On Wed, 29 Jul 1998, E. Bruce Brooks wrote:
> My idea of symmetry was that Yuri should reciprocate my summary of
> Reuss by summarizing his own theory. Yuri's idea of symmetry is that
> having summarized Reuss, I ought in fairness to summarize him too.
Here's an article that has more background info about all these related
problems. I would be grateful for any criticisms or corrections.
WHICH SYNOPTIC PROBLEM?
This is the all-consuming debate that rages amongst our biblical
scholars, the Synoptic Problem. It has been raging already for
many decades, and the solution is still not in sight, apparently.
It is not the purpose of this article merely to choose one simple
solution to this problem among the three main contenders (2ST,
the Griesbach Hypothesis, and FM -- the Farrer Model). Neither
am I intending to discuss the relative merits of each of these
theories. (To be sure, I, myself, for a long time have been inclined
towards the majority view, i.e. the 2ST. Mk definitely seems like
the earliest gospel to me. It just has all the feel of a primitive and
unpolished writing that was smoothed over and improved on by
the other two authors.)
Rather, I would like to suggest that the whole Synoptic Problem,
as it is commonly understood by mainstream scholars at this time,
just may be a mirage. It is a problem that, as currently posed, does
not really have a solution.
And the reason for this, of course, is our lack of good evidence for
the earliest stages of composition of our canonical gospels. Yet
there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that all of our NT
documents were in a state of flux in the early stages of their
composition. It is useful to remember that, at first, none of our
canonical gospels had any special status outside of the
communities that used them. And the communities that used them
could change their texts at will, since almost certainly they were
anonymous documents not associated with any great apostolic
authorities. The gospels received their current names quite late
along the time line.
Here are a couple of useful quotes from H. Koester that make the
above point very well.
"NT textual critics have been deluded by the hypothesis that the
archetypes of the textual tradition which were fixed ca. 200 CE
-- and how many archetypes for each Gospel? -- are (almost)
identical with the autographs. This cannot be confirmed by any
external evidence. On the contrary, whatever evidence there is
indicates that not only minor, but also substantial revisions of
the original texts have occurred during the first hundred years of
H. Koester, THE TEXT OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS IN THE
SECOND CENTURY, p. 37, in _Gospel traditions in the second
century: origins, recensions, text, and transmission_, William L.
Petersen, editor, Notre Dame, Ind., University of Notre Dame
Also, Koester says this in the same article:
"Textual critics of classical texts know that the first century
of their transmission is the period on which the most serious
corruptions occur. Textual critics of the NT writings have been
surprisingly naive in this respect".
So here are the 3 solutions that are generally offered in professional
literature. Yet I believe these solutions are all too simple for the
problem that is much more difficult than is commonly realized.
2ST Mk + Q = Mt
Mk + Q = Lk
GRIESBACH Mt + Lk = Mk (no Q)
FM Mk + Mt = Lk (no Q)
Each of these solutions certainly seems simple and
straightforward. But why then can the scholars not agree on such
a basic and fundamental matter? Isn't this rather curious? Why are
the debates still raging, with all three sides assuring each other
that they have the only true solution?
Could they _all_ be wrong? Could there be yet another solution for
the SP? My answer is that all three sides are wrong... and that all
three sides are _also_ right!
Here's how it goes. The truth is far more complicated than our
three academic camps would like to admit, and yet still I think a
good solution to SP is discernible in our biblical texts. And, indeed,
this elusive solution may be assembled from the blocks found in
the mounds of evidence, often mixed with rhetoric, that all three of
our competing exegetical camps produce.
To be sure, I do believe that the Q source did exist as a separate
document that was incorporated into both Mt and Lk, and was later
lost. And so, on this assumption, here's the solution.
1. pMk + Q = Mt
2. pMk + Q = Lk
So far, I'm following the 2ST, but _also_ I think
3. Lk + Mt = Mk
4. pMk(or Mk?) + Mt = Lk2 (later strata of Lk)
Yes, I indeed accept that the other two competitors, the
Griesbachians, and the FM, also make many valid points in their
own right as regards quite a few passages that were added to our
gospels at later stages of their editing. And not only that. Let's add
some more reality to the above picture.
5. Mk + Mt + Lk = Jn
6. Jn + Mt + Lk = Mk
7. Jn + Mt = Lk2
So then what we have are the following 7 ways in which various
influences were felt.
1. pMk + Q = Mt 2ST
2. pMk + Q = Lk 2ST
3. Lk + Mt = Mk GH
4. pMk + Mt = Lk2 FGM
5. Mk + Mt + Lk = Jn late edition of Jn
6. Jn + Mt + Lk = Mk expansions of Mk
7. Jn + Mt = Lk2 expansions of Lk
So, obviously, I think that all sides in the SP debate are right in
their own way. In particular, I'm grateful to the Griesbachians
because they've done a good job identifying those parts of the
canonical Mk that were not likely to have been in the early
versions of Mk, in what I call proto-Mark (pMk). These additions to
pMk indeed seem to be later expansions often based on either
canonical Mt or Lk, or on both. Here I do tend to agree with the
As far as the FM, I'm also grateful to its proponents in so far as
they identified those later additions to Lk that were indeed most
likely based on Mt. (Also some parts of Lk may be based on Jn, as
I noted before.)
Yes, it seems that the truth is far more complex than most of our
biblical scholars even suspect.
So what we have here is not really strictly speaking a "Synoptic
Problem". Rather it seems to be a whole collection of Synoptic
plus Johannine problems. What we have is a whole web of
interrelationships between all of our four canonical Christian
gospels. We seem to have a number of Dependence and Cross-pollination
Problems. Different passages and different theological
ideas contained in our gospels tended to migrate back and forth
between various documents over time. Reflexes of ideas and
doctrines from other canonical gospels are discernable in all of
them. They all reflect each other in some way or other.
And now, let us look at H. Koester presenting his views on this
back in 1983.
COLLOQUY ON NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, Bruce Corley, ed,
Mercer UP, Macon, 1983.
This is quite a fascinating volume. Here we have what may be
described as "adventures of H. Koester among the Griesbachians".
Koester of course is one of the very few scholars who advocates
the proto-Mark theory at this time. As it happens, parts of his
research strongly support the Griesbachian view that Mk is
posterior to both Mt and Lk. Yes, Koester agrees, indeed, parts of
Mk are posterior to Mt and Lk. But other parts aren't. The early
version of Mk, the proto-Mk is earlier than the other two Synoptics.
My general impression from reading these exchanges is that the
Griesbachians were simply not paying attention to the complexity
of what Koester proposes. His arguments, it seems, fell mostly on
deaf ears. His opponents are so used to fighting their usual battles
against the 2ST that they probably didn't even perceive that the
whole game will change if Koester's views are accepted...
Here's E. P. Sanders, summarizing the confused current state of
the Synoptic Problem in the Introduction.
""Source criticism, so intimately connected with the early
"lives of Jesus," is in well known disarray. The classical
two-document hypothesis, ... has been found wanting..."" (p. 15)
And here's Sanders taking a "bold stand" on this matter.
"I suppose that I should tell you where I stand: squarely on
the fence." (p. 16)
(And later, on p. 17, as if to make things even more intriguing, he's
actually talking about a "multisided fence"!)
Is there a way out of this seeming impasse? Well, Sanders does
seem to indicate one, and a one that I myself see as valid. He
quotes from M.-E. Boismard, THE TWO-SOURCE THEORY AT AN
IMPASSE, NTS 26 (1979), pp 1-17:
"The Griesbach hypothesis explains features not accounted
for by the two-source theory, but the reverse is also true.
There is a need to combine the two theories by considering
intermediate stages of redaction as well as the final."
If only he himself was paying attention to these thoughts of
Boismard... I don't think he really did.
In his article that follows, Koester carefully outlines his reasons for
believing that there was a pMk. He presents 3 kinds of arguments.
First, he deals with the Bethsaida section of Mk (Mk 6:45-8:26).
Then he looks at the passages of Mk that are not parallelled
exactly in Mt and Lk, i.e. the so-called Minor Agreements of Mt and
Lk against Mk. (And in this his arguments are perfectly in accord
with the Griesbachians). Also he looks at certain key items of Mk
vocabulary (such as euaggelion, didaskein, mysterion, baptisma)
and observes how they are parallelled (or not parallelled) in the
other two Synoptics. All these arguments point to one and the
same conclusion: the version(s) of Mk that Mt and Lk used when
composing their own narratives about Jesus was/were different
from our canonical Mk. It was in fact a pMk, or different
forms of pMk.
In the discussion that follows Koester makes his main point as
"I have become convinced that the problem, the synoptic
problem, or the problem of these three Gospels, is, at the
present stage of our knowledge of gospel literature, a wrong
Yes, I agree with him. It is the wrong problem primarily because
the scholars who perceive the Synoptic problem in this way, and
this includes just about all of our mainstream scholars, are not able
to realize that the gospels that they want to compare did not really
exist in the form they expect. These early gospels _were in fact not
fixed and monolithic_ as yet -- their shape was still fluid. Their texts
were still changing at that time. Therefore, it is a mistake to treat
them as fixed unities, although this is precisely what everyone is
inclined to do.
But Koester is making even a broader point here. He goes further
to talk about the variety of other literature available to the
evangelists in their time. He continues his thought:
"...because it isolates three gospels."
In other words, Koester is saying that we also need to take into
account all the other Christian documents that were current at the
time. I'm sure he means especially the GThomas, which for the
most part was very early according to him.
Koester's article in this volume produced a very long and
somewhat unfocused response by David Peabody, THE LATE
SECONDARY REDACTION OF MARK'S GOSPEL AND THE
GRIESBACH HYPOTHESIS, pp. 87-132.
Peabody's article is about double the size of Koester's, on which
he comments. It really seems to me like Peabody has not been
able to make up his mind about what was it exactly that he was
trying to argue against in his reply. Obviously, what he really
_wanted_ to argue _for_ was the Griesbach hypothesis. But Koester
was not arguing against the Griesbach hypothesis... To the
contrary, Koester actually tended to provide more ammunition for
I suppose the central argument of Koester was to argue primarily
for the pMk, since all of his arguments were pointing towards the
pMk. Peabody only deals with them rather reluctantly and rather
selectively. He does spend a lot of space arguing against the
Bethsaida section being a later interpolation, but his arguments
here do not seem too weighty. He concentrates on trying to find
parallels to the Bethsaida section in the other chapters of Mk and
finds them. Was this supposed to prove that the Bethsaida Section
must have been a part of Mk from the beginning? How so? Don't
his arguments rather prove that the persons who added this
section may have also been at work on other sections?
So what he did, in effect, was to point out some very good
candidates for further interpolations in Mk that are similar in spirit
and in style to the Bethsaida section.
But for the rest, Peabody seems to be mostly arguing against the
things that Koester did not actually argue for. Again and again he's
back to pointing out "the innate superiority of GH".
"...the proof from common narrative sequence basically
supports the GH." (Pp. 65)
"... the preponderance of evidence supported the GH." (Pp.
And this is what he's basically doing all through his article. When
discussing e.g. the use of the term _euaggelion_, he repeatedly
ignores Koester's general argument, and again argues directly
against his 2ST opponents rather than against what Koester is
really proposing (p. 119).
Of course this subject is a very big one. The purpose of this article
was merely to set the stage for much further analysis that needs to
be done. Also the Secret Mark fragments need to be considered at
some point. I believe they are authentic fragments that Clement of
Alexandria had in his possession. The sequence of Mk
development that Koester accepts is pMk -> SecMk -> canonical
Mk (as an abridgement of SecMk). I agree with him on this also,
although many commentators, even some of those supporting the
authenticity of SecMk (such as D. Crossan), tend to differ.
Myself, I believe that SecMk is something of a misnomer, because
I think pMk, in its time, was also a secret gospel not meant to be
divulged to those not fully initiated into the faith. Thus pMk and
SecMk would have been simply two stages of a developing secret
gospel. The canonical Mk finally became a "public gospel" in the
sense we understand what this gospel is today.
To summarize. I don't think a solution to the Synoptic Problem, the
way it is generally understood today, is anywhere in sight. It may
be time to redefine the very nature of the problem we have in front
of us. Perhaps it is time to accept that the real history of NT
composition was more complex than many commentators would
like to think.
Yuri Kuchinsky || Toronto
The goal proposed by Cynic philosophy is apathy, which is
equivalent to becoming God -=O=- Julian