Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Synoptic Problem & Gospel Genre

Today in my NT 101 class I covered the Synoptic problem. I spent 20 minutes explaining the various options accounting for a literary relationship between the Synoptics Gospels. Afterwards, I got the students to work in pairs and spend 15 minutes reading over Mk. 4.30-32/Mt. 13.31-32/Lk. 13.18-19 (the parable of the mustard seed) and asked them to decide which ‘solution’ to the Synoptic problem that they thought best explained the textual data before.

The results were:

Farrar-Goulder 4 votes
Griesbach 1 vote
4 Source Hypothesis 2 votes

(Note for Mark Goodacre and company, over half of my NT 101 undergraduate class thinks you’re right!)

On Gospel genre, Scot McKnight’s charming little illustration about the Alexandrian librarian prompted some good discussion too on what kind of literature the Gospels are!


Scot McKnight said...

You'll be using red beads next!

the issue for me is not individual passages alone but also paragraphs and connections of paragraphs.

Here's my claim: if you use the fundamental principle of textual criticism (which reading most likely gave rise to the other/others), you will end up with Markan priority.

So, I often say: if you use NA26 you must believe in Markan priority.

Matthew C. Williams is publishing a monograph on this soon with Kregel.

Anonymous said...

Dumb question from a non-academic.

Every time I read about the synoptic problem and various theories I rarely if ever read about what difference it makes except for the odd reference to interpretation, and then often with no practical examples and no assessment as to how crticial that is to interpretation.

I ask that because I remember once reading *unnamed to protect the innocent*'s complex theory or sources and redaction of a particular gospel and apart from thinking how someone can conclude so much with so little evidence and scanty if often unstated assumptions and questionable methodology, all I said to my teacher at the time was: fair enough but what is the point?

He laughed. But I'm still no wiser. Perhaps I am looking in all the wrong places, but has anyone ever addressed that at length?

J. B. Hood said...


That is not a dumb question at all.

The biggest difference is for those chaps like Michael, Tom Wright, Jesus Seminar, and a host of others who commit themselves to trying to find the most authentic, earliest data on Jesus, so that we can know with [greater] certainty what he did and taught. I.E., if Q is actually closer to reflecting Jesus' own views than even Mark, and Mark closer than Matt, Luke, or (especially, supposedly) John; then we should privilege the picture that arises from that material as we seek to learn who jesus was, what he was after, etc.

Mike, feel free to correct me on this but that's how I read the situation.

Michael Pahl said...

Scot's basic claim is right on this, but since both the Farrer Hypothesis and the Two (Four) Source Hypothesis hold to Markan priority we're not much further ahead in deciding among the three options. And the class voting then favours Markan priority anyway, 6-1, so we might as well stick to coloured beads... ;-)

Regarding the significance of source criticism of the Gospels, J.B.'s statement reflects a common view (source criticism gets us earlier, and earlier is better for historical Jesus), but the idea that earlier is always more historically reliable is simply false, especially when the earlier written source is still possibly decades after Jesus. More significant is the way in which possible earlier sources may reflect the historical and theological interests of their authors and/or communities and thus expand our picture of earliest Christianity (some tentative hypothesizing going on there, though!), or most fruitfully the way in which source criticism sets up redaction criticism, allowing us to see more sharply the aims and emphases of the authors of the extant canonical Gospels.

J. B. Hood said...

I certainly wasn't wanting to argue that "earlier is better" is necessarily true! Too many scholars, it seems, just take it for granted that it's the case (especially when it serves their purposes).

I agree that source criticism is helpful as a guide to redaction criticism (assuming Markan priority, and probably Q material in some form), though this can certainly be overused.

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys.

Yes I personally don't buy historical argument but is that it?
All this for what it can contribute to redaction criticism?

OK, your gut feeling (unless you know of anyone who has done a systematic comparison). If I compared authors who hold to different source theories do you think I would find a discernible and significant difference in their interpretation which could be largely attributable to their view of sources?