1. Synoptic Problem

Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels

Lecture: Synoptic Problem


Again, our Father, we just pause to give you thanks for the privilege that is ours of looking at your word. We pray for insight now, especially, with regard to the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke and help us to understand them better so we can be better proclaimers of that message found in those books and we commit ourselves to you today in Jesus' name. Amen.

We're going to begin today looking at the Synoptic Gospels — those gospels that look alike. Synoptic comes from the Greek word syn — together or with, optic, opticians and so forth, to look at. Those gospels that look alike that are to be viewed together. Mathew, Mark and Luke look alike. John doesn't look like Matthew, Mark and Luke. We want to look at, today, why they look alike. Today, we're going to talk about there existing between Mathew, Mark and Luke some sort of literary relationship. Then, beginning tomorrow, we'll start looking at that literary relationship. But, first of all, we want to look at the literary relationship that there is some sort of agreements between them that need to be explained not by chance or by happenstance.

Let me just eliminate the —right from the start, the idea that you can explain the look-alike character of Matthew, Mark and Luke by their being inspired of God. I believe they're inspired by God, but that doesn't explain why they look alike. So, wha — well, the Holy Spirit guided them. That's why they look alike, but then you come across a problem. There's another gospel named John.  Does it not look alike because it's not inspired by God? Oh, no, no, I don't — I don't want you to say that. All right, so, you have some that are inspired that God that look alike, some that are inspired by God that don't look alike. So, it can't be the inspiration of these texts that causes them to look alike in that way. So, you have to look for some other reason than that.

Well, let's look at some of this character. Turn with me in your synopsis to page two, one, six — 216. We start out this saying concerning the children coming to Jesus as follows, "Then children were brought to Him that He might lay his hands on them" — Mark has — "and they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them." Luke — now they were bringing even infants to Him that he might touch them. All right, so, we have a lot of similarity. Luke then has it when the disciples saw it.

Now, the next line, "Mark and the disciples rebuke them." Luke has, "They rebuke them." The disciples — they rebuke the people. Mark — and when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them — it's been abbreviated in Mathew and Luke, the number of words of agreement — all of a — a sudden, we have a lengthy amount of agreement. "Let" — "let children come to me and do not forbid them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven or God." A lot of exact agreement. Then, Luke and Mark have, "truly I say to whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child, shall not enter it," and then you have Mark and Mathew, "and he took them in his arms and blessed them laying his hands upon them and." A lot of common agreements — close agreement — where do these close agreements come from? Why are they looking alike? Was it perhaps that they had all heard this story and memorized it? In other words, it's because they have an oral access to a tradition, which they've memorized and they are repeating at this point. That's a real possibility — a real possibility. The — the commonality is due to the common oral tradition that they share in this regard. 

Look at a couple more. Here you have page 255, the Signs Before the End Times here — 255 — Matthew and Mark start, "And as he sat on a mound of olives" — opposite the temple — Peter and James and John and Andrew — "asked him privately" in Mathew — "asked him and Luke, 'Tell us'" — Mathew and Mark — "'when will this be and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished'" — it's about to take place — you have in Luke — and Jesus began to say to them, "Take head that no one leads you astray". Identical in Matthew and Mark — "many will come in my name saying that I am He, and will lead many astray, and when you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet, for a nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pact."

Now, the — if you — you forget about the difference in the coloring, notice that we begin here in line — I don't know the line, but in Verse 5 here, Matthew and Mark, "take head that no one lead you astray. Many will come in my name" — there's one difference here [inaudible]  "say I am" — you have the difference — the Christ — "and they will lead many astray and you — when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed" — identical over here — "for this must take place but the end is not yet" — same — "for nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom" — very close agreement — How do you explain this? Well, they just memorize the common tradition very, very exactly. That's a real possibility, but there has to be something in common. For instance, if you went to chapel on Tuesday and you were going to quote four or five statements as literally as you could of Dr. Mohler when he preached, would you all have the same sayings or statements or would they be somewhat different, and if you, from that one hearing situation, wrote a synopsis of his message, they would deal with the same material, but would they this much alike? Very unlikely. Very unlikely. It looks like there's some sort of a source. What kind of a source? Well, that's up for grabs at this present time.

Turn to one more — page 247. All right, now you have the following, "The same day Sadducees came to him who say there is no resurrection and they asked him a question saying, 'Teacher, Moses said'" — and very close in Matthew, Mark and Luke and those — you have in Mark and Luke, however, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no child" — "children" in Matthew and Luke — "the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brothers." Now, there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without children, and the second, Mark has more fully "took her and died leaving no children, and the third, likewise, and the seven left no children. Afterwards" — "after" Mathew has — "the women also died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be for the seven had her as wife? Jesus said to them, 'You were wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God'" — is what you have in Matthew, and Mark is very close to that.

Luke has a saying, "The sons of the age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are counted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage." Mark and Matthew are closer. "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" — and very, very close material — very, very close — so that you have not — not just three or four words in common, for instance, but whole sentences and uh, carries on this way.

Now, the synoptic problem is not what some people might think it is, that why are there some differences, but why are they so much alike? So, now the problem isn't talking about why they're different, but why are they so much alike. A lot of similarity, and if you look at the similarity, the question that comes into your mind, well, why are they so similar? Why are they so similar? There must be some sort of relationship that they have. Whatever it is, we don't know, but there's something out there that causes them to look alike. That's wording. All right?

Now, there are other kinds of agreements, and here you can turn in the back of your synopsis to page 347, where we have a list of parallels between the gospels, and what's interesting here is that there is a similar order in the materials — a similar order. For instance, you have Peter's confession in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and in all three, there follows Jesus for his passion prediction. After that, there are sayings about if anyone would come to be a disciple following in all three. After that, and all three, you have the story of the transfiguration. Then you have in Matthew and Mark, the coming of Elijah. Luke doesn't have that, but the very next account, he has it exactly the same as Matthew and Mark. You have Jesus healing a boy that's possessed by a demon, and that is followed by the second passion prediction in all of that.

Now, at that point, Matthew has payment of a temple tax in it, but notice all three of them follow immediately with sayings about greatness. Matthew doesn't have a story about a strange exorcist like Mark and Luke do, but, right next after that, warnings on temptation follow. Then, you have a number of things in Matthew not found in any gospel, so that you can't compare them, but what you have here, is this interesting list of stories and sayings which follow each other exactly this way.

Let's look at another one, and that would be page 350 in the synopsis. Here you have parallels beginning at Mark 10:1, Jesus departed from Judea, not found in Luke, but then you have Jesus teaching on divorce. All three of the — again, Luke doesn't have that one there but Matt — Mark has and Matthew has — then blessing the children, the story of the rich young man, teachings on riches — all of the following the same way. At that point, Matthew has a parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which is interesting because riches ends with a saying, "The first shall be last. The last shall be first," and the parable of the workers in the vineyard is, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." So, it may well be that Matthew places the parable at that point because of the similar ending between what is preceded and — in this parable. Then, they all have a third passion prediction. The request of the sons of Zebedee, well, that's not in Luke, but Luke follows then with the healing of the blind man, and he had some other things. So, you have a similarity in order of these things.

You have other kinds of similarities if you — in order of various things. For instance, you have in 121 to 45 in Mark, a list of miracles that Jesus [inaudible], and you have a similar order of miracles in Matthew and Luke. In 2:1 to 3:6, there is a list of what we call controversy stories, where he has controversies with his opponents — similar order in those. In 4:1 to 34 in Mark, you have a list of parables, and you have a similar kind of order in Matthew and Luke.

Now, much of this material has no chronological tie or order. There's no necessary tie between these events. Uh — what ties 1:21 to 45 are the fact that Jesus is doing miracles — the collection of miracles. Then in 2:1 to 3:6, there's a collection of debates or controversies. 4:1 to 34, there is a list of parables. Now, it's very unlikely that 1:21 to 45 was Jesus' day devoted to miracle working. 2:1 to 3:6 was debate day, and then, 4:1 to 34 where parable days. What we have here is that there are similar kinds of materials and what you would do is tend to put them together — oh, that reminds me of another miracle, or that reminds me of another parable — and so, you bring together common-like stories, but there's no chronological tie that you could say, "Well, the gospel writers look alike in Matthew, Mark and Luke because they're dealing with all of this in chronological order. These follow one after the other. They're not chronologically tied together — many. So, how, again, do you explain the similarity in this particular order?

Now, there are some other kinds of ties that we find together that are unusual, and they look like they are editorial in nature. Turn with me to page 258. In this prophecy concerning the end times, we have a collection of sayings of Jesus in chapter 13 of Matt — of Mark, and of 24 in Matthew where we have Jesus' predictions of the end — Mark has — "But when you see desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be, let the reader understand," Luke has — uh, Matthew rather has — "So when you see the desolating sacrilege, spoken by the prophet Daniel standing in the (place let the reader understand) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."

Now, let me ask you, where does that parenthesis, "(let the reader understand)" — where did it come from? Where did the preceding material and following material come from? Jesus, right? Jesus said those words. What about — the — the parenthetical material? It looks like the — an author inserts this because — who's he referring to? The reader. Jesus isn't speaking to readers. He's speaking to hearers. So, you have now somewhere an editor saying to the reader, "Now, pay attention to what's going on," and he's probably saying, "Remember what Daniel says about this," but you have that same editorial comment in the exact same place in two different writers. It's very unlikely that independently of each other, Matthew said, "I think I'm going to appeal to the reader to pay attention here," and that Mark does the same thing. It looks like there's something here that indicates some sort of a relationship, and would this be in the oral telling of the story or in the written retelling of the story?

Audience Member: It's oral.

If it was the oral, you wouldn't use "reader" would you? You’d probably have, let the hearer or something like that. So, it looks like here's an editorial comment that is being repeated by another evangelist in this way.

Let's look at a couple other examples like that. Turn to page 312. Here you have in Mark 15:10, a little comment that the author inserts into the story. Here we have the story of Jesus or Barabbas. Pilate is in front of them asking, "Well, who do you want me to release, and in Verse 8, "And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them," and he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" Now, where does — "For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up." Some editor, either in telling a story, or, more likely, in writing the story, gives an explanatory clause for his readers and note Mark and Matthew, at the same point, have the exact same explanatory explanation. Now, that's the synoptic problem. Why? How do you explain that? How do you explain that?

Let's look at another, page 123 at this point — 123 — (Mark 5:8) another kind of comment here. Here you have Jesus casting out the demon in the Gerasene demonic, and the — he is — replied, "What have you to do with me" (Verse 7, Line 20). "Jesus, son of the most high, I adjure you by God, do not torment me." Now, Mark explains something here, as does Luke. "For Jesus had said to them, come out of the man, you unclean spirit. He explains what was going on. Here is an editor helping his reader to understand what's going on. He says, "Well, you see, before that, he had told the demon to come out." That's why — what's happening here, and he explains it, and both Mark and Luke have that same editorial comment.

Finally, one more example of that on page 41, which you had for today's assignment, you had one like that. You have in both Matthew, Mark and Luke, an editorial comment at the same place. You have — if you notice on the right and left sides of the columns, you have numbers. Those are the line numbers. They — they do every three — number it that way — but if you get to line 36, Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven" — well, I should — we should go back tomorrow. "Which is easier to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or say, 'Rise, take up your bed, or pallet and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." Notice that the quotation mark ends there, and you have an editorial comment. "He said to the paralytic," and then the quotation starts in again. "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." That's kind of like an editorial remark.

Think of a stage play, and in the manuscript you have — it says, "You're speaking and then you have this remark, and now walk forward to the front of the stage and look at the audience and say." It's a kind of remark. Well, here you have the gospel writers all telling — now, by the way, he's not talking anymore to the Pharisees. He's turning and talking to the paralytic, and everyone — Matthew, Mark and Luke — at that same place, has that kind of an editorial remark for the readers.

Again, how do you explain the similarities? Why are they like this? A couple possibilities — oral tradition — remember, we'll talk more about this in a couple weeks, but this a society that doesn't have tape recorders. They don't have ball point pens, and they don't have pads and notebook paper, and you say, "Well yeah, well, they — they had papyrus and quills and" — yeah, but — you know, having a quill, cutting it, mixing inks and sitting down is not the normal thing you do when you're listening to somebody outdoors. You memorize things, and their memory was very good — much better than ours because they practice at it. We'll talk a great deal about that later on.

Now, as they memorized these things, they — maybe they remember — remember then in all these ways and they memorize them the same way, and the — the reason they are alike is because they memorized them alike. That doesn’t mean there's any relationship of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It doesn't mean that the — Matthew, Mark or Luke knew each other. By that, we mean not that they were personal friends but the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke didn't know the other manuscripts. So, when we say Matthew didn't know Mark — didn't have Mark's gospel — Luke didn't know Matthew — he didn't have Matthews gospel. So, there was nothing in — in a shared source of written — written by one of them. So, oral tradition, that's a possibility. That's a possibility.

The other is that maybe there was a written tradition they had in common. Maybe there was — s — some of this material had been written down, and in that written form, they'd come across it and they were copying it [inaudible], and so, there's similarity because they're using a common written tradition of one form. Does any seem more likely — one seemed more likely than the other to you. The closer the wording, the more that tends to argue for written sources.

Even, I think, more important than that, is the common agreement in order, and you say, "Well, yeah, that's because it all happened that way." Well, that's true. A lot of it — you can't start out, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ and they crucified him. That kind of comes at the end. The beginning — his birth — if you have a birth story — you have his baptism, his temptations associated with that — at the end, you have his trial, crucifixion, resurrection. So, those things you can't play with it. That's the way they have to be, [24:00] but all of the stuff in between, that's different. You have a lot of freedom that way, and you have freedom to arrange it where — however you want. Uh, John arranges his gospel with Jesus going back and forth from Galilee to Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels don't. Synoptic gospels tell everything Jesus did in Jerusalem is at the end. Everything he did in Galilee is at the beginning, so that you have an arrangement that's kind of a geographical thing. Every — the g — let me tell you about the Galilee stuff. Uh, then he went to Jerusalem. Let me tell you about the Jerusalem stuff, and, in between, it's kind of all arranged according to an individual purpose of one sort or another, but it's not chronology as such.

Even today, we write stories with different purposes. Uh, have you ever the — the — the uh, epic The Longest Day about World War II, the invasion of Normandy — John — John Wayne — a big hero in it and so forth? How many of you have seen The Longest Day?

Audience: [raise of hands]

Not many. Boy, my goodness. Well, it's about D-Day, and what's fascinating about it is their stories, and their stories about what the Germans are doing, what the allies are doing in preparation for it, but when you tell a story, you can't do it chronologically because if you're telling the one story, you can't interrupt it by something else after. You want to finish that story even though the next story may have happened a little earlier, but to keep the stories together and whole, you have to sometimes deal with stories and not time.

A good example of that in our gospels is the fact that Mark tells the story about how Jesus is arrested. Peter follows him. Then you have the trial. Then you have Peter's denial. So, you're switching back. First, Jesus, then Peter, then Jesus is in a trial, back to Peter. Luke doesn't do it that way. Luke has, Jesus is arrested, Peter follows him, Peter denies him, and then he goes into the trial. Let's stay — I'm talking about Peter. Let's stay with it. Let me tell you what happened to Peter — and yet it's not chronologically the same, but it's a perfectly legitimate way to tell the story. Let me just finish up what happened with Peter before I go back to what happens to Jesus. Is one right and one wrong? No, it's just two different ways of saying it.

Now, Mark uses the Greek [inaudible], and immediately, if you look at it, it occurs, oh, a dozen plus times. Uh, in fact, Matthew looked to the drop immediately. The way it immediately functions in Mark seems to be, let me tell you what happens next. Uh, we would have a different way of joining stories together. My generation would say, "and, duh," and we'd go on, and you're generation would say, "and, you know." Well, my "duh" doesn't mean anything, and "you know" doesn't mean anything because if you really knew it, he wouldn't say it. So, these are idiomatic ways of beginning the next statement, and — and, immediately, the fact that it keeps on occurring time and time almost always at the beginning of a story connecting to another, it looks like it's Mark's way of joining stories together. It's his way of joining it, not giving temporal significance to it.

All right, now, we're dealing with some specific issues that we're going to have to look at later. Some of these, I always say, "alleged contradictions" — they may be — they maybe not, but at least it's questionable at this point — and how to reconcile them, but right now, the issue that we're wrestling with is how do we explain the similarities that exist between these three gospels — these synoptic gospels, and I'm going to — I — I think we have to argue that there are sources that they are using and it looks like these sources are written, and you say, "Well, why is he spending all this time on this? I just want to read Matthew, Mark and Luke." Much of what we do when we read Matthew and Luke and Mark, is dependent on the relationship we believe exists between them.

Later on, we're going to notice an emphasis of Matthew — an emphasis on Luke because if, as I will argue, they used Mark, it is interesting to note that when a copy mark, they add comments, and many of these comments have the same theological theme time and time again, and we begin to understand better how to under — how to read Matthew and Luke as a result of that. So, it all will be helpful in our interpretation of the individual books.

Right now we're doing the groundwork. It's like when you're learning Greek, the first things you lea — learn are conjugations and basic vocabulary before you can begin to appreciate it and use it for acts of Jesus. We're at the beginning stage trying to develop that foundation upon which we will build for our later acts of Jesus.

Now, let me share with you a couple other things. Turn with me to page 12 — page 12. Here you have the story of the coming of John the Baptist on the scene. In Mark — let's follow that as it — he says, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who will prepare thy way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'" Now, "prepare the way of the Lord" is found, interestingly enough, if you look at lines 34 on page 13, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Luke has, "prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." All three gospels have, identically, "prepare the way of the Lord." Okay, now, that's a reference from Isaiah.

When you take this verse — this quotation of Isaiah — and compare it to the Greek translation of that called the Septuagint, which was the Bible of the gentile church, because they didn't know Hebrew — it was a — translated into — the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the previous century. That was their Bible, and you compare it to Isaiah 6:9. The Septuagint reads, not "prepare the way of the Lord" but "prepare the way of our God." It's a d — it's different, and if you look at the Hebrew text, it also is different.  Now, you have three gospel writers quoting an Old Testament passage, and it doesn't agree with the Greek translation that the church used. It doesn't agree with the Hebrew that the church used, but they agree with one another.

Now, is it likely that if you were simply memorizing this, you would not somehow, if you were Greek, begin to quote it like it's found in the Septuagint, or if you're Hebrew, in the Hebrew text, but the fact that you have in these gospel accounts the same verse of scripture, but it's not identical to the Septuagint or the Hebrew. It's different, but they agree and are identical with one another.

I have another example of that in — on page 248. They have another saying of Jesus here, and at the bottom of page 248, line 12, both Matthew, Mark and Luke have, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength." The Septuagint, the Greek translation, has sometimes "with all your heart" but it's doesn't have "mind", and sometimes it has "mind" but not "heart", and the Hebrew has "heart" and not "mind". Targums, which were the Aramaic paraphrasing of the Old Testament, it has "heart" and not "mind". The only ones that have "heart" and "mind" together are the three quotations of the Old Testament in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Again, most likely, if it — if this was simply all oral, some of them would be making them fit the scriptures in the form that they knew, whether it was the Greek Septuagint or the Masoretic Text — and one more, page 115, here you have in Mark 4:12 on line 15 on page 115, "so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand lest they should turn again and be forgiven." See — hear — excuse me — "seeing but not see, hear and not understand" — Matthew. — Luke — "see but not see, hear but not understand" — Luke. Mark — "see but not perceive, hear but not understand."

Now, in all of the other — the Greek Old Testament — this first which is quoted, and the Hebrew Old Testament, "hear" comes first and "see" comes second. It's reversed order here. All three of them have that identical. I would suggest this has to indicate that there's a written relationship. They have something out there that's written that they are using.

Now turn to page one. The most important account in our Bible as to how the gospels originated is the Luke and Prologue — the first four versus of Luke. Listen carefully to what Luke says. "In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, other people have written before I did." Quite a few. "Just as these things accomplished among us were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and ministers of the Word." So, here you have the accounts that were written. Before the accounts were written, what was going on? Material was being delivered. That's a word for passing on oral traditions.

Paul says to the Corinthians, "For I delivered to you what I also received. How long the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and broke it," and he passed — he says, "I passed onto you this account of the Lord's Supper," and you also find the same word used again for passing on tradition — First Corinthians 15 — oral tradition. So, there are those who wrote these things down before Luke, but before they were written down, they were delivered. Now, very carefully, who is the — who delivered these? Your eye witnesses, all right? Very important — the critical scholars lose sight of that. For then the eyewitnesses, they ascended and with Jesus apparently. So, everybody who was passing on it and never were there, but these are eye witnesses, and who would be prominent among them? Well, 12 disciples, okay?

Now Luke goes on and he says, "it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time passed." "Following all these things" meaning that he followed the oral traditions and he looked up these written materials to write an orderly account for [inaudible] and Theophilus. So, now he writes a written account and he writes this — why does he write it? So that Theophilus may know the certainty of what he's been taught.  You have the oral traditions that Theophilus has been taught. Can Luke's gospel be very different from them? If Theophilus is going to be convinced of the truth of what he's been taught, Luke's gospel can't be very different from that. So, you're having a tie now between Luke's written gospel with those oral traditions that were circulating that he's been taught. Okay.

So, what we have here then in Luke, a reference to earlier written accounts, and he also refers to that before this there were oral accounts. So that when we go from Jesus here and his ministry, you then have a period of oral passing on of materials supervised by the twelve. Then you have written accounts — written accounts of one sort or another — and you have Luke. Now, the exact relationship of Luke to some of these things, we don't know yet, but it looks like there are — there's some relationship between Matthew, Mark and Luke to written sources. What they are, well, that's tomorrow's class, and I'll ask — I'll try to tomorrow argue that it looks most likely that Mark wrote his gospel first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark in the writing of their gospels.

Does it bother you in your Doctrine of Inspiration to think that maybe two of the gospels is used in another gospel for — in their writing? When Luke specifically says that he's looked into all these things carefully from the beginning, that's a different view than a lot of people have of inspiration, where Luke cut a quill, mixed some ink, spread out the papyrus sheet, looked up to heaven and said, "I'm ready, shoot."

Right? But I would think that somehow it has to be fairly biblical that he did look at sources because he says it was in the Bible. So, it might be that many of us, when we ask about our view of inspirations, say, "Well, we don't believe in dictation," but in reality it comes down to that — the looking at things — sources and the like. It is somewhat troubling for us, but we'll look at that tomorrow, all right? Thank you.