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[Synoptic-L] A solution for Consideration

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  • Kym Smith
    Dear Synoptic-L listers, Let me first apologize for what may seem a presumptuous introductory post to the Synoptic-L forum. Recently on the Johannine
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 21, 2001
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      Dear Synoptic-L listers,

      Let me first apologize for what may seem a presumptuous introductory post to the Synoptic-L forum. Recently on the Johannine Literature list , in a debate about the date of the Gospel of John, I suggested (in a response to John Lupia) that all four gospels were related, not just the Synoptics. As I was on the brink of completing a book in which I detail what I think those relationships are, I promised to post the details to the Synoptic-L list once I had completed it. Sadly the ‘couple of days’ has turned into a month or so. Now that it has been done, let me suggest the following, though I will not here be able to qualify some of the details, and some are necessarily speculative. In the book I do more to substantiate the speculation.

      Firstly – and Part One of my book argues for this – I believe that the Revelation preceded the gospels and, indeed, most of the NT. It was given in 62. Earlier that year Paul had been released from Rome and returned to Ephesus, where he was imprisoned for several months. The Revelation quickened the apostles conviction that Christ’s return was imminent. They believed that the Beast/Antichrist (Nero) would soon show himself to be just that, the Church would go through a period of extreme persecution (42 months), then Jesus would return, ushering in the new heavens and the new earth.

      After a couple of years of preparing the Church for the onslaught, Peter and Paul were imprisoned in Rome in 64. They were already in prison when Rome burned that year (July), which the two of them would have understood in terms of Rev 18. Then Peter produced a gospel to encourage the believers during the tribulation which was about to burst upon them (1 Pet 1:15). Seeing that it would be of value only for a few years until Christ returned, Peter had no thought about giving the book a title. His assistant and scribe, Mark, who may have polished the work (but it was very much Peter’s work and I suspect he [Mark] did very little, if anything, to it), was given the responsibility of rapidly distributing the gospel around the Mediterranean. This he did, probably ending up in Alexandria. It was as he distributed the gospel that it assumed his name.

      Following Nero’s death in June of 68 the Church was in crisis, perhaps worse than the one it experienced under that emperor’s persecutions. It was in crisis because Jesus had not returned! Jerusalem had not fallen, Rome had been rebuilt and the final judgment and new earth had not come. The witness of the apostles was being questioned – what else were they wrong about? When John was released from Patmos in June or July, he called a council of the remaining apostles and eyewitnesses and others who had offered leadership to the Church over the last few years. Central to Christendom in the Roman Empire, Ephesus was the location for the council. Allowing enough time for the delegates to be advised and come, and then to return home again after the council before shipping closed for winter, the council must have been in September and/or October.

      Having come to understand that the Revelation was not for their own time only and after working through their mistake about the timing of Christ’s return, the council realized that the Church might continue beyond the lives of the apostles and eyewitnesses. It was resolved that those who had been with Christ should expand the gospel that Peter had left them, filling in the details which were lacking in his most helpful work but which would be necessary for an ongoing Church. That group set themselves to do that and wrote down all that they could remember between them of Jesus’ life and teachings; these were the things they had been personally bearing witness to up until this time. However, wanting to say more than Peter’s framework allowed, they abandoned it, using instead, Genesis 1&2. What they produced (Sept/Oct 68) we know as the Gospel of John (the Genesis structure applied for chapters 1:1 – 20:29). The comments about the corporate authorship of John by Clement of Alexandria [Eus. EH, VI.14.7]and the Muratorian Fragment where John was helped by his ‘familiar friends’ and his ‘fellow-disciples and bishops’ are partial memories of this council. Not at all partial was Luke’s recollection. The Gospel of John was the ‘narrative’ (singular) to which Luke refers in his prologue which the ‘many had undertaken to compile’.

      Having completed their work, the apostles and eyewitnesses still had not provided much of the detail which was necessary for the continuing Church, i.e. the details they had initially planned to add to Mark. Not willing to spend the time necessary to produce another gospel – they needed to be moving about the Church and ministering to it to resolve the crisis it was in – the group (effectively the council) commissioned Matthew and Luke to write two expansions of Mark, one for a Jewish readership and one for the Gentile mind, incorporating the unused materials that remained (i.e. Q) after they had completed their collective gospel. No doubt Matthew and Luke had some discussions about which of them would use some of the materials (e.g. birth narratives) but each of them was free to incorporate the rest as they saw fit.

      As the apostles and others left Ephesus with their copies of the Gospel of John, Matthew and Luke would have taken their copies of the collection left to them by the apostles and eyewitnesses – probably only two copies were ever made. As well, they both took a copy of John – Mark they already had – and returned to their respective locations. Matthew probably went to Pella in east Palestine and Luke to central Achaia, possibly Boeotia. There they completed the works assigned to them. This they would have done by the end of that year (68) or early the next (69). As Paul’s accomplice, I suspect the council had already asked Luke to produce The Acts of the Apostles before he was requested to write the gospel. He would have completed the second volume by mid 69.

      There it is! I’ve been lurking here for most of a year wanting to say something but holding myself back until I had actually finished my work. Just as well because it went through some significant changes in that time. I am not so hopeful as to think that what I have written will instantly appeal to you all – perhaps none of you will see any merit in it – but, for all its unqualified statements, I’ve put it up so that you may, at least, consider it. I have more to add but this should be sufficient for the moment. As every scheme seems to have a diagram, here is one which hopefully represents the use and then the abandonment of Mark. ‘JnU’ is John’s unused material (= Q, though it may have been assembled not just with John but with the other gospels in mind).



           / | \

         /  =  \

        /  Jn   \

      / (JnU) \

      |  /       \   |

      Mt       Lk


      There has bee some debate about whether the Synoptic Problem will be resolved from an historical or a literary approach. What I have given is historical. I also have what I think is literary evidence, though it comes from quite a different approach – perhaps not an acceptable approach – from what I have seen presented so far. Perhaps this will be enough at the moment.

      Yours in Christ,

      Kym Smith


      South Australia


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