Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Different Source Theory Implications?

I would love to see a decent book written for (or with) students dealing with source-critical methods and pressupositions. But perhaps even more relevant for NT students (especially those going into some pastoral or teaching capacity) is a resource dealing with possible differences that different source-critical methods entail. I'm usually less interested in theology than source criticism but what is the relationship between the two? What are the implications in terms of different interpretations (in exegsis & theology), different historical implications, and any different pastoral implications? I've seen various claims that different source theories imply such differences, but I have not seen much evidence. Two supposed differences I will comment on here.

One is obvious--history. Rearranging the order of composition will obviously imply a different Church history. But what would it look like? What would be the big differences? The most extreme case I can think of is when somone suggests that one or more of the Gospels were written very early (i.e. during Paul's lifetime c.50s CE) or very late (say during the second century c.120s). But even in such extreme cases I haven't seen how Church history should be re-written because little attempt is made to show how history is affected by even these extreme source-theories. If there are important differences in results--what are they? Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough, but most scholars put the Gospels post-Jewish-Roman war (or Mk during) between the 70s-90s and with these guesses not much seems to change if we swap them around, given that evidence of Church history also resides with Paul's letters.

So much for Church history. The other difference I have noticed commented on is in the field of pastoral implications. William Farmer has argued that there are definite differences between source theories. But he did so from the perspective that his theory was more in line with Christian theology and therefore correct! There seems to be unnecessary fear in this line of argument. Farmer's book, The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem (Louisville: Westminster/John Knowx Press 1994), argues for the superiority of the Griesbach hypothesis (2GH/Mt-Lk-Mk) because the concept of justification by faith is missing in Mk (and so Mk cannot have predated Mt)! I'm a little put off at how this kind of argument might work and I don't think students will follow the logic either. Here is a link to his argument in an earlier form ("The Import of the Two-Gospel Hypothesis") I quote part of the abstract which says that Farmer

shows that Jesus' parables of grace are absent from Mark and "Q". This would mean that someone other than Jesus was responsible for these parables. Farmer suggests that it is inevitable that this view will be disasterous for the preacher who has used these parables as a basis for his own sermons of salvation.

Here are four more quotes:

Therefore, the first import of the Two-Gospel hypothesis is that it restores to the person in the pew the same Scriptures thatthe clergy have. Everyone is on an equal footing. The clergy do not have some esoteric or elitest advantage of knowing about some unknown document or documents not readily available to the person sitting in the pew. This is a boon to communication.

Secondly, the Two-Gospel hypothesis takes the focus off ofthe question of which Gospel is first. To speak of Matthew as first in time implies to some that Matthew is also first in importance. The Two-Gospel hypothesis avoids the difficulty of suggesting that any one Gospel is more important than any other.

But how do we fare when we, who are in the Wesleyan tradition, stand in the pulpit and face a living congregation of sinnershungry for the Gospel, and we have a two-document understanding of the Scriptures? Let us first look in the Gospel of Mark. Do we find Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son in Mark? No, it isnot in Mark. Can we find it in "Q"? No, it is not in "Q". This means it is in neither of our two earliest and most reliable sources. Why not? Immediately a question is raised which provides critical grounds for some methodological skepticism.

What difference does it make? I suggest that, for those who wish to preach the Gospel with power and a clear critical conscience, the answer is close athand, no further than the Gospel itself.

I don't really see how his reasoning works (perhaps it only works if people are already told to be afraid of what Farmer seems to have feared), but I plan to track down an article by Kloppenborg which I hope deals with questions of theological implications because I'm sure students will want to know such things. Scot McKnight (in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem) refers to "The Theological Stakes in the Synoptic Problem," in The Four Gospels--1992: Festschrift Frans Neirynck vol 1:93-120. So far it is very difficult for me to track down!

Monday, August 28, 2006

my shrinking blog name

When I first uploaded my lecture notes onto this blogspot 10 days ago, I called it Source Theory Lecture Notes, then because I kept adding blog posts, I dropped the word Lecture. Yesterday I decided to drop the word Notes so that the title better matches the web address. Assuming I find nothing objectionable about the name Source Theory then the blog's name will remain. My wife's opinion was that Source Theory might imply that I was actually providing a source theory rather than commenting generally on source theory issues, but I'm happy with the title and I like to think that I will develop more confidence in a source theory of my own eventually, anyway.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

James Dunn's oral Q

James D. G. Dunn accepts the standard two-source theory (Mk-Q theory) except he seems to doubt that Q was a document. I am interested in commenting on what Dunn has argued in a recent article, "Q1 as oral tradition," in Markus Bockmuehl and Donald A. Hagner (eds.), The Written Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 45-69 along with an article reviewing both Dunn and Burkett's source theories: David Neville, "The Demise of the Two-Document Hypothesis? Dunn and Burkett on Gospel Sources," in PACIFICA 19 (Feb 2006), 78-92.

The first point I wish to make is that Dunn seems to be trying hard not to challenge the two-source theory whilst at the same time undermining what the two-source theory (pre)supposes by his recourse to oral traditions. In this point I am in agreement with Neville's analysis of Dunn. But it is difficult to know just exactly what Dunn is advocating, because Dunn wishes to accept theoretically Q as a document but he wants also to treat Q1 (Kloppenborg's lowest strata or layer of Q) as material in an oral mode. One of the annoying things about Dunn is his reluctance to specify what he is actually arguing for. Dunn has apparently also argued elsewhere that Mt and Lk treat Mk in a similar oral mode of transformation--a point which further muddies his argument. Dunn wishes to keep the theory of literary dependence of Mt & Lk on Mk and Q but in an oral mode! It would have been more beneficial if Dunn could articulate and demonstrate what exactly he envisages--what is his source theory? Perhaps Dunn wants to say that it is impossible to know (without further research?) how we could tell the difference between Lk using an oral version of tradition and Lk redacting an already written version. If so, then why not say it this way? Perhaps we have also hit upon a problem already inherent in the two-source theory--the theory assumes that triple-tradition material originates with Mk, and double-traditions material (reconstructable "Q") originates with "Q" and any variations are due to authorial emendations/redactions. As far as I know this has never really been posed as a problem (except for say the Lord's Prayer existing in both written and oral versions) and so has remained dormant. But I suggest as a defective gene it was only a matter of time until it would become manifest. I think I would need to brush up on my history of source theory to check out its earlier manifestations. I suspect that many source theorists and Gospel commentators have been hiding under the umbrella of the two-source theory, whilst harbouring similar modifications as Dunn (and here I have to disagree with Neville who seems to think that the implications of Dunn's theory is in effect an erosion of the two-source theory when I doubt whether there has ever really been a two-source theory but it has more-so been a hiding place for those with there own version of a two-source theory--no one version of Q has been identical for starters!) And what are the implications for grafting on oral traditions into "the" two-source theory?

I suggest that there is as yet no way to combine an oral source theory with a written dependence source theory neatly. The whole synoptic problem begins because the variance between the first three Gospels is not considered enough for independently written works (we would expect more variation for Gospels based solely on oral stories) and so we construct a theory of literary dependence to account for the similarities. But now that our theory has almost elimated the need for oral traditions we face the following dilemmas:
(1) we have as yet no agreed way to detect the presence of oral material influencing the newly composed written texts;
(2) another unknown quantity thrown into the mix is the problem of secondary orality (oral traditions sparked off by written versions which seems to be hinted at by Dunn when he sees Mt & Lk using Mk in an "oral mode")! This would be one way of sticking to the two-source theory (by saying that Mt & Lk deliberately kept an oral "sound" or "flavour" to their rewriting of Markan material) but it is not exactly clear that Dunn is suggesting this or primary orality;
(3) can we know when we have discovered a tradition to be more oral-sounding unless we also could know whether redaction to written versions was deliberately made to be oral-sounding? Are there any guidelines here yet to follow?

It seems Dunn wants to have his Q and eat it too!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Burkett's Rethinking the Gospel Sources. . .

and so am I. Delbert Burkett's 2004 book (vol 1 in a projected three-volume study on Gospel sources) raises some interesting implications regarding the difficulty of Markan priority (so he argues instead for a group of proto-Marks). Over the coming weeks I plan to respond to some of his points.

But I'm also planning to find time soon to comment on James Dunn's oral-Q theory ("Q" material = Mt-Lk double-tradition).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tails You Lose, Heads I Win?

I'm not sure yet if it has a technical name, but one argument I have seen used to bolster one particular source theory over another seems dodgy to me: that is to assume that by finding fault with another source theory, one advances one's own source theory. For example, supporters of the Griesbach theory (Mt-Lk-Mk) seem to get excited about finding fault with the logic originally used to build the Markan hypothesis (Markan priority). But a faulty argument used to support Markan priority is not necessarily a win for the Griesbach theory.

The Six Presentations

Despite some obvious weaknessess in my essay "Solving the Synoptic Problem for Students?" (e.g. my referring to the statistics of Theodore R. Rosche), it's still worth having a look at my "Survey of Evaluation" (summarising results of Part A). These are found in a table with the Appendices at the end. It is clear from the evaluation results that the six presentations I evaluated were all inadequate--none of them even achieved a score of 50%. The presentations of the synoptic problem I chose to evaluate were ones which I found that students were generally being referred back to generally in the other literature:

(1) Joseph A. Fitzmyer's classic presentation, "The Priority of Mark and The 'Q' Source in Luke," (1970);
(2) Werner George Kummel's classic intro to the synoptic problem from his, Introduction to the New Testament (trans. 1975), 38-80;
(3) Robert Stein's classic book from 1987, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction;
(4) Christopher M. Tuckett's entry for the Anchor Bible Dictionary (vol 6, 1992), 263-270;
(5) David L. Dungan's book, A History of the Synoptic Problem (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1999);
(6) and two chapters from John S. Kloppenborg's, Excavating Q (chapter 1 and chapter 6).

Students were not really being invited into the discussion with these works. The questions that students might ask were not being answered by these presentations. I suggest that the best introduction to the synoptic problem for students would need to be one written in conjunction with students (or in response to student questions). For this reason, it would have been interesting to see how well Mark Goodacre's, The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze (2001) would fare based on the criteria I used (it arrived at my college library a few days before I handed in the essay) or even Sander's and Davies' Studying the Synoptic Gospels (1989) which I found difficult to access (I've only just managed to order one for an affordable price--soon to arrive).

Not for student participation?
At least that would appear to be the assumption and/or effect of reading most introductory books on the synoptic problem. However I was pleased to see one student struggling with their own questions here which is one perfectly good way of participating from a student perspective. There simply aren't many forums or groups designed for student participation. I had lots of questions but no where to submit them. I firstly tried writing a letter to David Dungan without any success. The first few questions I sent to synoptic list (e.g. here and here) went ignored (the newer 2005+ list is here), and I simply couldn't find who else was really interested in source theory who I could engage with. A fellow student from college was slightly interested (perhaps because I kept badgering him with my ideas) and together we managed to go once through the so-called Q material (Mt-Lk double tradition) in Greek to begin testing how much of it seemed like oral tradition. I then wanted to compare our analysis to the triple tradition material which we both agreed came from Mk. I wanted to compare the kind of agreement and variation we found. He did not wish to continue with it and I have yet to do it. I am more a group work person for some things--I just have yet to find someone else who has similar questions and who wants to get together (in person) and plough through it together (it doesn't help that I live in Cranbourne!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Essay Uploaded

I've added my 2002 essay to the sidebar (as a word doc and pdf). If there are problems downloading (I would appreciate knowing) there then it can be found online at:

Monday, August 21, 2006

Solving the Synoptic Problem for Students?

This was the title of the essay I wrote in 2002. Who best to evaluate how the synoptic problem was introduced to students than me, a student?! The essay consisted of two parts: Part A "Evaluating Synoptic Problem Presentations" evaluated six introductions to the synoptic problem; Part B "Investigating Matthean Posteriority" looked at arguments for and against Matthean Posteriority (i.e. Mt used both Mk & Lk) one thing (among many) sorely lacking in all the synoptic problem presentations. I will see if I can make the essay available online as a pdf (or word doc file).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

still looking for a satisfactory source theory. . .

I first encountered the notion that the synoptic Gospels were not independently composed in December 1999 when I read Spong who was advocating Michael Goulder's theory (Lk used both Mk & Mt). The notion came as quite a shock (I was raised in very conservative churches, with no idea of what a Gospel commentary was let alone a synoptic source theory!), but it also seemed rather logical to me (perhaps the only logical thing about Spong!). Next, I went to my local library and discovered John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, and was quite impressed by the logic of a reconstructed Q source behind Matthew and Luke (Yes Q is more interesting than Lk's use of Mk & Mt!). I was happy with this "two-source theory" until I read C. S. Mann's commentary on Mk based on the Griesbach theory (Mk used both Mt & Lk) unsettling me once again. Fortunately for my own sanity I returned to "orthodoxy" (hopefully also to the delight of my lecturers!) mid-1st semester into my BTheol after reading Kloppenbrog's Excavating Q.

I was impressed by Kloppenborg's sensible-sounding, even-headed discussion of various source-theories and his advocacy of the two-source theory. Conversly it did seem like other theorists had an axe to grind. Farmer and others seemed so resentful of being led up the garden path by previous scholarship (I recall the phrase "spoon-fed" used resentfully against the Q hypothesis) as though they wanted me to be upset with them. I then happily discovered the Huggins-Hengel theory in about Dec 2001 (i.e. Mt used Lk & Mk & and other pieces of oral-tradition) and I wondered why this theory was so unheard of (all the introductions to the synoptic problem merely said "No one argues for this theory.") However, further investigation did not vindicate it--one could easily argue for it but there were still no impelling reasons to my mind for interpreting Mt in light of Lk's Gospel. One needn't take recourse to Lk to explain Mt. I realised I would be tossed to-and-fro by every next book I read unless I could come to my own reasons/my own source theory.

More to come. . .(but no solid answers, sorry)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stay tuned for more

Despite my computer crashing yesterday whenever I tried using blogger, I've decided to keep adding further posts regarding my thoughts on the Synoptic problem.

Friday, August 18, 2006

As an experiment, I have decided to put my lecture notes online using blogger. Hopefully this will help me to improve any further lectures I have occasion to do in BN101 concerning source analysis. So for any who find their way here feel free to add appropriate comments. I blame some errors on formatting problems!

So far the lecture notes only extend for the two-hour lecture in week three of BN101 (Interpreting the New Testament) "Source Analysis". Some handouts are presently too difficult for me to reproduce online. I will eventually get around to linking and referencing things proplerly.

Gospel Source Analysis
Differences between Gospel according to John & the other canonicals students may already have noticed listed on board in one column E.g. style/type of language; content (like ex/inclusion of exorcisms). Hopefully students will notice that the Gospel according to John does not have much overlapp in terms of CONTENT.

The following differences should be noted (preferably voluntarily by students!):

  • GJohn more reflective Gospel, with focus on Jesus’ mystical relation to the Father. Jesus claims a divine authority and speaks differently (symbolic speech).
  • ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (one of several trips down to Jerusalem over a three-year period rather than one year).
  • The Jesus performs ‘signs’ (semeia) designed to produce faith (whereas the synoptics have it the other way around--Jesus performs powerful deeds when people have faith.)
  • No healings of demon-possession (no exorcisms) in fact not many healings at all.
  • No Lord’s Prayer
  • No Temptation
  • No Transfiguration
  • No Sermon on the Mount (or plain)
  • No apocalyptic farewell speech
  • No institution of the Eucharist (instead Jesus washes the feet of the disciples)
  • No parables (the phrase "Kingdom of God" only used twice)
  • No proverbial sayings

Pericope Indexes/Gospel Tables ("Canons")

By the early 3rd century Gospel tables had been developed to act as an index for displaying the sections [pericopes] of each Gospel (the sections were numbered using red-coloured numerals linked to the sections in the text as there were not yet chapter and verses invented) so that someone could quickly find sections of each Gospel dealing with the same thing and to see at a glance which sections were found in only one or two (or three) Gospels. Eusebius based his ten tables (kanwn "canons") on Ammonius’ (3rd c.) and these are still published today in some Greek NT’s.

Dealing with Difference
The approach used by Origen (3rd c.) to deal with the different Gospels was to believe that the literal differences were historically unimportant. Origen allowed that the accounts given by the four Evangelists could be literally deficient but ‘spiritually’ true. Origen quote:

"I do not condemn them if they even sometimes altered history in the service of some mystical object they had in mind."
This approach was a little too subtle/nuanced for most (although compare Augustine's approach). The usual approach to solving the 'problem' of difference was by rearranging the 'pieces' to produce a single Gospel Harmony. Until the 18th century scholars sought to overcome the difficulty of difference so their energy went into trying to make the differences go away by harmonising any differences between the Gospels and by emphasising the overall unity of the Gospels (often at the expense of obliterating the individuality of each narrative). Tatian was perhaps the first to apply this approach. He unified the four Gospels into one by actually combining the text of all four Gospels into one single harmony (c.160 CE) called the "Gospel of the mixed-ones" in Syriac (euangelion da-mhalte) and "[One]-Through-Four" (diatessaron) in Greek.

How to Create a Harmony
The different order of Gospel events was thought to be the biggest difficulty to overcome. In order to create a Gospel harmony (increasingly popular in the 16th century onwards) one had to do two things:
(1) create a single order for all Gospel episodes (i.e. one had to decide on which Gospel order to follow or make adjustments to all four), and,
(2) decide which episodes describe the same events and which were simply different events (even though perhaps similar).

Apologetical/Theological Purpose of Harmonising
The goal was to ascertain the historical order of events lying behind the Gospels. The reason why so much effort was spent on harmonising any apparent differences between the Gospels (to create a single, unified historical account) was so as to defend the Gospels against any possible attacks by skeptics, non-believers or unorthodoxy in general. Harmonising was considered not only essential for defending against attacks (from outside) but also a way of making the Gospel message more appealing and believable (inside the Church). The harmonisers thought themselves to be at war and so sought to provide and defend a single Gospel narrative.

Harmonising meant discerning which Evangelists may have provided the correct historical order of an event. Since early tradition had it that the Gospel of Matthew had been written first (in Hebrew or Aramiac not Greek!) Mt’s order was usually taken to be the ‘real’ one. Mt-Mk-Lk-Jn became the standardised order in the West by the 4th century and at the same time also became the accepted order of composition.

Results of Harmonising
Augustine (4th c.) conjectured that all four Evangelists were aware of the original order of events but that the differences in order were because the Holy Spirit had caused each of the authors to write things differently for spiritual reasons. But even so Augustine felt the need to harmonise all four Gospels into one narrative. Augustine thought that the Evangelists who wrote 2nd, 3rd and 4th each knew the Gospel accounts which preceded them but Augustine didn’t elaborate on a theory of direct literary relationship besides saying that Mk looks like a shorter version of Mt. He believed that none of the Evangelists narrated the historical order of events (each was free to compose their own narratives) and in his attempt to harmonise the accounts Augustine concluded that Jesus must have given two Sermons (one on the Mount, one on the Plain), performed two cleansings of the temple, was anointed by Mary twice, and that there were four angels at the empty tomb. Osiander’s harmony (1537) went even further by having three Temptations, three healings of blind men near Jericho, three centurions’ sons healed, three anointings of Jesus of three different women, three cleansings of the temple, and having Jesus betrayed by Judas twice. Calvin (16thc.) compromised the difficulty by believing that at least one Evangelist must be seen as having given us the historical order for each event. Luther thought that people should just ignore inconsistencies among the Gospel events:

"If one account in Holy Writ is at variance with another, and it is impossible to solve the difficulty, just dismiss it from your mind."

Calvin wrote (A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke vol 1.):

"No fixed and distinct order of dates was observed by the Evangelists in composing their narratives. The consequence is, that they disregard the order of time, and satisfy themselves with presenting, in a summary manner, the leading transactions in the life of Christ. They attended, no doubt, to the years, so as to make it plain to their readers, in what manner Christ was employed, during the course of three years, from the commencement of his preaching till his death. But miracles, which took place nearly about the same time, are freely intermixed."

Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) believed that the Sermon on Mount and Sermon on Plain were merely two versions of the same sermon, and that when more than one gospel agreed in their order of pericopae, then this indicated the actual chronology.

The New Gospel Source Theories of Owen and Griesbach: Harmonising Approach Dropped
In England 1764, Henry Owen was the first [updated correction see Jan 21 2007] to propose that the similarities between Mt Mk & Lk meant that "the Evangelists not only perused, but also transcribed, each others Writings." In Germany between 1774-1776, Griesbach published the first-ever "synopsis" designed to scrutinize the various Gospel differences and admitted to the "heresy" that he did not believe that the Gospel accounts could be fully harmonised into a single historical narrative and a few years later developed the same utilisation theory as Owen (Mt-Lk-Mk) to account for the similarities. With the 19th century came numerous new kinds of source theories, several suggesting that pre-Gospel documents or "fragments" were utilized by the Evangelists. The "synoptic problem" of explaining the literary similarities with recourse to the sources used by the Evangelists was in full swing and by the beginning of the 20th century, there developed a near consensus of a solution, known as the two-source hypothesis or Oxford Hypothesis.

Similarities More Intriguing than Differences
The new theories were due to the fact that the similarities were considered more interesting than the differences. Surely we should expect many differences for independently written accounts? It's when they look too similar that the question is raised: Why? Who is copying whom? Handout 1: Four accounts of feeding multitude with five loaves and two fish (Mt 14:13-22// Mk 6:30-45// Lk 9:10-18// Jn 6:1-15). Discuss observations. Add comments to list (regroup list into similarity of: CONTENT, ORDER & WORDING).

How the gospels were written - was there a literary relationship between Mt, Mk & Lk? In other words, was the overlapping material ‘plagiarised’? How would we know if two very similar essays were the result of plagiarism? Write down student answers (i.e. common content, wording & sequences). Discuss handouts: Diagram of overlapping material, 5000fed wording, & Allan Barr’s synoptic chart.

Luke’s Prologue: Read & Discuss.

Seeing that many undertook to arrange a narration concerning the happenings that have been accomplished among us, consistent with what those who were eyewitness and assistants of the word from the beginning handed down to us, it seemed fitting for me also having followed all things carefully from the top to write orderly for you most excellent Theophilus, so that you would know for sure about the matters which you were instructed.

Besides Lk 1:1-4, the Gospels do not inform us directly about…

  • When or where the Gospels were composed;
  • Who wrote the gospel accounts (the titles According to… may not be original but 2nd century tradition);
  • To whom exactly they were addressed (besides Luke’s ‘Theophilus’);
  • What they are (they each to varying degrees resemble ancient biography);
  • How they were composed/ exactly what sources were being used.

Timeline on whiteboard (c.5BCE – 100 CE) placing on Jesus’ ministry (c.30), Paul’s letters (c.50s) & approx. year Gospels written down (c.70-90). Note that: Approx. 50 yrs interval. Question of Transmission Process: the so-called Oral Period -Unfortunately no real consensus on how material was transmitted in this ‘period’ (3 contrary ‘control’ theories). We would expect more variation if due only to Oral retellings thus problem is likely also surface level Written Composition (i.e. copying: utilization, adaptation/ putting together of sources). Two columns on board: the Oral Period of Transmission vs. Written Period of Composition. Informal-uncontrolled? (Mk 1:28//Lk 4:14//Mt 9:26; Mk 8:27.30 & pars. Mk 9:38,40 & pars. Mt 28:11.15). Formal-Control? (Teacher-Disciple: Mt 10:1; 11:1; 12:49; 16:20-1; 18:1; Mk 2:18; 4:34; 9:9-10; 9:30-2; Lk 24:19). Or somewhere in between? (informal-controlled, see week four's lecture on Form Analysis see also Bailey who has a persuasive "middle-road" theory but lacks much evidence for it--see form analysis).

Students' Questions: Ask what do students think we can discover about the sources used in the composition of the Gospels? What do students think of the notion that some of the Evangelists made use of the previous accounts? Is there a way to test such hypotheses? Do students think multiple-source hypotheses are less convincing? (or simply harder to test?)

Definition of the Synoptic Problem

A definition of the Synoptic Problem is ‘modern’ in the sense it assumes that the similarities are due to some kind of literary dependence (whether directly or indirectly): Three Gospels look so alike (in content, wording & order) that the question (of why) demands an answer of literary interdependence i.e. possible literary (i.e. written/ editorial) relationships between the three Synoptic ("look-alike") gospels. Remember the three types of similarities:

(1) There is enough overlapping material to represent the overlaps in a Venn diagram.

(2) Their verbal similarities allow us to look at them in a synopsis to speculate on possible literary relationships. Griesbach first to publish a synopsis for looking at them in parallel columns in 1776 (hence ‘synoptic’ gospels ever since).

(3) The sequence/order of pericopes are also very similar (& able to be presented as Barr's chart does with connecting lines representing this).

Literary Dependent Theories: Utilization; Proto-Gospel/s; Multiple-Source Theories; Deutero-Gospels.
Anti Literary Dependent Theories: Tradition Hypothesis; Eta Linnemann & D. Farnell’s "ADHD" theory (Anti-Dependent Hyper-Dogmatic!) theory.

Is Mk one of the sources used by Mt and Lk? Most scholars believe/accept that Mt and Lk used Mk and "Q" (i.e. 2-Source-Theory) but often for dubious reasons. Synoptics evidence both dependence on material likely to be oral sources as well as written interdependence making the Synoptic Problem extremely complex and ultimately unsolvable (with the insufficient evidence we have to work with). There is no one theory able to explain all the data sufficiently.

Markan Hypothesis Priority: Handout 3: Some Useful and Useless Arguments for Markan Priority

Markan Priority Hypothesis

Arguing for Markan priority is surprisingly harder than it looks, and most of the arguments in the textbooks are seriously flawed.

-Stephen Carlson

Flawed Arguments

  • Order of passages supposedly dependent on Mk’s order. But see David J. Neville, Arguments from Order in Synoptic Source Criticism: A History and Critique (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1994).
  • Christology supposedly ‘lower’ in Mark (e.g. with less use of the vocative kurie) – Besides the idea merely presupposing the solution, kurie can mean simply "sir". Note also more ‘developed’ Christology in some letters of Paul (i.e. even earlier than Mk). See Peter M. Head, Christology and the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Markan Priority (Cambridge, 1997), and review by C.D.F. Moule JTS 49 pt2 (Oct 1998), 739-41.
  • Markan passages longer relative to parallels in Matthew and Luke – But Markan passages are relatively shorter after Jesus enters Jerusalem. Writers sometimes enlarge and sometimes condense their sources with no known predictable patterns. See E.P. Sanders, The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (Cambridge, 1969).

Inconclusive Arguments

  • Mk has more theologically difficult passages in the portrayal of Jesus and the twelve disciples, making Mk more original if the more difficult reading is likely to be more original. Not only does this depend on a subjective estimation on what counts as more difficult, but the principle that "more difficult is original" is based on the results of redaction studies (ascertaining the individual editorial changes & agendas of the Evangelists) which already presuppose Markan priority! However, it is true that there are more reasons that can be given for writers wishing to edit Mk’s Gospel than vice-versa. (E.g. see Mark A. Matson, "Rhetoric in Matthew: An Exploration of Audience Knowledge Competency" [pdf online] who suggests Mt answers questions caused by Mk.)
  • Mk’s ‘poorer’ grammar improved by Mt & Lk merely fits a presupposed solution whereas writers sometimes improve their source’s grammar and sometimes spoil it.
  • Aramaic phrases in Mk were more likely avoided by Mt & Lk rather than added to Mt & Lk. In fact all three have Aramaic expressions unique to each!
  • Markan vocabulary being found in Mt & Lk parallel passages. Unfortunately characteristicly Markan vocabulary is missing from Mt and Lk but one study has shown that vocab occurring in Mt and Lk has a higher relationship to general Mk vocab in parallel passages (indicating either a Mark-like source or Mk as source). See (but is the vocabulary pool statistically significant enough to be able to sufficiently test such things?)
  • Date of composition - it appears that when Mt and Lk were written, Jerusalem lay in ruins. Both Mt and Lk (Mt 23:27-39//Lk 13:34-35) relay a prophecy of doom ("behold you house is forsaken") naturally written down after the event was fulfilled (to publicly affirm that the prophet was true) whereas Mk gives no explicit indication of this. Conversely, the Roman-Jewish war seems to provide a reasonable context for Mark’s subtle anti -war themes (e.g. Mk 5:1-20; 9:14-29).
  • Mk’s shorter description of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:31b-54 // Mk 15:20b-39// Lk 23:26-48) [i.e. word count = 348, 278, 358] is all the more striking and more understandable if written first given that Mark’s Gospel primarily depicts Jesus as a alternate type of warrior who challenges contemporary understandings of violence and "power" under God’s reign with the cross climactically demonstrating Jesus facing death and violence head on. Mk’s relative brevity in comparison to Mt & Lk here would make more sense if written closer in time to the use of, or memory of (and/or threat of) crucifixion if written sometime during the Roman-Jewish war 66-73. [This is an argument of mine]
  • Mark’s Gospel is shorter so Mt and Lk must have supplemented Mk – It is perhaps more likely that more material would have been added to (rather than deleted from) a source assuming that writers tended to use as much source material as they could. But many 2nd-century Gospels were shorter than Mt and Lk. It is true that large-scale features (like Mk’s overall length) relative to Mt & Lk are easier to explain if Mk is earlier. In terms of explaining the whole of each Gospel, other source theories positing Mk as dependent on Mt and/or Lk have more difficulty. A satisfactorily theological, historical and literary portrait of Mk as posterior has yet to be written—only two books have ever been written on the supposition that Mk is based on Mt and Lk.

Substantial Arguments

  • Evidence of editorial fatigue – Certain inconsistencies in Mt & Lk appear to have been caused by using a source resembling Mk (perhaps the reason why Mt 14:15-23 has two evenings in one day!). Mt 8:1-4// Mk 1:40-45 unnecessarily reproduces Mk’s secrecy theme and looks to be from a source without "crowds" as in Mk. In Mt 14:5 it is Herod who wishes to kill John (unlike Mk 6:19 where it is Herodias, c.f. 6:20) so it makes less sense when Mt says Herod "was grieved" unless due to fatigue from copying Mk 6:26 as his source; also Mk always call’s Herod "king" which Mt appears to follow inadvertently instead of calling him tetrarch as he had introduced him in verse 1. Cf. also Lk’s setting of the miraculous feed set in a city but then calls it a wilderness place in line with Mk’s version. See Mark Goodacre, "Fatigue in the Synoptics" NTS 44 (1998), 45-58.
  • The tight plotting of Mark’s Gospel causes many scholars to doubt that it would have been constructed from something like Mt or Lk.

Handout 4 [back of handout 2]: Synoptic Problem Terminology

Synoptic problem
refers to the intriguing combination of similarities existing between the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke in terms of content (i.e. Venn diagram displaying overlapping material) wording (i.e. parallel passages can be presented side-by-side, that is, in a synopsis) and order (often two or three Gospels agree in supplying the same sequence or arrangement of sections/ episodes /pericopes). These 3 features are likely due to some kind of literary relationship.

Sondergut refers to material only found in one Gospel (often called special material).

Triple tradition refers to material common to all three synoptic Gospels, either to

(a) any pericope which occurs in all three synoptic Gospels;
(b) the complete set of pericopae contained in all three synoptic Gospels.

Double-tradition refers generally to any passages in common between any two synoptic Gospels. Many scholars use the term Double Tradition to refer exclusively to the Mt-Lk double tradition.

Q is another term used to designate the Mt-Lk double-tradition, usually for the purpose of indicating that Mt and Lk used the same source (Quelle = "source" in German). This supposes that Mt and Lk were written independently of each other, and that their common double tradition indicates a shared source, not merely unknown (like "X"!) but rather witnessing a definitive source (also called Q hypothesis) which can be reconstructed from the Mt-Lk double-tradition. There is a lack of consensus not only for reconstructing but delimiting Q! Q is sometimes called Sayings Gospel Q and in the 19th c. was equated by some with what Papias (early 2nd c.) referred to as the oracles or sayings (logia) arranged by Matthew in Hebrew/ Aramaic. No Hebrew/Aramaic collection of sayings has ever been discovered (but cf. Gospel of Thomas).

Markan priority refers either to:
(a) the hypothesis that Mk was written earliest of the Synoptics;
(b) the source-hypothesis supposing that canonical Mk is the source of Mt and Lk for any material held in common (except in the case of Mk-Q overlaps) used for differentiating from other source-hypotheses not supposing canonical Mk to be the source for Mt or Lk.

Two-source hypothesis (or two-source theory) refers to the combined hypotheses of Markan priority and the Q hypothesis supposing that these were the two sources used to compose both Mt and Lk. There are also other unknown sources implied in any source-theory to account for unique Sondergut material such as Lk’s Parable of Two Sons/ Prodigal Son, hence the two-source theory is sometimes called the four-source theory with the label L given for Lk’s sondergut and M given for Mt’s sondergut.

Griesbach theory (Mt-Lk-Mk theory also known as Two-Gospel Hypothesis) posits the order: Mt-Lk-Mk (i.e. Lk dependent on Mt; Mk dependent on both Mt & Lk.) William R. Farmer revived the hypothesis in 1964.

Farrer theory posits Mt dependent on Mk, and Lk dependent on both Mt & Mk.

Augustinian hypothesis refers to the theory implied by Augustine’s order Mt-Mk-Lk(-Jn). Many Augustinian-like theories include a more complex variation on this such as positing some influence from a proto-Matthean source or a Hebrew or Aramaic source in order to take into consideration the enigmatic tradition that the apostle Matthew wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Proto-Gospel a pre-canonical version of any one of the four Gospels supposedly from which the canonical Gospel bearing its name was derived.

Ur-Gospel refers to a theoretical document from which all the synoptic Gospels supposedly derived.

Minor agreements refers to the phenomenon that on the two-source hypothesis:
(a) sometimes Mt and Lk agree together but against Mk in the triple tradition thus raising questions as to whether Mk could really be the source of Mt and Lk at these points (also called anti-Markan agreements) one solution has been to appeal to Mk-Q overlaps;
(b) there are also agreements of omission whereby Mt and Lk both agree in omitting something in Mk.

Mk-Q overlaps presupposes that Mk and Q are the two sources used by Mt and Lk and that some overlaps in content existed between Mk and Q which accounts for a phenomenon whereby material common to all three Synoptics (triple tradition) displays minor agreements between Mt and Lk against Mk (i.e. the two sources contained two versions of the same passage: one originating from Q and one originating from Mk).