A statistical approach to the synoptic problem
The purpose of these pages is to present a statistical investigation of the synoptic problem that I conducted. A familiarity with the problem is basically assumed here.
However, if you are not familiar with the synoptic problem, please check out these links:



http://virtualreligion.net/vri/nt.html (under the header "Synoptics")


Some useful books can be found here.
Briefly, the synoptic gospels are Mark, Matthew, and Luke. This investigation looks at the vocabulary styles of the synoptic authors. With this information, the goal is to determine which author originally penned sections of text, and which authors subsequently copied those sections of text.
In order to understand what was done in this investigation it is vitally important to understand
the nature of the data that was used.
The data is described here.
The analysis is described here.
The spreadsheet that I used for the investigation is here.
A walk through of the spreadsheet is here.
Results are here.
Interpretations are here.
Some possible problems are discussed here.
A more detailed discussion of the results for the sayings categories is here.
A more detailed look at the minor agreements is here.
A more detailed look at the triple tradition is here.
A proto-Mark?
An alternative explination.
The short version of my conclusions is this:

Based on this study alone, I believe the
3 source hypothesis, or some variation of it is most likely the correct solution. However, the study also provides about as much support for the Farrer Hypothesis, and I do not believe the 2 Source Hypothesis can be eliminated by this study. However, solutions that do not involve Markian priority are vitually eliminated empericlly, based on these results, and I think these results make it more difficult to argue that Luke did not use Matthew at all.

While the 3 source hypothesis is quite possible, there are other similar explanations that fit the results of the study equally well. For example Luke could have had some of Matthew, perhaps from a letter, and some Matthian material later made its way over to Luke. In this view, Matthew used a version of Mark and a sayings source. The source was probably smaller that the standard Q, and could have been an oral rather than a written source. Luke also used a version of Mark and a sayings source, oral or written, and some material from Matthew, possibly from a personal letter. Then, some Matthian material also made its way into Luke at a later date.

Another idea that I currently find interesting, is that Luke did indeed use Mark, Matthew and a saying source, but the saying source, and the gospel of Matthew had the same author and were contemporary with the gospel of Luke. The scenario here is that Mark was an established gospel. Matthew then is a later conservative response, perhaps in reaction to the development of Gnosticism. For example, the gospel of Matthew seems interested in emphasizing the validity of the Jewish scripture. In this scenario, the author of the gospel of Matthew forges a saying source in the name of an apostle, in order to justify his intended new gospel. Luke is taken in by the forgery and uses it, but recognizes the gospel of Matthew as a contemporary work, and does not use it to a large extent. I'm currently working on developing this idea.

The study also leaves open the possibility that Mark, our earliest gospel, is itself based on earlier works, and I think this seems likely.

A discussion of a number of different possible synoptic solutions can be viewed
I'd like to thank all the participants in the synoptic discussion list, for helping this idea along in its formative stages, and particularly, I'd like to thank the list moderators, Stephen C. Carlson, and Mark S. Goodacre, for their encouragement. And finally I'd like to thank the late Brian E. Wilson who helped with the data entry, and provided many challenges that helped improve the study.
Comments are welcome. Please send them to GentDave@att.net About me.
Also see -
My current synoptic diagram

Back to main synoptic page