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If Mark had access to Luke, and his edition of Luke already included the so-called "Q material," how can we reasonably explain his failure to include that material in his Gospel?

My question is asked more fully here:

https://donaldtraxlerpoetry.blogspot.com/2023/03/synoptica-xxxvi-about-luke.html

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  • Welcome to the site! Always great to see a thoughtful question on the Synoptic Problem. Upvoted +1 Apr 1, 2023 at 4:14
  • It didn't serve his purposes?
    – Mary
    Apr 2, 2023 at 23:27

2 Answers 2

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What is Lukan Priority

  • Lukan Priority in general refers to the view that Luke was the first of the Synoptic Gospels written
  • Lukan Priority over Mark specifically claims that Luke was written prior to Mark (regardless of where Matthew falls in the sequence).

The former is the subject of this related question on the site. I gather that the focus of the OP is specifically the relationship between Luke & Mark.

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As noted in the OP (and more extensively in the linked blog), the most common objection raised to Lukan Priority over Mark is the struggle to believe that Mark, if using Luke's Gospel as a source, would leave out so much good content. A review of all of the Lukan content excluded from Mark would result in a post far too long for this site.

Instead I'll offer links to 2 videos on my channel that address this question in more detail, and then specifically examine here the 3 most popular examples of Lukan content which Mark would have left out, and a case for why it made sense for Mark to do so.

Videos:


Specific Examples


The Nativity

Luke includes a Nativity account; Mark does not. Surely no Christian author writing an account of Jesus could have left this story out?? In fact, 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament do not include any extended account of Jesus' early years, and most early Christian writers in the following 2 generations say either only a little about it, or nothing at all.

While the Nativity accounts were important to early Christians, there is risk of anachronism here -- the Nativity is a cultural icon to modern Christians--it is the subject of our most prominent holiday--in a way it was not in the first few centuries AD.

Even among the Gospels, the Gospel of John (usually held to be the last of the 4 written) does not include a Nativity account. While today it may appear obvious that the Nativity is the place to start an account about Jesus, apparently to a first-century writer where to start was not so obvious. This is substantiated by the fact that none of the 4 Gospels start the same way (Matthew with genealogy, Mark with John the Baptist's preaching, Luke with John the Baptist's backstory, John with creation). In many other biographical writings of the time it was common to devote little or no attention to the childhood of the protagonist.

While not all of the Gospels include the Nativity, and none start the same way, it is noteworthy that all 4 do include, early on, prominent attention given to John the Baptist and his connection to Jesus. For many Christians, their journey to believing in a remarkable Preacher from Galilee began with John. Few of Jesus' followers knew Jesus as a child, but many, many of His followers knew John (and/or knew of Him). John the Baptist's ministry, laying the foundation for what Jesus would teach, would for these individuals be a very sensible place to start the story.

In fact, when the apostles present in Jesus' ministry tell the story of Jesus (we have multiple such accounts recorded in the book of Acts), they start the account with John. Apparently then, to at least some early Christians, the role of John the Baptist and his connection to Jesus was a more prominent feature of Jesus' ministry than were the circumstances of Jesus' birth. It is thus unsurprising that a Gospel author would choose to start the story there.

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Post-Resurrection Appearances

Luke records much more detail following the resurrection than does Mark. Especially if one assumes if 16:8 was the originally intended ending of Mark's Gospel. For the case that 16:8 was not the originally intended ending of Mark's Gospel, see my video here.

In short, there is enough textual & historical ambiguity around the ending of Mark that we cannot dogmatically claim the author intended to include no post-resurrection appearances, and there is a decent case to be made that throughout the Gospel of Mark the author has built the story to a climax that will be resolved when the predictions of Jesus' resurrection are fulfilled.

The ambiguous evidence surrounding the ending of Mark is too unstable a foundation from which to claim Mark says much less (or intended to say much less) about the resurrection than Luke did. And if the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost (see a discussion of this possibility in the video link above), no textual argument could be made at all, as we would not have the text.

The Gospel of Mark predicts twice Jesus' rising from the dead and being reunited with His disciples (14:28, 16:7), and it is a hallmark of the author's style to show that Jesus' prophecies are fulfilled.

Arguing based on the post-resurrection appearances that Mark could not have known Luke's Gospel is not an argument from evidence, but an argument from the absence of evidence.

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The Sermon on the Mount/Plain

I've saved the best for last. Surely, surely, no Christian writer could have made a record of Jesus' ministry and excluded His most iconic sermon??? This data point alone has led countless individuals to conclude that Mark could not have known Luke's Gospel (or Matthew's). Yet there is a remarkably simple explanation:

Mark doesn't include long sermons. Zero. None. Zilch.

Matthew & John each devote a great deal of space to long sermons. Luke less so. Mark none. Mark is the action-oriented, fast-paced Gospel, focusing very heavily on what Jesus did. When Mark reports what Jesus said it is always brief.

There is a straightforward explanation for this authorial behavior, and it aligns with the stylistic features of Mark's Gospel. Mark's Gospel is written the way one would tend to speak a story rather than the way one would write a story. When you write you can go back and edit & polish, when you speak live sometimes things come out more awkwardly (such as the "hard sayings" and "less-polished" Greek of Mark). The genius of Mark is the storytelling, not the semantics.

In the videos linked above I argue that Mark is exactly what one would expect if a dynamic Christian preacher, very familiar with the stories in Matthew & Luke, gave a sermon and someone wrote it down (and Greek shorthand did exist in the first century).

Once we acknowledge the oral nature of Mark (if Matthew & Luke are the peer-reviewed literature, Mark is the powerful preaching), the conundrum of Mark's exclusion of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain goes away. A storyteller--especially one working largely from memory--will focus more on what happened than what was said. A series of events that can be recalled with detail make a better story (and are more memorable) than a recitation of a long monologue. This is exactly what we see in Mark. Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the same story, Mark tends to be the most verbose, he goes into extra detail about what happened, who was there, etc., he uses the most words to tell a story. But when it comes to preaching, Mark is the most concise: he does not report long sermons. Not once.

Why then did Mark exclude the Sermon on the Mount/Plain? The same reason he excluded all of the other long sermons.

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Proto Luke

An alternative to Lukan Priority that is occasionally suggested is Proto-Luke - a hypothetical document that contained the core of Luke, preceded Mark, may or may not have been used by Mark, and was then augmented by content from Mark to become the Gospel of Luke we know today.

Proto-Luke suffers from some shortcomings:

  • There is no manuscript, patristic, or historical evidence for it.
  • The stylistic features that led Robert Lindsay and others to conclude Luke must have preceded Mark are features that are found both in parts of Luke that are shared with Mark, and parts of Luke that are not shared with Mark.
  • It violates Occam's razor by multiplying entities beyond necessity. If no explanation is possible without a hypothetical document, it may be appropriate to assume a hypothetical document. But if an explanation is possible without a hypothetical document, that explanation is to be preferred.

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Conclusion

There are straightforward reasons why an author in Mark's position would exclude some of what are today among the most iconic parts of the Gospel of Luke. Mark did not intend to recreate his sources, but to use them to tell a powerful story. At the heart of Mark's Gospel is a dynamic, energetic, fast-paced storyteller, who has put together a powerful arc from the beginning of Jesus' ministry through to the resurrection.

It is possible to conclude that such a teacher knew prior accounts of Jesus' ministry but did not feel obligated to recite them in full when teaching. In fact, most preachers today do just this: rather than reading a full chapter verbatim, many will read select verses and comment upon them. This is exactly what we find in the Gospel of Mark.

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First a disclaimer: I am not a adherent of Lukan priority. Most Lukan priority writers posit the existence of a Hebrew language "proto-narrative" and also the Q source. Luke used both of these, they believe, and the other Gospels are largely dependent on Luke. In the chart below, the "Double Tradition" represents material shared by Luke and Matthew but omitted by Mark.

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So why does Mark omit much of the Q material, according to Lukan priority? One argument explaining this is that Mark was writing for an audience that was less well educated than Luke's. In other words, Mark believed that "less would be more" for his purposes. He also thought that it was more effective to put more emphasis on Jesus' activities as a miracle-worker than as a Jewish moral or religious instructor.

A shortened edition of the gospel could have performed some important functions. For one thing, it certainly could have provided an effective tool for communicating the gospel to Hellenistic society. The instruction of Jesus would probably be less important to a non-Jewish, pagan audience. Conversely, the miracles and activities of Jesus would be considered a better vehicle of communication. (Brad H. Young, Jesus and his Jewish Parables, Paulist Press (1989) p. 138)

To summarize: a Lukan-priority explanation for the missing Q material in Mark is that Mark's audience was less sophisticated and less interested in Jewish moral teaching than Luke's audience.

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  • Do you have a detailed list of what those individual components are? (In particular, I'm wondering what are the 2 that are unique to Mark.) Mar 31, 2023 at 14:57
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    @RayButterworth using the pericope subdivisions of Joseph Tyson, the clear candidates for pericopes unique to Mark are: His family thinking He was beside Himself, and healing the blind man at Bethsaida with saliva. There are other ways to subdivide the pericopes in the Gospels, and other candidates for unique pericopes (as opposed to just a unique sentence here and there) are the other healing with saliva, the young man who loses his garment in Gethsemane, the seed growing in secret, and the epilogue of Mark. Some would also classify Mark 13:34-37 as a unique pericope Apr 2, 2023 at 19:57

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