The Synoptic Problem and Student Papers

Studying the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is great preparation for being an educator. I’m convinced this is true even if your field has no direct connection to Biblical studies.

Student papers can at times closely resemble each other or other possible source material. Learning to recognize lengthier agreements in order, and distinguish numerous agreements of wording from that which can occur through memory or chance, is very helpful.

I can’t help wondering if any student in a course on these Gospels has ever tried to use them as an argument when caught plagiarizing – “If Luke can do it, why can’t I?”

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  • Mark Goodacre

    Hi James. I once found myself in a situation where I was faced with two very similar student essays; I argued that they were both dependent on a hypothetical source; a colleague argued that one was dependent on the other. To resolve the situation, we called the students in and interviewed them separately. One confessed to having copied from the other; the other was appalled to discover that her essay had been copied by the other. So it turned out that I was wrong and there was no hypothetical source. It made me think how much easier it would be if we could approach Luke and ask him directly about the source of his similarity with Matthew. Mind you, I think there are telling ways that we can ask that question of Luke’s text, and it gives us the answer, but that’s another story.

  • James F. McGrath

    I’m glad you replied, Marc. I was tempted to add something in the original post asking whether one’s view of the Synoptic problem could influence the way that we view similarities in student papers. What do you think? :)