Those who promote Markan Priority reject history as provided by authories close to the times. In its place they have created an make-believe ‘history’ based on Q and other non-existent documents. But they do not stop there. They also promote a false history of modern times.

It goes something like this:

For over two hundred years those believing Mark wrote first have pioneered a scientific approach to the gospels. At Vatican II, Markan Priorists won a great battle against the conservatives. They achieved the promulgation of Dei Verbum and the abolition of the ultra-conservative Pontifical Biblical Commission. This has allowed a greater use of scientific tools, freedom of expression for those upholding Markan Priority, and has encouraged ecumenical co-operation.

But, in reality, it was the opponents of Markan Priority who did this. They pioneered scientific research, won the battle against those who were opposing changes at Vatican II, inspired Dei Verbum and were keen for ecumenical co-operation.  Let us look at the individuals involved.

Dr. Henry Owen (1716-1795). In 1764 he was the first to challenge the long held tradition of Matthew-Mark-Luke and John, adopted by Jerome. He was an Anglican priest, scripture scholar, Boyle Lecturer and revived the Clementine order of Matthew-Luke-Mark and John. This was before Markan Priority had been invented.

Johann Griesbach (1745-1812).  As a Lutheran University professor, he spread knowledge of Owen’s revolutionary theory in Germany. It was Griesbach who developed the idea of Synoptic charts to enable the synoptic gospels to be more easily compared.  His idea has formed the basis of all modern scientific research concerning the first three gospels.

John Chapman OSB. (1865-1933). He was educated as an Anglican priest and considered the greatest Patristic scholar of his time.  In 1937 Chapman published: Matthew, Mark and Luke.  It upheld the priority of Matthew, exposed the weakness of Markan priority, saw Luke as the second gospel to be written and stimulated widespread research and debate.

Abbot Christopher Butler OSB (1902-1986). Also had an Anglican education, he became the auxiliary Catholic bishop of Westminster, London. Butler was the leading English-speaking contributor, regarding Scripture and Dei Verbum, at Vatican II

His speeches and vision did much to engender the spirit which produced Dei Verbum and obtained the abolition, in all but name, of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. . See article: His Role in Dei Verbum. ((

He was a leading opponent of Markan Priority, as shown in 1951 when he published:  The Originality of Matthew.

William R. Farmer (died in 2000). As a Methodist professor  he had been teaching Markan Priority for years before he realised the poor foundations of the theory. He then saw Chapman’s and Butler’s books as providing the way forward.  By research he showed how the German government, for political reasons, had imposed Markan Priority in its Universities.  He promoted the Matthew-Luke-Mark order in America. His 1976 book, The Synoptic Problem, challenged the thinking of American biblical experts. He became Editor of the International Bible Commentary (1998) and a friend of Bernard Orchard OSB.

Harold Riley (1904 – 2003) was an Anglican priest, Scripture scholar and a chairman of the C of E General synod. Riley wrote several books defending the historicity of the gospels and the Clementine tradition. He co-operated ecumenically  (before the Vatican Council) with Bernard Orchard O.S.B.

Dom Bernard Orchard OSB (1910-2006) was greatly influenced by his fellow English Benedictines – Chapman and Butler.  As editor of: The Catholic Commentary of Holy Scripture (1953), he had become an international biblical figure.

He saw the need for ecumenical co-operation, regarding Scripture, and in 1954 gained permission to attempt to produce a Catholic edition of The Revised Standard Version of the Bible. This was the main one used by Protestants and by 1956 the Catholic edition was completed. But Cardinal Griffin died before he signed an Imprimatur.

His two successors (Godfrey and Heenan) refused to sign the imprimatur, but Archbishop Gordon Gray (later: Cardinal) of Edinburgh, Scotland, did so in 1966. In the same year it was published by the CTS as: The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition (RSVCE). It is of interest that it was ready for publication prior to the Vatican Council.

It was an epic achievement in ecumenical Scriptural co-operation.

Although Orchard became general editor of The New Catholic Commentary of Holy Scripture (1969), he was very unhappy concerning parts written by some contributors regarding the books of the New Testament.

In 1987 Orchard and Riley co-authored: The Order of the Synoptic.

In 1993 Orchard published: The Origin and Evolution of the Gospels). This short pamphlet showed how the Synoptic Problem could be solved in a way consistent with the evidence of the ancient historians, modern methods of literary analysis and Dei Verbum.

So it was not just the supporters of Markan priority who pioneered scientific progress, freedom of research and ecumenism. Those maintaining the priority of Matthew also made a great contribution.


This version: 1st August 2012