Re: Marking my Synopsis

From: Brian E. Wilson (
Date: Tue Sep 23 1997 - 05:29:35 EDT

In message , "Joseph A. Weaks" <> writes
>I am about to begin "marking my synopsis," an exercise I've looked forward
>The way I was taught is
>1. Take Mat/Mark and Underline with solid lines (______) where parallels
>are exact.
>2. Use dash lines (_ _ _ _ _) where words are same but in different form.
>3. Use broken lines leaving spaces blank (___ ____) when words are same
>but in different order.
>4. Then get different color, and do same with Mark/Luke.
>5. Then with another color, do the minor agreements.
>My biggest question is what pericope order to go in. I'm using Aland's
>Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum. My plan now is to work my way straight
>through markan order. Any suggestions for someone begginning this endeavor?
>Joe Weaks
>an little pastor of a little town
Pastor Joe,
            I am not sure that marking the whole of your synopsis would
be such a worthwhile exercise. I have been studying the Greek columns
of synopses of Matthew, Mark and Luke for tens of thousands of hours
over the last 27 years, and can perhaps see some of the snags.

I am not surprised that you are puzzled to know in what order you should
tackle the pericopes. The point is that in many instances, a pericope
in one gospel contains material divided between two (or even more)
pericopes in another. This means that in most synopses, the same
material in the same gospel is divided into pericopes in different ways
at different points in the synopsis, depending on which gospel is being
regarded as "in the lead".

 Furthermore, particularly in the case of material common to Matthew and
Luke but absent from Mark, many agreements in wording are not between
whole pericopes but between passages of only one or two verses in
length, because the material is mostly in larger paragraphs in Luke and
smaller snippets in Matthew. Which of these are parallels, and which
not? For instance, is the Parable of the Talents a parallel to the
Parable of the Pounds, or is it not a parallel?

Also, what do you do about the 79 doublets in the synoptic gospels? If
the two components of a doublet in Matthew, for instance, are similar in
wording to only one piece of material in Luke (which may not be in a
corresponding position to either component in Matthew any way), which
doublet component in Matthew is the "parallel" to the one piece of Lukan
material? In some cases, the system of four colours does not work for
all parallels to doublet components (as W. R. Farmer points out on page
viii of the introduction to his SYNOPTICON).

Furthermore, it is not easy to spot the mistakes you have made. Of
course, we can all learn from correcting our mistakes, and this may be
part of the purpose of the exercise, but it is very easy indeed for any
of us not to spot the mistakes we have made in this area. We are not

I would suggest that if you really have to do the whole synopsis, you
cover about twenty verses at a time, and then check your findings
against W. R. Farmer's SYNOPTICON, remembering that he may have used a
slightly different Greek text of the gospels to the one in your
synopsis, and also that Farmer does make some mistakes himself (for
instance, on page 144, in Luke 2:7, he has two words printed against a
yellow background, even though this colour is supposed to indicate words
common to Matthew and Mark but absent from Luke!). If you do intend to
use the SYNOPTICON in this way, then it might be a good idea to use the
same colour coding as Farmer uses, so that it is easier to check your
work against his findings.

My advice would be to read about as many different hypotheses put
forward as solutions to the Synoptic Problem as you can, rather than
spend too long on underlining Greek words. Keep a notebook to jot down
the name (or more probably the names) and the main ideas of any
hypothesis you come across, and write down the main arguments for and
against it. Try and work out a scientific method of how to check any
hypothesis against the data you observe in a synopsis. Be systematic in
your thinking about hypotheses, rather than in your use of colour

Above all, do not accept any hypothesis simply because you are taught
it. Check out each hypothesis for yourself. Galileo was taught that the
earth is fixed in space! Fortunately for modern astronauts, he had the
courage and integrity to check it out for himself, and found what he was
taught to be false!


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