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It is generally agreed that borrowing took place between the authors of Matthew, Luke and Mark. It is also agreed that Mark’s gospel has poor grammar compared to the other two. Advocates of the Markan Priority theory claim that it would be inconceivable for Mark to have changed the well constructed Greek into poor Greek. He must have written prior to the others. Sounds logical but it contradicts all the ancient historians who record that Matthew wrote first.

Opponents of Markan Priority have taken their stand on the evidence of the historians. But have, until recently, failed to provide a reason for the poor Greek of Mark. They have also tried to uphold the sequence of writing as: Matthew -Mark –Luke, used by Jerome.

Yet, B. H. Streeter, the main promoter during the early part of the 20th century in England of Markan priority, came close to partly solving the problem. He wrote, regarding the difference between the style of Mark and the other two:

‘It is the difference which always exists between the spoken and the written language. Mark reads like a shorthand account of a story by an impromptu speaker – with all the repetitions, redundancies, and digressions, which are characteristic of living speech. And it seems to me most probable that his Gospel, like Paul’s Epistles, was taken down from rapid dictation by word of mouth’. ((BHSG 163)).

Streeter was presuming Mark had taken down the words in private, while acting as a personal secretary. So Streeter was not deflected from advocating Markan priority. But it was in the 1980s that Bernard Orchard saw Streeter’s observation as significant. Orchard became particularly interested in the verses of Mark where scripture is misquoted, yet not corrected.

Orchard speculated that as Luke had not been an eyewitness to Christ’s life, Paul asked Peter to endorse Luke’s account. He further speculated that Peter had responded to Paul’s request by given public talks, quoting from Matthew and Luke while adding comments of his own. Orchard suggested that Mark’s Gospel was an exact transcript of these talks in common Kione (common) Greek, not classical Greek. This would make the sequence of writing: Matthew–Luke–Mark.

In 1991 E. R. Richards established, on the basis of new data, that Greek shorthand was in use before 52 BC. He explained:

‘…it had long been the custom for public men to have their speeches recorded by competent shorthand writers’ ((BOO 13)).

This changed Orchard’s speculation into an hypothesis. This he published in 1993 as: The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis ((BOF 1)). As Mark took down the public talks verbatim in shorthand, they contained blemishes one finds in unedited common speech. Orchard explained:

‘Our thesis, that Peter was going to restrict his testimony to what he could vouch for by his own personal memories of the Ministry, is supported by his omission of Luke’s birth narratives, his Central Section, his Resurrection stories, and his omission of all that Luke himself has left out of the six composite Matthean Discourses’.

He [Peter] reinstates Luke’s Great Omission (Mt 14:22 - 16:12), and furthermore reintroduces a few Matthean stories omitted by Luke, such as the pericope about divorce (Mt 19: 3-9), and adds a few stories of his own. This leads us to formulate the following hypothesis regarding Peter’s handling of Luke as follows:-

‘Peter’s principal aim was to authenticate the text of Luke; and he decided to use the occasion to add individual comments of his own, prompted by his own personal memories, and his intimate knowledge of the Gospel of Matthew which had been circulating in the Church for at least twenty years as a handbook. He therefore concentrates on following Luke in order, pericope by pericope, as closely as his own personal memories will permit. He holds open the scroll of Luke, but the scroll of Matthew is also within reach, though he can quote word for word by heart whenever he wants to.

And so whilst steadily following the order of Luke he feels entirely free either to vary the wording of Luke in favour of Matthew’s text, or to introduce his own variant of Matthew, in virtue of his being the eyewitness of the events he is describing. At the same time he has no problem in agreeing to follow Luke’s alternative arrangement of the stories in Mt 3:1 – 13:58, nor does he need as a general rule to refer to the scroll of Matthew while he follows Luke freely and even conflates it with Matthew’.  ((BOA 388-389)).

Harold Riley, the close associate of Orchard, stressed the ongoing nature of this conflation. Mark’s gospel keeps going forward when borrowing from the other two. He never retraces his steps by rolling the scrolls backwards. So stories of the Centurion’s servant and the messengers of the Baptist are omitted. To find them, Peter would have had to wind back the scroll ((RO 11)).

In one place only is there a change in order and it is significant that this is Luke 6: 12-19. Here the lines of Matthew and Luke are so close together Peter could see them at the same time. Rolling back was not required.

Markans argue that if Mark wrote after Matthew and Luke he would not have left out the infancy narratives, the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes and the Resurrection. They argue that it would be more likely that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke added them.

Now this would be logical if they were all writing unknown to one another and in private, but we have no evidence to presume this. The omission of the items does not cause a problem when we accept that Mark was recording Peter’s voice conflating the other two. He conflated only what was parallel and convenient.

To quote Orchard again:

‘From the start the speaker determined to confine himself to the pericopes where Matthew and Luke have for the most part common material and are generally in parallel, that is, between 3:1 (=Luke 3:1) and Matthew 28:10 (=Luke 24:12). Thus Mark omitted the birth and resurrection narratives, the whole of Luke’s central section, and both great sermons; …But he did adopt Luke’s summary version of Matthew’s discourses on mission, community, parables and eschatology’.  ((RO 268)).

The Our Father and the Beatitudes were included in the two great sermons or in Luke’s Central Section, so were not in the segments conflated. The examination of the Gospels in the light of the above produces interesting insights, for which we have room for only a few examples.

Note how often ‘And’ is used to link sentences and clauses. This is a telltale sign of an untutored impromptu speaker of Greek. We have all heard speakers, especially if they are working from notes in front of them, repeatedly using ‘and’ or ‘then’ or even ‘erh’. In a private composition, Peter and Mark would have adopted a more polished format.

The words in Chapter 1, verses 2 and 3 lack a main verb, so do not form complete sentences. While Mark omits important aspects of the life of Christ that were reported by Matthew and Luke, he adds trivial details. These are a puzzle for Markans. But, if we accept the Clementine tradition as developed by Orchard, the puzzle is solved. Peter was omitting sections of the other Gospels where it was difficult to conflate while adding short personal memories. These additions would be very human for a speaker.

Peter would have been very familiar with Matthew’s Gospel, but Luke’s would have brought back half-forgotten memories. As Peter read Luke 8: 22-56 he recalled the scene and spontaneously mentioned the position of the cushion (Mark 4: 38). Matthew in 14: 19 tells of the multitudes sitting down on the grass, and Luke in 9:14 of them doing so in companies. Mark in 6: 39 conflates the two accounts by speaking of both the grass and the companies. But this must have brought the scene to mind and he remembers something, which at the time had caught his attention – the grass was green in that arid area.

The cautionary aside, “with persecutions” (Mark 10: 30), is thrown out as an after thought, during the course of an impassioned delivery. In Mark 12: 41-44 the speaker realises his audience has not understood what he meant by ‘two tines’, so explains that they are the equivalent of the smallest Roman coin. In Mark 3: 30 he feels bound to restate the reason for the condemnation in the previous verse 29. In Mark 7: 20, when Peter is teaching about a Jewish eating taboo, he interrupts his flow with an explanation for the non-Jews present..

The insertion of: ‘the father of Alexander and Rufus’ (Mark 15: 21) at such a sorrowful moment, indicates the remark had some personal relevance to Peter’s audience. It calls to mind that a Rufus was present in Rome (Rom. 16:13). In Mark 16: 4 Peter interjects the exuberant comment: ‘for it was mighty big’. This is known to grammarians as an ‘intensifier’ used to create a sense of wonder. A trained writer of Greek would not have used it while he sat at his desk.

It is such interjections that give this gospel its fresh and vivid style.

Redundant clauses (doublets) are often found in transcripts when a speaker has been guided by two similar documents. These are a problem for Markans, yet may be expected from a fisherman, quoting from two documents, while speaking in a foreign language.

As Orchard wrote:

‘… the Gospel of Mark is in no way the smooth product of a skilled author sitting at a desk, but has all the vividness, the inconsistencies, and the peculiar turns of speech, that one finds in actual transcripts of live speeches, for example, sudden breaks, asides, anacolutha [incoherence within a sentence] and so forth’ ((RO 273)).

Two scriptural allusions in Mark are significant. The first is in chapter I. Peter opens his talk with a title. He says he is going to quote from Isaiah, but quotes Malachi 3:1. As the words leave his lips he realises his error so runs on with Isaiah. It passes in a moment but the shorthand secretary has recorded the slip of the tongue for posterity.

The second error is in chapter 2: 26, where Abiathar is referred to as the high priest who gave David and his companions the Bread of the presence to eat (1 Samuel 21: 1-6). But Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar was the high priest at that time. Again the shorthand recorder has caught the slip. A writer in the quiet of his room or taking private dictation would have made corrections. But if was an unedited verbatim record of a talk, problems do not arise.

The Gospel of Matthew has 18,293 words and that of Luke 19,376, which are just the right lengths to fill a standard papyrus roll. Mark, with 11,025 words, leaves nearly half his roll unused. This is a pointer to Matthew and Luke carefully planning their compositions, while the publication of Mark had not been planned.

Exegetes have noted the way Mark ends so abruptly at 16: 8, without reporting any resurrection appearances. Orchard suggests that the two existing accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances, like his infancy, were too dissimilar to be easily conflated           ((RO 271-2)). Mark’s Gospel narrative stops exactly at the point where Matthew and Luke are no longer able to be conflated ((BOM 112)). Also, Paul was able to provide his own witness of Christ coming to him (1 Cor. 15: 18), so could endorse this part of Luke’s Gospel himself.

When we compare Orchard’s hypothesis with the early historical records, (Chapter 9) we find complete agreement. It is instructive to read Papias where he defends Mark’s unedited wording, Justin who mentions Peter’s memoirs, Irenaeus’s statement that Mark recorded Peter, Clement reporting the delivery of the talks and the requests of the audience, The Anti-Marcionite Prologue adding extra details, and Eusebius making a summary of the records.

The first chapter of many modern books often admits that Markan Priority is no more than a theory, but the author treats it as a fact in his remaining chapters. Following books by Chapman, Butler, Riley, Farmer, Orchard, Robinson, Peabody and others, many accept that the evidence for Markan priority has now ceased to be convincing. But inertia is now a major ally of the theory.

Dennis Nineham in the 1970s wrote that he held to Markan priority:

‘Not because there are any really good arguments for it, but because there do not seem to be any better arguments for any other position’. ((SNTW 362)).

Orchard’s theory may be summarised as: Matthew wrote for the Palestinian Jews about 45 AD. Luke, using Matthew and his own researches, wrote for the Gentiles about 60 AD. Then, at the request of Paul, Peter gave five talks to show his approval of Luke’s gospel. John then clarified and supplemented the three gospels, so the four gospels present the one Gospel of Jesus Christ.

During its modern development this approach has appeared under a variety of names: The hypothesis of Owen; the Griesbach theory; the two gospel hypothesis (2gh); and the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis of Orchard. To avoid confusion, and in recognition that Clement was the first to write of the Matthew-Luke-Mark sequence, we are referring to this approach as: ‘The Clementine Gospel Tradition.’

Chapter 2

V 12/2/13

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