Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Raymond Brown & Matthean Priority

This is a quote from Raymond Brown found here in this debate. I wanted to respond to it (my words in red).

As explained in Chapter 6, This INTRODUCTION works with the thesis that Matt and Luke used Mark. Yet for many centuries the dominant view was Augustine's thesis that Mark was little more than an epitome of Matt; and recently attention has been given to the (modified) Griesbach hypothesis wherein Mark drew on Matt (p. 113 above). It is instructive to test the theological consequences of positing Marcan dependence on the other Synoptics. For instance, Mark would have omitted the Lord's Prayer and the four beatitudes that Matt and Luke agree upon.

And John omits Christ raising the Synagogue ruler's daughter from the dead (whereas John himself was one of only three present when it happened) and the virgin birth. You can see how unhelpful this sort of reasoning is for Christians.

As for christology, if Mark was written after Matt and drew on it, at a period when the title "God" for Jesus was becoming more common, Mark 10:17-18 would have complicated Matt 19:16-17 by gratuitously introducing an objection to giving Jesus a title that belonged to God alone.

The implication present in Matthew is strong enough to shrug this point off. It’s also quite conceivable (not to scholars like Brown of course) that Peter, or Mark by interpretation is recalling wording which closer replicates what was actually said at the time. If Jesus’ words were spoken verbatim as recorded by Mark, that would make complete sense of the whole issue and would not contradict Matthew in the least.

What Brown and scholars like him never comprehend is that it IS actually possible that the gospel writers sincerely believed what they wrote to be true and weren’t fabricating details for theological purposes. Since they rule out honesty a priori, they often come up with some pretty ridiculous theories.

Mark 6:5 would have introduced the idea that Jesus could not do miracles at Nazareth, changing the statement of Matt 13:58 that he did none.

First of all, if you have any point, it’s that Matthew corrected Mark… it wasn’t that he couldn’t do miracles it was that he just didn’t – this is incompatible with belief in the inspiration of Scriptures. Secondly, I don’t know of the usage here and the linguistic argument but we often use the word “couldn’t” in non-literal ways ourselves. It wouldn’t take much to convince me that they could have done the same. “I couldn’t bring myself to look”. Well literally you could have if you wanted to.. You just didn’t want to. “I couldn’t help him with that he was being a complete jerk”. In reality, you could have helped you just didn’t because he was a jerk. “Jesus couldn’t do any miracles because of their lack of faith”. In reality, He could have regardless of which gospel came first – He just didn’t and Mark’s gospel saying the latter may have been part of a colloquial expression or happenstance as Peter recited the incident. It may have been particular to Peter’s way of talking. In short, there’s a host of reasons why this could have happened without assuming Marcan priority.

"Some claim that Matthean priority and Marcan dependence support traditional Roman Catholic positions,

It does. Have you heard of a group of guys called the early Church fathers?

but Mark's presentation of Mary and Peter becomes all the more difficult if the evangelist knew Matt and/or Luke. Mark would have deliberately omitted the infancy narratives of Matt and Luke, even the details in which they both agree, including the conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

So did John’s what’s your point? If it proves anything at all it proves too much. If this were evidence of Marcan priority it would be evidence for Johanine priority as well. If it proved that Mark was unaware of these facts (assuming Matthean priority) it proves John was as well (or if you’re willing to go that far I’m sure you’re willing deny Johanine authorship – we still have problems with this of course).

Mark would have consciously added two items lacking in Matt and Luke pertinent to Mary, namely, that Jesus' own family thought he was "beside himself" (3:19b-21) and that he received no honor from his own relatives (6:4).

Again, are we to rule out the possibility that these things actually happened a priori? If we assume that the gospels were only loosely based on history and mostly theologically charged, this point makes sense. But if we were to consider the possibility that, His family really was beside themselves at one time or that He really did receive no honor from his family at one point, then it makes perfect sense that Mark would have added it.

As for the Marcan view of Peter and the apostles, Mark would have deliberately omitted both Matt 16:16-19 that makes Peter the rock on which the church was built, and Luke 22:31-34 that has Peter strengthening his brothers after his own failure. (Even though those are not passages shared by both Matt and Luke, Mark can scarcely not have noticed the impact of omitting such positive passages.)

There are many things omitted in regards to saint Peter in Mark. It’s striking actually – especially when Peter is said to have delivered this gospel as a homily based on Matthew and Mark reconciled the shorthand notes with Matthew & Luke adding nothing and taking nothing away. Peter doesn’t walk on the water in Mark, several comments and actions made by anonymous disciples are actually from Peter (including the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priests’ servant).

But again, this kind of reasoning doesn’t get us far (at least not in the right direction). John shows that Andrew was called first, not Peter. Why, if the gospel authors were so theologically motivated would John not fabricate that Peter was called first since that would make the most sense and seems to be what the Synoptics imply.

Of course, Peter may have omitted the details out of humility. Why Mark didn’t reconcile it with Matthew may be a mystery, but no more of a mystery (in fact much less) that John – while attempting to prove the divinity of Christ omitted the virgin birth.

Mark would have deliberately omitted the promise of Jesus to the disciples in Matt 19:28 and Luke 22:29-30 whereby they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

If Mark was written primarily to Gentiles in Rome would this be so difficult to imagine him doing?

Mark 4:38 would have made the disciples more rude to Jesus than they were in Matt 8:25.

With 12 disciples, there were doubtlessly several types of reactions and Mark giving it from one perspective while Matthew giving it from another neither proves nor even suggests anything at all.

Using a book with the Gospels in parallel columns, readers are invited to test other examples of Marcan thought and procedure in the Griesbach hypothesis."
At a first glance, most of the Marcan priority arguments seem to hold water. However, on further inspection, they all seem to be as theologically motivated as their supporters often accuse the gospels themselves of being. They fundamentally assume that the gospels do not record real history (if so, only loosely) – variations must be explained by theological agendas. Out right they deny inspiration – which is the goal of historical critical examination I suppose, but at least one option must be that what they say is actually true.

If I had no other reasons, I think I would believe in Marcan priority but since the early Church fathers unanimously affirm Matthean Priority (plus the existence of his gospel in Hebrew/Aramaic up until the 5th century) and since Matthean priority can be soundly defended, I am going to stick with the early Church on this one. Now I know Pope Benedict believes in Marcan priority along with most scholars but there are good scholars (Scott Hahn for one) who believe in Matthean priority.


andrew said...

Long standing sympathies coupled with recent events have prompted me to begin reading a biography of the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. I discovered that, as a Catholic, he intended to write a commentary on Scripture from an ecclesiastical and theological perspective, largely in an effort to counteract the reductive historicism that had begun to creep into some Catholic commentaries being written in the latter half of the 19th century.

I understand the difference between what you are advocating, i.e., what the Bible presents as actually occuring actually occured, and a "historical" hermeneutic grounded, at least provisionally, in philosophical naturalism, such that only naturalistic intepretations of the text are historically interesting.

However, even if we choose to read the Gospel as history books, analogous, say, to modern biographies, we should still recognize that the authors have necessarily been selective in their choice and arrangement of materials. Such that, it is not a sufficient explanation of the presence or modification of a given pericope to say that the events described therein actually happened. A lot of things actually happened which are not written down.

I think that you acknowledge this principle of selectivity in your comments on the scarcity of petrine passages in Mark. Yet some of your comments seem to suggest that an event's actually happening is sufficient for its being recorded in Scripture. Now, per inerrancy, we might insist that this is a necessary condition, but it cannot, by the nature of the case, be sufficient.

Herein is part of the value of higher criticism. For example, it is one thing to chalk up as factual Mark's unique claim that Jesus was among the wild beasts during his 40 day fast in the wilderness. But that really doesn't go anywhere. However, if we ask ourselves why Mark, in particular, relates this fact, then we have something interesting, and probably spiritually fruitful, to look into.

Back to Newman. Newman believed that the scriptures were written from a theological perspective and with an ecclesiastical agenda. Where he differs from the modern historicist (which is not quite the same animal as the reductive historian of a century and a half ago) is that Newman's worldview admits of (1) theological facts and (2) an ecclesiological agenda divinely sanctioned, which infallibly presents truth unto salvation. And it is from this perspective that he intended to write his commentary. He never wrote it. Reason being... well, I'm still reading, but I think that the main obstacle was that age old archnemesis of Catholics: other Catholics.

I think, though I don't have enough reading under my belt to be sure, that if we adopted some of the insights of higher criticism, while rejecting the suspicion nigh unto paranoia that the some contemporary higher critics bring to the texts (e.g., assuming that all texts are twisted monuments to political oppression and psychological repression) then we might find interesting points of convergence between our readings of Scripture and that of the Church Fathers.

I think that Scott Hahn among others working at biblical theology are picking up a lot of the slack of mainstream commentators like Raymond Brown. Still, I wonder what Newman would have said.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Andrew, I agree with you 100% and that is a very interesting proposition from Newman. Too bad he didn't get to write it.

The gospels are certainly theologically charged and motivated. First, the motives of the individuals is certainly worth studying. Like Benedict says, the historical critical method is great but it has its limits. If my beliefs are true, then a brilliant scholar with no leanings one way or the other using solely the historical critical method would come out looking like a traditionalist. (The liberals think the very opposite of course which is what they believe they're doing). I believe they're not only being bad theologians but bad historians.

You're right, we cannot ignore the agendas of the evangelists. They all had them. When I wrote my conversion story on the left I had a glaring agenda but I relayed only truth. Many of Brown's arguments seem to me to be based on the presupposition that the events recorded didn't actually happen. If we merely came into the study with the presupposition that they did actually happen, then suddenly, his arguments are far less convincing. I wouldn't ask such a thing of a historian (and couldn't) but I think if you at least allow for the possibility that it it is true, things suddenly need to be revisited.

This brings us back the problem of obvious theological motivation. Random example: the numbers seven and twelve occur far more often in the New Testament than the Old (per capita). What the evangelists record as Jesus actions and words are rightly seen as theologically loaded. But who is loading the clip? As Wright points out, these liberal scholars seem to think that the only one in the first century who was incapable of any theologically motivated words or actions was Jesus Himself!

If Wright is correct, and Jesus saw Himself living out the fulfillment of the Scriptures as the Messiah, His actions and words make perfect sense and we needn't suppose the evangelists were trying to prove their theologies at the expense of real history when it would have made perfect sense within the context (especially given Christian presuppositions about who Jesus actually was) that the events and words were exactly as described. Moreover, if the Word became flesh, wouldn't He live out a life that (if written down) would read like the Scriptures themselves? This is getting too far down a trail few scholars are willing to go I know, but it should be mentioned.

We can end up with serious problems when we rely too much on the historical critical method (at the expense of Scriptural accuracy). One of the clearest examples of this problem is Luke. Liberal scholars think Luke was obviously written after the destruction of the temple since he plainly says armies will surround Jerusalem. But using the historical critical method as noted above, the only conclusion we can come to is that Luke read the apocalyptic Mark 13 and sought to link it to the destruction of the temple. In the process, he literally lied about Jesus' words! I don't see any way we could reconcile that with inerrancy. Details being shady are one thing, but deliberate lying in the interest of promoting a doctrine (whether its true or not) is quite another. This doesn't prove that Luke was written before the temple or even before Mark by any means. But it does pose a serious question that all Christian scholars should know their answer to.. Did Christ say (not envision) did He literally say that armies would surround Jerusalem and if not, how many other things are really the words of the early Church instead of Christ?

Of course, Luke 21:21 still has Jesus telling Christians to flee Judea and go to the mountains which makes no sense if Luke had known the actual events. (Titus occupied the mountains surrounding Jerusalem).

> Ok I got seriously sidetracked for like 30 minutes and have completely lost my train of thought. Maybe we can continue this conversation on Friday over a couple of beers. Good stuff. Peace out.

andrew said...

It is refreshing to be reminded that if the apostles were capable of using theologically loaded langauge in their writings then Jesus was certainly capable of using theologically loaded language in his teaching. We still have to appreciate the differences among the Synoptics, but for pete's sake let us not lose the main thread!

I think that it is natural to approach any text with a healthy credulity. It just doesn't do to assume that everybody is trying to pull the wool over our eyes all the time. We ought to read texts both in a receptive and a responsible way. Any errors or inconsistencies will become manifest to such a reader, but so will much else.

I am a firm proponent of the almost non-existent hermeutical school that holds that the meaning of the text is in the text- imagine that! Unfortunately, there is a tendency in popular Catholic apologetics to assume a sort of hermeneutical fideism, such that, sans an infallible interpretive authority, no interpretation of scripture could be validated. This is surely not the case. But you are right, this type of talk, as most things, goes better with beer.