Synoptic Studies: The Ampleforth Conferences of 1982 and 1983

Written by C. M. Tuckett Reviewed By Graham Stanton

Twenty years or so ago most NT scholars of all shades of opinion, including conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics, accepted that Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q in the composition of their gospels. This solution of the synoptic problem, often referred to as the ‘two document hypothesis’, has recently been under close scrutiny. A number of conferences have been devoted solely to discussion of rival hypotheses. The essays in this volume were given as papers at conferences held at Ampleforth Abbey in England in 1982 and 1983. They are all competent, but they will be of interest mainly to advanced students and scholars.

Some of the contributors (notably W. R. Farmer and D. L. Dungan) defend the so-called Griesbach hypothesis. On this view Matthew was the first gospel to be written; Luke used Matthew (so there is no need for Q) and finally Mark produced an abbreviated version of both Matthew and Luke. Other contributors offer support for the two document hypothesis (notably C. M. Tuckett and F. G. Downing). M. D. Goulder and H. B. Green accept Marcan priority but reject Q, claiming that Luke has used Matthew as well as Mark.

Will further discussion solve the synoptic problem? These essays suggest that agreement is a long way off. Most scholars would now accept that some of the arguments used in the past to support Marcan priority are less than conclusive, since the phenomena can be explained along other lines. My own view (which would be widely shared) is that alternative hypotheses are much less plausible than Marcan priority and Q. Study of these essays confirms that supporters of the Griesbach hypothesis are still unable to explain why, on their view, Mark would want to abbreviate Matthew and Luke. And although Goulder and Green do try to explain why, on their view, Luke has rearranged Matthew so drastically, their explanations are tortuous to say the least.

But the two finest essays in this volume have little bearing on the synoptic problem. P. S. Alexander shows just how misguided are attempts to invoke the concept of ‘midrash’ in study of the gospels and in a second essay he provides an excellent study of rabbinic biographical tradition.


Graham Stanton

King’s College, London