The Synoptic Problem

Part 9 of 14

By J. F. Springer, New York


When we assume the direct derivation of Matthew from Mark, it is desirable to know with some particularity the amount and character of the omissions, the Matthaean compiler must be conceived as having made from the mass of material before him. We have already noted that he must have rejected about 30 per cent, of what was available to his use, and that within this heavy total of omission must have been included 876 words of the Savior’s discourse, 7 whole incidents, and a numerous array of small notices.1 I make some additions to the last—two geographical (3:7–8; 5:20) and eight personal (3:6; 4:10; 6:15; 7:3–4; 11:11, 18; 14:1; 15:1) items, and thus bring the total up to 67. The tabular statement, Bibliotheca Sacra, July, 1925, p. 349, as now revised, is as follows:

Small Notices

(Present in Mark, Absent from Matthew)

  Number of Notices
Geographical 7
Numerical 12
Personal 17
Descriptive 3
Chronological and circumstantial 28




It is desirable to call attention to the fact that the foregoing 67 short notices by no means constitute an exhaustive list of such items. As a matter of fact, the 3,579 words found in Mark but not in Matthew represent an aggregate largely made up of small passages.2 The 67 may be regarded as representative of rather notable facts which it is more or less difficult to class as omissions made by a Matthaean compiler, but which are readily understood when viewed as additions inserted by the writer of Mark.

Distribution Of The 3,579 Words

It is a matter of some importance to grasp the fact that the material contained in Mark, but not in Matthew, is distributed all through the Markan narrative. Of the 83 sections into which I have divided the Second Gospel, only two have failed to include something non-Matthaean. In the discussion which precedes the present point, lists and statements of non-Matthaean material in Mark may be found which will enable the reader to note in which of the 83 sections are to be found the 7 whole incidents, the 876 words of the Savior, and the 67 short notices. Seventeen sections will remain. I supply a tabular statement of these, placing opposite the several sections sufficient citations of informative material contained in the Second Gospel, but not in the First, to enable us to see that fifteen of the sections include matter which the Mat-thaean compiler rejected or the Markan secondary writer inserted.

Matthaean Omissions or Markan Additions of Details of Parallel Miracles

I desire now to direct attention to the amount and distribution of details of miracle-narrative that are contained in Mark, but are not to be read again in Matthew. Let us confine our inquiry to the typical miracles that occur both in Matthew and in Mark, and exclude from it such unusual miracles as the Transfiguration and the Death. There are fifteen such events recorded in both Gospels. And it may surprise the reader to learn that about one-half of the combined Markan account of these consists of fresh details. Either the Matthaean writer omitted about half of the information before him, or else the Markan compiler composed a narrative, only about half of which was already extant in his exemplar. A tabular statement will bring out the facts.

On the other hand, when the Second Gospel is viewed as a derivative of the First, the necessity of making the compiler one who adds about as much new material as he accepts of matter already published in his exemplar, causes no embarrassment at all. In fact, it tends to make absurd the contention of those who imagine that, with Matthew extant, there would have been no reason for a compilation such as Mark, the compiler having nothing

A Certain Group Of Seventeen Markan Sections

(All but Two of these contain Non-Matthaean Matter)

Position of the section

Material Omitted from Matthew or Added in Mark

Mk. 1:1–8 unto remission of sins
Mk. 1:12–13 and he was with the wild beasts
Mk. 1:16–20 with the hired servants
Mk. 1:39  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mk. 2:18–22 And John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting
Mk. 3:31–35 And a multitude was sitting about him
Mk. 8:27–30  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mk. 10:13–16 when he saw he, he [Jesus] was moved with indignation ….he took them in his arms and blessed them
Mk. 12:13–17 Shall we give, or shall we not give?
Mk. 14:10–11 And they, when they heard it, were glad
Mk. 14:53-54 all the chief priests…and was warming himself in the light of the fire
Mk. 14:55-64 that is made with hands…another made without hands. And not even so did their witness agree together…all
Mk. 14:65 the officers
Mk. 15:16–20 worshipped him
Mk. 15:33–38 Behold
Mk. 15:39–41 that he so gave up the ghost… the less…who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him
Mk. 15:42–47 a councillor …boldly…And [Pilate] marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead…when he learned it of the centurion…when he had sought

It seems fairly clear that Mk. 1:39 contains no item of information that may not be read from Mt. 4:23–24. As to Mk. 8:27–30, the words rendered “on the way” would appear to constitute a piece of new information. However, if it be possible to take the second aorist participle in Mt. 16:13 as concurrent in time with the imperfect rendered “asked”, then perhaps the Markan words are implied in the Matthaean participle. I take the safe course and claim no non-Matthaean information in the Markan section.


The Typical Miracle-Narratives Occurring In Both Matthew And Mark

(Details Omitted by the Matthaean Writer or Added by the Markan)

Miracle-Narrative Place Number of Greek Words (WH)
Mt. Mk. Whole Markan Account Matthaean Omission or Markan Addition
Simon’s mother-in-law 8:14–15 1:29–31 44 18
Touching the leper 8:14 1:40–45 95 39
The paralytic 9:1–8 2:1–12 192 79
The man with the withered hand 12:9–14 3:16 94 38
Calming the storm 8:18–27 4:35–41 118 31
The great herd of swine 8:28–34 5:1–21 345 222
The ruler’s daughter 9:18–19
199 134
The woman with the issue of blood 9:20–22 5:25–34 155 113
Feeding the five thousand 14:13–21 6:30–44 236 104
Walking on the sea 14:22–33 6:45–52 137 29
The Syrophoenician woman 15:21–28 7:24–30 130 57
Feeding the four thousand 15:32–39 8:1–10 146 25
The deaf and dumb spirit 17:14–20, 21 9:14–29 270 197
Cure of blindness at Jericho 20:29–37 10:46–52 123 42
Cursing the fig tree 21:17 (18) -19 11:11b–15a 73 40
  ________ ________
2,357 1168


fresh to introduce, except “a few unimportant embellishments and additions.”3

Indeed, it is not at all difficult to conceive that there were strong reasons to construct a compilation consisting largely of narratives of events, if due weight is given to the consideration that the compiler had available so much fresh material, that the new information as to the details of all the typical miracles accepted for reproduction, was just about equal in amount to what he was taking over from his exemplar. The Markan writer accepted fifteen of the typical miracles of Matthew, rejected some details, and added 1,168 words of new information. He had something fresh for each and everyone of the fifteen narratives. What he added was never less than 21 per cent, of what he accepted from the Matthaean account, and in two cases amounted to 269 and 270 per cent.

The smallest relative amount of new Markan material occurs in the account of the Feeding of the four thousand (Mk. 8:1–10). The entire passage consists of 146 Greek words, of which 25 are unparalleled in Matthew. The fresh material, accordingly, amounts to 17 per cent, of the whole. If Matthew was, in its narrative parts, compiled from Mark, then the compiler, in dealing with this miracle, rejected the information contained in 25 words of his exemplar. If, however, it was Mark that was compiled, then the new matter added consisted of these 25 words, and the old matter accepted from the exemplar was 121 words (146—25=121). That is, the new was 25/121 of the old, which is the same as 21 per cent.

The two largest relative amounts of Markan material unparalleled in Matthew occur in the narrative of The woman with the issue of blood (Mk. 5:25–34) and in the account of The deaf and dumb spirit (Mk. 9:14–29). If we attend to the latter case, we note that the miracle is described in a total of 270 words, and that of these 197 are unparalleled in Matthew. That is, on the assumption of a derivative First Gospel, the compiler must have rejected 73 per cent, of what was before him (197/270= 0.73). But, if we view Mark as a compilation from Matthew, then, since the old material taken over from Matthew amounts only to 73 words (270—197=73), we conclude at once that the new is 270 per cent, of the old (197/73=2.70).

In the former account, there are 155 words. Of these, 113 are additions by a Markan compiler or omissions by a Matthaean. If viewed as omissions made by a compiler of Matthew, then these words represent a rejection on his part of 72.9 per cent, of the material available in his exemplar (113/155=0.729). On the other hand, if they are regarded as additions made by a Markan compiler, the new material amounts to 269 per cent, of the old, a matter of 42 words (113/42=2.69). He added between two and three times as much as he took over from Matthew.

Statistics as to Mark and as to Markan Material Omitted from Matthew or else Added in Mark

Number of words in Mark......................................................................................11, 001

Number of words in Mark that represent information omitted when Matthew was composed or else added when Mark was written.....................................................3, 579

Proportion of Mark omitted in the compilation of Matthew or else added in the preparation of Mark—per cent....................................................................................... 32.5

Number of words uttered by the Savior and contained in Mark but not in Matthew—these constituting discourse of the Savior rejected by the writer of Matthew or else added by the compiler of Mark.................................................................................................... 876

Proportion of Mark constituted by the 876 words of the Savior’s discourse that were omitted by the Matthaean compiler or else added by the Markan................................... 8

Number of distinct incidents recorded in Mark............................................................. 83

Number of accounts of Markan incidents containing matter rejected by the Matthaean writer or else added by the Markan .............................................................................. 81

Number of incidents omitted by the compiler of Matthew or else added by the writer of Mark……………………………………………………………………….................... 7

Number of Markan short notices of a notable and informative character rejected in the composition of Matthew or else introduced as new material by the compiler of Mark..67

Number of typical miracles common to Matthew and Mark…………………………. 15

Number of words employed in the Markan recital of the 15 typical miracles found in both Matthew and Mark.................................................................................................... 2, 357

Number of words which, in the Markan recital of the 15 typical miracles common to both Gospels, represent information rejected by the Matthaean writer or else information added by the Markan.................................................................................................. 1 168

Proportion of the 2,357 Markan words that are occupied in recounting the 15 typical miracles found in both Gospels which is to be regarded either as Markan material omitted in the preparation of Matthew or else as fresh matter added in the composition of Mark—per cent……………………………………………………………………………….. 49.5

The Difficult Short Passages In Mark

We come now to a class of fragmentary passages, occurring in Mark but not in Matthew, which, it has been thought, affords evidence for a substantial argument against the conception that in the Second Gospel we have a derivative from the First. These Markan additions— or Matthaean omissions—are of a miscellaneous character, though all possess the common attribute of creating, by their mere presence in a record of a divine life, some conceivable difficulty or embarrassment for the believing reader. Such things, it has been imagined, would be omitted by a Matthaean compiler or would not be added by a Markan secondary writer.

A notable example either of an embarrassing addition, when Mark is viewed as secondary to Matthew, or else of a difficulty removed, when we see in Matthew a derivative from Mark, may be found in the phrase “with anger” (Mk. 3:5). Let not the reader mistake the point. It is not so much a question as to whether such an expression is truly to be regarded as a difficulty hard to explain. Rather is it a matter requiring us to consider whether in the very early days a more or less superficial reading would have left the reader with a troubled mind. If now we conceive that a consideration of this sort would have influenced a Gospel writer, then we may proceed a step further and see, in the absence of the phrase from the First Gospel (see Mt. 12:13), a possible indication of an unwillingness, upon the part of a Matthaean compiler, to picture the Saviour as angry.

As a matter of fact, however, our concern is not primarily with the ordinary readers of the Gospel records, but with the writers. The probable effect on the reader might tend to influence the author or compiler. But, even so, the writer might be unyielding because of other considerations. In short, the question to be decided by a Matthaean compiler, working with Mark before him, is by no means so simple as an inquiry into the initial reaction of the reader. Consider, if you will, the case of the compiler of Matthew, when in the course of his work he comes to Mk. 3:5. The Gospel he is writing is no doubt designed to influence readers. In his exemplar, he finds Jesus represented as follows:

“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand.”

It is, perhaps, not unreasonable to view him as reluctant to repeat the phrase “with anger.” In short, in cases precisely similar to this, where avoidance may be secured simply by a process of omission, we may, I think, grant that any necessity of viewing the words as having been omitted by the Matthaean compiler, creates no difficulty for the hypothesis of a Matthew derived from Mark. On the other hand, it constitutes no direct argument in favor of a derivative First Gospel.

In order to consider the case of the alternative hypothesis, let us picture the situation when the Markan compiler has completed verse 4 and is about to set down the participial phrases which in the Greek are modifiers of the subject of “saith.” In his exemplar, there are no modifying adjuncts. But the Markan compiler is supplied with information not to be found in the Matthaean account. The mental attitude of the Saviour at the moment of uttering the words “Stretch forth thy hand” is known to him. He is aware that Jesus looked round about and that He did so “with anger.” Let us grant, in order not to complicate matters, that he was fully conscious that some of his readers would perhaps stumble momentarily at this view of the Saviour. How would he decide? In the first place, we are compelled to take the view that, whether Mark be conceived as an original or as a derivative writing, the writer of this Gospel did use the words. It matters not which of the two alternative hypotheses we assume as the true one, we still have the Saviour represented as angry. The question before us is, accordingly, whether it is especially easier to understand that the Markan writer penned the phrase under the circumstances that the Gospel of Matthew was still unwritten and unknown, than to conceive that he did so in a situation where the First Gospel was lying before him. The composer of Mark, conceived as an original author, may be claimed (1) as having written a few years earlier than the Matthaean writer and (2) as being free from whatever control may properly be ascribed to the Gospel of Matthew, when this writing is made his exemplar.

It appears to me, however, to be a frightful reduction in the force of any argument for a tendency to omit the words “with anger,” that under any and all circumstances it must nevertheless be conceded that some Gospel writer did actually put them into the record. When we assume that the Gospel of Mark is an original document, we do not get rid of this phrase. It is still there. I conceive that its presence in the record is due to the circumstance that it truly represents the history—the circumstance that Jesus actually was angry. I conceive, further, that Matthew, the publican, one of the Twelve, did not include them in his account, because this phase of the scene did not recur to him, or because he was not especially inclined to record the emotional aspects of an event but was more intent upon the principal facts. John Mark may very well have recorded them, partly because he had been informed, probably by the Apostle Peter himself, that anger really did characterize the attitude of the Saviour at the time, and partly because he wished to give as full an account as possible.

At all events, the words are in the Markan document, and we must allow that either a primary or a secondary writer put them there. Will the difficulty of granting this be much eased if the writer of the Second Gospel be made an original author, rather than a compiler, and if his period be made a few years earlier, rather than a few years later than that of the Matthaean writer?

It has already been suggested that considerations might enter, other than that which a difficult passage might conceivably produce upon the reader. And it has also been pointed out in effect that one reason why we have the words “with anger” may have been the knowledge on the part of the Markan writer that the phrase expressed a historic fact. I now emphasize the point that the very consideration, that in the picture presented in Mark we have a difficulty, provides a strong argument in favor of the genuineness of that picture. It is unlikely that we should have the phrase if the words do not reflect the truth. And the correspondence with fact constitutes a reason why the words were introduced by the Markan writer. We have the problem of accounting for their presence in the Second Gospel, whatever view we take of the relative priority as between Matthew and Mark. If we say that, when the Second Gospel is assumed to be primary to the First, good reasons for the description of the Saviour as angry are (1) that it is probable that this account represents the truth, otherwise we should not have it included in such a document, and (2) that it is also probable that the writer wished to tell all that he knew and so give as complete a view as possible— if we assign these reasons, when Mark is conceived as prior to Matthew, why should they not serve as well when we reverse the time relation between the two Gospels?

In fact, when the Second Gospel is made a derivative of the First, there appear to be but two possible considerations tending to oppose this assumption. The Markan writer is then subject to whatever control may properly be ascribed to the absence of the phrase in his exemplar, and he is also to be regarded as under whatever influence it may be suitable to attribute to a less primitive atmosphere than otherwise would surround the case.

With respect to the former consideration, the question may at once be raised whether the principle is a true one which maintains that a secondary writer would not add details to narratives found in his exemplar. As a matter of fact, this proposition admits of summary refutation. The three Synoptic Gospels are so related that, when any one you please is made primary and either of the remaining two made secondary, the derivative text will be found to be replete with small additions.

This may be illustrated by setting up Mark as exemplar for Matthew and then noting, upon a comparison of the parallel sections, that everywhere we have small insertions of fresh material—either new items of information or developments of old statements. That is to say, for example, if we hold that, under the assumption that Mark was compiled from Matthew, the compiler would not have made the short addition which includes the words “with anger,” because this would mean that he broke away from the restraint imposed by their absence from his exemplar —if we hold this view, then we will find that the adoption of the alternative sequence of composition, Mark to Matthew, will not result in ridding us of the necessity of conceding that a secondary writer is not so controlled by his exemplar that he would not make small textual additions.

That we are still compelled, even when we derive Matthew from Mark, to concede that the primary cannot be relied upon so to control the secondary that the latter would be substantially free from minor additions, may be seen by a thoroughgoing comparison of the parallel sections of the two texts. It is unnecessary, perhaps, to give an extended tabulation of the results of such a comparative examination. I content myself with tabulating a sufficient proportion of the small additions which a Matthaean compiler is to be assumed as having inserted into the 8th and 9th chapters of his text. This short list may be taken as a representative sample.

It will now be apparent, perhaps, that no reliance may be put upon any contention that a secondary writer would be very sure not to supplement his exemplar by small additions. We have such additional matter whether we make Matthew the primary and Mark the secondary, or

Small Portions Of Textual Matter Present In Matthew, Unrepresented In Mark

(From Mt. 8 and 9)

Place in Matthew The small portion—in English
Mk. 8:1 And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him
Mk. 8:2 Behold
Mk. 8:2 Lord
Mk. 8:14 he saw
Mk. 8:15 She arose
Mk. 8:16 with a word
Mk. 8:18 Now when Jesus saw a multitude about him
Mk. 8:24 Behold
Mk. 8:28 so that no man could pass by that way
Mk. 8:29 Behold
Mk. 8:29 art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
Mk. 8:31 If thou cast us out
Mk. 8:32 Behold
Mk. 8:32 Whole
Mk. 8:33 Everything, and what was befallen to them that were possessed with demons
Mk. 8:34 Behold
Mk. 8:34 all the city
Mk. 8:34 when they saw
Mk. 9:2 Behold
Mk. 9:2 be of good cheer
Mk. 9:3 behold
Mk. 9:6 then
Mk. 9:7 to his house
Mk. 9:8 But when [the multitudes] saw it
Mk. 9:8 who had given such authority unto men
Mk. 9:10 behold
Mk. 9:13 But go ye and learn what this meaneth, I desire mercy and not sacrifice
Mk. 9:13 for
Mk. 9:14 Then
Mk. 9:17 and both are preserved
Mk. 9:18 While he spake these things unto them
Mk. 9:19 arose and
Mk. 9:20 behold
Mk. 9:21 within herself
Mk. 9:22 be of good cheer
Mk. 9:24 Give place
Mk. 9:26 And the fame hereof went forth into all that land
Mk. 9:35 All the cities
Mk. 9:35 in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.


whether we reverse the assumption and conceive the Second Gospel as the original document, and the First as the derivative.

It may be worth while, nevertheless, to illustrate the matter further. I give tabulations exemplifying the situation, both when Mark is viewed as derived from Luke and when the reverse is assumed. The tables are illustrative only and cover regions of comparison that are quite

Small Portions Of Textual Matter Present In Mark, Unrepresented In Luke

(From Mk. 1:22–2:17)

Place in Mark

The small portion—in English

Mk. 1:22 and not as the scribes
Mk. 1:26 and crying with a loud voice
Mk. 1:27 a new teaching!
Mk. 1:28 of Galilee
Mk. 1:29 and [of] Andrew, with James and John
Mk. 1:31 and took her by the hand
Mk. 1:33 And all the city was gathered together at the door and there prayed
Mk. 1:36 Simon
Mk. 1:38 Let us go elsewhere
Mk. 1:39 and casting out demons
Mk. 1:41 being moved with compassion
Mk. 1:43 and he strictly charged him, and straightway sent him out
Mk. 1:45 insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city
Mk. 2:1 And when he entered again into Capernaum
Mk. 2:1 it was noised that he was in the house
Mk. 2:2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, no not even about the door
Mk. 2:3 of hour
Mk. 2:4 whereon the sick of the palsy lay
Mk. 2:8 in his spirit
Mk. 2:9 take his spirit
Mk. 2:9 take up thy bed
Mk. 2:13 by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them
Mk. 2:14 the son of Alphaeus
Mk. 2:15 for there were many, and they followed him
Mk. 2:16 when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans
Mk. 2:17 When [Jesus] heard it


restricted. Moreover, they are not claimed as complete even within the limits stated.

Having disposed of the argument which claims that Matthew is to be assumed as secondary to Mark because (1) the only alternative is the reverse assumption and because (2) this involves us in granting that a secondary writer would add small supplements to the material supplied by his exemplar—having disposed of this contention, I proceed to consider the question whether the lapse of time between the composition of the most primitive of our Gospels, whichever one that may be, and the compilation of a derivative did not witness such a change in the conditions, under which the earliest Gospel writings were inscribed, as to make it highly improbable that the

Small Portions Of Textual Matter Present In Luke, Unrepresented In Mark

(From Lk. 4:31–6:32)

Place in Luke

The small portion—in English

Mk. 4:31 a city of Galilee
Mk. 4:33 with a loud voice
Mk. 4:34 Ah!
Mk. 4:35 having done him no hurt
Mk. 4:36 and [with] power
Mk. 4:38 great
Mk. 4:39 rebuked the fever
Mk. 4:39 immediately
Mk. 4:41 crying out, and saying, Thou art the Son of God
Mk. 5:12 And it came to pass, while he was in one of the cities
Mk. 5:12 and when he saw Jesus
Mk. 5:15 to hear, and to be healed of their infirmities
Mk. 5:16 and prayed
Mk. 5:17 who were come out of every village of Galilee and Judaea and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was with him to heal
Mk. 5:19 into the midst before Jesus
Mk. 5:25 glorifying God
Mk. 5:26 and they were filled with fear
Mk. 5:28 he forsook all
Mk. 5:29 made him a great feast
Mk. 5:30 the Pharisees
Mk. 5:32 to repentance


compiler would create original difficulties or repeat others present in his exemplar. If it could be shown that in the early days such a period of change did occur and further, that Mark was written before its occurrence and Matthew afterwards, then naturally we should have evidence tending to show that the First Gospel was derived from the Second.

I challenge the truth of any proposition asserting that such a transition period ever existed and also of any proposition declaring that, in the event that this time of change occurred, Matthew and Mark were written on opposite sides of it. However, before dealing with these matters in detail, it will be well to get before us some information as to just what are the kinds of statements and phrases which in Mark are viewed by some as evidences of a primitiveness superior to that of Matthew. I have already cited one notable example—the presence in Mk. 3:5 of the words “with anger.” It will be desirable to do something more than cite a single instance of difficulty. In fact, I propose to give an extended statement of what may be conceived as possibly constituting difficulties in the minds of very ancient readers, including some which I myself have added to what have been instanced by those whom I oppose. But, before doing this, I present a few discussions of instances of real or fancied difficulty, which I elect to treat individually.

Selected Instances Of Conceivable Difficulty

Mk. 1:11. In Mt. 3:17, the Voice uses the third person. This has been conceived as a public announcement and as one which for this reason was more impressive than the Markan statement in the second person. This may well be doubted. The Voice speaking directly to Jesus in the hearing of those present would thus single Him out as the immediate recipient of a divine communication. In view of this consideration, it is not permissible to urge the third person in Matthew as an argument favoring the derivative character of that Gospel.

Mk. 1:12. It has been suggested that we have in the Greek word translated “driveth forth” a degree of harshness that is absent from the Matthaean word rendered “was led up” (Mt. 4:1). It might be argued upon this premise that it is more likely that a Matthaean compiler replaced a harsh word by a milder one than that a Markan secondary writer made the reverse substitution. That there is really no force in this contention may readily be seen upon considering the fact that the Matthaean writer himself did not regard the Markan word as necessarily implying harshness. I cite in this connection Matthaean passages containing it: Mt. 9:25 (“when the crowd was put forth”); 9:38 (“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest”); 12:35 (“The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things”); and 13:52 (“Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old”).

Mk. 1:32, 34. In verse 34, we have “many that were sick.” The “many” here, taken in connection with “all” in verse 32, may be considered a difficulty. The same difficulty does not arise in Matthew, as in this Gospel it said that He “healed all that were sick” (Mt. 8:16); so that, we have, at first sight at least, an argument favoring Markan priority. However, the situation is not eased by turning to this hypothesis when the parallel passage in Matthew is duly considered. The Matthaean compiler omits to say anything at all about the sick being brought to the Saviour, although his exemplar not only records that they were brought, but expressly says “all that were sick.” We have, accordingly, a difficulty, whether we make Matthew or Mark the dependent document.

It may, perhaps, not be amiss to call attention to the fact that there is no necessary historical clash between the two records. The Markan writer uses, in verse 34, the word “many” and thus brings out the circumstance that the cures of sickness were numerous—something not to be gotten from Matthew, despite the use of the word “all.”

Mk. 2:26. The notice here as to Abiathar is supposed to involve a difficulty. See 1 Sm. 21:1. However, even if it be granted that the person meant in Mark was the Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, mentioned in 1 Sm. 22:20–23, who fled to David soon after the event of the Markan passage, and that the Greek originally found at this point had no other signification than that which is expressed by the words “when Abiathar was high-priest,” it is not necessary, also, to concede that the Greek phrase ever was a part of the text written by the Markan author, nor in case it was, that the Aramaic uttered by the Saviour had any other sense than one permitting the interpretation “in the times of Abiathar who eventually became high-priest.” The Greek words may very well be an interpolation from the margin. Two ancient Greek uncials (D and W) omit them, as also do certain MSS. which represent the very early Latin version or versions (a. b. e. ff 2. i).

But, for the time being, let us accept the view that we have Greek words constituting a Markan addition or a Matthaean omission and having the sense “in the high-priesthood of Abiathar,” and then inquire whether, even so, the historical difficulty provides any substantial basis for the claim that Mark, rather than Matthew, is the primary document.

Whether we make the Second Gospel primary or secondary, we are compelled to grant that the writer penned the words. If, then, we are to find an argument for Markan priority, we must apparently find it connected with the passage of time and some consequent change in the attitude of Christians as to the propriety of incorporating in a Gospel document difficult, though true, sayings of the Saviour. That is to say, we must ascertain that it was quite possible for the Markan writer to include the phrase, if we view him as writing at a certain early period, but scarcely possible for him to do so, if we conceive him as preparing his Gospel at a somewhat later date. What is to be assumed as having intervened? Did a crystallization of sentiment occur in the interval, a crystallization of a feeling antagonistic to the circulation of sayings likely to cause difficulty?

It is, naturally, the business of those who wish to use the Markan phrase which mentions Abiathar to establish the truth of some such proposition as this: At a very early, though not at the earliest, period, a transformation of Christian opinion occurred of such a character that, whereas prior to the change, believers were ready to circulate sayings of the Saviour involving historical or other difficulty, they were at a time subsequent to this change unwilling to do so. Has a proposition of this character been proven? So far as my information goes, no such proof ever has been attempted, nor has there been even a recognition that a proposition of this description should be set up and established as a pre-requisite to a claim for Markan priority based on the Markan words. There has no doubt been implicit or explicit assertion—but apparently no attempt at a proof nor a perception of the need of one.

Moreover, an examination of the considerable evidence available, evidence submitted, at least in part, in these pages, will show that the Matthaean writer, even when made secondary, did not hesitate to include sayings of the Saviour which were quite capable of causing difficulty. Some of these are repetitions from Mark, some are independent of the Second Gospel. Furthermore, there are Johannine reports, not to mention Lukan, of different sayings. We may also find—and in Matthew, too—an example of a historical difficulty not dissimilar to the one concerning Abiathar. That is to say, in the Saviour’s discourse in Mt. 23:35, occurs a historical statement which it is difficult to reconcile with the information available to us. There had been a “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah” (Zch. 1:1), one of the twelve minor prophets, and also a “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada” (2 Chr. 24:20), the former of whom died we know not when, where nor how, and the latter of whom “was stoned with stones in the court of the house of the Lord” (2 Chr. 24:21).

But, let us, momentarily, disregard the advantage resident in the impossibility of success which seems to be involved in any attempt to maintain the necessary alteration in the attitude of primitive Christians, and consider the difficult words of Mk. 2:26 simply as a “hard saying.” And let us at once concede that a Matthaean compiler, working with Mark before him, might very well choose to avoid trouble by a simple omission. On the other hand, let us note the situation when we assume the Markan writer as making a compilation from Matthew. He knows, or at least believes he does, of a supplementary chronological statement uttered by the Saviour, Peter, or some other source being his authority. In such cirsumstances, the Markan compiler may very well have ignored all other considerations, and thought only of the fact that he had available a supplementary notice which had actually been uttered by the Saviour. How is an argument favoring Markan priority to be adduced from this dead-lock?

Mk. 3:10. We have in Mk. 3:10 the word “many” paralleling “them all” in Mt. 12:15. Are we to suppose that a Markan compiler made the substitution required by the language of the two texts? Or, is it not easier to think of a Matthaean compiler making the change in the wording from what we find in Mark to what we find in Matthew? A superficial examination would, perhaps, result in the concession that it is easy to accept the consequences of an original Mark and a secondary Matthew, but difficult to grant the effects of reversing the situation. However, upon comparing the two Gospels, we find that Mark presents much more narrative than does Matthew. In verse 9, in particular, the Second Gospel records the Saviour’s direction to His disciples to have a little boat in waiting, in order that it might be used to prevent the multitude from thronging Him. In verse 10, we have the explanation. So many had been healed that others, those who had plagues, were pressing upon Him for the purpose of touching Him. The Matthaean “them all” would not suit the Markan situation, as this expression would not necessarily mean a large number. The word “many,” used in Mark, does cover the case, and so may readily be understood as a substitution made by a Markan compiler working with Matthew before him.

Mk. 5:7. The fact that here the demon dares to adjure the Saviour has been cited as something which a Matthaean compiler might wish to omit. If so, then it is hard to understand why he should, nevertheless, be willing to substitute, or at least include, the question, “art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29), a question which suggests a tentative accusation that Jesus was premature in His activities.

Mk. 6:3. Mark has “the carpenter” and Matthew (13:55) “the carpenter’s son,” and it has been thought that a Matthaean compiler converted the one expression into the other with a view to avoiding a possibly objectionable mention of the Saviour as a common workman. On the other hand, the Matthaean words introduce something much more likely to cause stumbling. Jesus was Joseph’s son from a legal point of view and this is no doubt what is meant in Matthew. Just the same, the expression might easily cause difficulty because of the possible implication of the words.

Mk. 11:20. It has been said (Horae Synopticae, 2d ed., p. 118):”The statement [in Mark], that the withering of the fig-tree was not noticed until the next morning, might be dropped as obscuring the signal character of the miracle.” If this explanation for the absence of the Markan notice as to the following morning is to be regarded as facilitating acceptance of the hypothesis of a derivative Matthew, then the fact that the First Gospel also omits the Markan words “from the roots” (Mt. 21:19) must be viewed as an offsetting difficulty. This phrase serves to emphasize the ‘signal character of the miracle,” and should, therefore, have been retained by the Matthaean compiler.

Mk. 15:45. The Greek word here rendered “corpse” has been thought by some to have had a contemptuous sense when applied to the remains of a human being. In this connection, Sir J. C. Hawkins refers, Horae Synopticae, pp. 124 f., to a note by Swete. I excerpt this note from H. B. Swete’s The Gospel according to St. Mark (1902), in loco. In commenting on the word, the writer says: “When employed for the dead body of a human being it carries a tone of contempt (cf. e. g., Sap. iv. 19 πτῶμαἄτιμον, Ezech. 6:5, A). The majority of the uncial MSS. avoid the word here, and borrow σῶμα from Mt. Lk. Jo.; and the Latin versions similarly prefer corpus to cadaver.” All this sounds very wise and learned, but the propriety of the Markan usage is certified to us by the substantially contemporary employment of the same word by the writers of Matthew and Revelation in situations where contempt is out of the question. See Mt. 14:12, where the reference is to the dead body of John the Baptist, and Rv. 11:8–9, where all three instances are concerned with the remains of the two witnesses.

I now proceed to set forth in a series of tabulations a considerable number of instances of short passages, present in Mark but absent from Matthew, which involve, conceivably, more or less of difficulty.

Difficulties Based On Emotion

It is conceivable that in the early days a tendency may have arisen to avoid attributing to the Saviour such emotions as anger and surprise. The following examples from the Second Gospel are illustrative of phrsaeology which might, because of the emotions ascribed to Jesus, be thought to have constituted difficulty in the eyes of a compiler using this document.

Mk. 1:43 strictly, or sternly, charged
Mk. 3:5 with anger
Mk. 3:21 for they said, He is beside himself
Mk. 6:6 marvelled
Mk. 8:12 sighed deeply in his spirit
Mk. 10:14 was moved with indignation
Mk. 10:21 looking upon him loved him
Mk. 14:33 to be greatly amazed

Language Apparently Involving Ascriptions Of Ignorance

In Mark may also be found instances where the writer might, perhaps, be conceived as having ascribed ignorance to the Saviour. Some of these are cases of questions that are asked under circumstances where it would not be difficult to view the inquiry as based upon a desire to obtain information. Others mention Jesus as acting in conjunction with physical sensations. In the instances cited, the sensation or perception may usually be considered as having taken place prior to some act of His. It is frequently a question of the use of the aorist participle to express the reception of the sensation of sound or sight. Does the aorist signify priority of activity or does it merely indicate concurrent action? In Mk. 10:14 and 12:34, we have second aorist participles. In the American Revised Version (1900), the following renderings are given: “When [Jesus] saw it” and “when [Jesus] saw.” In short, it is not difficult to read into the two passages in which these participles occur the suggestions, in the one case, that it was in consequence, not of supernatural knowledge, but of physiological vision, that the Saviour “was moved with indignation”; and, in the other case, that the reply made to this scribe was due to a psychological perception rather than to what Jesus perceived in His spirit. It is perhaps possible to take most of the participles in the cases given in the tabulation and understand them to signify physical or psychological events, and thus as events suggesting the exclusion of supernatural knowledge. I give a list, though perhaps not an exhaustive one. Instances, like the one in Mk. 8:17=Mt. 16:8, which are paralleled in Matthew, I exclude. The translations given are to be understood as, in some cases, setting forth a sense, not necessarily the most probable one, but nevertheless one expressive of a thoroughly possible view of the Greek.

Mk. 3:5 And having looked round about upon them
Mk. 3:34 And having looked round about upon those who were sitting in a circle about him
Mk. 5:30 And as soon as he perceived in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth
Mk. 5:36 having overheard [however, the American Revisers give in their text “not heeding”]
Mk. 6:48 having seen
Mk. 8:33 and when he saw his disciples
Mk. 9:25 And when he saw that a multitude came running together
Mk. 10:14 But when he saw it
Mk. 10:21 when he had looked upon him
Mk. 10:23 And having looked round about
Mk. 11:11 and when he had looked round about upon all things
Mk. 12:34 And when he had perceived that he answered discreetly


We may associate with the foregoing list, made up of instances apparently capable of being interpreted as examples of the ascertainment of facts through the senses, a group of passages where the Saviour is represented as one who may be viewed as seeking information through questions. I cite a goodly number of these. However, I do not in this enumeration give instances, like Mk. 8:5 =Mt. 15:34, which are repeated in Matthew.

Mk. 5:9 What is thy name
Mk. 30 Who touched my garments?
Mk. 6:38 How many loaves have ye?
Mk. 9:12 and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be set at naught?
Mk. 9:16 What question ye with them?
Mk. 9:21 How long time is it since this has come unto him?
Mk. 9:33 What were ye reasoning on the way?
Mk. 10:3 What did Moses command you?
Mk. 11:13 he came, if haply he might find anything thereon
Mk. 14:14 Where is my guest-chamber?


We may continue our listing of Markan difficulties by setting down instances where the Saviour is represented as the recipient of information and where He is pictured as exercising the natural senses and the ordinary perceptive powers. Thus, He is, in Mk. 1:30, told about Simon’s mother-in-law, and in Mk. 12:41, He is described as one who saw with his eyes “how the multitude cast money into the treasury.” Such passages are conceivably capable of producing the impression that He needed to be informed or that, in order to perceive events, it was necessary to employ the eye, the ear and the mind. I list a number of passages having such characteristics.

Mk. 1:10 he saw
Mk. 1:30 and straightway they tell him of her
Mk. 6:30 and they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught
Mk. 9:38 John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name, etc.


Then there are cases where the difficult expression seems capable of being construed as indicating some inability or unfulfilled desire on the part of the Saviour, some want of reverence in the minds of the disciples, some disposition of a demon to defer obedience or to raise a question as to what the Saviour intended, some actual disobedience by a cured person, some disregard of Jewish institutions, some ignorance in the mind of Jesus of events which were transpiring or had transpired, or some activity or happening or saying provocative of difficulty.

Mk. 1:2 [The quotation here is from Malachi (3:1) and not from Isaiah.]
Mk. 1:25–26 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. [It has been imagined that the whole account (1:23–28) may have been omitted by Matthaean compiler because of an unwillingness to describe bodily anguish as subsequent to the healing word of the Savior.]
Mk. 1:31 and took her by the hand, and raised her up [We have here an instance where a physical act is described as an accompaniment of a miracle. Some have imagined a difficulty involved in such presentations.]
Mk. 1:41 he stretched forth his hand, and touched him
Mk. 1:45 But [despite the command not to tell of his cure] he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city . . . [Difficulty is claimed here on the ground that the Savior is represented as unable to do something. It has also been suggested that possibly the compiler of Matthew omitted the whole verse because of the conjunction of an account of a disobedience to the Savior’s command and of the statement as to inability.]
Mk. 2:8 in his spirit
Mk. 2:23 [The words here rendered, “began, as they went, to pluck the ears”, may also be translated, began to make a road as they plucked the ears. A difficulty for Jewish Christians may perhaps be discerned in the second view of the sense.]
Mk. 2:27 The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath [Here again a difficulty may perhaps be seen for Jewish believers.]
Mk. 3:21 they [his friends] said, He is beside himself
Mk. 3:29 but is guilty of an eternal sin [This has been thought such an unusual conception of punishment that it might have been viewed as a difficulty.]
Mk. 4:26–29 [This Markan parable might, it has been suggested, have seemed a difficulty because of the possibility that it might discourage activity and watchfulness in missionary and pastoral work.]
Mk. 4:36 And other boats were with him [The conception of possible difficulty here rests upon the fact that no further reference is made to these “other boats”.]
Mk. 5:8–10 [These verses seem to indicate a momentary lingering of the unclean spirit after he had been commanded to come out.]
Mk. 5:31 Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
Mk. 5:41 And taking the child by the hand
Mk. 6:5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that, etc.
Mk. 6:37 shall we go and buy two hundred shillings’ worth of bread, and give them to eat? [The possible difficulty here consists in the fact that this question of the disciples may be viewed as ironical.]
Mk. 6:48 and he would have passed them [The Greek here may be viewed as having the sense, and he wished to pass them.]
Mk. 7:24 And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it; and he could not be hid
Mk. 8:32 And he spake the saying openly [If we accept the sense here assigned to the Greek word rendered “openly”, a difficulty has been conceived to reside in an unlikelihood that at this juncture the Savior announced the prophecy to others than the disciples, and in an inconsistency with verse 34, which may, if we choose, be considered to imply that the multitude had not yet been summoned.]
Mk. 8:38 in this adulterous and sinful generation [Difficulty is seen in these words because of the possibility of taking them in such sense as “to narrow the application of the warning against being ‘ashamed of Christ.”]
Mk. 9:13 even as it is written of him [The difficulty here consists in the fact that apparently the OT does not mention any requirement that Elijah should undergo persecution and suffering.]
Mk. 9:15 were greatly amazed [The point has been raised that there is no apparent reason amazement.]
Mk. 9:20–26 [This passage “describes how the spirit tare the sufferer as he was brought to Christ, so that he fell on the ground and wallowed foaming. The Lord presently bade the spirit come forth; whereupon ‘having cried out and rent him sore, he came out. And he became as one dead, so that many said that he had died.’ Mt. omits all these details, simply saying that ‘the demon came forth from him.’ “ (Allen, S. Matthew, xxxii f.)]
Mk. 9:22b–24 “The fact that the father’s prayer was granted, notwithstanding these confusions of doubt, may have seemed to imply the acceptance of a lower standard of faith than the Church usually required; hence perhaps the omission of this dialogue.” (Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, p. 124.)]
Mk. 9:30

and he would not that any man should know it

Mk. 9:39 for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me [The view has been entertained that difficulty might have been seen in the apparent inconsistency with Mt. 7:21–23.]
Mk. 11:3 back hither. Is the last clause of verse 3 a part of the message which the disciples were to deliver, in case they were accosted, or is it a comment made to them by the Savior? If we view the clause as part of the message, then, it has been imagined, we have a difficulty growing out of the consideration that these words might be thought to detract from the dignity of the request.]
Mk. 11:18 for it was not the season of figs [“This may have seemed, and has seemed to some, to imply an unjustifiable, or at least ignorant, expectation and consequent disappointment.” (Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, p. 120.)]
Mk. 12:32 Of a truth [It is possible to consider Mk. 12:32–34 as describing a patronizing attitude on the part of the scribe.]
Mk. 14:14

my [This has appeared as capable of being viewed as a harshly expressed claim.]

Mk. 15:25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him [This notice as to time is said to have caused difficulty.]
Mk. 15:44–45 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he learned it of the centurion [The possibility of difficulty here turns on the question whether the account, which in fact appears to have no obvious religious bearing, would seem to have a place in an instruction book such as perhaps it is conceivable, the Gospel of Matthew may have been intended to be.]

Other Evidence

The foregoing lists exhibit but few if any examples of difficulties that are not omissions, if Matthew was derived from Mark, or else additions, if Mark was compiled from Matthew. There are still other instances of Markan difficulties which parallel similar or identical difficulties in the Matthaean document. These add more or less to the evidence already tabulated, because when we assume the First Gospel as parent for the Second, we have to add these cases, repetitions though they may be, to those which are actual additions. They may not increase to any extent the weight of whatever evidence may be resident in the added passages. Nevertheless such instances exist, and I do not wish to obscure that fact. It will, perhaps, be unnecessary to list them with any completeness. I give a few examples: Mk. 1:16, 19 and 2:14 (=Mt. 4:18, 21 and 9:9) have “he saw”; Mk. 2:17, “when Jesus heard it” = Mt. 9:12, “when he heard it”; Mk. 8:17, “when he perceived it” = Mt. 16:8, “when he perceived it”; Mk. 8:5, “How many loaves have ye?” = Mt. 15:34, “How many loaves have ye?”; Mk. 8:32, “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him” = Mt. 16:22, “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”

The reader has now had set before him what is perhaps much the most complete presentation of the evidence consisting of difficult notices contained in Mark, but not in Matthew—these difficult fragments, including amongst others, those whose difficulty resides in some reference to the Saviour, but not including those characterized by some disparagement of the disciples. Despite the completeness with which the difficult passages have been listed, it will be found, when we come in the next instalment to consider extensive tabulations of similar difficult notices contained in Matthew, Luke and John, that it is not permissible to advance the proposition that, at some point of time during the period of the composition of the four Gospels, occurred a change in Christian sentiment capable of explaining how a Markan original author, writing before the change, could have penned the difficult passages, but opposed to the view that a secondary Markan writer could have done so after the change. Whatever hypothesis we entertain as to the Second Gospel, it is necessary to admit that the writer of that Gospel did actually include the notices in the document he prepared. If we allow that the Markan writer could have included them when composing an original narrative, can we refuse to believe that he could also have done so, even though writing as a compiler at a somewhat later date? The evidence from Matthew, Luke and John will show, when taken in connection with that from Mark, that at all times during the years when the four Gospels were in process of composition the writers were but little occupied with the possibility of avoiding difficulty by the clipping either of their own narrative language or of the discourse of the Saviour. Everyone of the four writers included passages—and many of them—which it is possible to conceive as capable of producing difficulty. So that it is, apparently, impossible to discern a point of time when in those early days the sentiment of Christians underwent a change of the kind required to make convincing the claim that Mark could not have been written after the change, or that Matthew must have been compiled subsequently to it.

(To be continued)


1) The reader is not to understand that all of the classes of omissions made by the Matthaean writer, or else additions made by the Markan, are claimed as mutually exclusive groups. Some of the 876 words—66 as a matter of fact—are included in the 7 whole instances.

2) The reader may be interested to know how the aggregate of 3,579 words of matter present in Mark but absent from Matthew has been compiled. The general principle has been followed of excluding words, phrases and sentences as to the propriety of whose inclusion there seemed to be substantial doubt. In short, 3,579 words stands as a conservative estimate. Although the reader may use the tabular statement in connection with a detailed comparison of the two texts and thus be able to determine a good deal as to my manner of making the compilation, a brief discussion of a few examples of material included and excluded will perhaps be acceptable.

In Mk. 2:19b are 10 words which I exclude. They are more or less a repetition of the question immediately preceding. This would not justify their exclusion if it were reasonably certain that the Savior uttered them. They may be nothing more than an explanation of the force of the question, and as such may simply be a statement of the writer of Mark or may have been originally a marginal comment. In either case, they add little or nothing to the Savior’s question. They occur neither in Matthew nor in Luke.

I have excluded also the expressions found in 3:28, 4:30 and 4:32 and rendered “wherewithsoever they shall blaspheme,” “How shall we liken”, and “when it is sown”. Nevertheless it is a fact that they all appear in the text as words of the Savior. And further, I have omitted the words of 3:32 translated “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.” These are words of direct discourse which are absent, as such, from the Matthaean text. I am perhaps in error in this omission. If so, my mistake is on the side of safety.

On the other hand, I have included the Greek words in 3:23 which have been rendered “How can Satan cast out Satan?” They summarize the matter discussed in the following context, and so constitute something of a repetition. At the same time, however, they are the Savior’s words, and so should be retained. Similar remarks apply to the words of 4:8 which have been translated “growing up and increasing.” Perhaps the words of 4:14, which have been reproduced in English as “The Sower soweth the word”, may be conceived as implied in the context. Nevertheless, they are part of the Savior’s explanation, and this justifies their retention.

In 4:39, we have certain words which have been rendered “And the wind ceased”. These are in the narrative framework and may perhaps be implied in what comes next, “and there was a great calm.” On the other hand, the former statement leads up to the latter, and is consequently a very proper part of the description of what occurred. I retain the four Greek words.

3) B. W. Bacon, An Introduction to the New Testament (1900–1924), p. 181.