Synoptic Meme

My post on Q and the follow up post have sparked several responses (at NT Gateway, Dilettante Exegete and Metacatholic, to name a few). One’s view on this, of course, is a paradigm and thus one particular piece of evidence, on its own, is unlikely to result in an immediate paradigm shift.

Nevertheless, perhaps it would be helpful to have a Synoptic meme. If you are reading this, and know what the word ‘Synoptic’ refers to, then consider yourself infected. :-) But seriously, it might be useful for those of us interested in this topic to share a particular passage that persuades us that this or that Gospel preceded the others, or that Matthew and Luke did or did not know each other directly.

Here’s one from me to get this started. It is the narrative that finally broke down my resistance to Markan priority, back when I was a fairly conservative student at Bible college. It had this effect not on its own, but as the culmination of the accumulation of evidence pointing in that direction. It is the story of Herod and John the Baptist.

In Mark’s version, Herod is protecting John (Mark 6:19-20) from Herodias, who wants to kill John. It is thus no surprise that, when he has promised to give anything asked and is asked to kill John, he is distressed (Mark 6:26).

Matthew changes the way he introduces the story: in Matthew’s account, Herod had wanted to kill John (Matthew 14:5), and presumably would have welcomed an excuse to do so. Why, then, is he still distressed in Matthew’s version (Matthew 14:9)? Presumably because he was using Mark as a source, and simply copied him word for word here, without realizing the tension he introduced.

It would, of course, be possible to argue the other way, that Mark fixed the tension in Matthew, if all the other evidence pointed towards Matthean priority. That is why I emphasized that this particular passage was, for me, the icing on the cake, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the last piece of evidence that changed my view of the Synoptic puzzle.

Share your stories, and when you have done so, post a comment here with a link to your post on the subject. Ask others to whom the meme spreads to do the same. Have fun!

  • Ian

    Ok, by now I am moderately confused (and beginning to realise that I am far more ignorant than I realised).I always had the impression that the sequence (Mark, Matthew, Luke) was pretty well established. Am I wrong? Is there widespread disagreement as the the relative ages of Matthew and Luke, or are you challenging the “mainstream”?

  • James F. McGrath

    There is a general consensus, but it isn’t unanimous, and I didn’t want this to be a meme that only gets perpetuated by those who think a certain way or accept the scholarly consensus. I like hearing from other points of view!

  • Doug Chaplin

    Okay, I’ve had a go at your meme, but I really don’t have any of those passages to offer as examples, so I’ve meandered around an explanation of what I don’t know the answer to! :-)

  • Quixie

    I like this thread. My moment came while thinking about on here . . .