Why does Mark 1:2-3 says it quotes Isaiah when it is not just from Isaiah?


Good day,

First, I need to say that I tried to find this answer. I'm unaware if you have answered this. I'm just struggling with the 'new' answers page as the old search mechanic allowed me to find the answers I'm looking for quicker, but I'll probably still get used to it using the new one.

Now, to my question, while watching an apologetics channel I like, an atheist New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, points out that Mark 1:2-3 quotes Isaiah, which Isaiah never said. The apologist quotes Craig S. Keener, saying Matthew combined the Zechariah and Jeremiah prophecies; now I read your answer on that apparent "contradiction" when someone else asked. I agree that we don't know why Matthew quotes what he quotes. That's not the concern I have, but the apologist argues that Mark does the same in Mark 1:2-3, basically combining different prophecies into one but only quoting one, in this instance Isaiah in Mark, what would your answer be on Mark 1:2-3 and why he quotes Isaiah when Isaiah never said anything as such?

Kind regards.


If you look at a variety of translations of Mark, you will notice that some say, "As it is written in the Prophets" (NKJV), and others say, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet" (NASB). The difference is due to a variation in the manuscripts.

When there is a variation, scholars apply rules to help determine which reading is most likely close to the original text. One rule is that older texts are preferred over newer texts on the assumption that the more often a text is copied, the more mistakes will appear. In this case, it doesn't help because we have old manuscripts in both camps.

"Written in the Prophets"

  • Codex Alexandria (fifth century)
  • Codex Cyprius (ninth century)
  • Codex Washingtonianus (fourth or fifth century)
  • Minuscule 13 (thirteenth century)
  • Minuscule 28 (eleventh century)
  • Minuscule 1010 (twelfth century)
  • The Byzantine manuscripts (fourth to tenth centuries)

"Written in Isaiah the prophet"

  • Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century)
  • Codex Vaticanus (fourth century)
  • Codex Regius (eighth century)
  • Codex Sangallensis (ninth century)
  • Codex Monacensis (tenth century)

Another rule is that more obscure is preferred over clearer text, assuming copists are tempted to fix the manuscripts while making copies. This rule doesn't always work because a mistake in copying can make a text less clear. It is this rule that caused the newer composite manuscripts to add "Isaiah" to Mark 1:2.

We must keep in mind that quotes in ancient documents are less rigid than modern-day quoting methods. If you state basically what another person said or wrote, even if you modify it slightly to match your use of the quote, it is still counted as a quote. So if Mark did say "Isaiah" even though he quoted both Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, it would mean that he is putting emphasis on what Isaiah said. Recall that Mark wrote for the Romans, and they would not be familiar with the Old Testament prophets, so we could say that Mark was simplifying his reference.

It has also been pointed out that while Mark used the wording from Malachi at the beginning ("Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me"), Isaiah had stated something similar in his own writing ("A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God."). Thus, what Malachi said had first been said by Isaiah, just in different words. Thus, Isaiah is credited because he originally stated the prophecy.


Thank you so much. I completely understand it now.

God bless you.

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