Monday, January 11, 2021

The Gospel of Mark and the Way, a Sect reported in Acts

Luke reports that some early followers of Jesus were referred to as members of a sect called “the Way” (o odos [ο οδος], Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).1  The name likely comes from their description of themselves as following the way of the Lord or God (Acts 13:10; 18:25-26) or the Way of life or salvation (Acts 2:28; 16:17). Luke describes a Jew (Ioudaios) named Apollos “who had been instructed in the Way of the Lord.” After hearing him speak in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:3) took him aside and “expounded to him the Way of God more accurately” (18:25, 26). That Luke describes Apollos as a Jew well-informed about the scriptures but as needing further instruction (he knew only the baptism of John) suggests that his initial introduction to the “way of the Lord” was independent from the group represented by Priscilla and Aquila. Luke even has Paul claim to be a follower of the Way (24:14; cf. 13:10), describing him as a persecutor of the members of the sect (9:1-2) before his conversion (9:1-19). In short, Luke seems to suggest that the Way is a very early description of a nascent “Christian” movement growing out of Israelite traditions.2 That being the case, might there be some evidence in our earliest gospel (Mark) about this group?

I have elsewhere described Mark’s gospel narrative, which includes the gospel Jesus proclaimed (Mark 1:14-15a),3 as “the official ‘gospel’ statement of Mark’s church.” Mark’s gospel is “the proclamation of the public career, death, and resurrection of Jesus ‘in behalf of many’” (Mark 10:45).4 The question becomes does Mark reflect any awareness of an incipient movement or message, reflecting the brief reports in Acts?

Using the Way passages in Acts as background, there are several statements in Mark’s narrative that may reflect an awareness of the Way as a particular religious movement. Mark uses the same terminology as Luke to describe that religious lifestyle: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3; cf. Acts 13:10); Way of the Lord (Mark 1:3; Acts 18:25); Way of God (Mark 12:14; Acts 18:26). Mark has one story (12:13-17) in which the Judean religious authorities try to trap Jesus. The authorities describe him as “teaching the Way of God in accordance with truth” (12:14), presumably an ironic contrast with their own understanding of “the way of God.” While the authorities are insincere in the statement as the rest of the story shows, their statement does present a contrast between the Way (that is the religious lifestyle) taught by Jesus and that of the Jewish authorities.

Mark’s narrative begins with quotes from the Septuagint (Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3). Mark changes the statement in Mal 3:1 from me to read thy: “Behold, I send forth my messenger, and he shall survey the way before me.” Mark 1:1: “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy Way. In Malachi the speaker is God referring to himself; in Mark the speaker is Mark referring to Jesus/the Lord. In Malachi the way is the way of the Law (Mal 1:8-9 LXX), but in Mark the Way is the “Way of the Lord,” Jesus (1:3).

Finally, Mark frequently uses the image of travel in the narrative in a literal sense, referring to people in travel mode as being in the road, or on their way to some destination (2:23; 4:4, 15; 6:8; 8:3, 27; 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52; 11:8). At least, one of these common expressions for travel could be metaphorical. There are already several other metaphorical uses of o odos in Mark (1:2, 3; 12:14). The story of Blind Bartimaeus seems be another instance of a metaphorical use.5 This use of o odos (10:52) turns the Bartimaeus story into an account of a lifestyle change. Jesus restores his blindness by saying “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus did not leave, however, but followed him in the Way (10:52). The question is: might this be an allusion to the Way [of truth] taught by Jesus or is it a statement that Bartimaeus travelled along behind Jesus on the road for a bit?

How does it seem to you?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1J. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Macmillan, 1965), s.v. “the Way”: “This usage does not appear elsewhere and has no known antecedents.”

2Mackenzie, Dictionary, 924.

3Mark says Jesus proclaimed the following gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,” or “Time is up; God’s sovereign rule is about to begin!” “Repent and believe the gospel” (1:15b) is the response demanded by Mark’s community to the gospel Jesus proclaimed.

4Hedrick, “Parable and Kingdom. A Survey of the Evidence in Mark,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 27 (Spring 2000), 180-82 or Hedrick, Parabolic Figures or Narrative Fictions? Seminal Essays on the Stories of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Cascade. 2016), 27-30.

5See McKenzie, Dictionary, s.v. “Way,” for the metaphorical use of “way” in the Bible.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

One Tiny Adverb and the Synoptic Problem

The synoptic problem, simply stated, is how does one describe the relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The consensus of New Testament scholarship is that a literary relationship exists between them, and that Mark was written first and then was used independently as a source by Matthew and Luke.1 An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb by describing degree or manner. A characteristic, or signature expression in Mark is εὐθύς (euthus), a word that Mark uses forty-one times. On the other hand, this word is only used in Matthew five times and in Luke once. Euthus, classified as an adverb in Greek, is generally translated as immediately or at once.

Since euthus appears so few times in Matthew and Luke, one might conclude that they did not use Mark as a source. One could argue that since Luke uses none of the Markan instances of euthus, and since his one use of euthus (6:49) appears in a story that does not appear in Mark, Luke could not have acquired the word from Mark. Matthew's use of euthus corresponds to Mark's use in the following five instances: Matt 3:16 (Mk 1:10); 13:20 (Mk 4:16); Matt 13:21 (Mk 4:17); Matt 14:27 (Mk 6:50); Matt 21:3 (Mk 11:3). If Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, the probability is that this Markan expression should have occurred more often in Matthew and Luke. Is there a reason why that might not have happened based on the consensus view for explaining the relationship between the three gospels? To check my data using Mark as the key for checking the uses in the other two gospels, it will be easier if one uses a gospel synopsis that provides the parallel passages between the three gospels side by side.2

By comparing Matthew to the Markan passages containing euthus, here is what I found:

1.  In one instance Matthew reads tote (at that time, then, thereupon) not euthus.

2.  In several instances Matthew reads eutheōs (at once, immediately), which the Greek lexicon describes as a more common expression than euthus.

3.  Matthew omits the entire passage in which euthus appears.

4.  Matthew omits the word euthus.

5.  Matthew omits the verse in which euthus appears.

6.  Matthew abbreviates the sentence and omits euthus.

7.  Matthew expands the sentence and omits euthus.

Here is what I found in Luke:

1.  Luke writes the sentence differently and omits euthus.

2.  Luke omits the entire passage in which euthus appears.

3.  Luke omits the word euthus.

4.  Luke omits the verse in which euthus appears.

5.  Luke's text is different and omits euthus.

6.  Luke reads eutheōs instead of euthus.

7.  Luke's text is different and uses paraxrēma (at once, immediately). This word is found in the New Testament only in Luke and Acts, which are both written by the same author.

8.  Luke reads paraxrēma.

In my view this data seems to support the idea that Matthew and Luke have edited Mark rather than attesting to Mark's revision of Matthew and Luke.

            A possible reason for the avoidance of euthus by Matthew and Luke may be found in what the Greek lexicon3 calls a weakening of euthus to a meaning of then or so then. The lexicon offers the following examples of this weakened use in Mark 1:21, 23, 29. In these verses the word euthus becomes little more than a correlative particle indicating a sequential relationship between preceding and following material, much as Matthew saw in Mark when s/he replaces euthus in Mark 1:10 (=Matt 3:16) with tote.4

Why does the literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke matter? Because the literary sequence of these three texts establishes the history of the early Christian movement in the first century. With Mark as the earliest gospel and John as the latest, the historical process moves in a logical manner. Displacing Mark from the position of first gospel in effect renders Mark a reactionary gospel that rejects much of the early Christian tradition. For example, if Mark had Matthew and Luke in front of him when s/he wrote, s/he deliberately rejected the birth narratives and the special Matthean and Lukan parables tradition (some 18 parables that appear only in Matthew and Luke). Mark also rejected the sermons on the mount (Matthew) and plain (Luke) and the special sayings tradition that Matthew and Luke share (such as the Lord's Prayer, for example).

How do you see the relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1On the synoptic problem, see Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide. Studying Jesus (Wipf & Stock, reprint 2013), 76-109.

2Here are the appearances of euthus in Mark: 1:10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 23, 28, 29, 30, 42, 43; 2:8, 12; 3:6; 4:5, 15, 16, 17, 29; 5:2, 29, 30, 42 (bis); 6:25, 27, 45, 50, 54; 7:25; 8:10; 9:15, 20, 24; 10:52; 11:2, 3; 14:43, 45, 72; 15:1.

3F. W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago, 2000), 406.

4Compare the translations of Mark 1:21, 23, 29 in New Revised Standard Version and the Revised English Bible.