Does Matthew correct Mark’s story? Or complete it?

Matthew D. C. Larsen challenges long-held assumptions about the Gospels.

On the first day of New Testament classes, I alert my students: the scriptures emerged in complex circumstances. When they were written, nobody knew how things would turn out. Every­thing is fluid. Everything is contingent. 

According to the familiar model of Gospel origins, Jesus said and did some things, people remembered these words and deeds, and eventually they passed what they remembered along. Invention and adaptation shaped that process until second-generation Christians put their traditions into writing. The four Gospels emerged from those sources, with Mark providing the basis for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Although this conventional model has often been challenged, Matthew Larsen calls for a more thorough revision, relying on evidence that scholars haven’t considered before. In vivid prose, he invites us to imagine how first- and second-century readers (people who didn’t possess bound volumes with spines and covers) would have understood the Gospels. Larsen conjures a world in which people didn’t think of Matthew and Mark as distinct literary works by different authors. Instead, people would have thought of them “as the same open-ended, unfinished, and living work.”