Seventeenth-Century Puritans And The Synoptic Problem -- By: Michael Strickland

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: Seventeenth-Century Puritans And The Synoptic Problem
Author: Michael Strickland


Seventeenth-Century Puritans And The Synoptic Problem

Michael Strickland

The Synoptic Problem (SP) is a classic puzzle of New Testament study which involves the relationship of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). While many consider the issues of the order of the gospels and whether or not one gospel served as the source for another to be of interest only to modern scholars, Protestants have been debating them practically since the beginning of the Reformation. In the seventeenth century, there were two popular opinions espoused regarding the interrelationships of the gospels. Those opinions are now referred to as the Independence Hypothesis, which maintains that the evangelists wrote without reading or copying other canonical gospels, and the Augustinian Hypothesis, which holds that Mark made use of Matthew’s gospel and that Luke made use of both. The purpose of this article is to consider the opinions of three prominent Puritan leaders in London in the middle 1600s.

The middle of the seventeenth century in Britain was full of political and religious turmoil. In the years before the English civil war began, leaders from the Church of England vied with nonconformist, or Puritan, leaders for control of congregations. The nonconformist ministers found themselves persecuted by the authorities of the church and crown in the 1630s, then later favored by Parliament in the late 1640s and 1650s, and ultimately ejected from their posts after the Restoration of the Crown of 1660. These tumultuous times were clearly evidenced in the lives of three nonconformist ministers of the age, Sidrach Simpson, Benjamin Needler, and Francis Roberts, each of whom, along with their views on the SP, will be considered in this article.

Sidrach Simpson (1600-1655)

William Laud, royalist ally of Charles I, was named Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, and immediately set out to restrict the influence of the nonconformists in the Church of England. Laud exerted pressure by making it increasingly difficult for nonconformist ministers to offer lectures to congregations. These lecturers, who offered their sermons in the afternoons after official services, were paid by the congregation independently from the Church of England and were viewed by Laud as dangerous. During Laud’s tenure as Archbishop, many nonconformist ministers fled to the Netherlands where their views were more welcomed. One such minister was Sidrach Simpson, who had lectured at St. Margaret’s, New Fish Street Hill, London, beginning in 1629, but resigned his post in late 1637 or early 1638 and went to Holland where he began his association with the Independents, or Congregationalists. By 1641...

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