[Synoptic-L] NT Introductions in General
- The recent discussion about Bart Ehrmans argument for Markan priority
brings up the general trend of New Testament introductions.
First, I should remind the reader of Bart Ehrmans 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.
Ehrmans pre-Butlerian understanding of the argument from Marks
mediation of Matthews and Lukes 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only example one could give of the grossly outdated understanding of the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Let me excerpt some other quotations from an unpublished paper.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.
Koesters 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outdated understanding.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 Seminars 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 Butlers 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