Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brad Young on Markan Priority

In my latest reading of Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus' Teaching, Brad Young critiques the scholarly notion of Markan priority, which states that the Gospel of Mark came first, and Matthew and Luke then elaborated on Mark. 

If Luke drew from Mark, Young wonders, why does Luke differ from Mark on the order of events?  Why does Mark contain things that are absent from Luke and that would have coincided with Luke's ideology, such as the story about the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), which would have fit Luke's "emphasis on the role of women (cf. Luke 8:1f.)" (page 136)?  Why are there times when Mark's story is more elaborate than that of Luke, such as the story of the healing of the epileptic child (Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)?  Why are there times when Matthew and Luke agree on a story while disagreeing with Mark?  For Young, one could argue that Mark came after Luke in date.

But, if that were the case, why would Mark omit so many things that are in Luke?  According to Young, Mark is communicating to a Hellenistic society.  His Gospel focuses on Jesus' activity----things occurring immediately, Jesus moving rapidly, crowds following him, etc.  Young states on page 138 that "The instruction of Jesus would probably be less important to a non-Jewish, pagan audience", and that "the miracles and activities of Jesus would be considered a better vehicle of communication."  Young goes on to say that we don't really know why Mark would omit things, but Young does see parallels between Mark and Hellenistic miracle stories.  Mark presents Jesus using "thaumaturgic healing techniques", which "have their parallels in Hellenistic miracle stories where spittle was employed by the miracle worker and one finds another story where the blind man first sees trees after being healed (Mark 7:32-37; 8:22-26)" (page 139).  I think that a pagan audience would have been open to reading about Jesus' teachings, for pagans had their own teachers.  At the same time, I can see the point in a Gospel that focused on Jesus' activity. 

The scenario that Young appears to prefer is one in which Matthew and Luke use a common source (though there are times when Luke draws instead from a reconstruction of that source), which accounts for when Matthew and Luke agree with each other and disagree with Mark.  Young thinks that Matthew used Mark, but that Mark came after Luke. 

I thought of Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q as I read Young's discussion.  Goodacre favors Markan priority, but he makes similar arguments to those of Young, only for different ends.  Goodacre asks, for example, why Mark would omit the Lord's Prayer if the Gospel of Mark came after Luke and Matthew in date, since the Lord's prayer has themes that coincide with Markan ideas, plus Mark is big on prayer.  For Goodacre, that indicates the greater likelihood that Matthew and Luke came after Mark than vice versa.  This resembles Young's argument that Luke came before Mark in date, for Young wonders why Luke would omit things Mark has that coincide with Luke's message, if Luke were using Mark as a source. 

Goodacre also seeks to explain why Luke would omit or rearrange things.  Goodacre states that Luke does so for his own ideological and literary purposes.  Goodacre also notes that movies about Jesus omit or rearrange things from the Gospels, yet these movies are obviously aware of the Gospels, so Luke could have omitted and rearranged things from Mark (and also Matthew, for Goodacre thinks that Luke drew from Matthew rather than Q) while being aware of those sources.  This resembles Young's argument that Mark omitted details from Luke for his own agenda.


  1. Nice summary. The more I study this stuff, the more I realize how it is all such speculation. Ultimately Markan Priority is just a prefered explation but certainly not provan.

    I have also noticed the trend to continue to break up the sources into more and more sources.

    Let's be honest. Isn't there also the possibility that the Gospels were as they are today. In other words, original works by the authors whose names they bare. :-)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Truthceeker. I think that the way that the stories in the synoptics are similar----in a lot of cases down to the word----probably indicates that one was drawing from another, or a common source. What I'm saying here is that the gospels weren't written in a vacuum.


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