Dependence of Mark upon Matthew (Continued)

7. Markan "Changes for the Sake of Change"

The writer of Mark would not have wished his gospel to be a mere Greek translation of Matthew. Obviously, if he were to write it and give it a different title or attribution, he would have to make it different from the gospel that provided most of his material, namely Matthew. Some of these differences we have already seen. But let us examine more of them and as a whole.

a.) Mark's many omissions of Matthean material. This would go a long way towards making Mark look different than Matthew -- being only 62% as long. While effecting this, the writer of Mark would omit those sections of Matthew he found to be of least value for himself and for gentiles. These would include anti-gentile statements, non-essential Jewish material, statements favorable to the Jewish disciples, and passages he did not find sufficiently understandable. An example of the latter is Mt 13:51-52, not paralleled within Mark (or Luke). It not only speaks favorably of the disciples' intelligence, but has a rather uncertain meaning: "...Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." One interpretation is that such a scribe will transmit what he knows from the Scriptures while generating his own new twists to it. Another is that such a scribe would not only utilize old scriptural material but include the new, also, i.e., Jesus' teachings.

b.) Improvements over Matthew. We have already been over this category in Section 4; and let us also include his attempted improvements here also (Section 5). Whatever changes the writer of Mark would make to his gospel that would improve upon Matthew's story would also help it be different from Matthew.

c.) Removal of specifically anti-gentile text, and addition of anti-Jewish text. This latter involved alteration of text so as to disparage the disciples and tend to disqualify Jews in general as being worthy to be disciples of Jesus. We have likewise been over these categories, in Section 6. These changes would also make Mark look somewhat different than Matthew.

d.) Addition of factual details. These additions could be made because the writer of Mark had access to the old document that Peter and (John) Mark had brought with them to Rome. This document, having been written on the spot, so to speak, contained more detail and vividness than did Matthew's parallel text, whose source was written some years after the crucifixion. (However, the old document only comprised, roughly, the equivalent content of Mt 8-11, and thus had not been suitable by itself for use as a gospel.) A typical example of the greater detail it made available is the greater wealth of information within Mark's pericope of the healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:2-4). Another is the name of the synagogue ruler, Jairus, which was fed into Mk 5:22 but is absent in Matthew. A further example is the name Bartimaeus supplied at Mk 10:46 and absent in its Matthean parallel (but see under Mt 9:27-33 for full discussion on this).

e.) Introduction of fictional detail throughout. In keeping with the greater detail available to him in the short document he had made some use of (see d.) above or Section 1.), the writer of Mark then introduced fictitious or surmised details into the rest of his text to make it look more uniform in this respect. When these fictions are quite blatant, as in the examples below, they point towards Mark being a secondary gospel, since the fictions represent editorial additions. Hence for these cases we use the approach of inquiring if one gospel version could have been part of a real event while the other could not. In that case the fictional account likely came later, having been a creation of the redactor; otherwise, if the other way around, many of these fictional events in Mark would have been copied by the writer of Matthew.

The fictions below were included in both direct speech and narration. The first two examples of this come from direct speech in Mark, and the rest from Markan narration.

Mk 3:4 reads, "And he said to them, 'Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?'" This is in a recasting or revision of Matthew's pericope of the healing of the man with the withered hand. The corresponding questions in Matthew (12: 10-12) are different. But here the writer of Mark betrayed his ineptitude in inventing realistic direct speech, as the question is one that could not have been answered in the affirmative even if the accusers had favored doing good deeds on the sabbath. A "yes" answer would have indicated favoring doing harm or killing on the sabbath, also. This alteration from Matthew can also be placed in the category of a "change for the sake of change."

In Mk 14:20 Jesus says to his disciples, regarding who would betray him, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread in the same dish with me." In the Matthean parallel (Mt 26:23), Jesus instead had said, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me." We see that by introducing the wording, one of the twelve, relative to Matthew, the writer of Mark made an alteration in the direct speech that simply would not have occurred in reality. As one might suspect, this phrase is anachronistic as placed upon the lips of Jesus speaking to his own disciples. "The twelve" was appropriately used only some years later, as in narration by Paul and the later evangelists, not in direct speech by Jesus to his disciples, and hence does not occur elsewhere in the Synoptic Gospels as direct speech.

Regarding fictions within Mark's narration, consider Mk 3:11. The writer of Mark was apparently following Mt 12:15 at this point, when he inserted the verse: "And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, 'You are the Son of God.'" One fictional aspect of Mk 3:11 is the idea that a possessing spirit knows the truth when the person possessed would not. Instead, a possessing spirit knows no more than did the person it previously dwelt in before his/her death, plus perhaps what the person it is possessing knows. Thus the unclean spirits, or demons, would not be any wiser than the normal people within the crowds, and would hold no Messianic secret exclusive to themselves. A second fictional aspect is that persons observing this event, if they had heard certain people call Jesus the Son of God, would have no way of knowing if the words came from unclean possessing spirits within them or from the persons' own unpossessed selves. That is, a possessing spirit can speak out only by speaking through the voice of the person it is possessing. Since Matthew's account does not suffer these fictions, it must be preferred as the more original. This does assume, admittedly, that both accounts are not fiction. A point of consistency, therefore, is to note that the TJ indicates that Mt 12:14-15 is authentic in essence.

Mk 4:35 gives the time element for the event as the evening, not present in the parallel of Mt 8:18. But consider everything else that occurs on that same evening according to Mark. There is the boat crossing of the lake in the storm, the encounter with the Gerasene demoniac, the incident of the swine all rushing into the lake, the herdsmen fleeing to report the event to the country dwellers, who then come out from all over to see Jesus sitting with the demoniac, then the crossing of the lake again, then the meeting with Jairus, the curing of the hemorrhaging woman and then the healing of Jairus' daughter. Clearly if all this had taken place in the same day, the first event must have taken place in the morning or at most, early afternoon. Hence "evening" appears as a fictional element fed in by the writer of Mark.

Mk 5:42 states that the supposedly dead little girl arose and walked, after Jesus told her to arise, because ("gar" in the Greek) she was 12 years old. This was a careless editorial addition, not present in Matthew (Mt 9:25). The girl had been old enough to understand Jesus and to arise on her own. Hence she could not have been any toddler too young to walk, and no explanation to this effect was needed. However, it is possible that this "explanation" reflected information available in the old document available to the writer of Mark, in which case it fits into category 7.d) above.

In Mk 6:19 Herodias wants to kill John the Baptist, as the writer of Mark could deduce this from Mt 14:8, where Herodias prompts her daughter to ask Herod for John's head. However, Mk 6:19 goes on to say "But she could not [kill him]." What had started out as a safe change for the sake of change turned into a dumb little error, since of course she, being a woman and not a male guard or soldier, could not kill John. Carelessness in editing by the writer of Mark is more likely to have caused this problem than that the writer of Matthew fixed Mark's blunder, because in the latter case one would still have to explain why the blunder appeared in Mark's story if it were the original.

Mk 6:37    ....And they [the disciples] said to him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?"
In the parallel of Mt 14:16-18 of this feeding of the five thousand, the disciples do not ask Jesus any such sarcastic question. Two hundred denarii would not begin to cover the cost, and it would obviously have been impractical for the disciples to go and buy so much bread to feed a crowd of 5000 and cart it back to them, some 100 loaves per disciple, hoping the crowd would still be there to eat it. The only practical recourse, short of a feeding miracle, would have been for Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go back and find food for themselves in the villages. And so the disciples would not likely have asked the question, to which Jesus does not respond since it wasn't in reality asked. There simply would not have been any cause for such sarcasm. However, the disciples' sarcastic question is consistent with the writer of Mark portraying them as insolent as well as obtuse.

And consider the "green grass" of Mk 6:39 in the feeding of the five thousand, where Matthew only has "grass." This appears to be the invention of a vivid detail, since the story had no need to mention the color of the grass any more than the color of the sky or of Lake Galilee. And it is by no means certain that the grass at the "lonely place" would not have been too sparse to show up as green.

In Mk 6:45, not in Matthew, the disciples are told to take the boat to the other side: to Bethsaida. Bethsaida is on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, but the destination of the disciples' boat, after Jesus reached it, the headwind died down and they had crossed over, was Gennesaret, which is on the northwest side. They had evidently started out from a deserted place somewhere on the east or northeast side, perhaps near Bethsaida. The geographical impossibility of Mark's addition in this case thus gives it away as being a fictitious detail.

In Mk 6:48a, after the disciples had gone away in the boat, Jesus had gone up into the hills. Evening came, then Jesus is said to have looked out and noticed that the disciples were "distressed in rowing" the boat. However, after this much time had elapsed, the boat would have been viewed from the hills as but a tiny object in the distance out on Lake Galilee. Jesus could not possibly have seen distressed expressions on the disciples' faces. On the other hand, the Matthean parallel (Mt 14:24) only says that the boat was being beaten by the waves. That much, but no more, could have been ascertained visually from over a mile away, by observing the boat's motions and the spray from the waves beating upon it. Thus it appears that the writer of Mark made this change, probably for the sake of change, because he could be confident that the disciples must have been distressed. He may also have been motivated to make the change in order to emphasize incompetence on the part of the disciples.

Mk 8:12 reads: "And he sighed deeply in his spirit," which is lacking in the Matthean parallel of Mt 16:1-2. No one but Jesus himself would know if he had sighed deeply in his spirit at that time. Hence this is a fictional addition, adding to the weight of evidence that Mark is secondary.

Mk 9:25 reads: "And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together...", which is not present in the Matthean parallel (in the vicinity of Mt 17:17). The problem with this addition is that from Mk 9:15 on in this pericope the crowd had already been close around Jesus and the disciples. This means the crowd-running-together incident never happened, and so was a Markan invention.

And then there is: "they came to Capernaum" in Mk 9:33. Three verses earlier Mark informs us that they had just passed through Galilee, yet Capernaum, being on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, was still in Galilee. So Mark's addition to its altered version of Mt 18:1 was a fictitious addition.

Mk 13:3 has four of the disciples query Jesus privately, whereas in the parallel of Mt 24:3 it is "the disciples" who query him and then listen to all the further prophecies. As a result of this alteration, in Mark only these four disciples get to hear 34 verses worth of further prophecy. This is quite unrealistic, since the remaining eight disciples were apparently near by, and they too would have been interested in listening. The writer's motivation, besides "change for the sake of change," may have been to give the impression that since the disciple Matthew (or Levi) was one who did not overhear, the Gospel of Matthew can scarcely be considered any more trustworthy than his gospel, which would be attributed to the non-apostle: John Mark.

In Mk 15:21 we read that Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus, was the father of Alexander and Rufus. This "information" does not occur in Matthew and Luke, which is consistent with Matthew having preceded Mark. (The fact it is also not in Luke is consistent with that writer having had knowledge of the Talmud of Jmmanuel and the fact that this source document did not mention Simon's sons.) Motivation for the writer of Mark to have added it consists of the aura of genuineness that the presence of details can impart, and the fact that Alexander is a Greek name and Rufus a Latin name. Thus, Simon could be considered to have been or have become a gentile, indicating that it was a gentile who had done this good deed.

Joseph of Arimathea is presented as being "a respected member of the council" in Mk 15:43. This was a poorly crafted fictitious detail, since Mk 14:64 states that all the councilors condemned Jesus as deserving death. Thus Joseph, if a councilor, would not have suddenly reversed himself and gone out of his way to pay great respect to the man he had just condemned and thereby receive ridicule from fellow councilors.

Besides these flagrant cases, there are numerous further added details that contribute towards the Gospel of Mark being different from Matthew, and often one could classify them in either this category, in "change for the sake of change" as in g.) below, or in Section 4 as an improvement over the Matthean story content. As an example of the latter, in the calling of the sons of Zebedee, Mk 1:20 says "they left their father in the boat with the hired servants," while Mt 4:22 just says "...they left the boat and their father." This added (fictitious) detail about the hired servants in Mark can be argued to improve upon Matthew in that father Zebedee is then not left all alone to mend or prepare the nets.

Consistent with the above changes for the sake of change are Mark's expressions for "When evening came," which parallel those in Matthew. In Matthew the same Greek expression for this phrase is used six times: in Mt 8:16, 14:15, 14:23, 26:20, and 27:57. Presumably one particular Hebraic phrase underlay its Greek version. In Mark's parallels to these verses, which also contain the same expression, slightly different Greek variants of it are used each time following its first use, at Mk 1:32, 6:35, 6:47, 14:17 and 15:42, respectively. This comes from W. M. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem (Dillsboro, NC: Western North Carolina Press, 1976, pp. 155-156.) As Farmer noted, one need only imagine that the writer of "Mark tended to modify this Matthean expression quite freely wherever he found it in his text of Matthew."

Some 180 added details in Mark of this nature are listed in the book by H.-H. Stoldt.[1] They fall partly into this category and partly into the pleonastic category of "change for the sake of change" to be discussed in g.) below.

f.) Rearranging the order of pericopes. The pericopes that had been within this document at Rome provided the writer of Mark with a measure of authenticity to his gospel. They had occupied the extent of Mt 8-11, roughly (see Section 2). So he extended this measure of authenticity by translocating some of his renditions of Matthew's pericopes -- the ones paralleled in the old document available to him, plus a few others -- into a larger section of his gospel. This caused many of his pericopes to be in improper order relative to Matthew, as implied by Papias and as indicated in Section 2.A. These changes also served to make his gospel look different from the Gospel of Matthew.

g.) Introduction of numerous pleonasms. These dualisms or redundant expressions occur frequently, much more so than in Matthew or Luke. They in particular fall under the category of "change merely for the sake of change." As an example, Mk 13:20b reads, "but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days." The Matthean parallel, on the other hand, reads, "but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (Mt 24:22b). This Markan pleonasm, "whom he chose," appears even more redundant in the Greek where "elect" and "chose" contain the same root word. This added clause does not contain new information, because it is not clear in Mark whom "he" refers to -- whether to God or to the Lord, which could mean either God or Jesus. As another example, Mk 14:56-57 reads, "For many bore false witness against him... And some stood up and bore false witness against him..." This passage is then superficially different from Mt 26:60, which does not contain the pleonasm.

Mark has some 213 such pleonasms overall. In its text that contains parallels to Matthew, only 37 of them stemmed directly from Matthew; i.e., exist in Matthew also. However, 150 of them were added by the writer of Mark, by the Augustinian hypothesis, in his gospel verses that parallel Matthew.[2] These 150, averaging 9 per chapter, are almost enough by themselves to cause Mark to read superficially different from Matthew. The remaining 26 pleonasms appear within Markan verses having no Matthean parallel. All these pleonasms, along with the changes of the type in d.) and e.) above, account for the fact that the Markan pericopes are generally lengthier than their Matthean counterparts.

Though not a pleonasm, the procedure of inserting a favorite word over and over again is another mechanism whereby the writer of Mark could make his gospel read a little differently than Matthew. The key example of this is "immediately" ("euthus"), which occurs 22 more times in Mark than in Matthew. Another example is "began," which occurs 17 more times in Mark than in Matthew. It seems rather evident from this, and from all the clues that Mark is secondary to Matthew, that a key character trait of the writer of Mark was his desire for action -- to start doing one thing right away after another -- using one's strength, as in Mk 12:30. This would be consistent with his omission of verses from Matthew that advise inaction, such as "put your sword back into its place," and "turn the other cheek," "do not resist one who is evil," etc. It would also be consistent with his having been impatient to get his gospel finished quickly, resulting in a hastily written job.

h.) Changing the tense of verbs. Mark uses the present tense very frequently (the historic present) when the action has actually taken place in the past and the past tense is used in the Matthean parallel. Mark uses it 151 times versus Matthew's 78 times (outside of the parables), according to Tuckett.[3] This might only be a literary device or literary preference, since use of the historic present vivifies the action. However, the writer of Mark also reverses the procedure at times, as in Mk 12:16- 17, where he uses "they said" and "Jesus said" when Mt 22:21 has it "they say" and "he says." There are at least 17 other instances in which Mark exhibits this same reversal.[4] Hence this could well be more Markan "change for the sake of change."

Mk 2:18 reports that John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; that is, were in the process of fasting. This is seen as having derived from Mt 9:14, which indicated that they "fast;" this latter has quite a different meaning, in that it implies they at times fasted but probably weren't fasting at the moment. However, in making his account more action oriented here, relative to Matthew, the writer of Mark introduced an improbability. The "scribes of the Pharisees" (in Mk 2:16) of the immediately preceding pericope were presumably Pharisees themselves, and if they were fasting, what were they doing hanging around the table where Jesus and his disciples were eating with others? Hence this change in verb tense, designed to make Mark's account more dynamic, points to Mark's dependence upon Matthew. Some of the valued Greek manuscripts read "scribes and Pharisees" in Mk 2:16; it is quite possible that this had constituted the original text, and that a later scribe made the small alteration so that the inconsistency mentioned here would be less flagrant.

i.) Writing it in Greek. Finally, it needs mentioning once more that the simple act of translating sections of Semitic Matthew into Greek, while often making editorial changes in its content, caused Mark's visual and auditory character to differ very considerably from that of Matthew, at least until a Greek version of Matthew appeared on the scene.

Thus the Gospel of Mark was written sufficiently different from Matthew that even a consensus of today's scholars has been fooled into thinking it came before Matthew. However, Mark apparently was the first gospel written in Greek.


1. Stoldt, Hans-Herbert, History and Criticism of the Marcan Hypothesis D. L. Niewyk, transl. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1980), pp. 263-273.

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

3. Tuckett, Revival, p. 22.

4. Tuckett, Revival, p. 24.

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