Correction of Mark by Matthew and Luke

Biblical scholars agree almost universally that Mark is our earliest gospel which was later used by Matthew and Luke as a major source. As Matthew and Luke used Mark, they made certain changes and alterations to its accounts. The alterations range from improving Mark’s grammar, smoothing Mark’s negative portrayal of the apostles, changing the order of events, enhancing Mark’s image of Jesus, expanding Marcan stories, and editing Mark in certain other ways. Thus, Matthew and Luke corrected Mark since they did not find Mark to be an altogether satisfactory account. That Matthew and Luke made a variety of changes to Marcan stories is no longer a controversial issue and virtually all scholars acknowledge Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark. The different types of corrections and adaptions of Mark’s stories by Matthew and Luke can be clearly seen when similar stories between the three are compared with one another.

Randel Helms writes:

All things considered, then, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus very satisfactorily. Indeed, within two or three decades of Mark’s completion, there were at least two, and perhaps three, different writers (or Christian groups) who felt the need to produce an expanded and corrected version. Viewed from their prespective, the Gospel of Mark has some major shortcomings: It contains no birth narrative; it implies that Jesus, a repentant sinner, became the Son of God only at his baptism; it recounts no resurrection narratives appearances; and it ends with the very unsatisfactory notion that the women who found the Empty Tomb were too afraid to speak to anyone about it. Moreover, Mark includes very little of Jesus’ teachings; worse yet, (from Matthew’s point of view) he even misunderstood totally the purpose of Jesus’ use of parables. Indeed, by the last two decades of the first century, Mark’s theology seemed already old-fashioned and even slightly suggestive of heresy. So, working apparently without knowledge of each other, within perhaps twenty or thirty years after Mark, two authors (or Christian groups), now known to us a “Matthew” and “Luke” (and even a third, in the view of some – “John”) set about rewriting and correcting the first unsatisfactory1

The late eminent Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, wrote:

neither evangelist liked Marks’s redundancies, awkward Greek expressions, uncomplimentary presentation of the disciples and Mary, and embarrassing statements about Jesus. When using Mark, both expanded the Markan accounts in the light of post-resurrectional faith.2

The fact that Matthew and Luke freely altered and “corrected” Mark strongly suggests that they did not consider it to be inviolable “inspired scripture”, as Al-A’zami correctly notes:

The earliest gospel, Mark, was scavenged as source material by the later authors of Matthew and Luke, who altered, omitted, and abbreviated many of Mark’s stories. Such treatment would never have taken place had they thought that Mark was inspired by God, or that his words were the unqualified truth.3

If Matthew and Luke did deem Mark to be the “inerrant inspired” word of God, or “Scripture,” then why did they make such adaptations to its stories?

A study of these gospels shows that Matthew and Luke made a number of changes to Mark. They corrected Mark’s poor Greek and grammatical errors, corrected what they perceived to be errors within Mark, changed the sequence of the stories within Mark and even edited the stories themselves – in both major and minor ways. This is not how one is expected to treat an “inspired, inerrant Scripture,” or the “word of God.” Since Matthew and Luke freely made use of Mark and corrected its contents, that logically implies that they believed Mark to contain errors and mistakes and thus did not view it as inviolable “Scripture.”

So when the modern-day Christian missionaries and apologists deny the presence of errors and mistakes within Mark, they are actually opposing the beliefs of the authors of Matthew and Luke, who, afterall, corrected/edited Marcan stories in a variety of ways. Amazingly, Christians also believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke were “inspired,” if so, should Christians not then follow their “inspired” belief – that Mark was not “inspired” and needed editing/correcting? If Christians truly believe that Matthew and Luke were “inspired” authors and writing the very “words of God,” then they should logically conclude that Mark is not “inspired” and is an inadequate document for containing defeciencies, which Matthew and Luke, of course, tried to wash away as best they could. However, if Christians continue to believe that the gospel of Mark is “inerrant,” “Scripture,” and “inspired,” then they only end up opposing the views and beliefs of Matthew and Luke.

After quoting Mark 1:2-3, Helms comments upon one of Mark’s glaring error:

Mark uncritically used an already-composed account of John the Baptist (whether written or oral is unclear), which was, in a remarkably free fashion, based on the Old Testament. Typically, Mark did not consult directly the text of Isaiah, for he is clearly unaware that half his quotation, supposedly from Isa. 40:3, is not from Isaiah at all, but is a misquotation of Malachi 3:1, which actually reads, “I am sending my messenger who will clear a path before me.” Mark’s source has used Malachi as a basis for an interpretation of John the Baptist, changed Malachi to suit his needs, and composed in the process a piece of theological fiction. The ascription to Malachi probably dropped out during the oral transmission (or through scribal carelessness), and Mark uncritically repeated the error.4

Here is what Mark 1:1-3 states:

    Mar 1:1 Beginning of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ, Son of God;
    Mar 1:2 as it is written in [Isaiah] the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way.
    Mar 1:3 Voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of [the] Lord, make his paths straight.5
    Mar 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    Mar 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;
    Mar 1:3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight–“6
    Mar 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    Mar 1:2 Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way.
    Mar 1:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight;7
    Mar 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    Mar 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY;
    Mar 1:3 THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'”8

What were the Christian scribes to do when they were faced with the above factual error in the “inspired” words of the gospel according to Mark? Modern day apologists are more than happy to offer convoluted “answers” to resolve the difficulties, but not so the early Christian scribes. Instead of going through all the trouble, they simply corrected this factual error themselves, disregarding the sacredness of the Marcan text.

In the latest edition of Metzger’s classical standard text book on the textual criticism of the New Testament, we read (Greek sentences removed):

In the earliest manuscripts of Mark 1.2, the composite quotation from Malachi (3.1) and from Isaiah (40.3) is introduced by the formula “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” Later scribes, sensing that this involves a difficulty, replaced . . . with the general statement…9

Similarly, the Alands write:

The quotation is actually a composite from multiple sources, so that in the manuscript tradition we find the correction 10

And only God knows best.

Footnotes

  1. Gospel.Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 34 []
  2. Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament (The Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1997, Doubleday), p. 115 []
  3. Muhammad Mustafa Al-A?zami, The History Of The Qur?anic Text From Revelation To Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments (2003, UK Islamic Academy, Leicester, England), p. 282 []
  4. Helms, op. cit., p. 29 []
  5. Mark 1:1-3, J.N.Darby Translation 1890 []
  6. Mark 1:1-3, Revised Standard Version 1947, 1952 []
  7. Mark 1:1-3, American Standard Version 1901 []
  8. Mark 1:1-3, New American Standard Bible 1995 []
  9. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 264 []
  10. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michiganp. 290 []

2 Comments

  1. js, the actual fact is that all scholars, including conservative and evangelical scholars in general, agree almost universally that Mark is the earliest gospel which was later used as a source by the authors of Matthew and Luke for the composition of their own gospels. Why do you think this is the situation if it was a “fact” that Luke and Matthew were completed before Mark?

  2. The fact is Matthew was actually completed before Mark and so was Luke and I don’t know if you actually read a bible while writing this, the point about the quote in Isaiah not being in Isaiah is a lie and to be honest a feeble attempt to discredit the inspired word of Jehovah God seeing as how the Old testament is written in Hebrew and the New in Greek. So nice try but I do believe you will have to come again with a little more substance.

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