Phenomenology and the Synoptics:
What About Mark?

Laura Ann Sherfey

 © 2005, Laura Sherfey. All rights reserved

In order to ascertain the order in which the synoptics were written; most especially, when Mark’s gospel was written and by whom, one must first consider: is Mark a separate literary work, or is it related to another? And if so, how?1 Scholars have endeavored at several historical levels to answer their questions about Mark. It has been posited that the first question to ask is how did Mark understand the gospel and what were the characteristics of the community of which he was a part, and for whom he wrote?2

The kinds of questions posed above are actually phenomenological historicism ones, and require a phenomenological historicism approach. For Mark, the conventional historical approach has been so hampered by historical problems “that some commentators have abandoned them altogether and looked for other ways of interpreting Mark.”3 The historicism and creation of the synoptic texts as the phenomenology of the authors within the cultures or subgroups from which he/she produced them are important considerations.

I would like to introduce the concept of phenomenology as a way of understanding a text, especially Mark, in relation to the other synoptics. Any text is “conditioned by an ideology, reflecting the vested interests of a specific power-group.”4 Careful study of a text can reveal certain characteristics that indicate the interaction of the author with its subject when it was written.

The interaction of the author with its subject is the historical phenomenology of
the text. It can reveal the characteristics of the author and the ideology from which he or she wrote. Phenomenological historicism reveals valuable information about the nature, ideology, linguistics, cultural background, author, intent and meaning of a text, as well as its place in the Bible, sequentially.

A very old perspective about the synoptics that continued into the nineteenth century was that Mark was a shortened version of Matthew, and not an independent work.5 In 1835, a new view was published, in which Mark was delegated the first gospel written in Greek, with Matthew and Luke emerging later, and Luke an expansion of Mark.6 However, more recently it has been established that there is little evidence for Matthew or Luke having been taken from Mark.7

The teaching material of Matthew is similar to Luke’s, but it is presented in “tightly knit, consecutive sections; in Luke the same material is scattered throughout.”8 The Q Hypothesis states that these two gospels were derivations of a now lost manuscript called “Q” – a dominant perspective during the late nineteenth century.9 But, with regard to literary composition, a manuscript containing “tightly knit, consecutive sections”10 contrasted with the same material in another text “scattered throughout” indicates the former existed before the latter, and the latter probably derived from the former.

The “tightly knit”12 characteristic of Matthew’s writing, from a phenomenological historicism viewpoint, indicates accurate knowledge obtained from an eyewitness or someone close to an eyewitness. “Consecutive” indicates knowledge of the historicity of events both in content and in sequence. These are all clues that Matthew was written by an eyewitness or someone close to an eyewitness of Jesus Christ. Therefore, these characteristics point to a writer phenomenologically close to the events of Jesus’ life as they occurred, and to the person of Jesus Christ, himself. That is, the person who wrote Matthew must have interacted historically with Jesus and been one of his followers.

Because Luke’s material that is common to Matthew’s is scattered, it indicates the opposite. A writer who is familiar with the events, but not grounded phenomenologically with their occurrence probably wrote portions of Luke. That is, the way Luke is written suggests that the writer probably did not travel with Jesus consistently, if at all, so was not knowledgeable of the sequence of Jesus’ activities. That is a viable explanation of why the common material is “scattered throughout” rather than composed in orderly, compact, coherent units of complete thoughts, in continuous, unbroken order.

Other evidence besides Mark’s lack of relevant phenomenological historicism supports this. The gospel of Mark’s intention is to present the affirmations of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and forgave sins. The way in which this is portrayed, however, denigrates Jews and Judaism. This denigration motif is “So extreme that it appears to suggest a disconnection between Christianity and the Judaism in which is was born.”13
Also, with regard to phenomenological historicism, the denigration of Jews motif of Mark reflects writing from a person, subgroup or ideology that despises Jews and Judaism. The various aspects of Jewish matters are barely touched upon in Mark, yet these are foundational to Jesus’ teaching,14 and are portrayed in Matthew and Luke. In Mark, all the Jews oppose Jesus as well as Judaism in its representations: in the synagogue; by the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees; by the Herodians, the Sanhedrin, the High Priest, and the scribes and elders.15

The ideology and the phenomenology of the writer of Mark reflect an anti-Semitic sentiment foreign to the record of Jesus in the Bible, the other gospels (with one possible exception in the gospel of John), and to the writings of Paul. The one expression in John which may reflect anti-Semitism is, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (1:10).

In consideration of this in terms of phenomenological historicism, the Jews were the first ones to whom Jesus, his disciples, and the apostles preached. Perhaps John refers to the Pharisee and Sadducee leadership sects that did not receive Jesus. Or, it is possible that John 1:10 was added later by someone of an anti-Semitic ideology. Another solution may be that John, as it probably was written later than Matthew and Luke, simply referred to the great amounts of Gentiles who were being added to Christianity over the number of Jews by the end of the first century.

Mark denigrates Jews and Judaism more than just by depicting all the representations of Judaism as being opposed to Jesus. Jesus is a Jewish theologian, and the gospel is Jewish,16 involving, of course, a new covenant based on the shedding of blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. In Mark, the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews are depicted as incorrect in their Jewish doctrine as well as in their personal integrity. This differs from Matthew, in which they are recognized to be accurate interpreters of the Law, although lacking in personal integrity.17
Another contrast between Mark and Matthew reveal that Matthew regularly quotes Scripture directly and accurately, while Mark only alludes to certain Scripture verses.18 Mark 1:2-3 states, “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ -- ‘a voice calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” However, the words, “I will send my messenger ahead of you” are not located in Isaiah. Rather, they are found in Septuagint Exodus 23:20 and the Hebrew translation of Malachi 3:1.19
Additional verses in Mark come from Septuagint Isaiah, yet they are incorrectly quoted. The differences among the verses indicate that the author of Mark did not know Old Testament Scriptures at all. Most of Jesus Christ’s early disciples were Jews, and very familiar with the Scriptures. Rather, the author of Mark must have obtained the paraphrased versions of the specific Scriptures from another source, or sources.20

Lindsey believes that the author of Mark copied from Luke, and changed the wording.21 He points out that both Luke and Matthew contain "Hebrew idiom and verbalism and rabbinic sophistication"22 when translated into Hebrew, but Mark’s does not.23 Initially, this appears to indicate that Mark may have been written much later than either Matthew or Luke.

The Jerusalem School (JS) approach to the synoptics of vital importance to the study of the synoptic problem, especially within the scope of phenomenology. The JS approach developed by Robert L. Lindsey and David Flusser is a modification by these scholars of Lindsey’s synoptic source theory in his A Hebrew Translation of Mark.24 This theory, of which Flusser was in agreement,25 proposes that two sources were first written in Hebrew, one a narrative, and the other a teaching document.26 This approach might better be referred to as the Lindsey-Flusser approach, since others at the Jerusalem School may not always use it.27

From a phenomenological historicism viewpoint outside of the Lindsey-Flusser approach, it is not unlikely to consider that certain portions of Luke could have been written before Matthew. For example, the early portions of Luke (Chapters 1 and 2) were most likely written first. The annunciation, the events of Elizabeth and Mary while pregnant, and the circumstances of Zechariah’s dumbness and the prophecies related to these are all incidents that probably were recorded by someone at the time they occurred. They were probably written in Hebrew, because that was their religious and national language, and the events were spiritual in nature.

The way the common material is written in Matthew indicates a phenomenological historicism soundness. It shows that the series of events belong next to each other, or, are appropriately sequenced. This is another suggestion that Matthew was written before Luke or at least written by an eyewitness.

Dr. Brad H. Young notes that verbal identity, common order, doublets, Lindsey’s ‘Markan cross factor’ between the double and triple traditions, and Semitic linguistic analysis are all components which must be considered.28 The research conclusions of Lindsey and Flusser are that Luke was written first; Mark followed, and had an impact upon Matthew. And yet, the phenomenological historical approach may shed more light.

The Lindsey-Flusser approach proposes that a lost manuscript referred to as the “Hebrew Ur-evangelium”29 was the original body of Jesus’ teachings and activities, and the story of the gospel, written in Hebrew. From that came a Greek translation, and then a source text that was reorganized. Revisions fanned out from the reorganized source text. From the reorganized source text and the first revision of it, all three synoptic gospels were taken. Luke was completed first, then Mark, and last, Matthew.30
From a phenomenological historicism viewpoint, the annunciation and other pre-Jesus activities recorded in Luke, which was noted as probably written separately and close to the time at which they occurred, were also probably kept separate from any formal text until later, when Luke was compiled. However, the extensive, sound work of Lindsey and Flusser, which is easily incorporated into the phenomenological historicism method, and as presented by Young, must be considered before making any phenomenological conclusions. Utilizing all the appropriate components for the phenomenological historicism approach would appear to provide valuable answers to the questions posed by Mark, and bring about the best solution to the synoptic puzzle to date.


1Morna Hooker, “Mark, the Gospel According To,” in Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 494.

2Hooker, P. 494.
3Hooker, p. 494.

4Alister E. McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1997, p. 101.

5Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 338.

6Sandmel, p. 338.
7Sandmel, p. 339.
8Sandmel, p.339.
9Sandmel, p. 339.
10Sandmel, p. 339.
11Sandmel, p. 339.
12Sandmel, p. 339.
13Sandmel, p. 351.
14Sandmel, p. 351.
15Sandmel, p. 350.

16Brad H. Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, p. xxi.

17Sandmel, p. 354.
18Sandmel, p. 353.

19Randel Helms, Who Wrote the Gospels? Altadena: Millennium Press, 1997, p. 3-5.

20Helms, p. 3-5.

21Robert S. Lindsey, A New Approach to The Synoptic Gospels. Jerusalem: Dugith Publishers. 1971, p. 101.

22Lindsey, p. 98.
23Lindsey, p. 98.

24Young, Brad H. Jesus and His Jewish Parables, Tulsa, OK: Gospel Research Foundation, Inc., 1989, footnote 63, p. 161.

25Young, p. 144.
26Young, p. 161-162.
27Young, p. 161.

28Young, note to Laura A. Sherfey in “Phenomenology and the Synoptics: What About Mark?” a paper presented for GBIB 571, New Testament Synthesis, Oral Roberts University, January 2004, p. 7.

29Young, p. 144.
30Young, p.151.



Helms, Randel M. Who Wrote the Gospels? Altadena: Millennium Press. 1997.

Hooker, Morna. “Mark, the Gospel According To,” in Bruce Metzger and Michael D.

Coogan, editors. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press. 1993.

Lindsey, Robert L. A New Approach to the Synoptic Gospels. Jerusalem: Dugith Publishers. 1971.

McGrath, Alister E. The Genesis of Doctrine. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and Vancouver: Regent College Publishing. 1997.

Sandmel, Samuel. Judaism and Christian Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press. 1978.

Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 1995.

________. Jesus and His Jewish Parables. Tulsa: Gospel House Research Foundation, Inc. 1989.

________. Note. Laura A. Sherfey, “Phenomenology and the Synoptics: What About Mark?” A paper presented for GBIB571, New Testament Synthesis, Oral Roberts University, January 2004.

Laura Ann Sherfey has a MS degree in Counseling and is a Master of Divinity Student with Oral Roberts University.