Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Did Luke and Mark meet in person?

Those interested in the Synoptic Puzzle have looked closely at any number of clues as to the relationships between the gospels. Luke is widely assumed to have had a copy of Mark's gospel, and Luke himself says plainly that he started with a knowledge of previous sources (Luke 1:1-2).

Luke and Mark together?
Paul's second letter to Timothy, probably written around 66-67 A.D., contains an intriguing passage for those interested in the Synoptic Puzzle. Paul writes to Timothy:
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Tim 4:11-13)
So here we have Mark, author of one of the gospels, invited to go see Paul who is accompanied by Luke, author of another of the gospels. Paul sent for some materials from what may have been his personal library, said materials to arrive with Timothy and Mark when they came to see Paul and Luke. Now there is a meeting I'd like to have attended. What were on the scrolls and especially the parchments? Aside from Paul's documents, what about everyone else's? Had Mark started writing his gospel yet? Had Luke started taking notes for his gospel yet?

Another of Paul's letters, the letter to Philemon, seems to have been written some years before and speaks of both Mark and Luke being with him:
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers. (Philemon vv 23-24, emphasis added)
Based on this, it seems that Mark and Luke had already met more than briefly, and were both staying in the same city keeping the same companions at that time. Mark and Luke both appear together again in the "greetings" list of Colossians, written about the same time as Philemon (see Colossians 4:10, 4:14).

Luke and Paul
There are other points of interest as well. 2 Timothy was written near the end of Paul's life, as he is in a dungeon in Rome for his final imprisonment before his execution. By this time, Paul has long been in the habit of using his prison time to write; what has his companion Luke been doing? On that same subject, note Luke's comments on a previous trip Paul made to Rome to stand trial:
When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (Acts 28:16).

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31, these words forming the close of the book of Acts)
Since the book of Acts followed Paul for so long but does not mention Paul's final imprisonment, is it possible that Luke had finished the book of Acts before that final imprisonment occurred? Had Luke used his spare time during Paul's previous imprisonment to work on his books? Or did Luke not mention Paul's final imprisonment because it was still in progress as he concluded the book of Acts?

These are intriguing possibilities suggested by the texts, but by no means proven by them.

Mark and Peter
In Peter's first letter, we see Mark listed among his companions:
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)
It's traditional to note at this point that Mark as Peter's "son" has been taken to mean spiritual son, and there are other such uses in early Christian literature, including in the canon of Scripture. "Babylon" was understood by the early church as a reference to Rome, with its similarities to Babylon in the role of oppressing God's people. If the early church's understanding of the letter written to them was correct, then here again we see Mark in Rome, though it is not certain whether Mark was still there from having visited Paul and Luke, or whether this refers to an earlier stay in Rome. (It can hardly have been a later stay in Rome, as Peter and Paul had both been killed within a few years after the time 2 Timothy was written.)

Mark as a companion of Peter is significant in that the early church saw Mark as recording the reports about Jesus that he had heard from Peter. Peter was apparently familiar with Mark and his family; Luke records that when Peter escaped from prison, he went to the home of Mark's mother, where he was familiar enough that he was known by his voice through the door (Acts 12:12-14). Mark had returned to Jerusalem after briefly traveling with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13), though we do not know with certainty whether or how much time he spent with Peter at that point. We do know that Peter was still at least sometimes in Jerusalem (Acts 15:7), where he is recorded as speaking at a meeting also attended by Mark's cousin Barnabas (Acts 15:12), with Barnabas just freshly returned from the journey they had originally begun together.

Here again are events I'd like to have attended. Did they meet with Mark? What kind of welcome would Mark have given his returning cousin? How much of the Jerusalem church would have attended the welcome? Would we have seen Peter, James, John, Mark, Paul, and Barnabas in the same room? It's not unlikely, but no one would have bothered to record a simple occasion like that. Again, we have intriguing possibilities and even a certain probability to some of the meetings, but no definite record. Other questions come to mind: How much time had Mark spent with Peter? Why does Mark alone have the special distinction of Peter referring to him as his "son"? And as for Peter's letter from "Babylon" -- were Peter and Mark ever in Rome at the same time as Paul and Luke?

I nearly titled this section "Conclusion" out of habit, but little of what we have seen rises to the level of conclusions. From 2 Timothy, we do not even know with certainty that Mark and Luke met again, only that if Luke stayed and Mark came as requested, then they certainly would have met. From Paul's letter to Philemon, we do know that Mark and Luke had at one point been "fellow workers" together. This post contains much more speculation than most of the things I write, and that because of the subject matter: we do not definitely know the answers to some of these things.

My ultimate point in writing it is this: there is a lot of existing scholarship about the authorship, history, and relationships of the canonical gospels; almost all of it is speculation. Most people have then agreed in principle that speculation over detail is allowed in an area of scholarship where that type of detail is scarce. However, if speculation is allowed, then it bears noticing that it is easy enough to take concrete details from our existing documents and reconstruct the certainty that Mark and Luke had known each other and been together as fellow workers, that this may have happened on more than one occasion, and that there is no particular reason to suppose a large gap between the date of Mark and the date of Luke since the two knew each other. If we continue from Paul's execution we are likely enough to find Mark and Luke both in Rome just before the fall of Jerusalem, which corresponds fairly well with many of the theories about the dates of authorship of their gospels.


Tony-Allen said...

I've read various arguments for which synoptic gospel writer took what from whom - did Mark take from Luke, Luke take from Mark, Mark from Matthew, etc.

I have noticed, when comparing Matthew to Mark, that Mark often reads as a summarized version of Matthew. One story in Mark simply states the Pharisees were angry with Jesus, but doesn't state what - in Matthew it's far more clarified.

On the other hand, Luke goes into far more detail than either of the previous two. For example, he goes into greater detail on the story of the Centurion's faith: Luke expounds on what we know from the other gospels, adding that the Centurion had good relations with the local population, and had actually helped build the synagogue. Luke also clarifies that the Centurion actually at first sent two Jewish elders to Jesus, which shows a sign of respect for Jewish customs.

Isn't there speculation about another gospel, called "Q" or something, from which all three gospel writers drew their source? I only know there's apparently little evidence for it.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

Q is basically a hypothetical or theoretical document. Someone explained the basic line of thought to me like this:

What if Luke and Matthew had a copy of Mark, so you take out of Matthew and Luke all the information already found in Mark and see what they added. Well, Luke and Matthew still have a lot in common -- so much in common that you think there was somebody's early draft document behind the similarities.

So that hypothetical "somebody's early draft" is called Q.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Do we just assume that there is only one person with each name? Assuming that there is simplifies explanations, but why wouldn't there be multiple people with the same name?

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

No, I don't think we only assume one person with each name. The early church was pretty specific about which person they were talking about in most cases. Sometimes there's some ambiguity (esp James and the 'John' of Revelation). But mostly the scholarship has often worked on this premise: "Let's assume that everything the early church said about where they got these documents is 100% unreliable. What can we know about them from deduction alone?" Which means that, suddenly, despite the early church being in firm agreement about who wrote the 4 gospels, the scholars have few firm leads as to who wrote them ...

And if, say, their reconstructed history of how GJohn was written *just happens to coincide* with the early church's early histories about John and Andrew and the crew, the scholarly community might not even notice ... ;)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Tony-Allen said...

I once heard someone say, "We don't even know if John [the gospel] and First John were the same John." A Greek language scholar replied, "If you ever translated the two, it'd be a bit difficult to assume they were different Johns."