The Gospels, “Q”, and “The Synoptic Problem”

Since the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, there has been a spike in social media traffic concerning something called “Qanon”, with political leftists in an unusually elevated (even for them) state of agitation, and those on the right responding more or less in kind.  If you’re really bored, run a search on Q or Qanon and make some popcorn.

This is not a political blog, so that’s all I will have to say about Qanon etc., except to note that all the references to “Q” reminded me of a pet peeve of mine in the world of Scriptural exegesis: the so-called “Synoptic Problem” of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, a problem both invented and purportedly solved by the self-appointed gurus of all things Biblical, the “Scripture scholars.”  Now, I am going to engage in a bit of over-generalization here, but it’s for a good cause (I think), so please bear with me.  I do not mean to cast unwarranted aspersions on anyone in the field of Biblical scholarship, but in the sixteen years or so that I’ve been seriously reading and trying to understand Sacred Scripture, I have noticed a few things about how the scholarly world treats the Bible.  I find some of those things irritating, to say the least.  One of the most irritating is the so-called “Synoptic problem.”

What Is “The Synoptic Problem?”

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are essentially narratives of the life and ministry of Christ, in more or less chronological format.  Somewhere along the way since the fourth century, when the canon of Scripture (the table of contents of the Christian Bible, that is) was decided upon by the Church, these three Gospels became known by some as “synoptic”, which roughly means “seeing alike”, because they contain many of the same stories, events, and sayings, many of these even in the same order, and are generally similar in style despite obvious differences in emphasis.  All three are very different in both content and style from the Gospel of John.  Humans are naturally curious, and we don’t have any detailed written history explaining how and when the Gospels were written. Thus, it was inevitable that some academic types with too much time on their hands would start theorizing about these things.

Here is where I believe the trouble began.  The same Church that determined the canon, i.e., which books should be included in the Christian Bible, also determined the order in which the books should appear.  History shows there were five instances in the late third century and early fourth century in which Church documents formally identified the canon of Scripture: the Synod of Rome (382),  the Council of Hippo (393),the Council of Carthage (397), a letter from Pope Innocent I to the Bishop of Toulouse (405), and the Second Council of Carthage (419).  In each case, the listing was of the same books in the same order as they appear in today’s Catholic Bibles, in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Source.  (A much more detailed survey of the known history of the canon of Scripture can be found here, in the venerable Catholic Encyclopedia, hosted online by the indispensable New Advent website. ) This order is also reflected in the original Latin Vulgate edition of the Gospels, translated by St. Jerome and published in 384.  There seems to be no dispute that this order was based on the unanimous understanding of the early Church that Matthew was the first Gospel to be written and John the last.

This was pretty much everyone’s belief for about 1,400 years until some German (danger!)* decided it was a “problem” that the first three Gospels look so similar.  Let’s get behind that little curtain, shall we?  Why should it be regarded as a problem that the first three Gospels contain a number of passages that read almost exactly the same, and many of which even appear in the same order?  After all, weren’t these accounts, according to Church tradition, originated by witnesses to the teachings and events of Christ’s Galilean ministry?  WELL???  (“Scholar” coughs and blushes…)

Exactly.  If you ask me, the “problem” these scholars had, and I must say many of them still have today, is that they don’t really believe the Gospels are what they purport to be, i.e., divinely inspired accounts of things that really happened as they are described, but which happen to have been written by different authors for different audiences.  Stated another way, it would make all kinds of sense for the Gospels to look exactly as they do as long as they are what the Church proposes them to be.  But, if you are a non-believer, you will seek to “explain” the similarities among Matthew, Mark and Luke on some other basis, such as another document that “must have existed” from which one or more of the Gospels copied stories and sayings of Jesus Christ, and then maybe one or more of the Gospel authors copied them from each other.  And voila!, the “Q document” is invented.  (Q stands for “quelle”, the…ahem…German word for “source.”)  The fact that there is not one iota of evidence that any such document ever existed seems to mean nothing to these “scholars” and “historians”, who one would think might place a great deal of value on such a point.  But we can’t let facts get in the way of a good theory with which to undermine the credibility of the Church, can we?  If “Q” existed, then the Church must have been wrong about the factual basis for the Gospels, and if she was wrong about that, she can be wrong about lots of other things, too, starting with the order in which they were written, and then moving on to more substantial items like the contents of the books.

What It’s Really About

I started this post by referring to a topic discussed by people whom today’s cultural “experts”, that is, the left, have labeled as conspiracy kooks.  At the risk of earning the same label for myself, allow me a little theory of my own: The purpose of all of this “scholarship” is, above all else, to attack the Catholic faith, which was a prerequisite to the Marxist/Modernist attacks on our society and culture that, sadly, have been so successful in the last 100 years.  You don’t believe there’s a connection here?  Start with the absolutely prophetic 1907 encyclical of Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi dominici gregis. There, you will find a detailed and quite accessible description of Modernism, which Pius X labeled “the synthesis of all heresies.” Be amazed, as I was upon first reading it, at how accurately his descriptions portray so much that has transpired in our Church in the last century, including the spawning of the “historical-critical method” of Biblical exegesis, from which the whole “Q” debacle grew.  Go do some online research into the “Frankfurt School” and “critical theory” and all of their fallout, and see the similarities for yourself.  Western society used to be based on natural law and the Christian morality which derives from natural law.  Consequently, the education and formation of priests and theologians also was based on those things. The Marxists of the Frankfurt School and their fellow travelers have made up their own theories of morality based on a denial of natural law and truth.  But these people had no credibility until after “Biblical scholars” had spent many years attacking Church traditions and the faith that’s based in large part on those traditions.  And while they were attacking the Church from the outside, they were also getting their own men admitted into the priesthood and ultimately becoming bishops, who then appointed other like-minded men to serve as faculty in seminaries, where the next generations of priests had their minds corrupted as well.  This is not a coincidence.  And instead of ordering a tinfoil hat for me, read here and here about Bella Dodd, whose testimony before the United States Congress revealed the breadth and depth, as well as the success, of the efforts of the Soviet Union to undermine the Church from within.

It’s all of a piece.  It’s real.  And it’s diabolical.  Literally.  Never forget, the devil hates us and he hates the Church.  He hates us more than we can ever imagine.  Especially in these times, when even our own bishops have rolled over submissively in the face of an unprecedented government shutdown of our churches, (though abortuaries are still open), when in many places the faithful cannot even make an appointment to see a priest for private confession, it is more important than ever to step up your prayer life and to stay close to our Lord and our Lady.  Pray the Rosary daily, in Latin if possible.  (The devil hates Latin! ) Pray the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. Watch the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on TV (EWTN, of course) or online. Do whatever it takes to maintain your holiness as best you can.  This, too, shall pass.

Laudamus te, Dominus Jesus Christus!


* Before anyone of German nationality or descent gets upset with me for this little bit of snark, let me point out that my own ancestry is at least 50% German.  Plus, it’s pretty well undeniable that German “theologians” have been responsible for a tremendous amount of confusion and division (one might even say heresy and schism) in Christianity over the past 500 years or so, starting with that guy named Luther, and going downhill from there.  The more recent examples, in addition to most of the sitting German bishops, are some of the worst, e.g., Hans Urs von Balthasar, Rudolf Bultmann, Bergoglio’s BFF Walter Kasper, and some of the crossover philosopher types such as Hegel and Jung.  That fellow Ratzinger has some of his own problems, as well, not least of which is his admiration for Balthasar, but overall I’d say he’s the exception who proves the rule.  And I love the guy, don’t get me wrong, but even someone as brilliant as Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is not perfect.

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