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Synoptic Problem

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Synoptic Problem

Submitted to Professor Laurie Schweinsberg., in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course

NBST 510
New Testament Introduction


Jacqueline Goldston
June 2, 2014


CONCLUSION …………………………………………………………….12


The Synoptic problem can be a very difficult subject to understand at times. When you take a look around or start asking question of your bible scholars or even your casual readers of the Bible you find out people don’t even realize there is a Synoptic problem. There seems to be many different proposed solutions that will fix the problem. Some accepted and some of which has very little support at all. When you read you see that there are different scriptures in the bible that shows a level of agreement in the content of reading, and seems as if the authors have borrowed each other’s writings’ or used the same materials in research they had in common. However, even though they agree there are so many differences that are puzzling. Some of differences are in the same passage of scripture but yet show similarities.
So what does the Synoptic problem look like in text in the bible? Has the problem been address and how was it looked at and dealt with throughout history of the church? Nevertheless, you have scholars on both sides of the argument who continue to research, argue, and write about their solution for the problem. So what solution offers the best reasonable explanation for the Synoptic problem? We must remember and take into count the biblical history, the beginning church history, and the Gospels content to find the best solution. I will attempt to provide an overview of the problems and select a couple of the more popular solutions that has been offered to help bring a better understanding of the Synoptic Gospels, and how it has or might impact the church.


There are different views and issues that are centered on the Synoptic problem. First let’s define the Synoptic problem “it is the study of similarities and differences with the same outlook of the Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain their literary relationship”. This is how Mark Goodacre, defines the Synoptic problem. Goodacre also said at one of his lecture that in dealing with the Synoptic problem we all tend to propose one of the solutions before we really find out what the problem is. When there is clarity of the definition of Synoptic it gives a firm foundation of where it begins
The first thing is we must figure out whether the Synoptic are, reliant of each other in some way or another. If it was independent one might assume that each author wrote their Gospel alone with no help from the others or their content. There are some scholars who says that the Synoptic is independent. According to Daniel Wallace they are interdependent in many ways, and here are four different reasons why. 1. Agreement of Order: It is the order in how the Synoptic present the life of Jesus how they are consistent and parallel. There may be a disagreement sometimes; in the area where there are agreements are far greater.

3 2. Agreement in Wording: When you read through the Synoptic Gospels, you see that the wording used is similar, the words the same exact, is some places in the Gospels. 3. Luke Preface: Luke says at the beginning of his Gospel in the introduction remarks that there were eyewitnesses to the ministry of Christ. They had tried themselves to give in account of Jesus’ life before him. 4. Agreement in Parenthetical Material: There are examples of the three Gospels using the same wording or statement. Here is one example that is used more “let the reader understand” it is in the Gospel of Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14.

There is an argument made because of the independence of the Gospel. After carefully examining the Gospels and seeing the similarities of three, this is not enough to convince me that they are independent of each other, and not connected in some way.

There are so many similarities between the Gospels, it makes you wonder if the authors knew what each other was going to record or write. Or did they borrow from each other’s work? This is what they referred to as the Synoptic problem. As it was stated earlier there are similarities and they are similarity in words, similarity in parenthetical material, similarity in order, and bible quotations. There are different categories of similarities,

4 most scholars prefer to the reference of the original Greek material, this was the way to perform a baseline to use to compare since some similarities are differences in the English versions due to translation rather than the author of the Gospel. Most scholars refer to Mathew, Mark and Luke as the Synoptic Gospels. Even though there are similarity there are just as many difference as well. People wants to identify the similarities and the differences between the three Gospels. This is done with a tool called the Gospel Synoptic. What the tool does is place the similar accounts that is in the Gospel and put them in columns in a rolls side by side so they can be compared more easily. What is typical used is a color coded system that is used to highlight what is shared between the four Gospels, then they bring all material together that is shared, they analyze and a decision is made about the literary relationship between the Gospels. When looking at similarities in order Andreas Kostenberger, explains it such a simple way. “The Gospels has various periscopes, and self-contained units with so many stories of the accounts of when Jesus’ healed the leapers recorded in Mark1:40-45. The periscopes can be in different orders of arrangement in different ways in each Gospel;

5 such as geographically, topically, and chronologically which is determine by their locations of their occurrences.
Looking at the different areas of similarity in the parenthetical materials or the explanatory materials this what it been called, it is noticeable that, this is what people call coincidence. Kostenberger he always argued for some literary dependence between the Gospel and their authors. Why because the “original Aramaic words of Jesus’ may have been translated into Greek in many different ways which doesn’t yield the many different verbatim agreements that does exist in the Gospels.” There is so many similarity in the biblical quotations also. When examine the manuscripts of the Greeks of each gospels and you put them side by side it show the quotations are the same almost. The only problem is, they’re not the verbatim quotes from the text. Joel B Green say that at times you find the same in the Old Testament quotation. What’s unusual is that if the form was identical with the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek translation, this is known as the Septuagint. Now when an identical quotation of the Old Testament it is so different from the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek Old Testament which requires and explanation. (cf. Mk 1:2 par. Mt 3.3 and Lk: 34 Mk 7:7 Mt

15:9). The similarities are numerous between the Gospels that’s been stated before that there is several differences. As you read the genealogies that is found in Matthew 1 and also in Luke 3 you will see for yourself how it contradict itself. It is believed that one genealogy follows the line of Mary and the other Joseph.

Well let’s start by looking at the term “synoptic” it is a Greek adjective synoptikos, and when translated it means “to see together.” Johann Griesbach applied this term to Matthew, Mark, and Luke during the eighteen century. When looking at the three Gospel text, you notice right away the similarities. First you see the in the periscope level. This level is a set of verses that’s put together to create thoughts. Your Bibles contain headings that defines the beginning and ending of the periscopes. Here is an example of the periscopes it has self-contained units of the narrative of Jesus healing the leper Mark 1:40-45. The periscope can be arranged in different ways in each Gospel, which is topically, chronologically or geographically (based on the locations where the event occurred with remarkable similarity of the order of the periscopes. You group these headings by grouping the verses by thought or story.
In this level of the periscope you see a significant similarities between the Synoptic: with a percentage of 90 percent in the book of Mark and also found in Matthew and Luke has 50 percent. Example, all three gospels has the story of John the Baptist, Parable of the Sower, and the Transfiguration, and so many more. Whereas the Gospel of John has its own uniqueness from the others
Even though there is similarities they do not end at the pericopes. There is a major agreement between the three gospels, there is also a close verbal agreement between the Synoptic in many places. Yes the stories has been retold over and over again but yet retold with exactly the same excitement.

A PROPOSED SOLUTION TO THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM In the Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns, shows a list with different approaches to the synoptic problems. (1) Oral Tradition Theory they believed that everything that was preached about Jesus was fixed, and no written account behind the Synoptic Gospel. (2) Fragmentary Theory is where the gospel writers composed what they had from numerous fragmentary writing about the life of Christ. (3)Primitive Gospel Theory it was first used in 1778, it taught that the writers all used a primitive source called Urevangellim it doesn’t exists anymore. (4) Interdependence Theory this theory believed the first writer had oral tradition and

8 each writer after him could use those that came before. Now you also have the two-document theory that holds to the Markan priority view (which Mark wrote his gospel first and everyone else copied him). Here is a hypothetical document that is referred to as the “Q” it was used help Matthew and Luke’s gospels. The four-document theory along with this theory builds on the two-document theory which suggest that there is a special material for the gospel of Matthew which is called (M) and the special material for Luke called (L).

I have name all the theories above, but there are two that is highly favored in the scholastic circles; it is the Griesbach hypothesis that’s known as the two-gospel hypothesis and the interdependence theory another two document theory. “This hypothesis argument is that the Matthew was the Gospel that was written first, and that the Gospel of Luke used Matthew and Mark used them both, this was proposed by H. Owen in 1764.” With this view not being the most popular one in the current society; more bible scholars has within the last hundred has argued and favored the two-document position. Now if Mark was the first one to write his gospel, and the other gospels used him and “Q” , why is it we still have the gospel of Mark and there is no evidence of “Q”? You see how

9 they try to have a good argument for the “Q” in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. You know they made a very good point but I am still not convince if that was the best option for the solution. I truly think when dealing with these stances that we’re dealing with in this hypothetical situations; I think the two-gospel hypothesis is the one that I agree with.

DEFENDING TWO GOSPEL HYPOTHESIS (GRIESBACH) History has it way of repeating itself and you find out that history is connected some way or another, and there should be some changes, and some things you just need to be left alone. I think that the early church was much smarter then we give them credit for concerning the gospels then the scholars today that would give them the credit for their work. According to what Green says, “the priority of Mark was unknown in the early church, the priority of Matthew was assumed” It was said that the father of the early church were unreliable in their facts. Now according to Kostenberger he points out, that “the early church testimony insists the Mark wrote his Gospel independently of the other Gospels based on Peter memoirs. Now, David A. Black in his work Why Four Gospels? He lays a great ground work for the Matthean priority. Now he argues from what he called the Four Gospel stance, yet it is in line of the two-gospel hypothesis; and also he argued logically I think what he has said make sense

10 and close to being right. Black also declares “Clement also says it connects this Gospel of Mark with the two other Synoptic Gospels say that is subsequent to those containing the genealogies. “Now when arguing on the behalf of a particular point we must look first at all angles, now when you proponents of the Markan view often believe that Matthew and Luke wrote their independently of the other. So now how it is the agreements against Mark that Matthew and Luke has made? When you look at the two-gospel hypothesis “it is easily explained what the agreement that is between Matthew and Luke and what is the agreements against Mark, how is it the two-document hypothesis which struggles with how the gospel of Matthew and Luke can come together and agree independently against their Markan source, and how is they didn’t know each other or use the other? Another argument that is often brought against the two –gospels hypothesis so this is how it is dealt with the Markan redundancies? More people are in agreement that there’s around 17 redundancies in the Gospel of Mark. Kostenberger seems to believe that the redundancies are a part of the writing of Mark’s which Green claims that, “the Griesbach hypothesis suggest this is explained by understanding that Mark tended to act with a respect for his sources and how the early church and scribes of the New Testament. When it was found that there were two reading in their sources they tried to connect them by including both styles.The alternative views that 11 do not require the hypothetical sources. There is one variation of the Markan priority viewing eliminates the need for a hypothetical documents by asserting that Luke used Matthew’s Gospel in Mark writing his own Gospel. Rethinking the Synoptic Problem in Farmers helps answer question about what needed for a hypothetical source. After the investigation the relationship was unable to be understood between Matthew, Mark and Luke without appealing to the sources for justification in hypothecating the existence of such sources to explain the unexplainable. Since so many still believe Mark wrote is Gospel first, and would it so impossible for Peter to reference the Gospels works and writing? So many like Black and other Matthean prioritist truly believe Mark was a scribe, and also that Peter read the Gospel writer work and used it to give his presentation. In
Blacks reading his a statements that gives you a different view then other that always demands hypothetical source. Here is his statement:
“It would seem as if the Gospel Book that Luke brought when he came to Rome must have been in a normal format, namely, the scroll. Mathew is a little shorter than the Gospel of Luke, must have been in the scroll format also. Now Peter’s plan was that take the scrolls of the Gospel of Luke and compare it with Matthew in light of his own eyewitness recollections of Jesus ministry. The Gospel of Mark is therefore is a combined result of the efforts of Peter and his disciples Mark, which was at the side of Peter when he give his lectures. He was Peter responsibility in seeing that a true record was kept of what was said by Peter. Peter switched between the two

12 scrolls by Matthew and Luke and he usually follow a natural order of whatever scroll he had in his hand.

CONCLUSION The Synoptic problem is what you call a maze, which is what some scholars saw it is. When you look you find that we have not even scratch the surface of really getting a better understanding of the Synoptic. In research you come to know that there are many theories and the research can just go on and on. There are many argument that can be taken, but as a Christian we must always remember and don’t lose sight of why we have Bible study, and never lose focus and the mission is to proclaim Jesus who with all the combinations of all our sources be revealed.
We must keep in mind that other will hold a different view for the solution for the synoptic problem and there opinions will not make them or break them. When looking at all the research and materials you come to know that no one really has the answer. We are all speculating and trying to come up with the best answer for the problem. This research has challenged me to do more, and study my bible even the more so I can better understand the history of the Bible. It was an adventure to get though all the research and make sense of it all. I am not convinced if I understand it all but one thing I do know is not to lose sight on Christ and that we can always go back to the Bible and stand on the word of God.

Black, David Alan, David R. Beck, eds. Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Grand Rapids:: Baker Academic, 2001.
Black, David Alan. Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. Gonzalez: Energion Publications, 2010.
Bock, Darrell L. Questions About Q" Rethinkingthe Synoptic Problem. Edited by Beck,David R. Black David Alane ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,, 2001.
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago:: Moody Publishers, 2008.
Farmer, Willams R. The Case For The Two- gospel Hypothesis" In Rethinking th Synoptic Problem. Edited by David Alan., Beck David R. Black. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,, 2001.
Goodacre, Mark. The Synotic Problem: A Way Through the Maze. London: T&T CLark, 2001.
Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the U.S.A., 1992.
Kostenerger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quaries. The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville:: B&H Publishing Group,, 2009.
McKnight, Scot. "A Generation Who Knew Not Streeter" in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Edited by David Alan., Beck, David R. Black. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
The Synoptic Problem," n.d. (accessed May 25, 2014).

[ 1 ]. Mark Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem A way through the Maze (London: T& T Clark, 2001), 16.
[ 2 ]. F. David Farrnell’s, Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Problem.
[ 3 ]. The Synoptic Problem, accessed May 30, 2014,
[ 4 ]. F. David Farnell in Three View on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels
[ 5 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)158-159
[ 6 ]. Ibid., 158.
[ 7 ]. Ibid., 159.
[ 8 ]. Ibid., 169.
[ 9 ]. Ibid., 162.
[ 10 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)161
[ 11 ]. Ibid., 162.
[ 12 ]. Green, Dictionary of Jesus, 785
[ 13 ]. Green, Dictionary of Jesus, 785
[ 14 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)161
[ 15 ]. Ibid., 162.
[ 16 ]. Ibid., 161-162.
[ 17 ]. Ibid., 161-162.
[ 18 ]. Ibid., 161.
[ 19 ]. Scot McKnight, “A Generation Who Knew not Streeter”, in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem, ed. David Alan Black and David R. Beck (Grand Rapids: Academic, 2001).
[ 20 ]. Enns, Moody Handbook, 82.
[ 21 ]. Ibid, 82.
[ 22 ]. Green, Dictionary of Jesus, 786.
[ 23 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)170
[ 24 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)170
[ 25 ]. Ibid.,165-166.
[ 26 ]. Ibid, 165-166.
[ 27 ]. David Alan Black, (Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. Gonzalez: Energion Publications, 2010)31.
[ 28 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)166.
[ 29 ]. David Alan Black, David R. Beck, eds. (Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001)109.
[ 30 ]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. (The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009)167.
[ 31 ]. Ibid.,167.
[ 32 ]. Ibid.,167.
[ 33 ]. David Alan Black, (Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. Gonzalez: Energion Publications, 2010) , 61
[ 34 ]. Ibid.,61
[ 35 ]. Darrell L. Block, “Questions About Q” in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. ed. David Alan Black and David R. Beck (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 61.

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