Did John Use Mark as a Template?

by Jimmy Akin

in Bible

mark-and-johnThe Church Fathers on John’s Gospel

Clement of Alexandria gives the following account of when and how John’s Gospel was written:

[L]ast of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel [preserved in Eusebius, Church History 6:14:7).

He notes that John was written last, that John was urged by others to write, and that he wrote his Gospel in a deliberately different style than the others, which had already presented “the external facts” about the life of Jesus.

A similar account is found in the Muratorian Fragment, which says:

The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it [Muratorian Fragment 9-16].

This account at least seems to agree that John was written last (though the reference to it being the “fourth of the Gospels” could be a reference to its canonical order).

It definitely agrees that John was urged to write it, and it indicates that John seems to have been initially hesitant to do so, not agreeing until there was a divine revelation. This hesitation might have been due to the existence of the other Gospels, which already recorded the basic facts of Jesus’ life.

 

John’s Gospel on John’s Gospel

The idea that John wrote to supplement the other Gospels and that he did so with some hesitation may be reflected in two passages in the Gospel itself:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name [John 20:30-31].

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written [John 21:24-25].

The reference to the many other signs that Jesus performed “which are not written in this book” may be taken as a reference to other books—the other Gospels—in which they are written.

It could also reflect a hesitancy to write further about the author’s experiences with Jesus, because that would result in too long a work.

The latter understanding seems to be reflected in the second passage’s statement that, if all of Jesus’ deeds were written, “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

There may even be a reference to the elders who urged John to write when the second passage identifies the beloved disciple as the author and then says, “and we know that his testimony is true.” That statement may be the collective voice of the elders intruding into the text and endorsing John’s testimony.

All of this is disputed.

 

Isolated Evangelists?

In the last several decades, it has become fashionable in biblical scholarship to say that the Evangelists were all writing for individual communities and that their Gospels were not intended to be widely circulated, so they wrote with little awareness of each other’s work. According to a common view:

  • Mark wrote first and so didn’t know the work of any other Evangelist.
  • Matthew knew Mark but not Luke or John.
  • Luke knew Mark but not Matthew or John.
  • John didn’t know any of the other three Evangelists’ work.

Of course, like everything in biblical scholarship, each of these claims is disputed.

thegospelsforallchristiansBritish scholar Richard Bauckham published a major assault on the idea that the Gospels were written for narrow, isolated communities in a book that he edited and co-authored with several other individuals, entitled The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (New Testament Studies).

It’s awesome.

GET IT HERE!

 

Did John Know Mark?

One of the essays that Bauckham contributed to the book is entitled “John for Readers of Mark.” In this piece, he argues that John not only knew Mark but that you can show this because John seems to have used Mark as a template or an outline.

In other words, John sequenced his own narrative in and around the elements in Mark’s narrative so that the two Gospels fit together like puzzle pieces.

If this view is correct, you should be able to make a table using parallel columns to show how the two Gospels fit together.

Bauckham did not provide such a table, and though he provided impressive arguments for his proposal, he did not go through the entirety of the two Gospels or test the proposal against the ideas that John might have used Matthew or Luke rather than Mark.

I decided to continue Bauckham’s investigation along these lines.

 

How Mark and John Fit Together

First, here is the table I came up with of how the two Gospels fit together (italics and parentheses indicate material that is in a different sequence in one Gospel than the other):

No.

Section

Mark

John

1. Prologue

1:1-18

2. John the Baptist, Jesus’ Baptism, & Testing

1:1-13

3. Early Ministry I

1:19-2:12

4.       Clearing the Temple

(11:11-25)

2:13-22

5. Early Ministry II

2:23-4:43

6. The Official’s Son

4:44-54

7 Galilean Ministry I

1:14-6:6

8. Sending the Disciples

6:7-13

9. Fate of John the Baptist

6:14-29

10. Visit to Jerusalem

5:1-47

11. Disciples Return

6:30

12. Feeding the Five Thousand & Walking on the Water

6:31-53

6:1-71

13. Galilean Ministry II

6:54-9:50

7:1-9

14. Judean Ministry I

10:1a

7:10-10:39

15. Transjordan Ministry

10:1b-31

10:40-42

16. Judean Ministry II

11:1-57

17. Travel to Jerusalem

10:32-52

18.    Anointing with Oil

(14:1-11)

12:1-8

19. Triumphal Entry

11:1-10

12:9-19

20. Clearing the Temple

11:11-25

(2:13-22)

21. Before the Supper

11:27-13:37

12:20-50

22.    Anointing with Oil

14:1-11

(12:1-8)

23. The Last Supper

14:12-26

13:1-14:31

24. Extended Discourse

15:1-17:26

25. After the Supper

14:27-52

18:1-12

26. Before Annas

18:13-23

27. Before Caiaphas

14:53-65

18:24

28. Peter’s Denial

14:66-72

18:25-26

29. Before Pilate

15:1-15

18:28-19:16

30. Crucifixion & Burial

15:16-47

19:17-42

31. Resurrection Narrative

16:1-8
(or 16:1-20)

20:1-21:25

 

Did John Use Mark as a Template?

I then went through the table, looking for evidence for and against the proposal. Here is a summary of my findings (most of these points I got from Bauckham, but some—especially those regarding the Last Supper—are original to me):

  • John’s prologue introduces John the Baptist (John 1:6-8, 15) and can be seen as interacting with the beginning of Mark (Mark 1:1-13).
  • John 1:19-4:43 can be seen as fitting between Mark 1:13 and 1:14.
  • In John 1:19-34, John the Baptist gives an account of his own ministry and of how he identified Jesus as the coming one that reflects Mark 1:1-13.
  • The fact that John does not directly record the baptism of Jesus (a major event!) suggests that his audience already had a written account of it.
  • John 3:24’s reference to an incident that occurred when “John had not yet been put in prison” seems to be intended to clarify when the events of John 1:19-4:43 fit into Mark’s outline.
  • In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends the disciples on a mission from which they will return in Mark 6:30. The material between these verses is thus a time when Jesus does not have the disciples with him. This period seems to be reflected in John 5:1-47, which is a period in which the disciples are not mentioned. Further, in both John and Mark, these sections contain material recording or referring to the death of John the Baptist, with John seeming to presuppose that the audience already knows how the Baptist died (presumably from Mark’s account).
  • John 7:1a seems to summarize a continuation of the Galilean ministry that is recorded in Mark 6:54-9:50. Further, John 6:4 and 7:2 imply a period of six months spent in Galilee that John does not otherwise record and that seems to correspond to Mark 7-9. This period is the last time that Jesus will be in Galilee until after the Resurrection.
  • Mark 10:1a and John 7:10-10:39 record a period in which Jesus ministered in Judea.
  • Mark 10:1b-31 and John 10:40-42 record a period in which Jesus ministered in the Transjordan.
  • The way that the Last Supper is recorded in Mark 14:12-26 and John 13:1-14:31 suggests supplemental intent on John’s part. John omits virtually everything Mark records happening before and at the supper and provides additional material about it not found in Mark. Even when he records the one event that the two have in common (Jesus’ prediction of Judas’s betrayal) John provides supplementary detail not found in Mark. Also, the events that John narrates seem to interweave easily with the events that Mark records. The fact that John does not record the institution of the Eucharist (another major event!), which he has already foreshadowed in John 6:26-71, is strong evidence that his audience already had a written record of its institution.
  • John’s supplemental intent may be illustrated by his giving names to figures that are otherwise unnamed in Mark (e.g., Peter and Malchus in the incident where Peter cuts off Malchus’s ear; cf. Mark 14:47, John 18:10).
  • John 18:13-23 discusses the relationship between Annas and Caiaphas, provides additional detail about how Peter got into the courtyard of the high priest, and preserves an account of Jesus’ appearance before Annas, which is not mentioned in Mark. All of these may be seen as an effort to supplement Mark’s account.
  • John 18:24 refers, in a single verse, to the appearance of Jesus before Caiaphas, which is described in detail in Mark 14:53-65. This may be evidence of John taking Mark’s account as read.
  • In John 19:7, the Jewish authorities charge Jesus before Pilate with making himself out to be the Son of God. This charge is not found in John’s account of Jesus’ appearances before the Jewish authorities, but it is found in Mark’s account (Mark 14:61-64).

On the other hand:

  • The clearing of the temple and the anointing with oil are placed differently in Mark and John.
  • John records Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial as occurring during the Last Supper, but in Mark it appears just after the supper.

These differences could be counted as evidence that John was not using Mark as an outline, but it also can be understood in other ways, such as John providing additional clarity on precisely when these events occurred (or, in the case of the clearing of the temple, that it happened more than once). The dislocation of these events thus does not overcome the positive evidence that John used Mark.

 

Did John Use Luke as a Template?

I then used the same methodology—making a table of how Luke and John might mesh and then reviewing each section for evidence that John might have used Luke. Here is a summary of my findings:

  • There is a possible agreement between Luke and John if the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10) is the same as the healing of the Official’s son (John 4:44-54). If they are different events (my preference) then there is no such interaction.
  • A similar, possible interaction is the miraculous catch of fish recorded in Luke 5:1-9. If this is the same event as the miraculous catch recorded in John 21:1-14 then it could be a case of John providing greater clarity about when this event occurred chronologically. However, if these are two different events (my view) then there is no such interaction.
  • There is also one notable agreement in that Luke and John place the prediction of Peter’s denial within the Last Supper (Luke 22:31-34, John 13:36-38), rather than after it (Mark 14:26-31).

These, however, pale in comparison to the differences in sequence that make it much less likely that John used Luke for a template compared to Mark. These include the following:

  • John would have had to skip the first 132 verses of Luke and begin by relating his prologue to material in Luke 3.
  • Luke 4:14 does not mention that Jesus began his Galilean ministry only after John was imprisoned (it thus fails to set up John 3:24)
  • Luke omits the Transjordan ministry found in John 10:40-42
  • Luke does not provide an account of Jesus’ encounter with Caiaphas, so John 18:24 could not be a summary of such an encounter.
  • And—most especially—the major disruptions posed by Luke’s travel narrative and the fact that John—with a known interest in clarifying chronology—would not have passed over them without doing anything to resolve them.

It thus appears more likely that John used Mark as a template than that he used Luke.

But what about the idea that he might have used Matthew?

 

Did John Use Matthew as a Template?

Finally, I repeated the procedure on Matthew. Here is a summary of my findings:

  • There is a possible agreement between Matthew and John if the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Matt.  8:5-13) is the same as the healing of the Official’s son (John 4:44-54). However, these may very well be two separate events (my preference), in which case there is no such agreement.

This single possible agreement is more than offset by elements that make it less likely that John used Matthew for a template than Mark. These include the following:

  • John would have had to skip the first two chapters of Matthew and begin by relating his prologue to material in Matthew 3.
  • In John the death of John the Baptist seems to be announced while Jesus’ disciples are out on mission, but in Matthew the disciples return to Jesus before the death of John the Baptist.
  • Matthew 19:1 seems to blur together the Judean and Transjordanian ministries recorded in John 7-10.

 

Conclusion

It thus appears that John more likely used Mark as a template than either Luke or Matthew. I thus think Bauckham is right: John likely meant his Gospel to interweave with Mark’s Gospel.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that John didn’t know Matthew’s or Luke’s Gospels. He may have; he just doesn’t seem to have used them as a template the way he did Mark’s.

Also, the above are simply a summary of my findings—not a full study—though I did such a study in brain-crushing detail, which you can read online.

CLICK HERE TO GET BRAIN-CRUSHING DETAIL!

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{ 3 comments }

Cindy November 16, 2014 at 7:12 am

Very interesting reading. I came from a Protestant background and as a Catholic for 40+ years now I love studying scripture from the Catholic standpoint. It makes so much more sense to me now and I see how the non-Catholic Christian scholarship takes many things out of context and sort of bends the to fit their own ideas. Thank you Jimmy for your in-depth articles and please keep them coming!

John Schuh November 16, 2014 at 8:09 am

Which reminds me his totally speculative Biblical scholarship is, especially New Testament scholarship, since it is talking about writings composed within a long generation(40 years?) and about events that took place within two, involving non-political actors from relative low stations in life. Hence they must depend on the tricks of philology which have their limits–eg. they can’t tell us for sure who the Bard was. Bishop Robinson had fun gainsaying the “consenus.” The whole Historical-Critical method founders on the reef of two things: 1) the shortage of reported facts outside the Gospels, and 2) the centrality of the Resurrection in Christianity. But common sense tells us that it is much hard to persuade us that Jesus did not exist than that Moses did not. Or that Mohammed did not. But how many modernists doubt the existence of “the Prophet”? It boils down to the fact that philosophical materialists cannot accept the idea of the Incarnation. They just can’t, can’t, can’t. Which is why they get bent out of shape by Thomas Nagel’s reminder that Christian belief in the supernatural is no more dogmatic than their own disbelief in the miraculous. They do believe in magic, of course. What is mathematics to them, after all, but a means of incantation, whereby they make the elements obey them?

felix servidad November 17, 2014 at 11:47 am

I believe that the holy scripture was written by those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so to those who deny the truth, maybe they do not have the same Spirit that Christ gives to those who believes in him. I believed the Spirit they have is the spirit of this world, because the scripture can be understood only by those who are led by God’s Spirit. The spirit of this world always against with God. Not every bible scholar has the same Spirit.

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