• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Thoughts on the Synoptic Problem

    As regular readers will know, I teach a course which tackles a different book of the Bible in order each month. The last three months have seen us discuss Matthew, Mark and Luke a key part of which has been the Synoptic Problem. It actually works fairly neatly. In the first session I introduced the idea of the Synoptic Problem without going into solutions, and we looked at how Matthew might have adapted and added to Mark. The next session enabled us to go into the two main options over which book came first, and I put the case as to why I believed in Markan Priority. The final session, therefore, allowed me to go into the last stage of the problem, and the existence of Q.

    One of the things Mark Goodacre dislikes is the way many people give their solution to the Synoptic Problem (usually Markan Priority and Q) before ever presenting the evidence around it. Since I agree with Mark's principle, I thought it was important to present the questions around the double tradition as neutrally as possible (whilst still, ultimately, giving my own opinion). What this led me to, however, was the realisation that there are actually three possible explanations to the double tradition (assuming one accepts Markan Priority as we had established last time).

    The most well known of these is that Matthew and Luke worked independently using a now lost source (Q). Goodacre also argues for the possibility that Luke knew and used Matthew. But, theoretically at least, there's a third possibility: that Luke was written first and Matthew used it as a source. What surprising is that not only does no-one appear to believe in this option, no-one even gives it any consideration. Indeed in trying to draw up a list of arguments for and against, I had to devise/derive them all myself. That in itself, is obviously one argument against, but I also managed to come up with some more based on the texts than scholarly consensus.

    I came up with two main types of argument "for" the idea that Matthew used Luke. The first are those that are also used to support Luke's use of Matthew. So into this camp fall arguments for simplicity, lack of evidence from church tradition for Q and the major (Mark-Q overlaps) and minor agreements.

    The second group were harder to come up with as I couldn't just borrow them as I had done with the first type. One of the arguments here is the idea that Luke is more primitive than Matthew. In honesty, I offered this one with the large caveat that I was only aware of a couple of prominent examples ("Blessed are the poor in spirit" and "Our Father in Heaven") and had no idea how representative they were of the differences between Matthew and Luke in General. But if Farrer theorists can argue away the "alternating primitivity" argument from their side , then it was possible that the same might be ture from this side. The next argument was that Matthew's theology is more developed than Luke's. The example I cited was the church discourse in Matthew 18, but a case could also be made for the apologetics we find after the resurrection, not to mention the corpses raised from the dead at the point of Jesus' death. Lastly I argued that since Matthew's structure was the most developed (5 key discourses mirroring the Torah) that this also would support the theory that Matthew wrote last.

    When it came to the arguments "against" I could only find two (aside from critical unanimity against), but they were fairly decisive. Firstly, the fact that Luke is almost never the middle term in the triple tradition. Most of the time its Mark. Not infrequently it's Matthew. It's almost never Luke, which is not what we'd expect if Matthew had used Luke.

    The second main argument is that of editorial fatigue. When one double tradition author tries to adapt the other but lapses back into the original wording it's always Luke failing to coherently adapt Matthew, never the other way around (despite frequent instances of editorial fatigue when Matthew is using Mark). That said, there are relatively few examples here (at least that are cited in Mark Goodacre's paper), and even then not all of them are convincing. (In the case of Matt 13:16-17 / Luke 10:23-24, whilst given the broader trend of Matthew to Luke this seems the most feasible option, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Matthew was tidying up Luke rather than vice versa).

    Having done the session on Monday I returned to the question of the minor agreements as I had argued that fairly poorly (having forgotten some of the details) and did, in fact, uncover an argument against from another piece by Mark Goodacre. Here he argues that the language used is so typically Matthean in certain passages of the double tradition that it's hard to ascribe it to anything other than Luke using Matthew.

    Ultimately, I still hold to the Farrer theory, but it seems strange that there is so little material exploring the possibilities in the direction of Matthew's use of Luke. Does anyone have any others, for or against?

    One other point I wanted to raise, apt for this time of year, was regarding Luke supposedly erroneous citation of Quirinius's census. I didn't research this thoroughly at all, but in the main it seemed to be taken as read that because Josephus disagreed it was taken that Luke was wrong. I wanted to ask, are there any other sources for this verifying Josephus, and if not why is it so widely accepted that he is right? Can anyone help me with this? Even most of the conservative arguments defending Luke seem to accept that Josephus is right, resorting to arguments over the precise wording to defend Luke.


    • At 1:28 am, November 27, 2010, Blogger Mark Goodacre said…

      Thanks for a thoughtful and helpful post, Matt. The topic does come up from time to time, including in a recent Dallas Theological Seminary dissertation. Some comments at http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-not-matthews-use-of-luke.html , several of which overlap with yours, as it happens.

    • At 8:28 am, November 27, 2010, Anonymous eklektekuria said…

      Have you taken a look at Huggins (1992) on Matthean posteriority?

    • At 2:15 pm, November 29, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for those links.


    • At 9:48 pm, November 29, 2010, Blogger as said…

      Thanks for those links. film izle

    • At 10:13 pm, March 01, 2015, Blogger Gary said…

      Christians should not be surprised that authors of some of the books in the New Testament "plagiarized" the writings of other New Testament authors, ie, the authors of Matthew and Luke copying huge chunks of Mark, often word for word, into their own gospels.

      This habit is not new in the Bible. There is evidence that Old Testament writers did the exact same thing. An example: the entire chapters of II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 are almost word for word identical!

      If the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why would God have the author of one inspired book of the Bible copy almost word for word large sections, sometimes entire chapters, from another inspired book of the Bible? Is that how divine inspiration works?

      So should we simply accept this "word for word copying" as the will of the Almighty, accepting it blindly by faith, continuing to insist that God wrote the Bible, or should we consider the overwhelming evidence that the books of the Bible are human works of literature, no more divinely inspired than any other work of fallible human authors?


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