Category Archives: Ancient writings

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!

How did God sovereignly develop the New Testament as we know it today?

Discuss the development of the New Testament canon. On what basis did some Christian books come to be considered authoritative while others were not?

The guiding hand of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the development of the biblical canon. The word “canon” is a strange word to most Christians (as they think of a big gun or a large office copier machine). But its originally meaning is ‘a measuring reed’, and has come to mean ‘those books accepted by the church as the standard that governs Christian belief and conduct.’ A more simplistic definition of the biblical canon would be: books accepted by the early church – and subsequently most evangelical Christians today- as divinely inspired.

The most crucial filter, or criterion, of the development of the New Testament canon was that of apostolicity. Apostolicity refers to the authorship of either an apostle or by that of an associate of an apostle. By applying this criteria, the criteria of time is subsequently placed on the books that were considered as being canonical, for if a book was written by an apostle or his associate, it therefore would have been written within a certain time. In other words, since a book had to be written by either an apostle or his associate to be canonical (that is, included in the New Testament), a book written say, 175 AD, could not be included, because that would have been after the time of any apostle or their associate.

It is necessary to note that Christians in the first century, or at least the first half of the first century, did not have the New Testament as we know of the New Testament. They did, however, have the Old Testament, oral traditions and stories about Jesus’ works and deeds, and messages from God spoken by Christian prophets. Once written, the New Testament works still faced the challenges of distribution and acceptance, challenges that God would eventually put asunder.

Once the books were written, their acceptance can be classified into two groups. The first group, called homolegoumena (Greek for ‘confessed’), were books that were immediately accepted as canonical once they were written. These include the Pauline letters and the Gospels. The second group, antilegomena (Greek for ‘contradicted’), was so named because people were at first skeptical about either their authorship or their divine inspiration. Reasons for this skepticism include the fact that these books were unfamiliar to people because they were more slowly, and less widely, distributed. Others questioned the authority of certain books -namely Hebrews- because they were unable to determine who authored them. We still, to this day, do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews. (Many have their opinion. Mine is that of Barnabas. However, God hasn’t decided to share that tidbit of information with us, so we do not know with any amount of certainty).

Predominantly written over the latter half of the first century, and compiled as the official cannon in the second and third centuries, the biblical canon is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Although some of the books of the Bible were initially in dispute during the early years, the church eventually recognized the divine nature of all of these scriptures and accepted them as inspired by either apostles or their associates.

Even today, in a spirit of discernment and prayer, one needs only to read the canonical and noncanonical books side by side to see the accuracy of the inspiration that led to the formation of the infallible, inerrant, incorruptible canon.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. 2 Timothy 3:16 (King James Version) Selah!

The contributions of ancient literature on Christianity

Distinguish from one another the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the pseudepigrapha-apocalyptic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Talmud.

Many written collections of religious writings were available to the Jews during the period just before the coming of Christ. These writings include the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Apocalyptic books, and the Talmud. The Old Testament, of course, was the inspired word of God given to his people. Other literature dated later has been found, as well, called the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Old Testament, which means ‘Old Covenant’, existed in the time just before Jesus in three linguistic forms. These forms include the original Hebrew, the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation, as well as the Targums, which were oral paraphrases into Aramaic. These Targums, which were just beginning to be collected in the first century, were created for Jews who no longer read Hebrew. They contained traditional, imaginative, and interpretive material not found in the Old Testament.

The Apocrypha, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, dated from the intertestamental to the New Testament period. They contained mostly history, fiction, and wisdom. The Jews and early Christians, like most Christians today, do not regard these works as inspired by God. The word apocrypha originally meant ‘hidden, secret, or profound’, but has modernly come to mean ‘noncanonical’. Although these books have no value as inspired words of God, they do have significant historical and literary value. Some examples of the books included in the Apocrypha are: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, The Wisdom of Solomon, The Story of Susanna, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees.

The pseudepigrapha and apocalyptic literature of the same time were so named because they were falsely inscribed and they claimed to reveal the future. Some of them were written under assumed names of Old Testament figures such as Job and Moses. This was reportedly done in an effort to achieve accreditation and authority. Not all pseudepigraphal literature was apocalyptic in nature, however many were. They attempted to predict the end of the earth and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. These writings could not withstand the air of inaccuracy that they brought in light of their inaccurate prophecies, and they were subsequently rejected and no longer published. Some of the writings in the pseudepigrapha include: 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Job, Assumptions of Moses, and Jubilees. The pseudepigrapha is also known as the Outside Books.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in caves, and were written between 250 B.C. and A.D. 68. According to the Illustrated Everyday Bible Companion (page 40), the Dead See Scrolls are “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times, and contain a complete scroll of the book of Isaiah, and fragments of most other Old Testament books.” There are approximately eight hundred scrolls that were discovered at the site of Qumran, just off the northeast shore of the Dead Sea. In addition to copies of Old Testament books, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain works that are similar to other pseudepigrapha literature. Among the find at Qumran include: Temple Scroll, Copper Scroll, Psalm of Joshua, and various commentaries on the Old Testament.

The Jewish Talmud is a collection of written record of oral interpretations of questions on the Old Testament law. This collection was first a memorized oral tradition, and was ‘enshrined’ in writing in later centuries following the time of Christ. The Talmud consisted chronologically of the Mishnah, which was the oral law, and the Gemarah, which were comments on the Mishnah. From a topical standpoint, the Talmud consisted of the halakah, which was the strictly legal portion, and the haggadah, the non-legal portion. The haggadah included stories, legends, and explanatory narratives.

There are many collections of religious writings that were available to the Jews during the period just before the coming of Christ. The Old Testament provided a sacred text for the basis for the Jewish faith, while others such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Apocalyptic books, and the Talmud served as either reference or interpretive. Some of these collections were not available to everyone during the time of the coming of Christ. Although not inspired scripture, the historical and literary value of these other works can been seen in the contributions they make to Christianity and modern culture.

Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you;that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms [the three-fold Hebrew division of the Old Testament] must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures [The Old Testament]. He also said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” [Luke 124:44-49 – HCSB]

This passage clearly tells us what Bible Jesus considered authoritative! It was the Old Testament Canon with their 22 books, which is the same as our 39 books today. None of the “secret, hidden” books were ever quoted by Jesus, and He never even directly spoke about them or referred to them, much less considered them as authoritative. This means the Catholic Bible must NOT be accepted, because Jesus would have clearly rejected it!

Additionally, notice what Jesus said. He said the Old Testament preached the Gospel. The Gospel is NOT just a New Testament idea! “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Both the Old and New Testaments have the same message – the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord who would rescue His people from their sins! Amen!