(Part II will appear in the next issue.)

Is Matthew, our first canonical Gospel, a genuine and authentic production of an apostle? The answer to this question is at stake in the debate on the validity of the Mark-hypothesis. The question of Matthew’s authenticity is tied to the question whether it was known and used by Mark, or Mark was used by its writer. It is therefore of importance to decide whether Mark came first, as the Mark-hypothesis holds, or whether Matthew was written first.

The writer of “More Light on the Synoptics” (CHRISTIANITY TODAY, March 2 issue) tries to prove the Mark-hypothesis. He claims that Mark was written first and was used and adapted by the writer of our Matthew. His attempted proof of the priority of Mark is the most important part of his article. Therefore we will consider it first. We meet here a kind of argument often given for the Mark-theory. We are firmly convinced that it is not, and indeed in the nature of the case can never become, a valid proof. After pulling the attempted proof to the ground four distinct times by four separate handles, we will explain why, in our opinion, no one should accept the same article’s special pleading for Matthew’s genuineness and authenticity. And lastly, we have a point to clarify. Some readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY concluded that the present writer argued (“New Light on the Synoptic Gospels”) for totally independent origination of our first three Gospels. But this was not so.

The Internal Evidence

First let us recall the case for the priority of Mark given in “More Light.” “Weighty internal evidence pointing to the priority of Mark, however, exists not only in the linguistic minutiae of the Gospels but even more impressively in the selection and arrangement of the material.” Two kinds of evidence for the Mark-hypothesis are claimed: 1. Weighty internal evidence in the linguistic minutiae; 2. Weighty internal evidence still more impressive in the selection and arrangement of material.

As to this, the reader will observe that no evidence of the first kind is produced in the article “More Light.” What was asked for in “New Light” (November 10) was “a single, unequivocal piece of internal evidence—even if it were only a straw in the wind capable of showing which way the wind was blowing—that made it look as if something in Matthew had been copied from Mark.” A strong general assertion that there is much weighty evidence of a specific kind coupled with the absence of a single specific item of such asserted evidence is not impressive. What would be impressive would be one or more sets of parallel passages in Matthew and Mark accompanied by reasons for thinking that Matthew must have been quoting, or using, or adapting Mark rather than vice versa. Such evidence is sometimes offered. It sounds good until one hears other reasons why the same phenomena may be equally well or even better explained on the supposition that Mark was using, copying, or adapting Matthew’s accounts. Since no such evidence is adduced, however, no reply is necessary.

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The only argument for the Mark-theory in “More Light” is based on weighty internal evidence in the selection and arrangement of material. The writer examines the three orders of events in three chains of narratives contained in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The argument here is basically neither literary nor historical. Three strings of beads might be put before us as a puzzle. We might be asked to determine from the different orders of arrangement of corresponding beads in the three strings which order of arrangement in which string was the original, and which orders of arrangement in the other two strings had been copied in part from it. Indeed, the reader will better grasp the real nature of this argument in “More Light” if he will transfer the reasoning process to something like three strings of beads or three rows of blocks. Thus the purely logical and argumentative aspect will emerge to view, and, as we shall show, vanish into thin air.

The argument presented in “More Light” is this:

If … one of our present Gospels provided the basic order of events which is followed by the other two, the pattern to be expected is this:

The pattern will be: B and C agree with A and therefore with each other (figure 6); or B agrees with A against C (figure 7); or C agrees with A against B (figure 8). We will not expect to find agreement between B and C against A (figure 9), for they do not depend on each other but on A.

A Hidden Assumption

The first handle by which we may take hold of this argument is a hidden assumption. The (mere) semblance of probability in the above statement arises from an unstated assumption. That assumption is that whoever wrote C must have had no knowledge of B. For otherwise anyone could say that where A and B agree, C follows their common order. But where he finds A and B in disagreement, C makes a choice. Sometimes he follows A’s order. At other times he elects to follow B’s. So that, unless we rigidly exclude the possibility that C (say Luke) could have known B (say Mark) as well as A (say Matthew), there is nothing strange at all in B and C agreeing against A (as in figure 9 in “More Light”). It only proves that C knew B. It has no force towards showing that B must have preceded A in time of origin. And therefore, the argument would have logical force only if restated with the addition of the following italicized words: “If … one of our present Gospels provided the basic order of events which is followed in total independence of each other by each of the writers of the other two, the pattern to be expected …” and so on. “More Light” employs this objectionable hidden assumption in the last words of its statement, namely, “for they are not dependent upon each other but upon A.” But since we do not exclude the possibility that Luke’s writer, coming third, may have known and used Mark as well as Matthew, and since no reason seems to appear for excluding this possibility, the argument is invalid.

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Suppression Of Contradictions

The second handle by which we may take hold of the argument in “More Light” is an unmentioned range of contradictory facts. They are just the kind of facts assumed by its argument not to exist. They directly disprove the line of reasoning in the article.

The keystone of the argument in “More Light,” remember, is this: “Since Matthew and Luke are never found to agree against Mark in places where all three have corresponding elements, therefore, it follows that Mark must be first.”

The argument based on arrangement of material is invalid, because there are places in which Matthew and Luke agree exactly against Mark. These agreements are in sections where Mark has corresponding elements. “More Light” assumes and asserts that there are no facts of a special kind that would nullify its reasoning. Yet such facts do exist. The long and short of it follows: Marsh (in 1803) had asserted that Luke never agrees with Matthew except in those places where Mark also agrees. “But in fact however,” Holtzmann (in 1863) had countered, “Matthew and Luke even agree in the choice of single words and expressions, which Mark does not have in the passages in question.…” He then lists nearly 40 examples of such facts, and adds that this list could easily be enlarged were certain commonly used principles of textual criticism followed, such as choosing the harder readings of Mark as more likely to be the genuine ones.

Such facts as those noticed by Holtzmann not only directly contradict the argument in “More Light,” they point out its gravest defect. That argument says: “See the facts of agreement and disagreement in the order of the arrangement of the blocks and sections!” But why should we look at these data of agreement and disagreement alone? It virtually says: “We need only look at a fraction of the relevant data!” It skips over facts of agreement and disagreement in details. Yet the latter are of equal importance under the argument’s terms and assumptions. Indeed, they are of even greater significance because they show that in the smallest details of word choice Matthew and Luke do agree against Mark. Such agreements against Mark are just as relevant and important as any agreements in the order of events. In fact, they are more important. They show that in numerous places throughout the whole of Mark in materials common to all three Gospels Matthew and Luke agree against Mark in minute details. Such facts directly negate the keystone proposition in “More Light.” The only way to get around such facts on that argument’s conditions is to ignore their existence, or to print reconstructed texts of the Gospels that eliminate them.

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Inverting The Argument

There is a third handle by which we may take hold on the “More Light” argument. We may pick up the same fish by its tail. In 1949 a friend of mine startled me. He said, “I have been working on the order of events in the first three Gospels. The facts of agreement and disagreement, as the modern books state them, have a very simple answer. That answer is that Mark came last.” His explanation (along with a little clarification of my own) runs somewhat as follows.

The “facts” are:

1. Matthew, Mark, and Luke sometimes all three agree in their orders of arrangements of events;

2. Matthew and Mark are sometimes found agreeing in order against Luke;

3. Mark and Luke are sometimes found agreeing in order against Matthew; but the claim is

4. that Matthew and Luke are never found agreeing in order of arrangement against Mark.

These facts immediately suggest that Mark came last, not first. When Mark, coming last, found Matthew and Luke in agreement, he adopted their order: hence we sometimes find all three in agreement. When Mark, coming last, saw that Matthew and Luke did not agree, he was forced to decide for one or the other, or for neither. Sometimes he preferred Matthew’s order: hence, he is found agreeing with Matthew against Luke. Sometimes he preferred to adopt Luke’s arrangement: hence, he is found agreeing with Luke against Matthew. In view of the fact that Mark gives almost nothing which is not in either Matthew or Luke or both, it is obvious that the writer of Mark, coming last, could practically always have obtained guidance from either Matthew or Luke if they diverged, or from both if they agreed. And when Mark inserted the few items not found in either Matthew or Luke, their insertion would not disrupt the continuity of agreement in order of events between Mark and either Matthew or Luke. The real reason, therefore (on this assumption), why Matthew and Luke never agree “to go against Mark’s order” is that Mark coming last, has never thought of defying the common judgment of his two predecessors as to the order of events, appearing in the Gospel history. This, surely, is a reasonable and logical explanation.

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Divergent Possibilities

It will be noticed that this way of explanation is compatible with the assumption that either Matthew or Luke may have been the first Gospel. In either case, if Mark was last, the facts (i.e., the supposed facts) are suitably explained (i.e., can be equally well accounted for, which, by the way, is a very different thing). “Elementary, my dear Watson” is the really proper answer to my friend’s explanation. For this, of course, is the way several generations of scholars (Griesbach and the Tübingen School), all acute men, handled these facts for a number of decades in earlier days of Gospel studies. They did not walk away from them or around them. They picked up the fish by the tail. And how, now, can these facts, so neatly accounted for by supposing Mark was last written, be used to prove that it was our first written Gospel and the source of the other two?

Argument From Arrangement

The fourth handle for dealing with the proof attempted in “More Light” consists in the possibility of demonstrating that every argument based on “arrangement” of the materials is incapable of showing which Gospel is the earliest. Only five kinds of “literary” facts of agreement and disagreement in arrangement are possible. Only six orders of composition of our first three Gospels are possible. The five kinds of “literary” facts are:

Case I: Matthew agrees with Mark against Luke;

Case II: Matthew agrees with Luke against Mark;

Case III: Mark agrees with Luke against Matthew;

Case IV: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all disagree in their order of events;

Case V: Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree in their orders. The six possible orders of composition of our first three Gospels are: M-Mk-L; M-L-Mk; Mk-M-L; Mk-L-M; L-M-Mk; L-Mk-M. All of the five kinds of “literary” facts can be satisfactorily accounted for under any theory as to the order in which the first three Gospels were composed. The explanations which give a satisfactory account are:

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1. Assuming Matthew was first, data of Case I are accounted for by supposing either that Mark copied from Matthew, and Luke departed from either or both of them; or, if Mark came last, that where Matthew and Luke disagreed he chose to adopt Matthew’s order rather than Luke’s.

2. Assuming Matthew was first, data of Case II are accounted for either by supposing that Luke copied Matthew, and Mark thereafter departed from either or both of them; or, if Mark came second, that he departed from Matthew, while Luke, where he found Matthew and Mark in disagreement, chose to follow Matthew rather than Mark.

3. Assuming Matthew was first, data of Case III are accounted for by assuming either that Mark had disagreed with Matthew, and Luke then chose between the two and decided to follow Mark; or, if Mark was last, that he, finding Matthew and Luke in disagreement, chose to adopt Luke’s order.

4. Assuming Mark was first, data of Case I are accounted for either by supposing Matthew came second and agreed with Mark, while Luke coming last went against both; or, if Luke came second, he went against Mark, and then Matthew coming last elected to adopt Mark’s order, preferring it to Luke’s.

5. Assuming Mark came first, data of Case II are accounted for either by supposing, if Matthew came second, that he rejected Mark’s order, and Luke coming third chose to follow Matthew rather than Mark; or, if Luke came second, that he rejected Mark’s order, while Matthew coming last chose to follow Luke rather than Mark.

6. Assuming Mark was first, data of Case III are accounted for by supposing either that Matthew came second and went against Mark, while Luke coming last chose to go with Mark’s order rather than with Matthew’s, or, if Luke came second, that he adopted Mark’s order, while Matthew coming last then decided to go against both of them.

Assuming that Luke was first, an option excluded by “More Light,” three more statements similar to those in 1–3 and 4–6 could be produced. The nine statements would cover all 18 possible permutations of the six possible orders of Gospel composition in combination with the three classes of literary data in Cases I–III We have not produced statements accounting for the data in Cases IV and V. They would consist of a series of disagreements or rejections in the one case, or of agreements in the other, under every possible order of composition of the Gospels. Now, therefore, since there is no possible way of ruling out the possibility that the author of the third Gospel may have known both his predecessors’ works, and since, further, no conceivable warrant exists for saying that in matters of mere arrangement any statement in 1–6 above is a priori impossible or improbable, it is logically impossible to mount any argument for the priority of Matthew or Mark (or, for that matter, of Luke) on any kind or combination of kinds of agreement or disagreement in matters of arrangement of materials.

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Readers will recall Dr. Ludlum’s article “New Light on the Synoptic Problem” (November 10 and 24, 1958, issues), to which Dr. George Eldon Ladd replied with “More Light on the Synoptics” (March 2, 1959, issue). In this article Dr. Ludlum again disputes the modern critical view which maintains that Mark is the first of our canonical Gospels.

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