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During the first 17 centuries of our Common Era, the reliability of the Gospels was never seriously questioned. In the 19th century and beyond, some academics have questioned the traditional view of the Gospels as being inspired by God and have instead suggested that they were written by human authors who were attempting to convey their own perspectives and interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus.
One of the main factors that have contributed to this perspective is the rise of critical biblical scholarship, which seeks to understand the Gospels and other biblical texts in their historical and cultural contexts. This approach has led some scholars to question traditional assumptions about the authorship, dating, and historical accuracy of the Gospels and to propose alternative theories about their origins and purpose.
However, it is important to note that these views are not held by all biblical scholars, and there is an ongoing debate within academic circles about the nature and reliability of the Gospels. Some scholars continue to maintain a more traditional view of the Gospels as being inspired by God and grounded in historical fact. In contrast, others adopt a more skeptical or critical approach. Ultimately, the question of the reliability and authority of the Gospels is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires careful consideration of a wide range of factors and evidence.
Some scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries have raised questions about the extent to which the Gospel writers had firsthand knowledge of Jesus and the events recorded in their gospels. Some scholars have argued that the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses to the events they describe and that they were, therefore, unable to provide reliable accounts of what happened. Furthermore, they have suggested that the similarities in structure and content between the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that the evangelists copied extensively from one another. These gospels are often referred to as the “synoptic gospels” because they can be read together and compared, providing a “like view” of the life and teachings of Jesus. See the link below for dozens of articles on Higher Criticism (Biblical Criticism).
SERIOUSLY FLAWED BIBLICAL CRITICISM ASSAULT ON THE BIBLE
These scholars say that there are several aspects of the synoptic gospels that suggest that the evangelists may have used each other’s accounts as sources. For example, there are many passages in which the wording and content of the gospels are very similar, and in some cases, one gospel appears to have expanded upon or clarified the account given in another gospel. This has led some scholars to propose a theory called the “synoptic problem,” which seeks to explain the relationships between the synoptic gospels and to determine which gospel was written first.
One widely suggested solution to the synoptic problem is the “two-source theory,” which proposes that the Gospel of Mark was written first and that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both used Mark as one of their sources, as well as a hypothetical document called the “Q source,” which contained sayings of Jesus. Some critics of the Gospels have rejected the accounts of Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection as described in these texts. These critics argue that the stories of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection are not supported by historical evidence and that they are, therefore, not credible.
Some detractors have questioned the historical existence of Jesus, arguing that he was a purely mythical or legendary figure who never actually lived. This view is known as “Christ myth theory,” and it has been promoted by a small minority of scholars and writers over the past century or so. However, the vast majority of scholars and historians who have studied the question of the historical existence of Jesus reject the Christ myth theory as being unsupported by the evidence. There is a wide range of historical and textual evidence that supports the view that Jesus was a real historical figure who lived in the first century CE. This includes the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels and other early Christian texts, as well as the testimony of early non-Christian writers such as Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Younger. Overall, while the Christ myth theory continues to be promoted by a small minority of scholars and writers, it is not supported by the overwhelming majority of scholars and historians, who consider it to be a fringe and unconvincing theory.
A number of scholars and theologians have concluded that the Gospel of Mark was the first of the Gospels to be written. This view is based on a variety of factors, including the textual relationships between the Gospels, the internal evidence within the Gospels themselves, and the testimony of early Christian writers.
One key piece of evidence for the priority of Mark is the fact that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both appear to have used the Gospel of Mark as one of their sources. There are many places in these gospels where the wording and content of the text is very similar to that of Mark, and in some cases, Matthew and Luke appear to have expanded upon or clarified the account given in Mark. This suggests that Mark was written before Matthew and Luke and that these gospels used Mark as one of their sources when composing their own accounts.
Another piece of evidence for the priority of Mark is the fact that the author of Mark cites no sources in his gospel, suggesting that he was writing at a time when the stories and teachings of Jesus were still fresh in the minds of those who had witnessed them. This would place the writing of Mark relatively early in the history of the early Christian church.
Finally, early Christian writers such as Irenaeus and Origen, who lived in the second and third centuries, also attest to the priority of Mark. They state that Mark was written before Matthew and Luke and that these gospels simply compiled and edited the accounts that were already recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
Again, some scholars have proposed a theory called the “two-source theory” to explain the relationships between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to this theory, the Gospel of Mark was written first, and the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke both used Mark as one of their sources, as well as a hypothetical document called the “Q source,” which contained sayings of Jesus.
The two-source theory is based on a variety of factors, including the textual relationships between the Gospels, the internal evidence within the Gospels themselves, and the testimony of early Christian writers. One key piece of evidence for the two-source theory is the fact that there are many passages in Matthew and Luke that are similar to those in Mark but that do not appear in the other gospel. This suggests that Matthew and Luke had access to a source other than Mark when composing their gospels.
The Q source is a hypothetical document that scholars have proposed to explain the similarities between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark. The name “Q” comes from the German word “quelle,” which means “source,” and it is thought to have contained a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus that were not included in the Gospel of Mark. While there is no physical evidence for the existence of the Q source, many scholars believe that it is the most likely explanation for the similarities between Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark.
Overall, while the two-source theory is widely accepted by many scholars, it is important to note that it is not without controversy, and there are other theories that have been proposed to explain the relationships between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Ultimately, the question of the interrelationships between these gospels is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires careful consideration of a wide range of factors and evidence.
According to Bible scholar A.F.J. Klijn, this popular hypothesis that the other Gospels borrowed from Mark “degraded the Gospel writers to compilers of isolated stories.” Some scholars, along with A.F.J. Klijn, have expressed concerns about the implications of the “two-source theory,” which proposes that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both used the Gospel of Mark as one of their sources, as well as a hypothetical document called the “Q source.” According to Klijn and others, this theory tends to portray the evangelists as simply compilers of isolated stories rather than as independent witnesses to the life and teachings of Jesus. The two-source theory makes the Gospel writers plagiarists and mythmakers. This theory has damaged faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible.—2 Timothy 3:16.
What is the Evidence that Luke Wrote His Gospel before Mark?
There is a long-standing tradition within Christian scholarship that the Gospel of Luke was written before the Gospel of Mark. This tradition is based on a variety of factors, including the textual relationships between the two gospels, the internal evidence within the gospels themselves, and the testimony of early Christian writers.
One key piece of evidence for the priority of Luke is the fact that the Gospel of Mark appears to have used the Gospel of Luke as one of its sources. There are many places in Mark where the wording and content of the text is very similar to that of Luke, and in some cases, Luke appears to have expanded upon or clarified the account given in Mark. This suggests that Luke was written before Mark and that Mark used Luke as one of his sources when composing his own gospel.
Another piece of evidence for the priority of Luke is the fact that the author of Luke cites several sources in his gospel, including the “eyewitnesses” who had “handed down” the stories of Jesus to him. This suggests that the author of Luke was writing at a time when these eyewitnesses were still alive and available to be consulted, which would place the writing of the gospel before the deaths of these witnesses.
Finally, early Christian writers such as Irenaeus and Origen, who lived in the second and third centuries, also attest to the priority of Luke. They state that Luke was written before Mark, and that Mark simply compiled and edited the accounts that were already recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
The fact is that there is no physical evidence for the existence of the “Q source,” which is a hypothetical document that some scholars have proposed to explain the similarities between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that are not found in the Gospel of Mark. Moreover, it is important to note that the Q source is a hypothetical document, and there is no physical evidence for its existence. While many scholars believe that the Q source is the most likely explanation for the similarities between Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark, there are other theories that have been proposed to explain these similarities, and the question of the interrelationships between the gospels is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires careful consideration of a wide range of factors and evidence.
Almost all the early Christian writers, such as Papias, Irenaeus, and Origen, stated that the Gospel of Matthew was the first of the Gospels to be written. These writers lived in the second and third centuries CE, and they wrote about the traditions and beliefs of the early Christian church.
According to these writers, the Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and it was written in the Hebrew language. These early Christian writers state that the Gospel of Matthew was written shortly after the death of Jesus and that it was intended as a testimony to the life and teachings of Jesus for the benefit of the early Christian community. Origen, a Christian writer, and theologian who lived in the second and third centuries CE (A.D. 185-254), stated that the Gospel of Matthew was the first of the Gospels to be written. In his work “Commentary on John,” Origen wrote: “The first of the Gospels is that according to Matthew, who was also a tax collector. He compiled the record in the Hebrew language.”
It is possible that the record of Paul’s imprisonment and appeal to Caesar in the book of Acts could be used as evidence to support the view that the Gospel of Luke was written before the Gospel of Mark. According to the book of Acts, Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea ended shortly after Porcius Festus succeeded Antonius Felix as governor of Judea. Festus sent Paul to Rome because of his appeal to Caesar. This event is described in Acts 24:27 to 27:1.
According to the book of Acts in the New Testament, Porcius Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, sent Paul to Rome because of his appeal to Caesar. This event is described in Acts 25:11-12: “Then Festus, after he had conferred with the council, answered, ‘You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.’ So when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.”
The book of Acts goes on to describe how Paul traveled to Rome, where he appeared before Emperor Nero to defend himself against the charges brought against him. Again, this event took place after Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, which ended shortly after Festus succeeded Antonius Felix as governor of Judea.
And when was this?
It is generally accepted by historians that the year 58 CE is the most likely date for the beginning of Porcius Festus’s term as Roman governor of Judea. This view is supported by a number of historical sources, including the New Standard Bible Dictionary, which states: “On the whole, 58 A.D. seems the most probable date on which his [Festus’s] procuratorship began.” Young’s Exhaustive Bible Concordance, which states that 58 CE was the most probable date when Festus’s procuratorship began. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the year 58 CE is the most probable date for the beginning of Porcius Festus’s term as Roman governor of Judea. It is generally accepted by historians that the year 58 CE is the most likely date for the beginning of Festus’s term as governor, based on a variety of factors, including the testimony of early Christian writers, the internal evidence within the New Testament, and the historical and cultural context in which these events took place. According to the book of Acts in the New Testament, St. Paul was arrested in the year 56 CE and appealed to Caesar after the arrival of Porcius Festus as Roman governor of Judea in 58 CE. It is generally accepted by historians that the year 56 CE is the most likely date for Paul’s arrest. Then, Paul would have reached Rome in the early part of the following year, where he would have stayed in prison for two full years. This brings us to the early spring of 61 CE, closing out the book of Acts.—Acts 27:1–28:1, 11-16, 30.
It follows then that the Acts of the Apostles was written in Rome about 61 CE, covering the period of 33–61 CE. If Acts had been written later, undoubtedly, Luke would have given his readers more information on the apostle Paul.
According to the book of Acts in the New Testament, the author, Luke, tells his friend Theophilus that he had previously written a Gospel. This statement is made at the beginning of the book of Acts, in the first verse: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.”
This passage should be interpreted that the Gospel of Luke was written before the book of Acts. Some scholars have proposed that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written as a two-volume work, with the Gospel of Luke being the first volume and the book of Acts being the second volume. So, Luke’s Gospel must have been written before 61 CE.
But just how much before? Was it while Luke was in Rome with Paul? Not at all. The evidence for the date of the writing points to c. 56-58 CE. Think of the statement Luke 1:1-4 that speaks of the effort put forth in undertaking to compile the Gospel, having followed all things closely. Moreover, Luke interviewed many people personally, such as Jesus’ family, the many disciples, and the apostles. So, it is logical to extrapolate that Luke did all of this before Paul was imprisoned in Rome and highly probable while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, which was from 56 to 58 CE.
It is generally believed that the Gospel of Mark was written after the first half of the first century, likely around 60-65 CE. Many biblical scholars believe that it was written in Rome or a nearby region for Romans based on its style, based on certain indications in the text itself and early Christian tradition. There are several indications in the Gospel of Mark that suggest it was written for a Roman audience or an audience that was familiar with Roman customs and language. Some of these indications include:
Latinisms: The Gospel of Mark contains a number of Latin words and phrases that would not have been familiar to a Greek-speaking audience but would have been familiar to a Roman audience. These Latinisms suggest that the Gospel was written for a Roman audience or an audience that was familiar with Roman customs and language.
Explanatory remarks: The Gospel of Mark contains a number of explanatory remarks that would not have been necessary for a Jewish audience but would have been helpful for a Roman audience that was not familiar with Jewish customs and practices. For example, the Gospel explains that the word “Pharisee” refers to a group of Jewish religious leaders, and it explains that the word “tribute” refers to a tax that was collected by the Roman authorities.
The mention of Roman officials: The Gospel of Mark mentions several Roman officials, including Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death, and the centurion who oversaw the execution. These mentions suggest that the Gospel was written for an audience that was familiar with Roman officials and the role they played in the events described in the Gospel.
Overall, these and other indications suggest that the Gospel of Mark was written for a Roman audience or an audience that was familiar with Roman customs and language.
Several early Christian writers, known as the church fathers, do mention that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome and that it was intended for a Roman audience. These include:
Irenaeus: Irenaeus was a Christian bishop who lived in the second century CE. He wrote that the Gospel of Mark was written by the apostle Mark, who was a companion of the apostle Peter and who wrote down Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ ministry. Irenaeus also wrote that the Gospel was written in Rome for a Roman audience.
Origen: Origen was a Christian scholar and theologian who lived in the third century CE. He wrote that the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, who was a close associate of the apostle Peter and who wrote down Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ ministry. Origen also wrote that the Gospel was written in Rome for a Roman audience.
Eusebius: Eusebius was a Christian historian who lived in the fourth century CE. He wrote that the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, who was a companion of the apostle Peter and who wrote down Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ ministry. Eusebius also wrote that the Gospel was written in Rome for a Roman audience.
It is worth noting that the early church fathers were not eyewitnesses to the events described in the Gospels, and their accounts are not always reliable. However, their testimony does provide some support for the tradition that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome for a Roman audience.
But just when exactly?
the New Testament book of Acts mentions that Mark left Paul and Barnabas during their missionary journey and that this caused a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. The passage you are referring to is found in Acts 15:36-40:
“After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.”
According to this passage, Mark left Paul and Barnabas during their missionary journey in the region of Pamphylia (located in modern-day Turkey) and returned home. This caused a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, and they parted ways, with Barnabas taking Mark with him to Cyprus.
Later in the book of Acts, Paul mentions that he met up with Mark again in Rome, where he was under house arrest (Acts 28:16). The New Testament letters of Colossians and Philemon also mention that Mark was with Paul in Rome (Colossians 4:10, 11; Philemon 24).
It is not clear from the biblical text what happened to Mark after he left Paul and Barnabas during their missionary journey or how he ended up in Rome with Paul. However, he may have returned to Jerusalem or to his home in Cyprus and later joined Paul in Rome, perhaps after Paul’s release from prison.
The New Testament letter of 2 Timothy does mention that Paul requested Timothy to come to Rome and to bring Mark with him. This passage is found in 2 Timothy 4:9-11:
“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
This passage says that Mark was not in Rome at the time that Paul wrote 2 Timothy and that Paul wanted Timothy to bring Mark to Rome with him. This passage suggests that Mark had left Rome earlier and had not returned until Timothy arrived with him. It is difficult to determine with certainty why Paul requested Timothy to bring Mark to Rome or what Mark’s role was in the Christian community in Rome. Mark may have played an important role in the ministry of Paul and the early Christian community in Rome, and Paul wanted him to be with him during his imprisonment. Paul’s being in Rome brought Mark there twice, and, therefore, only after Paul was imprisoned did Mark write his Gospel for the Romans.
According to early Christian tradition, the Gospel of Mark was written by the apostle Mark, who was a companion of the apostle Peter and who wrote down Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ ministry. This tradition is attested to by several early Christian writers, including Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius.
It is generally believed that the Gospel of Mark is based on the oral testimony of Peter and other eyewitnesses to the events described in the Gospel. Some biblical scholars have argued that the Gospel of Mark represents a summary of Peter’s preaching and that it was written as a record of Jesus’ teachings and actions for a Gentile audience.
The New Testament letter of 1 Peter refers to Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). This phrase should be understood metaphorically as a way of expressing a close relationship or mentor-mentee dynamic between the two men. It is generally believed that Mark spent a significant amount of time with Peter and that he was closely associated with his ministry. Some biblical scholars have argued that Mark was a member of Peter’s household and that he traveled with him on his missionary journeys. Mark learned about the teachings and actions of Jesus from Peter and other eyewitnesses to these events, and he recorded these recollections in his Gospel. The Gospel of Mark was written in Rome, most likely after Mark’s separation from Paul and between Paul’s first and second imprisonments, when it appears that Peter wrote his first, if not also, the second letter. (1 Pet. 5:13) Therefore, by reasoning from the Scriptures, we can see why it is logical to hold that Luke wrote his Gospel before Mark wrote his.
What Is the Synoptic Problem of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and What is the Hypothetical So-Called Q Document??
The reliability of the Gospels has long been questioned because of pseudo-scholarship. Were the Gospel writers plagiarists? Did the synoptic Gospel (Matthew, Mark & Luke) writers merely copy from one another? Is there a document called Q? Was the Gospel of Mark written first? Are the Gospels authentic and reliable?
“The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking. Q forces the issue, for it documents an earlier history that does not agree with the narrative gospel accounts.” – Burton L. Mack, retired professor of New Testament studies.
Burton L. Mack is not alone in his thinking, it has become very common among Bible scholars to question the reliability of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that is, the Bible’s historical accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Why have some Bible scholars viewed the Gospels as myths? Should their views cause us to have doubts as to the trustworthiness and the truthfulness of the Gospels? Below we will examine some of the evidence.
The Reliability of the Gospels Begin to Be Questioned
From the close of the first century C.E. to the 18th century, the reliability of the Gospels was never really brought into question. However, once we enter the so-called period of enlightenment, especially from the 19th century onward, some Bible scholars viewed the Gospels not as the inspired, fully inerrant Word of God but rather as the word of man, and a jumbled word at that. In addition, they determined that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, saying the Gospels were written after the apostles, denying that the writers of the Gospels had any firsthand knowledge of Jesus; therefore, for these Bible critics such men were unable to offer a record of reliable history. Moreover, these liberal Bible scholars came to the conclusion that the similarities in structure and content in the synoptic (similar view) Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), suggests that the evangelists copied extensively from one other. Further, the liberal Bible critics have rejected that the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection ever occurred as recorded in the Gospels. Lastly, some have even gone so far as to reject the historicity of Jesus himself.
Philosophical rationalism found its beginnings in René Descartes (1596 –1650), Thomas Hobbes (1588 –1679), Baruch Spinoza (1632 –77), and John Locke (1632 –1704). Theological rationalism, however, was directly linked to three chief sources: Christian von Wolff (1679 –1754), Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694 –1768), and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 –81). Wolff attempted to tie biblical revelation into natural revelation, while Reimarus made natural revelation the source of Christianity. Lessing added to this new set of problems by arguing that the contingent truths of history could never be a proof for the necessary truths of reason. Thus, to these men can be traced much of what later developed in liberal Christianity, including the destructive form of biblical criticism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Accordingly, “biblical criticism” came to mean not simply the scientific investigation of biblical documents but a method that assumed from the start the critic’s right to pass judgment on the truth claims of the Bible. Thus, for example, to interpret the Bible historically meant almost by definition to acknowledge that it contains contradictions; indeed, one of the standard textbooks on the subject simply assumes that any approach is unhistorical that does not accept those contradictions. In short, assent to the view that the Bible was not totally reliable became one of the operating principles of the “historical-critical method.”
Anyone who was theologically committed to the traditional view of inspiration obviously could not do “criticism” in this sense. Subsequent developments, however, created further complications. The formulations of so-called higher criticism regarding the historical origins of biblical documents tended more and more to denigrate the religious value of the Bible. By the beginning of the twentieth century, “conservative” and “liberal” approaches had become almost totally polarized, though the former continued to make extensive use of critical studies insofar as these could be integrated into the framework of theological orthodoxy.
Higher criticism (historical-critical method) is a term used to describe the study of the Bible with the objective of finding out details such as the authorship, source material, and time of the composition of each book. Higher criticism of the Bible got started in earnest during the 18th and 19th centuries. Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is now known as biblical criticism. Some forms of biblical criticism are source criticism, form criticism, tradition-historical criticism, redaction criticism, structural criticism, reader-response criticism, and feminist criticism, among several others.
See Also, WHO WERE CHRISTIANITY’S FIRST TO THIRD CENTURIES NON-CHRISTIAN WITNESSES FOR THE HISTORICITY OF JESUS CHRIST?
Eta Linnemann writes, “In the academic community, the confirmed results of scientific investigation are considered the touchstone of intellectual inquiry. Indeed, society at large has come to respect all claims offered under the rubric of ‘science.’ As a ‘scientific theology,’ the historical-critical method has come to dominate the field of biblical criticism in Germany and is championed in seminaries and universities around the world.” In Historical Criticism of the Bible Eta Linnemann tells how modern Bible scholarship has drifted far from the truth, and why its assumptions are nonetheless so influential and thereby inherently dangerous. Those who practice the interpretive methods of biblical criticism evidenced by their writings and words that one does not have to believe that the Bible is the fully inerrant, inspired Word of God. Biblical criticism is extremely flawed, and its assault on the Bible has stumbled much of Christianity into believing that the Bible is not the fully inerrant Word of God but rather it, the Bible, is full of errors, mistakes, and contradictions.
The historical-critical method teaches that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Jesus never existed. Instead of being designated the Word of God, the Bible was said by these Bible scholars to be the word of man. The historical-critical method of interpretation is taught in almost all seminaries. Today, the genuinely conservative Bible scholars and pastors are making it known that modern-day historical-critical method of interpretation is exposed as just another attack on the Bible. ‘Liberalism, strong in influence in the 19th century, has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. It views the Bible as a human book not given by divine inspiration, and it teaches that supernatural elements in the Bible can be explained rationally.’ (Zuck 1991, 53) Biblical criticism is pseudo-scholarship and has done nothing more than weaken and demoralize people’s assurance in the Bible as being the inspired and fully inerrant Word of God and is destructive in its very nature.
The grammatical-historical method is a method which attempts to ascertain what the author meant by the words that he used, which should have been understood by his original readers. (Stein 1994, 38-9) It was the primary method of interpretation when higher criticism’s Historical-Critical Method was in its infancy back in the 19th century (Milton Terry), and remains the only method of interpretation for true conservative scholarship in the later 20th century into the 21st century.
When we speak of interpreting the Bible grammatically, we are referring to the process of seeking to determine its meaning by ascertaining four things: (a) the meaning of words (lexicology), (b) the form of words (morphology), (c) the function of words (parts of speech), and (d) the relationships of words (syntax). In the meaning of words (lexicology), we are concerned with (a) etymology, how words are derived and developed, (b) usage how words are used by the same and other authors, (c) synonyms and antonyms -how similar and opposite words are used, and (d) context-how words are used in various contexts.
Who Wrote the Gospels Found in the New Testament of Our Bibles, and How Do We Know?
In discussing the form of words (morphology), we are looking at how words are structured and how that affects their meaning. For example, the word eat means something different from ate, though the same letters are used. The word part changes meaning when the letter “s” is added to it to make the word parts. The function of words (parts of speech) considers what the various forms do. These include attention to subjects, verbs, objects, nouns, and others, as will be discussed later. The relationships of words (syntax) are the way words are related or put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. (Zuck 1991, 100-101)
By “historical” they meant the setting in which the Bible books were written and the circumstances involved in the writing. … taking into consideration the circumstances of the writings and the cultural environment.
The context in which a given Scripture passage is written influences how that passage is to be understood. Context includes several things:
- the verse(s) immediately before and after a passage
- the paragraph and book in which the verses occur
- the dispensation in which it was written
- the message of the entire Bible
- the historical-cultural environment of that time when it was written.
- (Zuck 1991, 77)
Some of the truly conservative scholars who have remained faithful to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation are Bernard Ramm, Harold Lindsell, Gleason L. Archer, Robert L. Thomas, Norman L. Geisler, Thomas Howe, Roy, B. Zuck, David F. Farnell, among other select ones. Such ones are referred to as “fundamentalist Protestants,” as though fundamentalism is now a dirty word. Some modern-day scholar believes that they can dip their feet in the pool of higher criticism, suggesting that they can use certain aspects of these forms of criticisms, without ending up doing any harm to the trustworthiness of the text, to inerrancy. This is very naïve, as some of them end up swimming in the deep end of higher criticism, while others walk along the edges of the deep end.
Here are just ten of the “tip-of-the-iceberg” of the things that these scholars would agree with:
- Matthew, not Jesus, Created the Sermon on the Mount.
- The commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew 10 is a group of instructions compiled and organized by Matthew, not spoken by Jesus on a single occasion.
- The parable accounts of Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are anthologies of parables that Jesus uttered on separate occasions.
- Jesus did not preach the Olivet Discourse in its entirety, as found in the of the gospel accounts.
- Jesus gave his teaching on divorce and remarriage without the exception clauses found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
- In Matthew 19:16-17, Matthew changed the words of Jesus and the rich man to obtain a different emphasis or to avoid a theological problem involved in the wording of Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of the same event.
- The scribes and the Pharisees were, in reality, decent people whom Matthew painted in an entirely negative light because of his personal bias against them.
- The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are figures of speech and not accurate records of Jesus’ physical/and or legal lineage.
- The magi who, according to Matthew 2, visited the child Jesus after his birth are fictional, not real characters.
- Jesus uttered only three or four of the eight or nine beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12
The Original Meaning
The objective of the exegete in his use of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is to discover what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his originally intended audience. Each and every text has one single meaning. Milton S. Terry wrote, “A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.” (Terry 1883, 205)
Were the Gospel Writers Plagiarists?
The so-called Synoptic Problem: The early church fathers believed Matthew penned his Gospel first with Luke and Mark following in that order. Further, it is possible Mark and Luke were likely aware of Matthew’s Gospel, yet the early Church Fathers give no inclination it was used as a source for their Gospels. Rather, their writings reveal all four gospels were written independently. Inasmuch as John penned his Gospel in 98 CE, it was assumed he also was aware of the other three gospels but was moved to supplement and not cover the same material a fourth time. This impression would stay intact for 1,700 years.
The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as such because they are similar when compared to the Gospel of John. They are similar in view, the material covered and even similar wording. The word synoptic can be broken down into syn-, meaning “together with,” and “optic,” meaning “see,” giving us “seeing together.” Matthew’s Gospel is over 90 percent similar in its content to Mark. Of Mark, 601 of his 606 verses are found in Matthew while Luke’s Gospel is about 50 percent similar in its content to Mark. The Gospel of Mark is only about 7 percent unique to itself while Matthew contains 42 percent that is characteristic to it alone with Luke coming in with 59 percent that is unique to itself, and the Gospel of John has 92 percent that is characteristic to itself.
Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812)
The synoptic question got its start in earnest in 1774 when Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812) issued his Synopsis of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke with the passages laid out in corresponding columns for straightforward assessment. From that day, they have been referred to as the “synoptic,” or similar view Gospels. Griesbach did not doubt the Gospels were penned by the four authors, even though these names were not added to them until the second century C.E. Moreover, Griesbach felt “the apostles were fitted through the Holy Spirit to both understand and transmit the doctrine without danger of error.”
First, we must give context to the Griesbach quote above, “the apostles were fitted through the Holy Spirit to both understand and transmit the doctrine without danger of error.” Without context, one might think Griesbach believed in absolute or full inerrancy. He did but only for the apostles, so for example, the Gospel of John and Matthew would be without error but the Gospels Mark and Luke could err. Dr. F. David Farnell writes, “Griesbach believed that only those Gospel writers who were apostles were inspired (i.e., Matthew and John). This automatically left the conclusion that Mark and Luke were uninspired accounts. The apostles, Griesbach posits, were not inspired in the act of writing but were given a one-time gift of inspiration at Pentecost that afterward ward enabled them to understand and transmit doctrine but not inerrantly. Thus, Griesbach rejected the orthodox approach of plenary, nary, verbal inspiration. His unorthodox views of inspiration caused him to believe that the NT writers often err. Therefore, one could not harmonize the Gospel accounts. Griesbach’s view of the Gospel of John was highly skeptical in terms of its chronological reliability, and he omitted it from his synopsis. Accordingly, John must be separated from the synoptics. Griesbach’s separation of the first three Gospels from the fourth (i.e., John’s Gospel) gave rise to the classification of the former as the ‘Synoptic Gospels,’ a term that was coined in German man by Griesbach. His historical skepticism led him to develop a “synopsis” rather than pursuing development of a traditional ‘harmony’ because he rejected harmonization. Under this approach, the apostolic book of Matthew became the Gospel that the nonapostles, Luke and Mark, used in writing their Gospels.” – Thomas L Robert. Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels.
After Griesbach obtained his master’s degree when he was 23, he traveled Europe, visiting one library after another examining manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. The results of this research were published in 1774 and 1775, as well as his Greek text (in later editions). His Greek text was used by a number of Bible translators that included Archbishop Newcome, Abner Kneeland, Samuel Sharpe, Edgar Taylor, and Benjamin Wilson.
The Emphatic Diaglott is a diaglott, or two-language polyglot translation, of the New Testament by Benjamin Wilson, first published in 1864. It is an interlinear translation with the original Greek text and a word-for-word English translation in the left column, and a full English translation in the right column. It is based on the interlinear translation, the renderings of eminent critics, and various readings of the Codex Vaticanus. It includes illustrative and explanatory footnotes, references, and an alphabetical appendix. The Greek text is that of Johann Jakob Griesbach. The English text uses “Jehovah” for the divine name a number of times where the New Testament writers used “Ancient Greek: κύριος, romanized: kýrios” (Kyrios, the Lord) when quoting Hebrew scriptures. For example, at Luke 20:42-43 it reads: “For David himself says in the book of Psalms, Jehovah said to my Lord, sit thou at my Right hand, ’till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet”, where Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1.
For the first time in the critical texts of the Greek New Testament, in Griesbach’s text we find manuscript readings that were older than those that were used by Desiderius Erasmus in his Greek text of 1516 C.E. The significance of this research is obvious from the following comment: “Griesbach spent long hours in the attempt to find the best readings among the many variants in the New Testament. His work laid the foundations of modern text criticism and he is, in no small measure, responsible for the secure New Testament text which we enjoy today.”—J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies, 1776-1976, p. xi.
In 1776 Griesbach published his Synopsis of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, having the text placed in parallel columns so that they could be easily compared. This is how they come to be called the “synoptic” Gospels because they present a “like view.” Griesbach strongly believed that these Gospels had been written by the persons named. He believed that Matthew had personally witnessed the events he had recorded, and that “the apostles were fitted through the Holy Spirit to both understand and transmit the doctrine without danger of error.” Bit once again, only the apostles were error-free in the mind of Griesbach, not Mark an Luke.
From his studies, Griesbach had determined that the first Gospel was written by Matthew, the second by had been written by Luke and the third by Mark. However, even during the lifetime of Griesbach, some believed that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, e.g., G. S. Storr. This theory has since achieved popular support, together with the idea that the source behind the Gospels was an unknown lost document named ‘Q.’ Scholars have since added other strands, sources, and theories, and its analysis and study have occupied numerous books and many thousands of articles. So important has it become for many theologians that it has even taken on the nature of “an article of faith.” As a result, Griesbach has been cast aside and frequently he is harshly criticized.
The Synoptic Problem: Four Views by Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer | Jul 19, 2016
Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels by Robert L. Thomas | Nov 30, 2002
Is There A Synoptic Problem?: Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels by Eta Linnemann and Robert W. Yarbrough | May 6, 2020 [Reprint of 1992]
The “problem” we speak of herein is a literary dependency. Are they so similar they were excessively dependent on one another? Are Matthew, Mark, and Luke plagiarists? One must ask each author where he got his material for what he wrote. It does no damage to one’s faith to ask these questions as we will go no further than the evidence will allow, unlike higher criticism.
The Hypothetical Q Document (30 – 65 CE)
The story of Q (German Quelle “source”) dates to over 120 years ago. It originates as part of what is known as the “two-source” theory of gospel origins. As history reports, the 1800s could be known as the period of ignorance, not the period of enlightenment. Nevertheless, during this time it was decided that the gospels were not historically dependable. According to the Q Document theory, early on there were oral sayings and deeds of Jesus that were not written (agrapha, “not written). Several examples of these supposed agrapha were found in the writings of second-century Church Fathers. It is the hypothetical Q Document, which is allegedly a collection of these oral sayings and deeds that were written. These writings served as the source for Mark’s Gospel and by extension Matthew and Luke. It is also argued that Matthew and Luke did not pen their gospels from memory, or the memories of others, but instead by using the dual sources of Mark and this hypothetical document called Q.
Some establish the Q document by looking to the verses in Matthew and Luke that are similar to each other, yet do not appear in the Gospel of Mark. There is just one small problem with this theory: the so-called Q document is not in existence, and as far as evidence goes, there is none to show that it ever existed. For example, it has never been quoted by any of the Church Fathers. One would not know this by listening to the seemingly factual way the higher critics present their hypothetical document. The expressions below bring to life a nonexistent document:
- “Q originally played a critical role”;
- “Q demonstrates”;
- “Q forces the issue”;
- “Q calls into question”;
- “Q is the most important text we have”; and
- “Q tells us.”
- James M. Robinson, professor of religion, states: “Q is surely the most important Christian text that we have.”
Scholars such as B. F. Westcott (1825-1901), Theodor Zahn (1883-1933), and Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938) rejected this “two-source” theory, with the latter two being German. As with most other damage done to the Bible’s validity, it started with German scholarship and was soaked up by other academic scholars. Eta Linnemann, who studied under Bultmann and Fuchs, supported the two-source hypothesis. Eventually, she did her own extensive re-evaluation, which contributed to her break with historical-critical scholarship, as well as her taking up the Independence View. She expresses her strong disapproval of the position today’s seminary students find themselves in if they adopt the Independent View:
“What student in seminar discussion is going to risk being labeled as uncritical and hopelessly behind the times by raising the possibility that the three Gospels are equally original, in keeping with their own claims and early church tradition?” . . . “I am shocked when I look at the books of my former colleagues, which I used to hold in the highest esteem and examine the justification for their position. Instead of proof, I find only assertions. Instead of arguments, there is merely circular reasoning.”
What are the Facts About Q?
No Church Father or early source makes a reference to such a source. If the Q Document was distributed so widely that Mark, Matthew, and Luke had copies, why do we not even have a fragment? Paul in all likelihood did not know of the Gospel of Matthew and definitely not Mark and Luke. There is no reason why he would not have been aware of such a document that is claimed to have affected and played a very influential role on the start of Christianity and existed before he became a Christian. But Paul is dead silent on the Q Document. The Independent View stood as the dominant understanding until the era of enlightenment when the philosophical giants, such as Grotius (1593-1645), Kant (1724-1804), Reimarus 1694-1768), Spinoza (1632-1677), and Tindal (1656-1733) brought us errancy of Scripture, Biblical criticism, and their views on the origins of the Synoptic Gospels, Two-Source Hypothesis.
Papias (c. 110 CE) states:
(3) I will not hesitate to set down for you . . . everything I carefully learned then from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. (4) And if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples.
(15) And the Elder used to say this: “Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently, Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them.” Such, then, is the account given by Papias with respect to Mark. (16) But with respect to Matthew, the following was said: So Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language and each person interpreted them as best he could.
Bart D. Ehrman, an agnostic Bible scholar who has spent much of his career misleading the masses about the early text of the Greek New Testament, states about Papias:
There’s an even bigger problem with taking Papias at his word when he indicates that Mark’s Gospel is based on an eyewitness report of Peter: virtually everything else that Papias says is widely, and rightly, discounted by scholars as pious imagination rather than historical fact.
It is true, that Papias exaggerated and expanded the death of Judas Iscariot based on Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18. However, much of what we read on Papias is found in the New Testament, whether one likes it or not. Other aspects of Papias concerning Gospel writers receive validation by other writers, such as Irenaeus, who lived shortly thereafter and would have had firsthand information. Many of these renowned Church Fathers had access to Papias and other sources that validate the truthfulness of Papias’ message. In short, if we discounted all things Papias said because he exaggerated or tried to explain Judas Iscariot’s death, we would discount every statement Ehrman has ever made based on the same principles. Ehrman has been found guilty of misrepresenting numbers on many occasions for the sole purpose of manipulating the information in an attempt to deceive.
The Gospel of Matthew proved the most influential up until the time of Irenaeus (c. 180 CE). If there was a Q document and Mark was written first, with Matthew and Luke merely copying from Mark and Q, why had Matthew become the most popular among the congregations? Moreover, why were the early congregations united in Matthew’s Gospel as being written first, giving him first place in the canon? We will look at just one example in Clement of Alexandria. It is Eusebius, the fourth-century Church historian, who tells the tradition that Mark is one of the founders of the Alexandrian congregation: a congregation that Clement would later lead. Eusebius also informs us that Clement wrote of “a tradition of primitive elders,” who gave him the order of the Gospels as Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John, being written in that order. Being that Mark was one of the founders, and Clement placed him as the third Gospel writer, gives even more credence to Clement’s words, as it would be tempting to place your founding leader in the first place.
Is There Literary Dependence Found Within the Synoptic Gospels?
Again, going back to the evidence of the Church Fathers, none of them addressed literary dependence, even when the opportunity presented itself. The in-depth answer is found in a publication by Eta Linnemann, Is There a Synoptic Problem? In short, she found absolutely no evidence that either “Matthew or Luke were literary dependent on Mark.” At the end of this investigation, nothing negates the fact they were composed independently of one another. She is joined by many prominent scholars, who have viewed the evidence, and find independence to be the preferred option: Louis Berkhof, Henry C. Thiessen, Robert G. Gromacki, Merrill C. Tenney, Jacob Von Bruggen, John M. Rist, John Wenham, and Bo Reicke. While listing world-renowned scholars does not in and of itself prove anything, it lends credence to the Independent View.
This chapter does not extensively investigate the evidence for or against the dependence of either Matthew, Luke, or Mark and the so-called Q document. The best we can offer is a summary of Linnemann’s conclusions. The final analysis in determining the amount of dependence, the findings are there is no dependency. Mark contains 116 passages, of which 40 (3635 words, 32.28 percent), are not found in Matthew or Luke. Of the 76 passages that remain, 7,625 words, or 67.72 percent, occur in Matthew and Luke. Taking these 7,625 words, we find there are only 1,539 words (20.19 percent) completely identical in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew and Mark alone, we find only 1,640 words (21.51 percent) are completely identical. In Mark and Luke alone, it is a mere 877 words (11.5 percent). In Matthew and Luke, it is 381 words (5 percent).
There are words that are basic, and not relevant to literary dependency. In Biblical Greek, the definite article “the” is the only article, and it plays a large role, far different and more extensive than English. The definite article “the” is found in the Greek New Testament as the most often occurring, 19,870 times, with the Greek word και “and” coming in second at 9,153 times. If we remove the basic words of the article, και, and pronouns the percentage falls drastically. Looking at our 1,539 identical words, we find the basic words of Matthew and Mark to be 530 (32.32 percent), with Mark and Luke having 286 words that are basic (32.61 percent), and Matthew and Luke at 91 words (23.88 percent).
Thus, we only find 970 words of importance in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In other words, a mere 12.72 percent of the 7,695 words have any bearing on the synoptic passages. These commonalities do not consider there are another 3,635 words, or 32.28 percent, of Mark that are not found in Matthew or Luke.
The Gospels are completely reliable. They contain trustworthy historical accounts of eyewitnesses. They are built on thorough research. They offer the reader many fascinating facts about the life of the historical Jesus Christ. Therefore, like young Timothy, we do well to pay close attention to Paul’s words:
2 Timothy 3:14-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through trust in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be fully competent, equipped for every good work.”
This includes the four Gospels.
We must note that we cannot be for absolute inerrancy, the infallibility of Scripture, the inspiration of Scripture and at the same time speak of literary dependence or literary collaboration. Why? Because there is going to be a time when you have to explain changes that were made by one author who was dependant on the other (source) author, changes that cause some historical discrepancy between the Gospel that made the change and the source Gospel. That situation will arise any time you attempt to propose literary dependence or literary collaboration between two synoptic authors.
The ‘source document’ idea, the Q document, the literary dependence or collaboration theory has destroyed the faith of many Christians in their view of inerrancy and divine inspiration of the Bible. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) This trend is not new, for the apostle Paul told Timothy “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than God’s plan that is by faith.”—1 Tim. 1:3-4.
Dr. Norman L. Geisler
The Literary Background of the Gospels
There are two main questions concerning the literary background of the Gospels: Why are there four Gospels? Why are three of them so similar (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and one (John) so different?
Before this is answered in more detail, it will be helpful to look at the differences between the Synoptic Gospels and the autoptic Gospel. The following contrast will help generalize and summarize the differences:
The Synoptic Problem
Let’s deal with the synoptic problem. Why do the first three Gospels view the ministry of Christ from the same general perspective? To be more specific: Why are they so similar in content? And why are there marked differences between them? A whole host of subsidiary questions are involved here: Who wrote first? Who is depending on whom? What sources did each writer have?
The Basic Data of the Gospels
This chart is attributed to Bishop Westcott. Reprinted from William Graham Scroggie, Guide to the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1995), 189.
Only 50–55 verses are unique to Mark. Matthew has 1,068 verses; 500 are common with Mark. Luke has 1,149 verses; 320 are common with Mark. Mark has 661 verses; 50–55 are not in Matthew or Luke. Matthew and Luke have 250 verses in common that are not in Mark. Luke has 580 verses peculiar to itself (which have a Gentile tone). Matthew has 300 verses peculiar to itself (which have a Jewish tone).
Some Proposed Solutions
Numerous theories have been put forth to solve the synoptic problem. Some are held by liberal scholars, some by evangelicals, and some by both (at least in part).
The One-Source Theory (Urevangelium)
This theory proposes one primitive Gospel from which all three Synoptics drew information. Accordingly, the similarities are due to one common source, and the differences result from the individual author’s theme, interests, and style.
Problems: (1) The disappearance of the original source is difficult to explain. (2) The differences between the three Gospels are difficult to understand. (3) There is no record or manuscripts of any such primitive Gospel.
The two-document theory claims that the similarities between the three Gospels are due to Matthew and Luke following Mark in order and wording. And the differences are explained by positing a hypothetical common source called Q (from the German: quelle, meaning “source”) from which Matthew and Luke’s common material comes.
Problems: (1) Q is a purely hypothetical source. There are no manuscripts of it or citations from it. (2) It is inconceivable that Q does not have a Passion and a resurrection narrative! This is the heart of the gospel (see 1 Cor. 15:1–19). (3) The absence of Jesus’s many miracles betrays an anti-supernatural bias.
According to mutual-use theory, the similarities among the three Gospels are due to two Gospels using the form of the third (for example, Matthew and Luke using Mark). The differences result from their own purpose and way of presentation.
Problems: (1) All possible combinations have been held of who used whom, and this weakens the view. (2) This theory does not explain verses that are common to two but not in the third. (3) While stressing “literary identity,” it neglects each writer’s individuality.
The four-document theory contends that the similarities among the three Gospels result from the other two using Mark (from Rome AD 60) and Q (from Antioch AD 50). And the differences are due to L—Proto Luke (from Caesarea), which accounts for material unique to Luke (AD 60) and M—from Jerusalem (AD 65), to account for material unique to Matthew.
Problems: (1) The theory is too complicated. (2) Mark is reduced to a literary enigma. (3) It is contrary to the claim and early confirmation of the Gospel writers as eyewitnesses. (4) Q is a purely hypothetical document.
The fragment theory holds that various people wrote down certain episodes of the teachings and acts of Jesus, resulting in one teacher having a collection of sayings, another having a collection of miracles, and another the Passion narrative. The various Gospels are accounted for as these collections were compiled into their current form. Luke’s prologue is used as a support of this theory (Luke 1:1–4).
Problems: This theory fails to account for the similarities of the Gospels. Further, it is difficult to explain away the disappearance of these “collections.” This theory fares no better than theories involving a Q document (see the form criticism theory below).
Oral Tradition Theory
The oral tradition theory proposes that the similarities in the Gospels result from all the writers using a common core of fixed oral tradition, and the differences are due to individual writers’ choices to fit their different themes.
Oral Tradition Theory
Problems: (1) This theory does not account for the differences in the Gospels. (2) It neglects the role of the Gospel writers as eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1–4; John 19:35; 21:24; Acts 2:32; 4:19–20; 10:39; 1 Cor. 15:3–8; Heb. 2:3–4), supposing a later date.
Form Criticism Theory
According to this theory, the similarities in the Gospels result from all the writers using an original Q document from which they all copied. Meanwhile, the differences are due to the many different forms this information took in the early church. The information needs to be stripped of its mythological form to get at the original core of truth.
Form Criticism Theory
Problems: (1) Q is a purely hypothetical source. (2) The theory wrongly assumes late dates for the Gospels (AD 70–100). (3) It neglects the role of eyewitnesses. (4) It is contrary to information in the accepted books of Paul (1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Galatians), which were written early (AD 55–60) and provide the same basic facts about Christ as the Gospels.
Independent Eyewitness Records Theory
The independent eyewitness records view contends that the similarities in the Gospels result from a natural overlap of eyewitness testimony of the same events, and the differences are due to individual writers’ different choices to fit their respective themes.
Independent Eyewitness Records Theory
Problems: This theory has difficulty accounting for the apparent literary identity, but (1) impact events result in vivid memories; (2) very little is really literarily identical—only about 8 percent, which is easily memorized; (3) the writers had supernaturally activated memories (John 14:26; 16:13); (4) the Gospel writers make a clear distinction between their words and Jesus’s words, as is evident in the editions of the Bible in which Jesus’s words are printed in red; and (5) the verified historicity of Acts demonstrates the historical reliability of Dr. Luke and, thereby, the accuracy of the Gospel of Luke, which he also wrote (see Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:3).
The Rational Background for the Gospels
Often the question of why there are four Gospels is asked. There are at least three basic reasons—veracity, doxology, and universality. The first reason is clearly apologetic.
Multiple testimony confirms veracity. The Bible declares, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16, from Deut. 19:15). Something as important as the entrance of God’s Son into the world demanded multiple witnesses. Ordinarily two (or at the most three) would suffice, and four is more than sufficient to confirm the incarnation.
But the reason for four Gospels is not only theological, it is also doxological (having to do with God’s glory). They present a fourfold manifestation of God’s glory. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14), which in Ezekiel was manifested as a lion, ox, man, and eagle (Ezek. 1:10). Each of these images corresponds to the theme of one of the Gospels: Matthew the Lion (the king of beasts), Mark the Ox (the servant of man), Luke the Man, and John the Eagle (the heavenly one).
The four Gospels are targeted to everyone so that Christ is manifest to all. Matthew presents Christ as King to the Jews. Mark presents him as Servant to the Romans; Luke as Man to the Greeks; and John as God to the whole world. In short, the four Gospels manifest that the message of Christ is universal. The chart below illustrates this point.
There are many reasons for four Gospels, not the least of which are veracity, doxology, and universality. By multiple testimony and universal appeal—to the Jews, Romans, Greeks, and the entire world—the Son of God was manifested in human flesh. Deity entered the bloodstream of humanity; the Creator was born in a cowshed; the Master lay in a manger. As Paul put it, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).
The Gospels: A Fourfold Manifestation of Christ
Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 35–42.
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 Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1994), 10.
 B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”
 W. G. Kümmel,The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1972), 29 –31 and throughout.
 Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 5870-6111). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 (Thomas and Farnell 1998)
 At times, Mark is found in second place.
 Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 113.
 Orchard, Bernard. J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
 Eta Linnemann, Biblical Criticism on Trial: How Scientific is “Scientific Theology”? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990), 20-21.
 Linnemann. Is There A Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependance of the First Three Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992, 45.
 Ibid., 10
 Thomas, Robert L. Three Views of the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002, 235-41.
 Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007), 735.
 Ibid., 739-41
 Ehrman, Bart D. Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006.
 “Scholars differ significantly in their estimates — some say there are 200000 variants known, some say 300000, some say 400000 or more! . . . There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” (Ehrman 2005, 89-90) While the statement is true on the surface, it is very misleading to the lay churchgoer, as well as Ehrman’s audience.
 Linnemann. Is There A Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependance of the First Three Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992, 155-91
 Eta Linnemann, Biblical Criticism on Trial: How Scientific is “Scientific Theology”? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990), 42-72.
 Brephos is the period of time when one is very young–‘childhood (probably implying a time when a child is still nursing), infancy.
 Pisteuo is “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.’