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The Evangelicals and the Synoptic Problem


Michael Strickland

The Evangelicals and the Synoptic Problem aims to investigate how evangelical Christians and their Protestant forebears, labeled early orthodox Protestants, have dealt with the classic puzzle of New Testament criticism known as the Synoptic Problem. The particular theories considered are the Independence Hypothesis, the Augustinian Hypothesis, the Two-Gospel Hypothesis, the Two-Source Hypothesis, and the Farrer Hypothesis.
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.
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Chapter X. Summary of Evangelical Arguments for Various Solutions


Though any biblical scholar, evangelical or nonevangelical, may have a variety of reasons for studying and offering an opinion regarding the sources of the evangelists, at least three distinct phenomena appear to have served as catalysts for early orthodox Protestant and evangelical investigation into the synoptic problem: the creation of gospel harmonies, the creation of critical texts, and a response to quests for the historical Jesus.

As documented above, the creation of gospel harmonies, a practice of Christians at least since the time of Tatian in the second century,1095 has continued up until the present. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, at least two different kinds of harmonies were being formed. Many, such as the one offered by Martin Chemnitz in the sixteenth century, sought to create a single, harmonized narrative from the canonical gospels.1096 Others, such as John Calvin’s harmony, left the gospels in parallel columns without attempting to weave similar accounts into one narrative.1097 Both types of harmony appear to have provoked their creators’ interest in the evangelists’ sources. Thus, for reasons he did not explain, Calvin decided to provide a three-column comparison of the synoptic gospels and omit the gospel of John. The comparison of the synoptics and the differences among them led Calvin to conclude that an evangelists could not have read the work of his predecessor, and at the same time, to recognize the general harmony provided in the synoptics provided by the Holy Spirit.1098 The attempt to create a single...

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