Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 16:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach
Author: Robert L. Thomas


Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach

(Part Two)

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

Extending an earlier simultaneous comparison of the three Synoptic Gospels to determine the probability of literary interdependence among them, this study continues the investigation by looking at the Gospels two at a time to evaluate the same probability. The use of OT citations by these Gospels furnishes a standard for ascertaining literary interdependence when it reflects a 79% average of identical-word agreement between two Gospels citing the same OT passage. Application of that standard to two Gospel accounts of the same episodes discloses that their average agreement is only 30%, far short of the 79% standard for literary interdependence. The low percentage of identical agreements is a strong argument against literary interdependence, ruling it out on an inductive basis. Literary interdependence is not only improbable, it is also not worthwhile because it creates a portrait of a Jesus whose historical image is unknowable because of embellishments imagined by recent evangelical NT scholars. The Jesus resulting from an approach of literary independence is not only inductively very probable, but it supports historically reliable accounts of His life in the Synoptic Gospels.

* * * * *

This article is a continuation of one in the Spring 2004 issue of TMSJ.1 That article was in two parts: “Percentage of Identical Words” in the fifty-eight sections of triple tradition as defined in the Burton and Goodspeed work, A Harmony of the Gospels in Greek (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), and “Agreements of Two Gospels against a Third.” The former section of that article found that an average of only sixteen percent of the words per pericope

were identical and that such a small percentage hardly justifies an assumption of literary interdependence among the three Synoptic writers. The latter section observed that the agreements of two Synoptic Gospels against a third were of sufficient nature and quantity that literary interdependence of any kind could not have occurred.

In 2002 Professor Robert Stein graciously responded to an oral presentation of that material. He questioned my technique in the first part of the essay by saying that I should have compared only two gospels at a time instead of all three2 and by questioning the exclusion of the near-identical words from the survey.3 My presentatio...

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