Restudying the Synoptic problem" of the Gospels and questions of priority/harmony

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by Pergamum, Jun 13, 2013.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Who here believes in Markan priority? Does it bother you that the early church all seemed to believe in Matthean priority? Was the early church wrong?

    I am re-studying the "synoptic problem" and I am looking for books or links about perceived contradictions or dis-harmonies within the 4 Gospels (especially the synoptics) and am looking for early church father quotes as well.

    Also, I am restudying "Q" and about Augustine's view of Mark drawing much info from Peter and his sermons.

    Can any of you point me to any links?

    Does anyone have a list of chronological difficulties within the Gospels and how these can be resolved (how many times did Jesus go to Jerusalem, kick out the money changers, what time of year and where was the feeding of the multitudes, etc).

  2. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I think the "problem" is desperately over-hyped. Whether that's the blindness of unbelief, the lack of critical ability, the desire to make a splash, the need to publish something in order to get tenure, being hoodwinked by academic orthodoxy, or some other reason or combination of reasons I'll leave to the psychiatrists.

    Assume that the events actually happened, and a large part of the "source" problem dries up. The common source is the facts. And people always retell facts a little differently, not only from one another, but also from themselves at different stages. People often point to Luke's prologue as though it affirmed a dependence on other sources; but I have yet to see it demonstrated rather than assumed that Luke saying that many others had written means that he had read them and used them.

    Don't assume that explanations of difficulties must involve special pleading or be implausible, and the remaining difficulties can be resolved.

    Gain some acquaintance with the practicalities of life and with the functioning of literature, and even some very thorny problems suddenly don't seem so difficult. I remember one person who doubted that the explanation for Matthew's sermon on the mount and Luke's sermon on the plain being similar and dissimilar was that they were two different sermons; and yet if you don't have a manuscript and haven't memorized an outline, can you even make a sermon come out the same way twice if you try? And has there been an itinerant preacher in history who hasn't repeated himself?

    I think the best all-in-one source on the Gospels is still Alfred Edersheim's Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; it is massive, but much more helpful, skillful, and learned than, for instance, E.P. Sanders. It's available online: Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah - Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The problem resolving Q is a simple one. Conservative scholars have learned to counter all Q-arguments with the simple question, "Show me Q." Obviously it can't be done. The whole premise rests on a fallacious argument from silence. Without Q, Markan priority falls.
  4. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I have always leaned towards Matthean priority since the early fathers favored it. But it seems very logical that the students of Jesus would transcribe notes and compile the contents of his sermons, which Luke and the others probably saw, at least in part.
  5. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    From what I gather, Q could just be notes, or stories from eye witnesses that Luke and Mark gathered their info from, not some other gospel that many are making it out to be. But I am also unlearned in the synoptic problem so don't take my word for it.
  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I oft times reflect on how much of "scholarship" is based on some conjecture that everyone accepts within a certain community and, because it has the title of scholarship, has a certain dignity that would never be respected in another arena. Have you ever stopped to think about how little there is in the writings to come up with the crazy theories that scholars come up with. The entire New Testament isn't even the length of an average size novel but all sorts of textual theories are concocted as if the breadth of the corpus is sufficient to establish large patterns. As just one example, we act as if it's a complete mystery who wrote Hebrews where the early Church was convinced it was Paul. What did they know? They didn't have the scholarship we possess to notice that this "pretender" was writing in a completely unknown manner.

    Look, I'm not unstudied in this stuff. It's because I have that I'm unimpressed with what some people build their entire professional careers upon. I need to find the exact details but I was listening to a presentation in which a case arose at the turn of the 20th century where an "expert" witness was brought in for some sort of legal dispute. He was a critical scholar who was a recognized expert within the arena of textual criticism. He evaluated a document to "prove" for his client an entire backstory about a document applying the same criteria he used to conjecture about Books of the Bible. The result? His testimony was essentially treated with scorn by the court as completely worthless. Many experts in literature have long opined that the normal rules do not apply in the arena of Biblical study. You can see I have little respect for those who make their living coming up with what we would consider "fish tales" if you weren't granted a PhD for it.

    Anyhow, it's no mystery to me why Mark, Matthew, and Luke are alike and I really don't think who wrote first had much of an impact on the writing of the Scriptures. Just think about the last election cycle and all the stump speeches. While I don't want to drag Christ into the same boat as politicians the analogy is somewhat apt to give a point of reference. You don't even have to think terribly hard to determine why you would expect a community of Christians to remember certain phrases from sermons and teaching that they heard repeated over and over and over and over and over and over again.

    Keep your Markan priority for those of you convinced of it. Makes for scholarly repute. I'll seek my professional repute in something not based on pure conjecture that treats the ancient Church like a bunch of idiots just because they didn't know how to use a Word Processor.

    Rant off.
  7. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I enjoyed the rant, Rich - but if you include Origen as "early Church" it is not the case that they were all convinced Paul was the author of Hebrews.
  8. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Nice rant, Rich.

    I’ve used a similar approach sometimes with those who come up with strained explanations for Genesis. In answer to the so-called problems with text being draw from different sources and pieced together, I suggest they sit with some Bedouin sheep headers in a Middle Eastern desert, under stars around a fire, and listen to their storytelling technique.

    The structure of Genesis would make sense to anyone with an ear for narrative. (Of course, you’d have to learn Arabic to get the comparison).

    But that’s the problem. So many critics have hidden from life and thrown their senses out the window.
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Looks great...but, WOW, expensive!
  11. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

  12. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Linnemann is a German trained, formerly Bultmanian academic who later became an evangelical.
  13. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    I'm in favor of Markan priority, although I don't hold it with certainty. It just seems more likely. You can find arguments for it by evangelicals. Look at Carson and Moo's Introduction to the New Testament.

    I'm a church historian, though. I tend not to place too much weight on the historical claims of church fathers. They lived before historical consciousness and were more likely to make historical claims to fit a theological or cosmic-symbolical framework.
  14. Grimmson

    Grimmson Puritan Board Sophomore

    "They lived before historical consciousness?" Those my friend are fighting words. I think you mean to say that the Fathers did not have a critical view of history. I read the fathers’ historical work all the time, and one thing you need to realize is the force of taking the word of an earlier father as gospel, instead of later fathers analyzing it critically. Plus you should also consider the nature of an oral culture, which is a major separating difference between our world today and their world. What has been pasted down orally had some weight, for good reason. One being ancient kids’ school training in memorization (more than what we have today). Another, people typically did not exactly have pieces of paper with them where ever they go; therefore they had to rely on their memory which could also reinforce memory skills. Third, if the same story is told enough times repeated by the same person and group then that story becomes easier to remember and may be pasted down due to personal or community significance. I would say that they had a much better "historical consciousness" then we do today with are critical view of history. Many of them would be able to tell you their genealogy, better then we would today. Most of them would probably know their local history, how many kids know their community's history today? The reality then is that history played an important role in their life, who they were, their profession, and many more factors. Their connection to history was more personal and less academic. And you can see this in the writing of the fathers, which is why I recommend that people read their work.

    And one more point, it almost looks like from this post that your accusing the fathers of making up history for theological reasons. I'll let you expand on that thought if you do not mind.
  15. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Origen (as quoted by Eusibius):
    What Origen is disputing is not Pauline authorship but that someone might have taken "short notes" of what the Apostle taught and wrote it out in their own style. As you're most likely aware, the earliest collections of Pauline epistles include Hebrews.

    I might add that if I selected only 14 writings to textual critics, I'm certain that I could find critics who would claim I did not write one of them as my style widely varies depending upon audience. If, for whatever reason, those writings of mine had been widely used by many who knew I had written them and told their children I had written them then I believe their testimony ought to hold greater weight than textual analysis based on a limited collection of everything I might have written in my life.

    R.C. Sproul tells a story of why he rejects this kind of textual criticism. He was learning the Dutch language and created index cards for new Dutch words as he labored through a text while at the Free University of Amsterdam. After he completed one theologian's work, he began reading another work by the same author. He added about 2000 cards for words that he had not encountered in the prior work.

    I'm not disputing the value of textual analysis altogether but the sample size is incredibly small in order to determine the kind of precision that some people insist upon. I will go with the testimony of the early Church on authorship as I don't believe the analysis has a credible precision with which to overrule their testimony.
  16. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    He's not willing to argue against Pauline authorship; he's also not willing to affirm it. That the theology is Pauline is one thing; that Paul wrote or dictated it, another. (Just as it is one thing to say that Mark had Peter's testimony as a basis for his gospel, and another that Peter wrote it.) As a testimony to Origen's view, or even to the view that had been handed down to him, it's hardly a forceful affirmation of Pauline authorship.
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    This would mean that Jesus and his disciples (including the writers of the Gospels) also lived before a sense of historical consciousness.
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    It depends upon what you mean by authorship. Many attribute not only the writing but the thoughts and teachings to Apollos or to some completely unknown party. As Origen defines authorship in this case, he's granting Paul authorship. The same argument, by the way, is made that Peter could not have written one of his Epistles as the Greek is too advanced. Conservative scholars argue that he may have had someone putting his thoughts into better Greek for him if they grant the validity of the argument about the style. The point is that we receive the Epistle as belonging to inspiration of Peter and not to another person whether someone else may have penned it.
  19. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I had a professor at the liberal seminary I attended make that exact argument when it came to the gospel writers application of OT texts to Jesus.

    (This was in response to Pergy's post, Rich and I posted simultaneously.)
  20. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, I think that legend and history overlap to a considerable degree in ancient sources, something even some Roman historians understood. And yes, I think sometimes the early church fathers simply made up historical claims because they were theologically convenient. Or, they really believed those claims were historically true, but they believed that they were true on grounds other than historical. They thought some thoughts MUST be true or OUGHT to be true because it made so much SENSE for them to be true. (This is similar to how medieval philosopher-theologians argued for Ptolemaic cosmology.) For example, it was common to accuse Epicureans of licentious hedonism, when their own texts reveal quite the opposite. Augustine played Cyprian pretty false to use him against the Donatists. There is a good amount of legendary material already in Eusebius and Hippolytus. The ECFs as a group vary widely as to their historical reliability.
  21. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I don't see that Origen defines authorship in this excerpt. He says that the style lacks Paul's typical rudeness; that the thoughts are not inferior; and therefore he judges the most plausible speculation not that someone helped Paul with the language (as people suggest of Silvanus or Mark in the case of Peter), but that someone remembered Paul's teaching. That sounds a lot more like formative influence than it does like authorship. I have written things under the recollection of Turretin, Luther, et al; if I do so well, the thoughts are theirs - yet I am still the author. I think Calvin's view is consistent with this understanding of Origen, though Calvin is obviously rather bolder than Origen:

  22. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Since we're dealing with the early Church, I'll stick with Origen and end here as I have to run.

    My point is that Origen clearly affirms that the teachings are Paul's. Again, the issue of inspiration is key here. Origen attributes the teachings and thoughts to Paul. Now, you may argue from Origen that this is "formative influence" but then the question is: Who is inspired? Who was moved by the Holy Spirit in giving us Hebrews? Others claim in denying Pauline authorship that someone else must have been inspired. Origen is arguing for two writers in his notes: Paul is the teacher, someone else is purported to be the person who has written it down. The former is the one with Apostolic authority and the one who taught under divine inspiration.
  23. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    As of right now, I hold to the view that Mathew wrote first, then Mark, Luke and then John (at a later date post-70 ad date...contra the preterists). I also think that written notes about Jesus' and Peter's preaching were making the rounds as well as the oral traditions, such that we need not believe in a "Q" but only affirm that, yes of course, Jesus' students often wrote down His teachings.

    How does that sound?
  24. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I understand that this is your view, Rich. But what I don't see is a claim from Origen that it is Paul's inspiration that makes Hebrews inspired. I think I see why you read it that way; but I think that reading depends on a presupposition brought to the text of Origen, rather than one derived from Origen himself. That doesn't make it wrong; it just means that one part of the argument is still undocumented.
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Sounds pretty much like "modern" people to me.
  26. Phil D.

    Phil D. Puritan Board Junior

    Indeed. As one scholar once put it, Paul's fingerprints are all over Hebrews, but not his DNA.

    Dr. D. Allan makes a compelling case that Paul's very close friend and colleague Luke is a very likely candidate for having penned Hebrews. The book is a bit technical in places, but it does a good job of looking at the collective opinions of the ECFs, quite a number of whom argue for Luke, as well as the epistle's prose and syntax. One of the most compelling factors Dr. Allan explores, however, is how amazingly Hebrews' theological themes and structure intertwine with those of Luke's Gospel and Acts. It's well worth a read if someone is really interested in this issue.

    Notably if Luke was indeed the penman, then there is no issue at all (from an evangelical perspective) in terms of Hebrews' credentials as an inspired text.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  27. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    It was suggested earlier in this thread that the historicity of the gospel events explains the commonalities between the different gospel accounts. This, however, is not an adequate account of the commonalities between the synoptic gospels. The commonalities in places extend to precise words used in "editorial asides" introducing the pericopes.

    There are a large number of features of Mark's gospel which indicate that ... as a minimum ... it is independent of the other gospels - things like Mark using more awkward Greek, having larger accounts of different shared pericopes, and, arguably, having a slightly less polished theology. None are these features are explicable changes if Mark was drawing upon either Matthew or Luke. If Mark is independent of the other accounts, and yet the other accounts show a literary dependence on Mark (or a common document shared with Mark), one is starting to develop strong evidence that Mark account came first, and was used by either Matthew or Luke in composing their own accounts.

    Personally, while I think that the gospels show that were some order between the gospel documents, I also think that it is a mistake to attempt to explain all the features of the gospels by documentary dependence, rather than allowing for common history and common oral traditions. I don't believe that we have enough evidence in the gospels themselves to definitively untangle the situation and give a sure account of how they came to be written.

    One of the nice things about the "synoptic problem" is that it is a problem intimately concerned with the gospels themselves. One is attempting to understand and account for features of the Bible itself .... and while some postulated solutions may be more convincing than others, and may depend on more or less plausible theories about other factors/sources .... nevertheless at the end of the day, one is attempting to account for features of the Bible itself. This is a legitimate task for any biblical scholar, especially a Reformed one.
  28. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Steve, if your post was directed at me, I don't think it's quite a fair assessment of my remarks. Perhaps there are two points I should clarify. One is that I was focusing on the synoptic "problem." This is not solely a matter of relationships between them; it is often also presented as a matter of discrepancies. But while there may be a "question," for those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture there is no "problem."
    Second, my claim was that accepting the facts as stated dries up "a large part" of the source issue. Points of narrative art are not addressed by that, but points of narrative art are not so enormous as to make the question of common events and discourses minuscule in comparison. Questions about who wrote first will still have an historical interest (though I have yet to see any information that the relative dating of Matthew, Mark, and Luke would make a plugged ha'p'orth of difference to interpretation), but if you assume that things happened as described that does provide a common source for a great part of the material; and it eliminates certain issues, like the attempt to make John's temple cleansing the same as that of the synoptic writers.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2013
  29. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    Looking back, yes, it was one of your posts that prompted my contribution: but I was primarily trying to respond to the idea that the dependencies
    between the synoptics could be completely explained by appeal to a common underlying history, rather than because I thought that that was your complete
    position. That in part (along with laziness in identifying the contribution which prompted this thought) was why I didn't quote from your post. Sorry if I misrepresented you.

    All of my books with "Synoptic problem" in the title are either primarily or entirely focused on the question of dependencies. It is a "problem" rather than
    merely a "question" because there is no completely satisfactory answer to this issue. I am not sure those who see inconsistencies see the purported inconsistencies as being particularly problematic.

    I agree completely.

    Again I agree to a certain extent. When one has various accounts of similar events, one has to decide whether the differences in the accounts can best be explained by it being different events being described, or by different viewpoints on the same event. There isn't one approach to these issues which is
    guaranteed to produce the right ("sound") answer.
  30. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

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