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The Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

The Gospel of Q -- the source gospel.
The Gospel of Mark

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The Gospel of Q:

This is believed by many theologians to have been a very early "sayings" gospel, which included many statements by Jesus, but little detail about his life. His birth, his selection of 12 disciples, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, etc. are not mentioned.

In a sense, it is a pre-Christian document. It represents those parts of Jesus' life that his followers remembered and recorded about 20 years after his death.

Theologian Marcus Borg wrote:

"He is presented as "a charismatic teacher, a healer, a simple man filled with the spirit of God. Jesus is also a sage, the personification of Wisdom, cast in the tradition of King Solomon." 1

Q appears to be divided into three parts:

bulletQ1 is the first and largest part of the gospel. It describes Jesus as a philosopher/teacher. It was written circa. 50 CE.
bulletQ2 described Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. It was probably written circa 60 CE during the time leading up to the Jewish uprising in Palestine against the occupying Roman army. This revolt eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
bulletQ3 describes Jesus as a deity, who converses directly with God and Satan. It advocates retreating from the violence and civic unrest of society and patiently waiting for "their moment of glory in some future time at the end of human history." 2 This section was probably added in the mid-60s, about one decade before Mark was written.

Material from Q1 and Q2 was used by the author of the Gospel of Thomas, which is believed to have been written circa 92 CE, perhaps in northern Syria. The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that were widely accepted among early Christians, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Religious conservatives generally believe that the Holy Spirit revealed to church leaders that the Gospel of Thomas was heretical. Religious liberals generally believe that Thomas was rejected even though it was well accepted by parts of the primitive Christian church because it did not match well to the evolving beliefs of the Christian church at the time that the official canon was being assembled.

The authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke appear to have copied many passages from all of Q: Q1, Q2 and Q3.

After having been incorporated into at least three actively used gospels, Q appears to have become an obsolete document, and was discarded. No surviving copies exist. Theologians have had to reconstruct it by deconstructing Matthew and Luke. More details.

The Gospel of Mark:

Author: Many Christian writers of the 2nd century CE identified the author as the John-Marcus who was mentioned in Acts 12:12. Mark was a helper who went with Paul and Barnabas on Paul's first missionary journey.

Liberal theologians generally believe that the identity of the author is unknown. 3,4,5,6

Conservatives follow the church tradition that the author was Mark. 7,8,9,10 Fundamentalists within the Southern Baptist Convention felt quite strongly about this. When they obtained obtained control of the denomination, they required their employees to subscribe to a loyalty oath in which they swore that they believe in Mark's authorship of this Gospel.

Date: Various sources estimate that this gospel was written sometime from 57 to 75 CE. Conservative theologians tend to estimate a much earlier date than do liberals:

bulletRev. C.I. Scofield, editor of the Scofield Reference Bible gives a range of 57 to 63 CE. 7
bulletH.H. Halley, author of Halley's Bible Handbook estimates 60 to 70 CE. 8
bulletH.L. Wilmington, author of Wilmington's Bible Handbook estimates 57-59 CE. 9
bulletJ.D. Douglas, general editor of the New Commentary on the Whole Bible estimates the late 50's. 11
bulletL.P. Pherigo, author of an article about the gospel in the The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, estimates 64 to 75 CE. 12
bulletP.N. Benware, author of "Survey of the New Testament" estimates 64 to 68 CE. 10
bulletR. Shorto, author of "Gospel Truth" states that "Scholars believe that Mark was written about 70 CE." 13

Content: It is surprising that the gospel survived long enough to be included in the official canon. It is somewhat superfluous, as over 90% of its contents appear elsewhere in the synoptic Gospels. Only about 30 of its verses are not paralleled in Matthew or Luke. Also, it was recognized in the 2nd century that the author was not a disciple of Jesus. That weakened its importance.

The gospel lacks the polished literary style of other New Testament authors; it was written in the language of the common people. The gospel was apparently written during a time of great tension between the conservative Jewish Christians, centered in Jerusalem and the more liberal Gentile Christians, spread throughout the Roman Empire.

L.P. Pherigo writes:

"Since the 12 disciples of Jesus became the leaders of the conservatives, Mark shared Paul's coolness and reserve towards their authority, He makes it plain to the reader that the 12 never understood Jesus properly and therefore are not the best guides...[The author of] Mark is helping the reader to understand why the view of Jesus among the conservative Jewish Christian is so unsatisfactory to the gentile Christian church." 12

Mark appears to have been quickly accepted by the Christian communities. Within a few years of its completion, the authors of both Matthew and Luke are generally believed to have used this gospel as a source of quotations for their own gospels.

The gospel "reflects the early Christian view that God was about to bring history to an end in an apocalyptic conflagration." 14 This was in response to Jesus' statements that the Kingdom of God would arrive circa 30 CE, and Paul's writings during the 50's or 60's, that Jesus' return was imminent. As the decades passed and Jesus did not return, the Christian movements downgraded the second coming in importance.

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Versions of Mark:

There appears to have been three versions of Mark:

bullet"Secret Mark", "for those who had attained a higher degree of initiation in to the church than the common crowd." It has been lost, except for two fragments which appeared in a copy of a letter from Clement, a second century CE theologian.
bulletAn edited, smaller version of Secret Mark that has been preserved to the present time. It was the freely distributed, public version, that became part of the Bible.
bulletA heretical version of Secret Mark, written to justify the beliefs and practices of a small Christian sect in the second century CE. It did not survive to the present day. 15

Where did Mark end?

The most ancient manuscripts of Mark all end suddenly at Mark 16:8. They appear to end in mid-sentence with some of Jesus' female followers leaving Jesus' tomb in a state of confusion and fear. A young man in a white robe has told the women to "...tell [Jesus] disciples and Peter. 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' " Missing are the descriptions, after Jesus' resurrection, of his:

bulletappearance to his followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13)
bulletmeeting with to the 11 disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36)
bulletopening the minds of the disciples so they could understand the Hebrew Scriptures (Luke 24:44)
bulletAscension into heaven (Luke 24:50)
bulletGreat Commission (Matthew  28:18)

Various reasons have been suggested for the sudden ending: 12

bulletMark simply ended the gospel at this point, for an unknown reason.
bulletMark was interrupted in mid-sentence, and was never able to return to finish the gospel. Perhaps his death intervened.
bulletThe original scroll was damaged, and the ending was lost.
bulletThe original ending was intentionally destroyed by unknown Christians, perhaps because it included details of later meetings between Jesus and the disciples that directly contradicted the accounts in the other gospels. The ending might have been deleted to maintain an apparent harmony among the gospels.
bulletThe original ending was intentionally destroyed because it contained an account of the disciples' doubt that the resurrection really happened. One would expect the author of Mark to have emphasized the disciples' doubt; it would be consistent with many other negative comments that he made about them. Both Matthew and Luke appear to have incorporated this lost ending in their gospels. Matthew describes how some of the disciples doubted the resurrection at their meeting in Galilee (Matthew 28:24). Luke explains how they did not believe because of their emotional state (Luke 24:41). Most Biblical scholars believe that large portions of the text of the gospels of Matthew and Luke were copied from Mark. It would be reasonable to assume that these two instances are simply another indication of this use of material from Mark.

Various forged endings were added them to the original text, by unknown authors pretending that they were Mark.

Mark's demotion of Peter?

The instructions to the women in Mark 16:7 are unexpected:

bulletThe 21KJ, Amplified, KJV, NAB, NAS, NIV, NWT, NRSV, REB, and Rheims NT versions of the Bible all translate the phrase as informing the "disciples and Peter"
bulletThe New Century Version reads: "followers and Peter"
bulletThe New Living Translation reads: "disciples, including Peter"

The vast majority of Bible translations imply that that Peter was no longer considered a disciple, or perhaps even a follower of Christ, by the young man who was inside the tomb. (Matthew upgrades the man to an angel; Luke describes two men; John mentions two angels). One interpretation is that Peter has been demoted to a status lower than the remaining disciples. This was perhaps related to Jesus' earlier reference to Peter as Satan (Mark 8:33) and/or because of Peter's threefold denial of Jesus (Mark 14:27 & 14:66) after his arrest.

Needless to say, the Roman Catholic Church takes a dim view of this interpretation. They believe that Jesus selected Peter to found the Christian Church, and that he relocated to Rome to be pope.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Marcus Borg, Consulting Editor, "The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus",Ulysses Press, Berkeley CA (1996) , P. 15 & 28
  2. Burton L. Mack, "The Lost Gospel of Q: The Book of Christian Origins", Harper, San Francisco, (1993)
  3. Burton L. Mack, "Who Wrote the New Testament?", Harper Collins, San Francisco, (1995)
  4. Robert J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma CA, (1992), P. 249-300.
  5. F.V. Filson, "The Literary Relations among the Gospels," essay in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
  6. "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)
  7. Rev. C.I. Schofield, "The Schofield Reference Bible," Oxford University Press, New York, NY
  8. H.H. Halley, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, (1965)
  9. H.L. Wilmington, "Wilmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1997)
  10. P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament," Moody Press, Chicago, IL, (1990)
  11. J.D. Douglas, Gen. Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990)
  12. L.P. Pherigo, "The Gospel According to Mark," essay in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991), P. 644
  13. R. Shorto, "Gospel Truth," Riverhead Books, New York, NY, (1997)
  14. R.W. Funk, et al., "The Parables of Jesus," Polebridge Press (1988) Page xvii.
  15. R.J. Miller, op cit., P. 402-405

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