Farnell and Gospel Independence

So I have been reading Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (edited by Robert Thomas) lately. If you don’t know, this book is a debate book, with one chapter arguing for Markan priority, one for Matthean priority, and one for independent composition, with different writers (all evangelicals) defending the different viewpoints. I’ve been focusing on just the question of dependence, i.e., were the gospels written entirely independently or did Matthew use Mark, or Mark Matthew, etc. That question has to be answered before one can move on to other questions like Markan and Matthean primacy, or the existence of Q. I am defaulting at the moment to dependency because that makes most sense to me in light of what I see in my gospel synopsis, but I am going back to review this to make sure I am not wrong. The answer to this question determines so much else in gospel studies.

So far I have been about as unimpressed as I could imagine being reading Farnell’s argument for independence. Here are my thoughts thus far:

  1. Tone. It is the tone that grates on me the most. Not only does he act like everything he is saying is so obvious, but you can tell his whole argument really just revolves around "you don’t agree with my views on exactly how inspiration works, therefore you’re evil" (note that this is my own interpretation/summary, not an actual quote!). He makes a few actual arguments, but the main point of his whole thesis is to disagree with him is to side with liberals and heretics (because they were the first to come up with some of the disciplines of higher criticism, like redaction criticism), and therefore you must be wrong. Honestly, it reminds me a great deal of the approach of many KJV-Only advocates I have read. They frequently argue against modern critical editions and such based on the fact that some important textual critics in the past could properly be called heretics. Some of you may be thinking "right on", but I very much disagree with the sentiment and approach.
  2. He really likes to critique the others (and those who hold their positions) by claiming they are "begging the question". Like on page 287, responding to Stein’s argument that use of parenthetical shows dependency, he claims that he is "begging the question" by saying that the material is parenthetical. Actually, the material does look parenthetical, and therefore it looks like dependency is happening. That is not begging the question; that is looking at some text and making value judgments based on its characteristics. He loves doing this...
  3. He has no problem with the synoptics using written material (pg 290), but apparently as long as the synoptics are not using each other. This makes no sense to me. My only guess at this point is that it is because he associates doing so with higher criticism, which is by definition wrong because you cannot get rid of their faulty presuppositions (so he claims).
  4. He has quite the ability to harmonize...or at the very least to stretch the text’s meaning to all sorts of lengths to create harmony. The occasional stretch one can look over easily, but if you are constantly straining to fit two gospels texts together, it is more likely that your paradigm needs to be adjusted, not your opponents. In my opinion, the other writers are doing a much better job of this.

So far my those are my main thoughts. More when I’ve finished the book. I’ve ordered a book by Reicke that will apparently argue more for the independent view. I’m hoping to get more out of that one. If anyone has some suggestions, I would appreciate hearing them.


Chris Vail 2008-12-28 01:33:11

"In those days" it was customary to begin a story with the phrase "in those days". The Gospel of John goes one better: chapter 1 verse 1 begins with "In the beginning...". You will find the phrase "In those days..." in each of the three synoptic gospels, but not at the beginning of the three synoptic gospels. I take this as a sign that the synoptic gospels were edited by having some material prepended to the original gospel text.

Luke has the phrase "In those days..." in chapter 2 verse 1, which is the start of the nativity story of Jesus. Luke chapter 1 explains the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer. Mark has the phrase "In those days..." in chapter 1 verse 9; the prepended verses explain who John the Baptizer was, and appear to be copied from Matthew chapter 3.

Matthew has the phrase "In those days..." in chapter 3 verse 1. The first two chapters of Matthew explain the genealogy of Jesus and tell the nativity story. Chapter 3 is the account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer.

Interestingly, the gospel of John never mentions that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. Instead, according to the gospel of John, John the Baptizer witnesses that Jesus is the Messiah.

I think in the early days of the church a lot of Gentiles were confused: why did John the Baptizer baptize Jesus if Jesus were God? The original gospels of Matthew and Mark started out with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer, while the original gospel of Luke started with the nativity story. The material added to the three synoptic gospels clarifies (or in the case of Matthew, reduces the emphasis) of Jesus’ baptism by John. And by the time the Gospel of John was written, Jesus’ baptism by John did not merit mentioning.