Mark & matthew's chronology
A Study Concerning Certain Disparities in the Chronology of the Gospel Accounts.
Concerning the synoptic Gospels, a good argument can be put forward that Matthew wrote first, not long after the times of Christ's ministry on Earth. Then decades later Luke wrote his Gospel, which according to ACTS 1:1 was probably not long before he wrote ACTS which might have been written during Paul's imprisonment in Rome (ACTS 28), around 67 A.D. Lastly, with Peter as his guide Mark wrote his Gospel, possibly with both MATTHEW and LUKE laid out before them.
As a tax collector for the State, Matthew was no doubt fluent in both Aramaic and Greek, and may have even been able to write shorthand (for evidence that shorthand was used in the first century, see page 112, The Credibility of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles by F. H. Chase). Thus, Matthew was far more able to keep precise and accurate records of the exact chronology of the events than were any of the other apostles.
Being a physician, Luke also would have been well versed in writing, but he probably didn't begin collecting information for his gospel until some years after the fact (see LUKE 1:1-3). As a traveling companion of the apostle Paul, he was fortunate to be able to visit many of the old disciples and obtain important and relative information from them. Even so, an accurate chronology of the events would have been difficult for him to always ascertain.
It was stated by the ancient writer Papias, that Mark was Peter's interpreter and he could have therefore acquired quite a lot of the information for his gospel from that apostle. But again, with the passing of many decades the exact chronology of the events may have at times been difficult to recall. Even so, because the three synoptic Gospels flow along the same story line for much of the time, it has been suggested that Mark must have had MATTEW and LUKE as an outline to follow. Howbeit, there are several occasions where MARK does not follow the chronology of MATTHEW.
As Matthew wrote nearest to the actual events we can expect that he would have had the most accurate chronology of the three evangelists. We are not surprised that Luke would have varied from him because Luke's sources were recalling the events many years later, sometimes from second and even third hand sources. Peter however, as an apostle and close companion to his Lord should have been able to know more precisely the proper order of major events and therefore, (if he guided Mark) we should have thought that he would have always agreed with Matthew, but he didn't.
In the chronology table of the previous Page, we have collected and displayed 126 incidents from Mark's Gospel to see how well he tracked with Matthew's chronology and we found these seven times when they differed from one another.
- MATTHEW 8:23-27 with MARK 4:35-41
- MATTHEW 8:28-34 with MARK 5:1-20
- MATTHEW 12:1-8 with MARK 2:23-28
- MATTHEW 12:9-13 with MARK 3:1-5
- MATTHEW 12:22-37 with MARK 3:22-30
- MATTHEW 12:46-50 with MARK 3:31-35
- MATTHEW 13:54-58 with MARK 6:1-6
It at first strikes us curious that these differences are not spread out over the entire Gospel but rather are limited to a brief segment towards the beginning. After the sixth chapter of MARK the two Gospels agree entirely with one another. That suggests to us that we should look to what was going on during this time that might have affected Peter's perspective. Was he not present during these times and therefore could not know for sure the correct order of events? That seems to be a logical place to start our investigation.
The fact is, that 81% of the time, MARK agrees with MATTHEW as far as the substance of the events recorded. And further, MARK agrees with MATTHEW 76% of the time concerning the chronology of the events. So except for these few accounts, MATTHEW and MARK agree. To see the detailed breakdown of these results, go here.
Many readers and even most students assume that Peter was a faithful follower of Yeshua right from the beginning, joining himself to the ministry from the start, but that just does not appear to be the case. We first find him mentioned shortly after Yeshua returned from His temptations in the wilderness when JOHN tells us that Peter's brother Andrew introduced him to Yeshua (JOHN 1:41-42). Howbeit, we are not told and doubt that Peter immediately became a disciple, for not long afterwards he is back at his fishing business (MATTHEW 4:18-20 & MARK 1:16-18). In fact, it was not until Yeshua had called him a third time that he seems to have seriously attached himself to Yeshua and His ministry (LUKE 5:4-11). This last calling falls sometime between MARK 1:39 and 40, which means that a lot was going on in Peter's life even before the early part of Mark's account.
All of the apostles had evidently been originally drawn to John the Baptist (ACTS 1:21-22), and as such we would expect that John's imprisonment (MATTHEW 4:12 & MARK 1:14) and eventual execution (sometime prior to MATTHEW 14 and MARK 6:14) would have greatly affected each of them. From the beginning Peter could very easily have been divided in his commitment between the two ministries of John the Baptist and Yeshua. Interestingly, all of these conflicting chronologies between MATTHEW and MARK occurred during the time of John's imprisonment and strongly suggests to us that Peter could have been absent or otherwise distracted during much of this time.
Then we have the severe illness of Peter's mother-in-law which could have called him home so as to care for her. We know that Yeshua came to Peter's house when He healed his mother-in-law, but we are not told that Peter was with him before that time. The passage reads only that Yeshua and His disciples "entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John" (MARK 1:29). The phrase with James and John indicates that only these two accompanied Yeshua into Simon Peter's house (MATTHEW 8:14 & LUKE 4:38), where Peter may have previously returned in order to tend to his family.
It is also worthy of note that at one time there may have been a major schism between Matthew and Peter. Matthew had been a customs agent and tax collector stationed along the seaside near Cappernaum (MARK 2: 13-14), where incidentally Peter was a fisherman (MARK 1:16). There is every reason to suspect that Matthew at some point, if not regularly, had appraised and perhaps unfairly taxed Peter's fishing business. And now to Peter's consternation Yeshua had not only called on Matthew to follow them, but even beyond that He had taken time to fellowship with many of these same publicans and sinners (MATTHEW 9:9-10).
It is not unreasonable to expect that Peter's estimation of Yeshua may have been severely tested by His embracing individuals which many pious Jews despised. If so, Peter may have separated himself from Yeshua's ministry, at least for a time, further explaining why he did not know some of the chronological details during this period. This may also shed some light on Peter's later question to Yeshua about how many times he must forgive his brother (MATTHEW 18:21), which incidentally is only recorded by Matthew. One might justly wonder which brother was Peter finding it difficult to forgive?
Another possible reason affecting Peter's ability to rightly recall the correct order of the events during this time is because this was when Yeshua sent him and the other apostles out on a missionary journey. According to MATTHEW they were sent out at 10:1 and then returned (according to MARK 6:30 and LUKE 9:10) sometime between MATTHEW 14:12 and 13. This means that five of the seven events which we are examining occurred when both Matthew and Peter were out away from Yeshua on a missionary journey. It is small wonder that Peter knew not the correct order of the events which occurred while he was absent. How Matthew knew we can only surmise, perhaps by interviews with others after he returned, but Peter probably never kept any written records of their experiences, so he had to try to recall the exact chronology during his absence, perhaps several decades later.
It should be noted that after the twelve apostles returned from their missionary journey, then MATTHEW and MARK (through Peter) track perfectly together; both of their chronologies agreeing entirely with one another through to the end.
One final word on a possible reason as to why Matthew varied at times from the other evangelists. It often goes un-noticed that where the other evangelists speak of entering certain synagogues, Matthew is curiously silent. As an example, immediately before Yeshua's healing of Peter's mother-in-law, both Mark (1:21, 29) and Luke (4:33, 38) tell us twice that Yeshua was in the synagogue teaching and healing, while Matthew (8:5-13) is completely silent about there even being any such synagogue.
In total, throughout his short Gospel, Mark mentions some particular activity in the synagogue five times while Luke makes mention of the synagogue six times. Matthew only makes reference to something that happened in the synagogue twice. Howbeit, both of Matthew's references were made during the time when he had been dispatched with the other apostles by Yeshua on their missionary journey, so Matthew was not even personally present at these two incidents. As such, we have not a single time where Matthew was even in a synagogue or where he gave personal testimony concerning that which might have happened there.
Of course the reason for this is that as a publican, being despised by the general population, he would not have been welcome or possibly even allowed inside of a synagogue. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, "The publicans of the N. T. were regarded as traitors and classed with sinners (Matt. ix. 11), harlots (xxi. 31, 32), and with the heathen (xviii. 17). No money received from them was permitted to go into the alms-box." Then again, in the Westminster Dictionary of the Bible we read, "They were not admitted into society; in fact, it was considered disreputable for anyone to be their friend and associate."
This explains for us why Matthew might have been ignorant of certain events which Mark (through Peter) knew. He simply did not go where the other apostles were allowed.