Beware of the Liberals! Marcan Priority and Inspiration

The order in which the Synoptic Gospels were written has been debated now for well over 100 years. Early on, church fathers such as Papias, Jerome, and Augustine believed Matthew to be the first to write his gospel. Not until more recent times has this changed. Today most Gospel scholars hold to what is known as Marcan priority. This is the view I hold to; it is the view that I believe best explains all of the available evidence. But according to the guys over at the Cripplegate, I may need to rethink my view of the Synoptic Problem (and women in ministry, creation/evolution, authorship of the Pentateuch, [you fill in the blank]). According to the author of a recent post (How to Spot a Liberal Seminary) I run the risk of being associated with liberalism and the seminaries that promote such a teaching.

Now, maybe I just do not get it or I am indeed under the influence of liberalism (if you read the comments here you may think I have succumbed to heresy), but last time I checked, we did not even know for certain who the authors of the Gospels even are? Sure, we have names attached to the titles in our English (and Greek) New Testaments, but I know of no one who can say with absolute certainty that they were part of the original autographs. My question is this: why does the author feel the need to accuse a seminary (or individual) of theological liberalism simply because one holds to Marcan priority? In what way does this distort or deny any of the main tenets of the faith we hold to?

Here is the portion of the post that I am referring to:

Did Matthew or Mark write first? This is another subtle, but critical signal of encroaching liberalism. All external evidence points to the Gospel According to Matthew was written before Mark or Luke wrote their accounts. This may not seem like a hill to get wounded on, but the only reason to assert that Mark wrote his gospel before Matthew is because “evolutionary theory” applied to the Bible allows that the more complex must necessarily come from the simpler, and assumes that the Evangelists cut-and-paste from each other instead of being guided by the Spirit to compose their accounts (2 Pet 1:21). Since Mark’s account is briefer, and most of his contents are also to be found in Matthew and Luke’s records, then the theory insists that Matthew and Luke were not led by the Spirit to write their accounts, but poached the bulk from Mark. This is illogical when you consider that Matthew was an intimate eye-witness as one of the twelve apostles. The fact that Mark and Matthew have similar content (in fact identical wording in places) is because it is the same Holy Spirit that inspired both accounts. Any seminary that is uncomfortable with that admission is not as committed to the doctrine of inspiration as they need to be.

First, what does the author mean by “evolutionary theory,” and in what ways do the advocates of Marcan priority apply such a theory? If by evolutionary theory it is meant the changing of ones mind based on facts, well then I am guilty as charged. Further, where does he get this idea of a “cut-and-paste model?” We know that Luke himself used sources in the writing of his Gospel—both oral and written (Lk 1:1-4). No one who holds to Marcan priority, or at least none that I know of, describe this view as a form of cut-and-paste. This is an incorrect understanding of what Marcan priority is. I would ask that the author of this post provide some documentation to back up such an accusation. Again, when you make statements like: “Since Mark’s account is briefer, and most of his contents are also to be found in Matthew and Luke’s records, then the theory insists that Matthew and Luke were not led by the Spirit to write their accounts, but poached the bulk from Mark,” and you provide no supporting documentation, I must again assume that you are more comfortable burning down straw men than you are with actually looking at the evidence. You are correct in saying that Matthew was an intimate eyewitness to the words and deeds of Jesus, but I ask: can you say with complete certainty that Matthew was the author of the gospel of Matthew? And if tradition is correct about Mark’s close relationship with Peter, I would argue he would have an even more intimate relationship, seeing that Peter was one of the four apostles who was closest to Jesus.

But it is the last sentence that I just cannot fathom! How can the author of this post stand in judgment over a seminary (or person) and accuse them of not being “committed to the doctrine of inspiration as they need to be?” This statement is nothing more than spiritual hubris! How dare you accuse me sir of not being committed to the doctrine of inspiration! You do not know my convictions or beliefs. By what authority do you stand in judgment over those who do not hold to every jot and title of matters that have no bearing on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints? Do you not see how a post like this hurts more than it helps? Before you accuse me of being one of those who went to a liberal seminary, please know that I come from the same camps as you do; I was educated at the same institutions you were, sat under the same preachers you did, and still hold to the same faith you do. I am not a liberal, even if I read those whom you deem to be so! When all is said and done, we will stand at the throne of God and praise him for what he has done. I look forward to the day when I will stand with you, proclaiming with you that our God reigns.

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13 thoughts on “Beware of the Liberals! Marcan Priority and Inspiration

      • Interestingly I pastor in what I would consider a liberal denomination while myself being fairly conservative. It isn’t easy but my colleagues love God and Jesus (they also frustrate me at times with their arguments). Are they Christians? You bet they are. What has been helpful to me has been to view liberalism as a framework or tradition through which they interpret scripture. In much the same way Reformed folks do, and Pentecostals do (where I came from). As one who has been excluded from ministry in a denomination because I differed theologically the liberals have been refreshing in that they are happy for me to be who I am. I find stuff like these people claim just plain sad.

  1. I actually remember applying for a worship leading position while I was in seminary and the pastoral leadership expressed concern over me questioning that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might not have actually been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But my thoughts in that regard are because of my conservatism, not opposed to it! I only want to affirm what the original signatures of Scripture said, rather than holding theological tradition on the same level as Scripture. Last time I checked, that’s conservative thinking.

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