I        Trustworthy and True- The Gospels beyond 2000

By Adrian Graffy (2001).

A Review


In this book the author sets out with the worthy intention of reassuring his readers who have a serious problem. Adrian Graffy writes: “If modern methods of study have shown the gospels to be unreliable, how can the believer discover Jesus?” [Page 7].

My first comment is that modern methods of study have not led to this problem. The problem has arisen because supporters of the Markan Priority theory (i.e. Mark wrote first and two anonymous authors borrowed from him) have been dominating the classrooms. Most Protestants and many Catholics have been taught this theory. It is this that has led to a loss of trust in the Gospels. Other scholars using the modern methods, and encouraged by the Church since 1943, have rejected the theory.

This book’s author accepts Markan Priority but is concerned with the problems the theory has caused. He illustrates very well what Markan Priority teaches           [highlighting added]:

Clearly Matthew’s gospel used Mark as a source. …Luke too uses Mark. [Page 249].

‘according to John’, is not the equivalent of ‘written by John’. We are dealing with the gospel traditions preserved and promoted within the community with which John was associated. Maybe John founded the community, maybe he just preached there. And the same is true of each of the gospels. Mark’s gospel is linked to a certain Mark who may have been Peter’s assistant. Matthew’s gospel arose in the church which had Matthew as its founder or patron. Luke’s gospel was somehow associated with Luke, a companion of Paul, who seems to also have written the Acts of the Apostles” [Page 12].

Is it surprising there is widespread doubt and disbelief?

The author attempts to solve the problem in this way:

“What then can we mean by saying the gospels are ‘trustworthy and true’? On the basis of historical memories of Jesus, new and developing understandings of Jesus, his life and death, and his abiding legacy, are recognised by the church and offered to believers as the good news”. [Page12]. “These gospels were recognised by the whole church as accurate, as guided by the Spirit and as faithfully reflecting the faith of the first believers. These gospels were thus set apart. They became ‘canonical’, officially recognised, treasured and preserved for future generations. They were recognised as trustworthy and true”. [Page 248].

To me the argument is not consistent.

Markan Priorists deny what the church says:

The Church accepts the unanimous witness of the early historians when they maintained that Matthew wrote the first Gospel. She knows that Clement, who lived in the diocese at Alexandria, founded by Mark, stated that Matthew and Luke wrote before Mark.

The Church, like the early historians, has no knowledge of a Q document, yet this imagined document is vitally important to the Markan Priority theory.

The Church maintains that Apostles handed on in writing what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what he did. She maintains that Apostles and other men handed on in writing the fourfold Gospel. Some of the authors of the four Gospels wrote from their own memory.

(Dei Verbum Sections 7, 18 and 19).

Markan Priorists not only ignore what the Church has said, but often do not mention it to their students. The ‘Suggested Further Reading’ page in the book under review, doesn’t suggest one official Catholic publication.

Yet the author claims this same Church has the authority and the ability to decide which documents are true Gospels, and that they are Trustworthy and True. This is not at all convincing.

The first step to re-establish the Gospels as, ‘Trustworthy and True’ is to abandon the unproved Markan Priority theory.

DB  Version: 26th June 2008

II     A review of the book: SCRIPTURE

          by Ronold D. Witherup, published in 2006.

1. This book is part of the series: Rediscovering Vatican II, and is advertised as explaining how Dei Verbum came to be formed at Vatican II. From the first page it is obvious that the author is wedded to the Markan Priority theory. This theory claims that Mark wrote his Gospel first and then unknown anonymous authors, who had never met Jesus, borrowed from it to compose two more Gospels. So we need to draw attention to how this has influenced his writing.

Devino Afflante Spiritu of 1943 urged Catholics to use the historical-critical method (sometimes referred to as literary or textural analysis) as a tool when examining how the Gospels were formed. So Witherup is correct in pointing out that Dei Verbum endorsed the use of the method. But to imply that its use must automatically lead to the acceptance of the Markan Priority theory, and his presentation of 'fundamentalism' as the only alternative, is unacceptable.

The author praises the interventions of Abbott Butler in the debates on Dei Verbum at the Vatican Council.

"Christopher Butler … argued vigorously to keep the positive references to the modern historical-critical method in the constitution (DV, 19) when it seemed that some council fathers mistrusted this orientation."

This could imply that the Abbot supported Markan Priority. But he had used the historical-critical method for years to show the Markan priority theory as being unreliable. He upheld the priority of Matthew's Gospel. His writings inspired both W.R. Farmer and Dom Bernard Orchard to promote the Matthew-Luke-Mark sequence of Gospel composure. [They saw the order of Matthew-Mark-Luke as that in which they were published].

2. The Council Fathers made great efforts to find unambiguous words for Section 7 of Dei Verbum. Part of it reads:

"…handed on what they [the Apostles] had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what he did, … those Apostles … committed the message of salvation to writing." [Vatican web site].

Witherup omits to comment on this important section of Dei Verbum.

3. Section 19 of Dei Verbum stresses the historicity of the Gospels, but Witherup prefers to discuss the influence of an earlier document which the Council did not discuss or promulgate. There is no room here to comment on Witherup's opinion that the Gospels are not always historical. But readers may wish to read: 'The Gospels as History' and 'Magisterium, Scripture and Catholic Exegetes' by Thomas McGovern, (

4. Witherup conveys the impression that the theory of Matthew the Apostle not writing a Gospel is the Church's alternative to 'Fundamentalism'. But he is out of step with the Church, yet seems to see the Church as being out of step with him. After alluding to Pope John Paul's extensive use of Scripture in his Encyclicals and other writings, Witherup writes on pages 71 and 72:

"An analysis of this pope's use of Scripture, however, shows that for the most part, he preferred spiritual interpretations and applications of the Bible to historical and scientific interpretations. He rarely adopted the historical-critical method and was clearly more at home in pre-critical approaches."

He finds words to 'excuse' the Pope for having this attitude. But this was not merely a private papal quirk. Since Dei Verbum was promulgated Rome has issued many documents which recognise the eyewitness apostolic authorship of the Gospels. For a list see our article [G301]. It includes a statement by the then Cardinal Ratzinger complaining that the strongest attacks on the Catechism had come from Scripture scholars.

On his pages 76-77, the author admits his clash with the Catechism.

"Others …maintain that it exhibits a kind of stilted use of Scripture more characteristic of an earlier era. One example is the lack of sophistication [advanced knowledge] regarding the historical basis of the Gospels in the section on the life of Christ (CCC 484-658). The results of the historical-critical method in this regard seem to have slipped into the background as if they were totally insignificant."

Notice how this paragraph equates: "The results of the historical-critical method", with accepting Markan Priority's rejection of the historicity of the Gospels. Those who have used the historical-critical tool to show that Matthew wrote first, followed by Luke and then Mark, have no problems with the teaching of the CCC or of other church documents

DB 9/12/2012

III CTS Bible (2007):

This CTS (London) publication is based on the translation as found in the liturgy. So it will be widely used. However, it is disappointing the notes are based on the Markan Priority theory. This is to be seen throughout. These notes highlight the confusion the Markan Priority theory has brought into the Catholic community. To comment on just two.

1. At the front of the Bible, a resume is provided of Dei Verbum. So it is interesting to compare the wording of sections 7 and 18 of the document, with the Markan Priority teachings provided on pages 1702 an and 1703.

Sections 7 and 18 both state that the Gospels were written by the Apostles
and apostolic men. (Another translation gives: Apostles and men associated with them). In a footnote to section 18 the Council directs us to the words of Irenaeus where he states that Matthew wrote the first Gospel.

The teaching of the bishops was very clear and, by repeating it in two sections; they indicated how much importance was to be given to it.

Yet on page 1702 of this CTS Bible, a note reads that the Apostles
or members of apostolic communities wrote the Gospels. It leaves open the possibility that Apostles didn’t write any Gospels.

2. On page 1703 we read: “St. Augustine seems to have been responsible for putting the gospel of Matthew first in the order of the four gospels”.

St.Augustine lived in the forth century. The note ignores the earlier evidence provided by Papius, Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, The Moratorium Fragment, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, The Anti-Marcionite Prologues, Eusebius, St. Jerome, the old Latin versions and the witness of the Eastern liturgies. It also ignores Theophilus and Polycrates who wrote of John the Apostle writing one of the Gospels.

We must hope that, if a new edition is produced, the notes will be in accordance
with Dei Verbum, Verbum Dei and the unanimous evidence of the ancient historians.

  DB  9/12/2013


 This version 11 December 2013 [G 360]


12th November 2014