Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Synoptic Problem (4)

No solution to the so-called synoptic problem is legitimate unless it takes into account ALL of the evidence. This includes the eternal evidence -- the testimony of the early church fathers. Our hypothesis -- the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis -- respects and accepts the real-life situation of the universal church in the years 30-67 and agrees with the known history of the apostolic churches at all key points. It is the only solution that conforms to the historical and patristic evidence, and it meets the internal data at least as well as the Markan Priority Hypothesis and often much better. The latter is built upon a deliberate and a priori rejection of the ancient patristic evidence and a denial of any suggestion of a direct connection between the apostles and the gospel writings.

Despite the lip service that is often paid to the patristic testimony by gospel scholars, the fathers are more neglected today than ever before. The same kind of neglect runs through the majority of New Testament introductions and guides to the synoptic problem. The late Bernard Orchard once quipped that if I took the fathers' writings seriously I would be accused of being a Roman Catholic in Protestant clothing. So be it. If reading the church fathers critically makes me a catholic (please note the small "c"), then I am happy to accept that title. For me, this means that although I delight in studying and reading the New Testament in its original language, I think it is an advantage rather than a detriment to learn Scripture through the works of scholars who through the years have drunk deeply from the well of the New Testament. 

In fact, I believe that the fragmented and atomistic approach to the New Testament documents today is often merely an excuse for intellectual laziness. I too once held to Markan priority, but all that changed when I translated the writings of the fathers for myself from the original Greek and Latin. I saw that their testimony, though not inerrant (only the Bible is inerrant), was reliable and not as self-contradictory as many modern writers tried to make them out to be. At any rate, it will be obvious to anyone who reads my book that I have taken tradition seriously, and with that tradition I have found my home and am at peace. 

The statements of the church fathers concerning the origins of our Gospels may be found freshly translated and analyzed in my book. The unhesitating support by the church fathers for the historicity and authenticity of the four Gospels can no longer be doubted, nor can it be questioned that the earliest church believed that the apostle Matthew was the first to write a Gospel. Could it not be, then, that the Markan prioritists are wrong?