Synoptic problem

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The synoptic problem or question concerns the explanation of the textual similarities and differences between the first three Gospels of the New Testament . A comparative comparison of these canonized Gospels ( Matthew , Mark and Luke ) as synopsis ( Synoptic Gospels ) shows that they have many passages in common, but differ in terms of wording, order and choice of material. The synoptic problem is a classic problem of introductory New Testament science .

The respective answer to the Synoptic Problem influences the interpretation ( exegesis ) of the three Gospels to a great extent, in particular the editorial history and formal history of these three writings as well as the reconstruction of the life and sermon of the historical Jesus and aspects of the earliest church history (early Christianity ).

The problem of the canonical, synoptic gospels is also related to the manuscripts ( list of papyri of the New Testament ) from late antiquity and late antiquity. The manuscripts as historical sources as well as linguistic testimonies and / or as text witnesses to literary texts in their tradition show a particularly large number of text variants. Many of these variants can plausibly be interpreted as errors in the write-off process. A whole series of variants can be traced back to "editorial" interventions in the texts.

The result

Statistics: AM Honoré , 1968

The following facts must be explained in detail:

  • Correspondence in the wording: Matthew, Mark and Luke agree in about 50% of the words in parallel passages, while they match in parallel passages in John in only 10% of the words.
  • Noticeable matches in the order, but also numerous deviations
  • Triple common tradition: almost all of Mark's material is contained in Matthew, about two thirds of it also in Luke (so-called Lucanian gap )
  • Two common traditions: there are around 200 verses in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark.
  • The special property : texts or individual sayings handed down from a single Gospel (Luke: 35%, Matthew: 20%, Mark: 3%).
  • The question of the minor agreements ("minor agreements"), i.e. the identical deviations of Matthew and Luke from the Mark text or the objections to the use of Mark by Matthew and Luke.

In order to explain these connections and relationships, various hypotheses are discussed; none of the proposed solutions can answer all phenomena satisfactorily.

Possible solutions

Already in the 18th century it was assumed by Johann Gottfried Herder that the similarities were based on a stick of oral traditions. In 1818 JCL Gieseler presented a well-developed traditional hypothesis. In the 1950s, Rudolf Bultmann reverted to Herder's approach; in the present, Armin Baum and James DG Dunn , among others, represent the traditional hypothesis.

Most researchers, however, are convinced of a literary dependency between the synoptic gospels. In the course of literary-critical research, the threefold common tradition has been explained in four different ways:

  • Priority of Matthew: Matthew was written first, used as a template by Mark, which was then used by Luke.
  • Mark's priority: Mark was written first and used as a template by Matthew and Luke.
  • Luke's priority: Luke was written first, used as a template by Mark, which was then used by Matthew.
  • Markus, who came third, combined and condensed Matthew and Lukas ( Griesbach hypothesis ).

The following approaches can be used to explain the twofold common tradition:

  • Matthew and Luke took over firmly established traditional pieces from the oral tradition.
  • Matthew and Luke copied the twofold tradition from a common (written) source.
  • Luke copied the twofold tradition from Matthew.
  • Matthew copied Luke's twofold tradition.

Suggested solutions

In New Testament science around ten hypotheses have been proposed and discussed to solve the synoptic problem. Some of them have been modified further. The proposed solutions can be divided into two main groups: Either one starts from a common basic stock of traditions (written or oral) or from a literary dependency among the Gospels. Here editorial history , as part of the historical-critical method to a prominent method of synoptic exegesis.

Models with a common tradition

  • Original Gospel hypothesis : For the first time Lessing (1778) put forward the thesis that the three synoptics had copied from an extensive Greek original gospel . Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1812) followed this view. This in turn was a translation of a Hebrew proto-gospel, the so-called source "Q". These ancient authors refer to this when they speak of the Hebrew or Nazarene Gospel , and it contained the whole story of Christ. This idea goes back to Origen , who interpreted the Papias notes in this way. - A modification of this theory explains the abbreviations in Mark by the assumption that he did not know the entire original Gospel, but an already abridged version. The existence of an original gospel is purely hypothetical.
  • Fragment hypothesis (also: Diegesen hypothesis ): It was formulated in 1817 by Friedrich Schleiermacher . The apostles and their listeners wrote down individual sayings and stories about Jesus. The evangelists collected these fragments and put together their gospels from them. Today the theory is no longer upheld; it is only of historical interest.
  • Traditional hypothesis : Matthew, Mark and Luke each only (or mainly) used oral tradition. This theory originally comes from Herder . It was worked out and formulated by Gieseler . The relative uniformity of the oral tradition is justified by learning by heart (rabbinical teaching), frequent repetition and fixed circles of traders. She was very influential in the first half of the 19th century, in the Catholic Church until the 20th century (in France by Eugène Tisserant and Jean Daniélou ). It has recently been increasingly represented again, e.g. B. by Birger Gerhardsson , Rainer Riesner , Armin Baum , James DG Dunn and in France by Pierre Perrier.

Usage hypotheses

Most theories assume that the later evangelists knew and used the works of the earlier ones. That is why one speaks of usage hypotheses .

  • The Augustinian theory : Matthew sees the theory going back to Augustine as the first gospel. Mark used and shortened Matthew; Luke was the last to use Mark and Matthew. The Augustinian hypothesis was the traditional synoptic theory and was advocated by many Catholic theologians until the middle of the 20th century. Today it is only represented sporadically.
  • Griesbach Hypothesis or Two Gospel Theory : This theory assumes that Matthew was written first and that Luke used Matthew. Markus then relied on Matthew and Luke, but largely left out the speeches. This theory was first described in detail by Johann Jakob Griesbach in 1789. Ferdinand Christian Baur (1847) and later Hampden Gurney Jameson (1852–1936) rearranged the order in 1922: Matthäus, Markus, Lukas. Karl Lachmann (1835), however, saw the sequence Markus, Matthäus, Lukas and thus the Markus priority as the right one. On the other hand, William Lockton (1922) established the sequence Lukas, Markus, and Matthew. A modification of the Griesbach hypothesis - published before Griesbach, however - was available from Anton Friedrich Büsching (1766). Markus had put together (compiled) the texts of Matthew and Luke, but Luke had priority.
    • The Neo-Griesbach-Theory ( Two-Gospel-Hypothesis ) has become an important alternative model to the two-source theory in the USA through William R. Farmer and his students. Your proposed solution says in general terms that Matthew and Luke were written before Mark and John. Thus Matthew was the first to write a gospel, including extensive oral and written traditions. The existence of a source Q is disputed.
  • Farrer hypothesis (also: Farrer-Goulder hypothesis): It assumes that Markus was written first, adopted by Matthew and then used by Luke. The double tradition is explained by the fact that Luke took over further parts of Matthew, which makes the assumption of a source of logic Q unnecessary. Thishypothesis put forwardby Austin Farrer is considered a serious alternative to the two-source theory, especially in England. She is represented by Michael Goulder , Mark Goodacre and others.
  • Wilke hypothesis : Like the Farrer hypothesis, the theory put forward by Christian Gottlob Wilke in 1838 and supported by Bruno Bauer assumes that Markus was written first. The twofold tradition is then explained by the copying of Luke texts by Matthew, that is, the other way around than in the Farrer hypothesis. This theory is espoused by Alan Garrow and Evan Powell.
  • Two-source theory : This theory assumes that Markus was written first ("Markus priority"). Matthew and Luke used independently on the one hand Mark as a template and on the other hand texts from a second, hypothetical source, which is referred to as the Logia source Q or source of verses (short “Q” for “source”). The two-source theory dominates above all in Europe in the explanatory models for the synoptic gospels, especially in German-speaking countries.
  • Three Source Theory : This theory assumes that Matthew used Mark and a logial source, and Luke used three sources, namely Mark, this logial source, and Matthew as a secondary source. Therefore one cannot necessarily equate this logial source with the Q of the two-source theory ( Eberhard Simons , Heinrich Julius Holtzmann , Robert Morgenthaler , Robert H. Gundry ).
  • Four-source theory ( Four-document hypothesis ): Burnett Hillman Streeter (1924) was assumed that both Matthew and Luke, in addition to Mark and Q, respectively yet another source had used, knew none of the other evangelists. From this source they would have drawn the special goods. The four-source theory (and other multi-source theories) has the problem that it is very difficult to justify why it should be literary sources and not oral tradition. “Q” (“Antiochian Document”) was limited to the material found in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, and also a word document (“M”) from which Matthew took material that only available to him and an oral source ("L" "Caesarean tradition"), from which Luke is said to have drawn.
  • The theory of the Jerusalem School ( Jerusalem School Hypothesis ): Robert Lisle Lindsey founded the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research together with David Flusser . Her theses became known under the name "Theory of the Jerusalem School". This theory assumes that Luke was written first. Mark was based on Luke, and Matthew then used Mark. Also, Matthew and Luke independently used an unknown source of speech called an anthology . The Jerusalem School theory is popular among a group of theologians in Jerusalem. This group, fluent in Hebrew , approaches the synoptic problem from the potential Semitic original and has discovered that Luke is often closer to the Semitic than Mark. William Lockton advocated this theory as early as 1922 .
  • Marcion priority (“Mcn”) : A“Marcion Gospel” based on the canonical Gospel texts or the Luke Gospel has been discussed since the 19th century. Recently, Matthias Klinghardt (2015)postulatedthe reversal of the textual relationships, with “Mcn” as a pre-canonical and, above all, pre-Lucan text, received by Markion, to which all canonical Gospels refer. For the first time an additional source would be available for the transmission history of the synoptic gospels, "Mcn" from the 2nd century would become the primary source of all subsequent canonical gospels.


Introductions to the NT

  • Ingo Broer : Introduction to the New Testament. Volume 1: The Synoptic Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Johannine literature (= The New Real Bible. Supplementary Volume to the New Testament. 2/1). Echter Verlag, Würzburg 1998, ISBN 3-429-01990-7 (pp. 39-53 on the synoptic problem).
  • Donald A. Carson , Douglas J. Moo: Introduction to the New Testament. Brunnen, Giessen 2010, ISBN 978-3-7655-9541-7 (conservative).
  • Martin Ebner , Stefan Schreiber (Ed.): Introduction to the New Testament (= Kohlhammer study books Theology. 6). 2nd, revised and updated edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-17-023093-4 (pp. 68-85 on the synoptic problem).
  • Petr Pokorný , Ulrich Heckel: Introduction to the New Testament. An overview of his literature and theology (= UTB . 2798). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-16-148011-9 (pp. 321-351 on the synoptic problem).
  • Ferdinand R. Prostmeier : Small introduction to the synoptic gospels. Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 2006, ISBN 3-451-29056-1 (generally understandable introduction to the problems of the synoptic gospels).
  • Udo Schnelle : Introduction to the New Testament (= UTB. 1830). 9th, revised edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen et al. 2017, ISBN 978-3-8252-4812-3 (pp. 205–242 on the synoptic problem).

Studies on the Synoptic Problem

  • Armin D. Baum : The oral factor and its meaning for the synoptic question. Analogies from ancient literature, experimental psychology, oral poetry research and the rabbinical tradition (= texts and works on the New Testament age. 49). A. Francke, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-7720-8266-5 (supports traditional hypothesis).
  • Arthur J. Bellinzoni, Jr. (Ed.): The Two-Source Hypothesis. A critical appraisal. Mercer, Macon GA 1985, ISBN 0-86554-096-9 (anthology with articles from 60 years for and against Mk priority and for and against Q; from the perspective of the Griesbach hypothesis).
  • Andreas Ennulat: The "Minor Agreements". Investigations on an open question of the synoptic problem (= Scientific Investigations on the New Testament. Series 2, Vol. 62). Mohr, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-16-145775-7 (At the same time: Bern, University, dissertation, 1990; postulate of a treatment of Mark before the writing of Matthew and Luke -> modification of the two-source theory).
  • William R. Farmer : The Synoptic Problem. A Critical Analysis. Western North Carolina Press, Dillsboro NC 1976, ISBN 0-915948-02-8 (classic on Neo-Griesbach theory; English).
  • Jay M. Harrington: The Luke passion narrative. The Markan material in Luke 22.54-23.25. A historical survey: 1891–1997 (= New Testament Tools and Studies. 30). Brill, Leiden, inter alia, 2000, ISBN 90-04-11590-0 (Zugl .: Louvain Catholic University, Dissertation, 1998; presentation of all theories and many modifications, especially in view of prior Luke's sources).
  • Eta Linnemann : Is there a synoptic problem? 4th, modified edition. VTR - Verlag für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, Nürnberg 1999, ISBN 3-933372-15-1 (a form of the traditional hypothesis).
  • Thomas Richmond Willis Longstaff, Page A. Thomas: The Synoptic Problem. A Bibliography, 1716–1988 (= New Gospel Studies. 4). Mercer University Press et al., Macon GA 1988, ISBN 0-86554-321-6 (special bibliography on 235 pages).
  • Dennis R. MacDonald: Two Shipwrecked Gospels. The Logoi of Jesus and Papias's Exposition of Logia about the Lord (= Early Christianity and its literature. 8). Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta GA 2012, ISBN 978-1-58983-690-7 .
  • Robert Morgenthaler: Statistical Synopsis. Gotthelf-Verlag, Zurich et al. 1971, (three-source theory).
  • Bo Reicke: The origins of the synoptic Gospels. In: Rise and Fall of the Roman World . Row 2: Principat. Volume 25, Part 2. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1984, ISBN 3-11-009523-8 , pp. 1758-1791, (traditional hypothesis).
  • Robert H. Stein: The Synoptic Problem. An Introduction. Baker, Grand Rapids MI 1987, ISBN 0-8010-8272-2 (Introduction).
  • Hans-Herbert Stoldt: History and criticism of the Markus hypothesis. 2nd, expanded edition. Brunnen-Verlag, Giessen et al. 1986, ISBN 3-7655-9324-9 .
  • Christopher M. Tuckett: The Revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis. An Analysis and Appraisal (= Society for New Testament Studies. Monograph Series. 44). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983, ISBN 0-521-23803-X (Also: Lancaster, University, dissertation, 1979; from the point of view of the two-source theory).

Web links


  1. ^ Anthony M. Honoré : A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem. In: Novum Testamentum. Vol. 10, No. 2/3, 1968, ISSN  0048-1009 , pp. 95-147, JSTOR 1560364 . Problems with these statistics are discussed in John J. O'Rourke: Some Observations on the Synoptic Problem and the Use of Statistical procedures. In: David E. Orton (Ed.): The Synoptic Problem and Q. Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum (= Brill's Readers in Biblical Studies. 4). Brill, Leiden 1999, ISBN 90-04-11342-8 , pp. 127-150, here p. 134.
  2. James DG Dunn : Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1: Jesus Remembered , William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2003, p. 193.
  3. Udo Schnelle : Antidocetic Christology in the Gospel of John. An investigation into the position of the fourth gospel in the Johannine school. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1987, ISBN 3-525-53823-5 , p. 49
  4. ^ Daniel Marguerat: De Jésus aux Évangiles. In: Daniel Marguerat (Ed.): Introduction au Nouveau Testament. Son histoire, son écriture, sa théologie (= Le Monde de la Bible. 41). 4th edition revue et augmentée. Labor et Fides et al., Geneva et al. 2008, ISBN 978-2-8309-1289-0 , pp. 11-30, here p. 35.
  5. Ferdinand Christian Baur : Critical studies on the canonical gospels: their relationship to one another, their character and origin. LF Fues, Tübingen 1847.
  6. ^ HG Jameson: The Origin of the Synoptic Gospels. Blackwell, Oxford 1922
  7. ^ William Lockton : The Origin of the Gospels. In: Church Quarterly Review 94 (1922), pp. 216-239.
  8. David Laird Dungan (Ed.): The Interrelations of the Gospels: a Symposium Led by M É Boismard, WR Farmer, F Neirynck, Jerusalem 1984. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 95, Leuven Univ. Pres, Louvain, Belgium 1990, pp. 125-230, Reproduction Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2002. Articles and Essays Authored
  9. Udo Schnelle : Introduction to New Testament Exegesis. /. Ed., UTB 1253, Vandenhoeck & Rubprecht, Göttingen, ISBN 978-3-8252-1253-7 , p. 91
  10. ^ William Lockton : The Origin of the Gospels. In: The Church Quarterly Review. Vol. 94, No. 188, 1922, pp. 216-239, ( digitized ).
  11. ^ Matthias Klinghardt: The oldest gospel and the origin of the canonical gospels. Investigation - reconstruction - translation - variants. 2 volumes. Francke, Tübingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-7720-8549-9 , p. 22, p. 175 f., P. 191.
  12. see also Marcionite Gospel
  13. Christian Gottlob Wilke : The original evangelist or exegetically critical study of the relationship between the first three Gospels. Gerhard Fleischer, Dresden / Leipzig 1838
  14. Ulrich Bauer: The synoptic problem and the two-source theory. Bible and Church, Volume 54, 2nd Quarter 2/1999, pp. 54–62 PDF; 5.45 MB, 76 pages accessed from
  15. Burnett Hillman Streeter : The Four Gospels, a Study of Origins treating of the Manuscript Tradition, Sources, Authorship, & Dates. (1924), 4th Revised Edition, Macmillan and Co., London 1930.
  16. ^ Matthias Klinghardt: The oldest gospel and the origin of the canonical gospels. Investigation - reconstruction - translation - variants. 2 volumes. Francke, Tübingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-7720-8549-9 , p. 191.