The Synoptic Problem

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  • Topic: Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke
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Liberty University

The Synoptic Problem

A paper submitted to Dr. Charles Powell
In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for
the course NBST 525

Liberty Theological seminary

La Shawn Self

Lynchburg, Virginia
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The books of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; where written over 2000 years ago. These books excluding the Gospel of John are often called the synoptic Gospels. The term synoptic is derived from the Greek word meaning “seeing together.” These three books are comparable in their recording of the existence and ministry of Jesus. The wording of the synoptic Gospels is similar as well. For example, the account of the healing of the leaper occurs in all three books and the writing is fairly analogous. Although there are similarities there are also many differences in the way the gospels are arranged and the vocabulary. These resemblances and variations in the Gospels form the “Synoptic Problem”. The Synoptic problem is not a problem at all but is a method of looking at the similarities and differences between the gospels. In this paper the Synoptic Problem will be addressed from three different angles: form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism and literary criticism. [1] Form Criticism

Form criticism is a method of textual criticism, applied especially to the Bible, for tracing the origin and history of certain passages through systematic study of the writings in terms of conventional literary forms, such as parables, proverbs, and love poems. [2] During early the time that the Gospels were written they did not have written copies. The Gospels were generally passed down by word of mouth. From criticism takes a closer look at the gospels being passed down by this method. Rudolph Bultmann was one of the first and most well known form critics. Bultmann believed that the information in the Gospels was embellished or completely made up to meet the needs of the church at that time. The thought that the miracles and the law additions be taken away from the Gospels, because it did not fit in with the belief systems of most people. Many form critics hold to five common beliefs. The first, most of Jesus’ teachings were done in small groups. Second, these narratives appeared in one of following forms: apophthegm, which was a brief narrative that concludes with a saying of Jesus; a sensational story that tells of a miraculous deed; a legend a story that exhalts the vastness of Jesus or a dominical saying, which is a lesson taught by Jesus that does not conclude with a central thought. Third, that the narrative was written in accordance to the need of the church at that time. Fourth, as the narratives were passed along the Christian community added information to meet the requirements of the community at that time. Last, critics developed laws of transmission to determine the age of literary works and the reliability, because they believed that the stories were often added to, enhanced, changed to meet the language and tailored to suit their the individual needs of the community. When these critics used these laws they arrived at the conclusion that the shorter gospel, which has less detail was written at an earlier date and closer to being historically accurate. [3] Source Criticism

As the prophets and witnesses to the events began to die, people began to write instead of depend on oral transmission of the Gospels.3 Source Criticism is when “given information source may be more or less valid, reliable or relevant. Broadly, ‘source criticism’ is the interdisciplinary study of how information sources are evaluated for given tasks.”[4] Source criticism began with G. E. Lessing who said that the similarities of the Gospels implied that there must have been one original Aramanic or Hebrew text that was used as a reference. The main source criticism that hold true today is interdependence. Interdependence means that two or...
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