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Introduction ....................................................................................................................................1 Thesis Statement ...........................................................................................................................1 The Synoptic Gospels and Q ........................................................................................................ 1 Theories, Similarities and Differences .........................................................................................3 History of Investigation .................................................................................................................7 Proposed Solutions to the Synoptic Problem ..............................................................................8 Defense of the Four Source Hypothesis Including Q ..................................................................9 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................................11 Bibliography .................................................................................................................................13 Table 1:1 Theories of Literary Dependence of the Synoptic Gospels .......................................3 Table 2:1 Synoptic Comparison of Selected Pericopes in the Early Ministry of Jesus ...........5 Table 2:2 Selected Pericope Organized structure of Events with Markan priority ................5


Introduction The Synoptic Problem is endeavoring to explain how the three synoptic writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, while agreeing on their material, have literary disagreement not related to teaching. The problem is born out of an issue with the outside literary sources the three authors are suggested to have used.1 As they peruse the life of Christ, they do so from a common perch embodying “...resemblances and differences...” thus seemingly creating a problem of synthesizing each to the other.2 The main hypothesis this paper will address will be the two source/document hypothesis with a Markan priority and use of Q in which Matthew and Luke independently enlarge on Mark’s material for the framework of its narrative. This can also be known as the four-source hypothesis. The Two-Source Hypothesis (2SH) has been the predominant source theory for the synoptic problem for almost a century and half. The 2SH derives its name (and most of its plausibility) from its postulation of two distinct sources for the synoptic gospels: a narrative source (Mark) for the triple tradition and a saying source (Q) for the double tradition. Sometimes, the 2SH is more precisely called the two-document hypothesis to emphasize that the two sources are distinct documents...3 The Synoptic Gospels and Q The word “synoptic” referring to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke is used to describe the harmonization of the material both in wording, context and often in literary organization. There is much material in common among the three but other material is also used not found in the other two.4 An explanation outside the simple answer of the inspiration of the


David Alan Black and David R. Beck, “Rethinking The Synoptic Problem,” (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2001),

19. Charles H. Dyer, “Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other? ” Bibliotheca Sacra, 138 no 551( JulySeptember, 1981), 230-245 230. (Accessed February 2, 2014). 3 Stephen C. Carlson, “Two Source Hypothesis,” September 23, 2004, Posted by Joan Montserrat, June 16, 2005, (Accessed January 31, 2014). 4

Holy Spirit is sought, thus creating a hypothetical synoptic problem. Among the various hypothesis is a popular one having a document designated Q. “Q, in the study of biblical literature, [is] a hypothetical Greek-language proto-Gospel that might have been in circulation in written form about the time of the composition of the Synoptic Gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke—approximately between 65 and ad 95.”5 While no one has ever seen this document or documents, the result of meticulous research in form, source and textual criticism, is that many scholars have determined to insist on its reality. 6 However, we must be clear regarding Q. “[It] consisted largely of a collection of miscellaneous sayings arranged topically... Q probably ceased to circulate independently after it was incorporated in Matthew and Luke.”7 Thus, Q is usually associated with the Markan priority of the synoptics.8 The following questions probe the problem more deeply for expansion of the concept: (1) Did the synoptic evangelists engage in interdependence in composing their gospel; (2) Did they in their writing, become redactionists with two specifically targeting Mark; (3) Were there extra literary sources used that were merely oral tradition and (4) Were they strictly independent and reliant solely on the Holy Spirit or not? To rely on each other or oral traditions has generated the idea of the insufficiency of the Holy Spirit’s ability to communicate exactly what He intended. No presented hypotheses have a definitive and scholarly determined solution to what has been designated to be this problem. If there were a Q document or writings held to be imperative to Scripture, would not the early church have endeavored to preserve it and use it as authoritative teachings? It seems best to view this particular source as a literary assist with Q being one of several hypotheses.

5 6 Dyer, 236. 7 Ibid, 237. 8 Black, 43.


Theories, Similarities, and Differences The Oxford hypothesis endorses the two sources of Q and Mark forwarded by William Sanday in 1894 at Oxford University.9 The Griesbach Hypothesis posits that the sequence of a Matthean, Lukan, and Markan order was correct and that Mark reduced and redacted material to suit his audience. A fourth hypothesis largely embraced by the Catholic Church is the AH or the Augustine Hypothesis. His approach was that the gospels were written in the order as given in the Canon and that each author depended on the writer prior to him.10 “Therefore, on the Augustinian hypothesis, there is a ready explanation for the positive correlation between agreement in order and closeness of text between Mark and Luke, but not for the similar correlation between Mark and Matthew.”11 The following chart will show the four dominant theories in today’s scholastic circles: Theory Augustinian View Two Gospel Hypothesis Markan Priority Two Document Hypothesis Definition Canonical Gospels are listed in the order they were written Gospels were written in the order of Matthew, Luke, and then Mark. Mark wrote first; Matthew and Luke wrote independently of each other, both using Mark as a source. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source; Matthew and Luke also used "Q” a document containing the similar material found in Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. Luke used Mark and Matthew as sources.

Farrer-Goulder Hypothesis Table 1:1 Theories of Literary Dependence of the Synoptic Gospels12

Black, 78. Ibid, 34. 11 William Farmer, “The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis,” 1976, (Accessed January 31, 2014). BzgK#v=onepage&q=augustinian%20hypothesis%20synoptic%20problem&f=false. 12 Kostenberger, 173.



A plethora of pericopae is used to explore and even determine the numerous supports for the two-document hypothesis with a Markan priority. The Markan priority determines Mark as the earliest Gospel, placing him after Matthew and before Luke (or after Luke and before Matthew), and suggests that both were involved in copying and expanding on Mark’s material. “The fundamental ...synoptic problem is that Mark is ...between Matthew and Luke. In the triple tradition, the ordering of the passages is largely shared between Matthew and Mark, between Luke and Mark, or among all three. It is rarely the case, however, that Matthew and Luke agree against Mark in arranging the Triple Tradition.” Their content, while in varying ways differs from Marcan material, is not authoritatively and contradictorily opposing. The words and content of Matthew and Luke are complimentary to Mark’s inspired composition, therefore suggesting that these two writers expanded on Mark’s material. Consider the following chart of selected pericopes:

Pericopes (arranged in Markan order) 1. Jesus’ teaching in Capernaum synagogue 2. Healing of demoniac in Capernaum 3. Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-inlaw 4. Jesus’ healing in the evening 5. Jesus leaves Capernaum 6. Jesus’ preaching in Galilee 7. Miraculous catch of fish 8. Jesus’ healing of the leper 9. Jesus’ healing of the paralytic 10. Calling of Levi 11. Controversy over fasting


Mark 1:21-22 1:23-28

Luke 4:31-32 4:33-37 4:38-39 4:40-41 4:42-43 4:44 5:1-11

8:14-15 8:16-17

1:29-31 1:32-34 1:35-38



8:1-4 9:1-8 9:9-13 9:14-17

1:40-45 2:1-12 2:13-17 2:18-22

5:12-16 5:17-26 5:27-32 5:33-39


12. Controversy over plucking grain 13. Controversy over Sabbath healing 14. Healing by the sea 15. Choosing of the twelve

12:1-8 12:9-14 4:24-25 12:15-16 10:1-4

2:23-28 3:1-6 3:7-12 3:13-19

6:1-5 6:6-11 6:17-19 6:12-16

Table 2:1 Synoptic Comparison of Selected Pericopes in the Early Ministry of Jesus13 It is also affirmed that Mark has a different literary sequence that is different from Matthew and Luke. Note the following chart as it deals with the first five chapters of Mark: Mark 1:21-45 2:1-22 2:23-3:12 3:13-19 3:20-35 4:1-34 4:35-5:20 5:21-43 Matthew 7:28-8:15 9:1-17 12:1-16 10:1-4 12:22-37 13:1-34 8:18-34 9:18-26 Luke 4:31-5:16 5:17-39 6:1-6:11, 17-19 6:12-16 6:43-45 8:4-18 8:22-39 8:40-56

Table 2:2 Selected pericope organized structure of events with Markan priority14 In the Markan priority emphasis, an outside source used by him has been labeled Q to identify it. The hypothesis of a written document (Q) used independently by Matthew and Luke was posited because it was a useful way of dealing with the synoptic problem. In fact, research from the scholarly substantiations actually demanded it. If such unity could be found, both the
Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown, (Broadman and Holman: Nashville, 2009), 161. 14 Dennis Bratcher, “The Gospels and The Synoptic Problem: The Literary Relationship of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” Christian Resource Institute, (accessed February 1, 2014).


Two Document and the Q hypothesis would finally have verification.15 However, if, on the Griesbach hypothesis, one still found it necessary to posit some body of sayings material used independently by Matthew and Luke, then the discovery of literary unity in the double tradition would encourage the view that some of it at least came from a single written document.16 In essence, the postulated “Q” is a document of oral tradition and has attached to it a hypothesis that Mark’s writings relied on this phantom document as a reliable outside source. This concept is of the school of Redaction Criticism.17 The clear suggestion is that the inspired writer simply used other books, which were not inspired though accurate, in his compilation of the biblical record. “Some scholars argue that these similarities are products of the divine inspiration of the Synoptic Gospels rather than indicating the use of one Gospel by another.”18 Into this consideration is that using historical sources was not an unlikely or improbable action by the authors but simply these men being faithful in recording what they saw, heard, and experienced.19 This is a similar method employed by authors of the Old Testament.20 Again, these are all hypothesis, and they all speak to the literary aspects of how the gospels were put together, not to the doctrine of inspiration specifically. With these hypothesis however, came investigations into how each arrived.

Arland D. Jacobson, “The Literary Unity of Q,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 101 no 3( Spring, 1982), 371. (Accessed January 29, 2014). %29&bdata=JmRiPXJmaCZjbGkwPUZUJmNsdjA9WSZjbGkxPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1laG9zd C1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d. 16 Ibid. 17 Ngufan Nyagba, “Comparing Source, Form, Redaction and Literary Criticism in terms of Assumption about History and Focused Goals,” 2008. (Accessed January 29, 2014). 18 Kostenberger, 164. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid.



History of Investigation According to Black and Beck in Rethinking the Synoptic Problem, the two main areas of inquest into researching the problem are reduced to what the early church thought about the literary kinship of these writings and what academia since then we could call modern scholarship, thinks about these writings.21 Several popular names from church history reveal that there was an honest interest into these alike writings. Tatian, Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine all concluded that these writings were not redacted, were not in conflict for authority, and did not contradict one another in the message, the stories, or the interpretations.22 Augustine wrote, “"So these four evangelists, well-known throughout the entire world...are regarded to have written in this order: first Matthew, then Mark, third Luke, and last John. Hence, there is one order to them in learning and preaching, and another in writing.”23 While Augustine believed there were differences, he did not see these as of such nature that would result in contradictions of the divine authoritative nature of inspiration. The variances were not in theology, doctrine, or truth but in presentation of personal experiences as they wrote in recall of events and words. It seems that the general conclusions of early church fathers was that the accounts of Jesus’ life given by the authors were authoritative as given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their summarizing, paraphrasing or clarifying Jesus’ words.24 Modern scholarship however has brought about the controversies on authorship and harmony of the gospels particularly beginning with the Enlightenment period.25 Source Criticism

Black and Beck, 45. Kostenberger, 157. 23 Matthew Olsen, “The Gospels and the “Synoptic Problem,” (Accessed February 1, 2014). 24 Kostenberger, 158. 25 Ibid, 157.



arose as the new scientific determination of veracity. One of the leaders of this was Griesbach, the late eighteenth century German Scholar.26 His proposal was that Mark was a redactor of both Matthew and Luke. Other critics dealt with the Two-Gospel Hypothesis, evidences for Q and Markan priority for a two document hypothesis such as Farmer, Eichhorn arguing for presynoptic sources, Marsh arguing for a “proto-Gospel and ...sayings sources,” Credner arguing for Matthew and Luke as independent writers using Mark as a source and the two document hypothesis being proposed by the infamous Streeter.27 The modern debate has been shaped by scholars such as Dungan, Farmer, Wright, and Streeter.28 These men defend from a traditional source criticism foundation as well as a textual criticism method. Both Matthean and Markan priorities are defended and seemingly conclude that “...the ancients read their materials... and then basically seemed to land firmly on one source and use it with supplementation from others...”29 This would lead to various solutions to the Synoptic Problem. Proposed Solutions to the Synoptic Problems For the Q document challenge, it seems that while this document has difficulty of being proven to have existed at all, the plausibility of it or these sources to have been used by the authors is not far reaching. To use Q plus the other writings that are not authoritative such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter would not be academically advisable due to varying Christological issues.30 As to a Markan priority with Q in the Two-Document hypothesis, findings seem to indicate that while Matthew and Luke probably knew each other but wrote

26 27

Black, 31. Kostenberger, 170. 28 Black, 65-67. 29 Ibid, 74. 30 Ibid, 61.


independently of one another, reliance on Mark was likely but not without simple challenges.31 In the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis, the minor disagreements are solved by having literary overlap, scribal errors, and oral traditions that were iterating.32 The Augustinian proposal remains with the Catholic Church’s position but has been subjected to the more studious criticisms of the source, historical and textual criticism methods of scholarly research since Augustine. There really has been no substantially strong findings to support the AH outside of the respected position he held. In the scholarly works today, the AH position has largely been sidelined while the Two Source (also known as Four Source) Hypothesis with Q has stood the test of time and seems to be the most widely accepted proposal to the supposed synoptic problem. Defense of the Four-Source Hypothesis Including Q The Four Source Hypothesis has strong arguments in its interdependence of Markan material but independency of authorship. Opting for this proposed solution, however does not solve the synoptic problem, it simply suggests that it possesses the stronger considerations in light of intense and ongoing scholastic study. While no one hypothesis is without its own challenges, this hypothesis endeavors to explain the problem by having hypothetical sources known as Q, L (Lukan) and M (Matthean) used while endorsing Mark as the priority in order.33 There is suggested several considerations that promote Markan priority with the interdependence of the authors on material. First, Marks gospel is shorter and thus it is posited that instead of being redactors or embellishers, Matthew and Luke enlarged on what Mark gave, as his gospel is the shortest. Note the following chart:

31 32

Kostenberger, 170. Ibid, 173. 33 Dyer, 238.


Marks Shortness: Argument from Length VERSES WORDS

Matthew 1068 18,293 661


Luke 1149 19,376


Table 3:1 Brevity of Markan material measured in verses and words34 It is postulated that Mark also seemed to have a poorer grammatical style of writing as he predominantly leaned to writing to a Gentile audience as opposed to the Jewish audiences Matthew and Luke targeted.35 Mark translates Aramaic expressions in ways that Matthew and Luke do not. 36Also, Mark has passages in which his portrayal of Jesus is more difficult to explain than do Matthew and Luke. Thus, in their writings, they go further and expound on these portrayals.37 It is purported that Matthew would clarify theological statements than for Mark to “muddle” them.38 There is also the Argument from Verbal Agreement and the Argument from Order. The first says that Matthew and Luke would not take literary or theological sides against Mark in agreeing against him in what they said- verbal agreement, nor in the sequence of how they wrote- order of arrangement.39 Literary style such as Mark using the word “immediately” more than Matthew or Luke is predominant as well as a redactional emphasis in Mark not found in the other two.40 It has been suggested that two basic simple rules be used when dealing with a biblical literary problem. First, if there are numerous narrations of the same incident, those narrations will have noteworthy agreement. Second, the more concise rendition version of those

Daniel B. Wallace, “The Synoptic Problem,” 3, (Accessed February 1, 2014). 35 Ibid. 36 Kostenberger, 168. 37 Wallace, Ibid. 38 Kostenberger, Ibid. 39 Wallace, 7. 40 Ibid, 10.



accounts will necessitate having the larger percentage of the material presented.41 Perspicuous conciseness would demand a focus on the event in pithy language, even if that language of the writer were non-academic.42 This is the overwhelming evidentiary position of the Four Source Hypothesis among most scholars. Conclusion There is no final answer to this "problem." There are various perspectives, hypotheses, and theories based on the evidence of the biblical text but there is no singular solution answer. I also am of the opinion that if we are going to insert the idea of a non-confirmed and indeed extremely questionable extra biblical “lost” source such as Q to bring aid to solving a perceived biblical problem, it will always create more issues than answers and we ought use such “ a last resort.”43 What this ultimately means is that believers take this discussion as a part of our journey in biblical studies. It is not a matter of faith or a matter affecting our sanctification nor is it an issue of believing or not believing the Bible. It is a matter of believing, and then seeking to understand as best we can that which we believe. For evangelicals who advocate dependency hypotheses, whether the Augustinian, TwoSource, Two-Gospel, or Farrer Hypothesis, a reasonable explanation of the use of one evangelist’s work by another is acceptable. All the studies so far cited would still warrant the judgment that the Synoptic Gospels display a "literary" relationship to one another.44 Fee

Dyer, 239. Ibid. 43 Dennis Ingolfsland, “Jesus Remembered: James Dunn and The Synoptic Problem,” (accessed February 2, 2014). Trinity Journal, ns 27 no 2 (Autumn, 2006), 195. 44 F. Gerald Downing, “Compositional Conventions and The Synoptic Problem,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 107 no 1 (March, 1988), 69-85. (Accessed February 2, 2014). sdjA9WSZjbGkxPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d.



indicates “the basic solution is a literary one of interdependence among the Gospels... that which sees Mark as a source of both Matthew and Luke and sees Matthew and Luke as having access to a diversity of sources some of which they had in common, and many of which were probably still in the oral stage.45 Regardless of the theory that we may espouse as students of the Bible, we would be well served to humbly admit that adherence to a particular hypothesis is not a matter of orthodoxy. Rather, it serves to advance and enhance our conviction as diehards in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.

Gordon Fee, “A Text-Critical Look At The Synoptic Problem,” Novum Testamentum, 22 no 1 (January 1980), 14,15. (Accessed February 2, 2014). sdjA9WSZjbGkxPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d.



Bibliography Black, David Alan, and David R. Beck. “Rethinking The Synoptic Problem,” Baker: Grand Rapids, 2001. Bratcher, Dennis. “The Gospels and The Synoptic Problem: The Literary Relationship of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” Christian Resource Institute. Accessed February 1, 2014. Carlson, Stephen C. “Two Source Hypothesis,” September 23, 2004, Posted by Joan Montserrat, June 16, 2005. Accessed January 31, 2014. Downing, F. Gerald. “Compositional Conventions and The Synoptic Problem,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 107 no 1 (March, 1988): 69-85. -c852-4eb4-857425e0e2d9dcb2%40sessionmgr4002&vid=6&hid=4109&bquery=synoptic&bdata=JmRiPX JmaCZjbGkwPUZUJmNsdjA9WSZjbGkxPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1laG 9zdC1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d. Accessed February 2, 2014. Dyer, Charles H. “Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other?” Bibliotheca sacra, 138 no 551( July-September, 1981): 230-245. sid=31523bf2-c852-4eb4-8574-25e0e2d9dcb2%40sessionmgr4002&hid=4109. Accessed February 2, 2014. Farmer, William. “The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis,” 1976. ce=bl&ots=hsfR8Of-R&sig=zz9LGk7HQkwwdddu84lGtpbtdgk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=m2TsUuiECMLNsQSShoL 4BQ&ved=0CGMQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=augustinian%20hypothesis%20synoptic %20problem&f=false. Accessed January 31, 2014. Fee, Gordon. “A Text-Critical Look At The Synoptic Problem.” Novum Testamentum, 22 no 1 (January, 1980): 14, 15. 2-c852-4eb4-857425e0e2d9dcb2%40sessionmgr4002&vid=5&hid=4109&bquery=synoptic&bdata=JmRiP XJmaCZjbGkwPUZUJmNsdjA9WSZjbGkxPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1l aG9zdC1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d. Accessed February 2, 2014. 13 Ingolfsland, Dennis. “Jesus Remembered: James Dunn and The Synoptic Problem,” Trinity Journal, ns 27 no 2 (Autumn, 2006): 195. sid=31523bf2- c852-4eb4-8574-25e0e2d9dcb2%40sessionmgr4002&hid=4109. Accessed February 2, 2014. Jacobson, Arland D. “The Literary Unity of Q,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 101 no 3( Spring, 1982): 371. 6-01bc-4e89-a9f5877227780861%40sessionmgr114&vid=5&hid=120&bquery=%28gospels%29+AND+% 28AU+%28jacobson%29%29&bdata=JmRiPXJmaCZjbGkwPUZUJmNsdjA9WSZjbGk xPVJWJmNsdjE9WSZ0eXBlPTEmc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d. Accessed January 29, 2014. Kostenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown. Broadman and Holman: Nashville, 2009. Nyagba, Ngufan. “Comparing Source, Form, Redaction and Literary Criticism in terms of Assumption about History and Focused Goals,” 2008. Accessed January 29, 2014. (Open as a pdf. file) Olsen, Matthew. “The Gospels and the “Synoptic Problem,” Accessed February 1, 2014. Wallace, Daniel B. “The Synoptic Problem,” 3, wallace.pdf. Accessed February 1, 2014.