The synoptic problem and “Q” (Luke 8)

The bulk of the material recorded in Luke 8 also appears in Matthew and Mak. At times the authors used language that was nearly identical (cf. Matthew 8:27 with Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25). They displayed further similarities in the order in which they arranged their material (cf. Mark 4:1-25 with Luke 8:4-18). Observations of this sort have prompted reflection on the precise relationship that exists among the Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke). How are the similarities in wording and arrangement to be explained? The “synoptic problem” is the name that has been given to the question of these relationships.

Some explain the parallels in the synoptic accounts with appeals to historical accuracy or inspiration by the Holy Spirit. However, two accounts of the same incident may both be historically accurate without employing identical or nearly identical wording. Furthermore, as the Synoptic Gospels were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so was the Gospel of John, yet John’s word choice and ordering of material are quite different from that of the synoptic authors. Inspiration need not require or even imply precise agreement in wording or similar arrangement of material.

The stories of Jesus’ life and ministry circulated widely in the first century, forming a body of oral tradition. Undoubtedly the evangelists all drew upon this common body of tradition in writing their Gospels. Although the role of common oral tradition should not be underestimated, it is possible that the Synoptic Gospels share some sort of literary relationship and that the later Gospel writers could have used one or more of the earlier writings as a source for their works. Several hypothesis attempts to explain the precise literary relationship of the Synoptic Gospels, although no single proposal solves all of the difficulties.

One widely held solution to the Synoptic Problem is the Two-Source Hypothesis. These two sources are identified Mark and “Q” (an unknown source).

  • This theory claims that Mark was the first Gospel written (an idea referred to as “Markan priority) and that Matthew and Luke both independently used Mark as a source, often polishing its literary style and making editorial changes. Matthew and Luke also added material that is absent from Mark’s Gospel.
  • Sometimes Matthew and Luke referred to the same or similar events, suggesting that they were drawing upon a second source. This hypothetical source for Matthew and Luke has been given the name “Q source” (from the German Quelle, meaning “source”). No copies of “Q” exists, but by definition it is a source containing material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. Therefore, “Q” is said to include such passages as the temptations of Jesus by the devil (Matthew 4:2-11, Luke 4:2-13), the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-23) and the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4).

Still, the very existence og “Q” is purely hypothetical and much debated, and alternative explanations for the history of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels has been proposed. Not all New Testament scholars believe in Markan priority, and some insist that more attention needs to be given to the facts that Matthew was an eyewitness to many of the events he recorded.

Again, there is absolutely no proof for “Q”, and the theory of plainary verbal inspiration would obviously conclude that all the Gospels were inspired by God, and if “Q” existed, it would not be, not being in the Biblical canon.

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