The Gospel of Luke relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark but omits everything in Mark that lies between the miracle of feeding the 5000 to Peter’s acknowledgment that Jesus was the Christ. That is, after following much of Mark closely, Luke omits:
- Jesus walking on the sea of Galilee
- Healing many at Gennesarat
- Controversy with Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands
- Exorcising the daughter of the woman from Tyre/Sidon
- Healing (with saliva) the deaf-mute in region of Decapolis
- Feeding the 4000 in the wilderness
- Controversy with Pharisees over a sign and warning of leaven of Pharisees and Herod
- Healing the blind man (after two attempts)
I have in the past discussed the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts within the context of the second century Marcionite controversy (e.g. Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts) and it recently struck me that there are some features in this Great Omission that anyone editing an anti-Marcionite version of a gospel would want to ensure do not get a mention.
Firstly, Mark had written that the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit when they saw Jesus walking past them on water. If Marcion’s Jesus came down directly from heaven and had more the appearance of a man than the reality, this episode might well have lent itself to supporting a view of Jesus more ethereal than fleshy and boney.
Secondly, the events and miracles of this section are in gentile areas. If Marcion emphasized the foundational role of Paul in establishing the truth that the Jewish disciples of Jesus had failed to grasp, and that Paul’s role was directed among gentiles as a result of Jewish rejection of Christ, then Mark’s themes of Jesus working among both Jews and gentiles had to be revised.
Thirdly, the controversy with the Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands contained a message from Jesus condemning certain Jewish laws. It is not impossible that an anti-Marcionite propagandist would easily be persuaded to omit such an episode for its potential to be manipulated by Marcionites who were “anti-Jewish” to the extent that they regarded all Jewish laws as derived from either humans or the Demiurge.
Fourthly, the two-fold attempt to heal a blind man strikes most readers as having a symbolic relationship with the two-fold blindness of the disciples over the two mass feeding miracles (of 5000 and 4000). Once the second of these miracles was removed, being in a gentile area (see “Secondly” above), the Markan miracle lost its significance and merely made Jesus looked like Superman fast fading in the presence of kryptonite. And no-one wanted to advance Mark’s very human Jesus, one possessed by the spirit and who used spit to heal. There were more “spiritual” ways to counter Marcionism’s view of Jesus.
The arguments for canonical Luke-Acts being an anti-Marcionite product of the second century rest on degrees of probability and plausibility. Maybe if the “Great Omission” can indeed by explained in anti-Marcionite terms then we can add one more degree at least to the plausibility of the argument.