The Relationship Between John And The Synoptic Gospels -- By: James D. Dvorak

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:2 (Jun 1998)
Article: The Relationship Between John And The Synoptic Gospels
Author: James D. Dvorak


The Relationship Between John
And The Synoptic Gospels

James D. Dvorak*

* James Dvorak is a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.

Since the beginning of the modern era, scholars have debated everything from the authorship of the fourth gospel to its purpose. Not uncommon among these debates has been that concerning the relationship between this gospel and the synoptic gospels. As D. M. Smith has noted, this particular debate stretches far back into history:

The relationship of John to the synoptic gospels has been a recurring problem, not only for two centuries of modern critical scholarship, but for Christian theology and exegesis over a much longer period.1

There has been no break in the debating over this issue. But there has been some change in what many scholars believe about the relationship between the gospels.

Until about World War II2 the dominant view was that John knew and used one or more of the synoptic gospels when writing his account.3 P. Gardner-Smith,4 however, began a trend away from the dependence theory when he brought to light two of its shortcomings:

First, the existence of continuing oral tradition at the time when the Gospel was written, which renders the argument for John’s dependence on the Synoptics less compelling; second, the concentration of critics on points of agreement between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptics and their overlooking of the significance of the differences.5

Since that time many scholars have followed theories that view John as having written independently of the synoptics.

In most recent debates, the arguments concerning John’s relationship to the synoptics have centered around three distinct positions6 : (1) that John

was literarily dependent upon one or more of the synoptics, (2) that John was literarily independent of the synoptics but that similarities between them are due to use of a common synoptic tradition(s), and (3) that John was literarily independent of the synoptics but was aware of them and their tradition(s).7

I. Literary Dependence

The first theory that must be discussed is that which claims John was literarily dependent upon one or more of the synoptics. This posi...

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