The authorship of the Gospels is a topic that is interesting. There has been much work done on the topic and modern scholarship, at least since the 19th century, has come to the conclusion that the Gospel of Mark was written first. This was not always the case, and many church fathers held that Matthew was written first. There are similarities within Matthew, Mark, and Luke that would eventually become known as the synoptic problem.
This would eventually lead scholars to conclude that the three must have had a common source in which they got their material. Further research showed that Matthew and Luke contained great amounts of the Gospel of Mark that were elaborated on. One of the notions in modern scholarship is the idea of the Q source. This source was said to have contained sayings of Jesus and utilized by Mark in the creation of his Gospel. The purpose of this post is to dig deeper into the scholarship of Q as well as the tradition of the early church idea of Matthean priority to determine if Mark wrote his Gospel first as modern scholarship asserts.
The Early Church on Matthew and Mark
As previously stated, the early church believed that the Gospel of Matthew was written first. This was the view of Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine among others. The great early church historian Eusebius, though not naming names, records the overall view of the Christian church at the time. In book VI of his Church history, he writes that he learned that Matthew wrote his Gospel first and that was initially in the Hebrew language and was later translated to Greek. Clement of Alexandria would also say that Luke was written before Mark.
Mark was believed to be an abbreviation of the Gospel of Matthew, and as such some such as Augustine, saw it as important but inferior. It soon proved to be an invaluable work and many in the early church attribute the Author to being John Mark who was a secretary of sorts to Peter in Rome. Early church figures such as Origen, Papias, and Clement of Alexandria wrote similar things in regard to origin and authorship. While commentaries and works about Matthew, Luke, and John appeared quite early in the church’s history, a commentary on Mark did not appear until the fifth century. On the surface it certainly appears that Matthew is written first.
Is Q a Viable Option For The Synoptic Problem?
Matthean priority in Gospel authorship was the predominant view in biblical scholarship until the 19th century. As previously stated, the first three Gospels have a number of similarities, and this led scholars to speculate on their origins. One proposed theory, that has been accepted as fact in most circles, is the now lost Q source. The Gospel of Luke attests to Luke gathering eyewitness testimony to accurately portray the events that he records in his Gospel (See Luke 1:1-4). Q is short for the German Quelle that is translated to mean source. Therefore, this material consists of the common sayings of Jesus that are present in Matthew and Luke that are not present in Mark, and is said to have originated in the early 60’s. There is some dispute as to what Q is. Some like, Markus Tiwald, say that these saying were written down and utilized by the Gospel authors. While others, such as Alan Kirk, say that it was transmitted orally.
Over the last few years, it appears that the common answer to the synoptic problem, mainly that of Q, has been challenged by advances in Gospel studies. For example, the Farrer hypothesis states that Matthew was an adaptation if Mark, and that Luke was an adaptation of Matthew. However, others go further than that to show that Luke relied little on the other two synoptics and use the genealogy as an example. Those who hold this attribute great writing skill and research capabilities to Luke. This is not unreasonable given Luke’s occupation, but it is in the minority.
The subject of Q is important and holds the key to which Gospel was written first. However, there is not a unanimous vote among scholars as to what it is. Is it written or verbal? Some would argue with what is called a high verbatim agreement hypothesis. Since there is a lot of agreement between Matthew and Luke it is said that a written Q is the cause, but again there are varying views on the issue.
Q is a way to try to solve the synoptic problem, but it brings up more questions than it solves. It discounts the overwhelming patristic evidence for Matthean priority in an attempt to answer why there are similarities.
Brooks, James A. Mark. Vol. 23, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991.
Cox, Steven L., and Kendell H. Easley. Harmony of the Gospels. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.
Drane, John William. Introducing the New Testament. Completely rev. and updated. Oxford: Lion Publishing plc, 2000.
Duval, J. Scott, and J. Daniel Hays. The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans and Paternoster Press, 2002.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.
Kirk, Alan. “Orality, Writing, and Media Interface in Antiquity.” In Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory Early Scribal Transmission of the Jesus Tradition. The Library of New Testament Studies. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016.
——— Poirier, John C., and Jeffrey Peterson, eds. Marcan Priority Without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015.
, eds. Marcan Priority Without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015.
Poirier, John C., and Jeffrey Peterson, eds. Marcan Priority Without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015.
Roskam, H. N., ed. The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context. Leiden: BRILL, 2004.
Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. Vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890.
Tiwald, Markus. The Sayings Source: A Commentary on Q. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 2020.
. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans and Paternoster Press, 2002), 41.
. Steven L. Cox and Kendell H. Easley, Holman Christian Standard Bible: Harmony of the Gospels (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 255.
. H. N. Roskam, ed., The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context (Leiden: BRILL, 2004), 1.
. John William Drane, Introducing the New Testament, completely rev. and updated. (Oxford: Lion Publishing plc, 2000), 195.
. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 273.
. J. Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays, The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020), 857.
. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 126.
. James A. Brooks, Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 18.
. Markus Tiwald, The Sayings Source: A Commentary on Q (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 2020), 24.
. Ibid, 22.
. Alan Kirk, “Orality, Writing, and Media Interface in Antiquity,” in Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory Early Scribal Transmission of the Jesus Tradition, The Library of New Testament Studies (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).
. John C. Poirier and Jeffrey Peterson, eds., Marcan Priority Without Q: Explorations in the Farrer Hypothesis (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015), 16.
. Ibid, 22.
. Ibid, 63.
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