This chapter concerns the general way in which the gospels were written down. Wenham admits there is some speculation involved.
Oral teaching, perhaps with the help of written notes, began in Jesus’ ministry. After Jesus’ ministry, the disciples would have also taught orally but would need to use written sources to send to communities who did not have an eyewitness present. This means the need for written sources would have occurred very early.
According to tradition, Matthew wrote the first gospel in the Hebrew language. It would be natural for Matthew and the other disciples to regularly tell the story of Jesus to visitors in Jerusalem. Out of this practice Matthew’s gospel would be written. At some point Matthew’s gospel was translated into Greek for those outside of Judea. It is this translation that we have.
Wenham draws attention to the fact that a writing table, as us moderns would conceive of it, was not known until about the 9th century (tables for eating were very low and diners reclined at them). Ancient scribes wrote by supporting the scroll or codex on their knees. It would be difficult for a scribe to work with two or three other manuscripts at once. This means complex compositional hypotheses are unlikely.
It is not known whether Mark had access to Matthew in Hebrew or Greek. Nor is it known how much of Mark’s gospel comes directly from Peter. On the basis of ancient scribal habits, Wenham suggests that Mark began with a broad outline of his gospel. He intended for his gospel to supplement Matthew’s with the substance of Peter’s missionary preaching. He wrote various recollections on separate pieces of papyrus. He then read through Matthew to form a kind of table of contents, omitting sections he did not intend to include. Then he drew up a table of contents for his gospel. This would include any changes to Matthew’s order and any material not found in Matthew. He then arranged his sheets of papyrus into this order. He then re-read Matthew in order to improve his own writing. This is where some harmonization could take place. Finally, he composed a draft for professional copying.
Luke’s prologue suggests he was aware of the gospels of Matthew and Mark. He had additional material that he wanted to include in his own gospel for the benefit of Theophilus. Due to scroll size limits, Wenham thinks Luke intended to leave out much of the material unique to Matthew. He used Mark in a way similar to how Mark used Matthew. Wenham hypothesizes that the Great Omission of Mark 6:45-8:26 was cut from Luke’s gospel in order to fit his gospel onto a single scroll. That section of Mark, apart from the healing of a blind man, was covered by both Matthew and Mark.
A problem for thinking that Luke knew Matthew are the difference between the two gospel’s infancy narratives and genealogies. In a section that is too short for my liking, Wenham proposes that Matthew is told from Joseph’s perspective and Luke is told from Mary’s perspective. I might be able to buy this in the case of the genealogy but more is needed for the infancy narratives. Wenham points to previous work from himself about the alleged discrepancies concerning the resurrection appearances.
The author does make an important point near the end of the chapter:
It will be noticed that in this treatment of the synoptic problem I have refrained almost entirely from attempting to identify the particular influences which have moulded the authors’ forms of words. This is a necessity of truth, because we cannot pretend to know how much comes from literary dependence, how much from oral tradition, how much from assimilation of phraseology in well-known accounts of similar events, how much from an individual author. The strongest position is to go no further than the evidence and to be content with what we have. (p. 213)
Keep these words in mind when you come across claims in source criticism and redaction criticism.