The Relevance of Synoptic Order

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Mon Sep 01 1997 - 02:25:39 EDT

Dear Fellow Greekers,

I have been very interested to note the number of comments, in postings to
the list over the past couple of months or so in particular, which take as
their implied starting point an acceptance of Markan Priority in the
Synoptic Gospels, and go on to draw conclusions which are totally
consequential upon that hypothesis being valid. Several times I have read
these posts and said to myself, "Yes, but those conclusions about the Greek
would not follow unless Mark were the first Gospel, and were used as source
by Matthew and Luke." But I did not comment on-list.

Then when I collected my email this morning I found TWO interesting
postings which derive from this assumption of Markan Priority, and I have
decided to enter a gentle demurrer. First, let me quote the two postings:

Brian E. Wilson wrote (on the theme "Sophocles and John"):
>Is it so certain that the style of Luke 1-2 (apart from the dedicatory
>preface in the first four verses) is the style of Luke the gospel-
>writer? According to W. G. Most in his article 'Did St Luke imitate the
>Septuagint?' in _The Synoptic Gospels - A Sheffield Reader_ ed. Craig A.
>Evans & Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield 1995) pages 215-226, the
>"septuagintal" style of these chapters is the result of Luke having used
>documentary source material written in that style. Luke himself may
>even have disliked the "septuagintisms" he copied.
> The most obvious septuagintism in Luke's gospel is EGENETO followed by
>finite verb, this occurring 22 times. In the Baptism of Jesus and the
>Parable of the Sower, however, although Mark has EGENETO followed by
>finite verb, the construction is not used by Luke in the parallel
>passages in his gospel. Moreover, the construction occurs nowhere at
>all in Acts. If Luke was so fond of this construction, and if he also
>wrote Acts, this is a very loud silence indeed.
> One explanation which makes sense of all this is that Luke did not like
>the construction EGENETO with the finite verb, and omitted some
>instances of it from his source material, but that he did copy quite a
>number of instances from the documentary material he used in Luke 1-2
>out of general respect for his sources.

What lies behind this comment is the acceptance of the view that Luke had
Mark in front of him as he wrote, and thus the explanation is suggested
that "Luke did not like the construction EGENETO with the finite verb, and
omitted some instances of it from his source material" (i.e., in this
instance, Mark).

The second posting:

At 15:57 97/08/31 -0500, Edward Hobbs wrote:
>Subj: RE: John 21:1
>Clay Bartholomew wrote: --->
>I am beginning to wonder if the conventional wisdom of having beginning
>students read the simple authors like John is really all that wise.
Perhaps it
>would be better to start with something like Luke.

Then Edward replied:
>That "conventional wisdom" characterizes some of the widely-used textbooks
>for the study of the Greek New Testament, and it is one major reason why
>those who learn from them suffer just as Clay did. It has long been noted
>that Machen's wretched book teaches students, not to read real Greek, but
>to read poorly constructed Greek sentences which are woodenly translated
>from English into Greek, plus a modicum of the Gospel of John. But what to
>My own practice gradually developed into something like this (back when my
>students weren't required first to study classical Greek):
>Start with a narrative in Mark which is paralleled in Matthew and Luke
>(I found that Mark 5 worked well). Work through the three stories in the
>chapter; then read Matthew's parallels in Matt. 8 and 9; then read Luke's
>parallels in Luke 8. The Matthew and Luke readings give them a somewhat
>secure head-start, from having read Mark, but they soon see how Matthew and
>Luke can edit Mark's story, and stylistically modify it, if even in small

Then Edward goes on to outline the rest of his program. And a very helpful
approach this is indeed. My interest focusses, however, upon the comment
above: about the students seeing how Matthew and Luke can edit Mark's
story, and stylistically modify it. How different this exercise looks if
instead one examines these passages from the point of view of Markan

I guess the conventional wisdom still is that Matthew and Luke drew upon
Mark as a source, together with (for those pericopes which they share in
common and which are not found in Mark), the lost document Q: and that this
is so widely accepted that it can be taken for granted in discussions on
b-greek. My own study of the Greek New Testament (including the comparison
of the Synoptic Gospels in Greek) over a period of more than forty years
has led me to the very opposite conclusion: that the evidence very strongly
favours the hypothesis that Mark was the third Synoptic to be written, and
and that the author drew upon Matthew and Luke (that is, the hypothesis of
Markan Dependence [upon Matthew and Luke]). I am now engaged upon a
revision and amplification of my earlier publication (available only in
Australia), "The Progressive Publication of Matthew's Gospel", which will
attempt to set out some of this evidence from the Greek. Let me give three
invitations to any interested members of the b-greek list:

Firstly, can you draw my attention to any passages of the Synoptic Gospels
where the wording of the Greek would lend support to the Markan Priority

Secondly, can you draw my attention to any passages of the Synoptic Gospels
where the wording of the Greek would lend support to the Markan Dependence

Thirdly, can you help me see any ways in which the Greek of the story of
the Rich Man Who Came To Jesus supports Markan Priority? This story is
found Mt 19:16-30//Mk 10:17-31//Lk 18:18-30). Let me spell this one out a
little, to show the point at issue. This is often called The Story of the
Rich Young Ruler, but in fact only Matthew says he was young, and only Luke
says he was a ruler. In this story, Matthew and Luke differ from each other
in 36 points. Many of these are plain to see in any adequate English
translation. E.g., the point made above about "young" found only in
Matthew, and "ruler" and having kept the Commandments from his youth in
Luke (suggesting that this man was no longer young); or again in Matthew
the man goes away sorrowful and then Jesus speaks further to his disciples,
but in Luke the man becomes sad but is not said to go away and Jesus
continues to look at him while he speaks further to his disciples.

However, many of the differences can only be seen fully in the Greek:
particularly differences of word order and the use of different vocabulary.
Note one other: In giving the Commandments, Matthew uses the imperatival
future with OU, "you shall not", while Luke uses the aorist subjunctive
with MH. They also differ in the order in which they each give the first
two Commandments that they list. For the Commandments, Mark follow the
ORDER of Matthew, but the GRAMMAR (aorist subjunctive) of Luke. Overall,
Mark agrees with Matthew for 18 of his 36 differences from Luke, and with
Luke for the other 18.

If Mark is first, then Matthew and Luke have each chosen to depart from
their source on 18 occasions, but a different 18 for each, so that they end
up with 36 points of difference between their respective accounts. If Mark
is last, then his sources were two differing accounts (deriving from two
different eye-witnesses) which he conflates, agreeing first with one and
then the other on the points where they differ.

I would value any discussion which looked at these questions from the point
of view of the Greek involved.

In closing: it would be helpful if contributors to b-greek whose
conclusions depend upon Markan Priority were able to to mention whether
those conclusions would also follow if one believed Markan Dependence
rather than Markan Priority.


Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International):
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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