What is the “Synoptic Problem”, and who really cares anyway??

Explain the various hypotheses put forward to solve the synoptic problem. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Some liberal critics contend that there are differences among similar accounts in the three different “Synoptic Gospel” (the three similar Gospels, that is: Mathe, Mark, Luke), and that these alledged differences pose a problem for the Bible. While there are indeed different accounts of the the same stories in the life of Jesus, the Synoptic Gospels are more similar than dissimilar. How does one explain the fact, however, that some accounts in the Gospels appear to be different depending upon who is telling the story, whether it be Matthew, Mark, or Luke? This question is known as the “synoptic problem” (which is really a play on words, for there really is no “problem” at all). Several hypotheses have been put forth to try to explain this so called ‘problem”, some credible, and most not-so-credible.

The Oral Tradition Hypothesis attempted to solve or explain the synoptic “problem” by stating that resemblances in the Gospels originated from rapidly crystallizing traditions of Jesus that were originally in an oral form. These traditions that once were oral subsequently became written, according to the Oral Tradition Hypothesis, thus losing some of its original accuracy. The main problem within this hypothesis is that oral tradition would have had difficulty retaining such a quantity and specificity of verbal remembrances as is prevalent with the Synoptic Gospels. So we know that the Gospels didn’t come from oral traditions handed down. The authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned them!

The Griesbach Hypothesis states that Matthew wrote his Gospel first. Luke then used Matthew’s writings to write his Gospel. After that, Mark used an abbreviated combination of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels to write his account of the Gospel. [Does your head hurt yet? Mine does!] The narratives concerning the deeds of Jesus seem to fit within the scope of this hypothesis. However, this hypothesis can not account for the manner in which Luke disputed the order of Jesus’ teachings he would have gotten from Matthew, nor does it account for detailed changes in the wording between the Gospels.

The Mark-Q documentary hypothesis, which has gained greatest favor in recent times, has three main points to its argument. First, Matthew and Luke based most of their narrative writing on that of Mark. Second, Matthew and Luke drew most of the information they wrote about Jesus’ teachings and sayings from a lost document called ‘Q’. Third, after drawing from Mark the Q source, Matthew and Luke added material that made each of their Gospels distinctive. [Yes, I know. Some people have a lot of time on their hands to come up with this stuff!!]

Related to the Mark-Q documentary hypothesis is the Q Hypothesis, which states that similarities between Matthew and Luke in sayings material not contained in Mark (since Matthew and Mark were thought to have used Mark as their primary source) might have come from a second document, called Q. This Q document was thought to be an early collection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings, but with a minimum of narrative. Q is thought to be similar to that of The Gospel of Thomas or the Oxyrynchus, or possibly like the Old Testament collection prophetical books. Problems with the Q hypothesis exist, however. If Matthew and Luke used a similar source such as Q, why is there such a wide degree of differences among the narrative of Jesus’ teachings? Are differences because of variations in the translations from a Greek Q or an Aramaic Q? Did the document Q ever exist? If it did, why did it not survive (or at least a copy of it) like so many other works have?

Many hypotheses have originated to solve what is commonly known as the Synoptic problem. Could it be that the Synoptic Gospels pose no problem at all? Could it be that they are all just the penmanship of men who were divinely inspired to write what God ordained that they would write. Different men. Different times. Different accounts. Same Gospel!! Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Scholars have spent hundreds of years arguing and debating over a futile point that matters not! Who wrote what, when, where, how, etc. It doesn’t matter. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, living Word of God. It has NO errors. Only complete harmony!

My wife and I can go to dinner, come home, and get on the phone and tell our friends about the night.
** The wife will say, “Oh, the flowers on the table were beautiful. The music was nice. The waiters were dressed nice. And it was a lovely, romantic night”.
** Now, when I get on the phone with my buddy and he says, “So, how was dinner?”. Here’s what I say. “The steak was awesome man. Cooked just right. And the potato was great too! They played some type of elevator music in the background, but I didn’t mind because the steak was so great. 16 ozs!”.
** Same evening. Same occasion. 2 totally different perspectives by two totally different people. Neither story discredits the other. On the contrary, they actually accent each other.

The same is true with the Synoptic Gospels. They accent each other and validate each other. Upon closer examination, the Synoptic Gospels can be seen as harmony within writing and as parallel accounts of the events and life Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and our LORD.

Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. For He alone is worthy of our praise!

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3 responses to “What is the “Synoptic Problem”, and who really cares anyway??

  1. Well said, Myke!

    Now try telling folks that Matthew was written first, and in Hebrew, not Greek! Fun, fun!

    The idea that Mark was written first, along with the existence of “Q”, is so prevalent. It’s accepted as fact by so many theologians and scholars. I don’t understand why these people accept whatever they’re told and never think for themselves.

  2. Thanks for the post brother. May the Lord bless you.
    I think that the reason people just accept whatever is thrown out there is that they are just simply lazy – sorry to say. They do not do as those in Berea did – search it out for themselves. If they did, many common misconceptions that are believed as truth would be squashed.
    God bless, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. I need more information on the strengths and weaknessses of the source criticism

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