Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Synoptic Problem in Eight Easy Steps

(a) The Synoptic Gospels are so similar in order and wording that there must be some kind of literary link between them.

(b) Mark is consistently the “middle term”, i.e. agreements between Matthew and Luke are often “mediated” via Mark. Matthew and Luke are rarely the middle term.

(c) The easiest way to explain Mark as middle term is that it was the major source for both Matthew and Luke. This explains all the “triple tradition” (Matthew // Mark // Luke) material.

(d) But two hundred verses or so of major agreements between Matthew and Luke remain, the “double tradition” (Matthew // Luke).

(e) If Matthew and Luke used Mark independently, the double tradition must be derived from an hypothetical source, called “Q” (for Quelle, source).

(f) Thus the “Two Source Theory”, that Matthew and Luke had two major sources, Mark and Q. It is the majority view.

(g) But there is good evidence that Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark, e.g. some major and many minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.

(h) Q is therefore unnecessary. Matthew knew Mark; Luke knew Mark and also Matthew. This is called the Farrer Theory.

13 comments:

BruceA said...

From what I've seen, the Farrer theory makes a lot of sense, especially in explaining the points where Matthew and Luke are identical to each other but differ from Mark. But how do you explain the vast differences in the Matthew and Luke birth stories? If Luke knew Matthew, why did he omit Matthew's entire birth narrative and use a completely independent story line?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Bruce. I wrote a little about that in The Case Against Q, so the easiest answer would be to refer you there. However, briefly I would say that one needs to bear in mind the more fundamentally extraordinary fact that Luke includes a Birth Narrative at all. Where does he get that idea from? I think his Gospel is a response to Matthew; he saw what Matthew was doing, attempting to fix Mark, and decides to do the same thing himself, but he thinks he can do it better. In particular, he thought he could improve on Matthew's Birth Narrative. And history and liturgy on the whole has agreed with him.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

Although I largely accept the Farrer hypothesis, I wonder how Augustinians (Mt > Mk > Lk) and the Lindsey school (Lk > Mk > Mt) will respond to your saying that the "easiest" way to account for Mark's being the middle term is to posit that it is the source of Matthew and Luke, since precisely the same pattern of agreement occurs whenever Mark is the second term in a linear stemma. You wouldn't get away with that if you wrote it in a book, would you?

Jack Poirier

Mark Goodacre said...

Jack, thanks for that. Well, that's why this is a one paragraph blog post for a bit of fun and not a book. :) I do think that one of Sanders and Davies's mistakes in Studying the Synoptic Gospels was that they implied that the only two realistic explanations for Mark as middle term were Marcan Priority and Griesbach. Actually I find Griesbach tough to explain Mark as the middle term.

Jim Deardorff said...

Mark,

If the minor agreements are to be blamed on the writer of Luke's knowledge of Matthew, it seems even more imperative to explain the many major disagreements of Luke with Matthew, of which the birth narative is but one.And similarly its major disagreements with Matthew within the triple tradition.

Christopher Shell said...

It does occur to me that these outlines often consider the possibility of a lost source for the double tradition but not for the triple. In order to be consistent, they should do either both or neither. Otherwise they are giving away the fact that they are mediated by the history of scholarship, which dictates that Q must be mentioned, however short the synopsis. Of course, a common source for the triple tradition is absurd - but only 1.5 times as absurd as Q.

Michael said...

Methinks you are trying to gauge interest or start a debate. I love it! Three cheers for debate about the Synoptic Problem. Three cheers for Farrer!

Eric and Thy said...

Could you tell us how any of the synoptic Gospels can be identified as the middle term in a given case, perhaps with an example?

Sean du Toit said...

This is VERY helpful for explaining to students unfamiliar with this territory. Now if you could just simplify most things in the NT like this, we'd have a massive victory on the side of learning!

Anonymous said...

Why did Luke omit Matthew's episode about the magi and the star? Wouldn't it fit Luke's 'universal' outlook splendidly to have these Gentiles come worshipping the Lord Jesus in the birth narrative?

Prof. H.J. Holtzmann Dr. Dr.h.c.,
Ev. Theol. Fakultät
Staubsaugerhafen

Danny Zacharias said...

I think in this scheme there ought to be g1 and g2 and h1 and h2.

g1) But there is good evidence that Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark, e.g. some major and many minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.

g2) Some major and many minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark may point to the fact that Matthew knew Mark and Luke.

h1) Q is therefore unnecessary. Matthew knew Mark; Luke knew Mark and also Matthew. This is called the Farrer Theory.

h2) Q is therefore unnecessary. Luke knew Mark; matthew knew Mark and also Luke. This is called Matthean posteriority.

Josh McManaway said...

Why did Luke omit Matthew's episode about the magi and the star? Wouldn't it fit Luke's 'universal' outlook splendidly to have these Gentiles come worshipping the Lord Jesus in the birth narrative?

Prof. H.J. Holtzmann Dr. Dr.h.c.,
Ev. Theol. Fakultät
Staubsaugerhafen



I'll steal Dr. Goodacre's answer from his book The Case Against Q.

Luke is the only other author in the NT to mention Magi. However, Luke's mention of Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-20 specifically) isn't in a positive light. It makes sense for Luke to edit out the mention of the Magi in the birth narrative because their being Magi (a negative in Luke's eyes) far outweighs the benefit of their being Gentiles.

Peter J. Montoro IV said...

An additional reason why Luke might not have thought fit to mention the Magi is their origin -- the Magi were from Persia, known at the time as Parthia. Parthia just happened to be the arch - enemy of Rome. Luke was written, by any normal dating between Parthia's defeat of Rome in 62 A.D. and Rome's victory over Parthia in 115. A.D. (see AYBD for dates). Since Luke was dedicated to someone who was clearly of high social status, quite possibly a leader in the Roman government, it would make excellent sense for him not to mention the Parthians, since it would not help his case in the least.

Peter Montoro, B.D. student, University of London External Program