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.