Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Ending of Mark (Part 2 of 4): Documentary Evidence

     The Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8 in some manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century. While these two documents are highly esteemed as the earliest surviving copies of the complete New Testament, this in itself does not guarantee their accuracy. They are commonly touted as the "best" simply because of their advanced age, yet their survival is fundamentally due to chance of locality. The dry, arid climate of Egypt is conducive to preserving papyrus materials, but if they had been located elsewhere (e.g. Rome or Syria), it is doubtful that their alleged  "superiority" would have been recognized, and it is unlikely they would have endured.
     Vaticanus is full of careless transcription, including omissions and repetitions, and in the Gospels alone words or entire clauses are left out no less than 1,491 times. Sinaiticus is also replete with transcriptional error, including numerous careless omissions and variant readings (see J. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses 73-76). W. N. Pickering observes: "But the evidence indicates that the earliest [manuscripts] are the worst. It is clear that the Church in general did not propagate the sort of text found in the earliest [manuscripts], which demonstrates that they were not held in high esteem in their day" (Identity of the NT Text 122). Vaticanus and Sinaiticus often diverge from one another, with one or the other agreeing with the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and this early witness (along with multitudes of others) contains the last twelve verses of Mark 16.
     What about the claim that some manuscripts (e.g. codices 20, 137, 138, 215, 264, 300, 1221, 2346) are marked to indicate the questionable nature of these verses? Evidently there was enough textual evidence available to the respective scribes to justify the inclusion of the passage rather than excising it. In ancient manuscripts asterisks (*) signify added words and obeli (÷) omitted words, while the use of τλ (telos) merely designates a lectionary break and not a spurious passage at all. Upon further investigation, we learn that in 20, 215 and 300 (where the mark comes after v. 15 rather than v. 8), and in 138 and 137 (where asterisks do not appear), the marginal notations all claim the genuineness of the passage, with the observation that omission occurs only in "some" (tisi) manuscripts. Further, in 264, 1221, and 2346 the symbols simply mark the end and the beginning of lectionary readings. All of these witnesses actually provide added support for the validity of the text.
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Ending of Mark Part 1Ending of Mark Part 3, Ending of Mark Part 4, Text of NT Part 1, Text of NT Part 2

Related articles: J. E. Snapp, Jr., Sorting Out Common Mistakes

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Ending of Mark (Part 1 of 4): Textual Issues

     Basically four endings of Mark’s Gospel appear in the extant manuscripts, two of which can readily be dismissed because of the acute weakness of the documentary evidence. Among the final twenty verses an expanded insertion between v. 14 and v. 15 is preserved only in the late-fourth or early-fifth century Codex Washingtonianus (W or 032). A number of late manuscripts include a shorter ending following 16:8, though all but one (itk) continue with vv. 9-20.
     The major debate concerns the other two endings. The vast majority of witnesses contain the full twenty verses (i.e. the traditional ending). In fact, 99% of the existing manuscripts have the longer ending of Mark. But the Gospel ends at 16:8 in some copies, including the two oldest: the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, although in Vaticanus an empty space follows 16:8, leaving room for the verses in question.
     While the difficulty is not easily resolved, the majority opinion in scholarly circles is that the original ending is at 16:8, although most agree that v. 8 provides an abrupt, clumsy conclusion with no record of a personal appearance of the risen Christ. From a pragmatic standpoint, we know that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the issuing of the great commission and the ascension were all well known accounts at the time Mark’s Gospel was penned (1 Corinthians 15:5-7; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 5:13; etc.). Why would these critical details be omitted and why would the Gospel end so abruptly? Three possibilities have been proposed: (1) the abrupt ending was intentional; (2) the Gospel was never finished; or (3) the original ending was lost.
     Did Mark intentionally conclude the Gospel at 16:8 for reasons known only to him? Rather than leaving his readers in suspense, Mark was careful to affirm the fulfilment of divine promises. For example, Mark narrates the Lord’s prophetic warning of Judas’ betrayal (14:18-21, 42), followed by its fulfilment (14:43-45). Mark recounts the Lord’s expressed foreknowledge of the disciples forsaking him (14:27), followed by its fulfilment (14:50). Mark reports the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s denial and the crowing rooster (14:30), followed by its fulfilment (14:66-72). Mark records the Lord’s repeated forewarnings of his suffering, death, and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34), followed by the fulfilment of these prophecies (14:43–16:6).
     Twice Mark documents the explicit promise that Jesus would appear to his disciples after his resurrection (14:28; 16:7). It seems incredible, therefore, to think that Mark’s narrative would uncharacteristically leave these promises unfulfilled! A point worthy of consideration is the improbability that ephobounto gar ("for they feared") would have been purposefully chosen as the final wording of a book, especially of this particular book. One might argue that a sentence or even a paragraph could legitimately conclude with gar ("for") (cf. BAGD 151), but "it is difficult to believe that the note of fear would have been regarded as an appropriate conclusion to an account of the . . . Good News" (B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, Text of the NT 325-26).
     Is it likely that the Gospel was never completed? Donald Guthrie considers this "a suggestion which is not impossible, but which in the nature of the case cannot be confirmed" (NT Introduction 78). There is simply no proof that the ending was absent from the Gospel of Mark when it was first disseminated.
     Was the original ending lost? Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8 at the bottom of the last surviving leaf of the 11th-century Codex 2386, and the next leaf is missing with clear indication that additional material followed (see B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] 102 n. 1). This demonstrates the plausibility of an earlier codex version of Mark that was similarly damaged, resulting in subsequent copies ending at v. 8, with later attempts to complete the Gospel with shorter and intermediate conclusions. Surely, then, it is conceivable that the original ending remained in non-defective manuscripts rather than having been totally lost and was faithfully preserved in the majority (99%) of copies that are currently available. This also offers a reasonable explanation for the empty space that follows v. 8 in Codex Vaticanus (the only blank column in the entire volume), if the copyist had only a defective manuscript with which to work but was aware of the longer ending.
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Ending of Mark Part 2, Ending of Mark Part 3, Ending of Mark Part 4, Text of NT Part 1, Text of NT Part 2

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Synoptic Problem and Markan Priority? (Part 2 of 2)

     Those who advocate the Markan Priority (MP) theory as a feasible solution to the Synoptic Problem tend to highlight the similarities among the Synoptics while minimizing the differences. To get an accurate sense of the relationship of these accounts, it is necessary to analyze the texts as they appear in the Greek New Testament rather than in English translations (see W. R. Farmer, Synopticon [1969]). Consider this sample comparison of Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34–9:1, and Luke 9:23-27: fifty-five words (27%) are identical in all three accounts, eighteen words (9%) are identical in only Matthew and Mark, nine words (4%) are identical in only Matthew and Luke, fourteen words (7%) are identical in only Mark and Luke, thirty-five words (17%) are unique to Matthew, forty-eight words (23%) are unique to Mark, and twenty-seven words (13%) are unique to Luke.
     At the risk of over-simplifying the complexities of the debate, the Synoptic Problem, as daunting as it may seem, is only a problem if one begins with the assumption of literary dependency. While Matthew, Mark and Luke admittedly share a number of striking parallels, the glaring differences must also be accounted for, and each writer’s distinctiveness clearly argues for independence. The similarities are readily explained by a combination of the following.
     First, all of the Gospels share the same subject matter. The authors did not base their works strictly on literary sources but on actual people and events. Second, they all share a common background of information. Eyewitness testimony undergirds all three accounts. Matthew himself was an eyewitness and had first-hand knowledge of much of what he records (see Authorship of NT Gospels). Even though he did not personally see or experience everything that is reported (e.g. 1:1–4:11; 17:1-9; 26:3-5; 28:1-15), he was associated with those who did. Mark and Luke were also personally acquainted with eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2; 1 Peter 5:13). Furthermore, in addition to written accounts that may have been available (cf. Luke 1:1), the oral transmission of information would have been quite accurate and consistent in the context of ancient oral cultures (see Oral Transmission). The eyewitnesses were still around as these accounts circulated and would surely have guarded against significant variation.
     It is of interest to note that the highest percentage of literary agreement among the Synoptics is in sections where sayings of Jesus are recorded, demonstrating the extreme care of the early church to preserve the Lord’s teachings. Granted, Jesus and his immediate followers spoke Aramaic, but from Pentecost onwards the oral transmission of the gospel message was not limited to this language (Acts 2:4-11; 8:4; 11:19-20). Since these teachings came to be recorded in Greek, it is only natural to conclude that they had also been verbally communicated in Greek, particularly among the Hellenists, the Greeks, and the bilingual populace of the Roman Empire. In fact, one of the Gospel writers implicitly places himself outside the circle of Aramaic speakers (Acts 1:19).
     Finally, notwithstanding anti-supernaturalist objections, the influence of the Holy Spirit is a significant factor. There would have been divine assistance provided through revelation (Matthew 10:19-20; John 16:13; Ephesians 3:5) and inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:21), along with sharpening the memories of eyewitnesses (John 14:25-26) (see Biblical Inspiration in Perspective).
     The best solution to the Synoptic Problem appears to be the simplest. Although the Independence Proposal is not very popular among the majority of contemporary New Testament scholars (perhaps because it is not complicated enough!), it seems to make the most sense in light of a straightforward evaluation of the available evidence.
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Synoptic Problem/Markan Priority 1Biblical Authorship (Part 1)Biblical Authorship (Part 2), Dating of Luke-Acts

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Synoptic Problem and Markan Priority? (Part 1 of 2)

via Wikipedia
     The term "synoptic," derived from the Greek sunopsis ("seeing together"), is applied to the first three New Testament Gospels because of the high degree of similarities among them in relation to structure, arrangement, content, style, and vocabulary. Where did Matthew, Mark and Luke get the information that comprises their respective accounts? If they are entirely independent of one other, why are they so much alike? If they all share a literary relationship, how are the striking differences to be explained and how can they serve as three separate witnesses to the life and teachings of Christ? This, briefly stated, is the so-called "Synoptic Problem."
     What is currently regarded in scholarly circles as the most viable option is that the similarities among these documents can only be accounted for on the basis of literary dependence. This basic premise has led to what has become the prevailing method of synoptic analysis known as Redaction Criticism, i.e., the study of how authors have created a literary work by editing and modifying their sources of information. And the foundation of the whole theory is the presumption of Markan priority (MP), i.e., Mark’s Gospel is believed to have been produced first and was then utilized by both Matthew and Luke in compiling their corresponding works. It has been estimated that about 90% of Mark’s material is found in Matthew and about 55% in Luke (see B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels 151, 159-60).
     This popular theory is based on the following observations: (a) Mark is the shortest (the supposition being that Matthew and Luke expanded the material); (b) Mark’s writing style tends to be more awkward (thus Matthew and Luke supposedly smoothed it out); and (c) purportedly Matthew and Luke do not often agree against Mark, while the materials they share in common (not found in Mark) are usually located in a different sequence (see Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction [4th ed.] 93-96).
     However, contrary to the confident assertions of MP theorists, this artful proposal is neither a proven fact nor a satisfactory explanation. It does not account for the approximately 230 agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark,1 which has compelled critics to surmise yet another source, viz. a hypothetical document designated Q (from the German Quelle, meaning "source"). Despite the fact that there is no tangible evidence that this Q source ever existed, its presumption does not explain the unique content of Matthew and the unique content of Luke not shared with Mark or with each other. Nevertheless, rather than abandon the theory, scholars have simply contrived two more hypothetical sources, viz. "M" for the information peculiar to Matthew and "L" for the distinct material in Luke.
     Lest we become too enamored with the imaginative world of hypotheticals, we ought to concentrate on what is verifiable and determine how the MP theory holds up under the scrutiny of the biblical texts themselves. While the information in over 250 verses in Matthew is not duplicated elsewhere, and 500 verses appear only in Luke, the material in almost fifty verses is unique to Mark. If literary dependence is the sole option, how do MP theorists account for the fifty-five verses of Mark not found in Matthew, or the striking omission in Luke of the material in Mark 6:45–8:26 and 9:41–10:12? What about the curious absence in both Matthew and Luke of the following sections of Mark: 1:1; 2:27; 3:20-22a; 4:26-29; 7:2-4, 32-37; 8:22-26; 9:29, 48-49; 13:33-37; 14:51-52?
     There are also interesting details in Mark that do not appear in the parallel accounts of Matthew and Luke.2 It is not without significance that Luke places a great deal of emphasis on prayer (cf. 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1-8; 18:1-14; 21:36; 22:32, 40-46; 24:53), yet the prayer of Jesus in Mark 1:35 is not found in Luke. Notice how MP theorists respond: "It is possible that the reference to prayer here is a later addition . . . the statement was not included in the version of Mark known to [Luke]" (D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St Mark 84). If the absence of empirical proof does not subvert this hallowed theory, and if speculative assumptions and circular reasoning are needed to bolster it, one must wonder why it has retained its status for so long as the coveted badge of critical scholarship!
–Kevin L. Moore

     1 The approximately 230 agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, when viewed collectively, require a more reasonable explanation than the “insignificant” or “accidental” assertions that MP theorists tend to offer. See esp. Robert L. Thomas, “An Investigation of the Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark,” in JETS 19 (Spring 1976): 103-112. Thomas concludes: “For too long New Testament scholars have been bound to the assumption of direct literary dependence among the writers. Perhaps this has been a blindfold rather than a help in supplying answers. At least the option should be entertained that the three synoptists worked in relative independence of one another in producing their gospels” (112). See also Robert L. Thomas, “Redaction Criticism,” in The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship, eds. Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998): 233-66.
     2 See, e.g., Mark 1:13b, 20b, 35; 2:26b; 3:17b, 20-22a; 4:3a, 36b, 38a; 5:13b, 26, 41b; 6:3a, 8b, 9a, 39b, 48b; 7:30; 8:35b; 9:3b, 41b; 10:11b-12, 30b, 45b, 46b; 11:10a, 17b; 12:29b, 32-34; 14:30b, 36a, 15:21b, 47a.

Related Posts: Synoptic Problem/Markan Priority 2Authorship of NT Gospels, Biblical Authorship (Part 1), Biblical Authorship (Part 2)