Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other? -- By: Charles H. Dyer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:551 (Jul 1981)
Article: Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other?
Author: Charles H. Dyer


Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other?

Charles H. Dyer

[Charles H. Dyer, Assistant to the Academic Dean, Instructor in Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary]

What is the literary relationship between the Synoptic Gospels? How does one explain the many similarities of content and wording within the Gospel accounts while at the same time accounting for the numerous differences between the individual records? This article examines the theories which have been proposed in an attempt to arrive at an acceptable solution to the question of literary dependence in the Synoptic Gospels.

Much of the discussion in this regard is hypothetical, and some might question the validity of engaging in such a study. However, as Scroggie points out, a problem does exist and it should not be overlooked.

That there is such a problem is a fact, and everyone who is interested in the Gospels should know something about it. In detail it is a matter for the scholars, but the average student of these Records cannot afford to overlook it….
We are in possession of three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are called Synoptic, because they survey the life of Christ from a common viewpoint…. In these Gospels are resemblances and differences, and the problem consists in the harmonizing of these, and so of determining the relation of the Synoptics to one another.1

The Synoptic Problem

What exactly is the problem between the Synoptic Gospels that raises the question of literary dependence? Actually there

are four aspects to this problem which must be understood. Guthrie presents a helpful summary of the four points.

Arising out of a detailed study of the three Synoptic Gospels is the important question of their relationship to each other, and this is affected by the following main considerations.

a. Similarity of arrangement
All these Gospels are based on the same general historical structure…. Moreover, there is a high proportion of the Gospel material common to all three Gospels.

b. Similarity of style and wording
In many sections of the Gospels not only is there similarity of contents but also of vocabulary….

c. Similarities in two Gospels only
(1) There are some cases where sections recorded in all three Gospels agree more closely in style and wording in two as compared with the third…. (2) But the more important data under this heading relate to Matthew and Luke, which contain a considerable amount of material common to both but omitted from Mark….

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