Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach (Part One of Two Parts) -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 15:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach (Part One of Two Parts)
Author: Robert L. Thomas

Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins:
An Inductive Approach
(Part One of Two Parts)

Part Two will appear in the Spring 2005 edition of The Master’s Seminary Journal.

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

The claim of some NT scholars that verbal agreements in the Synoptic Gospels prove literary interdependence among them opens a challenge to investigate those Gospels thoroughly to check the claim’s validity. An inductive investigation of fifty-eight triple-tradition sections in the Burton and Goodspeed Harmony of the Gospels finds that an average of only 16% of the words in the sections are identical. Since a much higher percentage of identical words is necessary to demonstrate literary interdependence, the inductive study favors the position of literary independence. Several observations illustrate how the memories of Apostles and other eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry are sufficient to verify the independence explanation of Gospel origins. Another insight gained from an inductive study of triple-tradition sections comes from the agreements of two Gospels against a third. Agreements of two Synoptic Gospels against a third in all combinations furnishes additional evidence of the failure of literary interdependence to explain Gospel origins. If any two Gospels depended on a third, their agreement with each other against the alleged source Gospel is inexplicable. If, however, the three writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit worked independently of each other, the random way in which their Gospels coincide with and differ from each other is exactly what would be expected.

The second definition of “inductive” is “of, or proceeding from methods of, logical induction.”1 The sixth definition of the same word is “Logic reasoning from

particular facts or individual cases to a general conclusion; also, a conclusion reached by such reasoning: distinguished from DEDUCTION.”2 This study purposes to compare texts of the Synoptic Gospels and to reason from particular facts, not assumptions, with the goal of gleaning indications of whether the authors wrote independently of one another or relied in a literary way on the writings of each other.

Various scholars have offered suggestions that the texts of these Gospels are so close to each other that literary interdependence is an inescapable conclusion. A number of years ago, George Ladd compared such interdependence to the modern practice of copying from the work of another without giving credit to the original author, contending...

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