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What is the Synoptic Problem?

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According to the Jesuit scholar, Father Felix Just, PhD., the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar that there must have been some copying by one of the apostles from another. Father Just further observes that the wording is so similar in certain gospels that they could not simply be repetitions in the oral tradition, but must have been written copies. The problem with this situation is that it raises the question of the credibility of some of the gospels. And, as Father Just asks, "Who wrote first, and who copied from whom?"

There are three theories on this Synoptic Problem:

  1. Mark first copied from Matthew, then Luke copied from Mark
  2. Luke first copied from Matthew, then Mark copied from Luke.
  3. Matthew and Luke both copied from Mark, and Luke also copied from Matthew.

The variation of No.3 comes from the theory that Matthew's was not the first gospel, but rather it was Mark's gospel that was the first. This latter position is held by contemporary scholars as they judge that Matthew's and Luke's expand upon that of Mark, with John's coming last. It has also been questioned as to why the short gospels of Matthew have not been lost.

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