The Deleterious Ecclesial Effects of Markan Priorism

Here is some food for thought, from Catholic author Jerome D. Gilmartin, on the deleterious effect of the ‘Markan priorist’ hypothesis – that Mark wrote the first Gospel, rather than Matthew, as is the traditional view, and the view of the Fathers.

In his foreword to a new bookThe Synodal Process is a Pandora’s Box, Cardinal Raymond Burke writes, “a revolution is at work to change radically the Church’s self-understanding.” To change “radically” requires “uprooting.” 

Firmly rooted in Christ through the Gospels — two of them eyewitness reports from apostles Matthew and John — the Church reached its pre-Vatican II “Golden Age.” In 1967, however, soon after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI rescinded the Oath against Modernism, setting the stage for the uprooting of the Church from the Gospels and thus from Christ.

For the past five decades in most if not all Catholic seminaries (and universities) the “Markan Priority Two Source theory of Gospel origin” — attributed to Protestant theologian Gottlob Christian Storr (1796) in its original form — has been promoted as the best explanation of Gospel origin. In the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

 “The ancient tradition that the author [of Matthew] was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is UNTENABLE because the gospel is based, in large part, on The Gospel according to Mark . . . The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience . . .”,  (Caps added).

 The USCCB also casts doubt on Mark’s association with Peter:

 “Petrine influence should not, however, be exaggerated. The evangelist has put together various oral and possibly written sources—miracle stories, parables, sayings, stories of controversies, and the passion . . .”, as well as on Evangelist John as writer of that Gospel:

 “Although tradition identified this person as John, the son of Zebedee, most modern scholars find that the evidence does not support this.”

The “Markan Priority Two Source theory of Gospel origin prioritizes Mark 8:27-30 (in which Christ did NOT give Primacy to Peter), nullifying Mt 16:15-20 (in which Christ DID give Primacy to Peter). Therefore, according to this theory, Christ never gave primacy to Peter or any Pope of history. This theory facilitates ecumenism but reduces the Church to just one of tens of thousands of Christian faith traditions. 

Though it is popular in Catholic academia, and most Catholic priests and bishops today will answer “Mark” when asked which Gospel was written first, Markan Priority is indefensible, historically and logically. Five decades of such seminary instruction, with heterodox interpretations of the “anonymously written” Gospels now plausible, have brought the Church to the brink of Schism. 

 As an example of its effect on seminarians regarding their faith in Jesus, consider this email I received from a priest subjected to it as a seminarian in the 1970s: 

 “Dear Jerome: I was taught the [Markan Priority Two Source theory] Historical-Critical Method in the seminary in the 1970’s … [by] Fr. Raymond Brown. [H]e saw toward the end of his life how this method could destroy Catholic Faith in people rather than build it up. I saw seminarians lose their faith in my class when exposed to the unbridled use of this meth­od. Many were converted by this method to hetero­dox teachings or beliefs. Others lost their faith and left the seminary.

“The [Markan Priority Two Source theory] HCM calls into question not only the infancy narra­tives but also the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Virgin Conception and birth, not to mention miracles of Christ and his physical death and resurrection. It really opens old heresies already resolved by the Church.”

Fr. Raymond E. Brown was arguably the best-known champion of the Markan Priority Two Source theory in Catholic seminaries and academia from the 1970s until his death in 1998. Curious as to how he refuted Irenaeus, I checked the index of each of the four books of his I have that span his teaching career, including one published in 1973, about the time he was teaching that seminarian and his last in 1997. No mention of Irenaeus.

Historical Critical theories, of which this Markan Priority Theory is one, typically ignore Early Church Fathers and other early authentication and focus only on intertextual relationships between scripture passages. Fr. Raymond E. Brown dismissed Irenaeus and other Early Church Fathers and writers outright: 

 “unless those [early] writers had his­torical information they cannot answer historical questions.” Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine, 20. 

Irenaeus, one of several Early Church Fathers affirming the Evangelists as writers of the Gospels, stated irrefutably that the four Evangelists wrote the Gospels, including apostle-eyewitnesses Matthew and John, apostle Matthew writing first: Bishop Irenaeus was taught by Bishop Polycarp, who was taught by apostle John. Bishop Polycarp chose martyrdom rather than revile Christ. Bishop Irenaeus succeeded a bishop who was martyred. He wrote the linked citation while his own life was at risk under Roman Emperor Commodus. 

Who, then is more credible regarding Gospel authenticity; Fr. Brown, ignoring Early Church Fathers and writing two thousand years later, or Irenaeus, so closely linked to Christ through St. Polycarp and John the apostle?

In my Spotlight video, “Restoring Gospel Truth in Catholic Seminaries and Universities,” with Logan Crawford acting as Devil’s Advocate, what is taught to our seminarians is refuted as “a package of epoxy glue without the second tube,” The second “Source” of this theory — without which, proponents acknowledge, the theory collapses — after more than 200 years of searching has never been found. The theory is refuted in detail in “The key to restoring Catholic orthodoxy” and other articles on my website,

This message was written in the prayerful hope that it will help Catholics weather this spiritual storm by holding fast to Christ. Please consider bringing it to the attention of your blog followers.

God bless!