Who Made the “Omission,” Luke or Mark?
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Date First Published: June 10, 2014

he question: Did Luke see and omit Mark 6:45-8:21 (in which the “Defilement” pericope is located), or did Mark see and omit Luke 9:51-18:14 (in which the anti-Pharisaic discourse is located)? The present article explores the possibility that the Markan pericope “What Makes a Person Impure” in Mark 7:1-23 is dependent upon the Lukan pericope “Discourse against the Pharisees” in Luke 11:37-41 (part of the longer pericope “Discourses against the Pharisees and Lawyers” [Luke 11:37-54]). This specific investigation is intended as a contribution toward the larger issue of the validity of the theory of Markan Priority as a solution to the Synoptic Problem.

Markan Priority?

Adherents to the theory of Markan Priority must argue that Luke is the secondary author who made the omission. Markan priorists argue that the pericope in question (Mark 7:1-23) is a segment of some two chapters in Mark that Luke decided to omit. Following the pericope of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand”—which all three Synoptic Gospels give in parallel order—Luke theoretically dropped nine Markan pericopae (Mark 6:45-8:21—some 70 verses) and continued with the pericope of “Peter’s Confession,” which all three Synoptic Gospels again present in parallel order. Markan priorists reject the notion that Mark saw the Lukan “Discourse against Pharisees” because this Lukan pericope is found within the central ten chapters of Luke (Luke 9:51-18:14, which comprise some 351 verses of Luke’s text) that are not found as such in Mark. Markan priorists do not find it tenable that Mark could have seen so much material and dropped it. They find it more likely that Luke dropped 70 verses from Mark than that Mark dropped 351 verses from Luke.

This article, in contrast, will attempt to sustain the claim that Mark, not Luke, is the more sophisticated secondary editor and author. This article claims that secondary authorship is not a simple principle of relative length of what is dropped or what is retained, but that Mark is acting like a normal Jewish storyteller of the first century A.D.

Admissible and Inadmissible Evidence

What constitutes valid evidence as to direction of flow in literary dependency? What is admissible and what is inadmissible as evidence? Inadmissible as evidence is any argument that is “equally imaginable” in the reverse. Evidence is inadmissible when either direction is equally provable or disprovable. It is, for example, equally imaginable that a secondary author might decide to expand a text as it is to imagine that a secondary author might decide to abridge a text.

When, however, one finds that in a given historical period there are many instances of a storyteller expanding a given text, like Josephus and like the Jewish midrashists and targumists (see below), then expansion is no longer neutral.[1] Under these circumstances, expansion becomes admissible evidence of later, secondary, literarily dependent editing of an earlier story. This is a question of how to use material. In other words, after the decision has been made to use and retell any given material, how is it handled in the retelling? Is it expanded and dramatized or not?

It is an altogether different question when one considers a secondary author’s decision whether or not to use any given material. A secondary author can be imagined as capable of deciding not to use whole sections of material in an earlier document. The decision not to use material in another earlier document is inadmissible as evidence that the shorter version is the more original. A twenty-first-century reporter’s mentality may recoil at the thought of dropping so much valuable material, but this reaction is irrelevant to the operation of a first-century author’s mind. Only precedents from the behavior of first-century authors can constitute admissible evidence. The need for historical precedents applies not only to how material is used, it also applies to the issue of whether an author chooses to use material. In other words, historical models are needed in order for us to evaluate the significance of what quantity of material a secondary author decides to drop.

Josephus as an Historical Model for Mark’s Editorial Style

Josephus, who was alive at the same time as the author of Mark, provides a precedent for Mark’s editorial style.[2] Shinan aptly describes Josephus’ manner of retelling the biblical narratives:

Josephus’ use of the Biblical stories was selective. He omitted from his works whatever he found unpalatable or what he felt his potential readers might find distasteful…. [Shinan gives examples.] Whatever is not mentioned in the Bible, or is merely alluded to or hinted at, is expanded upon by Josephus…. [Shinan gives examples.][3]

In retelling the story of Jonah, for example, Josephus omitted most of the story, but he expanded and added details to parts of the story. As Feldman observes:

…when we consider how much of the biblical narrative Josephus has omitted in his paraphrase, this seems like a mere pretext for introducing material that he thought important…he, indeed, omits most of what is written in the Book of Jonah….[4]

But Josephus also expanded certain aspects of his Jonah narrative. As Feldman continues:

As a historian, Josephus is eager to give the impression of being precise. Thus, the Bible (Jon.1:3) reports that Jonah found a ship going to Tarshish, a city whose location is unknown; and one might well wonder whether the city is fictitious and whether the whole story is a mere parable. Not so in Josephus, who unambiguously identifies (A.9.208) the city as Tarsus in Cilicia.[5]

Josephus’ treatment of biblical narratives seems to be a perfect first-century parallel for the style of Mark. Josephus omitted large portions of the original stories and yet expanded and dramatized the portions he chose to retain.

Josephus’ treatment of the story of Jonah proves that the length of an omission is inadmissible as evidence of who is the secondary author. Whether Luke dropped 70 verses or Mark dropped 351 verses does not constitute admissible evidence as to which is secondary to the other. The author of the shorter omission is not necessarily the secondary author. Rather, the question must be: What precedents can we find in the first century?

Historical, Cultural, Literary and Linguistic Evidence

Admissible evidence of direction of flow of literary dependence is when the reverse direction is shown to be “more difficult to imagine.” The real issue is a matter of historical precedents, otherwise we are hopelessly lost in a stormy sea of subjective abilities to imagine a great variety of alternatives. “Difficult to imagine” must come under the objective control of what we know to be true in the first century. We do have some knowledge that is helpful on several levels—historically, culturally, literarily and linguistically.

  1. Historically, we know that the early followers of Jesus were all Jews who attended the synagogue and participated in temple sacrifices and worship. This means that when we notice that one text reflects more hostility toward the Jews than another text, it is reasonable to conclude that the text reflecting the greater hostility toward the Jewish people is secondary because it reflects the reality of a later time when relations between Jews and Christians had become successively worse.
  2. Culturally, we know that familiarity with Jewish customs is an indication of the period of Jesus’ ministry to his own people, so that it is reasonable for us to conclude that a text that has more attempts to explain Jewish customs to non-Jewish readers is more likely to be later than a text that lacks such explanations and, therefore, the text that includes a large number of explanations is the secondary text.
  3. Literarily, we know that Jewish storytellers of the first and second centuries tended to expand and dramatize the specific material that they chose to retell. This means that when we compare actual parallel sentences in two different parallel accounts, it is reasonable to suspect that the text with consistently longer or wordy sentences is the secondary text.[6]
  4. Linguistically, we know that five languages were spoken in the land in the time of Jesus (Hebrew and Aramaic as the languages of the people; Greek as the new international language replacing Aramaic; Latin as the language of the Roman rulers; and Nabatean Arabic as the language of some traders). Since the oldest copies of the Gospels are in Greek, we can analyze them in terms of the relative impact of Semitic idiom.
  • The presence of Semitic idiom in the Greek of any one specific text is not necessarily evidence that such a text was written down before a parallel text with no Semitic idiom, because the secondary author could have picked up the Semitisms from yet another, (possibly) older, parallel source other than the primary parallel source of the secondary author. But the situation is different when one author gives evidence of a consistent presence of Semitic idiom in an abundance of texts, whereas the parallel texts of another author show equally consistent removal of expressions that are foreign to Greek. It is reasonable to suspect that the text that consistently attempts to improve the Greek style of its material is catering to an increasingly Gentile-dominated Christian community that is unfamiliar with Semitic languages. A text whose Greek is better than its parallel is likely to be the later, secondary text.

It has been argued that Luke, with its poorer Greek style, is secondary to Mark; supposedly Luke was “Septuagintalizing,” i.e., mimicking the Septuagint’s poor Greek in order to give his text a more “biblical” sound and feeling. It is to be suspected that such an argument is raised only to explain away the facts of Semitic style which run counter to a theory that was already formed prior to the discovery of these Semitic facts, or without reference to these facts of varying amounts of Semitic Greek in the various Gospel parallels.

The work of Raymond Martin is of critical significance in opposing this “Septuagintalizing” argument.[7] Martin writes:

The…commonly held view…that Luke’s skillful and deliberate imitation of LXX style is not satisfactory…. The data from Luke-Acts is particularly instructive here.

First of all, consider the book of Acts. The second half (Acts 15:36-28:31) is consistently like the original Greek documents studied. This is the writer’s natural style and is a good “control” for studying Luke’s language elsewhere. The first half (Acts 1:1-15:35), however, is erratic…22 of some 58 units having Semitic frequencies characteristic of translation Greek.

One cannot help but ask, if Luke deliberately introduced LXX-like style in these stories from the first half of Acts as being appropriate to a Palestinian setting, as Sparks and others posit, why does he do so only in some stories (some of which have a Palestinian setting and some of which do not have a Palestinian setting)? And why does he not adopt this style in many other places where the Palestinian background is clear and obvious?….

But more. When Luke’s Gospel is analyzed…the same erratic distribution occurs. Why is not the entire Gospel written in such deliberately Semitized Greek since the Gospel material is entirely set within a Palestinian environment?…. Surely the most probable explanation for this inconsistency is that Semitic sources/traditions are being used.[8]

With respect to Greek style, the only admissible evidence to prove that Luke is secondary to Mark is to find precedents in the first century that would indicate that, between two parallel Greek texts, the text with the poorer Greek style is the secondary text. Otherwise it makes better sense to follow normal historical logic by supposing that the increasingly non-Jewish audience of the gospel stories would be increasingly impatient with poor Greek in their religious texts. Better Greek style would accordingly be admissible evidence of the secondary character of an author—even if this overall pattern is not true of every individual text in the secondary author.

Analysis of Mark 7:1-23[9]

We now turn to an analysis of Mark 7:1-23 according to the philological approach of Robert Lindsey and David Flusser, who hold to a theory of Lukan Priority. The Luke→Mark→Matthew scheme has been suggested before,[10] in fact, it is one of the three remaining options after the statistical work of De Solages.[11] Those three options are:

  1. Markan Priority (with Matt. and Luke both dependent on Mark, but independent of each other).
  2. Matthean Priority (Matt.→Mark→Luke in linear sequence).
  3. Lukan Priority (Luke→Mark→Matt. in linear sequence).

The third option is the basis of this article. The three options of De Solages are identical with the findings of Butler:

We are left with three possible ‘solutions’ of the problem of ‘triple tradition’, and none of them is more probable than the other, on the evidence so far presented:


This article will refer to historical, cultural and literary arguments for Markan dependency on Luke, but the Semitic idiom factors will be left for a future article. Application of Lindsey’s hypothesis of Lukan Priority requires that whenever Mark differs from Luke the question must be asked: “Why did Mark make these changes?”

The pericope on “What Makes a Person Impure” (Mark 7:1-23) appears in a series of nine pericopae “introduced” by Mark between the Triple Tradition pericope (“Feeding the Five Thousand”) that precedes the nine, and the Triple Tradition pericope (“Peter’s Confession”) that follows the nine. Matthew follows Mark’s insertion of this non-Lukan series, except that he drops the ninth pericope, so that Mark alone records the story of the blind man at Bethsaida.

In this series of nine pericopae, Mark 7:1-23 on “What Makes a Person Impure” appears third (after “Walking on the Water” and “Healings at Gennesareth”), and it is the only pericope in this series to have a Lukan parallel (Luke 11:37-41), although this parallel comes from another context. In Luke, Jesus gets a breakfast invitation by a Pharisee after some early morning teaching, whereas in Mark, after healings, there is no invitation, but there are some Pharisees gathering around to comment to Jesus on how the disciples are eating.

The other pericopae in this Markan series of nine have no Lukan parallel, although the seventh and eighth, which are also about Pharisees (“Seeking a Sign” and “Being Dangerous Leaven,” respectively), do have some parallel thoughts in Luke Chapter 11, but only in a couple of scattered verses. Here we present the Lukan and Markan pericope under discussion in parallel columns according to the RSV:

Luke 11:37-41

Mark 7:1-23

11:37While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. 38The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 7:1Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed.
39And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; 4and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)
5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?” 6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; 11but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’[13] (that is, given to God)—12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.”
14And he called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”
but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. 40You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.” 17And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and then it exits into the latrine, purifying all the food.[14]
20And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

Analyzing the possibility of Mark’s awareness of Luke 11 as affecting the wording of the first part of Mark 7,[15] we note the following:

  1. Several Pharisees are present, not one.
  2. Scribes are present, too.
  3. They all come from Jerusalem.
  4. There is no friendly breakfast invitation of Jesus by a Pharisee.[16]
  5. There is no reference to “having breakfast,” but a reference to “eating,” a loose synonym.
  6. It is the disciples who are eating with unwashed hands, rather than Jesus who astonishes the Pharisee (a hemerobaptist?) by not immersing before breakfast.[17]
  7. The astonishment of the Pharisee is a dramatized direct challenge: “Why do you eat with hands defiled?”
  8. Mark inserted two verses of explanation so that (non-Jewish Greek) readers would be sure to realize that it defiles a Jew to eat with unwashed hands, Mark 7:3-4.[18]

These actions give a picture of Mark that is consistent and makes some sense: Mark dramatized by dropping any mention of the friendly breakfast invitation of a single Pharisee and presented instead a story with a whole crowd of threatening Judeans (from Jerusalem) around Jesus. Mark presented a story that spares Jesus the brunt of the accusation by turning it against the supposed misbehavior of the disciples. Mark not only dropped the whole internal Jewish issue of whether one should ritually immerse his body before breakfast, but he helped the Greek reader with further explanations.

How much sense does it make to reverse this dependence and imagine that we can here observe Luke at work? Luke would have had to drop the Judean crowd in order to present a friendly breakfast invitation by a Pharisee—following a teaching session instead of a healing meeting. Luke would suppose his readers to be so familiar with Jewish matters as to omit an explanation of defiled hands, and introduce a question of the necessity of ritual bathing before breakfast. He would make Jesus himself suspect of misbehavior instead of the disciples, but tone down the direct accusing question to an observation of the Pharisee’s astonishment. It is more likely that the Lukan version represents a stage of the tradition closer to its Jewish sources, and that Mark is the secondary author who thoroughly reworked Luke’s account.

The emerging picture developed by Lindsey and Flusser shows Mark to be a dramatizer. Mark employed his intensely active associative mind in the recalling of words, phrases and ideas that enabled him to dramatize and enliven a narrative by retelling it and expanding it in novel ways. Continuous word for word copying seems nearly forbidden to such a writer, and frequently when Mark was not “innovating,” he avidly exchanged words, whether rearranging and reversing word order or substituting synonyms.[19]

Details of the Analysis

When Jesus addressed the Pharisees as “fools” (Luke 11:40), why does Mark record an instance using “hypocrites” and then launch out with a quote from Isaiah to which is attached a whole sermonette that elaborates on the theme of defilement?

Before advancing hypotheses about possible oral traditions, it seems wise to attempt a thorough search for literary precedents that could have served as inspiration for Mark’s changes. Accordingly, a search should be made throughout the other parts of the New Testament, the Septuagint, and other contemporary literature. Only when such a thorough search has been completed does it make sense to conjecture further about nonliterary sources. In the case of Mark, this search for literary precedents proves highly revealing of the character of Mark’s editorial style.

Illustration by Marjorie Cooper.

Illustration by Marjorie Cooper.

The word “hypocrites” occurs only in the Synoptic Gospels in the entire New Testament: in Mark it occurs only once and that is here in our pericope; Matthew uses it in his parallel to our passage, plus twelve more times; Luke uses the word three times in contexts earlier than ours, but in Luke the term is never specifically applied to the Pharisees.

The Lukan parallel, Luke 11 (which begins with a friendly Pharisee’s breakfast invitation to Jesus), continues with a whole series of woes addressed to the Pharisees (and then to the lawyers), and the first thing Jesus says when he finally turns to his own disciples is: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Since Mark saw this word in a slightly different form in this direct continuation of Luke’s parallel text, I suspect that just here is where Mark picked it up.[20]

But what turned Mark’s mind to Isaiah, or what convinced Mark to include this part of Jesus’ comment? Could it be that Mark arrived so precisely at Isaiah 29 because of his awareness of Colossians, chapters 2 and 3? This unusual insight, that Colossians may have turned Mark to the 29th chapter of Isaiah, came as I searched for possible literary precedents for the expression παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων (paradosin ton presbyteron, “traditions of the elders”). The only place this expression can be found in the entire New Testament is in our context! Mark 7 has it twice, and Matt. 15, the direct parallel, picks it up once. This expression has not been found anywhere else in any text!

A long search through Hebrew concordances and dictionaries finally turned up “traditions of the fathers” as קַבָּלַת אָבוֹת (kabalat ’avot) or as קַבָּלַת מָסֹרֶת (kabalat masoret),[21] and this positive expression can be found once also in the New Testament, Galatians 1:14, “traditions of my fathers,” and there also it is used positively. But nowhere is the negative expression “traditions of the elders” found, which is introduced here by Mark.

The solution came by checking the contexts of the word “tradition” in the 13 times it occurs in the New Testament. One soon arrives at an expression in Colossians where the context makes clear that it has a powerfully negative connotation: “Take heed lest anyone make a prey of you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the traditions of men [παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, paradosin ton anthropon],…and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). But this expression is “traditions of men.” Who identified these men as the “elders”?

Mark had precedent in Luke 9:22 (parallel to Mark 8:31) for the negative use of “elders,” because there, in the first Passion Prediction, Jesus foretells that he will be “rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes.” Perhaps this precedent helped, if not explains, Mark’s outspoken identification of “men” as being the “elders.”[22]

Consider that Mark read (in Luke 11) that Jesus was accused in regard to misbehavior related to the proper preparation for eating. Suppose that he remembered Colossians 2:16-17, “Don’t let anyone judge you in meat or drink or in respect of feast or new moon or Sabbaths which are a shadow of the things to come…,” and remembered further Col. 2:20-22:

You have died with Christ and are set free from the ruling spirits of the universe. Why, then, do you live as though you belonged to this world? Why do you obey such rules as ‘Don’t handle this’, Don’t taste that’, ‘Don’t touch the other’? All these things become useless, once they are used. They are only man-made rules and teachings. (TEV; note this: “man-made rules and teachings” in Colossians)

For the expression “rules and teachings of men” Paul writes (Col. 2:22), κατὰ τὰ ἐντάλματα καὶ διδασκαλίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων (“according to human precepts and teachings”; EVS), and the Septuagint of Isaiah 29:13 reads, διδάσκοντες ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων καὶ διδασκαλίας (“a commandment of men, learned by rote”; JPS). Here is our point of contact, our best explanation of why Mark quoted the passage in Isaiah.[23]

A final clincher for this observation that the accusation against Jesus reminded Mark of what Paul wrote to the Colossians about not accepting such accusations comes in the windup of Jesus’ sermonette on defilement. Mark writes that Jesus concluded his words with a list of evils (that defile a man)—and this gives us a fourth contact with Colossians, because the continuation of the Colossians passage also has a list of evils (Col. 3:5-8).

A summary of the above argument is as follows: Mark read in Luke of a situation where Jesus is accused and then answers, and this reminded Mark of what Paul wrote in Colossians 2 and 3, because in Colossians:

  1. There is a similar situation, viz., accusations in matters of rules about eating, etc., and how to react to such accusations.
  2. There is a similar negative use of the word “traditions.” The negative use of the expression “traditions of men” in Colossians may explain how Mark thought to introduce a similar negative expression “traditions of the elders,” not found in Luke.
  3. There is a nearly identical use of an Isaian quote. Paul’s use of a Septuagintal phrase from Isaiah 29:13 may explain how Mark thought to introduce a quote from this same Isaiah passage in his text.
  4. There is a list of vices in Colossians, which may explain how Mark thought to introduce words of Jesus on defilement where a list of vices is also contained—even three of the same vices are listed.

Is all this chance? The use of similar vocabulary in dealing with a similar topic may prove inconclusive in terms of literary dependence, but here are four structural elements of similarity. This specific accumulation of four structural elements is not necessarily related to the subject material at hand. Therefore, they do constitute evidence of Mark’s awareness of the Lukan text.

Once a picture of Mark’s editorial style emerges, many smaller details begin to fit into place as well. Even though they cannot prove anything individually, it becomes impressive to see how well they fit the general picture.

Let us consider the verb “to defile,” κοινῶσαι (koinosai), as an example. It occurs 14 times in the New Testament: once in Hebrews 9:13, three times in Acts (10:14; 11:8; 21:28), and ten times in our pericope (Mark 7:15 [2xx], 18, 20, 23; Matt. 15:11 [2xx], 18, 20 [2xx]).[24]

Where did Mark pick up this non-Lukan word which he introduces here?

  1. Mark read Luke 11 about washing/bathing.
  2. Mark noted the question of proper cleansing of impurities.
  3. This reminded Mark of the story in Acts about God cleansing defiled things found in Peter’s vision (Acts 10-11), especially when Mark read Luke 11:41: πάντα καθαρὰ ὑμῖν ἐστιν (“all things are clean for you”), and remembered specifically Peter’s wording in Acts 11:8-9: πᾶν κοινὸν ἢ ἀκάθαρτον οὐδέποτε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ στόμα μου (“all common or unclean never entered my mouth”),[25] and the reply of the voice from heaven: Ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἐκαθάρισεν σὺ μὴ κοίνου (“What God cleansed, you [must] not [consider] common”).
  4. From Acts 10-11, Mark introduced the notion of defilement [into the Lukan discussion of cleansing the inside and outside so that all will be clean] and constructed a whole sermonic point on Peter’s comment about nothing unclean entering his stomach by making the point that it is not what enters that defiles.

Summary of Mark at Work

  • 1. Mark saw in Luke 11-12 a situation of accusation and answer, and noticed specific words that he picked up in some form or another:
    • Φαρισαῖος (Luke 11:37)
      εἰσελθών (Luke 11:37)
      ἐβαπτίσθη (Luke 11:38)
      ἔξωθεν (Luke 11:39)
      τοῦ ποτηρίου (Luke 11:39)
      καθαρίζετε (Luke 11:39)
      ἔσωθεν (Luke 11:39)
      πονηρίας (Luke 11:39)
      (ἄφρονες) (Luke 11:40)
      πάντα καθαρά (Luke 11:41)
      ὑπόκρισις (Luke 12:1)
  • 2. Mark remembered:
    • a) He remembered in Colossians 2-3:
      • 1) the admonition against accepting such accusations.
      • 2) παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων (Col. 2:8).
      • 3) τὰ ἐντάλματα καὶ διδασκαλίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων (Col. 2:22), which in turn reminded him of the Septuagint of Isaiah 29:13: ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων καὶ διδασκαλίας.
      • 4) the idea of a list of vices.[26]
    • b) Mark remembered the discussion in Acts 11 of clean and defiled foods that God cleanses, specifically:
      • 1) κοινὸν ἢ ἀκάθαρτον…. ἐκαθάρισεν σὺ μὴ κοίνου (Acts 11:8-9).
      • 2) εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ στόμα (Acts 11:8).
  • 3. Mark introduced his own novel organization of materials:[27]
    • a) The accusation is put in a new explanatory framework referring not to Jesus but to the disciples with various further innovations vis-à-vis Luke 11:
      • 1) “washing” (new in Mark)—instead of “immersing” in Luke.
      • 2) “tradition of men” (cf. Col. 2:8).
      • 3) “elders” (cf. Luke 9:22).
      • 4) “defile” (cf. Acts 11:9).
    • b) Jesus’ answer is greatly expanded; see similarities with Paul (Col. 2-3):
      • 1) Isaiah 29 is quoted and applied (see key phrase in Col. 2:13).
      • 2) Example of present hypocrisy is given—Moses honored with lips only.
      • 3) Sermonette on defilement is composed with words and themes resonant of:
        • a) Luke 11:40: “fools” (“without understanding,” Mark 7:18); “inside” and “outside,” i.e., the theme of “cleanliness.”
        • b) Acts 11: not being “defiled” by what “enters the stomach,” but that “all is cleansed.”
        • c) Col. 3: list of evils to be avoided.


One day there may be enough of these philological discoveries to consolidate the picture of Mark’s method. The intensively associative and dramatizing mind of Mark may then be recognized as causing what has been referred to as the “Synoptic Problem,” but which is not a problem when we recognize Mark’s editorial style.[28]

Mark is finally seen at home in a setting that makes his style comprehensible; he is seen as an intensely Jewish targumist and midrashic preacher with an amazing penchant for dramatizing, turning words around and around, rephrasing statements of others in his own way and pulling various quotes and word associations from all over.

Nearly 80% of the pericopae that Mark shares with Luke have been expanded into longer texts than their Lukan parallels because of all this activity. When it comes to the length in terms of wording in actual parallel texts, Mark is the longest Gospel.[29]

Lindsey and Flusser present a comprehensive synthesis of the work of the modern Markan priorists—by upholding their insistence on the dependence of Matthew on Mark,[30] and the work of the older Markan conflationists—by upholding their insistence on the dependence of Mark on Luke.[31] These theories are united in sensing that Mark is the critical factor in understanding the interrelationships of the Synoptic Gospels. But now since the linear sequence options allowed by De Solages and Butler have been recently analyzed (the Matt.→Mark→Luke scenario and the Luke→Mark→Matt. scenario), the various findings of Gospel researchers can be best integrated and explained by the Luke→Mark→Matt. linear sequence scenario—where Mark is indeed the critical factor, not however as the first of the synoptic writers, nor as the last, but as the middle factor.

  • [1] Martin McNamara, Targum and Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 68-78, on “Characteristics of Targumic Renderings”; H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Philadelphia: JPS, 1963), 201-202, on the character of Midrash; Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud (New York: Bantam, 1976), 223f., on Midrash (Halakhic Exegesis).
  • [2] For more on Mark’s treatment of his sources, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [3] Avigdor Shinan, The World of Aggadah (Tel Aviv: Mod, 1990), 51.
  • [4] Louis Feldman, “Josephus’ Interpretation of Jonah,” The Journal of the Association for Jewish Studies 17.1 (1992): 5.
  • [5] Ibid., 6. Feldman’s articles on Josephus, including this one on Jonah, have now been collected and published in a single volume: Louis Feldman, Studies in Josephus’ Rewritten Bible (Leiden, Boston, Koeln: Brill, 1998).
  • [6] This is not a hard and fast rule because a secondary author could have some special reason for abbreviating the source text, e.g., Matt.’s parallel texts tend to be shorter than Mark’s even though Matt. is dependent on Mark. But, in the light of the tendency of first-century retellers to expand, the burden of proof lies on the interpreter who argues that a shorter text is secondary.
  • [7] See especially Martin’s Syntax Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1987), as well as his earlier foundational Syntactical Evidence of Semitic Sources in Greek Documents (Cambridge, Mass.: SBL, 1974).
  • [8] Raymond A. Martin, Studies in the Life and Ministry of the Historical Jesus (New York: University Press of America, 1995), 3-5.
  • [9] Mark 7:1-23 has been chosen for analysis because of the great number of “innovations” it exhibits, that is, the number of words appearing in this chapter that cannot be found anywhere in Luke. The rationale for choosing this chapter is as follows: the chapter of Mark containing the most innovations vis-à-vis Luke will be the best place to watch Mark at work; since Mark is operating there with his maximum degree of freedom as over and against his chief source, Luke, it should be possible just there to most easily observe Mark’s own personal method or style of arranging his materials.
  • [10] William Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” Church Quarterly Review 94 (July 1922): 216-239.
  • [11] See references to De Solages in Morgenthaler, Statistische Synopse (Zurich: Gotthelf, 1971), 18-24, esp. 21.
  • [12] Basil C. Butler, The Originality of St. Matthew: A Critique of the Two-Document Hypothesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 66.
  • [13] Corban is a transliterated word in the Greek text of Mark. On transliterated words in the Synoptic Gospels, see Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “LOY Excursus: Greek Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels.”
  • [14] Translation in italics amended to reflect the Greek text. Jesus is correct: human digestion can turn impure kosher food into a pure substance, since excrement is not impure.
  • [15] The issue at stake in this article is not whether Mark and Luke are discussing the same event or not. On the face of the matter, Luke and Mark describe two different events. The question we are pursuing is whether or not one author is aware of the story of the other. If either Mark or Luke knew the story of the other, then the question is whether the presence of the story in one Gospel influenced the telling of the story in the other.

    In any case, it is interesting that one author, Luke, chooses to tell a story about a friendly Pharisee who invites Jesus to breakfast as over against the other author, Mark, who chooses to tell about unfriendly Pharisees. This choice in and of itself points to an authorship historically later than Luke, since it can be taken as reflecting the opposition of the Pharisees, present in the time of Jesus, but radically stronger after his departure—as is evident from the stoning of Stephen and the activities of Paul in persecuting the church.

  • [16] See the Liddell-Scott lexicon definition of ἄριστον as “breakfast, taken at sunrise,” i.e., not just any meal. BDAG also lists “breakfast” as the primary meaning of ἄριστον.
  • [17] See Menachem Mansoor, “Sects, Minor—Hemerobaptists,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (ed. Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder; Jerusalem: Keter, 1972), 14:1087; who cites t. Yad. 2:20: “The morning bathers (tovelei shacharit) said to the Pharisees: ‘We charge you with doing wrong in pronouncing the [Divine] Name without having taken a ritual bath.’” Posner suggests that these “morning bathers” may be perhaps identified with the Hemerobaptists, “but were more likely an extreme group within the general Pharisaic tradition (Ber. 22a: Rashi, ad loc.)” (Raphael Posner, “Ablutions,” in Encyclopedia Judaica [1971], 2:82). It was Professor David Flusser, in his seminar on the Synoptic Gospels at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who first noticed the question of the Pharisee’s reaction to Jesus; Jesus had failed to immerse himself before breakfast when he would be pronouncing the Divine Name of God in the blessing before the meal.
  • [18] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” on the question of these explanatory passages inserted by Mark.
  • [19] On “synonymic exchange,” see Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Mark’s Midrashic Technique.”
  • [20] All three synoptists have the word “hypocrisy” once each, but never in parallel contexts.
  • [21] See Eliezer Ben Yehuda, מלון הלשון העברית [English title: A Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1910–1959; 17 vols.) under קַבָּלָת and מָסֹרֶת.
  • [22] Such an identification by Jesus himself could fit the fact that the elders were furious enough to agree with the high priest to hand him over to the Romans, but note that the reason for their anger in Luke 22:66 is Jesus’ identification of himself as the “Son of Man,” which in Jewish tradition is a significantly more divine title than “Messiah.”
  • [23] Flusser felt that in the expression “traditions of men” the Septuagint’s reading of Isaiah 29:13 emphasizes the word “men” more strongly than does the Masoretic text. He suspects that this may be the consequence of a conflict in how one reads the spelling of a word in the previous phrase. Does the word in question end in “י” (yod) or in “ו”(vav)? Should the spelling be וַתְּהִי (vatehi, “and become”)—with the Masoretes? Or should it be וְתֹהוּ (vetohu, “and confusion”), expressed by the Septuagint μάτην δέ (maten de, “futile”)?

    The Masoretes wrote: “Their worship of me has ‘become’ a learned commandment of men.” The Septuagint translator wrote: “Their worship of me is ‘confusion,’ they teach the commandment of men and instructions.” To choose the reading “confusion” leaves the remainder dangling (מִצְוַת אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה), so Flusser suggested that this may be why the Septuagint translates it as if it too had been written differently, מִצְווֹת בְּנֵי אָדָם וְתוֹרֹת (mitsvot beneadam vetorot), or rather, if not written differently, the Septuagint gets this different nuance of meaning from the remainder, that is, a greater emphasis on men as acting on their own as over and against God, a greater antagonism. Cf. Vincent Taylor, Mark (New York: St. Martin’s, 1976), 337-338.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls add “כ,” i.e., כמצות (“become like a learned commandment of men”), and Flusser suspected that this addition may have been a deliberate correction of the Septuagint version.

  • [24] There are four instances where these words occur not only in this parallel pericope, but in parallel sentences—which accounts for four of the five times in Mark and likewise in Matt., and that leaves only two occurrences of “defile” that are not so precisely parallel though still in the same parallel pericope.
  • [25] See apparatus for insertion of word πᾶν, which the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament omitted from the text.
  • [26] Possibly Mark also remembered such lists of vices as in Rom. 1:29ff. or Didache 5:1ff. Note that ten out of Mark’s twelve vices are found in the Didache list—which is, however, twice as long; so maybe these similarities are coincidental except for the fact that both lists begin in the plural and later switch to the singular.
  • [27] Mark’s “novel” organization is derived in part from the difference of the two events and in part from his own editorial choices concerning how to present the significance of the event, that is, the report of Jesus’ ability to exploit an event as an opportunity for teaching.
  • [28] In Kuhn’s book on scientific revolutions (which, he says, take decades to occur), he indicates that a faulty and troublesome theory will not be rejected until a new and viable alternative theory is proposed. But such a new theory, he adds, must be not only more consistent and comprehensive, but also more “aesthetic” (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962]). Instead of having to conjecture the reasons for Luke’s supposed changes of Mark, the reversal of this direction of dependence now enables us to get a clear, consistent and comprehensive picture of Mark at work (using Luke).
  • [29] In fact, out of the total word count of the entire Markan text of 11,078 words, Mark’s parallels with Luke contain 8,242 words, whereas the word count of the parallels in Luke is only 6,779. (See the indispensable word statistical charts in Robert Morgenthaler’s Statistische Synopse [Zurich: Gotthelf, 1971], 66-68; and in his Statistik des Neutestamentlichen Wortschatzes [Zurich: Gotthelf, 1958], 67-157.)
  • [30] Markan priority was suggested only in the 1830s by Wilke and Weisse in Germany.
  • [31] Markan posteriority was suggested already in the 1760s by Griesbach in Germany. Greisbach’s treatise, Commentatio qua Marci Evangelium totum e Matthaei et Lucae commentariis decerptum esse monstratur, has been reprinted in J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976 (ed. Bernard Orchard and Thomas R. W. Longstaff; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 68-102. It is accompanied by an English translation by Bernard Orchard entitled, “A Demonstration that Mark was Written After Matthew and Luke,” 103-135.
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