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That Old Synoptic Problem

posted by Scot McKnight

Every serious Gospel scholar at some point has to sit down for a summer or so, underline every word in the Synoptics according a color-coded system, and come to a conclusion on the relationship of Matthew, Mark and Luke. I remember Jimmy Dunn suggesting I do this, and I went home and began … and some time later had the whole thing underlined. I carry that Synopsis with me often. Beside working hard on understanding the relationship of the Gospels, that work gave me fresh appreciation for the Greek grammar of each Evangelist.

When redaction criticism was the rage, one’s view on the Synoptic Problem mattered and one’s view might well create some serious dispute at an academic meeting. The standard theory is that Mark was first, the hypothetical Q was an anthology of the teachings of Jesus, and then Matthew and Luke came along — each borrowing both from Mark and Q and adding from their own resources and voila! we’ve got the Synoptic Gospels. Now that redaction criticism is out of style, the Synoptic Problem discussion has also faded. Historical Jesus scholars often state their view on the Synoptic Problem, but other than these fields, the discussion has wearied.
The traditional theory has been challenged now and then, but a recent book by James R. Edwards turns much of this entire approach inside out. In his new book, The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition
, Edwards argues that we don’t need Q. Instead, there was an original Hebrew Gospel alongside Mark, the earliest Gospel. Matthew used Mark and so did Luke, but Luke’s Gospel is specially connected to the Hebrew Gospel, though he thinks Luke used a “double tradition” (as did Matthew) but that double tradition is not Q. One of the most important parts of this study is the fresh examination of all the evidence about the Hebrew Gospel in the first millennium of the Church.
The book is a very serious study, filled with the original languages and footnotes, but Edwards has managed to write a provocative book based on solid evidence, a fresh study of the patristic comments about the Hebrew Gospel and, at the same time, avoid loading up the footnotes beyond what is necessary. Every Gospel specialist will need to read this important new undertaking.


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Jimmy Doyle

posted February 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm


Ummm…but wouldn’t a Hebrew Gospel used by either Luke or Matthew (common to both of them) still be “Q”–a source (quelle)?
I’ve always liked the speculation that the Q source was the Hebrew/Aramaic Matthew collection of sayings of Jesus “that everyone interpreted as best he could.”



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Drew Strait

posted February 14, 2010 at 6:13 pm


Jim Edwards’ class on the Gospel of Mark at Whitworth College is what inspired me to study the Scriptures as a vocation. He is a brilliant pedagogue and is deeply committed to the church. This book is the product of his industrious research and curiosity. I think that Edwards’ fresh research of the patristic evidence for a Hebrew Gospel and catalogue of semitisms in Luke should be taken seriously. This is a must read for serious students of the gospels.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 14, 2010 at 7:15 pm


Drew, I, too, thought his fresh examination of the patristic stuff made this book special … I worked very carefully Josef Kurzinger’s well-known examination of Papias at one time, and that book left me wondering if we knew enough to make some of our judgments on Q.
But careful underlining is the primary evidence, not what the later patristics said, and no matter how one concludes, there’s something connecting Matthew and Luke (and not Mark). Those lines are green in my Synopsis and they jump off the page at times.



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sam tsang

posted February 14, 2010 at 7:50 pm


How is this diff. from the material Matthew Black came up with in his Aramaic approach? How are they related?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm


Matthew, much different. This is about the Synoptic Problem and not the Aramaic substratum to the Gospel sayings of Jesus.



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Ed Gentry

posted February 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm


Very interesting. Just did my lecture on the synoptic problem, I’ll have to add a footnote next week.
So on a rather banal note: what colours did you use to underline?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 14, 2010 at 9:14 pm


Ed, hardly banal!
Brown for triple tradition.
Blue for double tradition between Mark and Matthew.
Green for double tradition between Luke and Matthew.
Red for unique to any Gospel.



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sam tsang

posted February 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm


Thanks, Scot.



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Jeff Cook

posted February 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm


Did Jimmy’s question (#1) get overlooked? What is the difference between a Hebrew “source” and Q? Is it just language?
Be well, Jeff



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Bob Smallman

posted February 14, 2010 at 11:18 pm


Wow, does all this bring back memories. Richard Longenecker had us do the colored underlining exercise for his “Criticism of the Gospels” class at Trinity. I had thought I had enough undergrad work in the gospels (was that a mistake!), so this was my first NT course in my first quarter at TEDS. Grant Osborn, a senior at the time I believe, was a classmate. (We were in the same room but not in the same class!) But Longenecker was a GREAT prof!



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Darryl

posted February 15, 2010 at 12:47 am


Did anyone ever take Linnemann seriously with her suggestion of the primacy of Matthew? I am intrigued though with this Hebrew gospel suggestion.



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phil_style

posted February 15, 2010 at 4:07 am


Colour coding?
wow, I’d use a spreadhseet. Much more flexible. Then you cna do more with the data too. Colour coding seems to crude to me. ;)



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Scot McKnight

posted February 15, 2010 at 6:44 am


Darryl, no I don’t think that many took her seriously. At any rate, not many think Matthew has priority.
Phil, do you have the Synopsis in Greek on a spreadsheet?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 15, 2010 at 6:45 am


Jimmy, Edwards finds no traditional Q source. One could say he’s splintering the Q hypothesis.



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dopderbeck

posted February 15, 2010 at 9:11 am


If anyone has that spreadsheet, I’d be interested in a copy too (even though I’m only a dilettante in this field).
Scot and others — what do you think would be the result with respect to the canon if Q or the Hebrew source or whatever other underlying source(s) were ever found in a document cache somewhere?



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John W Frye

posted February 15, 2010 at 9:48 am


What are the primary differences between the posited Q and “the Hebrew gospel”?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 15, 2010 at 9:50 am


dopderbeck, if found … that’s a good one.
1. Some would say it’s a forgery. (Now let’s say we prove it’s not.)
2. Some would say it’s not inspired but is a good source for Jesus studies.
3. Some would say immediately that it’s a new canonical book.
4. There would have to be a major synod of RCC, EO, and Prots to discuss inclusion in the canon.
Edwards’ Hebrew Gospel is behind the material found in the Gospel of Luke but not in Matthew or Mark.
Much of Edwards’ “double tradition” is what other scholars call Q. He’s down on Q, but I still think he’s got to explain how we have so many verses in common between Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 15, 2010 at 10:10 am


John,
In essence, Edwards thinks the Q hypothesis indefensible as it is understood. There is no evidence for an anthology of the sayings of Jesus. He unfortunately suggests that Q could be connected to “genetic engineering” — that is, find a Jesus amenable to liberals (moral teachings, no miraculous — though Q does have a miracle story and it has sayings about exorcisms). And he argues that the Q hypothesis is not “necessary,” and any conclusion of a historical undertaking that is denied because it is not necessary is not good historical logic. No historical study leads to necessity. I nitpick perhaps.
Having said that, I’m not huge on proving much about Q but I do think there is a common tradition, written or not, Aramaic/Hebrew or Greek, that was used both by Matthew and Luke and it is mostly sayings of Jesus.
Part of the problem is that Q scholars guess too much about origin, redaction, etc.. This stuff is nonfaslifiable and too speculative.
Oddly, Edwards says there are no conclusive theories about how the double tradition developed but he is conclusive that it was not Q. He thinks the double tradition was in a narrative sequence, but he can’t find evidence for that in the double tradition itself. He wisely goes to Luke 1:1-4, but not all will be convinced.



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ChrisB

posted February 15, 2010 at 10:19 am


Side note: Ben Witherington seems to have tossed around the idea that Papias’ metion of Matthew’s first Hebrew gospel might be akin to Q and that a later editors heavy use of that document is what got our “Matthew” its name.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 15, 2010 at 10:24 am


ChrisB, yes, and an old theory that TW Manson considered. Edwards doesn’t connect the Hebrew Gospel to Matthew but to Luke’s special material, where (and he’s dead right here) we find an unusual number of Semitisms and these stand out from the rest of Luke’s Gospel.



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John W Frye

posted February 15, 2010 at 10:45 am


A remote side bar question: The John who wrote the apocalypse (Revelation) saw the twelve apostles sitting on thrones…Is the author of Revelation a different John than the seated apostle John? Are there legitimate questions of authorship of Revelation?



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Matt Edwards

posted February 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Scot,
No highlighting in your synopsis?! Harold Hoehner made us highlight if the accounts were identical in form, and underline if they were the same word but different form.



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derek leman

posted February 15, 2010 at 1:16 pm


Man, you are bad for my book budget. Just bought one of your ultra-expensive academic books. Now I have to get this. Oy!



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John W Frye

posted February 15, 2010 at 7:36 pm


Forget comment #21. I did a little research and got my question(s) answered.



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M.VanderArk

posted September 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm


Even more so… We can go with a more precise meaning and better time table for the gospel of Mark if Matthew is first. We still do not need “Q”, or Markan priority, if Peter read Matthew, and Matthew was acquaintances to Luke as Luke might have implied. Why make it so difficult?



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carpet west linn

posted August 22, 2014 at 1:07 am


What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how on the topic of unpredicted
emotions.



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