Usually there is no overlap between the field of textual (lower, or post-production) criticism and higher (pre-production) criticism. Usually. But overlap does sometimes occur. Today, we shall briefly investigate the Synoptic Problem, and look into a few “Minor Agreements” (i.e., readings shared by Matthew and Luke, but not by Mark) and consider the possible/probable implications of these readings for the production of the Gospel of Mark.
To those who are entirely new to the Synoptic Problem, the first thing to know is that the term “Problem,” in this context, simply means “a puzzle to ponder,” not something that is a troublesome difficulty that threatens to undermine the Christian faith. (Similarly, the “criticism” the terms “textual criticism” and “higher criticism” simply means “analysis;” these fields are not platforms for promoting personal critiques of the contents of the books of the New Testament, or any other book.
The second thing to know is that the “Synoptic Problem” orbits the answer to one question: how do the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) relate to one another? Did each author write entirely independently of the other two? Did two of them use the other? Did one of them make use of the other two? Or did all three use a shared source?
The third thing to know is that the Synoptic Problem has been solved for the most part: although it was consistently held in early Christianity that Matthew wrote first, researchers such as William Sanday, B.H. Streeter and John Hawkins have made a very strong case that the Gospel of Mark (or something that resembled the Gospel of Mark) was used by Matthew and Luke, and that Matthew and Luke both used a second source (known as Q, which stands for Quelle, the German word for “Source”), and that Matthew and Luke each made use of source-materials that were accessed only by Matthew, or only by Luke.
The Four-source Hypothesis – that Matthew used Q + Mark + extra source-material, and Luke used Q + Mark + extra source-material (for a total of four sources of material) has a lot going for it, as Daniel Wallace concisely explains here and as Dennis Bratcher explains not so concisely here.
The ship of the simple Four-Source Hypothesis, seaworthy as it may seem, cannot survive the reefs it faces in the “Minor Agreements” – readings shared by Matthew and Luke but not shared by Mark – especially in cases where the “Minor Agreements” occur smack-dab in to middle of the triple-tradition (i.e., material shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Something more complex has happened.
In the course of creating the definitive text of the Gospel of Mark, Mark added and subtracted a variety of details that had been in earlier forms of his record of Peter’s testimony, and this resulted in “Minor Agreements.” We shall now zoom in on some of these points which are like chords in a song which is sung by all three Synoptic writers, where Matthew and Luke sing in harmony but Mark sings a different note all by himself.
First, let’s look at the chord that occurs in Matthew 9:18, Luke 8:40, and Mark 5:21. The scene depicted by all three Evangelists is the famous opening of the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The first interesting feature is that when we use the Western text (extant in D 05), only in the Gospel of Mark (5:22) do we find Jairus identified by name. This detail, if it had been known to Luke, would not be something he would have omitted. It was probably added by Mark in the course of preparing the final form of his Gospel-account.
The second interesting feature in that in Matthew 9:20 and Luke 8:44, there is an explicit reference to the hem of Jesus’ garment; meanwhile Mark 5:27 does not. The parallel and non-parallel is easily shown in Greek:
Matthew: ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ
Mark: ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ
Luke: ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ
It looks as if Matthew and Luke both perpetuated a Markan text which had τοῦ κρασπέδου after ἥψατο, but in the final form of the Gospel of Mark, τοῦ κρασπέδου had fallen out of the text, perhaps via simple parablepsis. Again, this implies that a distinction must be maintained between the Markan texts (“Ur-Mark” or “Proto-Mark”) used by Matthew and by Luke, and the final definitive form of the Gospel of Mark. Again: whatever Markan texts were used by Matthew, and by Luke, were not the same as the final form of the Gospel of Mark. At least two extra steps were yet to be taken before the Gospel of Mark was finished: Jairus’ name was added, and τοῦ κρασπέδου was omitted.
(2) the detail in Mark 1:39 that Jesus cast out demons (τά δαιμόνια ἐκβάλλων),
(3) the detail in Mark 2:2 that Jesus preached the word,
(4) the detail in Mark 1:45 that Jesus gave strict instructions to the leper he had cleansed
(5) the detail in Mark 2:27 that Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”
(6) The detail in Mark 3:5 that Jesus looked around with anger
(7) the detail in Mark 3:20-32 that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to him because they thought he was out of his mind
(8) the detail in Mk 9:32 that Jesus spoke openly the word concerning his sufferings, death, and resurrection
(9) the details in Mark 9:21-27 about Jesus’ questions to the father of the young man with an unclean spirit,
(10) the detail in Mark 10:50 that Bartimaeus cast away his garment as soon as he heard that Jesus was calling for him.
More examples could be given, but these ten should sufficiently show that there is a difference between Ur-Mark used by Luke, Ur-Mark used by Matthew, and the final form of the Gospel of Mark.
This has an effect on another issue: the ending of Mark. Stephen Boyce recently chimed in about this. Several of the unique details in the Gospel of Mark are the sort of thing an eyewitness could add as expansions of an episode he had described previously; but they are not the sort of thing a non-eyewitness would throw in arbitrarily. (Jairus’ name, for example, might not have been known by Peter when he composed Ur-Mark, but Peter and/or Mark may have discovered it prior to the composition of the Gospel of Mark.) While nothing about this brings anything new against the idea that Mark 16:9-20 was composed by Mark as a freestanding text, and was then attached to 16:8 by Mark’s colleagues in Rome, it must also be granted that nothing stands in the way of a somewhat simpler solution: that Mark, on the same occasion when he tidied up Ur-Mark and thus produced the Gospel of Mark, composed verses 9-20, and the narrative disconnect in vv. 9-10 is simply an effect of leaving the narrative thread dangling, so to speak, on an earlier occasion, or else it is an effect of replacing a now-lost ending of Ur-Mark with a fuller summary of the post-resurrection appearances of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
All three possibilities lead to an embrace of Mark 16:9-20 as part of the canonical text of the Gospel of Mark.