Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Gospel of John and Readers of Mark

I have been reading through Richard Bauckham, ed. The Gospel for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). In chapter five, "John for Reader's of Mark," Bauckham argued that John wrote his gospel with the understanding that the Gospel of Mark had been widely disseminated and read throughout the larger Christian community (p. 148). Therefore the Gospel of John was written in order to complement the stories and the chronology of Mark (p 170-171). John must have had the Gospel of Mark in view and not just oral traditions as these oral traditions might vary from place to place in their specifics and chronology (p. 164). This dependance can be seen particularly in two parenthetical glosses found at 3:24 and 11:2 (p. 151).

Eusebius on John's Gospel
Bauckham's theory aligns well with Eusebius' explanations concerning Mark;
"Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. . . . [Mark] had no intention of giving and an ordered account of the Lord’s sayings." (Hist. eccl. 3.39.15)
A little earlier Eusebius had given the motivation for John to write his gospel;

“And after Mark and Luke had already made the publication of the Gospels according to them, John, they say, used all the time, a proclamation that was not written down, and at last came to writing for the following cause. After the three Gospels which had been previously written had already been distributed to all, and even to himself, they say that he welcomed them and testified to their truth, but that there was therefore only lacking to the Scripture the account concerning things which had been done by Christ at first and at the beginning of the proclamation. . . . Now they say that on account of these things, the apostle John was exhorted to hand down in the Gospel according to himself the time passed over in silence by the first evangelists and the things which had been done by the Savior at this time.” (Hist. eccl. 3.24.7-11)
According to Bauckham, several of John's parenthetical glosses (i.e. 2:14-22; 3:24) can be explained as chronological correctives or explanations for readers of Mark who might be confused by the differences between the events as they occur in John and those in Mark (p. 153, 159). Bauckham's theory aligns well with Eusebius' understanding of the writing of Mark and John. Mark and Luke had apparently already circulated widely when John decided that he would write his gospel account. If Mark wrote down Peter's preaching without regard to chronology, it would have been necessary for John to correct or explain the chronology at points of variance.

Mark: Macro Level Stability
Reading this got me thinking about the textual veracity of the Gospel of Mark. Bauckham's theory in "John for Readers of Mark" would only work if the overall structure and content of the Gospel of Mark has remained preserved over the centuries. Let me explain.
There has been significant scholarly interchange over the last few years concerning the usefulness of the term "original-text" (see Epp, “The Multivalence of the Term ‘Original Text’). Some scholars are more skeptical than others, but there is an overall hesitation to assume that the Gospel texts that we have preserved today (in critical editions) are the same as when these Gospels were penned in the first century. If Bauckham's theory is correct, then the parenthetical glosses in John (if original, and Bauckham makes a convincing case that they are) indicate that the overall structure of Mark preserved today is very similar to that which circulated in John's day in the late first century. This confirms Holmes' reflections on the preservation of the Gospels;
"In short, a very high percentage of the variation evident in the text of the Four gospels and Acts affects a verse or less of the text. On this level, the fluidity of wording within a verse, sentence, or paragraph is sometimes remarkable. At the same time, however, in terms of overall structure, arrangement, and content, these five documents are remarkably stable. They display simultaneously, in other words, what one may term microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability."
(Holmes, From Original Text to Initial Text, 674)

Epp, Eldon Jay. “The Multivalence of the Term ‘Original Text’ in New Testament Textual Criticism.” Harvard Theological Review. 92.3 (1999): 245–281.

Holmes, Michael W. “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’: The Traditional Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism in Contemporary Discussion.” Pages 637-681 in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Second Edition. Edited by Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes. New Testament, Tools, Studies and Documents 42. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

More on the Subject of New Testament Textual Corruption

Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corruption: Part 1

Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corruption: Part 2

Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corruption: Part 3

Asclepiodotus and Theodotus, the Banker: 'Corruptors' of Scripture  

A Riot in the North African Church! Augustine on Jerome's Translation of the Bible