Sunday, October 18, 2009

How long before Luke had a copy of Mark's Gospel?

It is taken for granted, given the similarities between the gospels of Mark and Luke, that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a major source of information on the life of Christ. In some peoples' minds, there is an assumption that runs like this: Mark's gospel must have been in circulation awhile before it was widely enough distributed to fall into the hands of Luke. After all, this was in the days of hand-copied manuscripts. It took longer for a document to become widely known, longer for any potentially-interested people to obtain a copy. It could easily have taken years -- possibly a decade or more -- for Mark's writings to come into the hands of Luke.

All of this works on the assumption that Mark and Luke didn't know each other. The early Christian community was tightly-knit; the lists of personal greetings at the end of various letters should be some clue to that. But the lists of personal greetings also contain evidence that Mark and Luke knew each other directly. Bear in mind that, whether or not you accept the writings attributed to Paul as being from Paul, they still bear record of Mark and Luke being closely associated with each other on several different occasions.

Consider the personal greetings from the letter to Philemon:
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. (Philemon 23-24).
The most plain interpretation of that would mean that Mark and Luke knew each other directly. From the language used, they may have known each other as closely as I know my own co-workers.

Consider again the personal greetings from the end of Colossians, where many of the same people also appear in another set of greetings:
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. ... Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. (Colossians 4:10, 14).
Here we have another record of Mark and Luke being together among the companions of Paul at that time.

We have an additional record from Paul's second letter to Timothy:
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)
Here we have two passages listing Mark and Luke as being together among the same group in the same city, and a third making arrangements for Mark to come back and join Paul and Luke. Whether or not we accept the attribution of these letters to Paul, they still bear witness to the fact that Luke and Mark were closely associated in the mind of the early church. Based on the early documents we have, it is likely enough that the two knew each other directly. There is no reason to suppose a lengthy delay between Mark finishing his gospel and Luke obtaining a copy.


phil_style said...

indeed. And if one were penning his version of events, would he perhaps have informed the other? Does this present the possibility of simultaneous authorship?

Weekend Fisher said...

There are people who have noted that Luke may have had an earlier version of Mark than the final one. This offers one possible explanation.

Take care & God bless