The Synoptic “Problem”

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    The Synoptic “Problem”

    Dr. Matthew R. Anderson
    In a nutshell

       The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share a literary

       Synoptic = syn + optic

       Synoptic = together + see (seen together)
    Shared Gospel Material

       Many of the same words

       Much the same vocabulary (identical often)

       Often the same order of pericopes or text units (ie the
        healing of the man will follow the walking on the water etc).

       the same way of telling the Jesus story (ie Jesus speaks in
        parables and aphorisms, conducts healings, and goes to
        Jerusalem only at the end of his life)

       The Gospel of John, on the other hand, uses an entirely
        different approach, with little account of Jesus’ teachings and
        few parables, but many more long speeches
    Conclusion: someone was “cribbing”!

       The three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are so close to
        each other in subject, in words and even in word order, that
        there is NO doubt that one or two of the writers were copying
        from another

       Thus = literary relationship
    “problem” = “puzzle”

       The so-called synoptic problem is really only a problem for
        those who examine the canonical Gospels critically and from
        a literary-historical point of view.

       Which came first: Matthew, Mark, or Luke? And who copied
        from whom?

       It’s not a problem so much as a “synoptic puzzle”!
    The Synoptic Puzzle and Source
       The synoptic puzzle depends on the fact (not a theory, but a fact, as Luke’s prologue 1:1-
        4 indicates) that the Gospel writers used sources.

       “source criticism” is the attempt to determine from the final version of a document what
        were the sources that went into it.

       We know:

             1/ that there were oral traditions that circulated about Jesus right from the beginning;
             2/ that the first written Gospels, or theologically motivated and written accounts of Jesus’
              life and significance did not appear until about 40 years after his death (in other words,
              well after the letters of Paul); and
             3/ that like all biographies ancient and modern, some material will be left out (see John’s
              statement at John 21:25); and
             4/ all gospels had a theological and evangelical purpose (see Mark’s opening
              statement) rather more than an historical one; and
             5/ of the synoptic Gospels of Mt, Mk, and Lk, that at last one and probably two of them
              used another as a source.
    Theories of literary dependence

       There were, and remain, a large number of different theories
        that can be used to explain the literary relationships between
        Mt, Mk and Luke.

       Most of the older, 18th and 19th century theories have been
        largely abandoned and the “Two-Source/Four Source” theory
        of Markan priority is the most commonly held

       However, in recent years there are several new attempts to
        explain the relationship. The “Farrer Theory”, for instance,
        dispenses with Q by stating that Luke used both Mt and Mk
        as sources.

       For a good web-based introduction, see:
    The Two Source/Four Source
       Characteristics:

       Priority of Mark (meaning, Mt and Lk copied Mark)

       Existence of a common Mt-Lk written source called “Q” (from
        German for “Quelle”, or “source”

       Why? Because Mt and Lk share material that Mark doesn’t
    Arguments for Markan priority

       Argument from order:
           When Mt and Lk disagree with the order of pericopes (text units)
            in Mark, they almost never agree with each other. In other words,
            either Mt or Lk, and often both, agree with the Markan order, but
            they never differ from that order in agreement with each other.

       Argument from the length of the individual units.
           Mark is the shortest Gospel but only because it has the fewest
            accounts/stories. When each individual story is itself examined,
            Mark’s is usually longer than either Matthew’s or Luke’s, evidence
            perhaps of their editing Mark “down”
    Arguments for Markan priority
       Argument from Mark’s language
           Mark’s Greek style and language are poorer than either Mt or Lk.
            While it’s easy to imagine Mt and Lk improving on Mark while
            editing his Gospel, it’s hard to imagine Mk editing something and
            making it worse

       Argument from sheer content
           95 % of the Gospel of Mark appears in either or both of Mt or Lk,
            meaning there are fewer than 30 verses that appear in Mk alone.
            Neither Mt or Lk have this much overlap.

       Mark’s use of Aramaic terms (ie Mk 5:41) by itself is weak
        evidence for his priority, but perhaps indicates that he is
        closer in time to the Aramaic original, oral Gospel
    What is “Q”?

       A hypothetical written source that Mt and Lk used. Hypothetical
        because no one has ever seen it apart from the common
        material in Mt and Lk.

       Why written?
            Identical wording in both Mt and Lk in many cases
           Identical order of sayings in some cases in Mt and Lk

       Characteristics of “Q”:
           About 200 verses of material
           Almost all of this material consists of sayings, not stories

       That there could have been this kind of genre received a boost
        as a theory when Gospel of Thomas discovered in 1945
    The two source and “four source”

       Because there is material in both Mt and Lk that cannot be
        traced back to either Mark or “Q”, scholars have now made
        the “two source theory” somewhat more complicated

       Depending on the scholar there are now “4” source and other

       Other scholars will agree with Markan priority but will not be
        so hopeful or presume as much about “Q” (see “Farrer
        Theory” above)

       But for this class the most important things to remember are:

       Most modern scholarship presumes Markan priority

       Most scholars accept some form of “Q” even while knowing
        that it cannot be completely defined

       Most scholars believe that there were other sources, certainly
        oral and perhaps written, that went into the writing of the
        synoptic Gospels

       Many scholars believe that there were both oral and written
        sources that went into Mark as well

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