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Arguments for Markan Priority (that Mark was the first Gospel written)

For reasons related to an unusually convoluted thread (I’d be surprised if anyone can even detect the thread!  I myself barely can – it has to do with Jesus’ view of the afterlife) I need to answer a reader’s question about why scholars think the Gospel of Mark was the first to be written (once I do that, I can show how Luke often changed Mark, which will get me back to Luke’s treatment of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, which will get me back to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which will get me back to the question of whether the parable represents Jesus’ own views….).

So far as I can tell, and to my surprise, I’ve never published a blog post showing why scholars – since the 19th century – have typically maintained that Mark was the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written and that Luke and Matthew both used Mark for many of their own stories about Jesus.   That view is called “Markan priority” (Mark is prior to the other two).  Here is a thumbnail sketch of three arguments often cited, as laid out in my textbook on the New Testament


Arguments for Markan Priority

For the past century or so, three arguments have proved widely convincing for establishing Mark’s priority to Matthew and Luke:

Patterns of Agreement. Since the main reason for thinking that the Gospels share a common source is their verbatim agreements, it makes sense to examine the nature of these agreements in order to decide which of the books was used by the other two. If you were to make a detailed comparison of the word-for-word agreements among these Gospels, an interesting pattern would emerge. Sometimes …

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And Then There Was Q
Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark: Another Blast from the Past



  1. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 5, 2019

    Excellent, please do, thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Hngerhman  April 27, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    It seems that, in descending order of certainty based on mountains of scholarship, we should rank:

    1. Markan Priority
    2. Existence of Q
    3. Author(s) of GJohn didn’t know the Synoptics

    The way I’ve seen it discussed never seems to rank them, but the relative amount of two-sided argumentation and the adjectives of certitude employed would suggest this ordering. Would you agree? If not, would you rank them differently?


  3. Avatar
    timzukas  June 15, 2020

    1 quick comment and 1 longer one

    I think all the literary arguments for Mark being first work just as well for Mark being last and having access to both Matthew and Luke. The only question is why he left out what he left out.

    I think the setting of Matthew demands that Peter be alive. Imagine the situation 50-60 CE. There are 3 great leaders: Paul, Peter, and James. Matthew is written, at least in part, to argue that Peter is the primary leader of the church. That only makes sense if Peter is alive. If James died 62 CE, his death might have spurred the creation of Matthew.

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