Few biblical problems are more complex than the relationship between the first three Gospels. In two recent contributions to CHRISTIANITY TODAY (Nov. 10 and 24, 1958 issues), John H. Ludlum, Jr. contends that the modern solution of the synoptic problem is a critical shibboleth uncritically held by critical scholars. He dismisses the alleged priority of Mark as an unproven theory and suggests that the linguistic facts are satisfactorily explained by the hypothesis of the priority of Matthew in an Aramaic form. He believes this is necessary to restore the relative independence of the three Gospels. He states that he has found no “single, unequivocal piece of internal evidence” which indicates that Mark was the earliest Gospel.
Let us admit that modern form and source criticism have often been used to the detriment of the authority of the Gospels and historicity of their record. Because the present author accepts the Bible witness to itself, that it is the inspired Word of God, he has been willing to accept critical theories only when the facts seem to demand them. Weighty internal evidence pointing to the priority of Mark, however, exists not only in the linguistic minutiae of the Gospels but even more impressively in the selection and arrangement of the material.
To gain perspective for such a study, we must place the literary facts against the background of historical probability. All will agree that none of the Gospels purports to give a complete account of the words and works of our Lord. John indicates that libraries could be filled with books if all that Jesus said and did were recorded (John 21:25). Each of our Gospels gives us a limited and controlled selection from the tradition of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Suppose that ...1
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