|« Prev||The Synoptists||Next »|
§ 79. The Synoptists.
(See the Lit. in § 78.)
The Synoptic Problem.
The fourth Gospel stands by itself and differs widely from the others in contents and style, as well as in distance of time of composition. There can be no doubt that the author, writing towards the close of the first century, must have known the three older ones.
But the first three Gospels present the unique phenomenon of a most striking agreement and an equally striking disagreement both in matter and style, such as is not found among any three writers on the same subject. Hence they are called the Synoptic or Synoptical Gospels, and the three Evangelists, Synoptists.878878 Synopsis (conspectus), from σύν, together, and ὄψις–ϊ,–ͅϊ view, is applied since Griesbach (though used before him) to a parallel arrangement of the Gospels so as to exhibit a general view of the whole and to facilitate a comparison. In some sections the fourth Gospel furnishes parallels, especially in the history of the passion and resurrection. The first three Evangelists should not be called Synoptics (as is done by the author of Supernatural Religion, vol. I., 213, and Dr. Davidson), but Synoptists. The former is a Germanism (Synoptiker.) This fact makes a harmony of the Gospels possible in all essentials, and yet impossible in many minor details. The agreement is often literal, and the disagreement often borders on contradiction, but without invalidating the essential harmony.
The interrelationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke is, perhaps, the most complicated and perplexing critical problem in the history of literature. The problem derives great importance from its close connection with the life of Christ, and has therefore tried to the utmost the learning, acumen, and ingenuity of modern scholars for nearly a century. The range of hypotheses has been almost exhausted, and yet no harmonious conclusion reached.
The general agreement of the Synoptists consists:
1. In the harmonious delineation of the character of Christ. The physiognomy is the same, only under three somewhat different aspects. All represent him as the Son of man and as the Son of God, as the promised Messiah and Saviour, teaching the purest doctrine, living a spotless life, performing mighty miracles, suffering and dying for the sins of the world, and rising in triumph to establish his kingdom of truth and righteousness. Such unity in the unique character of the hero of the three narratives has no parallel in secular or sacred histories or biographies, and is the best guarantee of the truthfulness of the picture.
2. In the plan and arrangement of the evangelical history, yet with striking peculiarities.
(a.) Matthew 1–2, and Luke 1–2, and 3:23–38, begin with the genealogy and infancy of Christ, but with different facts drawn from different sources. Mark opens at once with the preaching of the Baptist; while the fourth Evangelist goes back to the eternal pre-existence of the Logos. About the thirty years of Christ’s private life and his quiet training for the great work they are all silent, with the exception of Luke, who gives us a glimpse of his early youth in the temple (Luke2:42–52).
(c.) Christ’s baptism and temptation, the Messianic inauguration and Messianic trial: Matt. 3:13–17; 4:1–11; Mark 1:9–11, 12, 13 (very brief); Luke 3:21–23; 4:1–13. The variations here between Matthew and Luke are very slight, as in the order of the second and third temptation. John gives the testimony of the Baptist to Christ, and alludes to his baptism (John 1:32–34), but differs from the Synoptists.
(d.) The public ministry of Christ in Galilee: Matt. 4:12–18:35; Mark 1:14–9:50; Luke 4:14–9:50. But Matthew 14:22–16:12, and Mark 6:45–8:26, narrate a series of events connected with the Galilaean ministry, which are wanting in Luke; while Luke 9:51–18:14, has another series of events and parables connected with the last journey to Jerusalem which are peculiar to him.
(g.) The passion, crucifixion, and resurrection in parallel sections, but with considerable minor divergences, especially in the denial of Peter and the history of the resurrection: Matt. 26–28; Mark 14–16; Luke 22–24.
The events of the last week, from the entry to the resurrection (from Palm Sunday to Easter), occupy in all the largest space, about one-fourth of the whole narrative.
3. In the selection of the same material and in verbal coincidences, as in the eschatological discourses of Christ, with an almost equal number of little differences. Thus the three accounts of the hearing of the paralytic (Matt. 9:1–8, and parallel passages), the feeding of the five thousand, the transfiguration, almost verbally agree. Occasionally the Synoptists concur in rare and difficult words and forms in the same connection, as ἐπιούσιος [ιν τηε Λορδ̑ς Πραψερ], τηε διμινυτίε ὠτίον, little ear (of Malchus, Matt. 26:51, and parallel passages), δυσκόλως,hard (for a rich man to enter into the kingdom, Matt. 19:23, etc.). These coincidences are the more striking since our Lord spoke usually in Aramaic; but those words may have been Palestinian provincialisms.879879 Holtzmann (p. 12) and others include also among the verbal coincidences the irregular ἀφέωνται (the Doric form of pass. perf., 3 pers., plur.), Matt. 9:2, 5; Mark 2:5, 9; Luke 5:20, 23, and the double augment in ἀπεκατεστάθ̓η, Matt. 12:13; Mark 3:5; Luke 6:10. But the former is ruled out by the better reading ἀφίενται, which is adopted by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort, in Matt. 9:2, 5, and in Mark 2:5. Moreover, the Doric form is not confined to the New Test., but somewhat widely diffused; see Moulton’s Winer, p. 97, note. And as to the double augment, it occurs also in the Sept. (see Trommius’ Concord., I., 163, sub ἀποκαθίστημι); comp. also ἀπεκατέστη in Mark 8:25. Ebrard (Wiss. Krit., p. 1054) quotes a passage from Pseudo-Lucian (Philiopatr., c. 27) where ἀπεκατέστησε occurs
The largest portion of verbal agreement, to the extent of about seven-eighths, is found in the words of others, especially of Christ; and the largest portion of disagreement in the narratives of the writers.880880 Mr. Norton brings out this fact very fully in his Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels (Boston, ed. of 1875, p. 464 sq.). I give his results: "In Matthew’s Gospel, the passages verbally coincident with one or both of the other two Gospels amount to less than a sixth part of its contents; and of this about seven-eighths occur in the recital of the words of others, and only about one eighth in what, by way of distinction, I may call mere narrative, in which the evangelist, speaking in his own person, was unrestrained in the choice of his expressions. In Mark, the proportion of coincident passages to the whole contents of the Gospel is about one-sixth, of which not one-fifth occurs in the narrative. Luke has still less agreement of expression with the other evangelists. The passages in which it is found amount only to about a tenth part of his Gospel; and but an inconsiderable portion of it appears in the narrative, in which there are few instances of its existence for more than half a dozen words together. In the narrative, it may be computed as less than a twentieth part. These definite proportions are important, as showing distinctly in how small a part of each Gospel there is any verbal coincidence with either of the other two; and to how great a degree such coincidence is confined to passages in which the evangelists professedly give the words of others, particularly of Jesus.-The proportions should, however, be further compared with those which the narrative part of each Gospel bears to that in which the words of others are professedly repeated. Matthew’s narrative occupies about one-fourth of his Gospel, Mark’s about one-half, and Luke’s about one-third. It may easily be computed, therefore, that the proportion of verbal coincidence found in the narrative part of each Gospel, compared with what exists in the other part, is about in the following ratios: in Matthew as one to somewhat more than two, in Mark as one to four, and in Luke as one to ten .... We cannot explain this phenomenon by the supposition that the Gospels were transcribed either one from another, or all from common documents; for, if such transcription had been the cause, it would not have produced results so unequal in the different portions into which the Gospels naturally divide themselves." This fact bears against the theory of interdependence, and proves, on the one hand, the reverent loyalty of all the Synoptists to the teaching of the great Master, but also, on the other hand, their freedom and independence of observation and judgment in the narration of facts. Words can be accurately reported only in one form, as they were spoken; while events may be correctly narrated in different words.
Numerical Estimates Of The Harmony And Variation.
The extent of the coincidences, and divergences admits of an approximate calculation by sections, verses, and words. In every case the difference of size must be kept in mind: Luke is the largest, with 72 pages (in Westcott and Hort’s Greek Testament); Matthew comes next, with 68 pages; Mark last, with 42 pages. (John has 55 pages.)
1. Estimate by Sections.
Matthew has in all 78, Mark, 67, Luke, 93 sections.
Dividing the Synoptic text into 124 sections, with Dr. Reuss,881881 Geschichte der heil. Schriften N. Test., I., p. 175 (5th ed., 1874). See also his Histoire Evangelique, Paris, 1876 (Nouveau Testament, I. partie).
All Evangelists have in common 47 sections.
Matthew and Mark alone have 12 "
Matthew and Luke " " 2 "
Mark and Luke " " 6 "
Sections peculiar to Matthew 17
" " " Mark 2
" " " Luke 38
Another arrangement by sections has been made by Norton, Stroud, and Westcott.882882 See Westcott, Introd. to the Gospels, p. 191, fifth ed. If the total contents of the Gospels be represented by 100, the following result is obtained:
Mark has 7 peculiarities and 93 coincidences.
Matthew has 42 " " 58 "
Luke has 59 " " 41 "
[John has 92 " " 8 " ]
If the extent of all the coincidences be represented by 100, their proportion is:
Matthew, Mark, and Luke have 53 coincidences.
Matthew and Luke have 21 "
Matthew and Mark have 20 "
Mark and Luke have 6 "
"In St. Mark," says Westcott, "there are not more than twenty-four verses to which no parallel exists in St. Matthew and St. Luke, though St. Mark exhibits everywhere traits of vivid detail which are peculiar to his narrative."
2. Estimate by Verses.
Matthew contains 330 verses peculiar to him.
Mark contains 68 " " "
Luke contains 541 " " "
Matthew and Mark have from 170 to 180 verses in common, but not found in Luke.
Matthew and Luke have from 230 to 240 verses in common, but not found in Mark.
Mark and Luke have about 50 verses in common, but not found in Matthew.
The total number of verses common to all three Synoptists is only from 330 to 370. But, as the verses in the second Gospel are generally shorter, it is impossible to make an exact mathematical calculation by verses.
3. Estimate by Words.
A still more accurate test can be furnished by the number of words. This has not yet been made as far as I know, but a basis of calculation is furnished by Rushbrooke in his admirably printed Synopticon (1880), where the words common to the three Synoptists, the words common to each pair, and the words peculiar to each, are distinguished by different type and color.884884 See the Literature above. Dr. Edwin A. Abbott, of London, suggested the work, and quotes a specimen (though all in black type) in his art. "Gospels" in the "Encycl. Brit." He draws from it a conclusion favorable to the priority of Mark, from whom, he thinks, Matthew and Luke have borrowed. The specimen is the parable of the wicked husbandmen, Matt. 21:33-44; Luke 20:9-18; Mark 12:1-11. The words found in all constitute the "triple tradition," and the nearest approximation to the common Greek source from which all have directly or indirectly drawn. On the basis of this Synopticon the following calculations have been made:
A. –– Number of words in
Words common to all
Per cent of words in common.
B. –– Additional words in common. Whole per cent in common
Words peculiar to Mark 4,540, or 40+ percent
Words peculiar to Luke 12,969, or 67+ percent
D. –– These figures give the following results:
(a.) The proportion of words peculiar to the Synoptic Gospels is 28,000 out of 48,000, more than one half.
In Matthew 56 words out of every 100 are peculiar.
In Mark 40 words out of every 100 are peculiar.
In Luke 67 words out of every 100 are peculiar.
(b.) The number of coincidences common to all three is less than the number of the divergences.
Matthew agrees with the other two Gospels in 1 word out of 7.
Mark agrees with the other two Gospels in 1 word out of 4½.
Luke agrees with the other two Gospels in 1 word out of 8.
(c.) But, comparing the Gospels two by two, it is evident that Matthew and Mark have most in common, and Matthew and Luke are most divergent.
One-half of Mark is found in Matthew.
One fourth of Luke is found in Matthew.
One-third of Mark is found in Luke.885885 The following lines,
representing the relative lengths of the three Gospels, show the extent
of their verbal coincidence and divergence. The dots divide the lines
in half, and the marks into thirds:
Luke, ———— ––——————————
(d.) The general conclusion from these figures is that all three Gospels widely diverge from the common matter, or triple tradition, Mark the least so and Luke the most (almost twice as much as Mark). On the other hand, both Matthew and Luke are nearer Mark than Luke and Matthew are to each other.
The Solution of the Problem.
Three ways open themselves for a solution of the Synoptic problem: either the Synoptists depend on one another; or they all depend on older sources; or the dependence is of both kinds. Each of these hypotheses admits again of several modifications.886886 German scholars have convenient terms for these various hypotheses, as Benützungshypothese ("borrowing" hypothesis), Urevangeliumshypothese, Traditionshypothese, Tendenzhypothese, Combinationshypothese, Diegesentheorie, Markushypothese, Urmarkushypothese, etc. See the Notes (II)at the end of this section.
A satisfactory solution of the problem must account for the differences as well as for the coincidences. If this test be applied, the first and the third hypotheses with their various modifications must be ruled out as unsatisfactory, and we are shut up to the second as at least the most probable.
The Canonical Gospels Independent of One Another.
There is no direct evidence that any of the three Synoptists saw and used the work of the others; nor is the agreement of such a character that it may not be as easily and better explained from antecedent sources. The advocates of the theory of interdependency, or the "borrowing" hypothesis,887887 Used by recent English writers as a rendering for Benützungshypothese. differ widely among themselves: some make Matthew, others. Mark, others Luke, the source of the other two or at least of one of them; while still others go back from the Synoptists in their present form to a proto-Mark (Urmarkus), or proto-Matthew (Urmatthaeus), proto-Luke (Urlukas), or other fictitious antecanonical documents; thereby confessing the insufficiency of the borrowing hypothesis pure and simple.
There is no allusion in any of the Synoptists to the others; and yet Luke expressly refers to many earlier attempts to write the gospel history. Papias, Irenaeus, and other ancient writers assume that they wrote independently.888888 Clement of Alexandria makes no exception, for be merely states (in Euseb. H. E., VI. 14) that those Gospels which contain the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) were written first, Mark next, and John last. The first who made Mark a copyist of Matthew is Augustin, and his view has been completely reversed by modern research. The whole theory degrades one or two Synoptists to the position of slavish and yet arbitrary compilers, not to say plagiarists; it assumes a strange mixture of dependence and affected originality; it weakens the independent value of their history; and it does not account for the omissions of most important matter, and for many differences in common matter. For the Synoptists often differ just where we should most expect them to agree. Why should Mark be silent about the history of the infancy, the whole sermon on the Mount (the Magna Charta of Christ’s kingdom), the Lord’s Prayer, and important parables, if he had Matthew 1–2, 5–7, 13, before him? Why should he, a pupil of Peter, record the Lord’s severe rebuke to Peter (Mark 8:27–33), but fail to mention from Matthew 16:16–23 the preceding remarkable laudation: "Thou art Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church?" Why should Luke omit the greater part of the sermon on the Mount, and all the appearances of the risen Lord in Galilee? Why should he ignore the touching anointing scene in Bethany, and thus neglect to aid in fulfilling the Lord’s prediction that this act of devotion should be spoken of as a memorial of Mary "wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9)? Why should he, the pupil and companion of Paul, fail to record the adoration of the Magi, the story of the woman of Canaan, and the command to evangelize the Gentiles, so clearly related by Matthew, the Evangelist of the Jews (Matt. 2:1–12; 15:21–28; 24:14; 28:19)? Why should Luke and Matthew give different genealogies of Christ, and even different reports of the model prayer of our Lord, Luke omitting (beside the doxology, which is also wanting in the best MSS. of Matthew) the petition, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth," and the concluding petition, "but deliver us from evil" (or "the evil one"), and substituting "sins" for "debts," and "Father" for "Our Father who art in heaven"? Why should all three Synoptists differ even in the brief and official title on the Cross, and in the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper, where Paul, writing in 57, agrees with Luke, referring to a revelation from the Lord (1 Cor. 11:23)? Had the Synoptists seen the work of the others, they could easily have harmonized these discrepancies and avoided the appearance of contradiction. To suppose that they purposely varied to conceal plagiarism is a moral impossibility. We can conceive no reasonable motive of adding a third Gospel to two already known to the writer, except on the ground of serious defects, which do not exist (certainly not in Matthew and Luke as compared with Mark), or on the ground of a presumption which is inconsistent with the modest tone and the omission of the very name of the writers.
These difficulties are felt by the ablest advocates of the borrowing hypothesis, and hence they call to aid one or several pre-canonical Gospels which are to account for the startling discrepancies and signs of independence, whether in omissions or additions or arrangement. But these pre-canonical Gospels, with the exception of the lost Hebrew Matthew, are as fictitious as the Syro-Chaldaic Urevangelium of Eichhorn, and have been compared to the epicycles of the old astronomers, which were invented to sustain the tottering hypothesis of cycles.
As to Luke, we have shown that he departs most from the triple tradition, although he is supposed to have written last, and it is now almost universally agreed that he did not use the canonical Matthew.889889 So Weisse, Ewald, Reuss, Ritschl, Thiersch, Plitt, Meyer, Holtzmann, Weizsäcker, Mangold, Godet, Weis. See Meyer on Matthew, p. 34 (6th ed.), and on Luke, p. 238 (6th ed. by Weiss, 1878). Only the Tübingen "tendency critics" maintain the contrary, and this is almost necessary in order to maintain the late date which they assign to Luke. Had he written in the second or even at the end of the first century, he could not possibly have been ignorant of Matthew. But him very independence proves his early date. Whether he used the Hebrew Matthew and the Greek Mark or a lost proto-Mark, is disputed, and at least very doubtful.890890 For the use of Mark by Luke are Reuss, Weiss, and most of the advocates of the Urmarkushypothese. Against such use are Weizsäcker, Godet, and all those who (with Griesbach) make Mark an epitomizer of Matthew and Luke. Farrar also, in his Com. on Luke, p. 9, very decidedly maintains the independence of Luke both on Matthew and Mark: "It may be regarded as certain," he says, "that among these ’attempts’ Luke did not class the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark. The inference that he was either unaware of the existence of those Gospels, or made no direct use of them, suggests itself with the utmost force when we place side by side any of the events which they narrate in common, and mark the minute and inexplicable differences which incessantly occur even amid general similarity." He follows a plan of his own; he ignores a whole cycle of events in Mark 6:45–8:26; he omits in the common sections the graphic touches of Mark, for which he has others equally graphic; and with a far better knowledge of Greek he has yet more Hebraisms than Mark, because he drew largely on Hebrew sources. As to Matthew, he makes the impression of primitive antiquity, and his originality and completeness have found able advocates from Augustin down to Griesbach and Keim. And as to Mark, his apparent abridgments, far from being the work of a copyist, are simply rapid statements of an original writer, with many fresh and lively details which abundantly prove his independence. On the other hand, in several narratives he is more full and minute than either Matthew or Luke.891891 Compare the healing of the paralytic, Mark 2:3-12, with Matt. 9:2-8 the murder of John the Baptist, Mark 6:14-29, with Matt. 14:1-13; Luke 9:7-9; the healing of the demoniac boy, Mark 9:14-29, with Matt. 17:14-21 and Luke 9:37-43; also the accounts of Peter’s denial. His independence has been successfully proven by the most laborious and minute investigations and comparisons.892892 I mean especially the works of Wilke (Der Urevangelist, 1838), Holtzmann (Die Synopt. Evang., 1863), and Weiss (Das Marcusevangelium und seine synoptischen Parallelen, 1872; comp. his Matthäusevangelium, etc., 1876). Weiss deserves all the more a hearing as he strenuously advocates the genuineness of John. See notes at the end of this section. Dr. Fisher thinks that "the independence of Mark as related to the other Gospels is one of the most assured and most valuable results of recent criticism." The Beginnings of Christianity, p. 275. Dr. Davidson in the "revised and improved edition" of his Introduction, Vol. I., 551-563, still adheres to the old Tübingen position of the dependence of Mark upon both Matthew and Luke, and ignores the works of Wilke, Holtzmann, Weiss, Renan, and the article of his own countryman, Abbott, in the "Encycl. Brit." Hence many regard him as the primitive Evangelist made use of by both Matthew and Luke, but disagree among themselves as to whether it was the canonical Mark or a proto-Mark.893893 Holtzmann, Mangold, E. A. Abbott, and others go back to a fictitious Urmarkus; while Ewald, Meyer, and Weiss make our canonical Mark the basis of Matthew and Luke, yet with the important addition that Mark himself used, besides the oral tradition of Peter, the lost Hebrew Matthew, or rather a Greek translation of it, which was more than a mere collection of discourses (σύνταξις τῶν λογίων) and embraced also brief narratives. But if Mark had the rich collection of our Lord’s discourses before him, his meagreness in that department is all the more difficult to account for. In either case Matthew and Luke would be guilty of plagiarism. What should we think of an historian of our day who would plunder another historian of one-third or one-half of the contents of his book without a word of acknowledgment direct or indirect? Let us give the Evangelists at least the credit of common honesty, which is the basis of all morality.
Apostolic Teaching the Primary Source of All the Synoptists.
The only certain basis for the solution of the problem is given to us in the preface of Luke. He mentions two sources of his own Gospel—but not necessarily of the two other Synoptic Gospels—namely, the oral tradition or deliverance of original "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (apostles, evangelists, and other primitive disciples), and a number of written "narratives," drawn up by "many," but evidently incomplete and fragmentary, so as to induce him to prepare, after accurate investigation, a regular history of "those matters which have been fulfilled among us." Besides this important hint, we may be aided by the well-known statements of Papias about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Greek Mark, whom he represents as the interpret
The chief and common source from which the Synoptists derived their Gospels was undoubtedly the living apostolic tradition or teaching which is mentioned by Luke in the first order. This teaching was nothing more or less than a faithful report of the words and deeds of Christ himself by honest and intelligent eye-witnesses.894894 Luke 1:2: καθὼς παρέδοσαν (handed down by the living word) ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς (i.e., from the beginning of the public ministry of Christ; comp. Acts 1:21 sq.; John 15:27) αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου (the same persons). He told his disciples to preach, not to write, the gospel, although the writing was, of course, not forbidden, but became necessary for the preservation of the gospel in its purity. They had at first only "hearers;" while the law and the prophets had readers.895895 Hearers and hearing of the gospel are spoken of in many passages, as Matt. 13:14; Luke 7:1; John 12:38; Acts 17:20; Rom. 2:13; 1 Thess. 2:13; James 1:22, 23, 25. The reading (ἀναγινώσκειν) is mostly used of the Old Testament: Matt. 12:3, 5; 21:16, 42; 24:15; Mark 25; 12:10, 26; 13:14; Luke 4:16; 6: 3; 10:26; Acts 8:28, 30, 32; 13:27; 15:21, etc.; of the Epistles of Paul: Eph. 3:4; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 6:27; of the book of Revelation: Rev. 1:3; 5:4.
Among the Jews and Arabs the memory was specially trained in the accurate repetition and perpetuation of sacred words and facts.896896 The rabbinical rule (in Shabb. f. 15, 1) was: "Verba praeceptoris sine ulla immutatione, ut prolata ab illo fuerunt. erant recitanda, ne diversa illi affingeretur sententia." The Mishna was not reduced to writing for two or three hundred years. In the East everything is more settled and stationary than in the West, and the traveller feels himself as by magic transferred back to manners and habits as well as the surroundings of apostolic and patriarchal times. The memory is strongest where it depends most on itself and least upon books.897897 Renan, Les Evangiles, p. 96: "La tradition vivante (ζῶσα φωνὴ καὶ μένουσα, Papias) était le grand réservoir où tous puisaient .... Le même phénomène se retrouve, du reste, dans presque toutes les littératures sacrées. Les Védas ont traversé des siècles sans être éerits; un homme qui se respectait devait les savoir par coeur. Celui qui avait besoin d’un manuscrit pour rêciter ces hymnes antiques faisait un aveu d’ignorance; aussi les copies n’en ont-elles jamais été estimées. Citer de mémoire la Bible, le Coran, est encore de nos jours un point d’honneur pour les 0rientaux." Renan thinks that most of the Old Testament quotations in the New Test. are from memory. My own observations, and those of friends residing in the East, confirm the uniformity of oral tradition and the remarkable strength of memory among the Arabs.
The apostolic tradition or preaching was chiefly historical, a recital of the wonderful public life of Jesus of Nazareth, and centred in the crowning facts of the crucifixion and resurrection. This is evident from the specimens of sermons in the Acts. The story was repeated in public and in private from day to day and sabbath to sabbath. The apostles and primitive evangelists adhered closely and reverently to what they saw and heard from their divine Master, and their disciples faithfully reproduced their testimony. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching" (Acts 2:42). Reverence would forbid them to vary from it; and yet no single individual, not even Peter or John, could take in the whole fulness of Christ. One recollected this, another another part of the gospel story; one had a better memory for words, another for facts. These differences, according to varying capacities and recollection, would naturally appear, and the common tradition adapted itself, without any essential alteration, to particular classes of hearers who were first Hebrews in Palestine, then Greek Jews, proselytes, and Gentiles.
The Gospels are nothing more than comprehensive summaries of this apostolic preaching and teaching. Mark represents it in its simplest and briefest form, and agrees nearest with the preaching of Peter as far as we know it from the Acts; it is the oldest in essence, though not necessarily in composition. Matthew and Luke contain the same tradition in its expanded and more matured form, the one the Hebrew or Jewish Christian, the other the Hellenistic and Pauline type, with a corresponding selection of details. Mark gives a graphic account of the main facts of the public life of Christ "beginning from the baptism of John unto the day that he was received up," as they would naturally be first presented to an audience (Acts 1:22). Matthew and Luke add the history of the infancy and many discourses, facts, and details which would usually be presented in a fuller course of instruction.
It is very natural that parts of the tradition were reduced to writing during the thirty years which intervened between the events and the composition of the canonical Gospels. One evangelist would record for his own use a sketch of the chief events, another the sermon on the Mount, another the parables, another the history of the crucifixion and resurrection, still another would gather from the lips of Mary the history of the infancy and the genealogies. Possibly some of the first hearers noted down certain words and events under the fresh impressions of the moment. The apostles were indeed unlearned, but not illiterate men, they could read and write and had sufficient rudimentary education for ordinary composition. These early memoranda were numerous, but have all disappeared, they were not intended for publication, or if published they were superseded by the canonical Gospels. Hence there is room here for much speculation and conjectural criticism.898898 In such conjectures Eichhorn, Marsh, Schleiermacher, Ewald, Volkmar, Wittichen, and Renan have shown great ingenuity, and accumulated a vast amount of docta ignorantia. "Many," says Luke, "have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us."899899 Luke 1:1: πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν (indicating the difficulty of the undertaking and probably also the insufficiency of the execution) ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων. He cannot mean the apocryphal Gospels which were not yet written, nor the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Mark which would have spared him much trouble and which he would not have dared to supersede by an improved work of his own without a word of acknowledgment, but pre-canonical records, now lost, which emanated from "eye-witnesses and ministers of the word," yet were so fragmentary and incomplete as to justify his own attempt to furnish a more satisfactory and connected history. He had the best opportunity to gather such documents in Palestine, Antioch, Greece, and Rome. Matthew, being himself an eyewitness, and Mark, being the companion of Peter, had less need of previous documents, and could rely chiefly, oil their own memory and the living tradition in its primitive freshness. They may have written sketches or memoranda for their own use long before they completed their Gospels; for such important works cannot be prepared without long continued labor and care. The best books grow gradually and silently like trees.
We conclude, then, that the Synoptists prepared their Gospels independently, during the same period (say between a.d. 60 and 69), in different places, chiefly from the living teaching of Christ and the first disciples, and partly from earlier fragmentary documents. They bear independent testimony to the truth of the gospel. Their agreement and disagreement are not the result of design, but of the unity, richness, and variety of the original story as received, understood, digested, and applied by different minds to different conditions and classes of hearers and readers.900900 In this conclusion (which I stated thirty years ago in the first edition of myHist. of the Ap. Ch.)some of the ablest investigators of the Synoptic problem independently agree, as Lange, Ebrard (Wissenschaftliche Kritik der ev. Gesch., third ed., pp. 1044 sqq.), Norton, Alford, Godet, Westcott, Farrar. "The Synoptic Gospels," says Alford (in his Proleg. to vol. I., p. 11, 6th ed.), contain the substance of the Apostles’ testimony, collected principally from their oral teaching current in the church, partly also from written documents embodying portions of that teaching: there is, however, no reason, from their internal structure, to believe, but every reason to disbelieve that any one of the three evangelists had access to either of the other two gospels in its present form." Godet concludes his discussion (Com. on Luke, 2d ed., p. 556, Am. ed.) with these words: " It is impossible to conceive anything more capricious and less reverential than the part which we make the author of any one whatever of our Synoptic Gospels play with the history and sayings of Jesus, supposing that he had before him the other two, or one of them. Such an explanation will only be allowable when we are brought absolutely to despair of finding any other. And even then it were better still to say, Non liquet. For this explanation involves a moral contradiction. Most of our present critics are so well aware of this that they have recourse to middle terms."
The Traditional Order.
There is no good reason to doubt that the canonical arrangement which is supported by the prevailing oldest tradition, correctly represents the order of composition.901901 Irenaeus, III. 1, 1; Origen in Euseb., H. E., VI. 25; Tertullian, and others. Irenaeus gives this order with the approximate data: "Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." Clement of Alexandria differs by putting Mark after Matthew and Luke, and yet before the death of Peter; for he says (in Eus., H. E., VI. 14), that when Peter proclaimed the gospel at Rome, Mark was requested by the hearers to reduce it to writing, which he did, Peter neither hindering nor encouraging it. According to this view all the Synoptists would have written before 64. Matthew, the apostle, wrote first in Aramaic and in Palestine, from his personal observation and experience with the aid of tradition; Mark next, in Rome, faithfully reproducing Peter’s preaching; Luke last, from tradition and sundry reliable but fragmentary documents. But all wrote under a higher inspiration, and are equally honest and equally trustworthy; all wrote within the lifetime of many of the primitive witnesses, before the first generation of Christians had passed away, and before there was any chance for mythical and legendary accretions. They wrote not too late to insure faithfulness, nor too early to prevent corruption. They represent not the turbid stream of apocryphal afterthoughts and fictions, but the pure fountain of historic truth.
The gospel story, being once fixed in this completed shape, remained unchanged for all time to come. Nothing was lost, nothing added. The earlier sketches or pre-canonical gospel fragments disappeared, and the four canonical records of the one gospel, no more nor less, sufficient for all purposes, monopolized the field from which neither apocryphal caricatures nor sceptical speculations have been able to drive them.
Exoteric and Esoteric Tradition.
Besides the common Galilaean tradition for the people at large which is embodied in the Synoptic Gospels, there was an esoteric tradition of Christ’s ministry in Judaea and his private relation to the select circle of the apostles and his mysterious relation to the Father. The bearer of this tradition was the beloved disciple who leaned on the beating heart of his Master and absorbed his deepest words. He treasured them up in his memory, and at last when the church was ripe for this higher revelation he embodied it in the fourth Gospel.
The problem of the Relationship of the Synoptists was first seriously discussed by Augustin (d. 430), in his three books De Consensu Evangelistarum (Opera, Tom. III., 1041–1230, ed. Migne). He defends the order in our canon, first Matthew, last John, and the two apostolic disciples in the middle (in loco medio constituti tamquam filii amplectendi, I., 2), but wrongly makes Mark dependent on Matthew (see below, sub. I. 1). His view prevailed during the middle ages and down to the close of the eighteenth century. The verbal inspiration theory checked critical investigation.
The problem was resumed with Protestant freedom by Storr (1786), more elaborately by Eichhorn (1794), and Marsh (1803), and again by Hug (a liberal Roman Catholic scholar, 1808), Schleiermacher (1817), Gieseler (1818), De Wette (1826), Credner (1836), and others. It received a new impulse and importance by the Leben Jesu of Strauss (1836), and the Tübingen school, and has been carried forward by Baur (1847), Hilgenfeld, Bleek, Reuss, Holtzmann, Ewald, Meyer, Keim, Weiss, and others mentioned in the Literature (p. 577). Starting in Germany, the investigation was prosecuted also in France, Holland, England, and the United States.
It is not easy to find a way through the labyrinth of the Synoptic question, with all its by-ways and cross-ways, turns and windings, which at first make the impression:
"Mir wird von alle dem so dumm,
Als ging mir ein Mühlrad im Kopf herum."
Holtzmann gives a brief history of opinions (in his able work, Die Synopt. Evang.) down to 1863, and Hilgenfeld (Hist. Krit. Einl. in das N. T, pp. 173–210) down to 1874. Comp. also Reuss (Gesch. der heil. Schr. N. T., I., §§ 165–198, 6th ed., 1887), Holtzmann, Einleitung, 351 sqq., and Weiss, Einl., 473 sqq. The following classification of theories is tolerably complete, but several overlap each other, or are combined.
I. The Inspiration hypothesis cuts the gordian knot by tracing the agreement of the Synoptists directly and solely to the Holy Spirit. But this explains nothing, and makes God responsible for all the discrepancies and possible inaccuracies of the Evangelists. No inspiration theory can stand for a moment which does not leave room for the personal agency and individual peculiarities of the sacred authors and the exercise of their natural faculties in writing. Luke expressly states in the preface his own agency in composing his Gospel and the use he made of his means of information.
II. The Interdependency hypothesis, or Borrowing hypothesis (Benützungshypothese) holds that one or two Evangelists borrowed from the other. This admits of as many modifications as the order in which they may be placed.
1. Matthew, Mark, Luke. This is the traditional order defended by Augustin, who called Mark, rather disrespectfully, a "footman and abbreviator of Matthew" (tamquam pedissequus et breviator Matthäi, II., 3), Grotius, Mill, Bengel, Wetstein, Hug (1808), Hilgenfeld, Klostermann, Keil. Among English writers Townson and Greswell.
Many scholars besides those just mentioned hold to this order without admitting an interdependence, and this I think is the correct view, in connection with the tradition hypothesis. See below, sub V. and the text.
2. Matthew, Luke, Mark. So first Clement of Alexandria (Eus., H. E., VI. 14), but, without intimating a dependence of Mark except on Peter. Griesbach (in two Programs, 1789) renewed this order and made Mark an extract from both Matthew and Luke. So Theile (1825), Fritzsche (1830), Sieffert (1832), De Wette, Bleek, Anger, Strauss, Baur, Keim. The Tübingen school utilized this order for the tendency theory (see below). Keim puts Matthew a.d. 66, Luke, 90, Mark, 100.
Bleek is the most considerate advocate of this order (Einleitung in das N. T., 2d ed., 1866, 91 sqq., 245 sqq.), but Mangold changed it (in the third ed. of Bleek, 1875, pp. 388 sqq.) in favor of the priority of a proto-Mark.
3. Mark, Matthew, Luke. The originality and priority of Mark was first suggested by Koppe (1782) and Storr (1786 and 1794). The same view was renewed by Lachmann (1835), elaborately carried out by Weisse (1838, 1856; Hilgenfeld calls him the "Urheber der conservativen Markushypothese "), and still more minutely in all details by Wilke (Der Urevangelist, 1838; but he assumes numerous interpolations in the present Mark and goes back to a proto-Mark), and by B. Weiss (Das Marcusevangelium, 1872). It is maintained in various ways by Hitzig (Johannes Markus, 1843), Ewald (1850, but with various prior sources), Ritschl (1851), Reuss, Thiersch, Tobler, Réville (1862), Eichthal (1863), Schenkel, Wittichen, Holtzmann (1863), Weizsäcker (1864), Scholten (1869), Meyer (Com. on Matt., 6th ed., 1876, p. 35), Renan (Les Évangiles, 1877, pp. 113, but the Greek Mark was preceded by the lost Hebrew Matthew, p. 93 sqq.). Among English writers, James Smith, of Jordan Hill (Dissertat. on the Origin of the Gospels, etc., Edinb., 1853), G. P. Fisher (Beginnings of Christianity, New York, 1877, p. 275), and E. A. Abbott (in "Encyclop. Brit.," vol. X., 1879, art. "Gospels") adopt the same view.
The priority of Mark is now the prevailing theory among German critics, notwithstanding the protest of Baur and Keim, who had almost a personal animosity against the second Evangelist. One of the last utterances of Keim was a passionate protest against the Präkonisation des Markus (Aus dem Urchristenthum, 1878, pp. 28–45). But the advocates of this theory are divided on the question whether the canonical Mark or a lost proto-Mark was the primitive evangelist. The one is called the Markushypothese, the other the Urmarkushypothese. We admit the originality of Mark, but this does not necessarily imply priority of composition. Matthew and Luke have too much original matter to be dependent on Mark, and are far more valuable, as a whole, though Mark is indispensable for particulars.
4. Mark, Luke, Matthew. Herder (1796), Volkmar (1866 and 1870).
5. Luke, Matthew, Mark. Büsching (1776), Evanson (1792).
6. Luke, Mark, Matthew. Vogel (1804), Schneckenburger (1882).
The conflicting variety of these modifications shakes the whole borrowing theory. It makes the omissions of most important sections, as Matt. 12–17; 14:22 – 16:12; and Luke 10–18:14, and the discrepancies in the common sections entirely inexplicable. See text.
III. The hypothesis of a Primitive Gospel (Urevangelium) written before those of the Synoptists and used by them as their common source, but now lost.
1. A lost Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic Gospel of official character, written very early, about 35, in Palestine by the apostles as a manual for the travelling preachers. This is the famous Urevangeliumshypothese of the learned Professor Eichhorn (1794, 1804, 1820), adopted and modified by Bishop Herbert Marsh (1803), Gratz (1809), and Bertholdt (who, as Baur says, was devoted to it with "carnal self-security").
But there is no trace of such an important Gospel, either Hebrew or Greek. Luke knows nothing about it, although he speaks of several attempts to write portions of the history. To carry out his hypothesis, Eichhorn was forced to assume four altered copies or recensions of the original document, and afterwards he added also Greek recensions. Marsh, outgermanizing the German critic, increased the number of recensions to eight, including a Greek translation of the Hebrew original. Thus a new recension might be invented for every new set of facts ad infinitum. If the original Gospel was an apostolic composition, it needed no alterations and would have been preserved; or if it was so defective, it was of small account and unfit to be used as a basis of the canonical Gospels. Eichhorn’s hypothesis is now generally abandoned, but in modified shape it has been renewed by Ewald and others. See below.
2. The Gospel "according to the Hebrews," of which some fragments still remain. Lessing (1784, in a book published three years after his death), Semler (who, however, changed his view repeatedly), Weber (1791), Paulus (1799). But this was a heretical or Ebionitic corruption of Matthew, and the remaining fragments differ widely from the canonical Gospels.
3. The Hebrew Matthew (Urmatthäus). It is supposed in this case that the famous Logia, which Matthew is reported by Papias to have written in Hebrew, consisted not only of a collection of discourses of our Lord (as Schleiermacher, Ewald, Reuss, I., 183, explained the term), but also of his deeds: "things said and done." But in any case the Hebrew Matthew is lost and cannot form a safe basis for conclusions. Hug and Roberts deny that it ever existed. See next section.
4. The canonical Mark.
5. A pre-canonical proto-Mark (Urmarkus). The last two hypotheses have already been mentioned under the second general head (II. 3).
IV. The theory of a number of fragmentary documents (the Diegesentheorie), or different recensions. It is based on the remark of Luke that "many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative (διήγησινconcerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1). Schleiermacher (1817) assumed a large number of such written documents, or detached narratives, and dealt very freely with the Synoptists, resting his faith chiefly on John.
Ewald (1850) independently carried out a similar view in fierce opposition to the "beastly wildness" of the Tübingen school. He informs us with his usual oracular self-assurance that Philip, the evangelist (Acts 8), first wrote a historical sketch in Hebrew, and then Matthew a collection of discourses (the λόγιαof Papias), also in Hebrew, of which several Greek translations were made; that Mark was the third, Matthew the fifth, and Luke the ninth in this series of Gospels, representing the "Höhebilder, die himmlische Fortbewegung der Geschichte," which at last assumed their most perfect shape in John.
Köstlin, Wittichen, and Scholten likewise assume a number of precanonical Gospels which exist only in their critical fancy.
Renan (Les Evang., Introd., p. vi.) distinguishes three sets of Gospels: (1) original Gospels of the first hand, taken from the oral tradition without a previous written text: the Hebrew Matthew and the Greek proto-Mark; (2) Gospels partly original and partly second-handed: our canonical Gospels falsely attributed to Matthew, Mark, and Luke; (3) Gospels of the second and third hand: Marcion’s and the Apocryphal Gospels.
V. The theory of a common Oral Tradition (Traditionshypothese). Herder (1796), Gieseler (who first fully developed it, 1818), Schulz (1829), Credner, Lange, Ebrard (1868), Thiersch (1845, 1852), Norton, Alford, Westcott (1860, 6th ed., 1881), Godet (1873), Keil (1877), and others. The Gospel story by constant repetition assumed or rather had from the beginning a uniform shape, even in minute particulars, especially in the words of Christ. True, as far as it goes, but must be supplemented, at least in the case of Luke, by pre-canonical, fragmentary documents or memoranda (διηγήσεις). See the text.
VI. The Tendency hypothesis (Tendenzhypothese), or the theory of Doctrinal Adaptation. Baur (1847) and the Tübingen school (Schwegler, Ritschl, Volkmar, Hilgenfeld, Köstlin), followed in England by Samuel Davidson (in his Introd. to the New Test., 1868, revised ed., 1882). Each Evangelist modified the Gospel history in the interest of the religious school or party to which he belonged. Matthew represents the Jewish Christian, Luke the Pauline or Gentile Christian tendency, Mark obliterates the difference, or prepares the way from the first to the second. Every individual trait or characteristic feature of a Gospel is connected with the dogmatic antithesis between Petrinism and Paulinism. Baur regarded Matthew as relatively the most primitive and credible Gospel, but it is itself a free reproduction of a still older Aramaic Gospel "according to the Hebrews." He was followed by an Urlukas, a purely Pauline tendency Gospel. Mark is compiled from our Matthew and the Urlukas in the interest of neutrality. Then followed the present Luke with an irenical Catholic tendency. Baur overstrained the difference between Petrinism and Paulinism far beyond the limits of historic truth, transformed the sacred writers into a set of partisans and fighting theologians after modem fashion, set aside the fourth Gospel as a purely ideal fiction, and put all the Gospels about seventy years too far down (130–170), when they were already generally used in the Christian church—according to the concurrent testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Volkmar went even beyond Baur in reckless radicalism, although he qualified it in other respects, as regards the priority of Mark, the originality of Luke (as compared with Marcion), and the date of Matthew which he put back to about 110. See a summary of his views in Hilgenfeld’s Einleitung, pp. 199–202. But Ritschl and Hilgenfeld have considerably moderated the Tübingen extravagancies. Ritschl puts Mark first, and herein Volkmar agrees. Hilgenfeld assigns the composition of Matthew to the sixth decade of the first century (though he thinks it was somewhat changed soon after the destruction of Jerusalem), then followed Mark and paved the way from Petrinism to Paulinism, and Luke wrote last before the close of the first century. He ably maintained his theory in a five years’ conflict with the Tübingen master (1850–1855) and reasserts it in his Einleitung (1875). So he brings us back to the traditional order. As to the time of composition, the internal evidence strongly supports the historical tradition that the Synoptists wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem.
|« Prev||The Synoptists||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version