THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM

ARE THERE ERRORS IN THE BIBLE?
ARE THERE ERRORS IN THE GOSPELS?
IS THERE LITERARY DEPENDENCY IN THE GOSPELS?
COPYRIGHT NEIL CADMAN B Sc.(Arch.) B Arch. M.Rel.Ed.
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FIRST GOSPEL WRITTEN PREMISES

WHICH GOSPEL WAS WRITTEN FIRST?

LUKE WAS WRITTEN LAST

No one really knows which Gospel was written first, nor does it matter, except to those who assume that there is literary dependence. To them it is all important that they can name a first or second Gospel upon which the others copied. There is no reliable historical record as to which Gospel was first written. There is precious little internal evidence as to which Gospel is first written. However from the Gospel writings themselves we can say that Luke was written last. For he says so in effect as follows,

Insomuch as many have taken in hand to set out in order a declaration of those things that are most surely believed among us, as they delivered them to us, having been eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word from the beginning It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you in order, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty of those things, of which you have been told. (Lk. 1:1-4)

NOTE 1:

Many have already written an account of the life of Christ. This alone excludes the possibility of a single Q source from which all the Gospels were copied for by the time Luke wrote his Gospel there were many accounts. Presumably, if there were more than the three other Gospels some were inspired and some were uninspired. The ones which were inspired are the four Gospels we have today as they were the ones accepted by the Church as having authority. We know this also for just as the soldiers said, No man ever spoke like this man. Likewise no one anywhere, has ever written a historical account like Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

NOTE 2:

Many have already written an account of the life of Christ, one must therefore say that it is reasonable to presume that it is Matthew, Mark and John who have already written their Gospels, perhaps among others.

NOTE 3:

These many accounts are written by eyewitnesses, who are ministers of the Word. The apostles were the prime eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. This read with note 1 absolutely excludes the possibility of a Q source from which all the Gospels were copied because the many accounts were written by eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word from the beginning. So where is the need for a source when accounts have been already written by ministers of the word from the beginning?

NOTE 4:

Luke and the many were eyewitnesses from the beginning. The many were ministers of the word from the beginning. Only the twelve fit this description. For although many may have been eyewitnesses from the beginning, only the twelve were ministers of the word from the beginning. The twelve were chosen very early in the ministry of Christ. They were the twelve first sent out. It is not until near the end of Jesus' ministry that the seventy were sent out.

We accept the witness of the Gospels to themselves, for they have the status of Scripture. In fact we are normally bound to do this for any book unless other more reliable writings contradict them. There are no more reliable writings contempoary to the Gospels and contradictory to the Gospels. The witness of Luke is that his is the last written.

Naturalistically speaking, ie. denying Divine authorship, the book of John must have preceeded Matthew and Mark because both these books quote from a statement made only in John, which is Jesus answered and said to them, '(You) Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up'. (Jn. 2:19)

Matthew and Mark say -

This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days' (Matt 26:61) and We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days will build another made without hands.' (Mk 14:58)

NOTE 5:

Matthew and Mark are not the same words indicating that neither was directly copied from the other.

NOTE 6:

Neither Mark nor Matthew correctly mirror Jesus' words, nor even in the correct sense. This indicates that neither Matthew nor Mark were copied directly from John although naturalistically speaking, John being the source of the quote must have preceeded Mark and Matthew.

Also allowing for Divine authorship, logically speaking the Book of John must have preceeded the others because John says of his book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (Jn. 20:31)

This is only said of this book. Therefore it must be the book most necessary to impart faith. So this book must be the evangelist's first tool today and also of the 1st Century Church. In order for the Church to grow, the early Church needed this book and so it is reasonable to conclude that it was the first written for necessities sake.

IN ALL PROBABILITY JOHN WAS WRITTEN FIRST

MATTHEW WAS WRITTEN SECOND

Naturalistically speaking: ignoring Divine inspiration, Matthew was written before Mark simply because it is impossible for the larger document to be copied from the smaller document. However there are many instances in these two Gospels where Mark has a greater content as follows.

Considering again the above quote -

This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days' (Matt 26:61) and We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days will build another made without hands.' (Mk 14:58)

NOTE 7:

Mark has the greater content and therefore could not be copied from Matthew. Yet the book of Matthew has greater content overall and could not be copied from Mark.

NOTE 8:

Matthew and Mark do not match in the Greek or English and therefore neither could be directly copied from the other. So then these two verses are not the same statement but most likely said by two different witnesses. Therefore there is no reason to say that Mark is copied from Matthew or vice versa from this instance. However one of the themes of Mark is evangelism. This being the case, it is reasonable to assume that it was written to a more mature Church, which had perhaps slowed down in evangelistic endevour, to encourage it to evangelise and to comfort it through the afflictions that this entails.

WITH THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE IT IS REASONABLE TO ASSUME THAT THAT THE PROBABLE ORDER OF WRITING OF THE GOSPELS IS AS FOLLOWS -

  1. JOHN
  2. MATTHEW
  3. MARK
  4. LUKE

IS THERE A SYNOPTIC PROBLEM OR A SCHOLARSHIP PROBLEM?

The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, and He overthrows the words of the transgressor. (Pro. 22:12)