Starting with John Calvin and continuing to the modern day, consideration is given to the various hypotheses provided by early orthodox Protestant and evangelical biblical scholars throughout the centuries. Special attention is given to major evangelical contributors to the subject since 1950. In addition, a chapter is devoted to the role ecclesiology has played in evangelical consideration of the synoptic problem. After analyzing the opinions offered over almost half a millennium, it is compelling to note how arguments have changed and how they have remained the same.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Early Orthodox Protestants
- Solutions to the Synoptic Problem
- The Independence Hypothesis (IH)
- Utilization / Dependency Hypotheses
- Augustinian Hypothesis (AH)
- Owen / Griesbach / Two Gospel Hypothesis (2GH)
- Farrer Hypothesis (FH)
- Two-Source / Four-Source Hypothesis (2SH)
- Plan of this Study
- Rationale for this Study
- The Stance of the Early Church
- Chapter I: A Calvin(ist) and a Lutheran and the Synoptic Problem—Sixteenth Century
- A. John Calvin (1509–1564): Using Parallel Columns to Compare the Synoptic Gospels
- B. Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586): Nascent Redaction Criticism
- Chemnitz’s Solution to the Synoptic Problem
- Chemnitz’s Recognition of Double and Triple Tradition
- Chemnitz’s Nascent Redaction Criticism
- Chapter II: Puritans and the Synoptic Problem
- A. Sidrach Simpson (1600–1655)
- B. Benjamin Needler (1620–1682)
- C. Francis Roberts (1609–1675)
- The Synoptic Problem: A Matter of Debate in Puritan London?
- Chapter III: Textual Critics and the Synoptic Problem 1700–1749
- A. Textual Critic #1: John Mill (1645–1707)
- Mill’s Motivation for Publishing the Greek Testament
- B. Textual Critic #2: J.A. Bengel (1687–1752)
- Chapter IV: Two Britons, a German Evangelical, and the Synoptic Problem
- A. Nathaniel Lardner (1684–1768): Considering the Consequences of Dependency Hypotheses
- B. Henry Owen (1716–1795): An Anglican Pioneer
- C. Johann G. Herder (1744–1803): Principles for Comparing the Evangelists
- Principles for Comparing the Evangelists
- Chapter V: Evangelicals and the Synoptic Problem—1800–1849
- A. Mary Cornwallis: The First Female Scholar to Address the SP
- B. Other Female Evangelical Authors and the Synoptic Problem
- C. Thomas Hartwell Horne (1780–1862): Synthesis of Scholarship
- D. Adam Clarke (1762–1832): The English Evangelical Father Contributes
- E. John David Macbride (1778–1868): The Synoptic Problem and One Gospel from Four
- F. Moses Stuart (1780–1852): First American Scholar to Address the Synoptic Problem
- G. Louis Gaussen (1790–1863): Opponent of Investigation into the Synoptic Problem
- H. August Tholuck (1799–1877): Evangelical Scholarship Battles the Quest for the Historical Jesus
- I. John James Blunt (1784–1855): The Irrelevance of the Synoptic Problem for Apologetics
- J. Nonevangelicals and their Influence on Evangelical Arguments
- Chapter VI: Evangelicals and the Synoptic Problem 1850–1899
- A. The Synoptic Problem and Original Languages
- 1. Alexander Roberts (1826–1901): Jesus Predominantly Spoke Greek
- 2. J.T. Marshall (1850–1923): The Aramaic Gospel
- 3. Joseph Palmer: An Australian Layman’s Linguistic Hypothesis
- B. Textual Critic #3: Henry Alford (1810–1871)
- C. Alexander Balmain Bruce (1831–1899): The Synoptic Problem and Charges of Heresy
- Professor Bruce’s Speech
- Bruce’s Addition to The Kingdom of God
- The Implications of Bruce’s Apologies
- D. James Stalker (1848–1927): The Case Against the Tübingen School
- Chapter VII. Evangelicals and the Synoptic Problem—1900–1948
- A. The Princeton School and the SP: Using the 2SH to Fight Back
- 1. B.B. Warfield (1851–1921): The ‘Lion of Princeton’ and the 2SH
- 2. Geerhardus Vos: Using the 2SH against Bousset
- B. Theodor Zahn (1838–1933): Against the Scholarly Tide in Germany
- C. Louis Berkhof (1873–1957): Bridging European and American Evangelicalism
- D. A T. Robertson (1863–1934): Evangelicalism’s Strongest Advocate for the 2SH
- E. W. Graham Scroggie (1877–1958): The British Preacher for the 2SH
- Chapter VIII. Evangelicals and the Syoptic Problem—1950–present
- A. Ned Bernard Stonehouse (1902–1962): Pioneer Redaction Critic
- The Rich Young Ruler
- B. John W. Wenham (1912–1996): An Assault on the Synoptic Problem
- C. Edward Earle Ellis (1926–2010): Redaction and Midrash Pesher
- Ellis’ Preferred Solution to the SP
- Examples of Midrash Pesher
- Alterations by Traditioners
- Limitations on the Use of Midrash Pesher
- D. Robert L. Thomas (1928–Present): Defending the Independence Theory
- E. Robert H. Gundry (1932 – Present): A Furore over Midrash
- F. Ian Howard Marshall (1934–Present): Influence at Home and Abroad
- The Sharing of Ideas and Influence Internationally
- G. Robert H. Stein (1935–Present): Following in Robertson’s Footsteps
- H. Peter M. Head (1961–present): Christology and the Synoptic Problem
- Chapter IX: Ecclesiological Concerns and the Synoptic Problem
- A. Protestant and Evangelical Ecclesiology
- B. Attitudes toward Patristic tradition
- C. The Use of Patristic Tradition and the SP
- The Independence Hypothesis
- The Augustinian Hypothesis
- The Two-Gospel Hypothesis
- The Two-Source Hypothesis
- D. Evangelical Ecclesiologies and The Synoptic Problem
- E. Denominational Affiliation and the SP
- G. The Synoptic Problem and Evangelical Orthodoxy
- Chapter X. Summary of Evangelical Arguments for Various Solutions
- A. The Three Catalysts to Evangelical Concern for the SP
- B. Consistent Arguments
- 1. Concern with the Doctrine of Inspiration
- 2. Emphasising Similarities and Differences
- 3. Luke’s Preface and the Synoptic Problem
- 4. The Creativity of the Evangelists
- a. Dependency Advocates and Ipsissima Vox
- b. Independence Advocates and Ipsissima Verba
- 5. For and Against Documentary Hypotheses
- 6. The Role of Oral Tradition
- C. Changes Throughout the Centuries
- 1. The Decline of the Augustinian Hypothesis
- 2. Independence Advocates and Augustine
- 3. The Use of Statistics
- 4. Arguments from Order
- Chapter XI. Conclusion
- Author and Subject Index
- Scripture Index
← xii → Introduction
The purpose of this work is to discover how, throughout their history, evangelical Christians have approached the Synoptic Problem (SP)—the classic puzzle in NT criticism—and engage with recent scholarly discussion among evangelicals about solutions to the SP. This study addresses five crucial questions. First, for how long have those with evangelical convictions sought to explain the similarities and differences between the synoptic gospels by appealing to the evangelists’ sources? Second, as they considered these sources and the evangelists’ use of them, how were views of inspiration held by those evangelicals affected and explained? Third, how have evangelical solutions to the SP evolved as biblical criticism has developed over the centuries? Fourth, how have evangelicals advocated their preferred solutions to the SP and characterized those solutions different from their own? Fifth, how has ecclesiology factored into evangelical discussions of the SP?
Various writers have attempted to define the term evangelical and each definition has met with varying degrees of acceptance. Olson gives seven distinct definitions, ranging from the scholarly to the popular, with some stretching back to include the earliest Protestants and others referring to a predominantly twentieth-century movement. For the purposes of this study, evangelicalism is defined as the movement that arose “out of the Pietist and revivalist attempts to reform and revive Protestant Christianity in Germany, Great Britain, and North America in the early eighteenth century.”1 This is the meaning David Bebbington used in his puissant Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s2 (though he specifically investigates evangelicalism in the British Isles) in which he offers what has become the working definition for much of the scholarly discussion of evangelicalism and has been aptly described as the “Bebbington quadrilateral.”3 Bebbington describes four basic characteristics of evangelicalism ← 1 | 2 → that spread across denominational lines: conversionism (emphasizing the need for repentance in response to the work of God), activism (in spreading the gospel and helping the needy), biblicism (the role of the bible is central), crucicentrism (stressing the death of Jesus on the cross).4 These characteristics have remained fundamental to evangelical thought from the eighteenth century up to the present. Moreover, evangelical is a title that most appropriately applies to those who claim it, thus care is taken in this study to avoid mislabelling the religious outlook of the biblical scholars considered.
However, the study of the synoptic problem had begun in earnest long before the subset of Protestant Christianity now known as evangelicals arose. In constructing a history of evangelical arguments about the SP, it is also necessary to consider the way in which the SP was discussed by the forebears of evangelicalism, who in this study will be referred to as early orthodox Protestants. These early orthodox Protestants advocated views that at a later period came to dominate evangelicalism at large.
In the late eighteenth century Joseph Milner made the first attempt to trace the history of evangelical thought before the Protestant Reformation all the way back to the first. 5 Milner tried to prove that the “most precious Evangelical principles”6 could be observed throughout the existence of Christianity in people who were “real, not nominal Christians... who believed the doctrines of the gospel” and were willing to suffer because of their faith.7 For the purposes of this study, an early Protestant scholar will be considered an early orthodox Protestant if the individual expressed a Christian faith consistent with Bebbington’s four pillars of evangelicalism, or more specifically, never advocated beliefs contrary to those four.
Using these criteria, it is likely that most early Protestant theologians could be considered orthodox. In fact, until recent decades, in some places the terms evangelical and Protestant had practically the same meaning.8 However, even in ← 2 | 3 → the early days of Protestantism in continental Europe, there were those scholars whose views on the bible and inspiration would preclude their classification as early orthodox Protestant. Because this thesis investigates a biblical puzzle, the primary concern when trying to decide whether a scholar is appropriately labelled early orthodox Protestant will be biblicism. In particular, many early Protestant leaders held views of the inspiration of the gospels that would be considered inimical to later evangelical convictions. While no implication is made here to fault the faith of those Christians, the distinction between their work and their early orthodox Protestant contemporaries is appropriate. For example, Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) was an early Protestant scholar who advocated the Augustinian Hypothesis (see “Solutions to the Synoptic Problem” in the Introduction below) in his Annotationes in libros evangeliorum (Amsterdam, 1641). However, Grotius specifically denied the inspiration of most of the bible, especially the historical parts, unless explicit claim to divine inspiration was made. This was especially true of the evangelists, whom he “secularised” by treating them as “ordinary writers.”9 He explained that the gospel authors did not need the Spirit’s guidance because “it was enough that the writer had a strong remembrance about matters observed, or a careful copying from the notes of earlier writers.”10 Grotius’ view of inspiration, though not completely rejected by all of early Protestantism, stands in direct opposition to later evangelical belief in the inspiration of all four gospels. Though evangelicals were, until the nineteenth century, less interested in notions of inerrancy and infallibility, from the outset they considered that each gospel was inspired.11 Thus, while Grotius ← 3 | 4 → could be considered a faithful Protestant scholar, his views on the synoptic problem will not be considered in this thesis. Likewise, J.J. Griesbach, an integral figure in the history of the SP, is excluded from consideration because of his belief that only the apostolic gospels (Matthew and John) were inspired but not those of Mark and Luke.12 So also the Swiss Protestant theologian Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736), who was a proponent of the Independence Hypothesis but held views of inspiration contrary to later evangelical belief, will be excluded from consideration.13 For the purposes of this study, Protestant biblical scholars in continental Europe before 1700 will be considered to be early orthodox Protestants unless they professed beliefs contrary to later evangelical convictions, especially with regards to the inspiration of the gospels. For those who came after 1700, the term evangelical will apply to those who professed solidarity with the evangelical cause.
In England, (where the Protestant nature of the Church of England was markedly different than the Protestantism found in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even Scotland), evangelicals (outside the Anglican Church) ← 4 | 5 → were preceded by nonconformists,14 both before and after the English Civil War of 1642–1651. The numbers of dissenting churches in England grew in the late seventeenth to mid-eighteenth centuries when Baptist and Methodist movements sprang up alongside the Presbyterian and Independent (Congregationalist) nonconformists,15 and a proper evangelical movement was underway, often referred to as “the Evangelical Revival.”16 The revival did not remain outside the established Church of England. In the early-to-mid-eighteenth century, certain leaders within the Church also began to promote “heart religion, Bible-centered piety and holiness,” much as their nonconformist counterparts were doing.17 Thus, evangelicals in England were (and continue to be) found inside and outside the established church. As a rule for this study, English biblical scholars before 1800 will be considered early orthodox Protestants if their beliefs were consistent with later evangelical convictions. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, a clearer determination can be made whether an English scholar ought appropriately to be labelled evangelical.
In sum, those scholars considered herein who are labelled early orthodox Protestant are categorised as such because they were early (before the advent of evangelicalism among their communities), orthodox (according to their own Protestant traditions and consistent with Bebbington’s quadrilateral, with a special emphasis on the inspiration of the gospels) and Protestant. While it could be argued that several Catholics fit the description of early and orthodox, there is ← 5 | 6 → likely no danger in incorrectly categorising a Catholic scholar as an early orthodox Protestant (or failing to do so) because Catholic scholarship appears to have mostly neglected the SP until the nineteenth century,18 when evangelicalism was already a significant force in the Western world and the designation early orthodox Protestant no longer applies in this thesis.
Though there are certainly more hypotheses than those described below to solve the SP, this study will focus primarily on five different proposed solutions to the SP.19
This theory works on the assumption that none of the evangelists used the work of the others in producing his gospel. In Protestantism, the IH is the oldest solution20 to the SP and modern evangelical advocates consider it to be the unequivocal position of the early church.21
This phrase refers to proposed solutions that argue one or more of the synoptic evangelists utilized the work of another synoptic evangelist in the writing of the synoptic gospels. In these theories, the order in which the gospels were written is obviously important, because an author may depend only on that which has already been written. There are several solutions that suppose utilization or dependency.
← 6 | 7 → Augustinian Hypothesis (AH)
This hypothesis, based on the original ideas of Augustine,22 attributes Mark with having used Matthew’s gospel in composing his own. In the AH, the order in which the gospels were written is the traditional canonical order—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Many proponents of the AH also suggest that Luke used Matthew and Mark in the composition of his gospel.23
This hypothesis, proposed separately by Henry Owen24 and J.J. Griesbach25 in the late eighteenth century, considers Matthew to have been the first gospel written, with Luke then making use of Matthew, and Mark making use of Matthew and Luke.26
This hypothesis, whose best-known advocates were Austin Farrer27 in the middle twentieth century and Michael Goulder28 until recently, adheres to the priority of Mark but does not include a Q document. According to this hypothesis, Matthew wrote second and made use of Mark’s gospel, and Luke wrote last, making use of Matthew and Mark. The FH has received little attention in the evangelical world to date.29
Biblical scholars have proposed many documentary hypotheses over the centuries. Solutions of this nature hypothesize a nonextant document that served as a common source for the synoptic evangelists. Various explanations and labels have been used to describe the common document or documents over the past 250 years—among them are Ur-evangelium,30 Ur-Markus,31 Logia,32 and Q.33 Some documentary hypotheses allow for one synoptic evangelist’s use of the common document or documents and another synoptic gospel as sources. Foremost among documentary hypotheses is the 2SH.34 The main features of this theory are Markan priority and a common written source, normally referred to by the siglum Q, for the German Quelle. The four-source hypothesis35 also posits a unique source for Matthew and another for Luke, but retains the standard elements of the Two-Source Hypothesis and will thus be grouped with it.
Scholars have described their own versions of these competing theories in their own unique ways, so these five terms—IH, AH, 2GH, 2SH, FH—45give only the general characteristics of an author’s views. In this study, the uniqueness of each evangelical scholar’s approach will be considered, some of which could be said to fit more than one of the five solutions.
← 8 | 9 → Plan of this Study
Beginning with early orthodox Protestant scholars of the sixteenth century, this study traces the opinions concerning the SP expressed in various publications. Because of the paucity of publications that mention issues related to the SP in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they are considered in 100-year increments, 1500–1599 and 1600–1699. In the eighteenth century, Protestants began to address the SP in earnest. From 1700, the scholarly opinions considered below are grouped into fifty-year time periods, 1700–1749, 1750–1799, etc. until the present. The goal has been to discover and include every applicable written discussion of the SP in print before 1899, though some scholars and publications were almost certainly missed.36 The reader will notice that the subjects of the thesis come from a geographically wide range, from continental Europe, the UK, the US, and Australia. Because the approach taken is chronological in nature, frequent moves from place to place occur depending on the country of residence of the scholar considered.37
After 1900, because of the tremendous volumes of work evangelicals produced on the SP, certain representatives have been chosen to represent the various approaches and viewpoints. As will be seen, while the first part of the century saw evangelicals learning to interact with and reproduce arguments for certain theories, by the middle of the twentieth century evangelical scholars were beginning to offer new ideas and novel approaches to solving the SP. Though solutions to the SP are most specifically a source critical issue, they are often interwoven with scholar’s use of and opinions on historical criticism and redaction criticism. A palpable growth in the discussion of these related issues occurs in the literature after 1850, and especially after 1950. Thus, the reader will notice that some of the scholars considered in this thesis, such as Robert Gundry, are included mainly for their use of these critical methods. In Chapter 9, attention is given to the role in which ecclesiology has or has not played a part in discussions of the synoptic problem among early orthodox Protestants and evangelicals. ← 9 | 10 → Finally, the concluding chapter attempts to summarise the major discoveries of this thesis, including the prospects for the future.
In March of 2000, the evangelical scholar Robert L. Thomas published an article challenging the use of historical criticism by evangelical scholars.38 In the article, Thomas claimed, “Throughout the centuries of the Church’s history since the earliest written records, leaders of orthodox Christianity… have reported that the three Synoptic Gospels were literarily independent of each of other,” even denying that Augustine held to a dependence theory.39 Further, Thomas posited that the IH had been “the perspective in the Church for 1800 years,” though certain scholars during the Enlightenment had begun to challenge this view. Interestingly, when Grant Osborne, in the same volume, offered a response to Thomas in defence of evangelical use of historical criticism, Thomas admitted, “the independence view predominated for 1700 years.”40 However, it is clear that no thorough investigation into the antiquity of differing solutions to the SP has been made which focuses on the solutions advocated by proto-evangelicals and evangelicals. As evangelicals debate the appropriate methods and solutions to consider when approaching the SP,41 this study will serve as a useful resource for referencing how early orthodox Protestants and evangelicals answered many of the questions and recognized many of the problems facing modern students of the SP.
A natural question to ask before considering early orthodox Protestant and evangelical opinions on the SP is: When was the SP first discussed? The answer appears to be that the subject was addressed once or twice in the fourth or fifth centuries CE, and perhaps briefly in the fifteenth century. There is general agreement today among scholars that the early church did not address the SP ← 10 | 11 → specifically until Augustine suggested, “Mark appears to have followed [Matthew] closely, as if his attendant and abbreviator.”42 Some scholars debate whether Augustine intended to imply that Mark copied from Matthew’s gospel,43 but most believe that Augustine finally determined that Mark had Matthew in hand when composing his gospel.44 However, it is clear (as seen below) that many early Protestant reformers interpreted Augustine’s words to mean that Mark used Matthew’s gospel.
Evangelical scholars are also divided over the implications of statements made by Chrysostom in his Homilies on Matthew. In the first homily, he stated that the evangelists wrote, “not at the same times, nor in the same places, neither after having met together, and conversed one with another”45 and further, “the discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion.”46 Advocates of the IH have cited these remarks to argue that Chrysostom ascribed to their view.47 However, in the fourth homily on Matthew, Chrysostom addressed the genealogy of Jesus, and Mark’s lack of a genealogy, by stating, “Matthew was before the rest in entering on the subject,”48 while “Mark came after him, which is why he took a short course, as putting his hand to what had been already spoken and made manifest.”49 Evangelical proponents of the 2GH ← 11 | 12 → have used this statement to argue that Chrysostom believed Mark used Matthew when writing his gospel.50 That advocates of competing solutions to the SP cite the same ancient authors to prove their views indicates the nonspecific nature of the comments by Augustine and Chrysostom, and reinforces the conclusion offered by Wayne Meeks that the early church fathers “were completely uninterested in the ‘Synoptic Problem.’”51
Almost a millennium after Chrysostom’s brief comments on the synoptic gospels, the Catholic scholar Jean Gerson (1363–1429) echoed Chrysostom in the Prooemium to his gospel harmony, entitled Monotessaron (1420). Gerson wrote, “The four Evangelists have spoken, not by mutual conspiracy, but by divine inspiration.”52 The result of their labour was a “harmonious dissonance,”53 given by the Holy Spirit “to move the minds of the faithful to the more humble, and more vigilant.”54 Gerson’s language betrayed the same apologetic concern shown by Chrysostom, which aimed to refute the notion that the evangelists conspired together in writing their gospels, but the vague nature of his description sheds little light on the status of the SP at the time.55 It does not appear that anyone, outside of these brief statements by Augustine, Chrysostom, and Gerson, attempted to address a potential literary relationship between the gospels until the sixteenth century,56 when John Calvin rejected the notion and Martin Chemnitz endorsed it (see below). Thus, though the SP is now a subject of interest to Christians and non-Christians alike, it was first a puzzle in earliest Protestant Christianity.
1 Roger E. Olson. The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2004), 4.
2 David W. Bebbington. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).
3 Timothy Larsen describes the overall agreement by many scholars with Bebbington’s definition, as well as its limits, in “The Reception Given ‘Evangelicalism in Modern Britain’ Since its publication in 1989,” in The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities, M.A.G. Haykin, et al., eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2008), 21–36. See also Mark A. Noll. The Rise of Evangelicalism (Leicester: IVP, 2004), 1–9.
4 Bebbington, 2–3.
5 History of the Church of Christ (London, 1794–1809). Quotes are from the 1835 edition (Philadelphia: Hogan & Thompson, 1835).
6 Milner, 15.
7 Ibid., 4.
8 Olson, Westminster Handbook, 4. For example, in the early twentieth century, R.W. Paterson remarked, “In Germany [evangelical] is commonly used as the antithesis of Catholic, and as a positive synonym for Protestant,” in his article “Evangelicalism,” ExpT 14, 6 (1903): 250. Though twenty-first century Germany uses separate words to denote evangelical—evangelikal—and the more general Protestant—evangelische. See Haykin, 228–229 for a discussion. See also Elisabeth Arweck, Researching New Religious Movements: Responses and Redefinitions (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), 312 note 20.
9 H.J. de Jonge, “Grotius’ View of the Gospels and Evangelists,” in Hugo Grotius, Theologian: Essays in Honour of G.H.M. Posthumus Meyjes, eds. H.K.M. Nellen, et al, (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 65–76, at p.72.
- XII, 254
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- criticism Hypothesis ecclesiology
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 254 pp.