definition of the synoptic problem
- Stephen Carlson suggested -
>The synoptic problem is an inquiry into the existence and nature of theEdgar Krentz commented -
>literary relationship between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
>Good succinct definition. I would add "and the investigation ofI would suggest we should have a definition of the synoptic problem
>reconstructed non-surviving sources."
which does not rule out some attempted solutions in advance.
The Oral Ur-gospel Hypothesis was very popular amongst scholars in the
U.K. during the nineteenth century, and seems to be making a come-back
in the U.S.A. at the moment. This hypothesis posits no literary
relationship between the synoptics. To be fair, a definition of the
synoptic problem should at least allow such a hypothesis to be
considered, even if some of us may think we can shoot it down pretty
Also, maybe no non-surviving source can be reconstructed. Perhaps the
only material prior to the synoptic gospels was snatches of oral
tradition, and it could be we shall never be able to pin down any source
for any of these snippets. Again, to be fair, we should have a
definition which does not presuppose that there must be a source of the
synoptics which we can reconstruct.
It seems to me that any intelligent person looking at the columns of a
synopsis of Matthew, Mark and Luke, (1) will immediately begin to notice
the extensive similarities, and yet differences, in the three columns of
material before his eyes, and (2) also ask the question, "What could
have happened in the writing of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and
Luke,to produce these striking similarities and differences?"
I think that the following is a fair and objective definition of the
synoptic problem -
"The synoptic problem is to put forward a hypothesis of the links
between the synoptic gospels which is compatible with all the
similarities and differences observable in them."
This leaves room for any type of hypothesis to be put forward, and for
each one to be assessed.
- Without reproducing what everyone has already contributed (which
is a very fruitful discussion), let me put in my two-cents worth:
For me the synoptic problem is the problem of explaining the complex
pattern of similarity and dissimilarity (agreement and divergence)
that emerges when the texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are compared
with one another. Theories may be limited to the strict comparison of
written texts (with due consideration to source criticism) or may
include suggestions about the viability of an oral tradition. Indeed many
hypotheses will include elements of both.
>Subject: definition of the synoptic problemBrian Wilson contributes -
>Sent: 2/10/98 11:39 AM
>Received: 2/10/98 11:10 PM
>From: Brian E. Wilson, brian@...
>Stephen Carlson suggested -
>>The synoptic problem is an inquiry into the existence and nature of the
>>literary relationship between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
>Edgar Krentz commented -
>>Good succinct definition. I would add "and the investigation of
>>reconstructed non-surviving sources."
>I think that the following is a fair and objective definition of theBill Pinard responds -
>synoptic problem -
>"The synoptic problem is to put forward a hypothesis of the links
>between the synoptic gospels which is compatible with all the
>similarities and differences observable in them."
>This leaves room for any type of hypothesis to be put forward, and for
>each one to be assessed.
My definition of the synoptic problem: The four gospel accounts of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John are synoptic testimonies which comprise what is commonly called the Gospel of Christ. Synoptic means eye-to-eye. The synoptic problem is the disagreement found between the four gospel accounts, with the crux of the problem being their conflicting chronologies, their disordinate arrangement of dramatic events, and a general confusion surrounding the over-all gospel narrative.
Wm. R. Farmer in THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM: ³A Critical Analysis² (pp.1-6) states, ³In the eighteenth century the central problem facing the student of the Gospels was that of chronology. True chronology was regarded as essential for true history. The conflicting chronologies of the four canonical Gospels cast doubt in the minds of thinking men concerning the reliability of these documents as trustworthy witnesses....The older type of Gospel `harmonies¹ designed to reconcile the accounts of all four Gospels were replaced by a new type of Gospel `parallel,¹ where no attempt was made to include the Gospel of John, except where in isolated instances there was some evidence of a close connection between John and one or more of the other three. This reflected a consciousness that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were more closely related to one another than they were to John. The most famous and influential of these new Gospel parallels was that of Griesbach, published 1774-1775...In the beginning of [Griesbach¹s parallel], which in its successive editions was to become a handbook for subsequent scientific investigators, Griesbach confessed to `the heresy¹ of doubting the possibility of harmonizing even the closely related but conflicting chronologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In other words, Griesbach¹s harmony, if a harmony at all, was a harmony to end harmonization. Henceforth, those [synoptic scholars] who followed in his footsteps would no longer seek to reconcile the conflicting chronologies of the Gospels, but rather would seek to understand the relationships between the Gospels in terms of their direct literary dependence, or in terms of their indirect literary dependence through the mutual use of earlier hypothetical sources.²
From "The Synprob Letter" -
THE LOST GOSPEL
These earlier hypothetical sources were imagined to be lost gospels of the bible. The private invention of a hypothetical gospel by ³scientific² investigators of the synoptic problem has resulted in an uncontrolled plethora of solutions. Synoptic scholars assume that another source, (which they formally refer to as ³Q², from the German word `quelle¹, meaning `source,²) holds the key to understanding the synoptic problem, theorizing that the literary disagreements between the canonical gospels were caused by the authors epitomizing or ³borrowing² from a lost gospel.
A DEVELOPED SOLUTION
Therefore, in order to ³solve² the synoptic problem, the synoptic scholars first separated the gospel of John from Matthew-Mark-Luke. (This had to be done because John¹s gospel had four passovers with Christ crucified before the Passover; while Matthew-Mark-Luke have one passover with Christ crucified after the Passover; and the scholars could find no way to reconcile this major chronological disagreement. So they separated the gospel of John claiming that it was so spiritual that it should always be treated off by itself.) But that still didn¹t make the synoptic problem go away, because they found that the chronologies and dramatic events of Matthew-Mark-Luke didn¹t agree either; that the three gospels had their own little synoptic problem! So the synoptic scholars continued to develop their solution by making a new ³parallel² of the three gospels. They did this by arranging the accounts of Matthew-Mark-Luke in such a manner that their gospels had an over-all agreement on a literary basis. (For example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-7:29 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-49 were placed in parallel because of the similar beatitudes in both; and likewise, the Temple Discourse in Luke 21:5-36 and the Olivet Discourse in Matt 24:3-25:46/Mark 13:3-37 were placed in parallel because of their similar escatology and prophecy.) They then used the invention of an earlier hypothetical source to explain away the remaining discrepencies, leaving themselves to follow after a three-legged parallel while carrying a lost gospel that spawned an endless patchwork of theories, apologies, and historical myth-making;...leaving themselves ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth!
A SYNFUL IMPASSE
In THE JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY: ³The Synoptic Problem² written by Frederick Gast is a thorough review of the `syn¹ problem which arrives at the following conclusion:-
[40:25] ³All the time and effort put into the consideration of the Syn Problem over the past century and a half have not been in vain. For each attempt at a solutionthough faulty in some areahas contributed some insight. With each new insight we are brought closer to the complete answer. Yet the origins of the Syn, going back as many centuries as they do, are difficult to perceive. We are still a long way from a completely satisfactory answer. Perhaps the problem will never be totally solved. The challenge, however, still remains and will continue to be accepted by dedicated scholars.²
(end of quote)
In conclusion, there are two definitions of the synoptic problem. Mine is the ³old² one whereas synoptic scholars are trying to solve a ³new² one.
The "old" synoptic problem cannot be solved with a hypothesis; the four gospel accounts either agree or they do not;no hypotheses or lost gospels. It's bite the bullet time.
The "new" synoptic problem cannot be solved without first solving the "old" synoptic problem. It's time for synoptic scholars to come out from behind their hypotheses and bite the bullet.
I have solved the ³old² synoptic problem and found the ³Q² document; whereas the ³new² synoptic problem will never be solved and its ³sources² will never be found.
The problem of literary relationships of all four gospel accounts cannot be solved or meaningfully studied until the problem of dramatic order and harmony of M-M-L-J be solved/resolved.
Truthfulness, acedemic integrity, and intellectual honesty will always remain core issues. Too many failed efforts to solve the synoptic peoblem are hiding behind hypotheses.
My ³right² solution to the ³old² synoptic problem deserves everyone¹s serious considerdation.
"a blue collar man"
- Dear Bill
Thankyou for your contribution to Synoptic-L. Please excuse my
Synoptic-L is an academic forum designed for the critical, scholarly
study of Synoptic interrelationships and contributions of the kind
you have sent will probably be more at home in another forum.
You are, however, most welcome to remain subscribed to Synoptic-L and
to read Synoptic-L correspondence. It is my hope that you will
enjoy and profit from what you read.
Please address any queries concerning this message privately to me or
the other coordinators of Synoptic-L.
Dr Mark Goodacre M.S.Goodacre@...
Dept of Theology, University of Birmingham
- Thomas R. W. Longstaff wrote:
>This is a good definition, as I understand it. When I look at the
> Without reproducing what everyone has already contributed (which
> is a very fruitful discussion), let me put in my two-cents worth:
> For me the synoptic problem is the problem of explaining the complex
> pattern of similarity and dissimilarity (agreement and divergence)
> that emerges when the texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are compared
> with one another. Theories may be limited to the strict comparison of
> written texts (with due consideration to source criticism) or may
> include suggestions about the viability of an oral tradition. Indeed many
> hypotheses will include elements of both.
> Tom Longstaff
> Colby College
> Waterville, ME
material in Aland's Synopsis, I see agreements and divergences. The
question is, How can these be explained. It would seem to me also that
we need to take into account what the post-apostolic church tells us
about the interrelationship. Blessings. Jakob Heckert.