Dependence of Mark upon Matthew (Continued)

8. Implications of Hebraic Matthew's Translation into Greek

First a brief summary is in order as to why so many scholars have concluded that Matthew was first written in Aramaic or Hebrew. This includes extensive evidence and argumentation set forth by Zahn,[1] Jameson,[2] Torrey,[3] Chapman,[4] Butler,[5] and Black. Although some of their arguments may be inapplicable or incorrect, others that are independent of any flawed arguments may well be correct. Following Black,[8] it is acknowledged even by those who dismiss the external evidence (of Matthew having been written in Aramaic or Hebrew) that at least the sayings or discourses within the Gospels do give evidence of an Aramaic substratum. These are very numerous and require intervening narration before most of them would make much sense. Hence the sayings must have existed initially embedded within, and interspersed with, narration that supplied their context. It would be virtually out of the question for the sayings to have existed in Aramaic in isolated form and for a later gospel writer to have invented all the narration and settings, etc., in Greek, to accompany his translations of the sayings. Therefore the discourses, dialogues and narration must have once existed as a single literary unit, all written in the same language -- Aramaic. This Aramaic substratum then persisted into Hebraic Matthew and then into the Greek Gospels of Mark and Luke as well as into the later Greek translation of Hebraic Matthew. And as will be indicated next, the textual evidence does suggest that even parts of the narration within the early version of Matthew had been written in an Aramaic style, or contained Aramaisms.

Zahn was one of the first to postulate the present thesis that the writer of Mark made use of Hebraic Matthew, and that a later editor translated Hebraic Matthew into Greek while having a copy of Mark on hand. As Jameson summarizes, this would "account for the correspondences which exist between the two in language [between Matthew and Mark], as well as in subject-matter. It would also meet a difficulty raised by Prof. Stanton to the effect that, though it might be natural enough for a writer like Matthew to have remedied the uncouthness and removed the solecisms he found in Mark, a less skillful writer like St. Mark evidently would not have been likely to substitute awkward terms and expressions for Matthew's better ones. On the above theory the difficulty vanishes, as these corrections would have been made by the Greek translator." This theory is expanded upon in this website paper, where the correspondences in Greek language between Matthew and Luke are also taken into account, along with plausible motivation for Matthew's strong correspondences with the Greek of both Mark and Luke. (The correspondences between the Greek language of Mark and Luke are far less significant in comparison.)

The use of Hebraic Matthew by the writer of Mark left Aramaisms or Hebraisms (or Semitisms) within Mark. Others who have pointed out that Mark exhibits Semitisms include Streeter and Lohmeyer.[6],[9]

An independent argument also favors Matthew having had priority over Mark and having been first written in Aramaic or Hebrew. The contents of Matthew strongly indicate it was written to recommend Christianity to the Jews. It is natural then that for this purpose it would have been written in Hebrew and/or Aramaic. If, on the other hand, Mark is considered to hold priority over Matthew, and there had been a desire to produce a gospel for Jews, Mark could have fulfilled this aim by being translated into Aramaic or Hebrew,[7] for which there is no evidence, however.

It could hardly be the case that Matthew's Semitisms would be the result of an editor deliberately adding in Semitisms while expanding upon the Greek Gospel of Mark. To be doing that, he would need to anticipate that scholars of the distant future would be trying to ascertain which gospel came first, second and third, by searching for Semitisms within Greek Matthew, despite the common knowledge of the day that Hebraic Matthew came first, then Greek Mark then Luke. That is, the external evidence discussed in Section 1 that Matthew had come first, written in the Hebraic tongue, is to be kept in mind.

When Matthew was translated into Greek one may expect that its translator would preserve some of the Aramaisms within the narration that the writers of Mark and Luke had mostly not rendered in their Greek, especially since Matthew had been written to convert Jews and its translator's background was likely partly Jewish. As one example, the word "Behold!" or "Look!" ("idou" in Greek and "hinneh" in Hebrew, "hen" in Aramaic) was much more frequently used in that sense in Aramaic/Hebrew than in Greek. In Matthew we see it used much more frequently than in Mark: in Matthew's 25 uses of "idou" within narration of which Mark has parallels, Mark omits it every time, while in parallel discourses Mark retains it 9 out of 13 times. Thus the writer of Mark, in keeping with his pro-gentile slant, was not predisposed to use this word except as necessary within speech that he knew had taken place in the Aramaic language.

The Greek word "tote" for "then" (when stemming from "edayin" in Aramaic to mean "after that") is another habitual Aramaism.[10] Matthew uses "tote" 89 times, some 61 of these being within narration, while Mark never uses it in narration, and only 6 times in discourse. Thus the writer of Mark was not disposed to utilize "tote" as a translation for "edayin," particularly in the past tense, and preferred the normal use of other Greek words to render the meaning of "after that." The frequent Matthean use of "tote" to translate "edayin" occurring as a conjunction within narration that is in the past tense may actually distinguish between Aramaic and Hebrew, being an Aramaic use of the phrase and not Hebrew.[11] This suggests that all of Matthew had been written in Aramaic before its translation into Greek several years later.

The frequent use of "and" ("kai" in Greek) with which to initiate sentences is very prevalent in Matthew, and this is one Aramaism that the writer of Mark was apparently happy to maintain and even amplify upon. Similarly with the "absolute infinitive," as in "he answered and spoke..."

The "Son of man" expression is a Semitism, and is not any native Greek phrase.[12] We have found good reason elsewhere to conclude that "Son of man" was a redaction employed by the writer of Matthew. Hence its being a Semitism is consistent with this writer having written his gospel in a Hebraic language, as the external evidence attests.

The use of "the heavens" (plural) is another Aramaism/Hebraism, much more common in Matthew than in the other gospels.

Even the "Sea of Galilee" is an Aramaism or Hebraism, since it is not a sea but a lake.[13] The writer of Mark retained this expression from his use of Hebraic Matthew and/or from his special source document, perhaps because his sense of Palestinian geography was so poor,[14] while the writer of Luke corrected it to "lake" (using the Greek "limne"). The latter writer felt freer in rewriting his sources to suit his own taste, in my opinion, and consequently left behind less trace of the style of the sources he had borrowed from; this was understandable if his was the third gospel.

When the Semitic form of Matthew was later translated into Greek, a prime opportunity arose to make alterations within Matthew that would help maintain its popularity and authority over the two gospels that had recently appeared on the scene in Greek: Mark and Luke. It was apparently a different person from the one who wrote Matthew originally who did this translation. Reasons why this translation is deduced to have occurred after both Mark and Luke had appeared, and not before one or both of them appeared, have been presented elsewhere;[15] (see its Section III).

The addition of some pro-gentile text, to help counteract the anti-gentile text elsewhere within the gospel, is the key alteration made during this latter translation. The prime example is Mt 28:19-20, which would extend discipleship to all nations. Another appears to be Mt 12:17-22. Without such additions, the Gospel of Matthew would not have been able to maintain its popularity and authority over Mark and Luke, considering the rapid spread of Christianity into the gentile world in the 2nd century.

It is also likely that here and there the translator of Hebraic Matthew into Greek altered a few expressions to render them more reverential. One of several possible examples of this is the use of "Lord" in Mt 8:25 while the more primitive sounding "Teacher" occurs in the parallel of Mk 4:38. However, one cannot be certain that it was not the writer of Mark who made the change for the "sake of change," or that "Lord" as used in Matthew (or in Matthew's source) did not reflect the meaning of "master" or "lord" rather than of the christianized "Lord." This is but one of several instances where one may never know if an alteration in the manner in which Jesus was addressed was made by Matthew's translator or by the writer of Mark, as in the Table below:

Mark Matthew
1:40 No address 8:2 Lord
4:38 Teacher 8:25 Lord
9:5 Rabbi (or Master) 17:4 Lord
9:17 Teacher 17:15 Lord
10:47 Jesus, Son of David 20:30 Lord,...Son of David
10:48 Son of David 20:31 Lord,...Son of David
10:51 Rabboni 20:33 Lord
14:19 No address 26:22 Lord

With the hindsight of other web pages of this website, we find that in the above Table under the Matthew column, in Matthew's source "Lord" just referred to "lord" or "master" for Mt 8:2 and 20:30, 31, 33.

If we similarly compare the fewer parallels in which "Teacher" is the address used in one of them and "Lord" is not, we find no definite reason to suspect that the translator of Matthew was the more reverential:

Mark Matthew
12:28 No address 22:36 Teacher
10:17 Good Teacher 19:16 Teacher
10:20 Teacher 19:20 No address
10:35 Teacher 20:20 No address

Thus, keeping in mind that Aramaic Matthew was translated into Greek, one cannot plausibly assume that indications of greater reverence in Matthew necessarily mean that Mark came before Aramaic Matthew.

The translator's use of Mark and Luke. A strong need to translate Hebraic Matthew into Greek must have been felt after Mark and Luke had come out in Greek, so that it would appeal more to gentiles than would Hebraic Matthew, and so that it would not become obsolete relative to Luke and Mark. It is only to be expected that the translator would have had transcriptions of both Mark and Luke in front of him when doing his job. Would he depend upon their Greek wording in any manner that would be detectable to us? Another study presents the frequency distributions of strings of successive Greek words within parallels between the Gospels, taken two at a time.[16] The conclusion is inescapable that between Matthew and Mark, and also between Matthew and Luke, there are far too many lengthy strings of identical Greek words (excessive verbal agreement) than would occur by chance or through normal editing. This is not found upon examining parallels between Mark and Luke. One sees that Matthew is the "middle term" here, as scholars would say, and this points to the translator of Matthew as being responsible. He can only have purposely replicated lengthy strings of text from both Mark and Luke, during his translation undertaking, when these closely agreed in content with his own gospel. The most plausible motive for such replication was to let others know that what was in Mark and Luke was not new, but had come from Matthew, since all knew that Matthew in Semitic form had been the first gospel. In that manner, it could be hoped that Matthew would not lose its authority to the newer gospels (Mark and Luke); instead, it would be realized that the latter were merely altered forms of Matthew derived largely from Hebraic Matthew.

Now it might be hypothesized that the fact Matthew is the middle term in this respect indicates that the writer of Mark utilized Greek Matthew and so also the writer of Luke. However, it is much less likely that the writer of Luke would have purposely replicated lengthy strings of Greek Matthean text when he otherwise placed his extractions from Matthew within contexts of his own invention, and that the writer of Mark would also have gone out of his way to replicate lengthy Matthean strings of words. Also, the word-string frequency analysis indicates that the writer of Luke did not purposely replicate lengthy word-strings within Mark. Moreover, this hypothesis would contradict the external evidence saying that Matthew had come out first in the Hebrew tongue.

If it is instead hypothesized that Matthew being the middle term in this respect indicates it had no Hebraic predecessor, and was written for the first time only after both Mark and Luke had come out, then one does not find motivation for its writer to have purposely replicated excessive numbers of lengthy word strings. And this hypothesis would then contradict the external evidence saying that Matthew had come out first and in the Hebrew tongue.

In summary, the hypothesis that the writer of Mark utilized Hebraic Matthew is well supported by the evidence, of which foregoing sections 1, 2, and parts of sections 3, 4 and 6 involve arguments that are especially difficult to reverse in any attempt to claim that the writer of Matthew used Mark. Sections 5, 7-8, by being fully consistent with these other sections, also support the priority of Matthew over Mark. The finding discussed in this section that Matthew, after translation into Greek, is the middle term between Mark and Luke, indicating that its translator utilized both Luke and Mark, also indicates that Hebraic Matthew had held priority over Mark.


1. Zahn, Theodor, Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. 2, J. M. Trout et al., transls. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909), pp. 573-580.

2. Jameson, H. G., The Origin of the Synoptic Gospels. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1922), pp. 23-24.

3. Torrey, Charles Cutler, Our Translated Gospels (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936).

4. Chapman, John, Matthew, Mark and Luke. (London: Longman's Green & Co., 1937), pp. 181-214.

5. Butler, B. C., The Originality of St Matthew. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1951), pp. 147-156.

6. Streeter, Burnett Hillman, The Four Gospels (London: Macmillan Co., 1964), p. 297.

7. Lohmeyer, M., Das Evangeliums des Markus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1959), p. 41.

8. Black, Matthew An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).

9. Butler, Originality of St Matthew, pp. 149-150.

10. Chapman, Matthew, Mark and Luke, p. 184.

11. Internet communication of 1 Dec 1998 by Randall J. Buth, Jerusalem University College.

12. Davies, W. D., and Allison, Dale C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), p. 43.

13. Black, An Aramaic Approach, p. 96.

14. Parker, Pierson, "The posteriority of Mark," in New Synoptic Studies by W. R. Farmer (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983), pp. 68-70.

15. This refers to the file: priority.htm (see its Section III) on this website.

16. This also refers to the file: priority.htm (see its Section IV) on this website.

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