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[Synoptic-L] NT Introductions in General

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  • John Christopher Poirier
    The recent discussion about Bart Ehrman’s argument for Markan priority brings up the general trend of New Testament introductions. First, I should remind the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 8, 1999
      The recent discussion about Bart Ehrman’s argument for Markan priority
      brings up the general trend of New Testament introductions.

      First, I should remind the reader of Bart Ehrman’s words on p. 74 of The
      New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings

      The reason . . . that Matthew and Luke rarely agree against
      Mark in the wording of stories found in all three is that
      Mark is the source for these stories. Unless -Matthew and
      Luke accidentally happen to make precisely the same changes in
      their source (which does happen on occasion, but not commonly
      and not in major ways), they cannot both differ from the
      source and agree with one another. The fact that they rarely
      do differ from Mark while agreeeing with one another indicates
      that Mark must have been their source.

      Ehrman’s pre-Butlerian understanding of the argument from Mark’s
      mediation of Matthew’s and Luke’s triple-tradition agreements is not the
      only example one could give of the grossly outdated understanding of the
      synoptic problem that plagues the field of New Testament Introduction.
      Let me excerpt some other quotations from an unpublished paper.

      Helmut Koester writes in his Introduction to the New Testament (1980,
      ET: 1982; vol. 2, p. 45):

      One of the strongest arguments [for the Two Source Hypothesis]
      was already propounded by Lachmann: Matthew and Luke agree in
      their sequence of pericopes only in those instances in which
      Mark also has that same sequence.

      Koester’s sentence exemplifies a double misunderstanding that was
      widespread before Butler: he misunderstands both the logic of the
      phenomenon of order, and what it is that Lachmann argued.

      Udo Schnelle writes, in The History and Theology of the New Testament
      Writings (1994, ET: 1998; p. 168):

      In summary one may say that from the perspective of the order
      of pericopes Mark is the middle term for Matthew and Luke.
      The lack of agreement in the order of pericopes between
      Matthew and Luke when they diverge from the Markan order
      clearly shows that the only judicious explanation for the
      literary relationship between the first three Gospels is that
      Mark provided the common source and framework for Matthew and

      Going beyond the introductions, it is easy to find more examples of this
      outdated understanding. E.g., as recently as 1993, Stephen Patterson
      wrote that “the strongest argument for Markan priority concerns a common
      synoptic order,” and that this phenomenon is “an important pillar of the
      hypothesis of Markan priority” (The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus, pp. 13,
      94). (This view is repeated in the Jesus Seminar’s The Complete
      Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version [rev. ed. 1994; p. 8].) Also in
      1993, Burton Mack (Patterson's teacher) wrote on p. 4 of The Lost

      [T]he story line in Matthew and Luke agreed only when it
      followed the gospel of Mark. This finding meant that Mark was
      the earliest narrative gospel and the source for the plot used
      by Matthew and Luke.

      The situation needs to be addressed. Butler wrote in 1951 (not that he
      was the first to point out the problem with the argument from order),
      and here we are, in 1999, with eminent scholars continuing to write with
      a pre-Butlerian understanding of the argument from order. If
      introductions fulfill their intended purpose, the next generation of
      scholars and students will be just as uninformed about the synoptic
      problem as the present one.

      I suggest that one small way to recall scholarship to what Butler’s 1951
      book means for the argument from order would be to celebrate the golden
      anniversary of that book, with a conference or collection of essays.
      Does anyone know if such a project is in the works?

      John C. Poirier
      Middletown, Ohio
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