This question discusses the differences between Marcan priority and Matthean priority and asks about the arguments in favor of Matthean priority. My question is who holds and promotes this view. I heard the claim made that there are only a few scholars who hold to this view and that Marcan priority is almost undisputed.

Is it true that the overwhelming majority of Christian and secular scholars hold to Marcan priority? Who are the major voices on the side of Matthean priority? Is there a reliable indication of what proportion of the scholarly community holds to Matthean priority or disputes Marcan priority?

I'll also accept a well-sourced answer confirming the claim that Marcan priority is all but undisputed.


"Matthaean priority" comes in two primary forms: the Augustinian hypothesis and the two-gospel hypothesis. Both hold that Matthew came first, but differ on which synoptic gospel came next (Mark in the Augustinian hypothesis; Luke in the two-gospel). They are minority views in NT scholarship, but some respected scholars have argued for them in recent years. Among them are:

In previous generations, scholars like Johann Jakob Griesbach, John Chapman, Christopher Butler, and William Farmer held similar views. Of course, so did many in the early church, but that's another story.

As for the relative popularity of these views as compared to Marcan priority, Christopher Tuckett's article "The Current State of the Synoptic Problem" (2008) may shed some light. He describes the dominant solution to the Synoptic problem (the two-source hypothesis, which defends Marcan priority) and identifies several trends:

  • "There is widespread (but by no means universal) acceptance" of Marcan Priority (page 1)
  • In the early and mid-20th century, confidence in Marcan priority was extremely high, but this has ebbed somewhat in the last 30–40 years (10)
  • Of the two main rivals to the dominant two-source theory (and its Marcan priority), one of them (the two-gospel hypothesis of Griesbach) advocates Matthaean priority (4, 13)
  • Prominent advocates of the two-gospel hypothesis have claimed that the dominance of the two-source theory / Marcan priority is at least partially due to theological reasons (i.e., that belief in two-source theory / Marcan priority facilitates questioning the historicity of the Jesus tradition) (15)

That said, many believers in the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture (B. B. Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, A. T. Robertson, etc.) have supported the two-source hypothesis, so there isn't a clear dividing line on this issue between defenders of historicity and those opposed to it.

All told, we can safely conclude that Marcan priority is clearly dominant – Tuckett tells us that two of the top three schemes for solving the Synoptic problem rely on it. But moreso today than 40–50 years ago, scholars acknowledge weaknesses in the dominant theories, and are generally less inclined to dismiss Matthaean priority out of hand.

  • Why is this related to inspiration/inerrancy? The texts don't say anything about their order. And no one considers Augustine's writings to be inerrant...
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 12 '18 at 23:51
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    @curiousdannii I haven't dug into it in too much detail, but those believing in inspiration seem to be more likely to view Marcan priority as relying too much on human explanations for why certain content made it into the various gospels (potentially threatening the role of the Holy Spirit) and are more likely to have concerns with the existence of secondary sources ("Q," etc.), which is a frequent theme in Marcan priority schemes. Nov 13 '18 at 4:54
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    Though only a minority of those who do believe in inspiration think sources like that are an issue. I don't personally know any evangelicals who are Matthean priority supporters. On another point, your answer says that those who accept inspiration are a minority (of NT scholars?) - is that true? Have you seen any stats on that? I'd expect it to go the other way. I'd find it much easier to believe that inerrantists/infallibilitists are a clear minority though.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 13 '18 at 5:11
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    @curiousdannii You're probably right on the matter of inspiration; I was conflating two concepts that many see as more distinct than I do. Anyway, I found an article that details more trends and approaches the issue of theological biases a bit differently, which I think is probably more helpful than what I had originally. But it sounds like William Farmer is the guy to read for more on theological biases behind Marcan priority. Thanks for your comments! Nov 13 '18 at 5:37

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