A Simple Solution to the Synoptic Problem

For over a century, higher critics have puzzled over the similarities and dissimilarities of the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record so many of the same words and recount so many of the same events, yet they do so distinctively. This is often referred to, most unfortunately, as the “synoptic problem.” Critics are at loss as to how best to reconcile items not in conflict. This has led to a rather interesting list of postulations. On the one hand critics allege plagiarism, on the other they charge fabrication. At least they believe the bit about “not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing” to be authentic. How they are able to argue for two contradictory theories at once is as inexplicable as it is entertaining. Perhaps they’ve borrowed Alice’s looking glass so that they too can believe six impossible things before breakfast. But I digress.  How do we, as historically conscientious folk, resolve this conundrum?

Many in the world of New Testament scholarship have posited the existence of Q—a mystical source document from which the early evangelists must have worked. Although none of the fathers of the Church mentioned such a document and the original penmen never hinted at such a manuscript, that small fact has not dissuaded the intellectual elite who insist that we base all of our conclusions on historical evidence. Having no concrete evidence handy, imagined evidence seems to suit them just fine.

I have another solution to the synoptic problem; a much simpler solution. I deny that it exists. See? No more problem. I think, therefore it isn’t. In all seriousness though, the main problem of the higher critic is his low imagination. If we take the gospels seriously then they do point to a common source; not to a common autograph but to a common Author. Those inspiring documents are inspired documents.

A textual critic may object by saying that I am presupposing something beyond the bare historical data. I would respond by pointing out that I learned such an approach from him. Like him, I don’t believe in bare historical data. The fundamental difference between the higher critic and the believing scholar is that the latter doesn’t limit his considerations to only the smallest percentage of the available evidence in the world. As a matter of fact, the believing scholar understands that anyone who is interested in intellectual honesty must admit that all forms of investigation are predicated upon inviolable laws which can’t be collected in test tubes or reproduced in petri dishes. So I humbly and accurately submit that the only real synoptic problem is that there are far too many Christians who don’t read them.

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