Matthew v. Mark: A Comparison and Contrast

Introduction to New Testament

July 15, 2004

Since the invention of the written word, scholars have been attempting to study and analyze the synoptic Gospels of the bible. Although the Gospels of Matthew and Mark derive from the same tradition, both contain many differences. It is true much of the material is similar however we can find many variances between certain accounts of the same stories. There are many theories as to why the stories differ in certain accounts, but the basic reasons for this discrepancy can be discovered through critical observation. There were reasons for which the early church used these stories about Jesus to interpret and clarify their preaching. It is because they were stories which seemed to answer more directly the questions that were being asked and it was these narratives which gave people a better understanding of things. The Gospels in the New Testament are, of course, written documents. We take it for granted that the easiest way to preserve and pass traditions on is to write them down. It is because of this we forget the first century civilization was much different from ours, in that it was mostly an oral culture. It is true there was a select few who could read and write, but most could not. Of course, spoken words were the means by which Christians preached and taught. When the need arose to explain some part of their preaching, they told stories about Jesus which had been told to them by other Christians. Within the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we find many of the same stories, however it is through the writing styles, intended audiences, and overall theological perspectives of the two in which we find the most differences and similarities.

Upon reading the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark, I was fascinated by many different things. The two authors have reasons for writing different stories and accounts. Both have a message to convey, and both have an audience to speak to. Each Gospel is written in a manner that reflects what the author’s purpose is behind the words and stories, as each is trying to do something different with the same original tradition. Through careful study many theologians have agreed Mark’s Gospel most likely was written first, probably around 70 CE (Nickle 17). Therefore most scholars conclude that Mark was a source used by Matthew. However, others feel the style of writing in Matthew suggests more of an eyewitness account of things. We may reach this conclusion because of Matthew’s familiarity with Peter. Studies suggest Peter, a direct disciple of Jesus, had much personal contact with Him, and therefore Peter had better knowledge about most happenings. Because of these two differences, we can contrast Matthew and Mark in a more distinct light, and analyze how and why each author wrote these Gospels the way they did. Having never really studied the Gospels before, I was really taken back by the differences between the two styles of writing. The Gospel of Matthew as shown came after the Gospel of Mark and this meant that some of the stories would be similar, yet written in different ways. One of the main differences is that Mark’s Gospel is more of an explanation of facts because it was written first, whereas Matthew just gives a general overview. Also, Matthew’s writing style is much different than the style of Mark’s. The reason for this is he had less explaining to do, which made the writings easier to understand. While Mark’s writings might be more insightful, it does not take a long time to figure out the true meanings. Another way in which their styles of writing differ is that Mark gives more background information about the Jews, the main targets of the stories (Moule 43). He explains many of the rituals thoroughly so his audience can understand the story easier. Matthew can skip that whole process because Mark has already outlined it for the audience. This proves that Matthew and Mark were writing to different audiences and therefore did not have to explain everything the same way. Upon analyzing these two different writing styles, I found each style conveyed its respective author’s equal level of conviction effectively, just differently. Matthew