Three Views of the Synoptic Gospels-Take 3

I have commented on the book Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels here and here. This brief discussion will be my last on this book for a while, I imagine. My reading of the chapter on the Two-Gospel Hypothesis (2GH) is my last in the book as I have already skipped ahead and read the gospel Independence view and the Two-Source/Four-Source/Markan Hypothesis (MH) view.

Overall, I was not terribly impressed with the chapter, but I did get some out of it. Following are the thoughts I had as I read it:

  1. Good discussion of the Fathers. His goal was to let some of the steam out of the baloon of the Independence theory’s use of the Fathers, and succeeded to a certain extent. Some of Farnell’s criticisms of usage may be valid, but I would have to look at the sources more closely myself, which I will do in due time. One point that Farnell dismisses ought to be considered, however. To Niemela’s point on the Father’s view on the origin of the LXX, it would be inappropriate to use that to say the Fathers were always wrong. However, it does show that their opinions on historical matters should sometimes be held suspect, and they may argue for a position because they think it works better apologetically or has a deeper spiritual meaning. That point is very significant.
  2. His whole "Order Content Model" was interesting, though not immediately convincing. Has Farmer always been misunderstood? Have no MH defenders really responded to his opinions correctly? Maybe, but that remains to be seen in my mind. In terms of the statistics, I am somewhat confused. He says the following on page 171: "Do the statistics presuppose the 2GH? No." and then goes on to say, essentially, that one should compare it with one’s views to make sure the stats are consistent with one’s presuppositions. But later on he is using the statistics to say that the 2GH has here a "non-reversible" argument for itself. Well, which is it? Does it prove your case or not? Maybe I missed something, but that doesn’t add up. Disclaimer: I did not do well in algebra or statistics in college :).
  3. Page 288: "Regarding Luke, the 2GH is also a simple model. Paul undoubtedly used Matthew’s Gospel, so Luke would have become familiar with it and would have held it in the highest regard." What? How many things do we have to assume to actually agree with that? Even assuming the 2GH hypothesis, that is a stretch.
  4. His whole analysis is macro level. Can it handle a micro level analysis? Who knows, because he never tries. A view does indeed have to be able to handle a macro view, but if it can’t handle the micro, it’s a waste of time. It would have been helpful if he would have done that.
  5. While I was reading the statistical analysis portion, I wondered if it would be better to do the analysis on a pericope basis instead of a verse basis. That would seem to me to be a better approach. The MH response made the same point.
  6. It has been a while since I’ve read Farmer’s Synoptic Problem, so I can’t say I remember the typical arguments for the 2GH very well. However, this chapter seems to be all original research. Is that really the best approach to take in a views book like this one? Maybe if your evidence was compelling, but the MH response pointed out that the evidence as presented was sorely lacking as it had to refer the reader to the dissertation too much. I think that is a fine point. If this statistical argument is that persuasive, it needs to be published and available for review and critique. Just sticking a partial bit in this book and saying "I win!" is dissatisfying. Maybe it has been published by now, but it was apparently not then and I have not heard of it myself.

The MH response had some other decent points, but I won’t go into them. The case is not closed for me on this particular presentation, but I would need to have something more on it to really mull it over. I think the chapter’s approach made this third of the book weaker than it should have been, thus devaluing the book’s contribution as a whole.

So am I sure now that the MH is correct? No. I think the MH presentation in the book was the only one done well, but that is hardly a reason to select the MH. More study is needed. Because I think the 2GH chapter was mediocre and the Independence chapter was almost a complete waste of time, I find it really difficult to recommend the book. The MH chapter was good, but you can find other good presentations elsewhere.