Synoptic Gospels

views updated Jun 08 2018


The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which appear in that order in most early collections. J. J. Griesbach first used the term "synoptic" (from the Greek sunopsomai, "to see together") in his Synopse (1774). The work printed the three Gospels parallel to each other in order to show the agreements and disagreements. Thus it allowed the reader to observe the threefold synoptic fact, that virtually all the material in Mark appears in Matthew and/or Luke, that similarities in details and particularities of vocabulary and style exist in one or more of the Synoptic Gospels, and that the sequence of the pericopes are similar. The question of the literary relationship of the first three Gospels or, more specifically, the question of how the agreements and disagreements in the content and the order of their material are explained is called the Synoptic Problem.

Attempts to explain the Synoptics' similarities on the basis of dependence upon historical reminiscence (Urevangelium proposed by G. E. Lessing [1777] and J. G. Eichorn [1794], Fragment Hypothesis proposed by F. Schleiermacher [1817]), or, upon oral tradition (Oral Transmission Hypothesis proposed by J. G. von Herder[1796] and J. K. L. Gieseler [1818]) are usually rejected because of the detailed verbal agreement that points convincingly to the conclusion that the Synoptics are literarily dependent upon one another. The prevailing solution to the Synoptic Problem among most scholars, including Catholic, has been some variation of the Two Source Hypothesis.

Two Source Hypothesis. H. J. Holtzmann (1863) formally stated the Two Source Hypothesis proposing that an earlier form of Mark (Ger. Urmarkus: primitive or original Mark) and a no longer extant collection of Jesus' sayings (called Q from the German word Quelle ) were used by Matthew and Luke independently of each other. The existence of doublets in Mark, such as the feeding of the five thousand together with the following passages in 6:307:37 and the feeding of the four thousand together with the subsequent verses in 8:126, and the absence in Luke (the "great omission") of passages corresponding to Mk 6:458:26 convinced some scholars that Mark used sources for his Gospel. Whether these sources constituted the Urmarkus that was abbreviated by Mark (H. J. Holtzmann) or whether various editors expanded the source (H. von Soden [1905], P. Wendland[1908]) is debated. Other scholars point to the "minor agreements" between Matthew and Luke, i.e., where the two Gospels agree with each other in their divergence from Mark, and the Markan passages omitted in Matthew and Luke as evidence for an Urmarkus. But the existence of an Urmarkus remains questionable. Today most would agree with R. Bultmann that an Urmarkus can scarcely be distinguished from the present text of Mark and that canonical Mark underlies Matthew and Luke.

There are two observations that periodically lead scholars to question the Two Source Hypothesis. First, Luke contains a large amount of special material and often disagrees with Mark in sections that they otherwise have in common. This can be particularly seen in the Passion Narrative. Some therefore contend that Luke used, besides Mark and Q, another narrative source or, at least, a different version of the Passion narrative than Mark (F. Rehkopf [1959], H. Schurmann [1968], J. B. Tyson[1976]). Others hold that Luke incorporated the Markan material into a proto-Luke (H. B. Streeter [1924], V. Taylor [1926]). H. B. Streeter proposed a Four Source (or Document) Hypothesis, a variation of the Two Source Hypothesis more widely accepted among British scholars, in which the material particular to Matthew and Luke is attributed to two ancient documents L and M. He suggested the existence of the proto-Luke, an earlier version of Luke compiled from Q and the Lucan L. Markan material was added to the Lucan sequence.

Second, the 4th-century historian Eusebius of Caesarea cites Papias, bishop of Hierapolis: "Now Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia ) in Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he was able" (Ecclesiastical History III, 39, 1516). From this statement some scholars conclude that an original apostolic Aramaic Gospel existed. They contend that the same sequence and common Old Testament citations in long passages of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as the agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark in the Markan material point to an Aramaic Matthew and its Greek translation behind the Synoptic Gospels (L. Vaganay [1954]). The hypothesis of an original Aramaic Matthew or of an oral Aramaic source for the Synoptic Gospels is not widely accepted. Most scholars contend that it is methodologically incorrect to explain the literary relationship of the Synoptic Gospels by appealing to Papias because he cannot give us more certain knowledge concerning the origin of the Synoptics than we can gain from the study of the texts themselves. Furthermore, it is likely that Papias's reference to ta logia refers to Matthew's Gospel (A. Wikenhauser [1972]).

The Q Document. Although in the past some Catholic scholars were reserved about the collection of Jesus' sayings and attempts to reconstruct this document were considered unsuccessful, in the latter part of the twentieth century research into the reconstruction, theology, and literary genre of Q led to advances beyond previous expectation. The literary evidence requires one to posit that Matthew and Luke used a Q document, which has its own theological view, rather than disconnected oral or written material. Today few would speak of Q as an amorphous layer ("stratum") of tradition (M. Dibelius [1935]). This document is not a "catechetical" supplement to the Gospels (B. H. Streeter) but contains a kerygma independent of the passion kerygma (H. Tödt [1969]).

The older reconstructions of A. von Harnack (1908),J. Schmid (1930), and T. W. Manson (1949) have been surpassed by the newer research of A. Polag (1979). It is generally accepted that Luke has preserved the sequence of the Q material, whereas Matthew has distributed it throughout his Gospel. Today many scholars contend that the Q document has undergone redaction and the Q material contains two types of sayings. First, prophetical sayings that announce the impending judgment of this generation (D. Lührmann [1969]) and contain the deuteronomistic understanding of history, i.e., the deuteronomistic tradition of the violent fate of the prophets who experienced Israel's impenitence in the form of hostility to them and their message (O. H. Steck [1967], A. Jacobson [1982]). Examples of this material are found in Lk 7:3135; 11:1920, 30, 3132; 17:2337. Second, there are sayings or community-directed "speeches" that are not formulated with outsiders in view. They are concerned with self-definition: attitude toward the world, discipleship, mission, and the prospect of persecution and death (J. Kloppenborg [1987]). Examples of such speeches are found in Lk 6:2049; 9:5760; 11:24, 913. The latter "speeches" are the earliest formative level of Q and they are framed as an instruction (J. Kloppenborg). The first group of sayings are a redactional addition and contain a polemic against "this generation." The positive Gentile response to preaching allows the deuteronomistic view of history to be transformed into an Unheilszeichen (Ger.: signs of disaster) for Israel. Although such passages as the story of the centurion of Capernaum in Lk 7:110 seem to indicate an openness to the Gentiles, it is disputed whither the saying source was used by a community engaged in Gentile mission (P. Meyer [1970], S. Schulz [1972]).

Research has not reached a consensus concerning the theology of Q, although there is general agreement concerning some aspects. Elements stand within the prophetic tradition and the community sees itself as successors to the persecuted prophets of the past (Lk 6:23). The deuteronomistic tradition provides the theological framework for the redaction of earlier material, which included apocalyptic parenesis (Lk 3:79, 1617) and the imminent expectation of the Son of Man (Lk 17:24).

Source Criticism. The rise of redaction criticism led to the revival of source criticism and a reconsideration of the synoptic problem. In recent times a small but vocal minority have attacked the Two Source Hypothesis and supported J. J Griesbach's solution to the Synoptic Problem (W. R. Farmer [1976], B. Orchard [1976], H.-H. Stoldt [1980], C. S. Mann [1986]). Griesbach considered Mark to be written later than Luke and to be dependent on Matthew and Luke. This was similar to Augustine who gave priority to Matthew but held Mark was a summary of Matthew alone and Luke was dependent on Matthew and Mark. The most famous example used to support Griesbach's hypothesis is Mk 1:32 par.; Mark's wording, "that evening, at sunset" is said to originate from Mt 8:16, "that evening" and Lk 4:40, "when the sun was setting." The Griesbach hypothesis proposed by W. R. Farmer requires three instances of direct copying of Matthew by Luke and of Matthew and Luke by Mark. Thus, he explains the agreement between the two longer Synoptic Gospels by proposing that Luke used Matthew. The similarity in sequence between Matthew and Mark is explained by Mark's use of the Matthean outline except where it diverged from Matthew to follow Luke.

The main argument supporting the direct literary relationship between Matthew and Luke seems to be the "minor agreements" of Matthew and Luke. If one assumes that all minor agreements arose from a single cause, as Farmer appears to argue, then the advocates of the Griesbach hypothesis contend that the phenomenon becomes impressive. Nevertheless, at the risk of the atomization of the phenomena, many scholars would agree with B. H. Streeter that there are different reasons for these "minor agreements." Some may be attributed to the omission of unnecessary or unimportant Markan words or the correction of linguistically inadmissable words used by Mark. Others may be due to the influence of Q in sections where Mark and Q overlap. Certainly the minor agreements present a real problem for the Two Source Hypothesis, but it must be remembered that they constitute only a small percentage of the data on the total Synoptic Problem. Weighed against the evidence for Markan priority, they hardly warrant the abandonment of the Two Source Hypothesis. In the final analysis, the principal difficulties with the revival of the Griesbach hypothesis are that it fails to explain why Mark omitted so much of Matthew's material and to explain sufficiently the similar ordering of the material in Matthew and Mark. Since the sequence of material in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is the same only when Matthew and Luke agree with Mark, it would appear that K. Lachmann (1935) was correct when he held Mark to be the source used by Matthew and Luke.

Bibliography: r. a. edwards, A Theology of Eschatology, Prophecy, and Wisdom (Philadelphia 1976). w. r. farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (Dillsboro, N.C. 1976). j. a. fitzmyer, "The Priority of Mark and the 'Q' Source in Luke," To Advance the Gospel: New Testament Studies (New York 1981). i. q. havener, The Sayings of Jesus (Good News Studies 19; Wilmington 1987). a. jacobson, "Wisdom Christology in Q." Diss., Claremont Graduate School 1978); "The Literary Unity of Q," Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982) 36589. j. s. kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia 1987). k. lachmann, "De ordine narrationum in evangeliis synopticis," Theologische Studien und Kritiken 8 (Zurich 1835) 570ff. d. lÜhrmann, Die Redaktion der Logienquelle (Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 33; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1969). c. s. mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, v. 27 (New York 1986). t. w. manson, The Sayings of Jesus (London 1949). p. meyer, "The Gentile Mission in Q," Journal of Biblical Literature 89 (1970) 40517. b. orchard, Matthew, Luke, and Mark (Manchester 1976). a. polag, Die Christologie der Logienquelle (Neukirchen-Vluyn 1977); Fragmenta Q. Textheft zur Logienquelle (Neukirchen-Vluyn 1979). f. rehkopf, Die lukanische Sonderquelle: Ihr Umfang und Sprachgebrauch (Tübingen 1959). j. schmid, Matthäus und Lukas: Eine Untersuchung des Verhältnisses ihrer Evangelien (Freiburg im Briesgau 1930). s. schulz, Q. Die Spruchquelle der Evangelisten (Zürich 1972). h. schÜrmann, "Protolukanische Spracheigentümlichkeiten?" Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zu den synoptischen Evangelien (Düsseldorf 1968). o. h. steck, Israel und das gewaltsame Geschick der Propheten (Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 23; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1967). h.-h. stoldt, History and Criticism of the Markan Hypothesis (Macon 1980). b. h. streeter, The Four Gospels (London 1924). v. taylor, Behind the Third Gospel: A Study of the Proto-Luke Hypothesis (Oxford 1926). h. e. tÖdt, Der Menschensohn in der synoptischen Überlieferung (Gütersloh 1963). j. b. tyson, "Sequential Parallelism in the Synoptic Gospels," New Testament Studies (197686) 276308. l. vaganay, Le Problème Synoptique (Tournai 1954). a. von harnack, Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Neue Testament II: Sprüche und Reden Jesu (Leipzig 1907).

[m. g. steinhauser]

Synoptic Gospels

views updated Jun 11 2018

Synoptic Gospels Three of the Gospels of the New Testament ( Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke), which present a common account of the life of Jesus Christ. Saint Mark's Gospel is generally held to have been the model for Saint Matthew's and Saint Luke's, although most scholars believe that the latter two have gathered some material from a common source known as ‘Q’, which no longer exists.

Synoptic Gospels

views updated May 23 2018

Synoptic Gospels. The three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so-called because their texts can be printed for comparison in a three-column ‘synopsis’. The gospels share much of their subject-matter, and tell their stories in the same order and in many of the same words. The ‘synoptic problem’ is solved when these facts are accounted for. The most widely accepted solution (the ‘two-document hypothesis’) is that Mark is the earliest of the three and was used by both Matthew and Luke and that the additional matter common to Matthew and Luke was taken by them from a source Q. Material peculiar to Matthew or to Luke is usually called ‘M’ and ‘L’ respectively.