Bible - The Synoptic Problem  

The similarities between the Synoptic Gospels have caused the 'Synoptic Problem'. The solution lies in the numerous theories and hypothesis

Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly called the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels are very similar to each other. In fact, their similarities have led to one of the most debated subjects amongst New Testament Bible scholars - 'The Synoptic Problem' (i.e. who copied who?)

Mark Matthew Luke John
60-80 AD 70-100 AD 93 AD 125 AD

Winged Lion

Winged Man

Winged Ox

Synoptic Problem
Not Synoptic
  • Mark's Gospel is almost universally accepted as the first gospel to be written
  • Mark is the shortest and simplest of the three Synoptic gospels
  • Large portions of Mark are found in Matthew and Luke
  • Matthew and Luke share over 200 verses not found in Mark
  • Shared content includes stories, wording, and chronology of events
  • Triple tradition - Text found in all three Synoptic Gospels
  • Double tradition, or "Q" Source - Text found in both Matthew and Luke
  • M tradition - Text found exclusively in Matthew
  • L tradition - Text found exclusively in Luke
  • John's content, chronology and wording is distinctly different to the Synoptics.
    Hebrew Gospel Hypothesis
    Hebrew Gospel Hypothesis involves a lost gospel in Hebrew, Aramaic or even Greek as the primary source behind the Synoptic gospels.

    * Stein, Synoptic Problem, p.48
    ** Evidence suggests Matthew and Luke did not copy from each other
    Other Hypothesis'
    1.   Augustinian Hypothesis
    Both Irenaeus and Origen, predecessors of Augustine, also held to the same order of composition. Later advocates of this theory include Hugo Grotius, HG Jameson, Basil Christopher Butler and John Wenham.
    2.   Two-Gospel Hypothesis (Griesbach)
    This theory is supported by Henry Owen, JJ Griesbach, William R Farmer, and TRW Longstaff et al.
    3.   Two-Source Hypothesis
    This theory is supported by the majority of New Testament scholars today.
    4.   Three-Source Hypothesis
    This theory is supported by Heinrich Julius Holtzmann, Eduard Simons, Hans Hinrich Wendt, Edward Y Hincks, Robert Morgenthaler and Robert H. Gundry.
    5.   Four-Document Hypothesis
    This is a variation of the Two-Source Hypothesis and so is highly favored among Bible scholars today.
    6.   Farrer Hypothesis (Mark without Q)
    This theory is supported by JH Ropes, AM Farrer, MD Goulder and Mark Goodacre
    7.   Hebrew Gospel Hypothesis (or Proto-Gospel)
    This theory is based on the proposition that a lost gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic lies behind the Synoptic gospels. (outlined above)

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