Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation

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What Are the Synoptic Gospels, and Where Do They Come From?

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Our Day return guarantee still applies. Advanced Book Search Browse by Subject. Find Antiquarian Books Book Value. Sign up to receive offers and updates: Subscribe. When the same material is shared with the same words, in the same order, with the same side comments, and the same altered quotes, most scholars agree: one of these gospels was a source for the others—so which is it? The first solution to the synoptic problem was proposed more than a millennium ago, when St. Take the online course.

Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation | Logos Bible Software

It seems that Augustine first identified and focused on the apparent relationship between the synoptic gospels. In the video at the top of this post, Dr. One of the two major solutions to the synoptic problem is known as Matthean priority, which claims Matthew came first. Unlike Augustine, modern proponents of Matthean priority believe that Luke used Matthew as a source, and then Mark used both, abbreviating them throughout his own gospel. This is known as the Griesbach hypothesis named after an influential eighteenth-century scholar who supported it , or the two-gospel hypothesis, since it claims Matthew and Luke were the source for Mark.

Early Christians were closest to the original sources, and until the nineteenth century the church largely assumed that Matthew came first.

Studying the Synoptic Gospels : Origin and Interpretation by Robert H. Stein (2001, Paperback)

Church tradition seems to support Matthean priority. The strongest argument for Matthean priority is that there are instances in which Matthew and Luke agree, and Mark does not. Proponents of Matthean priority argue that other views such as Markan priority, discussed below rely on additional sources, despite no physical evidence that such sources exist.

Both of these Matthean priority theories solve the synoptic problem without the need for additional sources. Most scholars find the Matthean priority argument less convincing than the evidence for Markan priority: the idea that Mark came first. There are several significant reasons to support this view:. So did Mark take material from both, or did Matthew and Luke take material from Mark?

While some have argued that Mark is an abridged version of the other Synoptics, comparing accounts from Mark to their parallel passages appears to suggest otherwise. For example:. If Mark is using Matthew as his main source for this story, why does he have significantly more detail? If anything, it seems more likely that Matthew and Luke are providing abbreviated versions of the accounts in Mark. If he were working from their material, why would he leave out the Sermon on the Mount?

Origin and Interpretation

As we said earlier, many of the major accounts in the Synoptics appear in the same order in all three gospels. Most scholars would suggest that the deviations occur when Matthew and Luke choose to follow another source besides Mark. If Mark was the only source, where did the other writers get important teachings of Jesus, like the Sermon on the Mount?

However, after analyzing the similarities and differences between the three texts, most scholars believe that there was at least one other major source that the gospel writers relied on. This is why scholars have expanded on Markan priority with the two-source theory and the four-source theory. Since most of the material exclusive to Matthew and Luke is sayings of Jesus with a few narratives, the two-source theory suggests that one additional source is enough to account for the differences between the Synoptics.

If one of the most widely-accepted solutions to the synoptic problem hinges on a source that only exists in theory, how do scholars explain this source?

Two key questions we need to answer

To them, the overlap between Matthew and Luke is simply the material Luke borrowed from Matthew. While other Markan priority theories exist, most modern New Testament scholars support some form of the four-source theory. Despite the lack of physical evidence, the literary evidence in the texts themselves makes a strong case that the gospel writers had additional sources, either text-based or oral.

Why does the synoptic problem have to be answered with evidence, not just inspiration? Answering the synoptic problem with the Holy Spirit actually forces us to ignore some of the evidence for interdependent gospels—evidence that God included in His divinely-inspired Word. For example, Luke explicitly tells us he used sources Luke While the majority of scholars rally behind some version of Markan priority, the debate can only deal in the realm of theory. Ancient cultures placed a lot of weight on oral tradition, sometimes considering a personal account passed on through word-of-mouth to be more accurate than written sources.

The closest we may ever get to the origins of the synoptic gospels may very well be the opening lines of Luke:. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Learn more about the Bible.


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