Synoptic Problem

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Synoptic Problem

Synoptic Problem


For centuries even the most adept biblical scholars have struggled with the idiosyncratic variations between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke known as the Synoptic Problem which have, at best, encouraged the pursuit of godly scholarship and, at worst, eroded the confidence of seminarians in the character of their Creator. An overview of the Synoptic Problem, its history, and an explanation of proposed solutions will demonstrate that the Augustinian Proposal is the most reasonable solution to the Synoptic Problem. The forthcoming study will provide a brief overview of the Synoptic Problem, a history of the investigation into the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, a summarization of the similarities and differences of the Synoptics, proposed solutions to the Synoptic Problem emphasizing the dependent and independent hypotheses as well as a further exploration and defense of the Augustinian Proposal.

Synoptic Problem Overview

Even a cursory examination of the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke quickly reveals distinct similarities and apparent inexplicable differences. The attempt to reconcile these similarities and differences has emerged as the foundation for the Synoptic Problem, and originally generated the innocuous “question of whether and how” the Synoptic Gospels may be literarily dependent.The Synoptic Problem quickly morphed into “the study of the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels in an attempt to explain their literary relationship” assuming the fundamental hypothesis that a literary relationship had been corroborated. Consequently, a myriad of fascinating hypotheses have been proposed in an attempt to prove literary dependence between the Synoptic Gospels, culminating in a plethora of research which has potentially surpassed any other biblical issue in modern scholarship . The scholarly pursuit of reconciling the Synoptic Gospels may have begun with a curious comment by a bishop of Hierapolis.

Synoptic Problem History

Church Father Eusebius provides the oldest explanation on how the Gospels were produced referring to the irretrievable records of the bishop, Papius, who explained that Mark became the interpreter of Peter's memory. The prolific work of Origen continued the analysis by advocating an interpretation that neither guessed nor imposed meaning on the text; instead, it encouraged the interpreter to actively participate with the Holy Spirit by requesting revelation as Scripture was read while ignoring the order of composition.

On the Harmony of the Evangelists was written to address the false accusation that the Gospels lacked agreement. The comprehensive Augustinian work systematically confronted canonical reliability by utilizing Greek manuscripts and Latin translations, blending the actual words of the Gospels which anticipated Griesbach, and similar to Origen, purporting a Holy Spirit led composition. Augustine's analysis abruptly ended the debate regarding the Synoptic Problem for over one thousand years.

Attention to the gospel's similarities and differences gained momentum once again during the Protestant Reformation as Martin Luther (1483-1546) adhered to Augustine's harmonistic approach and John Calvin (1509-1564) diverged. Calvin stripped away the spiritual interpretation of Origen and Augustine and claimed the Evangelists wrote the literal truth. Calvin's claim would soon have catastrophic ramifications.

During the seventeenth century a Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), ...
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