original, and perhaps was given the name it has for that reason, but they are two distinct works.


What Did Mark Omit From Matthew?

If we suppose Matthew was written first, then we have to wonder why Mark chosen to omit so much in his gospel. Fully 45% of Matthew's gospel has been deleted in Mark's editing, according to this hypothesis. Did he consider it unimportant? Some bizarre omissions:

1. Many Christians would say the Sermon on the Mount was an important event; why did Mark choose to omit it?

2. Was Jesus' birth, accompanied by miracles as it supposedly was, not important?

3. Did Mark really decide Jesus' post-resurrection appearances were not worth keeping when he was deciding what he could cut from Matthew's gospel?

4. Was the Lord's Prayer of so little significance to Mark that he felt it could be omitted?

5. The Great Commission was Jesus' instructions to the Christian church, and yet supposed Mark did not think it worth including.

What Did Matthew Omit From Mark?

On the other hand, if Mark was first, why did Matthew omit what he did? Firstly, of course, Matthew omitted very little of Mark. About 94% of Mark's gospel appears in Matthews; he only left out 6%.

While it is difficult to understand Mark's motives, if his gospel is the derivative, by and large we can understand Matthew's choices, as the next section will illustrate. 

Some differences

Let us look at some verses and see the actual differences. Here is an example of some text Matthew ommited (omissions in bold):
Mark 1:40 And a leper[g] came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus[h] sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
Matthew 8:2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
What we see here is Jesus becoming more God-like in Matthew, with his human emotions stripped away (and this fits with what we saw before, with Jesus being referred to as "lord" rather than "rabbi".
Mark 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 
Matthew 12:9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
Here again Matthew has removed the references to Jesus' emotions, and yet chosen to expand on the encounter in another way.

This verse in Mark is noticeably absent in Matthew:
Mark 3:20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
It is easy to understand why Matthew would choose to edit that out. But why would Mark, whose purpose is supposedly to condense Matthew's gospel, going to choose to add a statement by Jesus' own family that Jesus was out of his mind?

When Jesus exercises the demons into pigs, in Mark's account Jesus has to ask the demon its name.
Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 And when Jesus[b] had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
Not so in Matthew's account. It is also notable that Matthew's account is rather more succinct. If we assume Matthew used Mark, then we can see that Matthew has made the account more concise and chosen to delete the bit where Jesus is not all-knowing.
Matthew 8:28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[e] two demon-possessed[f] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.

If Mark was trying to make a shortened version of Matthew, why did he make this accout so long-winded? In fact, this is seen thoughout the gospel. Mark is actually [i]less[/i] concise than Matthew, which strongly argues against him choosing to write a condensed version of Matthew's gospel.

Mark 6:4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:57 ... But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

In Mark, Jesus seems unable to do much in the way of mighty works. Matthew here has toned that down to make it read as though Jesus has chosen not to.

This is the parable of the wicked tenants:
Mark 12:10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;[b]
11 this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Matthew has added something:
Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;[d]
this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 [b]Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.[/b] 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Matthew, written later, is recognising that the Jews have largely rejected Jesus, and it is with the gentiles that the future of Christianity lies (and this is why Matthew includes the Great Commission).