When I teach students in my Introduction to the New Testament class about the Synoptic Problem, it becomes a bit like pulling teeth. To be sure, at the very outset, students are intrigued. When I set it up, it’s kind of like a detective story – who copied whom, and how would we know? I make it as interesting and intriguing as I can: how can we figure this out?
But then I have to get into the weeds to explain the evidence, such things as the patterns of verbal agreements among Matthew, Mark, and Luke in passages they all three have in common (such passages are called “the Triple Tradition”): sometimes all three have exactly the same wording; sometimes all three have different wording; sometimes Mattthew and Mark have the same wording but Luke disagrees; sometimes Mark and Luke have the same wording, but Matthew disagrees; but only rarely do Matthew and Luke agree, and Mark disagrees. I show this in detail with a particular passage (the rich man that comes up to Jesus to ask about how to have eternal life and Jesus ends up telling him to sell everything). I then show the logic of thinking that this shows that Matthew and Luke must have used Mark, and probably did not use each other.
And as I show, in detail, which words are shared and which are different in various combinations, my students’ eyes start to glaze over. And I can see them saying (those still awake), WHO THE HECK CARES???
And so once we plod through this and the other arguments, I then explain why it MATTERS. For scholars today, probably the biggest reason it matters is …
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