Carson, D.A., and Douglas Moo An Introduction to the New Testament - Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. "The Synoptic Gospels" Carson & Moo pp. 77-133
The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were first called "synoptic" by J.J. Griesbach, near the close of the 18th century. They are called synoptic meaning "same view" because they are very similar to one another in their structure and tone. In this chapter of Carson and Moo they "address significant issues that embrace all three accounts. Specifically, we examine three questions: How did the Synoptic Gospels come into being? How should we understand the gospels as works of literature? And what do the gospels tell us about Jesus?" (p. 78)
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
The Stage of Oral Traditions: Form Criticism
Form criticism "concentrates on the earliest stage in the process by which the gospels came into being: the oral stage" (p. 79). This form of criticism arose in the early part of the 20th century. Carson and moo list six assumptions held in common by form critics (pp. 81-82).
1. "The stories and sayings of Jesus circulated in small independent units."
2. "The transmission of the gospel material can be compared to the transmission of other folk and religious traditions.'
3. "The stories and sayings of Jesus took on certain standard forms that are for the most part still readily visible in the gospels."
4. "The form of a specific story or saying makes it possible to determine its Sitz im Leben or function in the life of the early church."
5. "As it passed down the sayings and stories of Jesus, the early Christian community not only put the material into certain forms, but it also modified it under the impetus of its own needs and situations."
6. "Classic form critics have typically used various criteria to enable them to determine the age and historical trustworthiness of particular pericopes."
I wrote in the margin of p. 82, "There's a bias here which says authentic statements of Scripture diverge from early practice, thus saying that early practice is uniformly suspect." Carson and Moo had talked about the way that form critics would identify alleged modifications of the content of historical statements. They tend to assume that the early church would have changed their tradition to fit their practices rather than allowing the tradition to shape practices.
Form criticism is not entirely a bad idea. It is valuable to investigate the way that information passed from hand to hand and from mouth to ear. In a culture such as we find in Palestine in the 1st century there is a good deal of both literacy and oral tradition. The process of condensing several years of Jesus' life and ministry into a brief document such as a gospel account may have been quite complex. Yet radical form criticism seems to undermine what is known about transmission of information. It also considers that the church is by necessity going to invent materials to prove its point of view rather than taking existing materials and allowing them to influence it.
The Stage of Written Sources: Source Criticism (the Synoptic Problem)
Source criticism seeks to understand what, if any, written sources the evangelists might have used. It deals with literary transmission, not oral transmission. The source critics will observe similar statements in the various gospels and attempt to explain why the narrative would be so similar.
The Main Solutions
1. Common dependence on one original gospel
2. Common dependence on oral sources
3. Common dependence on gradually developing written fragments
4. Interdependence - this is the direction which most scholars today find themselves going.
Theories of Interdependence
1. The Augustinian Proposal - Matthew was first, Mark borrowed from Matthew, Luke borrowed from both Matthew and Mark.
2. The "Two-Gospel" Hypothesis - Matthew was first, Luke was second, Mark borrowed from Matthew and Luke.
3. The "Two-Source" Hypothesis - Mark and a lost document commonly referred to as "Q" were borrowed from by both Matthew and Luke.
Carson and Moo suggest strongly that Mark was the first gospel and that the two-source hypothesis is the most reasonable solution to the problem.
Proto-Gospel Theories - some scholars suggest that there were lost preliminary drafts of gospels which were sources for material which others have assigned to "Q."
Conclusion p. 103 "The process through which the gospels came into being was a complex one, so complex that no source-critical hypothesis, however detailed, can hope to provide a complete explanation of the situation. Granted that at least one of the evangelists was an eyewitness, that various oral and written traditions uncrecoverable to us were undoubtedly circulating, and that the evangelists may even have talked together about their work, the "scissors-and-paste" assumptions of some source critics are quite unfounded."
The Stage of Final Composition: Redaction Criticism
Redaction is a fancy word for editing. p. 104 "Redaction criticism seeks to describe the theological purposes of the evangelists by analyzing the way they use their sources." This involves making a distinction between tradition and editorial work, finding evidence of editorial work through comparison to other narratives, finding patterns in editorial move throughout a gospel, thus noting theological emphases, and identifying a setting which would have motivated the writing of a gospel account.
Redaction criticism developed in the 1950s, with Gunther Bornkamm, Hans Conzelmann, and Willi Marxsen laying out methdology for redaction criticism. This methodology is used by most contemporary scholars.
Redaction criticism has several weaknesses. It requires us to be able to identify what an author has altered. It tends to overlook an interest on the part of the author in historical accuracy. It tends to overlook the great commonalities of the various evangelists while seeking out their distinctives. It tends to undermine the historical trustworthiness of the gospel material. Yet it is important to an interpreter to focus on the reason why the evangelists said what they said. It points out to us that there are several different gospels but that they all have one message, Christ the Lord.
THE GOSPELS AS WORKS OF LITERATURE
The Genre of the Gospels - basically biographical in nature but with an emphasis on the divine nature and work of Jesus.
Description p. 115 "We are using "Literary Criticism" as a catchall designation for contemporary approaches to the gospels that focus on careful study of the way the gospels function as pieces of literature." This represents an emphasis on the text as we find it. Literary criticism would entail the methods we use to read and understand the Scripture.
Some literary critics seem to react against history itself, considering that the author is not concerned with historical accuracy. In recent years some of the critics tend to suggest that there is no definitive meaning of a text.
JESUS AND THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
The Question of the "Historical" Jesus
The idea of "the historical Jesus" has been used since the eighteenth century to identify that which is merely human and therefore believable without assent of a supernatural influence.
The Possibility of a Historical Outline
It is important to identify the historicity of the events in the gospels. The synoptics are generally thought to follow a chronological pattern, though some of the events are not clearly defined. In the chronology we find the birth of Jesus can best be identified as happening somewhere in the years 6-4 B.C. His ministry seems to begin when he is about thirty years old, as is stated in Luke 3:23, sometime in the period of 25/26 to 28/29 A.D. The dates of Tiberius Caesar are difficult to pin down but do not contradict the gospel account. The synoptic gospels seem to require at least a year's worth of ministry. John's gospel mentions Passover three times, including the one at which the crucifixion occurred. Therefore it looks like John requires at least two and possible three years, which is not overturned in any way by the synoptic gospels. Jesus' death, according to the calculations of the time of Passover and the fact that it doesn't always happen on a Friday, could have happened in 30, 31, or 33. None of these dates are out of line with Luke's observation of Jesus' age or with any of the possible birth years.