Some people have said they do not understand why time is spent arguing about who wrote the first Gospel. They say: “It doesn’t matter”.    My reply is: “Yes” and “no”.

Prayer:  When using the Gospels to inspire prayer and meditation, it doesn’t always matter who wrote first.   But the Gospels are also used for Evangelisation and teaching.

Evangelisation:  An enquirer, wanting to know whether Christianity is true, will ask important questions about the gospels. Are their accounts of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, historically reliable? Did Christ teach and preach the wise and beautiful thoughts recorded in the gospels? Did he work miracles and rise from the dead, etc?

In reply, Christians say two of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses of Christ’s life (The Apostles, Matthew and John), and the gospel of Luke was written by Paul’s secretary. The content of the other gospel came from the eyewitness Peter and was written down by Mark, his secretary. All the ancient historians agreed that Matthew wrote first and John last, but they varied in the order of the writing and publishing of the other two.

Some non-believers have asserted that as Mark’s Greek is grammatically poor, he must have written first.  They say this shows the ancient historians were all in error because they record that Matthew wrote first. They claim Mark didn’t record Peter’s words but copied stories from an unknown document they call ‘Q’, which was then lost. In similar ways these non-believers assert that John’s gospel was not written by an eyewitness companion of Christ.

If an enquirer accepts that the records of all the ancient historians are historically unreliable, he/she is not likely to accept Christianity as true. This anti-Christian idea, known as: ‘The Markan priority theory’ has spread amongst some Christians and undermined their teachings and beliefs.

This is why we should worry about the spread of the theory.

Note 1.  Meditating on Christ’s words and actions within the situation in which he spoke and acted, often enhances the fruits of a meditation.

Note 2.  Some Catholics say it is not necessary to refute the Markan priority theory because the Church tells us that the Gospels are historical.  This may be sufficient for those already Catholic. But it is very necessary when we are using the Gospels to show that Christ founded the Church. Also see item [G 315]

This version: 6th March 2014