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Building on Fr. Orchard’s Breakthrough

When a pioneer has made a breakthrough in any branch of knowledge, others will explore the ramifications of his discovery. Often such exploration will produce new insights and so further support the break-through. This has happened with Dom Bernard’s work:

a).  Peter’s Answers

After Peter’s talks, his audience would have compared Luke’s Gospel, and Peter’s additions with Matthew’s Gospel. It is suggests that, as is normal at the end of a talk, those present asked Peter questions. And Peter’s replies are recorded in the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel.

To take an example: The ‘he’ of 16:9 is referring to Jesus, yet in the text it is referring to the ‘young man’ in verse 5 and the ‘he’ in verse 6. But, if Peter was responding to a question about Jesus, the problem is solved.

The other verses are discussed in Chapter XVIII of The Authors of the Gospels.

b).  Two editions of Mark

According to Clement of Alexandria, Mark was under pressure “with appeals of every kind” from the audience of Caesar’s knights. So he would have quickly published his short Gospel. Luke, without this pressure and having a longer Gospel would have taken longer. Clement also tells us that Mark published a second edition endorsed by Peter.

Archaeologists have confirmed that two editions of Mark’s gospel were published. In one edition the last 12 verses are replaced by a shorter ending.

Church libraries tended to pigeonhole papyrus rolls according to the order in which they were received. Depending on which edition was received first, librarians would have varied in their filing order, and so would have given rise to two traditions of their order.

c).  Published not composed

The meaning of the words of Clement of Alexandra, who had succeeded to Mark bishopric, that: “the first written of the Gospels were those having the genealogies”, could not be clearer.  But some people hesitate to accept his evidence because they have been told that contrary sources outweigh Clement.

Before discussing these other sources, we need to distinguish between ‘writing’ and ‘publication’. Providing we accept that the order of Matthew-Mark-Luke-is the order of publication not composition, the apparent conflict disappears.

To save space, paraphrases of quotations will sometimes be used here. Fuller extracts are available in Chapter II of: ‘The Authors of the Gospels’ on www.churchinhistory.org].

1.Irenaeus (120-180) tells us that Matthew wrote first, and John last. He adds that Mark recorded Peter and Luke recorded Paul. There is no indication that he wished to teach any order but as we tend to say ‘Peter and Paul’ to mention their secretaries in this order could be expected.

2.The Muratorian fragment (About 150): It tells us that Mark based his Gospel on some event at which he was present. It then says: “In third place we have the book of the Gospel according to Luke”. When the author says: “we have”, all that he is telling us is that he is using the order of filing at his disposal.

3.Tertullian (155-220) did mention Luke after Mark but we need to read the context. He explains that ‘apostolic churches’ provided us with the gospels of Matthew and John. He then mentions Mark, because he gave us Peter’s words, [i.e. Another Apostle] and Luke last because his narrative is ascribed to a non-Apostle. So his sequence has nothing to do with the order of writing or publication. Just previously he had written of Mark and Luke, [in that order], as reaffirming the faith of the Apostles.

4.Origen (185-253) does refer to the Gospels in the Matthew-Mark-Luke-John order. But he says that Matthew published first, Mark was next, then Luke and finally John. So his statement does not conflict with the Clementine tradition.

5.Eusebius (260-340) reports both orders without comment as if he does not see any problem. He and his readership were, apparently, aware that they could be listed in order of composure or in order of publication.

6.  Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in his early writings, does say ‘the received order’ is Matthew–Mark–Luke. But in chapter 10.11, of his fourth book, after years of study, he says that Mark more probably goes in step with Matthew and Luke. In the next sentence he writes that: ‘ he [Mark] is at one with Matthew in the larger number of passages, and Mark is at one with Luke in some others”.

7.   It is interesting that the annual readings in many of the Eastern churches today, still follow the Matthew-Luke-Mark-John order. See separate leaflet

d).  Alleged errors in Scripture

The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit inspired all Scripture and is therefore without error. (Providentissimus Deus, section 20).

The Church recognises difficulties but says the way to solve them is by gaining a greater understanding of the languages, literary forms and social conventions in use when a Scripture was written. For over a hundred years the Church has urged and supported the intensive study of ancient languages and the conducting of archaeological research. Although many difficulties have been solved, some are still in need of research. Two of these occur in Mark’s Gospel. 

Most scholars envision Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sitting at his desk and using documents and his memory, when composing a Gospel. In this scenario it is difficult to explain the apparent errors at Mark 1: 2 and 2: 26.

But when we accept Orchard’s method of solving the Synoptic Problem, it becomes clear that it was Peter who made the errors, not Mark.  No one claims that sermons delivered by Peter were free of error. All Mark did was to accurately record what Peter had said, so Mark did not commit any error.

Papias explained that Mark accurately recorded sermons delivered by Peter, although they were not given in any particular order. Unfortunately these writings have not been preserved.

Papias goes on to say that at a later time: “Mark did not err at all when he wrote certain things just as he [Peter] had recalled [them].For he had but one intention, not to leave out anything he had heard, nor to falsify anything in them.”

This appears to be a defence of Mark’s Gospel.  Papias could to be asserting that the words of Malachi were not left out and the word Abiathar was not falsified by substituting Ahimelech.


Version: 15th April 2009

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