solution to the synoptic
problem for the past century among scholars trained in literary
criticism of the gospels. Simply put, the thesis is that the gospels of
independent compositions, each based on two earlier texts:
Mark & Q.
(1) The basic premise is the priority of Mark.
Mark is identified as the source of the narrative structure of the
other two synoptics because of observable patterns of parallels in the wording
& sequence of all three gospels.
same wording & sequence of material is found in Matthew, Luke &
Matthew & Mark agree in sequence and/or wording of passages, while Luke
& Mark have the same sequence and/or wording of passages, while Matthew
But the texts
of Matthew & Luke almost never agree in both wording
& sequence except for material found also in Mark.
In passage after
passage Mark is demonstrably the middle term in any narrative
agreement between the synoptic gospels. Thus, the first premise of the two
source hypothesis is that Matthew & Luke each followed the text of Mark as
their primary narrative source.
second premise of this hypothesis is that Matthew & Luke edited Mark independently.
If Luke knew Matthew's work (or vice versa), he deliberately did
not adopt that author's revision of Mark's text. This conclusion is also
based on observable patterns in these gospels.
introduces Jesus as an adult; Matthew begins with Jesus' conception &
birth (Matt 1-2). Luke also has stories of Jesus' conception & birth
(Luke 1-2), but these are not the accounts found in Matthew.
mss. of Mark end with an empty tomb (Mark 16:8); Matthew adds two
resurrection appearances of Jesus (Matt 28). Luke also reports
resurrection appearances (Luke 23), but not those in Matthew.
presents an expanded version of passages in Mark's narrative that makes
these incidents less problematic for Christians (e.g., Jesus' baptism,
testing by Satan, his explanation of parables & silencing of Peter).
In only one case (the testing) does Luke present a parallel to the
non-Markan wording in Matthew. Otherwise, Luke regularly echoes Mark's
version, problems & all.
Matthew has 5
large blocks of teaching material most of which is not found in
Mark. While Luke has parallels to much of this material, he never
presents it in Matthew's format & location in the narrative. Instead
of Matthew's sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7), the longest integrated
complex of Jesus' sayings in the synoptic gospels, Luke presents a much
briefer sermon on the plain (Luke 6). Yet many of the sayings that Matthew
presents as an integral part of the sermon (such as the Lord's prayer) are
scattered across later chapters of Luke. Instead of Matthew's expansion
(Matt 24) of Mark's version of Jesus' apocalyptic warnings (Mark 13), Luke
presents two speeches (Luke 17 & 21). In other words, Luke's
presentation of Jesus' teaching is less organized than Matthew's.
If Luke got this material from Matthew, he would have
deliberately destroyed the logical connections that Matthew drew.
Since the hypothesis
that Luke used Matthew presents more redactional problems than it solves, most
synoptic specialists conclude that it is more likely that he did not.
(3) The third
premise of the two source hypothesis is a necessary logical corollary of the
first two. If Matthew & Luke each
copied material from Mark but not from each other, then the only way
to explain the blocks of non-Markan sayings that Matthew & Luke have in
common is to conclude that they got it from a second source.
For the past century scholars have referred to that source as Q.
While the contents of Q may be reconstructed from the non-Markan parallels in
Matthew & Luke, no separate ms. of this sayings source has yet been found.
Thus, Q is a hypothetical
text. Yet as a working
hypothesis, most gospel
scholars consider Q more plausible than the only viable alternatives: the
priority of Matthew and/or Luke's use of Matthew.
The Two Source
hypothesis cannot be traced to a single mind. Rather it is the product of more
than a century of research and scholarly debate. C.
H. Weisse was first to
formulate it. Others have refined it. B. H. Streeter was the most influential
20th c. proponent.
Other On-line Resources:
Source Hypothesis - Stephen C. Carlson reviews the history &
critiques the "weak points" of the current prevailing synoptic
Four Document Hypothesis - Chapter 9 of Burnett Hillman Streeter's The Four Gospels
(1924), tracing material common to
Matthew & Luke to either Mark or Q and passages unique to each to
special sources M & L (posted by kata