Saturday, June 02, 2012

Steve Walton and David Wenham on the Synoptic Problem

I have been working my way through the recently released second edition of Steve Walton and David Wenham's excellent Exploring the New Testament, Volume 1: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts.  As regular readers will know, I do like to look at New Testament introductions to see how they treat the Synoptic Problem.  Normally speaking, I have a lot to complain about, especially when the Farrer Theory gets ignored.

Well, with Walton and Wenham's introduction, there is good news for Q sceptics: the Farrer theory is treated in its discussion of the Synoptic Problem including its own diagram, brief discussion, and bibliographical references to Farrer's article, my introductory book (Way through the Maze), my monograph (Case Against Q) and even the NT Gateway (70, 73, 87).  Although it is naturally disappointing to see them dismiss the theory as having "many of the same objections as the Griesbach hypothesis" leading to the view being "not very widely held" (73), it is nevertheless encouraging to see the theory finding its way -- at last -- into the introductory literature.

What, though, of the substance of their exploration of the Synoptic Problem?  There are several reasons to find it refreshing.  For one thing, there is some discussion of the data before there is any discussion of the proposed solutions (61-5) echoing even those like me who advocate the colouring of the Synopsis (62, though I think that students will find my primary colour scheme more straightforward than their four-colour scheme).  For another, there is one sample synopsis (63, Sadducees' Question) and several lists taken over from Robert Stein's book (64, 68, 69) and one from Sanders and Davies (72).

Regular readers will not be expecting me to be unambiguously positive, though, and I don't want to disappoint them.  I would like to focus on a couple of difficulties in the discussion, the first with the way that they treat the Griesbach or Two Gospel (not "Two Gospels", 71) Theory.  Walton and Wenham offer several criticisms of the hypothesis, most of them well sustained, but the following criticism does not conceptualize the Griesbach theory fairly:
Luke's rearrangement of Matthean material   Consider the material shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark (the Q material on the two source hypothesis).  Apart from rare examples (such as the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-13), Luke and Matthew do not present this material in conjunction with the same Markan material, but locate it in different settings in their Gospels.  In fact, on the Griesbach hypothesis, in editing Matthew, Luke has systematically moved almost all this material from its Matthean contexts to somewhere else in his Gospel.  This seems unlikely: a better explanation is that Luke is using Mark as a main source and other material to supplement Mark (73).
The difficulty with this explanation is that on the Griesbach Hypothesis, Luke is writing without reference to Mark, before Mark has been written, so the distinction between "Markan material" and "Q material" is irrelevant.  There is no option, then, for Luke and Matthew to present this material "in conjunction with the same Markan material".  For Griesbach's Luke, the distinction between double tradition and triple tradition does not exist.  This means that on the Griesbach hypothesis, Luke often follows Matthew's order; it is just that he does so most recognizably in the material that we call triple tradition.

On the Griesbach hypothesis, this material becomes "triple tradition" by virtue of Mark's subsequent action, according to which Mark shows preference for material that is in the same order in his sources Matthew and Luke.  In other words, it is an important element in the Griesbach hypothesis that Mark effectively creates the triple tradition by his selections from Matthew and Luke, a selection that is at least partly done on the basis of Matthew's and Luke's agreements in order.  Under such circumstances, it is a little unfair to criticize the theory for failing to explain Luke's ordering of double tradition.  The data set double tradition is generated by a subsequent move made by Mark, partly on the basis of the question of order, and not by Luke's editorial decisions.

The second difficulty I would like to mention also relates to the question or order, but this time for the Farrer Theory.  Griesbach is presented as the major alternative to the Two-Source theory (71-3) and Farrer is given a paragraph at the end under "Other Views".  It is dismissed in one sentence as follows:
This view faces many of the same objections as the Griesbach hypothesis, for it still holds that Luke has edited Matthew in ways that appear hard to understand and this has meant that, like the Griesbach view, it is not very widely held (73).
I disagree, of course, that it is hard to understand Luke's editing of Matthew, and it may be that Walton and Wenham's difficulty arises from their conceptualizing this work under the heading of criticizing the Griesbach hypothesis.  So let's take a look at what they say on the topic when they are discussing Griesbach:
Why does Luke break up Matthew's teaching blocks?  As we saw, Luke has most of the teaching found in Matthew's sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7), but spread around his Gospel (see p. 69), and something similar happens with Matthew's four other teaching discourses (Matt. 10, 13, 18, 24-25).  If Luke is using Matthew, this seems unusual behaviour. (72).
On the Farrer theory, though, Luke's primary source for the structuring of his Gospel is Mark and paying careful attention to the way that Luke works with Mark helps to explain his use of Matthew.  His attitude towards lengthy discourses in his source material is consistent, and we would not expect him to retain all of Matthew's huge, theme-based structures when we can observe him reworking material in a plausible, biographical narrative (Case, chapters 4, 5 and 6; Maze, 123-8).

Take, for example, the third of the big Matthean discourses listed by Walton and Wenham,  Matthew 13.  Matthew 13, the parable chapter, is a massively expanded version of Mark's parable discourse in Mark 4.1-34.  Luke's parallel, in Luke 8.4-18, is a greatly reduced version of Mark 4, less than half its length, omitting some material and redistributing the rest.  Given that Luke here halves the length of Mark's version of the very discourse in question, it is hardly "unusual behaviour" to see him behaving in the same way towards Matthew's expansion of it (cf. Walton and Wenham's chart on 72 that nicely illustrates Matthew's expansion and Luke's reduction of Mark 4).

One last issue.  One of the things I like about Walton and Wenham's chapter is that it encourages students to pay careful attention to the Gospel Synopsis, and they provide an example of one themselves on 63, the Sadducees' Question.  Their English translation, however, masks an issue that is often missed, a telling minor agreement.  They have Matt. 22.27, "Last of all, the woman herself died", Mark 12.22, "Last of all, the woman herself died" and Luke 20.32, "Finally, the woman also died".  But Matthew and Mark are not identical here.  Matthew has ὕστερον δὲ πάντων . . . whereas Mark has ἔσχατον πάντων . . .  Luke follows Matthew and not Mark with his ὕστερον.  Why is this worth mentioning?  Because  ὕστερον is 7/0/1+0, seven times Matthew, never Mark, only here in Luke-Acts.  It is Matthew's way of representing the last in a series.  It's one of those nice minor agreements that illustrates Luke's knowledge of Matthew in triple tradition.


Steve Walton said...

Thanks Mark; it's kind of you to take our work seriously enough to engage with it well.
Your comments on the Griesbach material are well taken; I'll have a look at this in next revision (which I fear may not be for a number of years).
The translation problem you raise is an interesting result of using NRSV (which is our version of choice - and a version which is v. widely used in colleges and universities). The NRSV's editors clearly didn't do the cross-check of the synoptic parallels well enough.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your gracious comments, Steve. Interesting about the NRSV, something I have also noticed in the RSV.

On the issue of future revisions, I would also encourage you to think about the balance between Griesbach and Farrer; even the Griesbach guys admit now that Farrer is the chief rival to the 2ST. Moreover, Griesbach has never had any traction in the UK.

And when you want what Lewis Carroll used to call a "pillow problem", I would encourage you to ask yourself whether it can be "unusual behaviour" that Luke "broke up" Matthew 13 when he did that very thing to its source in Mark 4.

Thanks again, Steve. I am looking forward to continuing to work through the book.

Jason A. Staples said...

I was unaware a second edition had come out. I have regularly used the first edition as a supplement for my NT classes in the past. Since I don't like too much secondary literature to get in the way of focusing the students on the primary sources, I've found a number of the chapters in this volume ideal for that "supplementary" role, especially because of the outstanding use of charts and visual information. The student feedback has regularly been that it's easy to read, which is another key for me.

One other thing I like is that the chapters do a good job of standing alone, meaning I can assign a few chapters but not the whole volume and know that the chapters will be understood.

More on Farrer would be helpful, though, although at this point I just assume I'll have to introduce it fully myself regardless of what resources I include—though the way I've been teaching it data-first has led to some students suggesting it before I get to it.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Jason. Yes, I agree that it's a great book. I am thinking of adopting it alongside Bart's book and one or two others for my NT Intro. The fact that there is an electronic version is also a help. So it's good to have your recommendation too.

Yes, totally agree with your data-led approach. Perhaps my number 1 gripe about the teaching of the Synoptic problem (and my goodness, there are many!) is the refracting of the data through the Two-Source Theory.

Jim Deardorff said...

Mark and Steve Walton, there’s a bit of a complication to the “translation problem” that dates back to the 2nd century, which a modified Augustinian hypothesis (MAH) can well resolve. It relates to the external evidence, which Griesbach made use of -- that Matthew was the first gospel. However, Griesbach did not accept the testimony that it had been written in the Hebraic tongue. Yet he did accept statements that all the Gospels were written early and by their namesakes, without apparently realizing that this was the very portion of this external evidence that was strongly subject to early theological commitment. The Hebraic Matthew portion seems not to have involved any theological commitment.

The MAH makes this distinction, and allows that a later translator of Hebraic Matthew into Greek made heavy use of Greek Mark and Luke during his translations. See This accounts for the excessive verbal agreement between Matthew and Luke as well as Matthew and Mark, with there having been good motivation for this on the part of the translator: he replicated lengthy strings within parallel portions of either Mark or Luke to ensure that the dependence of the new Greek Gospels (Mark and Luke) upon Matthew would not be lost after Greek Matthew appeared and Hebraic Matthew had been speedily superseded.

(Steve, you may wonder how anyone could be supporting Matthean priority over Mark these days! However, even the use of the “editorial fatigue” approach indicates many more (and better) examples of Markan "fatigue" relative to Matthew, than vice versa. See .)

Is this too much of a complication for the NT consensus to even consider? The writers of Mark and Luke made use of Hebraic Matthew, while the translator of Hebraic Matthew could choose between the Greek of Mark or of Luke in parallel passages (triple tradition). In Goodacre’s example, this translator chose to use ὕστερον as in Luke, which he preferred, over Mark.