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Introduction to the Synoptic Problem March 30, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.

Source: “Synoptic Problem Website” by Stephen C. Carlson.

The synoptic problem concerns the literary relationship between the first three “synoptic” gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Synoptic Problem Website surveys proposed solutions and provides a clearing-house for materials related to its resolution.

The major evidence for resolving the synoptic problem is internal: the patterns of agreements and disagreements in the wording of the Greek text of the gospels. The premier tool for studying these textual patterns is the synopsis, which places parallel texts side-by-side in vertical columns. To a much lesser extent, researchers have also considered the external evidence, which constitutes the testimony of the early Christians on the origins of the gospels.

Many solutions to the synoptic problem have been proposed, and please see the Overview of Proposed Solutions for more information.

2SHThe most prevalent solution is the Two-Source hypothesis (2SH) or Mark-Q theory, which holds that Mark was the first gospel, and both Matthew and Luke independently augmented Mark with a lost, sayings collection called Q, its most controversial part. A good website expounding this solution is Mahlon Smith’s Synoptic Gospels Primer.

FHA vigorous challenger to the Q hypothesis is the Farrer theory (FH), which also calls for the priority of Mark, but “dispenses” with Q as unnecessary by arguing instead that Luke used Matthew. The clearest exposition of this position now is Mark Goodacre’s book, The Case Against Q.

2GHAnother challenger, somewhat more popular in America, is the Griesbach hypothesis or Two-Gospel hypothesis (2GH), which not only gets rid of Q but Markan priority as well, arguing that Matthew was first, primarily on account of the external evidence. Their Web Site for the Two Gospel Hypothesis is maintained by Thomas R. W. Longstaff.

AHA more traditional analysis of the external evidence, however, is that of the Augustinian hypothesis (AH), in which the chronological order of the gospels is the same as the canonical order (Matt, Mark, Luke).



1. excogitatingengineer - March 30, 2007

I recommend The Synoptic Problem, by Robert Stein.

2. Ninja Clement - March 30, 2007
3. Jared - April 2, 2007

I just have a huge problem accepting that Q ever existed. With everything that we’ve uncovered in the last 200 years in archeology, we never found any texts of the supposed Q. I think these guys hung out and talked some, not necessarily all three at the same time, but paths intersected. So, until something better comes along, I’ll go with my man, Augustine. Like the old saying goes, “The simplest explanation is usually the best.” Wouldn’t that just make sense?

Excellent post and nice explanation of the different theories.

4. Ninja Clement - April 2, 2007

I’d like to say thank you Jared, but I didn’t write any of that introduction! It was lifted straight from Stephen Carlson’s, The Synoptic Problem Website, which was referenced at the beginning of the post.

I have blockquoted the contents to make the authorship clearer.

5. Jared - April 3, 2007

Well, in that case, I’d say “You stink. Get original!” but you’re an anglo-catholic ninja, so I’ll just say it’s a very nice post…I don’t want you to go off baptizing or genuflecting all over me.

6. Ninja Clement - April 3, 2007

Ha! The double genuflection just happens to be Ninja Michael’s favourite move. He incorporates it into his regular Morning and Evening Prayer katas. Deadly stuff (and holy too!).

7. David T. Koyzis - May 7, 2007

I actually learned about the synoptic problem from Robert Stein himself at what was then known as Bethel College, where he taught some thirty years ago. I seem to recall him favouring the Q hypothesis, but I no longer trust my memory of this.

8. excogitatingengineer - May 7, 2007

Stein believes in the priority of Mark. Mark is the shortest of the synoptics gosels but the pericopes found in common are longer and most detailed in Mark He has several other reasons but I cannot remember all of them at this point.

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