Theological Commitment in Early Christianity and its Role in Shaping Present Scholarly Consenses concerning the Gospels

James W. Deardorff

1. The Approach
2. Papias, via Eusebius, on Matthew
3. Papias on Mark
4. Clement of Alexandria on Mark
5. Motivations for the Gospels
6. The Continuing Hold of Theological Commitment

It is apparent within modern New Testament scholasticism that the historical Jesus was a far different person than the figure portrayed within the Gospels. As expressed by one liberal scholar, whose views on this can perhaps be taken to represent a majority of the Jesus Seminar scholars, "The gospel of John is highly symbolic and essentially not historical. Even the material in the synoptic gospels is the product of a long process of development, shaped by Christian communities during the time of oral transmission, and further redacted by the evangelists... [Jesus] did not speak or think of himself as 'the Son of God,' or as 'one with the Father,' ... or as the savior of the world."1

Such findings, which conflict so obviously with the orthodox Christianity espoused since the time of Paul, imply one of two possible interpretations. The first is that the real Jesus did not have any particular mission other than a desire to help the poor and downtrodden, or have much to say other than a few cynical or impractical teachings.2 The second is that he did have a definite mission involving extensive teachings, and since any such teachings are largely unknown they must have undergone extensive alteration, suppression or both by mid-second century, by which time the Gospels are known to have been formed.3 Sufficient Gospel quotations from Justin, Tatian and Irenaeus exist to indicate that already by then the content of the Gospels was not much different from today's best accepted Greek texts.4

The first interpretation has received much scholarly discussion while leaving many issues unresolved, as we shall show. The second has received almost no discussion, due to fears of violating theological commitment, but shows great promise of resolving these issues. The questions that arise with this second possibility, then, concern: (a) the evidence, if any, to indicate that extensive teachings of the real Jesus once existing in written form that were redacted into the first and subsequent Gospels, (b) when and how this would have taken place, and (c) what such teachings could have involved that would require their suppression and redaction.


The assumption is thus tested here of a written source once having existed out of which the first Gospel was formed and upon which subsequent Gospels were dependent, directly or indirectly. The chief support for this assumption is the first-hand detail displayed within certain Gospel text. A prime example, noted by J. Goodspeed, is the detailed series of instructions to the disciples of Mt 10:5-14, which would not have been written if they had been the original composition of a scribe some time after 70 C.E., when the interest was in instructions for the church rather than in outdated instructions for the Twelve.5 More generally, the detail within many of the healing pericopes and even nature miracles suggests a historical basis, though allowance must be made for frequent but minor redactions to exist within them, and for an occasional such pericope to be wholly redactional.6

One reason why the possibility has not been strongly pursued that the Gospels are based upon a written source is that neither Matthew nor the other Gospels contains narration specifying who the respective Gospel writers were, or that any particular disciple had been designated as writer. However, we should consider the likelihood that a disciple had been so designated, but that there were reasons, presently unspecified, why it was undesirable for him to be given credit for having written the source document that provided impetus for the first Gospel, and why this source did not appear on the scene until early second century, by which time this source was viewed as being largely heretical by the particular clerics who were aware of it.

If the Gospels had appeared as early as the end of the first century and been written by the men whose names are attached to them, surely Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, would have made some mention of them. Some scholars see a literary dependence between pieces of Ignatius's epistles and some nine verses, or pairs of verses, within the Gospel of Matthew, and so they assume that Ignatius made use of Matthew. Other scholars, on the other hand, believe the similarities can be explained through oral tradition known to both Ignatius and the writer of Matthew.7 A further possibility is that some or all of these apparent parallels may be explained as being later interpolations placed into Ignatius's epistles, as definitely occurred with the "longer recension" of his epistles, which are replete with such additions.7.1 It might be, however, that one or two of these parallels were formed by the writer of Matthew having utilized his knowledge of Ignatius's epistles, because it is plausible that Matthew was written some years after Ignatius's death. If its writer was familiar with Ignatius's epistles, then, he might possibly have been the man who had served as a scribe for the bishop during the latter's journey towards martyrdom, in which case his name was Burrhus.8 Burrhus was a deacon in the church at Ephesus whom Ignatius respected. However, this seems unlikely in that Ignatius did not believe in the continued practice of Judaism as did the Messianic Jews, with whom we may identify the writer of Matthew.

The present study begins to explore the above questions and the role of theological commitment therein, as well as its role in discouraging debate on this topic even now as well as in past centuries. It should be evident that any use of theological commitment is incompatible with free inquiry for truth. As noted by E. P. Sanders, "I have been engaged for some time in the effort to free history and exegesis from the control of theology; that is, from being obligated to come to certain conclusions which are pre-determined by theological commitment."9 The present approach, which attempts to follow Sanders's aspiration even for unsuspected past theological commitment, might be described as "coverup criticism," to be added to source criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism as tools to be used by the New Testament exegetist. However, the approach is not entirely new, in that the consideration of likely motivations of the evangelists for having made particular editorial alterations in transforming their sources into their gospels has long been a part of redaction criticism. The new aspect is that unsavory incentives associated with a past covering up of undesired information, not just virtuous or inoffensive motivations, are taken into consideration.

Again, the impetus for this expanded approach to redaction criticism is the great disparity between the "real Jesus" emerging from modern scholarship, varied though it may be, and the orthodoxy espoused in the Gospels. We must face up to the likelihood that instead of Jesus having had very little of substance to say -- those few Gospel sayings that pass the muster of some segment of today's scholarship -- he had very much more to say, some fraction of which had become heretical or unsanctionable by the relatively late time of formation of the Gospels.

A supplemental reason why this possibility needs to be explored is that Paul himself knew essentially nothing of Jesus' teachings,10 or if he did know a little from firsthand experience, did not care to espouse it, perhaps because of his pre-conversion disposition, associated with his Pharisaic background, to strenuously persecute the earliest followers of Jesus. Thus one can scarcely utilize his Epistles, though they greatly predate the Gospels, in assessing anything about the historical Jesus or the reliability of the Gospels. In so analyzing the situation, however, we must allow for the likelihood that modern Gospel scholarship, which essentially ignores the Epistles, may nevertheless contain serious errors due to reliance upon past scholars of the Gospels who were not as free as might be thought from the influence of theological commitment. Hence in this study we examine the role of theological commitment not only in early centuries C.E., but in the last two centuries as well, as far as space permits.

It is to the witness of Papias, via Eusebius, that we must first turn for fresh insights using coverup criticism. Although his testimony has received much past debate, the present approach has apparently not heretofore been applied to it.


As is well known, two terse statements from Papias that relate to the formation of Matthew and Mark have survived. The one concerning Matthew is: "Matthew put together the oracles [ta logia] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could."11 One interpretation of this has been that after the disciple Matthew wrote or composed his gospel it was known for a while as the Logia.12 However, it makes better sense for the Logia to have referred to the source of the evangelist's compilation, not the fruits of it; if it had referred to the important gospel named after Matthew, one would not expect Eusebius to have used "ta logia" but to have used "ta euaggelion" to describe it, as he did five sentences previously in referring to the second evangelist's work as a gospel. Further, the five expositions written by Papias about the Lord's sayings seem to refer to the same sayings source, "ta logia," and do not refer to the Gospel of Matthew.13

Hence another interpretation, apparently first due to F. E. D. Schleiermacher, is that the Logia were a relatively extensive source writing out of which the Gospel of Matthew was formed.14 However, this interpretation lost favor in the past century and a half because it (along with "in the Hebrew language") tends to imply that Matthew preceded Mark when for other reasons, to be discussed, Marcan priority came to be desired.

The second part of the sentence from Papias has been equally difficult to interpret uniquely. Burnette Streeter, for example, took "and each one interpreted them as best he could," to mean that "there is no authorized translation" of the first evangelist's work, which he accepted as having been written in Hebrew or Aramaic.15 However, Papias's "ermeneusen," as restated by Eusebius, can just as well be rendered as "interpreted" as "translated," suggesting some problems with interpreting the Logia in a Christian sense. Streeter's suggestion is improbable on two other counts. First, there could have been no shortage in the Palestine-Syria area of church scribes who were fluent in both Greek and Hebrew or Aramaic, and therefore not likely any serious problem in translating from Aramaic into Greek. Second, if the typical problem associated with translating -- attempting to replicate both meaning and literary structure or style -- was what was involved, it is very unlikely Eusebius would have found this worthy of mention two centuries later.

Modern scholars, in not accepting that Matthew was first written in Aramaic or Hebrew, thus have no sensible interpretation whatsoever of this part of Papias's statement. In addition, as noted by Bernard Orchard, there have been so many inconclusive interpretations of the writings of Papias over the centuries, that "there is today a great skepticism about its value as evidence, and this has resulted in a general aversion to considering it at all."16

If, however, one applies coverup criticism to this citation, we see, first of all, the likelihood that the Logia actually constituted the source document -- one that was largely heretical, judging from the numerous and extensive redactions existent in the Gospel of Matthew.17 That explains why other unnamed evangelists, after the first evangelist had finished forming his gospel out of it (compiling it), had difficulty extracting anything further from the Logia and rendering their content sanctionable ("interpreting them").

Second, one then surmises that the Logia, once acquired by the first evangelist, were under his strict control or that of his priest, and were not made generally available or they would have survived within the churches, just as Paul's epistles did, if they had been of an orthodox character. In fact, one may conclude that the Logia scrolls were sufficiently heretical that they were not later made available to any others besides those very few who each experienced great difficulty in trying to "interpret" them for use within their own gospels; hence these scrolls did not survive any more than did any of the five treatises written by Papias about them.

Although the above reasoning makes use of the argument of silence, it is entirely befitting that coverup criticism do so, since the first defense against disclosing any embarrassing fact is to remain as silent as possible about it. One then suspects that Papias had written much more about the origins of the Gospels still available to Eusebius that he did not wish to believe or that theological commitment did not permit him to reveal. The same argument explains why Eusebius couched this short declaration about Matthew in such ambiguous language -- so as to minimize any damage to the church that it might otherwise cause.

One knows that it was well before the beginning of the fourth century that theological commitment had come to demand that the Gospels have been written by the men whose names were attached to them.18 Hence Eusebius's rendition of Papias's words would of theological necessity indicate that the Gospel of Matthew had been written by the disciple Matthew;19 whether Eusebius actually believed that remains an unknown in this study. We infer here that Papias did not, because the title of his own works, The Expositions of the Lord's Sayings, did not mention either the disciple Matthew or the gospel accorded to him.20

It may further be significant that before presenting this tiny bit of information about the formation of Matthew, Eusebius went to the pains of downplaying Papias's intellect by discussing a few selected pieces extracted from his five treatises that would tend to invite ridicule, and then calling him a "man of exceedingly small intelligence."21 This is a common tactic employed by a commentator to put his reader into a desired negative frame of mind before reluctantly and briefly presenting other information he desires the reader to treat similarly through association. In so doing, Eusebius mentioned Papias's interest in "miraculous happenings" and "certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other things of a rather mythical character," which he had mentioned in his expositions about the Logia.22 The fact that these were strange teachings for Eusebius, which he did not accept, then lends support to the present thesis that the Logia were a heretical source of the Gospel of Matthew rather than constituting that gospel itself. As to whether Papias himself ever saw these Logia scrolls or only learned about their content from one or two others who had had first- or second-hand access to them before they came into the custody of the compiler of Matthew, remains quite uncertain.

It is very likely, however, that others would have read parts of these scrolls before Matthew's compiler acquired them; this could well have spawned the intense Gnostic movement of the second century. That is, the Logia may have included spiritual teachings of a Gnostic flavor, which receptive individuals propagated orally, though often in distorted form due to the Gnostics' lack of organization and unity.

This likelihood reopens the thesis of Walter Bauer that the second-century "heretics" were an outgrowth of Jesus' true teachings, with Christian orthodoxy constituting the actual heresy.23 That possibility has been minimized largely because it did not explain why the Gnostic movement waited until the second century to flourish.24 However, the relatively late appearance of the Logia on the scene would explain both this and the late appearance of the Gospels.

With the present interpretation it is not clear if Papias's "in the Hebrew tongue," as relayed by Eusebius, referred to the Logia, or to the Gospel of Matthew, or both. However, it should be kept in mind that the first evangelist "was a Jew writing for Jews,"25 a Jewish Christian,26 who likely had once been a rabbi.27 He was clearly not writing for gentiles, as seen in some nine Matthean passages that denigrate gentiles and consider them unworthy of discipleship.28 Thus the internal, as well as most of the patristic evidence (statements of Matthean priority from Irenaeus, Origen and Augustine), are consistent and plausible in agreeing that he wrote Matthew in Hebrew or Aramaic. As for the Logia, if it were written by a disciple-writer, Aramaic was its most plausible language. Thus, "in the Hebrew dialect" could refer equally well to either document.

On the other hand, the present scholarly consensus that Matthew was instead first written in Greek achieves its desired result by arguing that "in the Hebrew language or tongue" means "in a Jewish style [though written in Greek]."29 This contention, by making it easier to further assume that Matthew is based mainly upon Mark, tilts in the direction obligated by theological commitment. That is, it avoids discussion of the likelihood that Matthew's numerous redactions were prompted by numerous heresies within the compiler's source document.


His noted statement here, via Eusebius, is somewhat lengthier: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to avoid anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements."30

Here, there is a definite suggestion that the writer of Mark did act improperly by setting down certain events in an incorrect order. But what is the reference order from which this writer deviated? It had to be the order occurring within some written document considered more primary than the Gospel of Mark, since oral tradition alone, outside of songs or chants, is scarcely capable of recalling all relevant events, much less of recalling their proper order.

The most evident reference document for this role is the Gospel of Matthew itself, and perhaps also the Logia if Matthew's order essentially followed that of the Logia. In that case, Papias's statement suggests that Mark's order of the events within Mt 8-11 was improperly scrambled, as this is the only Matthean section where an ordering of Mark against Matthew indicates great disarray in Mark's order. Since this line of reasoning goes against Marcan priority, it is a further reason why modern scholarship desires to dismiss Papias's statements.

Regarding the role of Peter, it would seem that either theological commitment or vagaries of oral transmission caused any part he played in the creation of the Gospel of Mark to become highly distorted. Certainly nothing in Mark suggests that Peter was its source, and it has been noted that Mark's gospel treats Peter relatively negatively.31 Mark follows Matthew so closely from Mt 12 on, except for omissions and numerous pleonasms, that in no way could it consist of Peter's teachings independent of Matthew. Consequently most scholars have logically refused to accept that Peter was Mark's source. If he had been, surely its writer would have named his gospel after Peter.

Yet one finds other patristic evidence, to be discussed next, indicating that Peter, while in Rome with (John) Mark,32 did play some role in the creation of Mark's gospel. Upon application of coverup criticism, a plausible explanation for both Peter's role and the irregular behavior of Mark's writer noted by Papias will emerge.


Regarding Mark, Eusebius relayed the following from Clement of Alexandria. "And in the same books Clement has set down a tradition which he had received from the elders before him, in regard to the order of the Gospels, to the following effect. He says that the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first [or openly published],33 and [but] that the Gospel according to Mark was composed in the following circumstances -- Peter having preached the word publicly at Rome, and by the Spirit proclaimed the Gospel, those who were present, who were numerous, entreated Mark, inasmuch as he had attended him from an early period, and remembered what had been said, to write down what had been spoken. On his composing the Gospel, he handed it to those who had made the request to him; which coming to Peter's knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged. But John, the last of all.... composed a spiritual Gospel."34

To make sense out of (a) Peter's role here as also espoused by Papias and inferred by Justin (in his Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 106), and (b) the fact that the Gospel of Mark is not any writing of Peter, it has recently been postulated that the writing in Rome was not actually Peter's memoirs but was a very short, original gospel possessed by him but written by the true disciple-writer.35 The aforementioned comparison of the orders of Matthew and Mark, allowing for the likelihood of Matthean priority, would then indicate that Peter's "memoirs" consisted mainly of the contents of Mt 8-11.

A plausible scenario to account for this is that the original disciple-writer started setting down events of Jesus' ministry upon joining the Twelve soon after the Sermon on the Mount, but that at a point corresponding to about Mt 12:1 his writing was stolen -- probably by a Pharisee at the urging of a chief priest who was seeking evidence of blasphemy. Some years after the crucifixion, Peter was able to recover this writing, since it no longer held any value to the Jewish priesthood, and later took it with him to Rome, with John Mark either accompanying him or joining him there. Mark, who was literate while Peter the fisherman was not, then became the custodian and distributor of this recovered short gospel, possibly translating it into Latin or Greek. Meanwhile, the original disciple-writer, when situated in a less insecure environment, composed his lengthy gospel, which included most of what he had written earlier though in slightly different wording; much later yet this original gospel, or hearsay from it, came to be known to Papias as the Logia.

This hypothesis, which can be called the stolen-writing hypothesis, is consistent with our previous use of coverup criticism because it explains why Peter did not encourage Mark to circulate the recovered stolen writing (which will be called Ur-Marcus for short),36 even though its dissemination may have been limited to those believers in Jesus who pleaded for it. That is, Ur-Marcus must have contained certain attributes that did not agree with what Paul had been preaching, if it mirrored a part of the contents of the later, heretical Logia that the compiler of Matthew could not accept without first redacting it excessively. It is understandable that by mid-first century Peter would not dare, even with Ur-Marcus in hand, to strongly challenge the view already made dominant by Paul that God had offered his Son "as an expiation by his blood" for the sins of those having faith in Jesus the Christ.37 Peter had probably learned better than to challenge Paul after having confronted him in Antioch, where Paul considered Peter to be one who did not follow the way of truth and who caused others to act insincerely (Gal 2:11-14). This reasoning is consistent with the fact of Paul having fallen out with John Mark (Acts 15:37-40), and with the third evangelist having ceased all mention of Peter after Acts 15. Peter had become an embarrassment, until after the Gospels appeared and Ur- Marcus was retired from sight.

With this hypothesis, then, Ur-Marcus languished in Rome for many decades, for one reason because neither John Mark nor later scribes there had the audacity to render it sanctionable until after Matthew's gospel appeared. Then it became apparent how such editing could be accomplished -- through rendering the resulting gospel, which would be named after Mark, theologically consistent for the most part with Matthew. A second reason is that Ur-Marcus was missing all the important events of the Passion and most of the teachings, and so did not in itself begin to constitute a complete gospel.

The stolen-writing hypothesis can also explain precisely what Papias may have had in mind in saying that Mark did not maintain a correct order of events. After Matthew appeared, a key scribe in Rome who was proficient in Hebrew and Aramaic recognized that Ur-Marcus contained the very events described within a section of the new Gospel of Matthew. This scribe -- the second evangelist -- apparently perceived that by adding onto Ur-Marcus much necessary material from Matthew, he could construct a complete gospel of his own for use by gentiles, which would in part be more original than the Gospel of Matthew. In so doing, however, it is not implausible that this scribe would have scattered or transposed most of the contents of the short Ur-Marcus section into the longer sections he had copied from Matthew, for the purpose of legitimizing his whole gospel. As a result, many of the Ur-Marcus events that paralleled Mt 8-11 became placed in incorrect order. But he seems to have taken care to include almost all of those events, as noted by Papias. (An apparent exception is the healing of the centurion's servant, which might, however, have been omitted from his source by the writer of Matthew and later reinstated by the one who translated Matthew from Hebraic into Greek.) As already noted, Eusebius would perforce refer to this scribe as Mark himself.

Again, the motivation for the compiler of Mark to have made this rearrangement of pericopes would have been to create a distinct gospel for the Roman church. Otherwise, his result would have consisted of only the short Ur-Marcus section preceded and followed by longer sections that had been tacked on whole from Matthew, except for omitted portions and added pleonasms, and it would then obey Matthew's order unceasingly and look like nothing else than an abbreviated form of Matthew. He seems to have been so successful at thus making his gospel have a different appearance from Matthew that future analysts would even opt for Marcan priority over Matthew.

There are too many outstanding Gospel puzzles that this hypothesis plausibly solves, besides making sense of the witness from Papias and Clement of Alexandria, to present here. However, one that should not go unmentioned is the greater detail and vividness of many of Mark's healing pericopes relative to Matthew's, despite Mark being much the shorter of the two gospels. This is a well known feature,38 which is to be expected if Ur-Marcus was a current chronicling of Jesus' ministry while the same disciple's lengthy later writing (Papias's Logia) was set down from his memory only years afterwards. What Donald Guthrie noted in comparing Matthew with Mark is then fully explained: "Matthew [i.e. its compiler] has had time to reflect upon the events that he records and give more attention to their significance than to their vividness."39

Two other features simultaneously explained are Mark's more primitive, less polished Greek form and its Semitic style:40 the writer of Mark was writing his gospel for gentiles and therefore in Greek, while translating from a Semitic Matthew in heavily utilizing that gospel. This gave his Greek a somewhat Semitic character. That is, Matthew was not translated into Greek until later, after Mark, Luke and John had appeared. Probably also Ur-Marcus, as utilized by the compiler of Mark, was still in Aramaic and so had to be translated into Greek by the second evangelist before he could make use of its more vivid pericopes.

It is practically certain that the compiler of Mark would have noticed that the pericopes within Ur-Marcus contained greater detail and color than the parallel pericopes within Matthew (Mt 8-11). It is likely, then, that he therefore would have sought to incorporate this feature into his annexations from Matthew, so that the Gospel of Mark would have a similar or uniform style throughout. However, this would often lead to fictitious additions that were superfluous, an example of which is the "green grass" of Mk 6:39 in comparison with the "grass" of Mt 14:19. There was no need whatsoever to mention the color of the grass, which may actually have been sparse or more brown than green. With the use of coverup criticism, Mark's pleonasms, which are both numerous and pervasive,41 are also seen to be a part of the compiler's procedure of inserting his own style throughout so that the resulting Gospel of Mark would have its own appearance and identity, distinct from that of its main source, Matthew.

With this solution to the formations of Matthew and Mark, we see that it was appropriate that the two relevant statements from Papias did not state that either one held priority. Although those relatively few pieces within Mark that stemmed from Ur-Marcus did hold priority, the rest was secondary to Matthew.


The use of coverup criticism permits logical motivations to be assigned to the (late) appearance of each of the Gospels. As already noted, the compiling of the Gospel of Matthew is seen as motivated by the appearance of the Logia on the scene in Palestine, and by its wealth of information, however heretical it may have been.

The Gospel of Mark was then motivated by the appearance of Matthew, combined with the early holding by the church in Rome of the Ur-Marcus document that John Mark had once tried to promote. As will be discussed shortly, it was apparently additionally motivated by the need for a gospel in Rome that would extend discipleship in no uncertain terms to gentiles, which Matthew did not.

Following the bulk of the patristic evidence, Luke was third, and was motivated primarily by the need for a "universal" gospel, since Mark omits so much from Matthew that was of interest to Christians of Jewish background. Thus Luke was written for both gentiles and Jewish Christians, while including the many pericopes of uncertain origin -- Luke's special material -- which this evangelist wished to insert. What coverup criticism can add here is that this evangelist appears to have been one of those referred to by Papias who had had some access to the Logia, while the compiler of Mark in Rome would not have been. The third evangelist would then have known what the first evangelist omitted from the Logia and altered, and likely would not have gone along with some of Matthew's contents. This would explain Luke's different or complementary nativity narrative, for example, and its different post-entombment appearances. Most important for 20th-century scholarship, it can explain what may seem like improbable editorial behavior on the part of the third evangelist as to the manner in which he incorporated material from Mark and Matthew, to be discussed briefly.


Several reasons have already been expressed why New Testament scholasticism came to realize that adoption of Marcan priority along with the Q hypothesis would lead to a much smaller violation of theological commitment than would the continuation of the previous Augustinian (Matthew-Mark-Luke) order of gospel priorities. Unfortunately, these are reasons that can be aired only upon acceptance of coverup criticism.

An additional reason not yet addressed here concerns the "less reverential" treatment within Mark of the disciples than within Matthew. Relative to Matthew, which we see as having appeared first, one must face up to the likelihood that the second evangelist in multiple spots purposely portrayed the disciples as less comprehending, sometimes as disrespectful to their lord, and sometimes as being treated disrespectfully by him.42 With the use of coverup criticism, one sees that these "unflattering warts" within Mark, as they for example are referred to by Eugene Lemcio,43 were probably inserted to show that the Jewish disciples were not very competent; by comparison, then, gentiles would be seen as making better disciples. This was part of the second evangelist's theme that discipleship should be extended to gentiles. Since Matthew strongly implied that discipleship should not be extended to gentiles,44 however, it may be even more probable that the second evangelist's subtle alterations against the Jewish disciples were designed to inflict a bit of literary retribution upon the first evangelist for his gospel's anti-gentile barbs.

Since the preceding reasoning is quite manifest and entirely plausible, it must be concluded that only theological commitment or fear of ostracism has prevented it from being presented openly heretofore. Otherwise, the embarrassments for the church to be found within the foregoing statements by Papias and Clement of Alexandria would long ago have been linked together in a similar manner to that presented here.

Another reason why Marcan, rather than Matthean, priority came to be desired is that it became theologically inconceivable to suppose that the writer of Mark would have omitted Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and most of the parables. Canon Streeter expressed this by saying that the writer of Mark would have had to be a "lunatic" for omitting these portions from Matthew, if Matthew had come first,45 and his views were very influential in shaping the present consensus of Marcan priority. However, the Sermon not only contains a significant number of Judaisms that could have been considered non-essential for gentiles,46 but its frequent pacifistic theme (an emphasis upon humility, not becoming angry, making friends with your enemy and loving him, and not resisting an evil person) appears to have been unappealing to the second evangelist.47 Again, this is evident in hindsight, but absent from available scholarship due to the pressures from theological commitment. The fact that Mark does contain some seven verses that lie within Matthew's Sermon on the Mount by itself suggests that the second evangelist extracted them from Matthew rather than the first evangelist having constructed a sermon around them from Mark.48

As to the second evangelist's omission of the parables, it is entirely logical that he wished to utilize no more than absolutely necessary from Matthew so that his church's Ur-Marcus material would not be totally swamped within the greater mass of Matthean material. Another reason could be that the parables were not easy to understand -- even today different interpretations exist for most of them, and when Mark was being formed there had not yet been time for the clergy to debate the meanings of the parables within Matthew. So he could dispense with them.

There is a further basic explanation why early 20th-century scholarship no longer wished to maintain the Augustinian order of Gospel priorities. It had become well known that Luke closely follows Mark's order (and content) in sections where Mark's order of pericopes deviates strongly from Matthew's order, while often striking off on its own or introducing its own special material in sections where Matthew and Mark agree in order. Also, those passages of Luke that have parallels in Matthew but are absent from Mark do not follow Matthew's order very well. If the third evangelist had based his gospel upon both Mark and Matthew, then such editorial behavior on his part did not seem to make sense. As Streeter expressed it, the writer of Luke would then have to be considered a "crank" for taking Matthean passages not in Mark out of order and placing them into inappropriate places within his own gospel.49

Streeter's opinion here helped the Mark-Q priority hypothesis gain supremacy, since Luke could then be assumed to have been written independently of Matthew. Even though a wealth of studies before and since have indicated Luke to be multiply dependent upon Matthew and Q to be non-historical, theological commitment could not tolerate the thought that Luke's writer might have to be considered a "crank." This consideration has also played a large role in explaining why supporters of the Griesbach hypothesis desire to place Luke second and Mark third.50

With the use of coverup criticism, however, we can understand that the third evangelist not only supported and approved of Mark for its theme of discipleship for gentiles, he disapproved of Matthew for its anti-gentile tone. For example, in Acts 10-11 the writer of Luke/Acts set forth pericopes that would provide gentiles with equal justification to become disciples as the Jews had. In giving his writing a mid-1st-century setting, he noted in Acts 10:28 that it was considered unlawful "for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation [i.e. a gentile]." It could only have incensed him earlier to see that the first gospel was written by a late holdout for this anti-gentile position, which would still try to exclude gentiles from discipleship. 51 Thus the prevailing consensus of Mark-Q priority, though being forced to admit a dependence between Matthew and Mark, and between Luke and Mark, continues to postulate that the writer of Luke did not know Matthew.

As already mentioned, the third evangelist could also express his distaste for Matthew's gospel by correcting that gospel in places from his first-hand knowledge of the Logia. However, because of the latter's heresies this was dangerous ground to tread, so for the most part he accepted Matthew's solutions as to the omission or alteration of Logia material.

The preceding explanation for the third evangelist's editorial behavior is not meant to detract from the good points of his character, which include his tendency to have been a conciliator (as between antagonistic Petrine and Pauline groups). He also corrected numerous minor errors within Mark and improved upon its text by eliminating pleonasms. This process generated a considerable number of minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.52 However, the fact that these agreements are referred to as minor reminds us that he greatly preferred Mark over Matthew.

While giving some credit to the third evangelist, we may acknowledge the first two also, in that the compiler of Matthew did at least recognize the value of the Logia, outside of its heresies, rather than trashing it altogether. And the second evangelist did stick rather closely to his two sources (Ur-Marcus and Matthew) without adding any large segments of his own and omitting few pericopes from Ur-Marcus.53

From the present analysis of exposing fresh solutions previously unconsidered due to theological commitment dating back to the second century, we see that the basis of present-day New Testament scholarship is in dire need of a complete reevaluation. To summarize some salient points, the numerous and evident redactions within the Gospel of Matthew that prevent it from being a unitary document are best explained as the result of editorial additions and alterations made to the Logia rather than to Mark. Mark's great dependence upon Matthew, its out-of-order sections, its "warts," and its literary style all become very understandable. The reason why Q is so "incongruous" and its character "formless and invertebrate,"54 is because it is nothing more than those portions of Matthew that the writer of Mark omitted and which the third evangelist reinstated within Luke. However, much of these and related topics lies outside the scope of the present study.

Finally we return to a question posed initially as to what the Logia may have contained that caused it to be considered heretical and caused the knowledge of its existence and contents to be almost completely suppressed. For answers, I believe we must reanalyze Matthew with the fresh perspective introduced here while reconsidering what elements of truth may have lain behind various Gnostic beliefs.55 If in the process theological commitment can be totally abandoned without abandoning the important clues from both the internal evidence and the patristic evidence, great progress can be expected in uncovering a remarkable story lying beneath the veil that presently obscures the origins of the Gospels.


1. Marcus J. Borg, "Me & Jesus: The Journey Home," Fourth R 6 (July/August 1993): 3-9. See also "The Jesus Seminar: Voting Records," Forum 6 (March 1990) 3-55.

2. Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988); Richard Horsley, Sociology and the Jesus Movement (New York: Crossroad, 1989). For summaries, see Marcus Borg, "Portraits of Jesus in contemporary North American scholarship," HTR 84 (1991): 1-22.

3. Arthur J. Bellinzoni, "The Gospel of Matthew in the Second Century," The Second Century 9 (1992): 235-256.

4. Bellinzoni, "Matthew in the Second Century," 239-254.

5. J. Goodspeed, Matthew: Apostle and Evangelist (Philadelphia: John Winston Co., 1959), 90-91. This is not to infer that redactions designed to imitate the style of such original text are not also prevalent within the Gospels, that the section of Matthew just cited is devoid of all redactions, or that Goodspeed was necessarily correct in assuming that the disciple Matthew wrote the gospel accorded to him.

6. An example of the latter is the feeding of the four thousand, relative to the feeding of the five thousand. See Francis Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981) 347.

7. Bellinzoni, "Matthew in the Second Century," 206-207.

7.1. ANF, vol. 1, p. 47.

8. See the ending sections of Ignatius's epistles to the Philadelphians and to the Smyrnaeans, and Section II of his epistle to the Ephesians.

9. E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 333-334.

10. C. M. Tuckett, "1 Corinthians and Q," JBL 102 (1983): 607- 619.

11. Eusebius, Ecumenical History (EH) 3.39.16. The translation of the Greek here and subsequently is from A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956).

13. Eusebius, EH 3.39.1.

14. See William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem, 2nd Ed. (Macon: Mercer University Pres, 1976) 15.

15. Burnette Hillman Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan and Co., 1964) 19.

16. Orchard and Riley, Order of the Synoptics 170. Although we refer frequently to their study because of their in-depth presentations, we cannot agree with their conclusions that stem from forcing the last of the synoptic gospels to have been written before the death of Peter.

17. E.g., see Beare, Gospel according to Matthew, 62ff.

18. It was already the practice by the late second century, since Irenaeus spoke of the Gospel names as being their writers. See Beare, Gospel according to Matthew, 7, regarding modern scholars' perpetuation of the name Matthew as author being done "only for convenience."

19. Although we have argued that the original source document, the Logia, had been written by a disciple, it was evidently not brought into view until some time in the early second century, some decades after the disciple-writer would have died. If the disciple Matthew had been this writer, however, there is no good reason why that fact would not have been brought out within that gospel and brought out in more definite terms by Eusebius and others. For a discussion of the identity of this writer consistent with coverup criticism, see my book The Problems of New Testament Gospel Origins (San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992) 63-73.

20. Papias is also cited by Eusebius (EH 3.39.4) as preferring the verbal testimony of the elders or presbyters over written testimony from books. This implies that he was aware that the newly composed gospels did not closely reflect the contents of their original source.

21. See Orchard and Riley, Order of the Synoptics, 171, 185, as well as Eusebius, EH 3.39.8-13.

22. My discussion is not meant to imply, however, that Papias's views here were necessarily correct or that Eusebius rendered them accurately.

23. Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), xxii.

24. Thomas A. Robinson, The Bauer Thesis Examined: The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988), 199; Michel Desjardins, "Bauer and beyond: On recent scholarly discussions of Airesis in the early Christian era," The Second Century 8 (1991) 65-68.

25. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), 25.

26. Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (London; SPCK, 1974), xiii, 5-6, 13-27, 70.

27. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 43-44; Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).

28. These are Mt 5:47, 6:7, 6:32, 10:5, 10:18, 15:24, 15:31, 18:17 and 20:25. The main passage to the contrary, Mt 28:19- 20, appears to be a late addition to Matthew; see George Howard, "A note on the short ending of Matthew," HTR 81, (1988): 117-120.

29. Orchard and Riley, Order of the Synoptics, 190.

30. Eusebius, EH 3.39.15.

31. Pierson Parker, "The posteriority of Mark," in New Synoptic Studies, W. R. Farmer, ed. (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983), 85.

32. Although the present study does not absolutely require that John Mark of Acts 12:12 be the man whom the Gospel of Mark is named after, he is here taken to be him to avoid confusing the Gospel with the man.

33. A strong case has recently been made that "first" in the sense used in the Greek "pro" meaning "before" actually meant "before the people," rather than "before" in time; i.e., Matthew and Luke were early set forth before the people but Mark was not. See Carlson, Stephen C., "Clement of Alexandria on the 'Order' of the Gospels," New Testament Studies 47 (2001) 118-125. This new interpretation fits the context better than the old one.

34. Eusebius, EH 6.14.6-8.

35. Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, 23-62. This document I had called Urmarcus, though proto-Mark may be a more appropriate name if it suggests a shorter document.

36. For a discussion of the history of the Ur-Marcus hypothesis, see Farmer, Synoptic Problem, 38-43, 88-95.

37. See Rom. 1:4 and 3:24-25.

38. E.g., see Gunther Bornkamm, Gerhard Barth and Heinz Joachim Held, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 166-167.

39. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 42.

40. Streeter, Four Gospels, 297.

41. C. M. Tuckett, The Revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 20.

42. See Parker, "The posteriority of Mark," 82-84.

43. Eugene E. Lemcio, The Past of Jesus in the Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 49.

44. Mt 5:47, 6:7, 6:32, 10:5, 10:18, 15:24, 15:31, 18:17 and 20:25.

45. Streeter, Four Gospels, 158.

46. Some 30 of its 111 verses fit into this category.

47. For a discussion of some 10 Marcan deviations from Matthew that point to the second evangelist as having been of a more militant disposition and desirous of portraying Jesus in a more royal fashion and as more aggressive, see Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, 86-87.

48. These verses are Mt 5:13 = Mk 9:50, Mt 5:15 = Mk 4:21, Mt 6:14-15 = Mk 11:25b-26, Mt 7:2 = Mk 4:24, Mt 7:22 = Mk 9:38-39, Mt 7:29 = Mk 1:22.

49. Streeter, Four Gospels, 183.

50. Farmer, Synoptic Problem, 211-215.

51. Horne, Thomas Hartwell, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, H. Alford, ed. (London, 4th Ed., 1823), vol. 4, p. 285. The works of Horne, being old and out of circulation, may be difficult to acquire. His quotation is more easily found in John Wenham's Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p. 3 and its footnote 8.

52. Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, 104, 134, 140-148, 165, 168-170.

53. The contents of this Ur-Marcus are have been fairly well deduced; see Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, 57-62.

54. H. G. Jameson, The Origin of the Synoptic Gospels (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1922), 44.

55. Not only did early Christian leaders consider the Gnostics as enemies, but similarly various Gnostic authors spoke of Christians as heretics; see Birger A. Pearson, Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), chap. 12. See also Deardorff, New Testament Gospel Origins, 185-201.

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