In a recent post on The Golden Rule, Mike Koke speaks of the Synoptic Problem as one of those "seemingly tedious aspects of studying the NT", echoing, perhaps unconsciously, similar remarks made my Raymond Brown in his Introduction to the New Testament. I must admit to being somewhat baffled by those who find the Synoptic Problem boring. It is so basic to so much of what we do in studying the New Testament that saying that it is boring is a bit like saying that New Testament study is boring. It's a literary enigma, it's a historical puzzle, it's a theological essential. What is not to enjoy?
I have never had anyone explain to me clearly why the Synoptic Problem is supposed to be dull or tedious. I have a couple of theories, though, why people otherwise interested in New Testament study come to this odd conclusion:
(1) People find it dull because it is taught badly. In fact, the Synoptic Problem is often not taught at all. In so far as New Testament introductions and introductory courses teach it, they focus on one particular solution (the Two-Source theory) and then they refract all the data through that theory. Simply setting out a solution deprives students of all the interest in the process of history, all the enjoyment in puzzling out the literary enigma.
(2) People find it dull because they do not actually study it. The only way to engage in serious study of the Synoptic Problem is to get down and dirty with the Synopsis, and to spend enjoyable time working with the texts, ideally doing some colouring. It's one of the guilty secrets of the guild that too many scholars simply do not do the work with the texts that they should, preferring instead to keep wading through the pile of largely mediocre pieces of secondary literature.
(3) People find it dull because they think that there is an obvious solution (the Two-Source Theory). Alternatives are thought to be unpersuasive and not worth attention. To an extent, Mike's post bears this out -- he engages only the Two-Source Theory and the Griesbach Theory. I think that this is a shame given the strong case that can be made for the Farrer Theory, engagement with which can make the Synoptic Problem interesting again.
In my experience, students love to study the Synoptic Problem. I have run graduate courses on the Synoptic Problem and they have produced excellent intellectual stimulation and publishable work from the students involved. In my undergraduate classes, colouring and analyzing the Synopsis has proved to be one of the most popular assignments I have given and student feedback has been very positive. These students had never heard that the Synoptic Problem was supposed to be dull, and found the tasks engaging, not least because it is "hands on" -- actually working seriously with texts rather than reading textbooks describing the supposed results of scholarship.
My diagnosis, then, is that the Synoptic Problem needs to be studied in detail, taught effectively and represented fairly. It is amazing what fun it then becomes.