the literary contraints followed by the synoptic authors
- Bruce mentioned something that I believe is used as an escape hatch when one's synoptic theory hits a set a data it can't solve. As Bruce put it:
"...a virtue of the Goulder approach that it permits Luke to be something other than a copyist; in fact, an author. Just so. And high time."
Could we all affirm once and for all that *all three synopticists were authors, not mere copyists*?
Having said that, what constraints did they put on themselves as authors?
Here are some general examples of self-imposed authorial decisions made by fiction authors:
Will the narrator be first person or third person?
Will the narrator be omniscient, or will the story be told from only one or two characters' point of view (even in third person)?
Is the world natural or will the supernatural/magical occur?
Will the story be chronological, or will there be flashbacks and scenes from the story's future?
Here are the (self-imposed) constraints of the synoptic authors:
The authors use a third person, anonymous narrator's voice.
This voice makes virtually no commentary on the story being told (contra, say, John 1). In Mark, e.g., the occurrences are almost always cultural or linguistic explanations.
The works are collections of 10 verse-ish long vignettes, each of which is a complete, stand-alone story.
These individual pericope are sometimes hooked together into larger sections, accomplished by the author's insertion of connecting phrases (e.g., ...and he left that place and traveled to...).
Mt and Lk are respectful of their source(s). They often edit Markan stories for length and smooth out Mk's grammar, but have a strong tendency to retain wording otherwise. Likewise, variation within the double tradition is minimal.
Special respect is paid to the "passion week" material--beginning with the triumphal entry and ending with J's burial--both to the content and the chronological order of the material. The three are most similar here.
Each author presents a distinct theology with minimal intrusion into their material. Clues to their perspectives are found by studying and comparing (1) what material they select or omit, (2) where they place the material in their gospel, (3) the (usually minor) editing they do to their source material, and (4) material that is unique to their book.
Can you think of other literary characteristics of the synoptics? Could we agree on a list such as this, so that we begin our discussions with a common understanding of what the authors *usually* did? Then we would have a basis for noting *unusual* behavior by an author. These unusual behaviors are often points of special attention and controversy among the various synoptic relationship theories.
Thanks for reading,
Rev. Chuck Jones
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