Is There a Synoptic Problem?

Written by Eta Linnemann, trans. Robert W. Yarbrough Reviewed By Craig L. Blomberg

An earlier short note reported the remarkable conversion and previous writings of this former. Bultmannian who now teaches at an evangelical Bible college in Indonesia. Continuing the trajectory of wholesale rejection of her previous learning, Linnemann now argues that the synoptic gospels are literarily independent. A superficial survey of the book cannot fail to impress: massive quantities of statistics of how many words in parallel pericopes are identical, percentages of parallelism in sequence, and so on, all illustrated with very clear graphics. But the argument itself proves surprisingly simple and singularly unconvincing: because the synoptics differ as much as they do, they cannot be dependent on each other. Worse still, synoptic source criticism is in fact a dangerous conclusion of sceptical theology foisted on unwitting evangelicals.

Yet Linnemann concedes 40% parallelism in wording between Matthew and Mark and 34% between Mark and Luke. As one who regularly grades student essays, I would certainly not attribute this much verbal parallelism on two purportedly independent papers to coincidence of a common topic of informal agreement in previous oral discussion! To make her thesis viable, Linnemann would have to demonstrate the probability of extensive memorization in fixed form of the oral tradition in Greek translation, which to date neither she nor any other scholar has done. Granted that certain ways in which the hypotheses of Markan priority and the Q source have been used have called into question historical trustworthiness, nothing in the theories themselves demands such scepticism. Linnemann’s book, even more than her last one, provides a classic example of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.


Craig L. Blomberg

Craig L. Blomberg
Denver Seminary
Denver, Colorado, USA