Archives For style

Note on Markan style

June 10, 2010

C. H. Turner has posited an interesting idea regarding a grammatical feature in Mark that may be stylistic and which may reflect one of his sources. In brief, where Mark often has a pericope introduced with a plural verb form, he often develops the account with a singular reference to Jesus alone. In the other synoptic accounts the same event is often narrated in the singular throughout. Turner listed 21 such texts, from which I’ve eliminated one to conform to the UBS/NA text. (Turner tends to use these stylistic features in a somewhat circular fashion, using them to make text critical decisions, but the decisions also tend toward uniformity of a particular stylistic feature.) Since Turner only gives the Markan text, I’ve worked through these 20 examples, identified the Matthean and Lukan parallel passages, and offer this summary. (And no, I haven’t transcribed all my handwritten notes with all the refs., etc. Sorry.)

Singular in Matthew: 9
Singular in Luke: 9
Singular in either Matthew or Luke: 12
Singular in both Matthew and Luke: 6

Same (i.e., plural) in Matthew: 6
Same in Luke: 1
Text/statement not parallel in Matthew: 5
Text/statement not parallel in Luke: 8

Total passages involving a genitive absolute (in any one of the three): 5
Genitive absolute in Mark: 4
Genitive absolute in Matthew: 3
Genitive absolute in Luke 1

If this were described on the premise of Markan priority, this would be phrased as “instances in which [Matthew/Luke] changed Mark from plural to singular. I have left the stats above “neutral” in that regard (even though I assume Markan priority as a working hypothesis).

It does appear as if there is sufficient change in this regard to suggest that the differences are not coincidental. They are too consistent for randomness to be a helpful explanation. The numbers are not quite as impressive as Turner makes them sound (“The net result is that the retention of Mark’s plural is rare in Matthew, rarer still in Luke”—I wouldn’t call 6/20 “rare”), but significant none the less. I’ve noted the genitive absolute texts since they tend to introduce another variable, being used to reference a related party and consequently a singular/plural variation is not unexpected (especially given the subject matter of Jesus and the disciples).

The “not parallel” category above encompasses several types of texts. They may be a pericope which is not present at all in one of the Synoptics. There may be a parallel account, but the statement/s in question may not be included, or the statement may be reworded to the point where it is no longer a parallel statement.

So what’s the possible significance? Here’s Turner’s suggestion:

Whey then did our earliest Evangelist tell his story in the plural, not being himself one of the company who went about with Jesus, save because he is repeating the story of one to whom the plural cam natural as being himself as actor in the events he relates?

[re. 1:29] The hypothesis that the third person plural of mark represents a first person plural of Peter makes what as it stands is a curiously awkward phrase into a phrase which is quite easy and coherent.

Mark’s story is told as from a disciple and companion, while Matthew and Luke are less directly interested in that particular point of view.

If we give Papias’ account any credibility, this observation would be consistent with Peter being the primary source of Mark’s gospel.

Turner’s article was originally in JTS 26 (1925), part 5 of “Notes on Marcan Usage,” now reprinted in the Language and Style of the Gospel of Mark, ed. J. K. Elliott, 151–84, NovTSupp 71 (Leiden: Brill, 1993), this particular note occurs on pp. 36–42.

For earlier discussions on this blog regarding Mark and Papias, see these two earlier posts from 2007 and 2008.


JGRChJ 7.1 (2010) 9–31

Craig A. Smith

Sterling College, Sterling KS, USA

The introductory paragraph runs as follows.

Classics scholars have recognized that style, both in terms of theory and practice, was an important element of ancient writing. Strangely, however, very little has been written by New Testament scholars about how an understanding of ancient style affects one’s understanding of the writings of the New Testament.1 These scholars dedicate very little attention to the style of documents apart from some cursory notes in commentaries about the style of a particular Epistle or Gospel. It is often assumed that style in the first century CE was static and established. But style in the first century CE, as I will show, was anything but static and established. The purpose of this paper is threefold: to map the development of literary style, to demonstrate the consequences this development has on the way one examines the style of the New Testament and to make a brief application to 2 Tim. 4.1-8.